A great trip in the north of the Iberian peninsula, the green Spain!
1st day – Saturday 19th July 2003 – 6.25 am
My girlfriend, Enrica, and I are leaving Vicenza for Spain. Our idea is to visit the northern regions: Navarre, Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria and Galicia; collectively known as the “green Spain”, (from the luxuriant green of the vegetation that covers the territory, due to the rains brought by the Atlantic currents of the north). Our means of transport, as always, is the Punto S 60. After taking the A4 in Vicenza Ovest, in Brescia we turn towards Piacenza and then down to Liguria, Ventimiglia, Monaco, Nice, Aix en Provence and in the late afternoon ( 18.20) we arrive in Carcassonne. The medieval citadel is very pretty, it stands on a small hill and is surrounded by very well preserved walls. Inside there are various alleys that lead to squares where you can taste the typical Cathar dish: the “Cassoulette”. Among the various restaurants we recommend the “Maison de la Cassoulette “, less touristy and with a very friendly atmosphere. Overnight at the “Camping de la Cité”, full of services, very nice and clean. From here a quiet path starts, which runs along a beautiful waterway and allows you to reach the city center in less than 15 minutes.
2nd day – 20/07/2003
Once we have disembarked the campsite we leave for our destination. To cross the Spanish border we choose the Roncesvalles Pass, famous not only for the historic poem of Orlando furioso, but also for being one of the starting points of the Camino de Santiago. On the pass we are struck by the presence of a small hill, where pilgrims place a cross before embarking on the long and tiring journey that leads them to Santiago de Compostela. We continue towards Pamplona and then towards Etxarri Aranatz, where we immediately feel very strongly the presence of Basque independence (ETA…). The small town is definitely not to be included in the list of things to see, but the campsite, in which we spend the night (and the following two), is clean and quiet.
3rd day – 21/07/2003
Today a visit from Navarre awaits us. Early in the morning we head towards the Olive Monastery. Along the way we admire a multitude of windmills (wind farms) and beautiful sunflower fields. At the monastery we are struck by the presence of a group of storks guests on the roof of the convent. We then leave for Olite, a small village characterized by a castle with a beautiful tower .. Continuing to Estella we observe endless fields cultivated with wheat. The “dimensions” compared to Italy are decidedly different … We do not like Estella, perhaps because we arrive in the early afternoon (nicknamed “time of death” by us) and the city appears deserted and with all the shutters down. Heading north we stop for a photo at the famous “Puente de la Reine”, an obligatory stop for pilgrims, that you meet many along the streets. Pamplona enchants us, not so much for the famous “Plaza de Toro”, the arrival point of the bulls during the feast of San Firmino, but because it appears to us a lively city with a bustling center full of people and shops.
4th day – 22/07/2003
Visit of San Sebastian, the most beautiful city so far encountered. In its old part, San Sebastian presents a tangle of streets, full of life and cheerfulness with a large number of clubs. Here we recommend stopping at some Tapas to taste the homonymous tastings, almost all based on fish, accompanied by a good glass of Tinto (red wine) perhaps from Roja, the region known for great wines. From here we continue towards the west and along the suggestive road overlooking the Atlantic, and quickly crossing the villages of Zarautz, Getaria, Zumaia and Deba we return, in the evening, to the Etxarri campsite.
5th day – 23/07/003
Bilbao: Parked our mythical point we visit the Guggenheim museum, which deserves to be seen more for the building itself than for the collections of modern art it contains, which however have their own charm . Very nice, in front of the entrance to the museum, an impressive size cat (about 6 meters high) completely covered with (real) flowers. After visiting the city we head west and in the evening we stop in Llanes, a beautiful seaside village built around a small fjord that creeps between the rocks. Here you can taste good fish at the restaurant “La marina”, located at the mouth of the port. The campsite is nice but on holidays it gets too full and, like many seaside campsites, it gets noisy … (too much !!!!)
6th day – 07/24/2003
We dedicate the morning to visit Santander, whose historic center is full of very characteristic “bodegas”. It is worth wasting some time strolling through the public garden on the Maddalena peninsula, a small promontory surrounded by magnificent waters. From Santander we move to Santillana de Mar, a beautiful and perfectly maintained medieval village. The jewel in the crown of this town is the collegiate church of Santa Julian, a 12th century Romanesque church with a beautiful cloister, where the columns are surmounted by all different capitals. We then go to Comillas, a nice little town dominated by the Pontifical University, an imposing red brick building on top of a hill. Another building to see is the Capricho de Gaudì, by the homonymous architect, palace richly decorated with ceramic tiles in the shape of sunflowers and green leaves. The last stop of the day is San Vincente de la Barqueira, where we visit the Iglesia de Santa Maria de los Angeles. Of this church we are struck by the floor completely built in wood, and the statue of an inquisitor of the sixteenth century depicted intent on reading leaning on an elbow. The guide says this statue is the greatest Renaissance funerary artwork in all of Spain.
7th day – 25/07/2003
Even today we spend the day visiting various countries. First is Ribadesella, a port town famous for the canoe descent of the Rio Sella, an international competition held at the beginning of August. We then continue to Gijon. The historic center of the town winds along the promontory called Cimadevilla which ends with a beautiful park (where in the past there was a fort). The park and the large pedestrian streets, full of shops, make Gijion a fascinating city that deserves to be visited. Passing through Nova, we stop at the Sidra Museum, the typical drink of Asturias. The museum describes the whole modern or ancient process of making natural cider. In the valleys near Nova we notice the presence of several mines (iron?) Still working.
Day 8 – 07/26/2003
We leave towards the West with the idea of spending a couple of days near the Rias Altas, in Galicia, but when we arrive in these parts we find only bad weather. We then head to Santiago de Compostela where we stop at “Camping as Cancelas” (Rua do 25 Xullo, 35 – Santiago), a beautiful campsite with swimming pool surrounded by a grove, where we sleep the night and the following two. Here we meet a nice Italian, who alone traveled the whole Camino de Santiago on his motorbike; we spend a pleasant evening together exchanging experiences during the trip. Santiago is incredible: it is the half city of the homonymous path. People from all over the world meet on foot, by bike, by car, all with so much healthy happiness and joy in their bodies.
9th day – 27/07/2003
Visit to the city of Santiago. We are lucky enough to attend a solemn ceremony in the Cathedral where the “Botafumeiro”, the largest thurible in the world, is used, which swings throughout the nave touching the faithful, truly spectacular! The city is full of pilgrims who have arrived and can now relax and finally enjoy a well-deserved rest. The center is really beautiful, alive!
10th day – 28/07/2003
The PuntoS from trouble: the handbrake doesn’t want to be released! We have to lose all morning from the local dealer, luckily they don’t pluck us! In the afternoon we go to the Rias Bas, the most beautiful and famous fjords in the region, fortunately not contaminated by the black tide of the Prestige disaster. Stunning landscapes in which the green of Galicia contrasts with the intense blue of the Atlantic Ocean.
11th day – 29/07/2003
Leaving the campsite we head to Vigo, where we get on a motorboat headed for the Cies Islands. The Islands fascinate us immediately: the sea is fantastic! Even a walk in the interior among its fragrant pine and eucalyptus woods certainly has its charm! But the most wonderful sensation is swimming in its crystal clear waters and the walk along the white sand beach where we collect beautiful shells. On the way back we reverse the route, proceeding eastwards. It is now late! so let’s look for a campsite where we can spend the night. The guide provided by the Spanish Tourist Office in Italy points out a campsite in “Pobra de Trives”, a small village lost in the mountains. But the road is longer than expected, it seems impossible that in such a remote place there could be a campsite. But just when our hopes are about to abandon us, “Camping A Masia” appears, an isolated but clean and quiet place. Here we meet two girls from Mirano (Venice) also with a legendary Punto. This time is fine too, our guide does not betray us!
12th day – 30/07/2003
We move early in the direction of Leon. Along the way we stop to visit the ancient Roman gold mines of “Las Medulas”. It is impressive to see how man over the years has transformed the appearance of the hills. Once in Leon we take a tour of the old part, which retains several buildings of considerable interest. The Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic art, stands out among all, with 1800 square meters of stained glass windows. Here too we see a building designed by Gaudi. Back in the car we head to “Corion de los Condes” where we visit the Convent of Santa Clara and spend the night in “Camping El Edén” which we do not recommend (dirty, noisy and without any service).
13th day – 31/07/2003 We
leave Corrion and arrive in Burgos we visit the famous Cathedral, not as imposing as that of Leon, but richer in precious works of art. Continuing east (unfortunately we are almost at the end of the journey) we arrive at “Santo Domingo della Calzaia” where in the main church of the town a live white rooster and hen are kept in a cage, following a popular legend. From here we move to Najera (visit to the monastery) and then to Logrono. In recent days we have met several pilgrims on their way to Santiago, under the blazing sun on foot or by bicycle. From the campsite a convenient pedestrian riverside allows you to reach the city center in 10 minutes, where we take a walk after dinner.
14th day – 01/08/2003
Tour of the “Bardenas Reales”. Not very well known but truly fascinating: a large arid territory, practically desert, north of Tudela. This last town we visit in the afternoon: among its twisted streets you can touch the Muslim influence. In the evening we arrive in Zaragoza in the “Camping Casablanca”, and to find some refreshment we allow ourselves a nice swim in the pool. Here the air is humid and warm, there is a great heat, melancholy we think of the cool evenings spent up north …
15 ° day – 02/08/2003
Touch and escape in Zaragoza, a beautiful city to visit with more calm. Noteworthy is the Cathedral with 10 domes covered with colored tiles. We leave for France, and thinking back to the beautiful holiday spent the year before in Camargue, we decide to stop at the beautiful campsite “Le Crine Blanc” near S.te Marie de la Mer. Near Barcelona we find the first queues of the whole holiday, but fortunately they only make us lose an hour. Dinner in one of the many restaurants in the magical town of S.te Marie.
16th day – 03/08/2003
Last day, unfortunately the journey is now over. To avoid the usual traffic in Liguria, and also to change the road we decide to return to the Montgenèvre pass. Once in Aix en Provence we turn towards Briancon (where we stop for a snack), P.so del Monginevro, Turin, Milan, Padua and in the afternoon to Chioggia (Enrica’s hometown) without running into queues or excessive traffic.
Total kilometers traveled: 6360 in 16 days
Maps, guides & useful bibliography:
Michelin n.240 – France – Languedoc Rousillon – 1: 200.000
Michelin n.989 – FRANCE – 1: 1.000.000
Michelin n.990 – SPAIN PORTUGAL – 1: 1.000.000
Michelin n.571 – Spain – GALICIA – 1: 400.000
Michelin n.572 – Spain – Asturias, Cantabria – 1: 250.000
Michelin n.573 – Spain – Paìs Vasco / Euskadi, Navarra, La Rioja – 1: 250.000
Michelin n.575 – Spain – Castilla y Leòn, Madrid – 1: 400.000
Lonely Planet – EDT – Northern Spain – 4th ed. – Italian
Mondadori – Journey to Europe, SPAIN
Editorial Domus – Meridiani n.110, July 2002 – North West Spain
Turgalicia, Direccion Xeral de Turismo – Galicia, natural space – Italian
Turespana, Secretaria de Estado de Commercio y Turismo – Green Spain – 2nd ed. Italiano
Turespana, Secretaria de Estado de Commercio y Turismo – Guia Official Campings, Espana 2002
http://www.taccuinodiviaggio.it – Leonardo’s Journey to Spain (August 2002)
http://www.camperisti.it – Spain 2002 (El Camino de Santiago) Travel notes by Maurizio Moroni and Stafania Dantini
http: //www.sottocoperta.net – Travel Diary: Northern Spain