Over 1,000 canoeists paddling like mad down a scenic Asturian river – think the Boat Race on steroids – roared on by thousands of tourists and locals (many in fancy dress), with a giant picnic full of authentic fare awaiting at the finish line. Sound like fun? Well then come to luxury hotel Cangas de Onís for the first Saturday of August and experience the Descenso Internacional del Sella, one of the world’s quirkiest sporting events, in all its glory!
When a group of friends set off in 1929 on an action-packed canoe jaunt down the River Sella, a 60-kilometre-long river linking the extraordinary Peaks of Europe with the Cantabrian Sea, little could they imagine that their 14-kilometre adventure would sow the seeds for what is now one of the biggest events on the international canoeing calendar: the Descenso Internacional del Sella.
Full of colour and character – like a real-life Wacky Races on water – this exhilarating 20-kilometre race between the village of Arriondas and the pretty coastal town of Ribadesella is as famous for what goes on outside the river as for the furious-paced paddling within it.
Though officially kicking off at midday on the first Saturday of August – this year’s race falls on 3rd August – the festivities spill out to engulf the entire weekend. As early as the Friday, the party atmosphere takes over Arriondas, the village positively overflowing with canoeists, fans and general good cheer.
Just before the battle gets underway, a wacky parade of cars decorated for the occasion and folkloric groups escorts the “Tren Fluvial” – a hop-on hop-off river train allowing spectators to follow the action during the race – singing the Asturian anthem. Songs, dancing and good food aplenty await at the finish line in Ribadesella, where a flood of open-air parties means the fun doesn’t stop until early Sunday morning.
The Parador: savour a slice of Asturias
Parador Cangas de Onís boasts a privileged riverside location in Villanueva de Cangas, the next village down from Arriondas, making it a perfect refuge for Descenso weekend.
After enjoying all the buzz of the race and parties, retiring to this breathtakingly beautiful historic monastery – archaeological remains on site date back to the 8th century – is just what the doctor ordered.
Sink your teeth into the finest Asturian cooking, including hearty stews, world-renowned cheeses such as Cabrales and delicious fresh cider – and soak up the charming surroundings, framed by the stunning landscapes of the Picos de Europa, which you can reach on foot. Numerous prehistoric caves and unspoilt beaches can be visited nearby, making this Parador an ideal gateway to Asturias all year-round.
Are you a keen kayaker or canoeist, or just a fan of high-octane sporting excitement? Then come to the Descenso Internacional del Sella, stay at Parador Cangas de Onís and be sure to share your experiences below!