One of the most popular Ways of the Jacobean Year pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the Camino del Norte – or the Northern Way – offers the best of both worlds, that is, the Cantabrian Sea to your right and the green mountains of Northern Spain to your left. Given that a majority of the 835-kilometre route hugs the coastline, beach bums can look forward to frolicking in golden sands and sampling some of the best seafood that the Iberian Peninsula has to offer. Moreover, discover the distinct but invariably exciting cultural flavours of cities like San Sebastian, Bilbao and Santander before your trip culminates in Santiago de Compostela.
The first of those cities is San Sebastian, in the Basque Country region. The residents of this city take pride in their rich culinary heritage; the city is home to eighteen Michelin-starred restaurants, the most in Spain and among the top ten in Europe. While La Concha beach is where the excitement lies, a jaunt or a bicycle ride through the cobbled streets of the old quarter of San Sebastian reveals heritage structures like medieval churches and imposing monuments.
The next city on the trail is Bilbao, and it is just as historically significant as San Sebastian, as evidenced by Siete Calles or the Seven Streets laid down in the 14th century. However, the city has shot to international fame due to a building that is relatively new, and in some ways, the epitome of contemporary architecture – the Guggenheim Museum. Established in 1997, the museum is one of the largest in Spain, its curiously curving titanium-clad building presenting a mesmerizing sight.
The shimmering Guggenheim Museum is designed by reputed architect Frank Gehry. Photo Courtesy: Spain Tourism
As the Camino del Norte passes through the Cantabria region, it showcases a different side of Northern Spain. From the chic restaurants and vibrant arts landscape of the Basque Country cities, you are transported to the quaint traditional fishing villages that dot the coast in this region. As can be expected, the seafood pinxtos (a snack usually served with drinks at bars) cannot be missed when in Cantabria. In the region’s capital Santander, set some time aside for a trip to the Peninsula de la Magdalena, a green hillock on which the Palacio de la Magdalena is situated. While the 20th century palace is grand in every sense of the way, the prehistoric Altamira Caves in the nearby town of Santillana del Mar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses prehistoric cave paintings from the Paleolithic Age.
Crossing over into the Asturias region, the Way cuts across hilly mountain passes and stunning beaches. Apart from seafood, this region is known for the fabada, a hearty bean stew, and the cachopo, a deep fried treat made from veal, ham and cheese. To go with these sumptuous dishes, the Asturian people have mastered the art of cider-making using a mix of local apple varieties to create the perfect drink to refresh you on your adventure! Apart from the gastronomic delights on offer, the Playa de Gulpiyuri beach near Llanes is unlike any you have ever seen. The tiny beach is actually situated a short distance away from the coast and is formed because of the Cantabrian Sea’s water seeping inland. The inland beach is truly one-of-a-kind and has been declared a National Monument in Spain. As the Asturian leg of the Camino del Norte comes to an end, spend some time admiring the historic Romanesque architecture in the cities of Gijon and Aviles before heading into Galicia for the final stages of your epic journey.
The Camino de Santiago comes to an end at the glorious Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Photo Courtesy: Spain Tourism.
The push towards Santiago de Compostela takes you away from the sea, starting from Ribadeo. Though the beaches are not at hand anymore, you will find yourself in the wilderness of biosphere reserves of the Terras do Mino and Osco y Terras de Buron. Moving on from the stunning nature views, take a slight detour from the historic city of Mondonedo to catch a glimpse of the walled city of Lugo, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Finally, you arrive in Santiago de Compostela, where the Cathedral of St. James’ beckons.
Celebrate the successful completion of the Camino de Santiago by sharing a drink and stories from the road with hundreds of other pilgrims and travellers in the city’s famous tapas bars. A fitting end to a challenging, but exhilarating Spanish odyssey!
To know more about the Northern Way, visit https://www.spain.info/en/camino-santiago/northern-way-camino-coast/
As the world recovers from the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, it is of utmost importance to take every possible precaution while enjoying your holiday. Wear a face covering and maintain social distancing whenever possible, to minimize the risk of infection. For more information on how you can make your Spanish holiday safe and secure, visit https://travelsafe.spain.info/en/.
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