camping, family travel, mountains, nature, spain

Hidden waterfalls and abandoned mills

Towering green mountains tumble down to the sea all across Asturias, northern Spain. At the meeting of land and ocean, the extraordinary “Costa Verde” coastline is a symphony of hidden coves, verdant paths, rocky headlands, bustling towns and – best of all – gloriously sandy beaches.

But it wasn’t beach weather, not today anyway. Cloudy and chilly with the scent of rain mingling with the salty air, it was a day for another type of adventure. Quite spontaneously, we decided to go on an expedition to find the “Cascadas de Oneta”, some local waterfalls that I had noted in my bucket list at some unknown point of my travel-loving past.

However, more information on the waterfalls was mysteriously hard to come by. I was surprised to find that there were no tourist leaflets for the waterfalls available at our campsite, and the staff we asked had never heard of them. Even our GPS device was confused: it claimed that Oneta didn’t exist, a fact strongly disputed by our road map. These are all highly encouraging signs in the search to find unspoilt tourist destinations, and so we switched off the Garmin and drove away into the unexpected.

2016.09.27 Oneta map.jpg
Looks easy. Just follow the AS36, right?

The road out of Luarca began to rise almost immediately, and was surprisingly wide and well-maintained. After a kilometre or two I casually mentioned to my wife that the road was surprisingly wide and well-maintained… and, of course, it immediately turned into a single-track switchback rollercoaster ride.

Up, up, round, up, round, down, up, round, hairpin!, up, up, round, up, up, UP…

“Fresh air stop” number three

By the time of our third “fresh air stop” within 20 minutes, Joelle was begging for mercy. With her head between her legs at the roadside she proclaimed that “we must be nearly there by now…” and that “no waterfalls can be worth this!!”.

But she was wrong on both counts – we weren’t even half-way there…

…and the Cascadas de Oneta were, most definitely, worth it.

Child #1 goes a little “off path” during the hike to the waterfalls…

Eventually we made it to Oneta and were about to set out on our short hike to the waterfalls when the threatened rain finally arrived. Another spontaneous decision was duly made: postpone our walk and eat an early lunch in the village restaurant instead.

As the kids polished off their desserts, I popped into the “tourist information centre” just next door, which turned out to be a small room occupied by one endearingly enthusiastic lady and a lot of leaflets, still none of which, oddly, seemed to mention the waterfalls. When I asked her for some information on the waterfalls in English, she shook her head sadly. French? No. German? Nein. Luxembourgish? (OK, that was a long shot…)

But she was not so easily defeated: a book was pulled from nowhere, and opened to reveal a hand-written note. From it, she read to me  – in English – a prepared speech:

The waterfalls of Oneta can be found one kilometre west of the village. The path is easy but not suitable for pushchairs…”. I thanked her very much, returned to the restaurant, scolded my kids for licking bowls clean in public, and, since the rain had now eased, we all began walking. West.

What happened next was wonderful. Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was because the Cascadas de Oneta are not yet “discovered” by mainstream tourists, but we had this stunningly beautiful place all to ourselves.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on… us

Waterfalls are not generally noted for their stealth – the noise and spray usually give them away long before you actually see them – but the Cascadas de Oneta somehow manage to take you by surprise. You know they’re coming, but you can’t really figure out where they should be, you can’t hear much and then – BOOM! – you turn a corner, make a short descent into a forest and there is the first waterfall, a magnificent silvery ribbon of water, plunging 15, maybe 20, metres into a ridiculously picturesque series of pools, right in front of you!

At the first waterfall
Some fun rock scrambling was required to get here

Best of all, the waterfalls weren’t even our favourite discovery of the day: that honour goes to the old water mills. Built centuries ago to harness the abundant kinetic energy of the falls, they now lie abandoned and seemingly untouched despite decades of disuse. In particular, the millstones and machinery were essentially intact; a real find.

Inside an abandoned water mill.

As we passed another mill the rain came back on again and we sheltered from the elements inside, the kids opening the ancient shutters to let in more light and watch as the shower passed. It seemed like such a wonderfully authentic and somewhat surreal experience.

We claim this abandoned mill as our own!

Back in the village, we decided to revisit the restaurant to warm up with a hot drink on the terrace (an enjoyable novelty for Spain in August…). An occasional tractor rumbled by, an elderly lady with a pitchfork marched purposefully past us, and a cow’s head randomly appeared from an open window of the farmhouse just opposite (this amused the kids greatly).

Overall, we got the impression that the mountainous interior of northern Spain is a place undergoing tourism discovery: the fledgling tourist office, the friendly café, the ongoing renovations of the path to the waterfalls – it would appear that Asturias is beginning to invest in its undoubted tourism potential. The marketing slogan of the local tourism authorities – “Paraíso Natural” – is, for once, perfectly accurate: Asturias is indeed a paradise for those who love nature and crave authenticity, and the Cascadas de Oneta is a shiny gem in a glittering crown of natural attractions.

We feel lucky that we visited this wonderful place when it was still relatively unknown.

Garmin don’t know what they are missing.

Daisy the bus visited the Cascadas de Oneta in August 2016

(c) 2016 Jonathan Orr


  • The Oneta waterfalls are located in Asturias, north-west Spain. The nearest large town is Navia.
  • Don’t try to access Oneta via the AS-36 from Luarca (as we did). Instead, take the motorway to Navia and then the AS-25, finally joining the AS-36 just before Villayón.
  • Park your car somewhere near the restaurant. The waterfalls are signposted from there.
  • Don’t be tempted to drive too far down the road to the waterfalls; it is a dead-end street with nowhere to turn.
  • Wear good shoes and leave the pushchair and roller skates in the car.
  • There is no parking fee, nor any entrance fee (as of August 2016).

Suitcases and Sandcastles


31 thoughts on “Hidden waterfalls and abandoned mills”

    1. Thanks. We’ve visited Ireland and Scotland many times, so you’d think my wife would be used to the windy roads by now! But no, the minor roads of the Asturian mountains are something else entirely. Even I was feeling queasy, and I was driving! (Funnily enough the kids were all fine, just enjoying the “roller coaster”). It was worth it in the end, though – a great day out!


  1. What an amazing discovery. The waterfalls look beautiful and it’s always good to have the place to yourselves! I lived in the centre of Spain for a while during uni and fell in love with the country and people. There’s so much that I haven’t seen though, Asturias certainly looks like it’s worth exploring.


    1. Asturias is definitely worth exploring. I love the contrast between the beautiful coastline and the rugged mountains (at one point a few dozen kilometres east of Luarca, we could stand on a perfect sandy beach and see the snow-capped mountains of the Picos de Europa. In AUGUST!) We have only visited twice, and on both occasions only for a few days. We have barely scratched the surface, and will surely be back.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That waterfall is just stunning, maybe they are trying to keep it secret with no leaflets?! It definitely sounds like a great place to visit, now, before it gets commercialised! Spain is one of the European countries that we are yet to visit, would love to go, but I know very little of what is there, so this is incredibly useful! Thank you for linking up to #Whatevertheweather 🙂


    1. Hi Jenny. Since my wife’s family is Portuguese we often travel through the northern regions of Spain and always try to visit places along the way. The north coast is – without a doubt – our favourite region of Spain, and I strongly recommend going there when you visit. But beware: the weather is nothing like the rest of Spain… but I guess you will be well prepared for that! ;o) Thanks for the great link-up! #Whatevertheweather


  3. I hate relying on satnav for this very reason (although as I’m often driving on my own with only a four-year-old as a potential navigator and a dodgy sense of direction, they’re a bit of a necessarily evil) but how fantastic to have hunted the waterfalls down. The old mills are fascinating though, as if the owners just upped and left one day and abandoned them frozen in time. #mondayescapes


    1. Frozen in time. Indeed, that is exactly what the mills are. It is bizarre that they are open; open to anyone passing by and open to the elements. If the waterfalls become more popular (which I am sure they will) then some measures will need to be put in place to protect these wonderful old buildings.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am glad the story had a happy ending. The waterfall looks fabulous. You story reminds me of when I was a kid in Puerto Rico. We were always searching waterfalls based on directions of people who were there. Sometimes, we had to ask locals and they were nice enough to take us. It was an entire adventure.


    1. Ha ha! Yes, of course it had a happy ending – I hope I didn’t depress you too much with my tales of endless mountain roads and pouring rain! ;o)
      And I agree – waterfall adventures are the best! Glad I could bring back some happy childhood memories for you.


  5. Wow – this looks amazing!
    Well done for persevering and finding them.
    We’ve had a similar day out in France and it’s lovely to see the kids getting so excited for the adventure.


      1. In our family I always tend to give up at the first hurdle but my husband perseveres…I’m totally glad he does!

        Great name! You don’t get many adult Daisys…just the next generation!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What a great story and totally agree about going by map to find hidden gems. The waterfalls look lovely and right in a part of Spain that I’m super keen to visit. Really enjoyable read. #MondayEscapes


    1. Thanks. You should definitely pay a visit to Asturias / Cantabria – there are so many beautiful sights there, just waiting to be experienced. And I look forward to reading your blog whenever you do! ;o)


  7. You do manage to find some delightful hidden treasures! I’m glad your wife’s stomach settled in time for such an exclusive treat. #MondayEscapes


    1. Thanks Nell. The waterfalls were a superb find, but (if you will excuse the blatant self-promotion) the greatest hidden treasure of our 2016 summer holiday was discovered a week or two later in the south of France, and you can read all about it in my most recent blog post: “The secret Roman aqueduct”. I’ll be sure to link it up to #CulturedKids next month!


  8. As a fellow travel sickness sufferer I can empathise with your wife. My only solution is to do the driving; seems to take my mind off things but obviously not workable on public transport. Glad to have discovered your blog through #Mondayescapes. You visit the types of places I enjoy the most!


    1. Thanks, the respect is mutual. I have also only recently discovered your website and enjoy it very much. Look forward to exploring it further and gaining inspiration for our own travels! Greetings from Luxembourg.


  9. Like you say, how wonderful to have visited this hidden gem before it’s discovered by mainstream tourists. I’m sure it would have much less authentic feel with coach loads visitif every day. The restaurant sounds like a really great find too! Thanks so much for linking up with #MondayEscapes!


  10. It is, sadly, only a matter of time before the coach tour companies discover this place. I wonder what will happen to the mills when they do? Thanks for commenting, and for the #MondayEscapes linkup. Greetings from Luxembourg.


  11. The waterfalls I have visited the most are in the Blue Mountains, NSW and they never fail to impress me. Even when relatively dry the vegetation and light water spill is still always beautiful.


  12. This feels like a magical discovery! Even more so for not being surrounded by other tourists. We love walks, waterfalls and foodie treats so we may be hotfooting it here after you. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wonderful! I just love reading about your adventures! Although I think we could do without the up, up, around and UP road that you mentioned, good thing you suggest another route!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Just love all your adventures. Waterfalls are the best finds and I think the family snap at the abandoned mill is one to be printed and framed. Saved for input into our big road trip next year. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Just the kind of place I would love to sniff out and probably be cursing (and being cursed at) for the switchback road in as well.. we’re a wee bit prone to motion sickness in our house too! Gorgeous – glad you stuck it out AND shared it with us. Beautiful. #FarawayFiles

    Liked by 1 person

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