From the moment I set eyes on the Green Coast of the North I felt that I had to explore as much of this fascinating country as time and my credit card allowed me. I was lucky. My husband spoke Spanish, a little roughly for his liking, but just perfect for what we needed. When I say “we”, I mean myself, my husband and my 6 year old daughter.
Journeying through the South of Spain
We took a plane from New York to London, and then caught a connection to Bilbao, the home of the amazing Guggenheim Art museum that everyone has been flocking to for the last five years. What an awe-inspiring building, rising up from the docklands of the industrial and generally unappealing city.
Then we took the coast road to Santander, and what spectacular views it offered us. The “Costa De Cantabria” is renowned for its beauty. Green fields to one side of us, rocky cliff on the other. This part of Spain is very appealing, dotted with picturesque fishing villages.
Our first stop was Castro Urdiales, where we had our first taste of Spanish “tapas”, an assortment of mouth-watering titbits that leave you wanting more. Castro Urdiales is considered by the Spaniards of the north to be one of the best places for fresh fish and prawn tapas and it certainly pleased our western palates. Not only was the food great, the town itself is built around the crumbling remains of ancient buildings. It is the perfect place to spend a few nights with plenty of cheap places to stay.
The road from Castro Urdiales to Santander has so many places to explore like Punta de Islares y Playa de Orinion, Playa e San Julian, de Liendo; Punta Yesera; Laredo; Colindres; Marismas de Santona; Santona, are just a few. And the beaches are gorgeous, and just perfect for young children. In fact, we were so impressed with the north coast, we decided to spend more time exploring.
We spent several weeks in Santander – not the most beautiful city in Spain, but a great base for day trips. A must-see village about 30 km from Santander is Sanillan del Mar, and old Roman city that dates back more than a thousand years. It is so pretty and full of craft shops that make it really worth visiting. After Santander, we hired a car and traveled inland and south to Burgos. This city has so much history with a most amazing Cathedral, one of the biggest and oldest in Spain. And the drive over the mountains yields so many pretty sights, even if it is a little hairy at times.
On to the historic sites of Southern Spain
From Burgos we decided to take the country roads, avoiding the big city of Madrid. Our daughter was too young to appreciate the noise and bustle of Madrid, so we head for the old city of Toledo. We stopped of at La Granja on the way. Nestled at the foothills of some pretty mountains, it is famous for a palace that was inspired by the Versailles. It is a pretty little village and relaxing. While there, it was easy to find somewhere reasonably cheap to stay. We were travelling in May, just before the tourist season usually gets going.
All along the country roads were lovely villages. We would stop, take a walk around, have some tapas, and then move along on to what was to be the best moment of our whole trip – seeing the old city of Toledo. If there was anywhere among these places I would have to go back to, it would be Toledo. We spent 3 days in this wonderful city. Home of the great artist El Greco, this city has everything. History, galleries, shops, fine food, cafes, and lots of ordinary Spanish people living ordinary lives in a city that sometimes seems to possess a double life. Today and yesterday – that is the appeal of Toledo. With views that are to die for, you could spend forever here.
From Toledo we went on down to the southern city of Cordoba, full of bright, colourful flowers, inspiring patios and a mesmerising mosque. This city is hot and dirty but it is nice to visit. However, it is not the greatest place for a young child. So we headed for sleepy San Jose soon after. This was a beach village which had just the right tempo for our family holiday. Situated on the Mediterranean shore, San Jose is inside the Cabo de Gata National Park and provides wonderful beaches, sunny climate and not too many tourists. In my opinion, this is much better than the well-known resorts of the Costa del Sol around Malaga.
Our last days in Spain were spent in Granada, home to the extraordinary Alhambra. One of the greatest accomplishments of Islamic art and architecture, it is just so exciting to walk through this building complex and its beautiful gardens. You just have to go!
I love Spain. I mean, I really LOVE Spain!