NORTHERN SPAIN – Off Beat But On The Mark
by Lynne Flavell
Year after year my friends and I vow to use every single vacation day we are given, and to make the most of each one. We seek out unique travel experiences and locations where we can have a little bit of everything – culture, history, good wine and food, outdoor activities and vibrant city life. All of us had previously visited southern Spain, including the popular cities of Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada as well as some of the beach towns along the southern coast. Therefore, we were surprised and enthralled to find everything we wanted and much more in a recent trip to lesser-known Northern Spain.
We are very particular and fairly independent travelers – we have no interest in taking group tours or standardized itineraries; rather we like to explore and maintain a level of flexibility. However, because there is so little written about this area, to help us seek out the best sites and activities, we decided to contact someone specialized in the area. In our case that was Northern Exposure Spain. Over the course of several conversations, they listened to our preferences and our expectations for activities as well as accommodations, talked us through a vast array of options – more than we could possibly fit into a few days – and in the end, planned a fabulous itinerary. We did so much in such a short period of time!
Northern Spain, also known as Green Spain, is anchored by several coastal cities. With Northern Exposure Spain’s help, we decided to set up our home base in Santander, the capital of Cantabria, a very easily navigated, small but vibrant city, full of fabulous restaurants and bars and lined with big beautiful – and unlike some of those in southern Spain, not very crowded – sandy and rocky beaches.
Charles from Northern Exposure Spain was our primary contact as well as our (completely bilingual!) guide for the week. He picked us up every morning, and found a nice place for some coffee and to discuss our options for the day – based on the weather, or how we were feeling (there’s fun nightlife in the city!). Charles was knowledgeable and flexible enough to make changes when needed. Here are some of the many, many highlights of the trip:
Right from the get-go, we were thrilled with our hotel! There are so many beautiful hotels in the region and Northern Exposure Spain gave us options ranging from 5-star to small and comfortable hostels. We generally opt for simple accommodations, and therefore chose a small boutique hotel in the middle of Santander with a very attentive owner and a charming garden. We loved it.
Charles helped us explore the abundant history of the region by visiting two of the many prehistoric caves located in Northern Spain – El Castillo and Las Monedas – and graciously translated as our cave guide explained the meaning behind the intricate and well-preserved drawings and paintings. It is amazing to think of life back in those days.
One morning we also visited a series of beautiful cave churches carved into stone cliffs in the southern part of Cantabria, located in hidden places we never would have found for ourselves.
We spent another day in the Picos de Europa, a stunning mountain range in Northern Spain, doing some light hiking and taking in breathtaking views – complete with a little mountainside picnic that our guide provided for us! There are trails for people of all levels, from the casual walker to the rock climber. From high atop these mountains, it is easy to see how this region came to be known as Green Spain.
Our guide also drove us along the stunning coast to visit some of the nearly deserted, tucked away beaches…the scenery rivaled that of the northern coast of Ireland, no one could believe where we were when our friends saw our pictures.
En route we stopped through some adorable and quaint medieval towns, for example Santillana del Mar. We enjoyed enjoy tapas, beautiful stone houses adorned with flowers and even a little souvenir shopping to boot. Walking through some of these towns was like being in a movie. We were all simply enamored.
Each day the recommendations of Northern Exposure Spain led us to a series of excellent restaurants. We found the food in Northern Spain quite different than Southern Spain – hearty stews, fresh and delicious seafood, and very good (and inexpensive!) wines from the many surrounding regions. The food was one of our favorite parts of the trip. My personal favorite was lunch at Annua, which recently earned a coveted Michelin star. We all ordered the tasting menu, which included 15 courses of utterly unique and surprising deliciousness. I rank it in my top five eating experiences of all time!
We all loved the city of Santander. At night when we were on our own, Charles pointed us towards a string of lively restaurants and bars, and gave us great options to experience local theater and music – we even took in a Flamenco music show one night that happened to be in town from Southern Spain. We explored many of the great shops, and enjoyed strolling along the water at sunset.
One of the best parts of the trip overall was just how easy everything was. We’ve taken trips before that were laden with maps and GPS’s and trying to get from one place to the next, and with Northern Exposure Spain, we didn’t have to worry about any of that. Completely stress free!
If you love unique travel experiences that can provide a little something for all of your interests, Northern Spain is a must-see, and you couldn’t do it better than with Northern Exposure Spain.
You can contact Charles from Northern Exposure Spain directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via their toll free number 888-737-8146. They have a great website if you want to take a peek www.northernexposurespain.com.