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 strengths which mature in caves. A couple of leisurely hours from Avilés along the very uncrowded motorway between sea and dramatic mountains, just short of Santander, is the Altamira Cave famous for its prehistoric paintings, next to a very authentic replica cave. For some years the original cave was closed to the public due to fears that too much human breath might slowly hurt the Stone Age paintings. Nowdays, if you visit on a Friday, a ticket lottery gives you a 1 in 10 chance of seeing the original—but never mind if you see the copy; it’s generally agreed that the experience is almost identical.
If you go to Altamira, you might plan a few hours afterwards to visit the Cabárceno Natural Park close by. This is an open air zoo with a stunning landscape of swooping valleys, steep cliffs, and soaring pinnacles exposed by the digging for iron ore since Roman times. Habitats for big cats and elephants and hippos and many other beasts are huge. You can walk almost everywhere if you feel athletic; otherwise drive and stop at the many viewing points. Don’t miss the raptor display at about 3.00 pm when free-flying eagles and others dive off distant peaks, ending up by parting your hair at high speed in the viewing amphitheatre on the way to their perch for meat. Presumably the big birds could defect to hunt rabbits, but they don’t.
Part of Avilés is on the sea, and more is on the shipping estuary, but the local seaside town of Gijón, half an hour away by bus or train, is well worth a day or two’s visit—the Vikings visited in 860 A.D for loot. Two huge beaches of yellow sand, traces of Roman baths, innumerable bars (including real ales), an excellent aquarium, and a large botanical garden on the outskirts close to the largest single connected building in Spain, the monumental hilltop fascist-architecture University of Work. (Get off the bus outside the Universidad Laboral to see inside its mighty courtyard, then stroll back downhill to the Jardín Botánico.)