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Impresiones de España

Sleep, eat and drink
Barceló Costa Vasca - San Sebastian
Zubieta Hotel- Lekeitio
Palacio de la Magdalena - Soto
Palacio de Rubianes - Cereceda
Hesperia Bilbao - Bilbao

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impresiones de españa     a journey along the green coast of spain

Josefina & Wolfgang Bleier
Austria, August 2010

Our initial plan for our summer holidays in 2010 was to explore the highlands of Scotland. When preparing for Scotland we certainly didn't think of postcard-like blue skies and all-day sunshine, but in July the weather forecast wasn't very promising for that region. 15°C air temperature was way too cold for us, and perhaps we would have ended up tipsy all the time, warming up in the countless Whiskey distilleries. Well, our plan was changed quickly, the trip to Scotland postponed, and we decided to make a journey along the green coast of Spain. We had no regrets ...

The Spanish time zone

One of many interesting things of Spain is, that one can end up with kind of a jet-lag without leaving the time zone. We know that Spain is different, for example Spain is closed from two to five in the afternoon. But on our first evening, looking forward to fresh fish caught in the Atlantic Ocean, we were reminded that Spanish restorantes are closed even much longer. Reserving a table for dinner between eight and nine means that one can almost be sure to sit alone in the restaurant. That's how it is, and luckily that's why there are so many Tapa bars around. Just get your appetizer there and you'll be happy in the middle of a lively crowd. Especially the artfully prepared Pintxos in the Basque region can easily match with the best entradas served in restaurants.

San Sebastian

From San Sebastian to Castañeras and back to Bilbao

We started our tour at Bilbao airport with a rented car. A middle class diesel car was obligatory, and after all, our nice German car has brought us over a distance of almost 1000 kilometer with just one tank fill. It was a good idea to have the car equipped with a GPS navigation system. In fact our navigator was a "she" with a friendly voice. Finally on the extremely small roads in the mountains of Asturias she became a close friend of us. Without our Señorita GPS we surely would have got lost in one of the valleys between Piloña and Cereceda, a tiny village with only a few residents in the middle of nowhere.

Donostia - San Sebastian (Basque Country)

After leaving Bilbao our first destination was San Sebastian, or Donostia as it is called in the Basque language. Well, what can we say, the entire north coast is a magnificent region of seductive charm, but San Sebastian is painfully beautiful, a lively and yet relaxing place. Its dreamlike bay La Kontxa (Kontxako Badia, or Playa de la Concha in Spanish) is embedded between mount Urgull next to the heart of the city at the seashore and mount Igeldo in the west, and a small island "floats" in between in turquoise water. Our first view on that picturesque scenery, overlooking the bay from the Palacio de Miramar in the west, was simply breathtaking. The images in our photo gallery can hardly picture the real beauty of this place. San Sebastian seems to be the world-capital of pintxos, a real food paradise. The typical scene in the old town at around seven in the evening is crowds of people inside and outside of the countless Tapa bars. Locals go from bar to bar and have some pintxos and wine before heading to a restaurant for a proper dinner. And last but not least, one can go crazy from all of these Spanish desserts that are everywhere around in the old town of San Sebastian.

Lekeitio (Basque Country)

We programmed our Señorita GPS to keep us away from highways, so we left San Sebastian along the costal road on the steep coastline towards Lekeitio, a romantic fishing town shortly before the Bilbao region. Lekeitio is a very cozy port town, and "very Basque". When we tried to explain the waiter of the Jatetxea Goitiko restaurant our poor Spanish language skills, he ironically replied in broken English: "me also no speak Spanish, speak basque". Not only that the people there are very friendly and helpful, they also have a good sense of humor. We had lunch in this restaurant, which we found just by chance and turned out to be one of the best restaurants in the area, favoured by the locals. The fish we ate in the Jatetxea Goitiko restaurant in fact was that delicious, that later on our trip we decided to stay over night in Lekeitio on our way back to Bilbao and have seafood there once again.

Suances (Cantabria)

After our stopover in Lekeitio our next destination was Suances, located west of Santander in the region Cantabria, bordered to the north by the Bay of Biscay. Unfortunately we could not make it to Santander, which was for sure worth to see but time did not allow us anymore. Suances turned out as a tourist place for sun & sand holiday makers, but anyway the region is beautiful as all the other places we've been in the north of Spain. Our hotel was a traditional old Cantabrian stone house with cosy ambience. Wide beaches with sand dunes invited us to walk, read and relax or simply to have an afternoon nap. Not far from Suances is Santillana del Mar, a historic town, which is entirely under preservation order. This old town features many historic buildings, and also a replica of the famous Altamira Caves (Cuevas de Altamira). The original cave is closed to the public since 1977, as during the 1960s and 1970s the paintings were being damaged by the carbon dioxide in the breath of the large number of visitors.

Piloña - Cereceda (Asturias)

Driving from Suances to Cereceda in the mountains of Asturias, we took in Llanes along the way. We stopped by this traditional fishing port situated half-way between Santander and Gijon at the Costa Verde of Spain, following a recommendation of our guide book. Llanes has a very beautiful old town, and among many things to see some good seafood restaurants, of which the most famous one is quite simple and yet the very best. Unfortunately the restaurant was full when we came there and the waiting list too long. We followed some other good smell in the streets of Llanes and sneaked into a grocery. There we decided to buy food for a picnic including delicious Jamón Iberico de Montanera, a variety of cheese, bread and fruits, which we enjoyed very much on top of the town's embankment "Paseo San Pedro".

We knew that our most exciting destination will be in Cereceda, a mountainous area in the province of Asturias. It is kind of a mystic place surrounded by majestic mountains and exposed to changeable weather with fog, sunshine and rainclouds, which tints these landscapes in some sort of magic daylight. The hotel we stayed in was the charming Palacio de Rubianes Hotel & Golf resort, it excelled any hotel we have been during our vacation. The place is quite difficult to find since situated deep in the mountains, but thanks to señorita GPS we arrived there safely. Everyone in the hotel speaks English fluently (surprise, surprise...) and the personnel are very accommodating.
The hotel is designed very stylish, old elements from stone blend nicely with modern interior elements. Each of the two upper floors has a beautiful central living room that suits perfectly for a relaxing drink, to play chess or simply read. From the hotel there are splendid views to the golf course, the magical silhouette of the Sierra del Sueve, and far beyond, the sea. We loved this place, it was very romantic and quiet to relax and unwind. There we also met our little tour guide, a small cute Terrier. We named him Picos after the prominent massif Picos de Europa (2.648 m). Picos was always somewhere around, walking with us strangers. En route walking from Biedes up to the Monte Cayon, a natural park on a plateau with a 10 km hiking trail as high that one can enjoy spectacular views to the surrounding mountains, we met only few people in this sparsely populated region. After three hours of strain we finally reached the plateau, exhausted but proud of our achievement. To our surprise happy Asturian cows welcomed us, god knows how they got up there.

Soto del Barco, Castañeras & Playa del Silencio, Cudillero (Asturias)

Leaving the Palacio de Rubianes Hotel in Cereceda was a farewell that made us a bit sad. We could have stayed a few more days, but our plans for the remaining journey were set. Soto del Barco was our next destination, where we stayed in the Palacio de la Magdalena Hotel away from tourist spots. The Magdalena Palace was built in the 18th century, and history says that the right-hand man of Napoleon occupied this place during the French invasion. The location of Soto del Barco is perfect for tours to the Asturian Costa Verde. Luarca, the white fishing village, or Cudillero are very beautiful coastal places visited by tourists. Our main interest, however, was the tiny village Castañeras, pretty much unknown, but from there one can reach the secluded bay "Playa del Silencio", a spectacular piece of shore nature-lovers must see. From the village we had to walk about two kilometers amidst fields on the mountain plateau to reach the sea. As we came nearer, the bay unfolded its beauty in a variety of lush greenness spotted by flowers and a mighty rock looming out of the sea. It's a scenery that made us struggle for words to describe. What a fantastic view on a pristine beach at the foot of the rocky coastline, facing the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. Mother nature was very generous.

From Castañeras we continued our journey to Cudillero, a picturesque fishing village that nestles at the seashore. It is a tiny place with very narrow streets between small pastel-colored houses, so beautiful that somehow the village looks unreal. Down at the placa major we found a Sidreria where the famous Asturian Sidra apple wine is poured into the glasses in the traditional way. Out of curiousity we ordered a bottle to have a taste of that famous drink, but finished it with some mixed feelings.

Lekeitio (Basque Country)

It was about time to change the direction of our journey, back towards east to a place near to Bilbao. From Soto del Barco we drove non-stop to Lekeitio, the place which attracted us earlier on our journey. We returned to Lekeitio because it's a picturesque small port town and for the delicious fish and its friendly people. Our hotel in Leketio was a beautiful traditional Basque house with walls from stone, lovely furnished rooms with wooden ceilings and a romantic garden full of roses, located within walking distance to the town's plaza and the port. The rooms are so sweet and warmly decorated and the breakfast room is homely like grandma's dining room. At the hotel's cosy bar/cafe, which is connected to the garden, we enjoyed a glass of wine after a day long sightseeing, before falling into our bed.... romance everywhere.

One of Lekeitio's landmarks is the "Basilica Assumption of Santa Maria of Lekeitio", a beautiful church built in the 15th century in late Basque gothic style. Plaza Major between the basilica and the port seems to be the most vivid place in Lekeitio. Young and old enjoying their time from siesta until late in the evening. People are chatting, some discussing, others reading and children are playing. Bars and restaurants are lined up along the port. We went again for dinner to "our" famous Jatetxea Goitiko seafood restaurant, but had to sit inside since the terrace was fully booked. Again we had the very best seafood there, so fresh and delicious. Almejas a la marinera, fresh clams in white wine sauce, and a perfectly prepared sole, so yummy. To be inside the restaurant was even more interesting than outside, amidst local señoras playing cards the entire evening till late night. It must have been ladies' night.

Bilbao - the modern Spain

Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country and capital of the province Biscay. The greater Bilbao zone is the financially and industrially most active part of the Basque Country, almost half of the population live there. Bilbao is also a major seaport and industrial center with suburbs extending to the Bay of Biscay.
Bilbao offers a lot to its visitors, only our remaining time was quite short. Well, we focussed on the city center where important main sights such as the famous Guggenheim museum and Puppy the flower dog, the Maritime museum, landmarks of modern architecture, the railway station as well as the old town "Casco Viejo" are lined up. Bilbao has lots of visitors, both, tourists spending their holidays in the region and weekend travelers. Most of the young generation speak English well. Bilbao has undergone a major urban renewal in order to move away from the region’s industrial history, and instead focus on tourism and services. The city has demonstrated that urban regeneration can be a powerful social and economic force to change and strengthen the urban expression, inject vibrancy and improve the quality of life for its citizens.
The hotel we stayed at in Bilbao, the Hisperia, is a progressive, modern design hotel, perfectly located opposite to the Zubizuri bridge (the white bridge), not far from the Guggenheim Museum. It is one of Bilbao's modern landmarks. Colourful tinted glass panes at the windows dip the light inside the guestrooms into shades of various pastel colors. Its spacious rooms look more like small apartments, which together with nicely designed furniture and the atmospheric light provides a very nice living experience to the guests. Did we mention that we also appreciate good spanish food? In the "Larruzz Bilbao" we had the best Paella ever. Very delicious!

Well, two weeks on a stretch of almost five hundred kilometers at the gorgeous north coast of Spain - what a wonderful travel experience. It was a discovery of the genuine Spanish way of life, which has refined our perception of well-being. And yet, all good things must come to an end, and so was our journey to end as well. There will be another time for us to return.

Adios, hasta luego

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