Travel || Northern Spain


I have not been very good about sharing my travels with you in the blog during these last few years.  So I'm hoping I can make it up to you.  Today's post is about our itinerary in the North of Spain this summer. In future posts I will share my favorite things to do in Madrid and Malaga in case you are starting to think about your next vacation.  I know it's early to plan for next summer but if you buy plane tickets now you can save so much money!  Too bad we have so many uncertainties up in the air now and we just can't plan anything quite yet.

The North of Spain is BEAUTIFUL!!!  And the food is amazing. So fresh and so good! Some of the world's best chefs come from this area. I highly recommend this trip, especially in today's global climate where going to big cities like Paris or London could be a little scary.  BTW this trip does not include Barcelona.  So I think pretty much all the cities we visited are very safe.  Our trip was one week, but it can easily be extended to 10 days or even two weeks.  There are so many beautiful towns and places to visit that you can easily dedicate this amount of time to the area.  We began our trip in Santiago de Compostela, then went to Ribadesella, then Santander and lastly to San Sebastian.  And of course we visited other little towns along the way as we stopped for lunch or a snack.  I won't go into too much detail about the towns but will give you links for further reading.

We rented a car in Santiago de Compostela, (for more of it's history visit here) a beautiful and well-preserved town where the Catholic Pilgrimage route of el Camino de Santiago ends.  So you will see many pilgrims just arriving with their walking sticks and huge backpacks. This city was designated as an Unesco World heritage site because of its architectural treasures. It's squares and narrow streets contain Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassicist buildings. The cathedral itself is stunning.  And the town is very fun to walk around and get lost in.  We stayed at the Parador de Santiago de Compostela because it is in the center of the town (literally on the main square and near the cathedral) and because it is a beautiful building in itself. It is widely considered the oldest continuously operating hotel in the world. You feel you are staying somewhere very special. Let me show you a bit of the town-


This below was our hotel.  A truly magnificent building.


And here a peek into our bedroom.  Very classic and simple.  The bathrooms were modern and nice.


Restaurants to try that were highly recommended to us in Santiago are: Casa Marcelo (One Michelin Star and probably the best one in Santiago), Pedro Roca andAbastos 2.0. If you want a day trip lunch visit Yayo Daporta ( one star Michelin restaurant.) in Cambados, a nearby town. The food was divine and the atmosphere relaxed.

The next town we visited was Ribadesella, a beautiful and quaint town by the sea.  In the drive between Santiago de Compostela to Ribadesella you can stop at many different places to sightsee or for lunch.  You really can't go wrong. There is a beautiful beach not to be missed called Playa de las Catedrales along the way. We stopped in a quaint and colorful little town called Cudillero (see below) with lots of fish restaurants.  The day was glorious.


Then after a lesurely fish lunch we arrived in Ribadesella where we stayed in Villa Rosario, a small and super cute hotel by the ocean (you will see our room below). The Hotel has two buildings so make sure you stay in the one that looks like a little palace (photo below). Three restaurants in Ribadesella to note are La Huertona, Arbidel (one Michelin Star) and La Parrilla.


There are hydrengeas everywhere in this part of Spain! it is really stunning! They get so much rain that they are all over the place in all sorts of colors. And of course the provide the perfect backdrop for photos.


This the hotel again from the ocean side where there is like a boardwalk.


The next town we slept in was Santander, a city by the ocean known for it's natural beauty. But we stopped in a few great places along the way before getting there.  First, we stopped in Comillas to visit the old Comillas University which has since moved to Madrid but the buildings remain and are examples of magnificent architecture.  The view from up here of the ocean and town is beautiful.


From here we drove to Santillana del Mar which is about a 20 min car drive, if I remember correctly.  This was such a beautiful drive.  We took the scenic route and it was so worth it as we passed tons of hidden small beaches and marshes.  These felt like hidden gems all along the way. Santillana is a small roman town with cobble-stoned streets.  The town is small and fun to stroll.  You have to have a typical snack here of pound cake and milk, which we did of course! Many places will offer this. The famous Paleolithic Caves of Altamira are nearby but I think they might be closed to turists lately.


And here we arrived in Santander.  We stayed in the Sardinero Hotel right next to the Sardinero beach. I forgot to take a photo of our bedroom here but it was recently remodeled so all the bathrooms and rooms are new.  The building itself is beautiful and you have amazing views of the beach next door.


We took a boat ride in the harbor to enjoy the views from the water and see the coastline.  It was a beautiful way to see the city from a distance.  El Centro Botin just opened by the Pereda Gardens this summer which is a beautiful museum designed by Pritzker Prize-winner architect Renzo Piano (who also designed The Centre Pompidou and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas among many other well-known works). Below is my photo of it from the boat.


It really looks like it is floating on the water.  We saw a couple of amazing art exhibits there- Goya's Drawings and an amazing modern exhibit by Carsten Holler which the kids loved. Here is a close-up of the structure. Massive yet light!


One last photo from the boat.


Some restaurants to note in Santander are- Canadio, La Posada del Mar, and Casa Lita with the yummiest pinchos (similar to tapas) ever!  A very chic local friend took us around so you know these will be good. Next stop San Sebastian.  We splurged in the hotel and stayed at the Maria Cristina, a beautiful hotel right in the middle of town. This city is well known for its pinchos and the idea is you go around to the different restaurants to eat their 'specialty' pincho.  So basically, you eat and drink your way thru this town!  There are pincho tours you can take and everything.


This a peek at our pretty lobby with hydrangeas of course! 


The famous pinchos are below.....this is just a sampling.  They are really works of art. Notable places to eat here- Antonio's bar, Casa Urola, Bar Txepetxa, A Fuego Negro, and Atari which was impossible to get into.  I will need to go back to try this one.  It seemed to be the most popular because we tried in 3 different instances to go at completely random times and there was always a huge wait!  If you want a regular restaurant these are the ones they recommended to us SebastiΓ‘n a more classic style and Danontzat (modern).


One night we went for dinner to Martin Berasategui (Three Michelin Stars) and it was spectacular! (Note- you do need to go by car, it is only a 20 minute car ride, a taxi is fine!) We had such a special and unforgettable meal that I would go back to San Sebastian only to have dinner there again.  Even Little A thought the food was so good that it derserved many more Michelin Stars.  The waitress relayed this message to the chef and so he came out to greet her and give her this signed chef's jacket.  Martin Berasategui really is the sweetest most humble chef we have met.


When you need to walk-off all your calories a stroll around La Concha beach is the thing to do.


Last but not least you need to stop by Bilbao, even if it's just on your way to the airport.  The Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Ghery is so impressive.  Even if you have seen millions of photos of it nothing compares to seeing in person.  It is massive and comes up like a surprise, an effect you can't replicate with a photograph.  Notable restaurants here: Zortziko, Nerue (at the museum), Boroa, Arzumendi if you are looking for 3 stars! 


As you can see eating well is a big part of this trip.  I did a lot of research with local friends, friends of friends, internet research..... in order to get to the best itinerary given the time we had available to us and to find the yummiest restaurants and the best suited hotels.  We could easily go back and do an entirely different trip just because there are so many things to do and places to visit and of course there is never enough time to do it all.  Like they say, you always have to leave something for next time.

Have you been to the area?  What places do you recommened? ANy unforgetable towns or meals I should know about for future reference?