A far cry from the sun-parched south, where high temperatures can sap the visitor's energy, Northern Spain's gentler climate suits many a visitor, especially the more active. Once you start to realize what it's all about, you may wonder how it's escaped you all this time.
Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria bring the mountains and the sea closer together."
People head for Northern Spain above all to discover the country's profoundly natural side. In impressive landscapes of mountain, river and forest, fringed by the ocean, the comfortingly old-fashioned character of Spain's northern lands makes a lasting impression on the visitor.
If you have an interest in walking truly marvellous mountain landscapes and green valleys, quaint old villages, swims at unspoilt, sandy coves, visiting historic (and prehistoric) sites, if you appreciate wholesome, well-prepared food, are ready to be charmed by local fairs and fiestas, and you prefer a mild climate in which to enjoy it all, this could be your country.
The north-western land is hospitable Celtic Spain. It boasts lovely beaches, dramatic cliffs at Finisterre, a largely forested landscape, and a warm microclimate where you will find villas with pools and vineyards. It also offers pilgrimage town Santiago de Compostela and the best seafood in Spain.
Asturias and Cantabria: Green Spain
This two regions rub mountainous shoulders in a gorgeously Green Spain.They share between them the picture book mountain range of the Picos de Europa and the sea and beaches of the Dinosaur coast. Comfortable, traditional cottages are the starting points for tremendous walks.
Asturias is the picturesque destination par excellence. Impeccably kept stone cottages, the magnificent Picos de Europa, Cider Country and delightfully natural beaches, all in one terrific little package. Don't miss the cider and cheese.
Cantabria is even better suited to walking and discovering, as the terrain is gentler and less abrupt than in Asturias. Trails pass through mountainside and verdant valleys in the sheltered bowl of mountains known as Liébana. A few brown bears still inhabit the most secluded forests.
The Northern Spain story
Northern Spain has half the land area of southern Spain (Andalusia), but double the kilometres of coastline: Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria bring the mountains and the sea closer together.
It's perfectly possible to visit a medieval cathedral and get completely and beautifully off the beaten track on the same day; to go from an ancient hamlet in a beech wood to playing in waves at an uncrowded beach half an hour later.
There's plenty to keep young and not-so-young interested and contented.
You can hike alpine mountains, visit cathedrals, monasteries and museums, dipping into local history and pre-history; drive the exciting coastline, stopping at sandy beaches and little coves along the way and sample fine seafood in fishing villages; try local cheeses, ciders and wines, learn curious local traditions, explore National and Natural Parks, trek a thousand-year old forest, see cave paintings, cycle through leafy gorges, take a boat to paradisiacal islands, plant your feet in dinosaur footprints, scan the mountains where the last brown bears still live, take a narrow-gauge train ride or a cable car, see rare horse and bird species, swim in the Bay of Biscay or the Atlantic Ocean, in your private swimming pool or natural river pools.
And no matter where you are, there's almost always some weekend fair, especially between Easter and September, when saints are fêted and culinary specialities are celebrated.
Compared with the flamboyant south, where the population is increasingly international and large expanses can be monotonously agricultural or even desert, the north is home to a more traditional Spain with landscapes of rich, green countryside, mountain and sea. Its people are more reserved and home-loving, their way of life more resistant to change.
For many, Northern Spain and its climate represent a relief from the mass tourism of built-up Mediterranean costas and the southern heat that some find simply oppressive, although summer temperatures are often around 30⁰C.
Self-catering accommodation in Northern Spain, in Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria, range from villas with pools and traditional farmhouses to stone cottages, converted mills and village houses. Nature lovers can wake up in the spectacular Picos de Europa, children on an organic farm, others to the gentle sounds of pastoral village life.
Airports for Northern Spain at La Coruña, Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Asturias, Santander and Bilbao are supplemented by ferrries to Santander and Bilbao.
Northern Spain is often referred to as Green Spain, which already marks it out from the straw-dry fields and landscapes in much of the rest of the country.
As a rule, you should not plan a trip to Northern Spain expecting the exceptionally dry and sunny weather that characterizes Andalucia and the south of Spain. The natural magnificence and thriving wildlife of the north needs rain in important seasons of the year to sustain it. But the chances of rain depend on where you choose to go as well as when.
The climate in the north of Spain may have more in common than northern European countries than it does with southern Spain, but there are significant exceptions that cover interestingly large areas.
The good news is that the areas with least hours of sun in Northern Spain still enjoy around 15% more sunshine per year than London or Berlin, for instance. And the latitude is more southerly, which notches the temperature up a few degrees and even takes the edge off the cold of the sea.
Statistics for Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria show a clear and significantly dryer period from June to September. This is in marked contrast to northern Europe where rain is far more spread out throughout the year and skies often grey.
The dynamic nature of the weather here means that when rain does fall, the clouds can soon afterwards open up to blue skies. When this happens amidst the bucolic landscapes of Asturias and its mountains, there is nowhere prettier.
A few locations in particular are far dryer and sunnier than others.
Southern Galicia, for example, is considerably sunnier and warmer than the far north and Asturias and Cantabria. This is why it is common to find villas with pools in Galicia. Elsewhere in northern Spain, swimming pools are something of a rarity. Southern Galicia is generally very mild. It has 30% more hours of sun per year than London or Munich, for instance. The fact that the region produces excellent wine, including some reds, demonstrates a very inviting climate.
Northern Galicia, although a little sunnier than other areas of Northern Spain such as Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque country, is nevertheless not as mild and dry as the south.
The Liebana region in Cantabria is a vast valley sheltered from westerlies by the impressive Picos de Europa massif. The winds blow themselves out against the protective mountains, depositing their rain outside the region. Mild temperatures here have created a wonderful mix of Mediterranean and Alpine forest. It is incredibly beautiful and green, yet the rainfall is half that of the nearby Cantabrian coast.
Read our holiday guide to Liebana in Picos de Europa, Cantabria.
Northern Spain is such a marvellous region of Europe, many-varied and natural, that prospective visitors are hearty recommended not to let concerns about less than picture-perfect than weather dissuade them.
To see a map of Northern Spain showing the different locations where Rustical Travel offer villas and cottages, click here.
Unless you plan to drive down through France, the main points of entry to Northern Spain are by plane or ferry.
For holidays at villas in ASTURIAS and CANTABRIA (classic Green Spain), there are three international airports:
Asturias Airport (OVD) | Santander Airport (SDR) | Bilbao Airport (BIO)
For holidays at villas in GALICIA, you have the region’s three airports plus Porto in neighbouring Portugal, which has many flights:
Vigo Airport (VGO) | Santiago de Compostela Airport (SCQ) | La Coruna Airport(LCG) | Porto Airport (OPO) Airports
You can look up flights to all these airports for Northern Spain using the search tool below provided by SkyScanner:
Santander and Bilbao have regular car ferries from the UK ports of Portsmouth and Plymouth operated by Brittany Ferries. For arrival in Galicia via the ferry to Santander, bear in mind that the drive can take 5 hours or more.
Holiday villas in Northern Spain tend to be in secluded locations which are not served by buses and a car is generally essential. Unless you're taking the car ferry to Santander or Bilbao, you'll need to rent a car.
It's practical, convenient and needn't be expensive. It often works out cheaper than taking a taxi and is then invaluable for shopping, eating out, visiting places of interest, days out at the beach, and making an easy return trip at the end of your stay.
If your villa is up a track, be sure to rent a vehicle with good clearance. This means most normal cars: simply don't be tempted by a low-slung sporty model.
The road network is good and there are some very scenic routes. Bear in mind that country lanes are often narrow, so we wouldn't recommend a bulky vehicle.
Driving times from airports your holiday property are shown on the villa's property page. You will receive a map with detailed directions to your villa as one of your holiday documents from Rustical Travel.
Rustical Travel doesn't have a professional arrangement with any particular car hire company and we suggest you shop around for car hire using a broker such as rentalcars.com or similar.
It's easy to compare prices of rentals with companies that operate at the airport you fly into, and all the reputable agencies have online payment for advance booking these days.
You don't have to use the broker. If you prefer, you can check the car hire companies own websites, compare prices, and book direct.