7 Reasons Why Northern Spain Should be on your Travel Must-see List
When I announced I was heading to Spain for my summer holidays, most of my friends assumed I meant southern Spain, for the beaches, or perhaps Madrid or Barcelona. But they were wrong – I drove from the Pyrenees to Porto, in Portugal, along Spain’s northern shores, dipping in and out of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route.
It might be the route less travelled, but this road trip was bliss – empty roads, a lack of tourists, and plenty to see – I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t do it! So here’s why you should follow me and put northern Spain on your travel must-see list too:
The excellent hiking in the Pyrenees
I love mountains, and the Pyrenees did not disappoint. There’s scenery to die for, glorious sunshine, endless walking tracks and the occasional marmot, all combined with friendly mountain hospitality. I was staying in Torla-Ordesa, on the outskirts of the Ordesa y Monte Perdida National Park, and took the shuttle bus into the park to hike along the Rio Arazas to the Cola de Caballo waterfall, a gloriously scenic and not-too-challenging full day’s walk, along a spectacular gorge.
San Sebastian’s beautiful beach
Leaping its way straight to the top of my favourite Spanish cities list is the delightful seaside metropolis of San Sebastian. Boasting what has to be one of the best urban beaches I’ve ever seen, San Sebastian is the perfect spot to tuck into fresh tapas (known here as pintxos) and indulge in a chilled glass of sangria or two. The Old Town, or Parte Vieja, is at the centre of the action, and this is where you’ll find the quaintest architecture, the cutest cafés and the best of the bars.
The influence of Gaudi
I knew of architect Antoni Gaudi from a visit to Barcelona’s Park Guell many years ago, but I hadn’t realised that he designed three buildings outside Barcelona, all of them located in northern Spain. I visited all three, starting with the delightful El Capricho, a house covered in ceramic sunflowers, continuing to Casa Botines, a neo-Gothic house found in the centre of Leon, and finishing with the Episcopal Palace of Astorga, where the circular turrets reminded me of the Disney castle. All three were striking and intriguing, in their own ways.
More hiking in the Picos de Europa
More mountains, the Picos de Europa this time, a relatively unheard-of (outside Spain at least) mountain range which in my opinion has some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Jagged rock formations jut skywards, valleys fill with traditional villages, and meadows of vibrant wildflowers carpet the slopes. Here I set off on another epic hike, this time along the seven-mile Cares Route from Cain to Poncebos, along steep cliff edges overlooking a dramatic gorge. And after an ice cream in Poncebos, I turned around and walked all the way back again!
The wonderfully fresh and varied food
One of my favourite parts of travelling is having the chance to sample to local cuisine, something that I did a lot of in northern Spain. The seafood, especially octopus fried in garlic, was incredibly fresh and tasty, and the various cheese and cured meat platters I tried on my travels were all unpretentious yet tasty. Tapas varied from place to place, but my favourite were the simple, cheese and tomato bruschetta varieties I sampled in the Picos. And of course, the local beers and wines were perfectly matched to the seafood and the warm weather too. All in all it was a culinary delight.
Heading off the beaten track to Las Medulas
Not many people have heard of Las Medulas, let alone bother to make the detour, but I did and it was definitely worth it. Like something from another planet, Las Medulas are the leftover rocks from when the area was mined for gold by the Romans, which lie in swirling shapes, their bright orange surfaces contrasting brilliantly with the sky and the lush greenery. To take it all in I followed the circular viewing trail, donned a hard hat to venture inside a cave and enjoyed a rather sweaty sunset hike to a view point for an overview of the area.
Driving is a joy
I’ll admit it; I get nervous driving on the wrong side of the road. But in Spain, I needn’t have worried. Driving was a doddle. Not only were barely any other cars on the roads – so no crazy drivers to avoid – but there was plenty of parking everywhere (except San Sebastian) and the scenery I drove through was nothing short of spectacular. I would have no hesitation in recommending a northern Spain road trip to anyone who likes their holidays to include just that little bit of adventure.
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