My Grand Tour of ‘Green Spain’ from Cantabria to Asturias and Galicia

Some things are best left to the experts, like pouring cider into a glass at waist level exactly 3cm from a bottle above the head. In Asturias, apprentice bar and restaurant workers have to practice for weeks with water before paying customers.

It’s all about saving the boss from going bankrupt from dry-cleaning bills,” tour guide Ernesto Fernández tells me as I admire the small port town of Luarca from its mountainous graveyard.

“Look – that’s where I live,” he says, pointing to his apartment building. “And this,” he says, turning and pointing to the tomb of the Fernandez family, “is where I will be laid to rest—my grave with a view.”

Necrotourism is a new one on me, but people make a break from the gossip in the cemetery, and Luarca, filled with white marble statues of angels, the Virgin and the crucified Christ, is first on the list of ’10 Spanish Cemeteries to See Huh. You die

Down in the main square, outside a cafe a sign on the help-yourself tap reads: “Sidra. Free.” Asturian cider is so cheap – €3 for a liter bottle – that many times offer it free to peregrinos (pilgrims) walking the northern route of the Camino de Santiago, which runs through Luarca.

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pouring cider in asturias

It is one of several picturesque towns and cities I visit during a weeklong east-to-west driving tour of ‘Green Spain’, which starts in Cantabria, continues in Asturias and ends in Galicia. Is. Here on the booming Bay of Biscay, where Seville families take a summer break to escape the oppressive heat—25C is cooler than the 40-plus degrees they’re used to—the landscape increasingly resembles Donegal, Soaring cliffs, secluded beaches and mountains with pointed summits as far as I travel.

An hour’s drive from Santander, the Cantabrian capital, takes me to the fishing port of San Vicente de la Barquera, where the 13th-century fort and Gothic church of Santa Maria, set against the snow-capped Picos de Europa , one of the most photographed places in Spain.

San Vicente is the starting point for the little-known Camino de Lebanese (caminolebaniego.com), which covers a distance of just 72 km and can be completed in three days. It may be Camino-light, but this inland hike, which takes pilgrims to the monastery of Santo Toribio near Pots, is heavy on the scenery, and it’s wise to add a fourth day to stop walkers taking time to take pictures. Will be

Photography is not allowed in El Sopalao Cave (alsoplaos), but millions of stalactites, stalagmites and anti-physics freaks—they grow sideways, which the greatest minds of science still can’t explain—leave visitors with long-lasting mental images.

Just outside the medieval Santillana del Mar, arguably Spain’s most beautiful city, the Altamira Cave (culturedeporte.gob.es), with its 15,000-year-old rooftop paintings of wild bison, was closed to the public in 2002. Decades of breathlessness from hordes of visitors was causing mold to form on the work of Ice Age artists, so a real-size replica cave was built next door and is today a world-class tourist attraction. It’s hardly Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but every Friday, five lucky people removed from the year-long waiting list present their golden tickets and are given a tour of the real thing.

At the coastal resort of Comillas, one need not ask who dreamed up the whimsical Villa Quijano. Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, ​​work on which began in March 1882, would be good when it was finished, but the villa, which he designed for the super-rich lawyer Maximo Díaz de Quijano, was completed in 1885 and Has always attracted a jealous look. since. Better known as Gaudí’s capris, it is clearly influenced by Arab architecture and Oriental art, but one excited little boy when he exclaims: “Look, mom – the tower is made of Lego!”

Cantabria has given up on culture big time, and now it’s onwards to Asturias to join Ernesto in Lance for a late-night seafood meal at a small restaurant overlooking the marina. The next morning after breakfast, we set out on a full-day tour of the principality’s seaside towns and villages, each claiming, and not unreasonably, the title of “Spain’s most beautiful”.

Luarca is accompanied by a squeak, as are Tazons, Ribadesella and Colunga, with its Jurassic Museum (a must-see if you’re traveling with kids; museojurasicoasturias.com), but the cudillero—a higgledy-piggledy pile of pastel-colored shops and houses looming over the steep pier from the sea—gets my top marks.

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A dish of octopus and boiled potatoes in Galicia

The Galician capital, Santiago de Compostela, where I arrive the next day in time for a delicious lunch of steamed octopus at the Abastos food market, has a lot to offer footsore hikers at the end of their long Camino trip, but There’s really only one show in town once they emptied the local pharmacies of blister pads.

A mass of pilgrims at 7.30 p.m. at the 1,000-year-old cathedral packs the place, with 1,200 people expected to be hammocked from the ceiling as the giant botafumiro (censer) is pulled vigorously on thick ropes by eight priests.

It is an age old ritual with a practical purpose. In the pre-deodorant Middle Ages, pilgrims arriving at the cathedral to pray at the tomb of St. James would be drowned on the road to heaven after months, so clouds of herb-scented smoke helped disguise the stench. Frustratingly, my travels don’t coincide with a scheduled ‘show,’ so I instead end up with hundreds of feet aches from the heady aroma of Deep Heat.

Pilgrims with money to barn can pay in advance to see Botafumero in action, but the privilege comes at an eye-watering price – up to €800. That’s a little over my budget because I’m facing a hefty dry-cleaning bill back home after several satiating attempts to pour my cider in Asturias. Some things are best left to the experts.

don’t miss

Cathedral Beach, near Ribadev, Galicia, with its towering sea arches, is only accessible at low tide, but it’s worth waiting to go for a walk. In the summer, you need permission to access the beach, but it’s free. ascatedrais.xunta.es

go there

Ryanair flies from Dublin to Santander and Santiago de Compostela. The Brittany ferry runs from Rosslare to Bilbao, which is an hour’s drive from Santander. The crossing takes 27-33 hours with at least one night on board. ryanair.com, brittanyferries.ie

more info

Tom was a guest of the regional tourism boards of Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia and the Spanish Tourist Office in Dublin. For more information on visiting ‘Green Spain’, visit turismodecantabria.com, turismoastuaria.es, turismo.gal And Spain.info,