Spain is a country so diverse in its cultures and landscapes that it does not seem fair that the traveler considers that visiting Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Valencia has already resolved his stay there. It is true that these cities are wonderful both in their history and in their architecture and gastronomy, but there is more to know, much more. In our three-month long trip through the Iberian country, we discovered very attractive towns, but what surprised us the most was the natural wealth of the country, and that is why we want to share five of those places that left us with our mouths open and our souls full. Places that are ideal to disconnect and enjoy (there are more than five of course, but we had to choose among those visited, so we apologize in advance if your favorite is not on the list).
- 1 1 BARDENAS REALES. NAVARRA
- 2 2 FUENTE DÉ, CANTABRIA
- 3 3 SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE, BASQUE COUNTRY
- 4 4 FOZ DE LUMBIER. NAVARRA
- 5 5 REFUGIO DE VERDES. GALICIA
1 BARDENAS REALES. NAVARRA
After spending a whole day in this amazing Spanish Natural Park of ocher and orange colors, we could not understand how it was not a known place even among the Spaniards themselves. In the province of Navarra, a little over 300 kilometers north of Madrid, you can find this semi-desert landscape of 42,500 hectares declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Its soils of clays, plasters, and sandstones, eroded by the action of rain and wind, have created, and continue to create, fantastic forms that seem to come from a desert in Utah or Arizona rather than from a Spanish province.
The Park can be perfectly visited by car (or motorhome in our case. Ever considered a motorhome road trip? Try it here) as its routes take you along the most attractive trails and, in their different stops allow you to park and enjoy a walk. Access is free and the park is open from 8 in the morning until an hour before dusk (in winter dusk is at 17.30).
There are routes to enjoy cycling and walking, although it is not recommended to do it in the summer because of the intense heat.
Best time to visit Bardenas Reales:
If you want to live a different experience, the best time is in mid-September when El Paso takes place, a traditional festival that has been celebrated since the Middle Ages, in which tens of thousands of sheep accompanied by their shepherds come down from the Pyrenean valleys of Roncal and Salazar to take advantage of the Bardenero grass in the months of autumn and winter.
2 FUENTE DÉ, CANTABRIA
In the heart of the Picos de Europa there is a cable car that in 3 minutes and 40 seconds ascends to 1823 meters above sea level, thus avoiding an ascent through the mountain of 753 meters. The round trip price is somewhat expensive (17 euros per person round trip), but the views from above justify that investment. Not only you can enjoy a mountainous landscape from the different viewpoints but you can also spend the whole day hiking the trails up above the mountains, which, at the beginning of spring, when the winter snow still persists, are a delight.
A good option, which we did not do since we were with our son, is to ascend with the cable car and descend on foot along the Ruta Puertos de Aliva that leads from the upper station to Fuente Dé, where the cable car departs. The price of the cable car just to go up is 11 euros per person, and the descent on foot is of low difficulty walk, suitable for anyone without any mountain road knowledge needed.
Not to be missed in Fuente De: Potes
A great option to complete the day is to visit the nearby town of Potes, a typical Cantabrian village with a wonderful natural environment.
3 SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE, BASQUE COUNTRY
In the Basque province of Vizcaya and surrounded by the Cantabrian Sea, this hermitage rises on an island 79 meters high. The waves hit hard below and at the top, you can hear three chimes that echo in the mountains. Now a trending place to go thanks to the Game of Thrones series, this jewel of the Basque coast was until recently a place often ignored on the typical route through Vitoria, Bilbao and San Sebastián. There are 241 steps that you have to climb from the base to the top of the islet, but the views towards the infinity of the sea are worth every step.
The hermitage is not the original because, after dozens of battles, fires and attacks by corsairs (Francis Drake sacked the hermitage in 1596 and threw the hermit from the cliff), it was completely demolished in 1886 and rebuilt. But it is a place full of history, from its defensive use against Alfonso XI, King of Castile, by the lords of Bizkaia, to its supposed use as a dungeon for those accused of witchcraft during the Inquisition.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (“rock castle” or “rough castle” in Euskera) is only 35 kilometers away from Bilbao, and the best option is to go by car. But you can not access the base, so you have to leave it a kilometer away, near the main road. The islet is open 24 hours a day. The Hermitage, however, has very limited hours on particular days so if you want to visit it the best is to check its opening times at the Bermeo Tourist Office, 9 kilometers away.
Did you know:
According to the legend, if when reaching the top of the islet you make a wish and you ring the bell of the hermitage three times, your wish will come true.
4 FOZ DE LUMBIER. NAVARRA
It is just a 1300 meters long flat suitable-for-all walk. But along this route you will find a landscape of steep ocher cliffs facing each other, crowned by the intense green of the vegetation. On top of them, the griffon vultures fly, not two or three of them, but dozens that pass above our heads. Down there, the clear waters of the Irati River carving a wonderful gorge between the two rock walls.
It is almost a kilometer and a half that could be done in fifteen minutes but it can take us an entire afternoon because every two steps there is a reason to stop. And it passes under two extensive caves, through which the first electric train in Spain used to pass: the “Irati”, which linked Pamplona with Sangüesa and stopped working in 1955. If you visit in summer, during the warm months of the year, the river is perfectly suitable for swimming and adds a greater interest in the visit.
See also: Foz de Arbayún
The Foz de Arbayún, of a more complicated access but with a viewpoint that gives an unrivaled bird’s eye view of the Foz: the viewpoint of Iso.
5 REFUGIO DE VERDES. GALICIA
We might be able to say that if you are not from Galicia it is very rare that you know this place unless you are a traveler very interested in places outside the tourist circuit. But without doubts, it is one of the most beautiful places in which we were lucky to be.
The river Anllóns in its passage through the parish of Verdes, in the municipality of Coristanco, passes through a mountain of 151 meters high and begins to draw waterfalls and rapids that flow between small islets linked by wooden bridges. Originally it was a fishing ground but then mills were built to take advantage of the speed of the river and today twelve of them can be enjoyed, some even in their original state.
If you want to enjoy full tranquility, the ideal option is to visit it on weekdays when the place is empty. Anyway, the weekends´ atmosphere is very pleasant since the locals gather to prepare barbecues in the grills arranged along the paths. It is an ideal place to go with dogs since the paths along the river are very easy to travel. Nothing better than the sound of waterfalls and rapids to disconnect from the city.
How to get to Refugio de Verdes:
Refugio de Verdes is just half an hour away from the port city of La Coruña, halfway to Cape Finisterre, so it becomes an ideal stop if you plan to go to “the end of the world cape”. You can add this place to our Asturias and Galicia Ultimate Road Trip. Read the article here.
As we said at the beginning, choosing this list was complicated since the natural places in Spain are infinite and beautiful. But it’s a start. So we encourage you to start with these five.
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