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ENCHANTING SPAIN: Madrid, North of Spain, Barcelona

ENCHANTING SPAIN: Madrid, North of Spain, Barcelona

Jan 6th, 2019, 06:03 PM
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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
tomarkot is offline  
Jan 6th, 2019, 07:04 PM
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AM: Santiago Walking Tour
PM: Rias Baixas Visit
EVE: Pilgrim Mass

Breakfast at 8 AM and off for a walking tour of the town. We had been spoiled by a string of beautiful, sunny days which would be broken by a day of overcast and rain. The umbrellas were an item to have handy.

Maria was our guide for the day. The overriding attraction of the city of Santiago de Compostela is the Cathedral, around which the town grew up. This is the largest Romanesque structure in Spain, with later additions of Gothic and Baroque touches
The present structure was begun in 1075, on the site of an old church dedicated to Santiago, or St. James, as he is known in English. Work stopped after the initial stages and didn’t continue until 1100, when the architect Master Esteben designed three naves in the shape of a Latin cross. Construction carried on throughout the 12th century.

To the north of the Plaza fronting the Cathedral is the Royal Hospital, now a hotel, built in the early 1500’s to receive pilgrims. Other significant buildings on the narrow streets surrounding the Cathedral are noted for adding a medieval feel to the city.

As we walked some of the cobblestoned, arcaded streets in the city, Maria described some facts about the city: 100,000 population plus 30,000 students. This is known to be a prestigious college town which brings with it many activities, including restaurants and bars, to keep the atmosphere fun and jovial.

Santiago has many parks, and in its surrounding area of mountains and forests, opportunity for recreational activities. Maria described her home outside of the city and the many Atlantic beaches accessible for summertime enjoyment, dependent upon sunny days.

Santiago has a year-round program of cultural events like music and conferences. The month of July is a special time of celebration for the feast of St. James.

After walking several of the small side streets, with Maria pointing out places and details of interest, we walked down some stairs, through an arcade, where a bagpiper was entertaining. The Celtic influence was felt in the city.

These stairs led to the large square in front of the Cathedral, the Praza do Obradoiro, with the scallop shell imbedded in the center. Here, the peregrinos arrive as they complete their long journey. This plaza offers an impressive view of the Cathedral, with its two flights of stairs to the main entrance, the Portico de la Gloria.

In 1188, a Spanish architect and artist, Master Mateo, took over the construction and added one of the most spectacular features, the Gloria Portico, with three round arches, which is its main entrance. Among its 200 sculptured figures, the portico is decorated with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John surrounding Christ. Christ is at the pinnacle, as Christian pilgrims are coming to petition St. James to intercede for them to Christ.

Finally, we visited the inside of the Cathedral. Upon entering, the barrel-vaulted ceiling was impressive. While touring the Cathedral, we passed the statue of St. James above the main altar, with the tomb below. There was a line of people waiting in line to touch the statue. We chose not to leave Maria and our tour group to get in that line.

One feature of special interest was the botafumeiro, the huge incense burner, which is attached to the thick ropes hanging from the ceiling. On special occasions, small flames are lit inside it, and eight strong laymen move the ropes to swing the massive vessel in a semicircle across the apse.

The city walking tour with Maria ended with the visit to the inside of the Cathedral. We looked forward to returning in the evening to attend the 7:30 “Pilgrim’s Mass” when we would hear the magnificent organ.

After a 45-minute break to find restrooms and have a coffee, which we enjoyed at a pretty café next to the Cathedral, we walked the path back to the busport meeting point and boarded a special “Rias Baixas” coach.

The day continued to be heavily overcast, with intermittent light rain, a factor which affected our decision to join the group on this side trip. We wished that we could have used the day to travel to Finisterre, the ending point at the coast, which, in Roman times, was thought to be the end of the earth. But experiencing the rain, which was predicted to continue, we decided that we would join the group for a forty-minute drive to a deep fjord-like estuary of Galicia.

The Rias Baixas are a series of four estuary inlets located on the southwestern coast of Galicia. These inlets are likened to arms of the ocean that mix fresh and salt water to sustain some of the world’s richest marine life. We would be visiting Ria de Arousa, a deep estuary located southeast of Santiago de Compostela.

The richness of the marine life in the Rias Baixas area helps the fishing and agriculture industries of the area. It is said that it’s the land where Spanish and Celtic cultures meet. The area is filled with tiny medieval villages amid ancient forests. It’s home to long white beaches, marinas, many water activities, and distinctive towns-a holiday destination. Of course, with the inclement weather, there was little outdoor activity.

The Rias Baixas area is famous for its wine growing regions, with the Albariño wine being one of the most popular.

Because of the rain, the stops along the water were brief. In these estuaries, seafood like octopus, cockles, mussels, clams, and scallops are harvested. We could look forward to some of the best seafood for lunch as we reached the city of Cambados about 1:30.

Following an exploration of the small city, the capital of Albariño wines, we enjoyed the best part of the trip: lunch!

After walking to the end of the main city street, lined with attractive shops, residences, and a few restaurants, and we spotted an inviting outdoor café with large umbrellas covering the patio.

A beer for Tom and a white Albariño wine for Margie to begin with.
Then, after what we thought was a careful study of the menu, Margie saw “queen scallops”, which she imagined meant “queen size”. Tom ordered the octopus, (pulpo) a seafood not favored by Margie. We ordered a salad to share.

When the meals were presented, they were attractive. But we couldn’t tell which was which. We thought the larger pieces were the “queen scallops”. Not so. When tasted, Margie knew right away that the seafood on her plate didn’t taste like scallops. It was octopus!!! We had a laugh!

The meals were prepared in Gallego style, the pulpo with olive oil and paprika, served with potatoes. We were unsure of the scallop preparation, but it was tasty.We enjoyed the salad and the well-seasoned entrees, followed by café con léche. (€53)

The last part of the stop in Cambados was a visit to a Galician manor house. Following that stop, the rain had ceased, and we were eager to return to Santiago for evening enjoyment.

Back at our NH Collection Hotel close to 5; a quick regrouping, and we were back out by 5:30 via a taxi from our front door to the heart of the Cathedral Plaza.

We strolled around the narrow, cobblestoned streets doing window shopping, wandering in and out of small shops. Featured in some shops was a type of stone, azabache, commonly referred to as “jet black”, a black amber, formed millions of years ago from fossilized wood, found on the northern coast of Spain. It is popular for creating all kinds of jewelry, combined with silver and gold. We would purchase a small sterling silver scallop shell as a memento of the Camino.
It was nearing time for the 7:30 “Pilgrims’ Mass” which was celebrated in Spanish. Arriving about a half-hour early, the Cathedral was nearly full. Many peregrinos attended. The liturgy was inspirational. It was a fitting last evening in Santiago de Compostela!

After Mass, we again walked some of the lively city streets. Restaurants had many diners.

Even though it was cooler, we settled at an outdoor café, Galeon Raina. A €12 special for Margie, which included a tender, tasty steak, salad, fries, and a dessert. Tom had a €3.50 egg, ham, cheese sandwich. There was a 20% add-on for the outdoor/terrace service! We chose the Santiago almond cake for dessert, appropriate for our last evening.

Our final farewell to Santiago de Compostela was a walk to the main Plaza for a night-time photo of the lighted Cathedral façade.

The small walk to the taxi stand was well-known to us by now. A €5 taxi ride was well worth it, and we were back at the hotel by 10 PM.

Tom entered some notes, while Margie did the packing and got things in readiness for the journey to Oviedo in the morning. We wished that we would have had one more day in Santiago de Compostela!

This was another destination which would be on our “return to” list!
tomarkot is offline  
Jan 7th, 2019, 02:24 AM
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Wow, what a cathedral. Sounds like a great day.
Adelaidean is offline  
Jan 7th, 2019, 12:47 PM
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We don't usually like modern art museums, either, but we loved the Reina Sofia Museum and stayed much longer than expected. Picasso's Guernica is amazing and sad, and was our primary reason for going to the museum. But we also really enjoyed many of the other artists as well.

The Prado is one of my favorite museums! We spent about 4.5 hours there, including a short lunch break. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to see the Thyssen. Sounds like you really enjoyed it.
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Jan 7th, 2019, 05:38 PM
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Adelaidean, thanks for your continued interest!
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Jan 7th, 2019, 05:44 PM
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KarenWoo, yes, the Prado is so massive and wonderful. We have intentions of returning to Madrid. We visited the city a few years back and spent part of two days in the Prado. You do need a break after a couple of hours. Thanks for following along in our Spain travels.
tomarkot is offline  
Jan 7th, 2019, 07:18 PM
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Great report as usual. Adding Santiago de Compostela to other Spain sights we've yet to see. Sounds like a fantastic trip.

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Jan 8th, 2019, 03:21 AM
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Just tuning in and looking forward to more. DD and I took a quick swing through Spain a couple of years ago over the New Year holiday. Madrid was lively on New Year's Day--we loved it! We had to coin-toss between Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza owing to time; the former won out though in hindsight we both would have preferred the latter. Something for next time, I suppose.
fourfortravel is online now  
Jan 8th, 2019, 05:26 PM
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Hi Maitaitom, it was a great trip, although we had a couple days of inclement weather going forward. Thanks for your continued interest!
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Jan 8th, 2019, 05:40 PM
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Fourfortravel, great to have your input! You guys are so lucky living in Vienna, with closer proximity to places in Europe which we love. We enjoyed your Paris Christmas holiday visit!
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Jan 9th, 2019, 03:08 AM
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That's great.
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Jan 9th, 2019, 05:26 PM
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Cabo Vidio along Bay of Biscay, en route to Oviedo

Scenery all along the Bay of Biscay, Northern Spain

Altar re-table in Cathedral of San Savior in Oviedo
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Jan 9th, 2019, 06:15 PM
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Destination: OVIEDO

Breakfast at 8 AM; off at 9 AM for Oviedo. We were hoping for a sunny day, but, unfortunately, the skies were dark, and it was raining.

We left Santiago de Compostela with an appreciation of the city and all that it meant, and a desire to return in the future. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, though beautiful, isn’t among the most magnificent in Spain, but because of its connection with the Camino, it exerts a kind of spiritual draw. People from all over the world, and from all walks of life, are attracted to it and share a kind of kinship with other pilgrims who have walked the Camino.

We began our 300 km. rainy drive ahead, moving out of Galicia and along the Costa Verde, the green coast of the Asturias Region. We were heading toward Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. Along the way we would pass some hearty peregrenos following the path of the scallop shells, unpleasant as the weather was.

We would be traveling along the Bay of Biscay, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, indenting the coast. The chief Spanish ports are Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastian. The Bay of Biscay is known for its strong currents and sudden storms. For most of its length, the coastline of northern Spain is hilly or even mountainous.

The Picos de Europe are dramatic and rocky mountains with deep valleys and soaring peaks. The area has been nicknamed “Switzerland on the Sea” because of its proximity to high mountain peaks and green valleys. The surrounding Cantabrian Mountains are lush and green, a reward for abundant rainfall. But we wished it weren’t rainy for our travel day!

Hoping to catch sunny weather, we had departed from home in late August, earlier than normal for us. However, it seems that the weather on the north coast of Spain is similar to that of the Pacific Northwest of the US. Lots of overcast, fog, and rain, with little predictability.

After traveling for about two hours, we stopped for a café/Spanish almond cake at Montero Restaurante in Montero, Spain, a classy, comfortable place. Then we were off for another two-hour ride and a stop to take in a gorgeous sight, an impressive bay inlet overlook at Cabo Vidio, Spain.

This sight reminded us of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, though not as tall. Very beautiful, but, unfortunately, it was still raining! We could enjoy the view for only a short while, as the rain had intensified.

We arrived at the Barcelo Hotel in Oviedo around 1:45 and received our room assignment. Nice hotel! Nice room!

Tom picked up Diet Cokes and sausage rolls next door at a convenient market, and the bartender was happy to heat them in the microwave. Having lunch in our room provided a little respite before our afternoon rainy walking tour of Oviedo.

Oviedo is an attractive town, tucked between the Cantabrian Mountains and the Bay of Biscay. It is renowned for its medieval Old Town, its historic Gothic cathedral, museums, and numerous plazas. And it is a city of outdoor sculptures.

At 3:30, we met Rene’, a local guide, for the tour of the old city area of Oviedo. He guided us around the notable parts of town. The first memorable stop was at San Julian de los Pro dos Parish Church, celebrated for its 9th century Asturian Art. Several fresco paintings remain on the wall, but over time, some of the color on parts of the frescoes has faded. The crucified Christ, hanging over the altar, is impressive, especially because of its both Gothic and Romanesque features. Woody Allen used this church for his movie, “Vicky Christine Barcelona”. This film is now on our list.

We also toured the Cathedral of San Savior with its one tower dedicated to Santa Barbara. The retable or background altarpiece is another one of those outstanding ones in Europe, with its five alcoves up and down on both sides of the center ornate creations, all gilded in gold. Our guide Rene’ was extremely thorough in explaining the Christian doctrine and introducing many saints that are featured on the side altars. This church is from the 15th century; the altar retable partially constructed in the 16th century, with the final part in the 17th century.

The guide explained that Oviedo city has 200K residents, with just over one million population including surrounding areas. Though now Oviedo is the capital of the Asturias Principality, it was, in the past, the capital of Christian Spain. The Moors did not capture or come here at all.

The city has the department store, El Corte Ingles, well-known and respected in Spain. Apparently, one third of the jobs in the city are for public employees, given that this is the capital of Asturias Principality; another third are employees in retail stores, which do not close till 10 PM; (however; they close from 2 to 5 for siesta); the final third are professionals. There is no unemployment and the city is very safe. 82 % of its streets are pedestrian walking streets. Rene' mentioned that the city hosts music events and film festivals, and that he has met several big name performers.

Although Asturias is known for its fresh seafood, we learned from Rene’ that fabada was a favorite dish in the area. He explained the main ingredients, so we had an idea of what we would be enjoying for our dinner.

After walking through the old city center, and viewing multiple interesting statuaries, there was time for a coffee break in a small café. By now, we could close the umbrellas. The rain had stopped.

After the break in this local café, we boarded the bus for a half-hour trip to the town of Gijon, and the home/restaurant of a local resident, Flor.

The meal prepared by Flor would be fabada, that famous local dish in the northern part of Spain. The main ingredients in this rich stew are large white beans, and sausages like chorizo and blood sausages, with a variety of spices.

The evening began in their side yard with sidra, or cider, another regional favorite. Flor's son poured the sidra with the ceremonious custom of holding the bottle high above the glass. We learned that the process of pouring the cider from 3 ft. above was not only ceremonious, but was done to aerate the cider.

Following that demo, we entered the lower level of the house. It was quite a large space, set up with rows of tables and chairs.

The family members served the meal. It began with cider and appetizers of sausages and cheeses, unique to the area. Asturias is known for its cattle, as well as plenty of goats and sheep, which make it one of Europe’s most notable producers of diverse cheeses. We were able to sample several varieties.

Following the cider and appetizers, the fabada dish, referred to as “the star of the Asturian kitchen”, was served. It reminded us of the cassoulet, the famous bean stew type dish we had tasted in Carcassonne, in the south of France. Though ingredients were different meats and spices, the basic white bean component was the same. Because this is a fairly heavy meal, it is normally served for lunch.

We sat with two couples: one from New Zealand the other from Australia, and enjoyed a lot of laughs with them. A daughter of the family, who is a teacher in the local high school, was our server. It was fun talking with her.

We returned to the Hotel Barcelo by 10 PM.
tomarkot is offline  
Jan 9th, 2019, 09:40 PM
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You nailed it with the description of our weather on the northern coast of Spain...highly unpredictable and very rainy!! Many people come to this area expecting, for some reason, a sunny and warm Spain...and it´s just the opposite. By the way, we close stores from 2 to 5 for lunch, mainly, nor for siesta (although some people may take a little nap in the meantime). Lunch is the most important meal of the day, as you know, and it´s something we take very seriously. Thanks for your report!
mikelg is online now  
Jan 10th, 2019, 04:25 AM
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Nice trip report, tamarkot, thank you.

We were in Galicia in September, but we stayed on the coast (Vigo, Fisterra, Ferrol)

I have posted a couple of pictures from Fisterre on the testing forum.
cdnyul is offline  
Jan 10th, 2019, 04:42 AM
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Finisterre, "finisterrae", fisterra in Galician, "end of the world" literally as it was the furthers point west in the known world...
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Jan 10th, 2019, 06:26 PM
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mikelg, thanks for your continued interest and valuable insights. You must live in northern Spain, or be from that area? We were disappointed not to have gotten to Finisterre.

cdnyul, I did check out your photos! Very nice!
tomarkot is offline  
Jan 10th, 2019, 06:46 PM
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Basilica in Covadonga

Puento Romano in Cangas de Onis

Typical flowers gracing homes in Santillana del Mar
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Jan 10th, 2019, 07:16 PM
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Visits to Three Attractions:
Congas De Onis
Santillana Del Mar

Destination: Santander
We off by 8 AM. It continued to rain, and whatever destination would be reached, the weather would curtail exploration. We would enjoy short visits to three places of interest.

The first stop was within the park of the Picos de Europa to the holy cave of COVADONGA. This was a shrine to Pelayo, who achieved the first Christian victory over the Moors in 722. Apparently, he was in the Visigoth tribe and is hailed as a hero for stopping the Moors who came over from Northern Africa.

The walk to the cave is paved with rocks and has on overhead arched- canopy constructed of rock. Once at the end of the cave, one sees an 18th century statue of the Virgin Mary. Pelayo is buried near the altar.

On this day, there were many flower baskets adorning the altar. The surrounding scenery is outstanding, with the basilica located in a gorgeous mountain setting!

A large museum and gift shop, which has beautiful replicas of works of art rather than the typical souvenirs, is located near the parking area. The rain prevented too much lingering in the outdoors.

The second stop was in the small city of CANGAS DE ONIS where one highlight is a unique stone Roman bridge, the Puento Romano, constructed across the Sella River in the 14th or 15th century. Shaped with a Gothic point, having a cross suspended from the center, the bridge is in an attractive setting with the Rio Stello running underneath it.

With steady rain falling, Tom braved the slippery cobblestoned climb to the top, while Margie took the more cautious approach and enjoyed the bridge from terra firma under a protected arcade.

We enjoyed the bridge, did some window shopping on the main street, and had time for coffee and a shared croissant at Main Street Café. Again, minus the rain, which was heavy at times, this small city would have been interesting to explore. But the bridge was an impressive sight, and worth the stop.

Our third stop was SANTILLANA DEL MAR, whose name indicated “sacred, flat, and near the sea”. Although it is a beautiful little town, many have expressed that it is neither sacred, nor flat, nor by the ocean. Described by some as the most beautiful village in Spain, its beauty was somewhat diminished with the pouring rain.

After a long trek from the parking lot, we entered the main cobblestoned square. The surrounding buildings were decorated with beautiful flowers, as were those on the side streets. The town consists of a large main square, and several side streets, and could be toured in a short time.

We used the ATM; then found the Conde Restaurant, a charming local place where we seemed to be the only English-speaking guests. Both of us ordered a hamburger with fries, made from fresh potatoes. Our meals were tasty. With some local wine, it was a nice experience.

When it was time to leave Santillana del Mar, we tackled the long hill to the parking area. The rain had let up somewhat, but not for long. On a sunny day, exploring Santillana Del Mar would be a more delightful experience. Not meant to be.

As we travelled on, we were in the foothills of the Picos de Europa, with great mountains and gorgeous scenery surrounding, the kind of area where, in good weather, we would enjoy spending some time.

Our final stop, and destination point, was the city of SANTANDER. Wow! Beautiful! It’s located on the Bay of Biscay. The rain had subsided a bit; however, it continued to be on and off.

The wonderful finale to the day was the Eurostar Hotel Real, Room 112. We had a great view of the bay, and in the foreground, the Santander Castle, one of the homes of the wealthy owner of Santander Bank.

Taking advantage of a short relief from pouring rain, we enjoyed our nice patio for a while, hoping that the rain would continue to hold off. All the hotels on this trip have been fine, but our room in Santander was the nicest. We even snuck in a half-hour nap, unusual for us.

Situated as we were on a hill, the walk down to the bay area would be long, with little hope of escaping getting caught in a downpour. Since we had a great room in a beautiful hotel, with many amenities, we decided to enjoy our patio, and eventually visit the bar that has an outdoor sitting area, sheltered from rain. The comfortable rattan chairs were perfect for enjoying drinks.

Later, we headed back to the attractive bar restaurant area for a light dinner of delicious chicken soup, a mixed salad, and a fresh fruit salad, all beautifully presented, accompanied by a local white wine (€44.60).

After several days of heavier eating, this combo really hit the spot! A perfect ending to a delightful, relaxing stay. We finished a slow dinner about 10:30 PM.
tomarkot is offline  
Jan 11th, 2019, 12:18 AM
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I´m a Bilbao native and a lover of all northern Spain, so yet unkown by many! Yes, we say that Santillana del Mar is the city of the three lies (as you say, not saint, not flat and not by the sea). Its real name comes from the 11th century church of Santa Juliana (at the end of town), which derived in Santillana after the years (Santaiuliana). Beautiful prehistoric caves with rock paintings over 15000 years old nearby, northern Spain (from Asturias to the Dordogne in France) is considered to be the Sixtine Chapel of cave art in the world!
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