Northern Spain (Jul-Aug 2016)

Continuing on with our “Iceland is full, where do we go?” Plan B, the last leg of our trip was through Northern Spain. While researching where we could go after Portugal, we found a few blogs making the case for Northern Spain as the best part of the country. Most people stick to the larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona, or head to the Andalucia region (where Granada is), and ignore everything that the north has to offer. We decided on three areas that tickled our fancy and hit the road traveling north from Porto, straight out of Portugal and back into Spain.

Our first stop was a small town just a few hours from the border called Santiago de Compostela, best known for its religious significance. The main attraction is the old city, where the cathedral is the focal point. It’s the burial place of Saint James, one of the twelve apostles, and the last stop on the Camino de Santiago, a religious pilgrimage that begins in places throughout Spain and other European countries. Our time here was relaxing. In the afternoons we’d walk through the narrow streets of the old city. We toured the cathedral and a museum. We visited the market and tried some local cheeses. Kevin also tried (and loved) octopus – another regional specialty.

When we left Santiago de Compostela, we headed east to the Picos de Europa. We were drawn to this area for numerous reasons – small towns, awesome hikes, Cabrales and Valdeon blue cheeses, and sidra aka Spanish hard cider (Christine enjoys her ciders!). The weather here was a welcome change of pace from, well, everywhere else we’ve been. The temperatures stayed in the high 60s and low 70s, perfect for long hikes. In Las Arenas, our first stop in the Picos, we had the opportunity to go to a small dairy farm to see how Cabrales cheese was made. We may have also gone for the the samples, which were amazing. We hiked the Garganta Del Cares, an 18 mile walk along the Cares Gorge, sandwiched between huge mountains. The views were amazing and the wild goats were entertaining.

Our second stop in the Picos was Potes, another town known for its views and hikes. We had planned to do a few hikes here, but the weather wasn’t cooperating – a blanket of fog covered the mountain tops for the first two days. Luckily the fog lifted on our last day, so we took a cable car up at Fuente Dé and hiked our way back down while spotting goats, sheep, wild horses and cows. Christine saved a stranded dog and its puppy from a barn. They are now doing well (thank goodness). And we reintroduced ourselves to Mexican food, which was a very welcome break from Spanish food.

Our last stop was La Rioja, home of the famous Rioja wine. We took advantage of the little time we had there and fit everything into one very long day. In 11 hours, we visited four wineries and an olive oil production plant, had a long multi course Spanish lunch (where Kevin ate blood sausage!), visited three castles, and a mirador. We learned a ton about Rioja wine, and we may have bought a bottle or two to drink at home.

Being the planners that we are, we planned for one last day of relaxation at the Hilton by the Madrid airport, our departure point to get back to the states. We knew that we would need some time to figure out how to pack all the wine we’ve acquired over the last two weeks into our tiny backpacks!

Enjoy our last set of pictures from Spain!