Northern Spain

Words and photography by Brian Lackey

When I thought of Spain, I thought of big cities and dry, sun-bleached coastal towns. Warm days and cloudless skies. Well, ten days in the northwest parts of the country changed all of that. I saw a very different Spain and I’m hooked.

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Cantabrian Coast

The northern coast is full of rugged cliffs and salty air and shattered sea stacks and a whole lot of wind and rain. The only tripod I brought was pretty flimsy and definitely not the right tool for long exposures in strong winds, but I shot them anyway. I guess I’m just stubborn like that. At one point I’d splayed the legs out wide and was sitting on one of them to—hopefully—stabilize the camera enough to get a sharp shot. It… didn’t really work, but we just won’t look too closely at these. Note to next time: a good tripod is worth packing even if it means checking a bag.

Picos de Europa National Park

This was the area that first caught my eye and led me to Northern Spain. Isolated mountains far from the throngs of tourists in the Alps and nearly as picturesque. They’re the first thing the Spanish explorers could see from the sea on their return trips from the Americas and what a welcome site that must have been. The Peaks of Europe.

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Galicia and Celtic Spain

If the words Praia das Catedrais don’t look Spanish to you, that’s because they’re not. Beach of the Catherals marks the start of my journey through the autonomous region of Galicia, the furthest northwest you can get in Spain. You might hear bagpipes here and Spanish—though definitely still spoken—shares the table with the local language of Galician. If the place feels like a cross between Spain and Scotland, that’s because it is, in a way. The region was settled by Celtic people hundreds of years ago and feels world away from the rest of Spain. Even the landscapes seem to have been influenced by the northern lands.

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Eastward

I drove quickly across an inland route back east towards to the Rioja region, but several stops along the way made me wish I’d allotted an extra day or two for exploring the places in between. I think that’s always the case with travel though… The more places I visit, the longer my travel list gets.

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Logroño

I spent a couple nights in Logroño to get my fix of red wine and pintxos (what might be called tapas in other parts of Spain). I’m a nature guy at heart, but Logroño was a reminder that I do love exploring cities as well. It was a cute town with good food and just the right amount of tourism infrastructure without being full-on Barcelona or Madrid.

Bardenas Reales

The biggest desert in all of Europe. Turns out that Europe just doesn’t have very many deserts, so it’s not a particularly impressive moniker, but still not a bad place to explore for a day. If you’ve been to the American Desert Southwest, maybe skip this one unless you’re already in the area. I’ve probably just gotten spoiled by living so close to Southern Utah, but I’m still glad I made the trip over. Also glad I left right as the tour buses showed up…

The Forbidden Forest

Deep in the mountains of the Basque Country, lies a forest of ancient beech trees straight out of a Harry Potter novel. It was just up the road and the complete opposite from the desert region I’d explored that same morning. It must be haunted too because either a ghost knocked my camera lens out of my bag and into the creek (RIP) or I have to admit that I’m just clumsy and tripped. I vote for the former.

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The Best Hike in Spain?

Okay, I’m probably not qualified to crown the winner of that particular superlative, with a grand total of what… three Spanish hikes under my belt? Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one takes the cake. The short jaunt has a double handful of waterfalls and probably the bluest water I’ve ever seen. Slovenia’s Soca River and the lakes of the Canadian Rockies come close. Nacedero del Urederra in the Navarre Region is worth the trip alone.

Back to Bilbao

An outbound flight to Lisbon meant I had to return the rental car and end the Spanish portion of my trip. Sad day indeed, but there were colorful streets to wander and pasteis de nata to be eaten (if you know, you know). One final stop on the northern coast found some pretty epic waves though, and I think all the surfers in the area had turned up to catch a few even though it was a weeknight. Can you blame them?

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For more from Brian, you can check out his website by clicking here or find him on Instagram by clicking here.

This travel story first appeared on Brian’s personal website.