Itinerary: San Sebastian – Pamplona – Burgos – Sahagún – Léon – Astorga – Ponferrada – Santiago de Compostela – Cabo Finisterre – La Coruña – the Riás Altas – Oviedo – Fuente Dé – Santander – Santillana del Mar – Puente Viesgo – Castro Urdiales – Bilbao
After a somewhat turbulent flight, we land at Bilbao airport just before noon. Unfortunately, the weather forecast turns out to be correct this time: a low pressure area in the Bay of Biscay causes bad weather in the Basque Country. So overcast and wet is our first impression of northern Spain.
In our renal car we drive in the direction of San Sebastian. We take a scenic route, which turns into a little adventure. A part of the route is not on the map and that appears to be quite close to reality. After the road has gone up almost vertically for a while (our brand new car can hardly handle it), the road narrows and gets worse, until there is almost no road left. A bumpy path full of puddles and potholes takes us over pretty much the highest mountain in the area. Here and there we pass a house, until the road suddenly widens again and we can slowly speak of a road again. So the map was correct.
We do some shopping on the way and visit the small towns of Getaria and Aspezia. When we arrive in Zarautz early evening, the weather clears up and the sun actually comes through. After we have pitched our tent at the campsite, we take the opportunity to stroll along the boulevard and have dinner on a terrace. After a reasonably good night’s sleep we drive to San Sebastian. The weather has changed completely: the sun is in a clear blue sky. San Sebastian turns out to be a very pleasant city with a really beautiful beach on a crecent bay. From the Mont Urgull you have a panoramic view over the bay. We check out Parque Miramar and then head for the beach.
From Zarautz we take the main road to Pamplona. The campsite turns out to be the busiest campsite you can think of. Because of the San Fermín festivities in Pamplona, both Spaniards and tourists have flocked to Pamplona and this campsite is one of the few options to spend the night (besides wild camping in a parking lot, which is closed at this time). We do get a sport though, although we have to pay a considerable amount for it. In the afternoon we drive down the valley east of Pamplona. The route leads over passes with hairpin bends, down beautiful valleys, along rough granite rockas and green mountain slopes.
The next morning we get up very early, in order to be in Pamplona on time (ie two hours in advance) for the yearly bull run. Like all night, the rain is pouring down from the sky and there’s a lot of thunder. We defy the weather and throw all our stuff into the car at a rapid pace. Even before it gets light, we leave the campsite. Although it’s still early, it’s difficult to get a good spot, but between the wooden deposits and other people’s legs, we manage to see some of the spectacle. After the bull run we walk about Pamplona, were drunken people who have partied all night dominate the streets.
Burgos, Sahagún and Léon
As we leave Pamplona heading west, the weather clears. The road to Burgos is long and fairly boring, the landscape wide, but not very exciting. Burgos has some nice sights, the most important being the cathedral. After a good night’s sleep, we leave Burgos towards Léon. The road leads over the Meseta, a warm, dry plateau with mainly grain fields. Occasionally we pass a small village (meaning some houses and at least one church). Without a cloud in the sky we stop in Sahagún, one of the villages in this wide plain and also one with a very high church density. In the course of the afternoon we arrive in Léon. This city has many attractions, including the imposing and very beautiful cathedral.
Astorga and Ponferrada
The next morning we head west again. Our first stop is Astorga, a small town with an old part, where the fortress wall and the cathedral are located. Then we drive on to Ponferrada. Here it takes a while to find the ‘zona monumental’, but we do find the old and seriously dilapidated castle of the Knights Templar. The castle is one of the few interesting things in Ponferrada, so around six we leave again and drive into the ‘El Bierzo’ area. We go look for a campsite and after a long search we find one in the hamlet of Viella.
Santiago de Compostela
After a quiet night we leave again in a westerly direction with destination Santiago de Compostela. The ride takes us through ‘El Bierzo’, a mountainous area with green wooded slopes and beautiful views. We expect to cross the Rio Miño, but according to the sign it’s called Rio Loyo. On the way to the campsite we get hopelessly lost and we have to drive at least twenty kilometers in the wrong direction before we can turn around. With some help we finally arrive.
The next morning the pilgrim mecca of Santiago de Compostela is… wet. It’s known that it rains a lot here and judging by the dark gray sky, all that rain is falling today. We go see the city anyway. The cathedral is the end point of the many pilgrims who come here. Inside there is therefore a long line for the crypt of Jacobus and the whole city is very busy. The cathedral itself is a bit disappointing, I don’t find it very beautiful inside. The rest of the old town is dotted with churches, monasteries and chapels. Despite the weather we take a look at some of it before leaving the city behind and heading towards the coast.
Cabo Finisterre, La Coruña and the Riás Altas
The idea of going to the coast was that we could lie on the beach, but that is not going to happen. Heavy rain showers and a thick overcast make the surroundings look depressing. After spending the night on a campsite in Muros and again a rainy morning, the weather starts improving around noon. We head out to drive the coastal route between Noia and Muros and explore the upper Riás Baixas. A beautiful route with great views.
The next morning we pack up and drive to Cabo Finisterre. Next we visit La Coruña. After an overnight stay in Miño we continue towards the north coast. After the Riás around La Coruña and Ferrol we drive along the Riás at Cedeira, Ortigueira, Viveiro and Ribadeo (the Riás Altas). We briefly enjoy the sun on the small, but beautifully situated Playa de As Cathedrais, surrounded by rocky cliffs.
Oviedo and Fuente Dé
We spend the night on a campsite in Luarca, from where we go to the city of Oviedo. This city has a small but nice center with a few attractions. Next we decide to drive to Fuente Dé via a route through the interior of the Costa Verde. This route is breathtakingly beautiful. We drive straight through the mountains, along slopes and ravines, past reservoirs and small villages. The weather is nice almost the entire way, until we drive into the Picos and fog rises from the valley. We set up the tent in Turieno, just before Fuente Dé.
It’s a beautifully sunny day when we take the cable car up the mountains. In less than three minutes and the last part almost vertically up. The view on top is overwhelming. Despite the fact that the sun is in the blue sky, the temperature is only six degrees (!) and in some places there’s even snow. We walk a 14 kilometer long trail through the Picos, which is very beautiful and absolutely worth it.
Santander, Santillana del Mar and Puente Viesgo
After visiting the Picos we make a short stopover in Comillas then drive on to the campsite in Santander, where sun and rain clouds are accompanied by a lot of (sea) wind. Santander is beautifully located on the Bay of Biscay. It’s not a city with a historic center, however. In the afternoon we enjoy the beautiful weather on the beach.
The next day we visit Santillana del Mar. This village is one big open air museum. It’s said that little has changed here since the late Middle Ages. In the course of the afternoon we are on the beach again and the next morning we visit the caves in Puente Viesgo. The caves themselves aren’t that special, but the 115,000-year-old petroglyphs are. Unfortunately the tour is in Spanish but that was to be expected (all over the Costa Verde everything has bene in Spanish only). After this we drive to the Cabarceno nature park, which is a bit disappointing.
During the day I start to feel sick and this will remain so for the next three days. Fever, nausea, intestine problems. We do visit the town of Castro Urdiales, but otherwise I have to take it really easy. It’s a bit sad and unplanned end to our trip. On the last day I feel a bit better. We pay a short visit to Bilbao and then we have to go back home.