25th October 2023
Like most people from my part of the world, I've been to Spain many times, mainly to the southern coastline or at least in the southern parts. I first visited Minorca, then Barcelona, and had a two week walking holiday in Andalucía. There was also a family trip to the Costa Blanca. However a road trip within more rural off-beat parts of Portugal a few years back had opened our eyes to the charm of less frequented rural parts of the Iberian Peninsula. It was time to skip the usual tourist paths and take in the north coast of Spain.
Research into the trip mainly carried out by brother-in-law Brian, led us to the conclusion that there were a number of trips that could be done in what is a large area, so we decided to concentrate initially on getting to Bilbao and doing a loop journey heading west to Santiago and back. Our route took us from Bilbao to Santander and onwards to Ribadessala, Oviedo, Ovecido, A Coruna and Santiago, before turning east inland via Leon and Burgos.
On 21st September Rachel, Brian and I headed from Manchester Airport on an evening Easyjet flight to Bilbao which took just under two hours. Customs and luggage pick up were negotiated easily and a taxi into town was about 30 euros. We had a very nice Air BnB centrally located on Calle Fika.
Friday 22nd September
This was to be our only day when it was a bit drizzly. However, our main plan was to visit museums so not a complete disappointment. We headed out along the river at about 0930. The city looked a bit sleepy at this time but first impression was that it was very clean and prosperous. There were lots of interesting looking buildings both medieval and modern. We passed the City Hall and came up to the Arcos Rojos, a painted sculpture over a bridge on the Rio de Bilbao. Beside the bridge is the Guggenheim Museum, which is the jewel in Bilbao's crown. The building was designed by Frank Gehry and is quite unique to behold. I'll let the photos do the talking. I'm only sorry it wasn't a brighter day so the photos are a bit dull.
The Guggenheim is a wonderful building viewed from the outside and inside of it there are many weird and wonderful objects depending on personal taste. I really enjoyed my visit and unlike many museums I've visited, took a lot of photos and have tried to describe the art work accurately. Make your own minds up! Not everyone I know will appreciate all the items photographed. Entry was only 5 euros for OAPs. I was 65 two days ago….12 euros for my wee sister….
The rain had come on so we headed along the river briefly to take in an area paying homage to the ship building past of the area. We ended up at the Museo de Ballas Artes which had a mixture of old and new objects. My favourite was a painting of rural folk gathering for food and song by Valentin de Zubiaurre.
We finished the day by taking a walk around the Old Town, visiting the 14th Century gothic Cathedral de Santiago. The Mercado de la Ribera (market) is one of Europe's largest and was closed by this time. We ate there at night. In the evening the Plaza Nueva is the busy, happening place but we hadn't pre booked so had tapas in the market instead. Top tip: book a table in the Plaza Nueva in advance.
Saturday 23rd September
We picked up our hired car near the airport. We used Record-Go and got a Ford Kuga. We had no hassle with this company or the car despite some mixed on line reviews. The staff at the office on both arrival and departure were helpful and the service was slick. Recommended.
Our journey to Santander (our stop for the weekend) was to be around 90 minutes, so we had time to stop en route. We were leaving the Basque Country and moving into the region of Asturias and Cantabria. Cantabria comes first heading west.
From memory the journey to Castro Urdiales was about 30 minutes from Bilbao. If you are ever in this area this is a must see. Castro Urdiales is a lovely seaside port. Not a large town, but full of points of interest. We had breakfast by the waterfront after our early start. I had a beautiful tuna tortilla which was moist and tasty. The stunning waterfront includes a Cathedral (Iglesia de santa maria de la asuncion), built in the 13-14th century, a fort (Castillo Faro) built originally in 1163, a medieval bridge linking the castle with the port. Inside the castle was an ancient Roman milestone, but I didn't realise its importance, hence no picture. My bad. There is also a monument to fishermen along the front. We witnessed fishermen rolling up nets. They spotted me taking a photo. I gave them a thumbs up which was reciprocated. Very friendly. Most of these sights can be taken in within a two hour period. However if you read up on it there are many other things to see in and around the town so a full day could easily be spent here.
En route to Santander we passed Laredo, which led to a verse of the cowboy song being put out….Mercifully for my companions; I don't know the whole song!
Our Air BnB in Santander was only a five minute walk from the centre. There was no parking nearby so we got into an underground car park for E18 per day. Our host was non contactable so we had a nice lunch of meats, cheese and hot calamari in Pombo Square, washed down by local cerveza. Once we dumped our gear at our lodgings we headed straight for the highly recommended Centro Botin Art Complex, which is right on the waterfront. It is a modern building with a collect of art, new and old. There is a great collection of portraits by Francis Bacon and others. My favourite was a Jose Guitierrez Solanos painting called the Mask Maker. I assume you weren't allowed to take photos in this gallery as I don't seem to have any. The view from the rooftop of the gallery over the seafront and beyond was stunning. If you're not into art or don't want to pay to get in to the gallery you can still get up onto the roof for nothing. We had a brief visit to the Cathedral. There is one in every place we went to, so the need to go into every one kind of wore off as the trip progressed. Santander is a nice place to spend a weekend. A walk along Sardinero Beach and then on to the Lighthouse at Fara de la Cerda is recommended. There are beaches galore. I hope you enjoy the photos.
In the evening we visited a recommended restaurant La Vinotecha and booked in advance. It opened at 2030. Most people seem to eat really late which I didn't remember from being in Spain before. It was posh and classy so we treated ourselves. Lamb chops were a special. I got a huge number of chops with bizarrely hardly any meat on them! Chops are to be avoided but otherwise the restaurant is highly recommended overall.
That was a two city start to the trip. Following our day of rest we travelled further west and there will be more rural stuff. Blog and photos will follow in Part 2. In the meantime enjoy Part 1.
All the best