I am not a professional when it comes to putting together travel itineraries, hence my list of whys and hows are solely based on what did and did not work during our trip. 🙂 So everything I am listing down may have varying results to those who want or do not want to try them.
So much for the disclaimer, allow me to commence with our adventure.
These rather cooler regions of Spain were not as wandered through as its neighboring municipalities (i.e Madrid, Barcelona and Seville), thus there were only a handful of travel guides dedicated to it. To add, the itineraries were not as enticing and easy to follow through unlike the more popular tourist locations.
BUT we had the most fun, after months of preparing and searching for the best routes and means to get there.
This was my third time to visit Spain, and usually my dad and I would just “wing it” with our previous visits. Back then, it was also excellent to come prepared, but since the country was effortless to navigate, and whose language can be easily comprehended, we safely took detours on unfamiliar roads from time to time. Veering away from the plan was not a hindrance to enjoying our trip, on the contrary it even made every experience more memorable.
Northern Spain however, was a different story because we had a car and distances between cities were usually two to three hours apart. We were used to riding trains in Europe, so sitting behind the wheel and taking into consideration the rules of driving was truly an unparalleled feat for us. After much thought and careful consideration, we realized that renting a car was the best way to go around our destinations since not all of our chosen stops have designated train stations. And because we had always been dreaming about taking a European road trip, we decided to take a chance at it. And I must say, it made our transfer faster and easier. Not to mention the views were utterly spectacular.
So after everything’s been said that may seem daunting, why must you still visit Northern Spain at least once in your life?
Well, the “troubles” are vale la pena! Or worth it as they say in Spanish. 🙂
It was surprisingly beautiful, and a truly underrated old world charm of mountain ranges with sprawling green spaces, antiquated towns and a collection of some of the best talked about tapas in the country.
And best of all, we reveled in it without having to share it with a disorderly crowd.
Reasons for Choosing Northern Spain:
- Lush Greenery
“Uy, may milk cow!” was how Andre described these fantastic creatures that we only see in TV commercials. From a cliff, we gazed down on a herd of black and white cows chewing cud in the boundless backyards of some of the houses in the region. It was not exactly a pleasing aroma, as we could detect the smell of would be fertilizer even from a mile away, but the sight was nothing short of lovely. Parang postcard!
If you have had enough of the cityscapes, the small towns in the northern stretch would be a timely getaway. It was a very rural atmosphere decorated with dense grasslands, quaint brick houses, tranquil rivers and a handful of grazing animals.
2. Cool(er) Weather
Although fog and rainfall were frequent in this side of Spain, the chilly air was still more pleasant than the heat of Madrid. Compare it to exodus of Manilenas who travel to Baguio to escape the blazing summer heat of Manila. But I have to warn you…ANG LAMIG! if you did not pack the right clothes! So I suggest that you make a research of the weather before setting foot in the area. 🙂 We made a mistake of not taking into consideration the erratic atmospheric conditions of the northern cities; we only brought apparel and accessories for Madrid thinking it was summer-y all over Spain! eh…hindi. SUCH A WRONG MOVE.
During the rainy season, I would advice you to arm yourself with umbrellas, raincoats, proper footwear and extra pieces of warm clothing – the combination of wet and cold weather can be an impediment to a jolly holiday. 🙂
3. Camino de Santiago
Maybe it is safe to say that one of the reasons why people journey to this specific area of the country is because of the Camino de Santiago. Santiago de Compostela is situated up north and usually people travel to nearby cities when the pilgrimage is over – like us. We met up with my dad who went on an eight-day walking tour from Sarria to Santiago. (more about the Camino tour later)
Embrace the sunset with the sand in between your toes!
We had of touch of summer while enjoying the shorelines of Santander, Comillas and San Sebastian. Although the weather gets colder as you approach the water, the colors that have been swirled together by the sky, the waves, the cliffs and the surrounding villages were a sight to behold.
4. Quaint Villages
“Little town, it’s a quiet village…” even though they do not say “bonjour!” it does feel like a French medieval village brought to life. After all it still is Europe. 🙂
“Waking up to say…Hola!” haha.
I envied the fact that they were able to perpetuate the fine details of architecture that has been assembled years ago. As you go in and out of small alleyways you get a picture of how things were in those days. So you can actually pretend to be Belle (may Spanish counterpart ba yun? haha) while singing and dancing on those cobble steps.
I say…try to be loopy once in awhile! besides tourists and locals alike do not know who you are. My husband’s getting a kick out of being weird whenever we are out of the country haha (every single time) just a little side story there.
5. Contemporary cities
There were other destinations aside from the rural vicinities. With Spain there were always options. We drove to Santander to take a look at the bustling city filled with modern shopping stores like Zara, H&M and Mango. Yung tipong sawa ka na and you just want to go back to civilization! haha do not worry, there are modern cities close by to which you can travel when your heart’s already singing…
“there must be more to this provincial life!”
Bilbao was also another big city, and perhaps a must-see if you would like to visit the Guggenheim Museum. (don’t…it’s a waste of time)
6. FOOD, FOOD, FOOD!
Once you enter the Basque country prepare to unlock and unzipper those jeans! I suggest you bring garterized bottoms for this one because the food is just to DIE FOR.
San Sebastian’s known for wining and dining! They have Pintxo bars lined up street after street that will drive you crazy. But it was not only Donostia, the other regions had their specialties as well. Santiago de Compostela had their Pulpo a la Gallega (the famous Galician octopus! you have to try it) and Tarta de Santiago; Asturias district boasted of their Fabada Asturiana and Sidra (cider); the Cantabria expanse served one of the best Chuletas in town (their version of steak).
AY CARAMBA! ang tharap! haha.
7. History and Culture
Santiago de Compostela was brimming with interesting facts and myths alike. It seemed that locals loved to mix history with superstitions! If you take a tour (and I say you should), your travel guide will relay to you the story of Santiago’s (St. James) voyage to bring the gospel to Spain. It was said that this sparked the pilgrims’ aspirations to walk to the cathedral from different parts of the world which was widely known to be the Camino de Santiago.
Ang daming masasabi about the Camino! I mean it really was that interesting. More about that in another post. 🙂
The bull fighting culture of Pamplona was also something to experience. We traced the way of the bulls as they were let out into the streets during the San Fermin festival.
I wish these were good enough to give justice to the beauty that Northern Spain beholds, but I know words will not suffice to the whole experience of listening, tasting, seeing, touching all that this country has to offer…so
I say try and have a look see.
It took a little bit more of planning and mustering of courage to actually set it all in motion, but I am glad we took the risk to venture into a less chartered territory!
It was definitely one for the books! And we will supremely do it again, if God permits! 🙂