WHY FOREIGNERS SHOULD COME TO SPAIN FOR THE CELSIUS FESTIVAL

The Celsius 232 ( = Fahrenheit 451) Festival is Spain’s main SF & Fantasy festival, happening each July in the centre of the lovely town of Avilés half way along the north coast of Spain. The dates for 2019 are Wednesday 17th July to Saturday 20th July.  People go home on the Sunday—or alternatively stay on in Spain for tourism!

The centre of Avilés boasts arcaded stone streets from the 17th Century, a big square where an inflatable screen shows SF-related movies after dark, and numerous cafés and restaurants spilling on to the street where fans gather to gossip over beers, brilliant wines, ciders poured from a height, and giant gins. A circle of cabins houses book dealers, more of whom are in a marquee where smaller programme items happen, big items being in the adjacent cultural centre backed by a lovely park where sword fighters display. The Saturday afternoon sees an open air lunch at long tables for 300 people or so, tucking in to Asturian Bean Feast, otherwise known as the famous Fabada Asturiana, featuring pork and sausages amidst saucy beans.  Indeed, Celsius is a convention which happens as much outside as inside, to encourage the local public to join in.  Thus no memberships nor membership list nor tickets exist; all is open to everyone.

There’ll be a number of programme items in English (with Spanish interpretation), this year featuring celebs from abroad such as John Scalzi, Kameron Hurley, Hanna Jameson, Joe Abercrombie, Tade Thompson or Frances Hardinge. Above all, there’s the fannish ambience, with lots of people happy and eager to chat with you. Note that the colourful Terra Astur Asturian-theme restaurant a few metres from the Palacio de Avilés hotel has a menu in English fully illustrated by photos of all the meals; Asturian food portions tend to be big.

Hotels: foreign visitors should book early because Avilés isn’t crowded with hotels. The star hotel (in fact 5 stars!) is a 17th Century palace on the main square, gardens to the rear, with an extensive buffet breakfast (bacon, eggs, and sausages cooked on request so that they’re fresh): the NH Collection Palacio de Avilés. This is a bit expensive but not so much as you’d think for 5 stars. Hotel 40 Nudos is just 200 metres from the main square, and Hotel Palacio Valdés is pretty close too, the pedestrian bridge beside it leading over railway and estuary to the impressive cultural centre designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brasilia.

Travel: Direct flights from Gatwick in 90 minutes to Asturias (Oviedo) airport. Asturias Airport (code: OVD) is a toy, so you can’t get confused. From the airport to Avilés is just 15 or 20 minutes by bus—or by taxi which doesn’t cost a lot more than the bus; and a taxi will take you right to the door of your hotel. Visitors from mainland Europe will need to change planes at Madrid or Barcelona or London.

Souvenirs: together with Dracula’s Whitby in the UK, Asturias is the major European source of jet for jewellery: azabache in Spanish. Or you can buy Asturian bagpipes.

The climate of Asturias province in the summer is Atlantic, so there isn’t the excessive monotonous heat of the south of Spain. Variety is the keynote: warm sunshine and clouds,  maybe rain showers, maybe not.  Rain, when it falls, wets a landscape of green hills and valleys resembling Tolkien’s Shire grazed by cows whose milk accounts for over 50% of the varieties of cheese in Spain, notably delicious blue cheeses of various streng