Northern Spain – 10 basic tips for hidden gems explorers

    northern Spain, green tours & travel

    We are now preparing some entries for our blog, a small selection of territory protection, local people and cultural diversity related issues to come handy planning a tour to green northern Spain. We think it may be fun and also a nice introduction, to define “the green way” or “green Spain” in 10 tips with the things we all have in common in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country, also in some parts of León. Particularly we will focus on those related to food and gastronomy, for which the region is very much appreciated both in Spain and worldwide.

    Our northern Spain map!

    Our northern Spain map!

    Yes, the Atlantic climate clearly has an impact on the green north, never too hot, never too cold (except up in the mountains where we can enjoy skiing during the winter season), always green, also sunny sandy beaches along almost 1.500 km total coastline, never too crowded, short quick rivers, highest mountains and hidden valleys.

    We share our ocean, the Cantabrian Sea, that extends from Galicia to southwest coast of France (Bay of Biscay) and our beloved mountains (the whole Cantabrian Mountain Range, and particularly Picos de Europa National Park).

    The region we call green northern Spain (or green Spain) has some common cultural aspects as well. The Celtic influence from the Basque Country to Galicia is obvious and the struggle the Moors and other cultures such as the Romans had to deal with in these mountains, obviously kept these northern cultures and people somehow untouched and well “preserved”. Still today we may enjoy all the cultural diversity (languages, traditions, music, …) green northern Spain has to offer as a real travel in time.

    Cows on tour in green northern Spain

    Cows used to be a part of almost every family in green northern Spain Photo Per Wollmer 2011

    And now, the list, our top 10 tips on green northern Spain, with a special focus on food:

    1. You are in green northern Spain if the grass is so green that it pokes you in the eye. Yes, it rains, and rain sometimes can appear in no time and hit you sideways. I personally was pretty sure I was in a northern Spain version of blockbuster “The Truman Show” during my first month in Cantabria, because I would step outside for a walk and the rain would start… I would imagine the set yelling “Hans is leaving, get me some rain in there!” while I tried to spot hidden cameras.

    Eventually the sun always appears and no Instagram effect can beat the green or any other northern colour. “El verde se paga” (the green costs), as locals say. I promise, it sure it is worth it!

    Valles Pasiegos

    Valles Pasiegos/Pasiego Valleys, Cantabria. Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    1. The snails and escargots are big, brown or black, come out of nowhere like guerilla soldiers at night, and will devastate your plants and lettuce in just a minute. In Sweden they call them Spanish killer snails. Even though they eventually found out, these originally are from France. We do eat snails and winkles almost all over, you may see people carrying plastic bags on their evening walks to pick up some snails and prepare them at home. It takes days!
    1. In green northern Spain people talk about food before they eat, while they are eating, after any meal, and even when we are doing something completely different and not related to food and drinks. Food is culture and culture is food. And, the truth is that in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and in the Basque Country, you will find the best gastronomy, in the first place, because of the excellence of local products and the great knowledge of producers and chefs based all over the region.
    Seafood in La Brecha, San Sebastian / Donostia Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    Seafood in La Brecha, San Sebastian / Donostia Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

     

    Post mushroom hunting in Ezcaray, La Rioja Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    Post mushroom hunting in Ezcaray, La Rioja Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

     

    1. You will feel at home at any local restaurant or bar, where they usually leave the pot with the, let´s say, stew on the table for you to serve as much as you want. “¡Come, hijo!” (Eat son!) is probably the best era-related saying from the mothers and grand-moms.
    Cocido Lebaniego, Espinama, Liébana, Cantabria Photo Pelle Ohlsson 2010

    Cocido Lebaniego, Espinama, Liébana, Cantabria Photo Pelle Ohlsson 2010

    1. In green northern Spain cheese is a must almost every day. Mostly made of cow milk, cheeses like queso Pasiego, queso de nata, queso tetilla, queso Cabrales/Picón/Valdeón, quesucos de Cantabria, and many more… we cannot live without them. Sheep milk cheeses, as Basquian Idiazábal, or blended, as Gamoneu cheese in Asturias, are also excellent and we feel proud of all of them. Of course butter, ice-cream and cheese cakes, quesadas and sobaos in Cantabria, or puddings are a must in the whole green northern area. No family or friends reunion ends up without, at least, one portion of cheesecake on the table.
    Making butter the traditional way Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    Making butter the traditional way Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

     

    1. You are in green northern Spain when you see people fishing, eating, sharing, queuing for a thunnus alalunga, that is, bonito del norte, or albacore, an extremely appreciated kind of tuna from the Cantabrian Sea / Bay of Biscay. In the summertime, many bonito based specialties are served throughout the place. Marmitako (in the Basque Country) or marmita (in Cantabria), a rollo from Asturias or in a delicious empanada from Galicia, we adore bonito fish and can be having it for lunch and dinner for at least a couple of months, almost every day, and later on can it in jars for the rest of the year!
    Bonito del norte or albacore Photo vistaalmar.es

    Bonito del norte or albacore Photo vistaalmar.es

     

    1. In green Spain, we may have rabas con vermouth (our vermú) in Cantabria, or go out de poteo with our cuadrilla (group of friends) in the Basque Country, have a sidrina (cider) in Asturias or a ribeiro in Galicia. Call it the way you want, getting together at the bar with your friends and family right before lunch or dinner, have a drink and something to eat (pinchos or pintxos, raciones, tapas), that, is one of the best moments to enjoy all year round, almost every day, in every northern corner.
    Pintxos in Bilbao Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    Pintxos in Bilbao Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    1. You are definitely in northern Spain if people in the countryside wear wooden clogs. In Cantabria they are called albarcas (o abarcas) and we wear them to avoid the humidity in the fields and in the meadows. Zuecos or zocas in Galicia, madreñas in Asturias or León and also in the Basque Country (where albarcas are also made of leather), these traditional shoes, still in use today, may be found in the whole Cantabrian area and all of them will remind us of the ones used in the Netherlands or will look like traditional British clogs.
    Albarcas, Pendes, Liébana, Cantabria Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    Albarcas, Pendes, Liébana, Cantabria Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

    1. In green northern Spain you hardly ever, or never, have to rush to the beach early in the morning to be able to find a place to leave your towel. Take your time to pick the best spot just depending on the wind.
    Playa del Camello, Santander, Cantabria

    Playa del Camello, Santander, Cantabria Photo Bonito Norte Viajes

     10. In green northern Spain we used to keep our grain, vegetables,… in our little “up in the air” storehouses. This way food was kept from humidity and safer. These traditional hórreos, although being slightly different from one region to another, used to have all the same function. Well, today you will find some converted into hotel rooms or apartments… and traditional ones still in use in any region in green Spain.

    In our new section (coming January 2015) we will tell you about our favorite spots, our people and our region. For us northern Spain is unique and we consider it our green haven in Spain.  We will tell you about the food, the traditions, the culture but we will also be practical. We will link you to the best “what´s on” guides, the best self-guided tourist webs and give you some of our insiders. So, stay tuned! Just promise you can keep some well kept secrets…