May 10, 2016

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The Secret Beauty of Northern Spain

The Secret Beauty of Northern Spain

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Whether they admit it or not, many people see Spain as a relatively one-dimensional holiday destination. They see it as an undoubtedly fantastic and hugely appealing destination, but one that’s largely limited to the unique charms and graces of the south.  From the bustling streets of Barcelona to the ‘Brits abroad’ capital of the Costa Brava, this is pretty much where staying begins and ends in the eyes of most.

Which is in its own right one extremely coherent argument to consider straying beyond of the usual tourist path and exploring the less-travelled side of Spain.  Contrary to popular belief, Spain is an absolutely enormous country boasting an almost endless array of extraordinary landscapes, traditional villages and a whole world of outstanding attractions most travellers do not even realise exist.

If you thought Spain began and ended with the south, it’s high time you paid a trip to the north!

 

The Picos de Europa

One word you wouldn’t expect to be routinely used to describe Spain would be ‘rustic’.  Nevertheless, this happens to be the first and perhaps the most accurate word of all to come to mind when visiting the north. Being a side of Spain that most choose not to explore, people often act with surprise upon learning that the country is in fact one of the most mountainous in Europe. In fact, the city of Madrid is positioned no less than 2,100 feet above sea level, which is precisely why it is so ridiculously hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.

Without any shadow of doubt, the most extraordinary and impressive mountains in Spain can be found to the north. To arrive in Spain by ferry from the UK with your own car in-tow is to gain any immediate and breathtaking understanding of just how different this part of Spain is. For ferry routes to Spain and holiday options, visit Brittany Ferries who regularly run offers both inside and outside school holidays.

As you gently drift toward the coast, you will be absolutely blown away by the sight of the stunning mountains that stand imposingly to the rear of the port of Santander.

In case you wondered…which of course you did…what you are actually looking at here is the snow-capped peaks of the mountains that form part of the Picos de Europa. Widely considered to be the most beautiful national park in Europe, Picos de Europa is almost entirely unspoiled, wild and therefore considered an enormously important natural preserve. And while there’s every opportunity for strapping on your hiking boots and spending weeks on end exploring what’s on offer, you don’t have to expend a great deal of energy to enjoy the very best of the region if you don’t want to.

That is, assuming you have access to your own transport, of course!

 

Green Spain

You’ve probably heard of numerous places where the pace of life seems to slow down considerably. In this area of Spain, there are plenty of regions where it almost seems to grind to a complete halt. Traditional rural villages have held on to the same way of life for hundreds of years across this area of Spain and represent living museums as to the country’s past. The unique local charms and cultures of each village you visit will be somewhat different than the next and last, while remaining quintessentially Spanish at all times.

The region is home to some of the most important places in Spanish history which are absolutely worth exploring. Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Pais Vasco (Basque Country) make up an extensive region of the country which is referred to as ‘Green Spain’ – a title that is both self-explanatory and really could not be more accurate. This is the area of the country in which the vast majority of annual rainfall occurs, resulting in the kind of lush greenery that simply doesn’t exist to the south. Not only this, while the south remains world famous for its holiday beaches and amenities, the northern coastline takes the recipe and improves it. Uncrowded, unspoilt and generally unbelievable beaches contrast sharply with those of Spain’s south – many have a very similar feeling to that classic Cornish seaside resort you’ll probably remember from your childhood…only with much better weather!

Take a few steps inland and along with sprawling cities to explore, you’ll find yourself with an endless array of tiny traditional villages, breathtaking countryside and mysterious mountains just begging to be explored. And of course, there’s the endless array of local delicacies to sample along the way – exquisite food and wine being part of the local landscape in Green Spain.

 

Unmissable Highlights

Assuming you will only have limited time to explore this enormous Spanish region, it’s a good idea to give priority to a few key highlights. Exactly what ticks all the right boxes for you will vary in accordance with your tastes, preferences and budget, but it comes highly recommended that one or more of the following be slotted in:

 

1 – Rioja Wine Country

First of all, Northern Spain just so happens to be home to the world famous rioja grape – not to mention the winemaking region from which it takes its name.  There are few better ways of comprehensively soaking up the extraordinary landscapes and traditional culture around you than by taking a horseback ride through a historic vineyard. And of course, wine tasting excursions are an absolute must.

2 – Paradors

If you haven’t already come across them, paradors are essentially alternatives to standard hotel accommodation which exist in important or historic buildings.  For example, you may find yourself staying in a former monastery, a convent, a castle, a fortress or really anything else imaginable. There are some truly spectacular examples across Northern Spain, which transform each night of your trip into an unforgettable experience.

3 – Sublime Seaside

Be sure to take in the wonderful Victorian elegance of San Sebastian’s beautiful seaside, along with the distinctly Edwardian charms of Santander’s coast.  These are precisely where Spanish royals used to holiday, so chances are they’ll be good enough for even the most discerning visitors!

4 – FEVE Train

Last but not least, if time permits you should certainly consider taking the FEVE narrow-gauge railway along the coast between Bilbao and El Ferrol.  Tickets are cheap, you can get on and off at various points of interest and the views along the way are simply spectacular.

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