10 March 2017 by Lisa Ayling
From sleepy fishing villages, mountain walks and quiet beaches to world-class vineyards, near-ancient cathedrals and look-at-me contemporary architecture, the charms of northern Spain are wonderfully diverse. In fact, with so much variety on offer, it can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together this short guide to making the most of your holiday to the region.
This ancient pilgrims’ trail brings you through the rural beauty of Galicia in a manageable weeklong hike that ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It’s a fitting reward, all Romanesque spires that reach skywards in a grandeur matched only by its gilded interior. Along the way you’ll walk through rolling hills of orchards and fields to pause at Roman ruins and pretty medieval villages. But, if the walk sounds like too much, you can have your luggage looked after with a porter service or it can be broken down into day trips.
A shared love of good food is perhaps northern Spain’s only common thread. Whether it’s delicately spiced chorizo, peppers stuffed with salted cod or hearty albondigas meatballs, expect every inch of your tapas table to be quickly covered. No more is this true than in Galicia. Tucked away in Spain’s northwestern corner, its fertile natural world of fishing-village-lined beaches and rolling, vineyard-capped hills produce some of Spain’s finest dining experiences. Think just-caught seafood served in coastal restaurants and hearty empanadas – flaky pastry stuffed with whatever’s in the pantry.
All of northern Spain’s delights are found in the fiercely proud Basque Country. Introductions are made at its Bilbao showpiece, a city whose industrial past has been shrugged off in a skyline defined by great modernist sweeps. From here, continue along the dramatic coast, past cliff-perched villages to reach San Sebastián’s heady mix of white sands, pintxo bars and Belle Époque grandeur. It’s all a postcard-perfect front to rolling vineyards, stone villages and such pretty medieval towns as Vitoria and Tolosa. The latter’s winding flagstone streets link charming piazzas and Gothic masterpieces alike. In between, your tastebuds will be well looked after; the Basque Country features the most Michelin stars per capita in the world.
These neighbouring regions are a pair of oenological treasures. Moving out of the Navarran capital, Pamplona, and its world-famous ‘Running of the Bulls’, this is your chance to head off the beaten track. Lose yourself in Pyrenean peaks, centuries-old monasteries and castle town mazes with Olite’s medieval fortress and Santo Domingo’s spectacular cathedral among the highlights. However, it’s the viticulture that’s the most impressive. A seemingly endless collection of vineyards produce everything from ripe, oak-aged reds to lively, refreshing whites. You’ll have your pick of historic wineries and innovative new bodegas whose dramatic architecture rivals even the Guggenheim.