Sunday, July 1, 2018

Traveling on Road through the Heart of Spain

Today I finally propose the itinerary of my trip to Spain on the road between Catalonia and Andalusia to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia crossing the Aragonese Pyrenees following the Atlantic coast of Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias.

Basically, it was not really clear to us until just before the trip where we wanted to go for a long time. There was too much to do and my mind was buzzing so that I could not really prepare for the trip. And I actually love travel planning. For me, there is nothing better than to be inspired by travel blogs, get tips and plan my route.

Most of the travel planning is then thrown back during the trip or changed. Not because you did everything wrong or the tips were just whitewashing, but much more, because you just can not plan everything and on the ground, other ideas and opportunities arise. Because we did not plan much before, our route was relatively spontaneous and well done.

We started from Riax Baixas where we arrived by plane and where we rented the car. Renting a car in Spain in itself is not very expensive but if you want to return it in a different city from the rental you must consider the payment of the drop off from 90 to 130 euros depending on the chosen company.


Day 1: Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park

The Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park is one of the best points of the Riax Baixas. It is closer to the original natural state and is located at the southern end of the A Illa de Arousa. It is a wooded peninsula about 60 km away from Santiago de Compostela. It is, therefore, worth to drive an hour to walk along its paths between isolated beaches, moors, and brackish lagoons.

There are two possible routes that make the tour of the promontory marked by a board near the free parking. The longest counts 3.6 km while the second that cuts through the center of the park shortens to 2.5 km. We chose to follow the longest route, passing through the wood that follows the southern shore of the Enseada de Brava.

There are some scenic spots to take note of. From Punta da Cruz, we can admire a wonderful view of the ocean. Turning towards the south-west we can see the town of O Grove and the island connected to it, A Toxa. We see yachts and fishing boats roam the smaller islets. Further on there is the small strip of sand between the rocks Praia das Margaritas, where the paths meet.

Continuing on the longest route we reach Praia Lontreira, behind which there is a brackish lagoon where water birds gather. Finally, we go back to the east, where the stretches of the beach are longer and sandy as the Praia de Salinas, where we can swim in complete safety. In the evening we finally arrived in Santiago de Compostela where we had dinner in the excellent restaurant.

Day 2: Santiago de Compostela

The day was entirely dedicated to the visit of Santiago de Compostela. It is known and reached by pilgrims from all over Europe for more than a thousand years. The main attraction is the cathedral dedicated to St. James. It was built in the ninth century along with the related infrastructure aimed at welcoming pilgrims. Pilgrims trek along pre-established routes equipped with hostels, sanctuaries, and churches.

Even today the most widespread is the medieval route called Camino Frances. It starts from Le Puy in France and crosses the Pyrenees and whose most famous stops are Pamplona, Leon, Astorga, and Ponferrada. In addition to the cathedral and the historic center in general, seized by churches, museums, and historic buildings, the Mercado de Abastos also deserves a visit. On busy days such as Tuesdays and Saturdays, dozens of women from neighboring countries sit behind with baskets full of local agricultural products.

The Parque Alameda is also very nice and relaxing where we walk on the various paths among oaks, poplars and eucalyptus trees. It is far from the chaos of the city crowded with tourists and pilgrims. This merges with another park. It is the Carballeira de Santa Susana, populated by centenarian oak trees, where is located the church of Santa Susana, also the patron saint of the city. From the Belvedere we have a wonderful view of the historic center and the cathedral from above.

Day 3: Las Medulas

Just before reaching Ponferrada we took the turning for Orellan towards Las Medulas. This immense archaeological site, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, takes our breath away. The grandeur and beauty of its canyons that may erroneously seem natural, but whose true history is even more incredible. The green mountain, covered with brooms and colossal and gnarled walnut trees, seems to have been cut cleanly. They draw a bare landscape reminiscent of the Far West, but it is anything but natural.

It is a colossal gold mine built by the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD and which produced five tons of gold in 200 years. From the Mirador de Orellan viewpoint, which can be reached either on foot or by driveway you can admire a spectacular view of the red ocher cliffs from above.

We have chosen to leave the car in the parking below, from where the guided tours also leave and go along one of the dirt paths that cross the woods. There are several and of varying difficulty and length, whose map is affixed to a sign near the parking lot and indicated by colored arrows along the route.

About one o'clock in the afternoon, we took the Senda de las Valinas. It is the shortest and the steepest, but which also gives the greatest satisfaction. Arriving at the Mirador de Orellan at about 3:30 pm, after the usual panoramic photos, we waited until 4:00 pm. We enter the visitor center where, through the narrow underground tunnels of impalpable red earth, it is possible to understand the life of the Roman miners.

On the way back, we reached two other points of interest consisting of two huge caverns dug into the mountain. In La Cuevona and La Encantada, a sign illustrated the technique used by the Romans to extract the precious mineral. We make a final stop at Pico del Aguila and then return to the parking lot.

Day 4: Luarca, Playa de las Catedrales and Santiago de Compostela

Continuing our travel trip, in the morning we stopped in Luarca. It is a charming village of fishermen whose fishing port is formed by a bay bordered with sidreria in which flows the sinuous Rio Negro stream. The old city stands on a steep slope on the hill at the end of the port.

Along the Atlantic coast, along the Carretera Cantabria, we took the exit marked for Las Catedrales, immediately after Ribadeo. Here are the famous Playa de las Catedrales beach characterized by particular rock formations dug by the tide with natural arches up to 10 meters high that can be walked at low tide.

In the months of greater public attendance, to preserve the natural beauty of the place, the entrance is reserved for a limited number of people staggered throughout the day. It is, therefore, necessary to book in advance the visit.

Day 5: Comillas, Gijon

The first stop is the town of Comillas, a small town that houses three unmissable architectural treasures. On the top of a hill, surrounded by a well-kept public park, stands the wonderful neo-Gothic Palace of Sobrellano. It is designed by the modernist architect Joan Martorell.

Next, to it, there is the Marquis chapel and, continuing along the downhill boulevard, we find the Capricho of Gaudi. There is an original and colorful building also known as El Capricho. It is mostly covered with exposed brick and ceramic-ceramic tiles in the shape of leaves and flowers of sunflower. It is one of the first relevant works of the famous architect.

After devouring a good bocadillo (stuffed sandwich) with chorizo ​​and cheese comfortably seated on a park bench, we left for Gijon. We walk towards the old historic fishing district, Cimadevilla, which separates the coastline into two. We enter the Cerro (hill) of Santa Catalina, an ancient military fortress now transformed into a public park.

Climbing one of the many paths through the well-kept lawns we reach the Elogio del Horizonte. It is a modern sculpture in reinforced concrete placed on the highest point of the hill facing the sea. From which we can enjoy a breathtaking view of the ocean.

At dinner, I choose a Sidreria. Gijon, in fact, is considered the Spanish capital of cider production or Sidra, in Spanish. In addition to being free of additives and chemicals and therefore healthy, it is also very cheap, as a half-liter bottle costs less than 3 euros. Even having a low alcohol content it is easy to consume more than one bottle at dinner, but be careful not to drive later!

But the real peculiarity is that the waiters pour on the sidra holding the bottle raised high on the head. While the glass is kept down and filled only one culin at a time. It is equivalent to a pair of fingers, and tradition requires that you should drink to the drop. At dinner, we went to a Sidreria where we tasted a pan with octopus, shrimp, and seafood that was almost out of the world.

Day 6: Ponferrada, Astorga, Leon, Haro

The next morning we went to visit the historic center of Ponferrada. Its quiet streets wind through the beautiful old buildings among which stands the Torre del Reloj, the clock tower built by Charles V in the sixteenth century. From here the Via del Reloj leads to the Castillo de Ponferrada, built by the Templars in the 13th century to protect the pilgrims.

Unfortunately, we could not walk on the ramparts since the entrance would have been open only at 10:00. We left at 9:00 am to Astorga, another stop of the so-called Camino Frances, which still leads pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

The most impressive building of worship in the city is undoubtedly the Cathedral. It is elegant and grandiose, built around 1069 in Romanesque style and modified several times in the following centuries, to which were added various styles. It ranges from Gothic to Baroque until it gets the current version dating back to the end of the 1400s, but further refined until 1700.

Not far away is the Palacio Episcopal, although the building has never been an Episcopal seat, and today houses the Museo de Los Caminos. Designed by the modernist master Antonio Gaudi at the end of the nineteenth century and finished in 1913, it is in neo-gothic style with a Greek cross plan and is spread over four floors.

After having rested in the wide Plaza Mayor, admiring the sumptuous main facade of the Casa Consistorial of Astorga and drinking from the fountain, we left for Leon.

Much of the historic walled center in Leon is pedestrian and the recent restorations have made it truly beautiful. The main pedestrian artery, Calle Ancha, leads to the imposing Leon Cathedral. Its high Spiers have guided the pilgrims for centuries. Also along Calle Ancha, we reach the Casa de Botines. It is another Gaudi masterpiece, similar to a medieval-inspired castle in the neo-Gothic style.

It is imposing, almost austere, which is well suited to the sober beauty of Leon. Built to house the offices of important businessmen of Leon in 1892, today it is home to a bank and exhibition space for temporary exhibitions. The best place to admire it is the bench on which a statue of the same Gaudi is seated, drawing the sketches of the project.

To the south of Calle Ancha, a maze of narrow streets forms the lively Barrio Humedo. Here we tasted a delicious bocadillo stuffed with Cecina, a typical cured meat made from dried and smoked meat, and sweet and sour tomato sauce.

In the evening we finally arrived at Haro, famous for being home to the most prestigious bodegas of Rojani Crianza wines. After checking into the hotel we went for dinner in the historic pedestrian center, crowded with tapas bars overflowing with tourists and locals.

Day 7: Bilbao, Laredo, Santander

We left early in the morning to Bilbo. To reach the center, we cross a huge bridge whose futuristic architecture amazes. From here we can already glimpse the anti-conformist structure of the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art.

From here starts the avenue of sculptures along 3 km that ends with a pedestrian bridge over the Estuary of Bilbao with the glass bottom. Crossing the modern city we get to the old city leaning against the cathedral. We take a short walk to the Plaza Nueva with cafes and shops.

After lunch, we went to Laredo, a populated seaside resort on the Cantabrian coast that stretches over a coast of over 5 km. Here we relaxed a couple of hours comfortably lying in the immense beach of fine white sand and equipped with free showers.

In the evening we arrived in Santander and having had dinner, we made a romantic walk along the seafront in the light of a splendid full moon. Walking along the promenade we cannot help but notice the illuminated Belle-epoque Casino at day and overlook the famous Playa Sardinero which stretches northwards.

Among the sumptuous villas that can be admired stand out that of Emilio Botin, president of Banco Santander, the largest Spanish bank, and the post office building: the Correos. Heading towards the center we find the cathedral, dating back to the twelfth century. It has two superimposed buildings connected by an imposing external side stairway.

Day 8: San Sebastian: beach and around the town

We dedicated this day to a little well-deserved rest. If not for us at least for the bike that did not move from the parking lot. The 12 km long seafront, dotted with sculptures, surrounds three huge beaches of fine sand, equipped with showers, first aid stations and where you can rent deckchairs and umbrellas.

We enjoyed a nice cooling bath, as the temperature exceeds 40 degrees in the central hours of the day. The heat did not stop us from eating lunch with a bocadillo with potato tortilla in a pretty little place in one of the streets more internal.

In the evening we dedicated ourselves to visiting the city. Walking along the river Urumea, we pass the beautiful bridge dedicated to Queen Maria Cristina. We then found ourselves in the old quarter, in Paseo del Muelle. Entering the maze of narrow streets we found ourselves in front of the heavy baroque facade of the church of Santa Maria. Continuing along this same road we find another historical site. It is the Dominican convent of San Telmo.

Remaining in the same district we cannot help but cross Plaza de la Construction. It is a large porticoed square where the numbered balconies of the buildings were once reserved for spectators of the bullfights that took place inside.

Day 9: Pamplona, ​​Hondarribia, San Sebastian (Donostia)

Pamplona is a quiet modern town, famous for the bullfights. The Encierro takes place every year from 6 to 14 July on the occasion of the feast of San Firmino. After a hearty meal of tortillas (omelets) of potatoes stuffed with ham, cheese, and grilled vegetables, we headed to Hondarribia. It is a pretty coastal town very close to the border with France. Its strategic position justifies the massive fortification of the old town.

In the evening we reached the apartment in San Sebastian (Donostia). We had dinner in a lovely little bar, with Lomo (a cured meat similar to cooked ham) with a side dish of salad accompanied by inevitable cerveza.

Day 10: Tudela and Zaragoza

We depart to Zaragoza with a single stop in Tudela, where an unexpected stroke of luck caught us unawares. There was the festival of Santa Ana, the town patron. All the inhabitants of the place, rigorously dressed in white and red, formed two "Indian" rows on the sides of the road. They accompany the statues of Sant'Anna and San Gioacchino in procession to the cathedral.

In particular, they hit the men, dressed in white shirts and trousers, a red scarf tied at the waist and a red scarf, with the emblem and the inscription "Tudela" or "Sant'Ana" embroidered with gold thread, knotted at the neck with the triangular part on the back. Not only that even small children, even those in wheelchairs, were no exception.

And not even the dogs. They also accessorize with appropriate red foulard like a collar. It was a real party, culminating with the opening of all the bars and restaurants. Here people poured once the procession was over to toast and eat in a hugely popular festival including every single street in the center.

In mid-afternoon, we arrived in Zaragoza. We dedicated ourselves to the visit of this great city which, despite being an industrialized regional capital, boasts several splendid monuments. Entering the pedestrian streets of the center, all recently renovated and full of shops and luxury boutiques, we reach the huge and beautiful Plaza del Pilar. It is between the old city and the river, on which both cathedrals stand.

The oldest of the two, Salvador de La Seo, exhibits a melange of incomparable styles. Among it stand out the original Gothic of the twelfth century, the subsequent Mudejar to end in Spanish Baroque. The immense building has been thoroughly restored. It is particularly striking for the contrast between the bricks with geometric ceramic inserts that cover the roof and the north facade and the eighteenth-century baroque of the main facade.

Even the Basilica of Nuestra Senora del Pilar is a jumble of styles and materials. It was built around the column on which legend has it that the Madonna appeared to St. James. On the south side of the square is the Fontana de la Hispanidad whose huge pool is shaped like South America, a tribute to Hispanic culture in the world. At dinner, we ate very well in the tapas bar, where we enjoyed various tapas of the highest quality both aesthetic and qualitative.

Day 11: Castillo de Loarre, Los Mallos, Riglos, Royal Monastery of San Juan de la Pena, Jaca

On day 2 we dedicated ourselves to visit the Castillo de Loarre. It is a splendid manor perched on a rocky spur dating back to the eleventh century and presumably the oldest Spanish castle. Then we headed to Riglos. It is a tiny village located at the foot of the enchanting rose cliffs called Los Mallos, on whose slopes are the magnificent eagle's nest.

From here there are various paths, some of which are equipped with railways leading up to the tops of the Mallos. We limited ourselves to visit the village and have lunch with sandwiches stuffed with chorizo, the typical salami, and local cheese.

From Riglos, we again mounted in the car for the long and winding path leading to the Royal Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in, which is not actually a monastery but two. The older one date back to the tenth century and a newer one built in the eighteenth century. Next to which there is a ticket office and in front of a park, with free parking, picnic tables, and a small bar.

Continuing for another 40 minutes we arrive at Jaca. It is an important Aragonese ski destination that boasts an imposing citadel, the only surviving Ciudadela in Spain. It dates back to the late 16th century with walls and moat still intact where a herd of deer grazes disturbed only by tourists armed with the camera.

Unfortunately, having arrived after 7 pm we could not visit it. We then returned to Huesca by taking a more direct route, taking the Autovia and then the National that brought us back to the city in about an hour.

Day 12: Leiden and Huesca

We immediately headed to Huesca, stopping roughly halfway into the town of Lleida. Here, after parking in the nineteenth-century Rambla de Ferran - Estacio under the trees, we made a quick tour of the Palacio de la Paeria. The next stop was to visit the Seu Vella (old cathedral) which dominates the center from the top of a hill, reachable via a suitable free public elevator.

After the quick visit of Lleida, we headed to Huesca. Here we stayed two nights taking advantage of the fact that in addition to being an important Aragonese crossroads, it is the last resort on the plains before the slopes of the Pyrenees. The historic center is located on a hill and is the heart of the city with pedestrian streets, shops, restaurants and the most important monuments.

Among which stand out the Ayuntamiento, or the town hall, the cathedral that towers over the same square. Even more impressive is the church of San Pedro El Viejo. Thanks to the reviews on the web we have identified a very nice place to go for dinner. The menu offers, in addition to various sandwiches, appetizers and many tapas, a wide selection of dishes that can be ordered either in the whole portion or as the tapa, the half portion. We savor various tapas, sweet and cerveza.

Spain wallpapers

Day 13: Berga on the edge of the Pyrenees

Since we had landed late in the afternoon in Barcelona, ​​we looked for a campsite relatively close to the rental station, so as not to be in the dark for long. Unfortunately, the plan did not work out that way. When we arrived in Berga, about 40 km away from the rental station in Manresa, it was already dark. Berga is on the edge of the Pyrenees. The route is very nice and above all easy to drive. We drive towards the mountains until we arrive at the foot of the Catalan Pyrenees.

The Berga resort town is absolutely not the camping standard. At about 700 meters is this luxury campsite on the mountainside with pitches on terraces. Some have a nice view of the valley and the surrounding mountains.

Day 14: Girona in Catalonia

The next day we left for Girona. As a small stopover to the beaches of Catalonia. Since we had spent the afternoon with a friend from Peru, we could not get to know much of the old town of Girona in the short time. But it is good to have friends around the world, so you can come back anytime and discover more.

Day 15: Platja d'Aro on the Costa Brava

The same day we drove on to Platja d'Aro, where we wanted to spend the night waking up in the morning on the beach. In storm and thunderstorm, we arrived (again) in the dark and stayed in a parking lot in front of a campsite, which had already closed due to low season. The next morning we drove further to the sea.

The tip for Platja d'Aro came from our friend from Peru, who often drives there from Girona over the weekend. It was not my taste and too typical for me was the Costa Brava sight of the beach and huge bed castles. After cooking in the camper with sea view and seeing the weather forecast for the next days, we leave.

Day 16: Barcelona

And finally, here we are at Barcelona. As you can easily guess, a day and a half is not enough to visit this huge and fascinating city that offers so much to see. We have therefore necessarily had to make choices. On the afternoon of our arrival, we leave the car in the parking lot that we had strategically booked 100 meters from our hotel. We then dedicate ourselves to visit the neighborhood where we stayed: Sants-Montjuic.

The neighborhood is one of the most crowded with bars, restaurants, and clubs of all kinds. We have chosen to dine at a very small place where it offers various local and Indian dishes. We have 3 large portions of fish and chips, 2 cervezas, 2 Gazpacho and 2 desserts.

The next day, as the first destination almost obliged, we chose the Sagrada Familia. It is the huge and unconventional cathedral, Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece. Not having booked in advance we would have to wait hours in line to enter. Since the time was tight, we decided to visit the neighborhood where the cathedral stands and which is full of modernist buildings, many of which always of Gaudi: the Eixample.

Here we have had the opportunity to appreciate, even if only from the outside, choosing to avoid the queues to be addressed without online booking: Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, Casa Calvet and finally Park Guell. The latter is actually just outside the district at the foot of Carmel Hill.

The Gaudi House-Museum also stands at the inside of the Park, where the great architect lived for 20 years, but cannot be visited on the same ticket. Later, we strolled along the most famous street in Barcelona. La Rambla is crowded among stalls and street artists. About halfway we could not resist plunging into the crowd that seizes the Boqueria market. Here, among fresh food of all shapes and sizes, we enjoyed a refreshing slice of watermelon and a refreshing fruit juicer.

Back in the Sants-Montjuic district, we stopped for a long time at the foot of the Magic Fountain. Its spectacle of water games can also be enjoyed from the top of the Palau National stairway, home to the Catalunya National Art Museum. Then we went shopping for souvenirs inside the futuristic Las Arenas shopping center, the former fully modernized bullring stadium. From its last floor, we can enjoy a breathtaking view of the entire neighborhood and Montjuic hill.

At dinner, we went to a charming inn of sailors, where we have removed the desire to Paella: 2 generous portions with the inevitable Cerveza and dessert.

Day 17: Playa de la Mora, Tarragona

We wanted to enjoy the sun, especially in view of the snow photos, which had already surfaced in my Facebook stream. The Playa de la Mora is a beautiful beach in a bay, surrounded by rocks, which reminded me a little of the Algarve in Portugal. In the main season, it is probably terrible here. In the offseason, however, it is wonderfully empty and relaxed. The water was still just warm enough to swim for the last time in the Mediterranean this year. Our pitch was again right on the sea, this time only in the second row.

Day 18: Playa de Oliva on the Costa Azahar

Further south, we encounter the area Playa de Oliva on the Costa Azahar. Looking back, the place that was most relaxing and beautiful for us on the journey. Here we find endless sandy beaches and natural dunes, hardly built (at least not on the part where we were) and blue-turquoise, clear water with crazy sunrises on the beach. Here we have just a few days to unwind. We played a lot on the beach. We cooked, ate fresh warm baguette bought from a small supermarket, drunk wine and fell asleep with the sound of the sea and woke up.

Day 19: Oriental bazaars and hippie flair in Granada

Another 450 km south we reach Granada, on the edge of the Sierra Nevada. Although I already know Granada from a previous trip, Granada inspires me again. This city has something special with its small streets and historic houses. Anyway, Andalusia is an absolutely great part of Spain. On one day wonderful sea and a few hours later a few thousand meters high with white peaks in the Sierra Nevada, this is really only in Andalusia.

In addition, the Moorish influence, partly Arab street signs, oriental tea girls with hookahs and small colorful bazaar streets remind here real Morocco as to Spain. Until you turn the corner again and see a typical Spanish flamenco show on the street. Granada somehow reminded me of Cusco, its street musicians, and hippie jewelry vendors. And it's definitely a place that I need to get to know in more detail.

If you are in Granada, then you should definitely plan time for the Alhambra, an old Moorish fortress. I already knew the Alhambra from a previous trip and unfortunately, the tickets were booked for the next 2 days. But that's a good reason to come back again.

Day 20: At 2750 meters above the clouds in the Sierra Nevada

Although the sky was cloudy, we decided to drive 50 km from Granada to the Pico del Veleta (3384 m). The A-395 road winds its way from Granada around the mountains, with a gradient of about 6%. Nevertheless, it is a really good and quite new road that you can easily boot up with a motorhome. While the weather was still gray and cloudy down in the valley, it became clearer with each altitude and the sky bluer.

At kilometer 23 there is a kind of information center where you can inquire about the flora and fauna of the Sierra Nevada. Here you can ask for caution again if there is already snow or if you want to go higher. There were still cuddly at 11 degrees up there and no trace of snow. From there, the path goes up again for about 30 kilometers, until we do not get even higher by car.

Here we are already at 2750 meters and has a beautiful view over the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and down into the valley. And this is where this wonderful trip ends in Spain.

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