Keep Calm and explore Northern Spain

Of all the Spanish Costas, Costa Verde, the green coast, stretching from Cantanbria through Asturias to Galicia, is my favourite.

Reasons why

Picos de EuropaFirstly – you don’t have to fly. Brittany Ferries regularly sail into Santander from Plymouth and Portsmouth and their large, modern ships ensure that the journey is more of a cruise than a ferry crossing. If you are lucky you may spot dolphin and whales en route.

Secondly – this is ‘real Spain’ where you will have to get out your phrase book and speak Spanish. You wont find English Bars and fish & chips but you will discover dusty Bodegas hidden away in tiny alleyways, serving tasty tapas.

Thirdly– the lush green landscape that gives meaning to the Costa Verde, backed by the towering Picos de Europa and edged with long sandy beaches all add up to a photographers dream.

What comes first – location or accommodation?

Ribadessela, SpainIn my case it’s nearly always location but on this trip I was lured to the Northern Spanish town of Ribadesella by the seductive website of a stylish B&B, La Calma. I am pleased to report that La Calma didn’t disappoint and after 4 days it had done what its name implies and calmed me down perfectly.

La Calma is the dream of Venezuelan born therapist Morelia. It was built to her specific design to cleverly resemble an old farmhouse. The five rooms are all beautifully decorated with modern en suite facilities that actually work (a novelty in Spain sometimes) and equipped with espresso machines for that early morning caffeine fix. The surrounding gardens have views across the valley and the entire area is quiet and peaceful. An added bonus is a holistic massage or Reiki treatment from Morelia who has created a wellness centre to cater for all us stressed out city dwellers. A double room starts from €80 a night with breakfast and my hour-long massage was 50 Euros. Try the Pack, Relax & Wellness package consisting of  2 nights accommodation and a one to one wellness programme including a 60-minute massage.

Kayaking on the river SellaMorelia is a great ambassador for the area and suggested activities and restaurants that she had tried and tested. We weren’t disappointed. We had a home cooked meal just five minutes walk from La Calma, along the quiet lane to Meson La Fuente. We tucked into Fabada the famous hearty stew of Asturian beans, sausage and meats and were very glad of the walk back to the hotel.

Ribadesella is one of the prettiest and interesting towns in Northern Spain. It straddles the River Sella with the bustling town and port on one side and elegant hotels and long sandy beaches on the other. Both sides linked by an attractive bridge. An outdoor market weaves its way through the streets every Wednesday and is a good place to pick up local cheeses and cured meats as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.

Asturias coastline, SpainIt is also one of the centres of the Asturian Sidra (Cider) industry and the main riverfront is dotted with Sidra bars. The Sidra is cheap with a bottle for two costing around 3 Euros. The waiters make a great show of pouring the cider in the traditional way from a great height, just a little at a time. All accompanied by tasty tapas of sizzling gambas (prawns), croquettas or a plate of Asturian cheeses.

Ribadesella comes into its own each August when a prestigious international kayaking festival takes place along the River Sella. As a result there are many opportunities to have a go yourself and we spent an enjoyable morning kayaking downstream with Turaventura, Costs can vary depending on conditions; we paid 25 Euros per person for a half-day tour.

The coastline in and around Ribadesella is a mixture of large sandy beaches and smaller coves. We particularly enjoyed Vega Beach, a very unspoiled spot just outside town. A café/bar and snack kiosk provides drinks and ice creams but for a special lunch there is a superb fish restaurant Gueyu-Mar, (Tel: 985 86 08 63). Service is attentive and the fish and seafood all freshly caught.

Vega Beach, SpainFor me the most memorable experience was a drive into the glorious Picos de Europa. It took about 30 minutes to reach the northern gateway to the mountains, Cangas de Onis. A busy and attractive town that we unfortunately did not have time to explore. We pressed on higher and higher to Covadonga where the amazing 19th century basilica clings to the hillside and attracts visitors by the coach load.  But our destination was the stunning glacial lakes reached via a road that wound around the mountains. We drove past the first lake, Lago Enol and headed for the car park at Lago de la Ercina. Here you will find a small restaurant open in the summer months for snacks and lunch. The view is breathtaking across the icy blue lake to the rugged mountains beyond, cows grazing all around with the bells around their necks echoing across the valley.

We had a bought a picnic so soon left the crowds behind and followed a walk from the indispensible Sunflower Guide to the Picos de Europa. A book I would recommend to anyone setting out to explore the region. The peace and quiet and clear mountain air was just incredible, a real tonic for jaded townies.

Sadly there is never enough time to do all you would like but it does guarantee that we will return to this pretty town and to the calming atmosphere of La Calma.

We travelled with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Santander.

Pack a selection of clothes, it may be sunny on the beach but it can quickly turn cold at high altitudes in the mountains.

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Sally Dowling

Travel writer

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