Avoiding the Easter Crush in Northern Spain
We have had our fingers burnt before being caught out by the travel clusterf$%k that is Easter. First, we had forgotten after many years of living in the States what a major holiday Easter is in Europe. Pretty much everyone seems to be traveling to somewhere other than where they live. Then on top of that, of course, the date moves around every year. This fact is much to Iain’s chagrin. Just the mere mention of Easter can send him into an irrational rant, muttering about how it doesn’t make sense that Jesus birthday is always on the same day but the anniversary of his death changes. I point out to him, that as atheists we shouldn’t be looking for logic here. That isn’t normally successful!
This year we made a note of the date so as not to get caught napping again! We were going to find ourselves in Northern Spain over Easter weekend so we planned accordingly. We actually left Portugal the week before Easter and stopped just over the border in Spain in a tired little town in Galicia called A Guarda. The rain continued to follow us so it ended up being predominantly a laundry stop and a time to hunker down inside the van while the heavens opened. We did manage a walk into town but, as I said, we didn’t find much of anything to commend it as a destination.
Our next stop in Pontevedra was a completely different experience. A beautiful city with a pretty riverside setting and a charming old town with lots of atmosphere. It offers narrow streets, cute boutiques, bars and restaurants and a fantastic free art museum (a great rainy day visit). We were now in Semana Santa, the holy week before Easter Sunday. It is common at this time to see processions in many towns and cities and Pontevedra was no exception. Unlike the normal carnival atmosphere surrounding most Spanish events this was an altogether more somber affair with attendees holding aloft elaborate altars and people walking in penance wearing the traditional tunic and capirote. These garments with conical hoods look shocking to anyone who has spent time in the USA but they actually have no relation to the dress of the KKK.
The capital of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela is well known around the world for the Cathedral in the centro of the city. It is the destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century. Every year hundreds of thousands of people walk "the camino" from various different directions. We stayed in a nearby town on the camino on the less traveled but still relatively busy “Portuguese Way”. To visit the city we could have taken the bus or cycled but we decided instead to walk the last 6 or 7 km of the camino along with all the other pilgrims.
We chose to visit on Good Friday knowing it would be busy but we thought why not risk it. And it was indeed busy; another penitential procession crammed the streets, the square at the cathedral was filled with pilgrims completing their journeys and there were lots of tourists like us just soaking up the ambiance. But sometimes crowds are just fine and the atmosphere was something we will always remember.
We spent the rest of the Easter weekend in a free spot on the coast near the city of Foz. We noticed that the roads had become increasingly crowded and we guessed that every Spaniard that owned a motorhome must have been using it that weekend. I think we were right, it was a busy spot but we nestled in and just enjoyed this beautiful part of the Galician coastline. We cycled along to Praia de Augas Santas otherwise known as the Cathedral beach on Easter Sunday. A popular place to visit, but again we didn’t let the crowds mar our fantastic visit.
After the Easter madness started to wane we headed to the province of Asturias and one of our new favorite Spanish cities, Oviedo. What a splendid place, equally grand and charming with fantastic architecture, wide open plazas and leafy parks. Surrounded by mountains, we made a mental note to come back and explore the surrounding area when the weather was better.
Because the weather was still misbehaving we by-passed the Picos de Europa national park vowing to come back another time when we could truly explore it. Instead we headed into Cantabria and stayed a little further up the coast near the town of Comillas. Here we found a fantastic surprise; just a short cycle ride from our campsite was El Capricho, one of Antoni Gaudí's first architectural designs and one of only a few of his projects found outside Catalonia. It was well worth a visit and the town and the scenery in the area is wonderful.
Our final Cantabria stop was also full of surprises, this time of the food and beverage kind. The town of Liérganes is precious; complete with beautiful river, gorgeous houses, a roman bridge and it's very own legend about a fish-man with gills and scales. What more could you want? Well how about not one but two Mexican restaurants. It goes without saying we LOVE Mexican food and consider ourselves aficionados. After reading reviews we chose El Bigote. I can hand on heart say that it was the real deal. Proper, honest to goodness Mexican food. Delicious. Could things get any better than this you might wonder… well, amazingly they were about to.
Outside we saw a delivery van for a craft brewery, Dougall’s. Hmm, let's just Google that and see where it is. It turned out to be a 15 minute walk away so off we trotted to investigate. Although they were busy making beer, a member of staff took the time to chat with us and opened a couple of freshly bottled IPA's for us to try. The wonderful owner came out to chat as well. Andrew hails from the UK but has lived in Spain for a while. He was bored with the lack of variety of quality beer available after he relocated so decided to brew his own. That was way back in 2006 and now they are expanding and have bought the land next door to get more capacity and open a full tasting room. The IPA was excellent so we bought a few bottles and a couple of other beers to try. Suffice to say, we ended up with a box full of beer to take back to the motorhome. Fortunately, Andy was heading into town and offered us a ride so that we (I mean Iain of course) wouldn't have to lug all the beer home like a burro.
After a final stop in San Sebastian to revisit another favorite spot (see our previous post), we left Northern Spain, feeling we had barely scratched the surface. A bit of gnarly weather and the fact that we have a firm date when we need to be in Southern France meant we didn't spend more time. But we have no doubt we will be back to this beautiful, green lush part of Spain again. At the very least we will need catch up with Andy to stock up on more beer!
Recommendations & Tips
Where we stayed: We visited in April, and even though it was Easter holidays we had no problem easily finding spots without reservations.
29: Campsite Santa Tecla, A Guarda. 12 Euro a night with ACSI Card discount. GPS: 41.89868, -8.84711
30: Free motorhome parking at the edge of Pontevedra. Noisy, as there is construction nearby, but just a short stroll into the city. GPS 42.43334, -8.63542
31. Free motorhome parking at Milladoiro , about 7km from Santiago de Compostela. Full motorhome service point. GPS: 42.84711, -8.58236
32. Free motorhome parking across the estuary from the town of Foz in the small town of Barreiros. Beautiful coastal walks and cycling from here. Full motorhome service point, no groceries nearby out of season, come stocked up. GPS: 43.56367, -7.24276
33. Free motorhome parking at the edge of Oviedo. Just a noisy, characterless parking lot, but so worth it to visit the beautiful city of Oviedo. A 20 minute bus ride will take you to the city center. GPS: 43.3827, -5.82398
34. Caravaning Oyambre. 20 Euro a night with ACSI Card discount. A beautiful campsite with lovely views to the Picos de Europa, a short walk to the beach and you can cycle to Comillas from here. GPS: 43.38494, -4.33838
35. Free Parking: Lierganes. This is a parking lot at the station. It’s a bit confusing as there is a motorhome service point here, and there are long spots, but there is a sign by them that says these are for tour buses only. We parked in one of the regular car spots near the service point and no-one seemed to mind. GPS: 43.34474, -3.74195
You can always find details of where we stay on our overnight stays map.
Other hints & Tips:
Cathedral Beach: During the summer and Easter you need to get a ticket to visit the beach. This is to limit the number of visitors to a maximum each day. It is free but if you don’t plan ahead and get a ticket, on a busy day you may be turned away. We were able to reserve our tickets just two days before Easter Sunday. Go to this website to get a reservation. You don’t need to print it since they will accept the email on your mobile phone as proof but you will need a passport or driving license to verify your ID.