Four regions of Spain, which stretch 2,000 kilometers across the northern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, are marketing themselves as Green Spain. Famous for their cities, scenery, cuisine, outdoor activities, museums and festivals, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country are easy to get to by road, flights and train.
Santiago de Compostela is best known for its Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Popular attractions include the Pilgrimage Museum, the Cathedral, beautiful buildings around Obradoiro Square and the restaurants along the Old Town streets of Franco and Raina.
Ourense is famous for the Santo Cristo Cathedral, the bridge over the Mino River and the three As Burgas hot mineral water fountains. Visitors can take a boat to the Cies Islands in the bay facing Vigo. The best viewpoints for the city are at Castro and A Guia. Carnival is held in February.
Pontevedra boasts many architectural monuments, including the Santo Domingo ruins and the Basilica of Santa Maria, as well as the Galician festival of Os Maios in May. A Coruna is 64 kilometers north of Santiago de Compostela. Visitors come here to see the Millennium Obelisk, the highest obelisk in the world, at 50 meters in height, and the Hercules Tower, built in the second century BC. The Old Town, Cidade Vella, is the place to go for nightlife.
Like A Coruna, Ferrol faces the Atlantic Ocean. The former fishing village features a Naval Museum and several Holy Week celebrations, including the procession of the Cristo de la Misericordia and the procession of the Santo Entierro.
Lugo is enclosed by a beautiful round Roman wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the third century AD.
Galicia has many natural parks and reserves. Atlantic Islands Marine Terrestrial National Park has white sandy beaches, birdwatching and hiking trails. Monte Aloia Nature Reserve offers visitors a 10-km botanical path and magnificent views from 629-m Mt. Aloia.
Other nature reserves include Corrubedo Dunes, Carregal & Vixan Lagoons, Fragas do Eume and Baixa Limia — Serra do Xures, which has ibex, wolves and Galician ponies.
Mount Naranco offers views of Oviedo, with its green Park of San Francisco and numerous UNESCO monuments. San Julian de los Prados is the largest preserved pre-Romanic church in Spain. In October, the El Desarme gastronomic festival celebrates local cuisine like chick peas with cod, tripe, rice pudding and apple cider.
Gijon celebrates the Natural Cider Feast in August. Besides restaurants and bars, the port city is famous for its seaside promenade and historical buildings.
Aviles also has many cider bars. The Old Town is known for the old church of Sabugo and the fountain of the Canos. On Easter Sunday and Monday, the festival of the Bollu features carriage parades, concerts and eating in the streets.Five valleys in the Somiedo Nature Reserve shelter cabanas de teito, thatched huts, used by herdsmen when they herd their roxa or Asturian cows to pasture in spring. Muniellos Biosphere Reserve shelters brown bears and birds.
Along the coastal cliffs of Asturias and La Griega beach, visitors can see ichnites or fossilized dinosaur tracks. The Asturian Jurassic Museum is in Colunga.
Santander is the capital of Cantabria. The Royal Palace on La Magdalena peninsula houses Menendez Pelayo International University. Summer festivals include the Semana Grande in July and the Semanuca in August.
Torrelavega is famous for its Livestock Market on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, the cattle fair changes to a street market for clothing, cheese and the city's famous puff pastries. People visit the bodegas on Gonzales Linares and Julian Ceballos streets for chiquiteo, drinking small glasses of wine.
Laredo has the best white sand beach in Cantabria. Puebla Vieja is an historic old town, with cobbled streets and historic buildings like the Church of Santa Maria de los Angeles. The restaurants and cafes along the seafront serve fresh fish.
A medieval castle and the Gothic Church of Santa Maria dominate Castro Urdiales, another port city. The best times to visit are on the first Friday in July, for the El Coso Blanco race of decorated carriages, and Easter Week, for the passion play performed by Castro Urdiales residents in their streets.
On the west coast of Cantabria, Oyambre Nature Reserve is famous for its clams, or muergos, which visitors can sample in coastal restaurants.
Saja-Besaya Nature reserve is home to red deer, wild boar and many birds.
Other nature reserves include Liencres Dunes, Santona and Noja Marshes and Pena Cabarga, known for eroded limestone karst formations at Cabarceno.
The inhabitants of Basque Country (Pais Vasco) speak the oldest language in Europe, yet Bilbao is world-renowned for its ultra-modern Guggenheim Museum. Bilbao is also known for its metro, International Trade Fair, pedestrian streets, theaters and San Mames football ground. Ribera is one of the largest covered markets in Europe.
Vitoria Gasteiz is the capital of Basque Country and Alava Province. In its well-preserved medieval Old Town, visitors and locals enjoy potes, small glasses of wine. Festivals include the International Jazz Festival, in July, and Dance Month, in May.
The International Cinema Festival, in September, is the most important event in Donostia San Sebastian. The capital of Gipuzkoa is also known for its cuisine, excellent restaurants and bars, where patrons can enjoy pintxos (snacks or tapas) and txikitos (small glasses of wine). Notable buildings in San Sebastian are Kursaal Hall, the Victoria Eugenia Theatre and the Ocean Museum-Palacio del Mar or Aquarium.
Prehistoric paintings of bison and horses are found in Santimamine Cave in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. A secondary Pilgrims' Way route passes through the San Adrian Tunnel in the Aitzkorri Nature Area. Milk from the latza sheep, which graze in the Urbia plateau here, is used to make the famous Idiazabal cheese.
Other nature reserves in Basque Country include Pagoeta Nature Reserve, Izkiz Nature Reserve and Aralar Nature Reserve, which has nearly three dozen Megalithic dolmens, burial mounds, monoliths and cave sites.
One of the easiest and most luxurious ways to tour Northern Spain is on the El Transcantabrico train, which travels between Santiago de Compostela and Leon.
Seven-day journeys include meals, entertainment, excursions to museums, cathedrals and other Green Spain attractions, with guides and transportation. Suites, with private bathrooms, accommodate up to 52 passengers.
Tourist Office of Spain: www.spain.info
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