So, you have finished the Camino de Santiago Trek and are looking for a little more laid-back adventure in the glorious provinces of northern Spain. Where do you go? Where do you stay? We’ve got you covered! Add a week on to your El Camino de Santiago Trek (Portuguese Way or French Way) and from Santiago de Compostela, head west to explore our top four, must-see northern Spanish destinations:
- Parque Nacional de los Picos Europa (European Peaks National Park)
- La Rioja
- San Sebastian
#1 PARQUE NACIONAL DE LOS PICOS EUROPA
The Picos de Europa National Park is located in the Cantabrian Mountains, between the provinces of Asturias, Leon and Cantabria.
Different geological folds and glaciations have shaped a tortuous landscape sculpted by ice and the effect of water on the limestone, forming a magnificent karst mountain system. The three main massifs of this natural wonder are bound by deep valleys and gorges, which arose due to the erosive passage of the sharp tongues of glacial ice and the force of the rivers’ waters which, even today, continue to dissolve the limestone, shaping the rock at its whim.
The central massif is home to the highest peaks in the Cantabrian Mountains in the form of the sheer-sided Urrieles, dominated by the most emblematic reference in the Picos de Europa: the immense beauty of Naranjo de Bulnes or Urriellu Peak. Its 2,519 meters of difficult terrain have not prevented human settlements from emerging, the most famous being the village of Bulnes. Until 2001, it was accessible only via a steep, narrow mountain path. Since then, access to the village is easier thanks to the funicular railway that cuts across the mountain from the town of Poncebos.
To the east of the Urrieles lies the eastern massif, the Andara, the smallest with a gentler profile, whose highest peak is Morra Lechugales at 2,400 meters. The westernmost of the three massifs is that of the Picos de Cornión, near the Royal Site of Covadonga, a place of pilgrimage visited by thousands of people each year. There Lakes Enol and Ercina reflect the high mountains where the legendary history of Asturias was forged.
Between the Urrieles and the Cornión and separating the central and western massifs from south to north, runs the River Cares, whose crystalline waters rage throughout its course. Outstanding among the beautiful peaks of the western massif rises La Peña Santa de Castilla at 2,596 metres. On the way to this peak, Ordiales Scenic Balcony can be found with a drop of almost 1,000 meters down to the valley below, instilling awe in all who visit it.
WHERE TO STAY
Parador de Fuente De: In the midst of the imposing verticality and idyllic scenery of the mountains of Picos de Europa National Park stands the Parador de Fuente Dé, located near this small town’s famous cableway. The Parador is a gateway to magical forests, mountain slopes and scenic overlooks that make up a natural paradise of incomparable beauty. This modern mountain hotel is located in the district of Liébana, at the base of the cableway that climbs up to Áliva viewpoint. The interior is warm and cozy, and traditional Cantabrian dishes such as cocido lebaniego (chickpea stew) and sirloin steak with Tresviso cheese are a magnificent way to recharge after returning from an excursion in the area.
#2 LA RIOJA
La Rioja is a province and autonomous community in northern Spain with a renowned local wine industry. Below the stunning Cantabrian Mountains, vineyards occupy the Ebro valley and surround the old town of Haro. There, the summer festival features the messy Batalla de Vino (wine battle). Local wineries (bodegas) range from small, traditional cellars to major commercial producers. Come taste some of the best wines in Spain while tasting an array of local cheeses and taking in the majestic mountains!
WHERE TO STAY
Palacio Tondon: The Ebro river becomes tortuous as it runs through Briñas, a little gem located in La Rioja which dates back to the Roman period. Narrow streets dotted with stately homes, including this 16th century palace with views of the Tondón vineyards, from which it takes its name. Palacio Tondón is a unique architectural complex surrounded by vineyards and mountains where tradition and history are combined with innovation and sustainability. It’s a place where the word “charm” really comes to life and where time appears to grind to a halt. Just a few minutes away from the Barrio de la Estación and its 7 century-old wineries, it’s the perfect spot to delve into the passionate world of wine. Palacio Tondón en Briñas. Discover everything.
Marques de Riscal: This stunning 2Ist century chateau was designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry and is a true masterpiece. Located in “The City of Wine,” this 5-star hotel is truly an adventure of a lifetime. Prepare to savor a one-of-a-kind experience of all the senses at Hotel Marques de Riscal. New delights await. Enjoy local cuisine and fine wines at 1860 Tradición or Marqués de Riscal Restaurant, both overseen by Michelin-starred Chef Francis Paniego, or soak up the benefits of the grape at the Vinothérapie SPA Caudalie Marqués de Riscal. Welcome to the only hotel created by Frank Gehry where each of the unique 43 guestrooms and suites promises to enchant with exceptional designer touches and enviable views of the countryside, medieval town of Elciego or the striking architecture.
Bilbao, an industrial port city in northern Spain, is surrounded by green mountains. It’s the de facto capital of Basque Country, with a bustling downtown. It’s famed for the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which sparked revitalization when it opened in 1997. The museum houses prominent modern and contemporary works, but it’s the curvy, titanium-clad building that receives the most attention.
WHERE TO STAY
Gran Hotel Domine: The Gran Hotel Domine is the only 5-star hotel in front of the Guggenheim. Having been completely newly renovated in 2018, luxury can now be found in its spacious ambience, its extraordinary service, the passion for art and design, as well as an elegant and cosmopolitan style.
#4 SAN SEBASTIAN
San Sebastian is a resort town on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country. It’s known for Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta, beaches framed by a picturesque bayfront promenade, and world-renowned restaurants helmed by innovative chefs. In its cobblestoned old town (Parte Vieja), upscale shops neighbor vibrant pintxo bars pairing local wines with bite-size regional specialties.
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Maria Cristina: Since opening in 1912, the restored Hotel Maria Cristina has been closely linked to the history and cultural life of San Sebastian. Experience gracious hospitality on a grand scale in the hotel’s rooms and suites. Decorated in a sophisticated palette of greys and white, the rooms are a quiet haven of luxury, style, technology and a dazzling range of services which, combined, make for an unforgettable stay. Discover Dry Bar, a sophisticated space where you can enjoy afternoon tea, classic and signature cocktails, and a wide variety of traditional Spanish tapas or main courses.
Lasala Plaza Hotel: The sea in San Sebastián is not only blue. It changes from deep turquoise to lead grey. The bay can change in a flash from almost tropical calm to the wildest of Atlantic squalls. And it’s there, facing a port dating back hundreds of years, that you’ll find the Lasala Plaza Hotel. A space where luxury doesn’t stop in the rooms. A luxury that embraces a love of local art and culture, sharing it with their guests. Lasala Plaza aspires to be a hotel that embraces and highlights the best of Donostia-San Sebastian: its culture, its love of gastronomy and the sea, the art of knowing how to live and, above all, its people. A San Sebastian they want to share with their guests, so that they too can experience the city like a real local.
Want to plan your trip to Northern Spain and trek the Camino de Santiago? Contact us!
Your friendly Spain expert,