Gijón is a tourist destination with a difference, an old industrial port on the northern Spanish coast that has managed to put itself on the map thanks largely to a zany crime-writing festival. Ferris wheels loom over the Semana Negra (Noir Week), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and draws a million visitors with its blend of funfair and litfest.
The best thing about the fair is that visitors, candy floss in hand, can rub shoulders with the likes of Oscar-winning Antonio Skármeta, the Chilean author of The Postman. Unlike highbrow festivals, entrance is free to all the events, including 120 crime, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy and mainstream writers.
“I grew up poor, so I have always thought that culture should be for the have-nots as well as the haves, so free entry is non-negotiable,” said organiser and cartoonist Ángel de la Calle.
Gijón’s literary roots go back to when it was home to one of Spain’s main Enlightenment figures, Gaspar de Jovellanos. The town is also a gateway for the Asturias region, known as the “Switzerland of Spain” for its green mountains.
Further along the coast are picturesque fishing villages as unspoilt as Torremolinos was 60 years ago. The locally made cider makes for plenty of fun – it needs to be poured from a great height to give it some head, but this requires years of practice.
The festival’s working class touch is in tune with Asturias’s tradition for activism and rebellion, from its Republican stance in the 1936-39 civil war to more recent miners’ strikes.