While most travellers have enjoyed the Spanish cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Malaga and Granada, it is the northern coastal regions of Spain, the ones you should explore before it´s too late. Fertile valleys, pre-historic rock carvings, plummeting canyons, stunning coasts, medieval monasteries, beautiful natural parks and, of course, delicious tapas. Here, we´ll give you the insider tips on where to go in Asturias, Cantabria and Galicia: three destinations that should be on your list of places to discover in Spain.
Nestled between Galicia and Cantabria is Asturias, small and boasting an infinite variety of landscapes: from snowy mountains to sandy un-spoilt beaches and 24 natural reserves, including three of Spain´s largest national parks. The Parque Natural de Somiedo, (parquenaturalsomiedo.es), the only place in the country where you might get a glimpse of brown bears and wolves, it has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO. Other biosphere reserves are Muniellos, Oscos-Eo, Redes and Picos de Europa.
If you want to do something different this Summer, combining smaller cities, Michelin-star restaurants, sumptuous tapas and outdoor activities, the best place to start the trip is in the harbour town of Gijon. While you´re in Asturias make sure to check out all the local fiestas. The Feast of St. John (Festival of Fire) takes place on June 24th and the celebrations involve dancing around bonfires to mark the beginning of the Summer holidays. If you decide to go during the month of July, The Interceltic Festival of Aviles has a spectacular line up of musicians from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Brittany, Galicia and Asturias. Also in July, check out the Oviedo Jazz Festival.
With its strong Celtic connections, wild beaches and the best seafood in Europe, Galicia remains largely unexplored by tourists. Its capital, Santiago de Compostela, is the mecca for pilgrims that have been making their way along the Camino de Santiago for over a thousand years. Medieval fishing villages, Rias Baixas, dunes and the rugged and spectacular coastline of Costa da Morte are definite musts on the list of places to go in Galicia.
Make sure you make a stop at the 1.5km long Cathedral beach (Praia As Catedrais), the National Park of Islas Atlánticas (iatlanticas.es) and the Cíes Islands, a 45-minute ferry trip away from Vigo. Only accessible between June and September. In La Coruña province, you´ll be able to visit the Corrubeso National Park that includes a variety of lagoons and sandunes, including one large moving dune. Also in the same province, is an Atlantic forest, which has survived the passing of time, since the late Stone Age.
If you´re around this Summer, you must try the seafood, one of the best in the world thanks to the variety and quality. Scallops, prawns, clams, shore crabs and its famous pulpo (octopus). Throughout the Summer, locals and visitors indulge eating at pulperías in town squares where octopus is cooked in traditional copper pots.
Cantabria has over 200 kilometers of unbeatable Atlantic coastline dotted with beautiful beaches and picturesque coves. Inland, you´ll find luscious green landscapes, limestone mountains, estuaries and romantic fishing villages where outdoor activities and amazing culinary experiences await you.
Santander is a modern capital and close to quiet Summer resort villages such as Castro Urdiales, San Vicente de la Barquera and Santillana del Mar. One of the most spectacular beaches in this region is Playa de Sonabia where you can observe griffon vultures circle above. The Cabárceno Natural and Wildlife Park, south of Santander, is home to gorillas, sea lions, elephants, eagles and bears. Care for a thermal bath? Check out La Hermida, north of Potes. For pre-historic art, try El Pendo in the Camargo Valley or the caves in Puente Viesgo.
Described as the greenest parts of the Iberian Peninsula, these three regions are the rainiest parts of the country. However, from June to September, you´ll have almost as much chance of sunny days as in the Mediterranean coast. If you´re looking to get away from the sun-scorched beaches and tourists, travel north. You´ll wonder why you waited so long.