A tailor-made driving holiday along northern Spain’s spectacular coast, from the Basque city of Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela
- Step off the beaten track to explore Spain's idyllic north
- Take in Bilbao's Guggenheim – a modern icon
- Drive between seaside towns and medieval villages
- End in Santiago de Compostela – the final resting place of St James the Apostle
- Stay in historic parador hotels throughout
- 2 Nights Bilbao
- 1 Night Santillana del Mar
- 2 Nights Cangas de Onís
- 1 Night Gijón
- 2 Nights Santiago de Compostela
Best of holidays | History & culture | Self-drive
Your journey begins in the Basque city of Bilbao, home to the famous Guggenheim Museum, and gateway to some of northern Spain's best beaches. From here, it's a scenic drive west to the pretty village of Santillana del Mar, passing charming seaside towns and majestic mountain landscapes, before spending two days exploring the stunning scenery and wonderful walking trails of the Picos de Europa National Park. Next, head to Gijon, a beachside city with a lively food and drink scene, and Oviedo, where medieval monasteries and cathedrals dominate a characterful old town. Finally, follow in the footsteps of the Christian pilgrims of the Middle-Ages as you visit the great cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, said to be the final resting place of St James the Apostle. Throughout, you'll enjoy scenic drives and stays in historic parador, from converted monasteries to the world's first hotel – a 15th-century royal hospital.
Day by day itinerary
After enjoying complimentary airport-lounge access, you'll fly out to Bilbao, picking up your hire car and making your way to your hotel. It's a five-star jewel, an early-20th-century dame complete with grand, neoclassic façade and the second-largest dome in Spain. You'll also be perfectly poised to explore, with two days here. The Guggenheim, described by some as "the greatest building of our time", is an obvious highlight. Twice the size of its New York counterpart, its dazzling titanium edifice is a fitting tribute to the exhibits inside. You might also want to explore further afield, with golden beaches, the Belle Époque grandeur of San Sebastian and the green hills of the Basque Country within easy reach.
Stay: Gran Hotel Domine, Bilbao (Deluxe)
Santillana del Mar
Today drive west into Cantabria, a region famed for its breathtaking coastline, majestic mountains and characterful seaside towns. Visit the capital, Santander, packed with pretty plazas and tempting tapas bars; the great curving beach of Castro Urdiales; and perhaps the caves of Altamira, home to some of the oldest and most impressive cave art in the world. Whichever route you take, you'll end with a stay in a medieval mansion in cobblestone Santillana del Mar, which Jean-Paul Sartre described as the "prettiest little village in Spain".
Stay: Parador Santillana Gil Blas (Superior)
Picos de Europa
Continuing west, stop at the resort town of San Vincente de la Barquera before driving into the magnificent Picos de Europa National Park, a compact area of the vast Cordillera Cantábrica mountains. It's blessed with spectacular scenery, superb walking and abundant wildlife. After stretching your legs, descend into Asturias and check in to your hotel in Cangas de Onis – a beautifully converted monastery. The highlight here is a historic medieval bridge across the Rio Sella. Return to the mountains the following day, perhaps to the Holy Cave of Cabadonga or to the beautiful glacial lakes, Enoi and Ercina.
Stay: Parador Cangas de Onis (Superior)
Returning to the coast, stop for lunch at Gijon – a lively city set around two sandy beaches and a harbour. Perhaps also take a short trip to Oviedo, the elegant and beautiful capital of Asturias. It's home to the best of the pre-Romanesque architecture left by the Asturian monarch. You'll spend the night in Gijon, strolling along its seafront and fishermen's quarter before relaxing in your parador – a delightfully converted mill.
Stay: Parador de Gijon (Superior)
Santiago de Compostela
Continue along the Asturian coast to the village of Luarca, one of the region's most attractive fishing harbours, before turning inland to the Roman town of Lugo, whose impressive 3rd century walls are still in excellent condition. Then head north to A Coruña, a city that blends ancient with modern. Visit the Hercules lighthouse, the oldest in Europe, and Castillo de San Anton, the castle that protected the city for centuries. There are several Roman Churches and fine museums in A Coruña, but be sure to make time to taste the local gastronomy – Navajas (razor clams) are a favourite. Leave A Coruña and head south, retracing the route of the Camino Inglés, traditionally taken by pilgrims from Britain and Ireland arriving by sea. Arrive in Santiago de Compostela, one of Christendom's three principal pilgrimage sites – the others being Rome and the Holy Land. Over the last 1,000 years, millions have flocked to its extravagant cathedral, which is said to house the relics of St James the Apostle. You'll stay right opposite it, in the world's oldest hotel – a royal hospital first built in 1499. You'll also quickly discover that the cathedral is just the jewel in the city's stone-architecture crown.
Stay: Parador Santiago de Compostela (Superior)
Depart for UK
After a last breakfast, drop your hire car off at the airport and board your flight home.
Any element of this itinerary can be adjusted to suit your needs. Just contact us to find out more.
from £1,390 pp. incl. flights
from £1,805 pp. incl. flights
Valid for travel: March to December
- Complimentary UK airport departure lounge access
- Return flights to Bilbao and back from Santiago de Compostela
- 8 nights accommodation on B&B basis
- Car hire for 9 days
Please note a one way fee is payable locally and varies depending on car hire company and can be between 50 and 300 Euros per one way
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