Northern Spain part 2: Santillana del Mar to A Coruna
A Coruña, Spain
1st November 2023
Our trip along the coastline of northern Spain heading west continued following our weekend in Santander.
Monday 25th September
We left Santander with the aim of spending our next night in Ribadesalla. This was only an hour and a quarter from Santander but we managed quite a few stops in between.
Santillana del Mar is a short drive out of Santander. It is known as The Town of Three Lies, since it is neither a Saint (Santo), nor flat (llana), nor is it by the sea (Mar) as implied by its name. What is does have is a well preserved medieval town with cobbled streets, churches and renaissance palaces. We had breakfast and wandered around the streets. We just spent an hour or so as we had a busy agenda. The Church of the Colegiata was a main feature. Another nearby option would be a visit to the Caves of Altamira which has ancient paintings but was however closed on a Monday.
Our next stop was Comillas where we visited El Capricho, a fairy tale house designed by Gaudi. It is one of only three of Gaudi's works that has been built outside Barcelona. This was well worth a look and I hope the photos do it some justice.
Brian had identified the Picos Mountains National Park as a must visit and indeed that proved to be the case. We headed south off the coast road through winding passes with little room to manoeuvre. Quite a challenging drive. There was a cable car lift at Fuente De and Brian and I headed up. It was a perfect sunny day. We tackled a couple of paths and the views were stunning. The panoramic vistas were reminiscent of our visit to the Dolomites in 2017.
We drive back north along the way we came to the cost road and got to Ribadesalla about 1800. This was our first hotel stop and Hotel Villa Rosario can be recommended, modern and right on the sea front. Heading out for the evening we got tremendous views onto the beach and also of the Picos Mountains behind the town. I'm afraid I can't remember the name of the restaurant along the front but I got a fantastic fish soup and a ridiculously sized steak. What a great day out! A 'topper o a day,' as they say in Inversnecky!
Tuesday 26th September
We drove west for about an hour from Ribadesalla and came to Gijon, a busy port with a population of c.280,000 and the largest city in Asturias. We walked along the front at Playa San Lorenzo with lovely views opening up. There are extensive remains of Roman baths which we visited before going uphill and onto a narrow isthmus Cimadevilla which is the oldest part of the city. At the top of the hill with great views over the coast is Parque del Cerro de Santa Catalina. It features a 1990 sculpture called Elogio del Horizonte, which is the symbol of the city. There is also well preserved remains of a defensive gun battery. Along the front heading west is a statue of Pelagius of Asturia (685-737), who is credited with leading the re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors.
Just nearby is a more modern sculpture which looks like it's made out of beer or cider bottles, so old and new rub together. Lastly we visited Plaza Major with its 18th century Town Hall, before stopping for refreshment with very aggressive seagulls present!
Our stop for the night was in Oviedo, a university city founded in the 8th century and reputed to be the oldest Christian city in the country. It is inland from the coast. We had access to our accommodation by 1530 so immediately headed out to take in the old part of the town. We visited the Plaza Alfonzo 11 El Casto with its 16th century gothic Catedral de San Salvador. Didn't go inside and according to Brian it wasn't worth a look. The Old Town is compact and easy to get around. We checked out the Plaza Major with its Town Hall and the nearby University. Cider is very popular in these parts. It is non-gassy and similar to the Cornish variety. We shared a bottle in Tierra Astur a well know outlet with a huge cider barrel on the street which I didn't photograph!
In the evening we went to a restaurant recommended by our hosts called La Corte de Pelayo. I had hoped to try the cachopo which is a local Asturian delicacy. Unfortunately the house version of cachopo in this restaurant had too much lactose in it for me so I had to miss out. However I had excellent monkfish and Rachel and Brian were raving about the steaks so visit this place for scran if you're in town. This was a classy joint and not overly expensive. I was disappointed to miss out on a lactose free cachopo but the problem with travelling to so many locations means you don't have time fully check out what tend to be quite local varieties of food.
Wednesday 27th September
Leaving Oviedo in the morning and headed west along the coast, leaving Asturias and moving into Galicia. Our first stop was Ribadeo. Like many coastal towns it is built on an estuary and a bridge links the two parts of the town. There is a nice harbour and we were getting used to seeing these all the time. We walked up the hill overlooking the town and saw some old cannons from fortifications before having a break in a café on the town square, which has a nice mix of buildings including the Town Hall. Ribadeo was not hugely exciting but worth a short stop. Undoubtedly there is plenty to do and see in the town and surrounding area but on a trip like this you don't have time for everything.
Just ten minutes away from Ribadeo was a major natural attraction called A Praia das Cathedrais. This consists of an expansive beach which has arching rock formations with echoes of Gothic architecture. The photos I had viewed prior to our visit had me very excited. Unfortunately due to the tide being high we were not able to get a good angle for photos of the formations. I would make two points. Regardless of the tide situation it is still a beautiful spot and worth a visit at any time. However if you are spending time in this area I would check out the best time of day to go. Such are the vagaries of being on a whistle-stop tour.
Accommodation had been difficult to get in Vivero so Brian had booked us into a wee town which was 15 minutes further west called O Vicido. This proved to be a good move. Vivero has a nice sea front but we had had a busy so found a bakery with excellent tuna empanadas and settled into our smart modern Air BnB in O Vicido (pop. 2700). We had a fabulous evening down at the town port. There was only really the one restaurant called La Bodeguita del Puerto. Sitting outside right at the port we had scallops, swordfish and tuna. Add wine, water, desserts and coffee. All for 30 euros a head. Amazing!
Thursday 28th September
Our next lodging was to be in A Coruna. There was a quick but boring route inland via motorway, so we decided to take the more scenic, coastal route. Our host had recommended that we visit a local viewpoint which looks over the Vivero estuary. This involved heading back east for about ten minutes. We parked off road and took a twenty minute walk through a wood. It was sunny but cool. We had excellent views from the recommended spot which is called Punta Socrasto. It was well worth the detour and I hope you like the photos.
We then headed towards Ortigueira but it didn't look that exciting so we carried on to Cedeira. The narrow streets proved challenging for out large vehicle but we'll draw a line over that! We went up the hill and took a photo over the town before moving on. We didn't stop in Valdovina but had a late lunch in Ferrol. We had octopus so fresh it was virtually jumping off the plate plus a Russian salad and a plate of pork which was perfectly cooked. By this stage we were getting tired of stops so took the quickest route to A Coruna. I should mention that this days travelling was pretty much what I was expecting from this trip. We had beautiful coastline with stunning beaches both small and large and little inlets everywhere. Fantastic scenery.
Our apartment in A Coruna was right up near the headland and was about fifteen minutes' walk from the oldest working lighthouse in the world. The apartment was on the 6th floor with a good view over the city. After a cuppa I headed out and had a wee gander at the Hercules Tower Lighthouse. Originally built in the second century; the present structure dates back to the eighteenth century.
In the evening we walked about four doors down to La Maritima restaurant, recommended by out host. We sat outside overlooking the bay and our kindly waiter talked us out of over purchasing food. A solid meal and trimmings for 20 euros per head. Recommended!
Friday 29th September
Time for a full days sightseeing in A Coruna. Unusually, it had been drizzling early morning but we set off into town and it went off. There were surfers on the town beach but not many waves. A Coruna was called The City of Glass by sailors due to the glass balconies which were a feature of its architecture.
We started at the Plaza Maria Pita, which has the Town Hall and a statue of the eponymous Maria who defended the place against the English led by Francis Drake. A cruise ship was in so there were lots of tourists about. We walked along the marina to Castillo de San Antonio. The castle is out on an isthmus and was built in the sixteenth century for defence of the town. Its only two euros for seniors and there are good views over the town and waterfront from the top. Next stop was the Jardins San Carlo which has the grave of Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore. This gent hails from Glasgow and was killed in 1809 at the Battle of Elvina. There is a famous poem about him should you care to look it up. The place was closed but I managed to get a photo through the gates.
After having tapas in the Town Square (try Pastichio: like lasagne but with ham - delicious!), we wandered up the east side of the peninsula. The views were amazing and there are lots of little beaches everywhere. Coming around the headland we came across Menhirs for Peace. These are sculpture created in 1994 and invite interaction and contemplation. You can view the Hercules Lighthouse through the square holes cut into the store. We didn't go up into the Lighthouse. It is part of a large complex and as we approached it we found that the ticket office was a long way off. Having done a full day's touring and with the strong heat we decided to call it a day. I'm sure that there are good views from the top but of you go work out where the ticket place is first!
In the evening we went to Restaurante O Fado, which was in our street. It was recommended in Brian's Eyewitness Northern Spain guide. It did not disappoint. The house speciality was seafood paella and the portion for four people cost 32 euros. Needless to say we had no problem polishing it off. The desserts were home-made. A great restaurant with a local family feel.
The final part of the trip takes us to Santiago and then back inland to Bilbao via Lugo, Leon and Burgos. I hope you enjoy the blog and photos from this amazing part of Spain. Final blog and photos will follow.
All the best