Having traveled through the slightly off the beaten path of Northern Spain, I thought it might be useful to pen down some practical information on how to travel through this part of the vast and beautiful country of Spain. I often found more information on the bigger and more popular cities of Spain but found it a little difficult to get easy information on this part. Its my humble attempt to list a few things that might be useful to someone planning to travel here someday!
Traveling here gave me immense calm and happiness as this is exactly the kind of atmosphere I prefer – local and unique cultural vibes with beautiful nature interspersed with some active travel like cycling, hiking etc along with cool weather. A map of the places I visited is shown below. I traveled entirely by public transport.
- This part of Spain is a total contrast to the rest of Spain. It can be seen that this region is very green and is aptly called “Costa Verde” or the Green Spain. It is very close to the oceans and thus offers wonderful beaches and very cool climates and the mountains in this area – the Picos de Europa and the Cantabrian mountain ranges bring ample amount of rains in these parts and nourish this region. It is an absolutely beautiful part of Europe.
- The regions I visited were Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque regions. Each of these are states in Spain and are culturally different. Some have celtic influences, others speak a different language etc. On the whole Spanish is widely spoken but it is quite a challenge to get by knowing only English except in San Sebastian which is a more popular tourist destination.
To start from the west to east, the most practical way of getting into Asturias is by flight. Direct flights are operated within Europe and are not very expensive. However, the Asturias airport is quite a distance from the city of Oviedo and there are buses at the airport ready to take you to Oviedo. While language might seem a challenge in buying tickets or asking for directions or destinations, the people in these parts are extremely polite and patient and will try to help in every way possible.
- Oviedo is a very charming city. It is optimum to spend 2-3 days in this historic city, The city is very small and is very walkable and clean. It is ideal to have a car for excursion into the mountains, in fact the whole of Asturias is best visited by car. However, there are means to get from one place to another by public transport. I managed my time in Spain without a car and didn’t face any problem.
- Some of the best excursions into the mountains in Asturias can be done by basing yourself closer to the mountains, in a mountain village like Cangas de Onis or Arriondas. However, I preferred to visit the mountains directly from Oviedo. I chose the most famous trip called the Lagos de Covadonga which is accessed by bus from Oviedo. The main bus line in Spain is the ALSA bus. The buses are clean, comfortable and mostly on time. From the main bus station it is possible to get timings for the buses. Leaving early morning, it takes a couple of hours to arrive in Cangas de Onis and from the same station, another bus takes you to Lagos de Covadonga. This is the best way to do this excursion by public transport and it is totally worth the trouble.
- Another beautiful town I stayed in is Llanes. This spectacularly beautiful village is very close to the beaches (apparently over 32 of them here!). I took the bus from Oviedo to Llanes. It is possible to take a slow train called the FEVE which stops at every small village along the way. This is much slower than the bus but for lovers of slow travel it may be a very romantic experience as the train winds its way along the coast of Spain. Again, a car is very useful if planning for a long stay in Llanes trying to explore the cute villages and going to some starting points of treks in the mountains. I had a cycle with me which allowed me to cycle all along the crests and troughs of the rolling hills, relaxing on the beaches etc. I found this a very healthy and clean way of exploring the region. Bike rentals are of course available in the main towns.
Food is apparently delicious in these parts but for a vegetarian the options are quite limited. That said, you can certainly explain your preferences and you will find something suitable to eat everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, people are so nice and patient even in restaurants that whether it is a crowded place or not, you are going to get excellent attention even in busy restaurants at peak hours and I speak as a solo traveler.
- Travel in Spain is very pocket friendly. This is one of the best countries to travel in as a budget traveler. Hotels, food, transport, none of these are going to leave a huge dent in your pockets unlike some of the other popular European destinations.
There are two ways to get into or out of San Sebastian. If you are coming in from France, the best is to take a TGV to Hendaye station (within France) and switch trains to get into San Sebastian. This is a nice way for slow travel. The other way is to fly, the nearest airports being either Biarritz (in France) or Bilbao (Spain). I flew out of Bilbao, the largest city in Basque region. There are direct buses from San Sebastian to Bilbao right at the main bus terminal.
- The best time to travel here is perhaps between May and September. I would think that it might be a little more crowded and hot in the peaks in summer. I went in fall and found the weather to be perfect. Only towards the end did it start raining. Nothing that hampered any of my plans though.
Whatever the mode of transport or the budget, this part of Europe is incredible and will be etched in my memories for a long time. It is certainly worth spending over a week exploring the mountains and beaches. You won’t regret a visit here. I hope the pictures do some justice!