Northern Spain: a cool alternative
In the summer months, when central Spain is uncomfortably hot and cities like Sevilla become all but abandoned, most visitors (as well as many Spaniards) flock to the shores to keep cool. But for those who want to avoid both the heat and the crowds, there’s another option – head north! Besides being cooler, greener and less travelled; northern Spain also offers a cultural richness that can’t be beat.
Start with the mountainous and forested region of Navarra, most famous for the running of the bulls held each July in Pamplona (from the 7th to the 14th). However, Navarra and the city of Pamplona have much more to offer than this iconic Spanish festival. A relaxed journey through the countryside can reveal Navarra’s natural splendor – like the pools and waterfalls of the Urbasa Andia Natural Park and the Irati Forest – and charming medieval villages seem to pop up around every bend. Most notable is the town of Olite, with its impressive medieval palace. Pamplona is also a well worth a visit, even without the bulls!
Continuing on to the Basque Country travellers will discover stunning coastlines and sophisticated cities, a wealth of museums and the region’s famous pintxos (delectable bite sized snacks to accompany a cool glass of cider). Not to be missed are the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, with a permanent collection that includes works of art by the most prominent artists of the second half of the 20th century. The Santa Maria Cathedral of Vitoria-Gasteiz is another highlight, rising majestically from the city center with intricate gothic architecture. Vitoria-Gasteiz is also just a short distance from Rioja Alavesa, famous for its world-class wines and wine tourism.
Get a breath of fresh air in Cantabria, with over 130 miles of some of the world’s most stunning coastline The emerald inland mountains are sprinkled with sleepy towns and villages that provide a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Urban life is centralized in the capital Santander, a lively city of beaches, bars and restaurants. However, the main attraction of Cantabria lies beneath the surface – in the caves of Altamira, El Castillo, and Covalanas. Altamira in particular shelters some of the world’s finest and oldest prehistoric art in the world.
Cantabria’s neighboring region, Asturias, is also home to some famous caves like the Tito Bustillo, but the region is better defined by its pre-Romanesque art. Buildings constructed in this style (between the 8th and 10th centuries) have even been awarded the UNESCO World Heritage designation. The sophisticated city of Oviedo and the surrounding area offer the best opportunities to see the most representative monuments, such as the churches of San Julián de Prados, Santa María del Naranco, San Miguel de Lillo and Santa Cristina de Lena. The region also has plenty of small fishing towns and villages such as Luarca, Cudillero and Llanes, each one with its own unique charm and beauty.
Finally the region of Galicia is home to a wild coastline and an inland labyrinth of blue rivers and lush green hills. Ancient stone villages dot the scenery – some of which are visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year that have set out on the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James. Galicia is also home to the final destination in this famous walk; Santiago de Compostela. While Santiago is arguably one of Spain’s most beautiful and magical cities, there are several others in Galicia that are considered hubs of contemporary culture, like A Coruña, Vigo and Lugo.
Choosing your northern route
From the mountains of Navarra to the dramatic coast of the Cantabrian Sea, from the delectable wine of the Rioja region to the artistic tapas of the Basque Country, northern Spain is a world in itself. If your tour groups want to keep cool while enjoying authentic Spanish culture, a journey through the north is an excellent option. Whether you plan to cover the whole region, or just part of it, we can plan the route to best suit your group.