Those familiar with the Camino de Santiago can certify that the taste for the good life extends all the way to the most northern parts of Spain. Summers are cooler, beaches are quieter and landscapes are definitely greener. But, apart from that, don´t expect a uniform regon: in six hundred miles, from Galician coast to the Catalonian Pyrenees, you will hear three different languages apart from Spanish. Imagine what it means in terms of history, character, art, culture, food...
With its own language and distinctive history that goes back to the Iron Age and the Celtic peoples, Galicia can be considered a whole country in itself. The cult of apostle James in Santiago de Compostela with the “Camino” is the region’s most distinctive sign of international recognition.
Santiago de Compostela is also the administrative capital of the region, composed by the provinces of Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra. Galicia´s climate and scenery –mild and humid, profoundly green– benefits from the influence of the Atlantic ocean at its northern and western borders. Beaches like Catedrales or those at the Cíes islands are often ranked as some of the most beautiful in the world.
The “rías” are the estuaries of the many rivers that cross Galicia, shaping the landscape –similar to the Norwegian fiords– and facilitating the region´s maritime vocation. Galicia´s spectacular gastronomy is mostly based on the quality of its produce but the seafood is, literally, beyond anything you may have tried before.
Following the north Atlantic coast to the East, Asturias and Cantabria share the embrace of the Cantábrico sea and the protection of the Picos the Europa, the majestic mountain range that provides humid and mild winters and pleasant summers, far from the heats of the South.
Oviedo (a favorite of Woody Allen) is the capital of Asturias. Gijón is the other large, industrial city in the province, while the rest of the population enjoys the picturesque beauty of coastal towns like Llanes, Cudillero and Luarca or the green overload of the villages across the route of the Romanesque art, the historical and cultural jewel of the region.
Further East, the elegance of Santander, the capital of Cantabria, sets the mood for the charm of the region’s littoral villages like Comillas, Laredo o Castro Urdiales. Towards the interior, the foothills of the Picos de Europa produce valleys, canyons and fertile basins of alluring charm.
Many regions in Spain can be considered a country by themselves, but this is the only one that can claim to have a language that doesn’t originate in Latin but in… well, nobody really knows. A people of very distinctive personality, Basques still keep the dna of the Spanish psyche when it comes to the important things in life, namely food, wine, friendship.
The Basque Country proposes a delightful blend of tradition and modernity. Centuries old sports and rituals and profound rural roots coexists, for instance, with architectural wonders like the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, the Kursaal center in San Sebastian or the stylish wineries in the province of Alava.
Gastronomy reaches new, higher levels in the Basque Country. Pinxtos (their version of tapas), in their enormous variety and delicacy, are just a hint of the care Basques put into cooking. The Cantabrico sea, the fertile, humid lands provide the produce that inspire Basques to create a whole culture around food. Just for that it is worth to consider this area as a retirement heaven.