The Fabulous Northern Coast of Spain by Ray Raposo

Writer Ray by the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
Scenic landscapes, blue seas, regional foods, religious landmarks, and tremendous historical heritage, you’ll find that and so much more as you visit the cities and towns of Spain’s Northern Coastline. Exploring Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country.
Walkway by circular Coraza Beach in La Coruña.

After taking a train from Madrid to the tip of Northern Spain, we arrive at La Coruña in Galicia. This port city in the northwestern corner of Spain is the birthplace of my paternal Grandparents.

Ray by The Tower of Hercules in La Coruña

Located on an isthmus on the northwestern corner of Spain. The Tower of Hercules, is an ancient Roman lighthouse in La Coruña, it’s the oldest known still-functioning Roman lighthouse in the world, the rectangular tower sits alone on a windy and hilly peninsula. The lighthouse was most probably built in the second half of the 1st century or the early years of the 2nd century A.D. by the Romans at what they believed to be the end of the world. The windy area offers terrific views of the coastline and the oceanfront buildings. 

The southeastern part of town also features a marina
Maria Pita Square with government buildings

The city’s attractive main square is the Maria Pita Plaza, named after the heroine of a battle in 1589, against English forces. La Coruña has a long beautiful coastline, with ocean beaches on the northwest side and busy ports on the south. A terrific 13 kilometer walkway named El Paseo Máritimo, lets you enjoy the ocean views.

Writer Ray and Peg by the impressive Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Catching a train in La Coruña, we took a day trip to the other outstanding city in the province, Santiago de Compostela. It is located a few miles to the south of La Coruña. A beautiful town which welcomes thousands of pilgrims every year.

Fountain by the side of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The city’s cathedral is the destination of a famous medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St James (in Spanish El Camino de Santiago). Recognized through legend as the final resting-place of the Apostle James – the first of the Twelve Apostles to suffer martyrdom at the hands of Herod. When we visited, the massive Romanesque cathedral building, witch has later Gothic and Baroque additions, numerous priests were holding mass in several languages to a large congregation of worshipers. Definitely something to behold.

The Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Saviour or Cathedral of San Salvador

From La Coruña we drove east to the lovely city of Oviedo. Just south of the coast it is the capital city of the Principality of Asturias. The city has many medieval churches in the historic center part of town, Plaza Alfonso II is at its heart.

A monument to Alfonso II near the entrance to the Oviedo Cathedral

Several palaces and Oviedo’s Gothic Cathedral and La Foncalada, a 9th century fountain are part of the city’s charm. We enjoyed a colorful weekend street market in the old city center.

A street market and outdoor businesses around the old city center

In Oviedo’s surrounding parts of old town there are many modern and quite colorful apartments with shops and small businesses sprinkled all around. Quite a contrast to the historic part of town.

We saw a few wedding parties in the colonial area of Oviedo

We stayed in an incredibly modern building that houses the Ayre Hotel as well as Congress and a large shopping mall. Once the site of a soccer stadium, this huge ultra-modern alien-ship looking white structure is surrounded by greenery, parks and the a colorful mid century apartment neighborhood. The incredible hotel complex is by far the most contrast in architecture you could expect in this mostly historic city. It was one of the main reasons we decided to stay in Oviedo during our trip.

Oviedo’s Ayre Hotel, Congress and mall complex, all around there’s a mid century neighborhood.
Some of the colorful buildings and landscaped fountains of Oviedo
From Oviedo we continued to drive east on some very modern and very lightly traveled expressways to the coastal area of Llanes. We stopped at a little village called Naves from which my maternal grandfather’s family was from and named after. It was once voted the prettiest town in Asturias.
Signs proclaiming Naves de Llanes as the Prettiest Town in Asturias
Just 12 miles south of the coast we witness the “Picos de Europa”, a tall range of mountain peaks which also boast the largest national park and some incredible caves. Snow covers the mountain tips in winter.
Santander’s Sardinero Beach, and nearby there are Molinucos and Camello

Continuing east we reach the port city of Santander, the capital of Cantabria. We stayed by the beautiful beach cove El Sardinero on the northeastern part of the city, made up of two stunning, kilometer-long beaches backed by lavish early-20th-century architecture.

One of the colorful lit buildings fronting the Santander beach coast

Nearby there’s the peninsula de la Magdalena and it’s lovely palace with sunning views from its surroundings. The beautiful Magdalena Palace was initiated in 1908 by the local government of Santander for the purpose of providing a seasonal residence for the royal family of Spain. It is now a museum.

Santander’s Magdalena Palace
A monument to Santander the hero for whom the city is named

Santander’s city center is home to the Catedral de Santander, with its octagonal cupola and Gothic cloister. Not far, the Paseo de Pereda promenade runs along one side of the Jardines de Pereda, quite beautiful park and gardens. Downtown features a lively city life, a lovely park area, and a busy marina.

Downtown Santander with lovely parks and attractive buildings
A lovely pedestrian bridge in a downtown Santander park

Our last stop on this part of the trip was in Bilbao, an industrial port city in northern Spain, is surrounded by green mountains. It’s the de facto capital of Basque Country, with a skyscraper-filled downtown. The jewel one must witness is the Guggenheim Museum.

Outside Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum with bridge in background

This Frank Gehry 1997 designed architectural wonder of limestone, glass, and titanium was once hailed as “the greatest building of our time” and sits along the curvy Nervión River, with its sculptured Puente de la Salve and modern pedestrian bridge both nearby.

Inside the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, there are no 90 degree corners.
Part of the decorative design of the bridge next to the museum, houses and apartments dot the nearby hillside.

Not all of Bilbao is modern, in reality there are many typical Spanish looking structures around the city. By contrast to the new high-rises near the museum, the Iglesia de San Nicolas depicts a more serene view of Bilbao, and the entrance to the old part of town.

Ray by the San Nicolás Church
Built in 1756, this Catholic church offers a baroque facade & an octagonal interior. Located within a square with a tree lined park that runs next to the riverside, it is southeast of the more famous museum.
Modern pedestrian bridge over the Nervión River
When we arrived in Bilbao we returned our rental car while we stayed in the city, walking all around from place to place. When we left, we boarded a train quite near our hotel facing the river back to Madrid. From Madrid we also took a train ride to visit Segovia and its many historic sights. But here in Northern Spain, we neared the end of this fantastic adventure to where my family originated. An outstanding trip and visit to my family’s birthplace!
Article by Ray Raposo, all photos by Ray & Peg Raposo