España Verde – Santander & Basque Country

This year’s trip to Spain brought us to the green northern coast. Santander, in the beautiful region of Cantabria was our starting point, then making our way to the east, exploring the Spanish part of Basque Country.

Santander

A quiet little city on the Atlantic coast, home to some beautiful beaches and charming little plazas. We arrived rather late due to some delays and only had one night to stay. We used the time walking around town and going to the beach. It was a Sunday so it was pretty quiet and the shops were closed but we found the local people spending their free time by the beach. The weather wasn’t exactly suitable for swimming except for a few very brave ones, but it was nonetheless a good day to be there.

Unfortunately, we had to leave before we got to see more because we had quite a drive ahead of us going to our campsite (which is close to San Sebastián) and a tent to assemble and we did not want to get there so late.

Campsite

We booked our plot at the lovely Camping Itxaspe site. The staff was very helpful and we got everything we needed. From there, we had a great view of the ocean and nature – everything was so green! It was so satisfying to be able to breathe such fresh air and I think it’s something I will pursue in the coming years – traveling to places with the purest of air to breathe! It was still a bit cold in the region since summer hasn’t really kicked in yet and it was probably even too early for some to come over with their tents (all the others came with their caravans) but we came prepared and though the nights were a bit cold, it was still possible to get some good night’s sleep.

The campsite is in a Geopark area and very close to some Flysch cliffs and the beach.

Vitoria-Gasteiz

European Green Capital back in 2012, and rightfully so because it’s clearly their favourite colour (and also mine). The air was just as fresh in this city as that on the countryside and I am still amazed by how this is even possible and wonder why not all cities do the same.

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Bosque Pintado de Oma

After our visit to Vitoria-Gasteiz, we still had some time (and energy) for a 6km trek through the painted forest of Oma. This was a recommendation by a classmate from my Spanish class and it did not disappoint. It was quite a walk going up and down hills but it was all worth it once the worst was over an we finally came to the climax which was the painted forest itself. It looked so trippy and it was so strange to find such art in the middle of the woods.

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I heard from people about how gorgeous this city is – and it’s absolutely true! Though we had the worst weather conditions here during our whole visit to the Basque Country, it still did not stop us from exploring a little bit. We did have heavy rain, though, that just did not seem to want to stop and, when it did, it was extremely windy. We dared to go to the beach, which was right in the city, during this time but it was really uncomfortable walking around when you feel like you will be blown away at anytime.

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But the overall experience in this city was great because we had dinner reservations at one of the cider houses outside of town but close by. We went to Alorrenea Cider House and drank a good amount of this local specialty which we poured ourselves, straight from the barrel. People who know me know that I am a huge fan of apple cider and I try all the ciders that the world has to offer, so this really has been a unique experience. Alongside we had a four-course meal including a steak fresh off the grill. The whole experience only costs 31,-€ each, and I say only because they really served a lot of food and an unlimited amount of cider. Though we did have a car, we made sure to come by taxi and the personnel at the restaurant were also so kind to call a taxi to take us back to the city (only 15 minutes away) because if you do everything right in this house, then there’s no way you should drive after drinking.

We left San Sebastián with a broken heart the next morning and would have loved to stay but we wanted to find out if our tent was still standing after that storm. Though the campsite is close to the city, we were happy to find our little home still intact. Apparently, the place was not affected by the storm at all.

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I guess this was the place we were excited about the most. It’s famous for being a filming venue for Game of Thrones where, with the help of some editing, the home of Khaleesi stood, best known as Dragonstone. The castle shown in the HBO series did not really exist but the infamous steps going up the “castle” were very much real and so was the huge rock resting on the Atlantic – waves crashing and all. This, again, was quite the trek, even more difficult than the one at the painted forest of Oma (due to construction works we had to take a longer, more challenging route), but people did not seem to care. And, mind you, a LOT of tourists come by to see this.

Bilbao

Our last stop was the largest city in Basque Country – Bilbao. Also famous for its pintxos, we knew we had to find the best place if we were to break our diet anyway. In this region, there was not much of a choice for low-carb alternatives because the cuisine itself meant small-portions-of-food-on-top-of-a-small-piece-of-bread. We found Café Iruña and it did not disappoint, but you have to experience it for yourself to know what I mean. We went to the Guggenheim Museum, which in itself was already a masterpiece of architecture.

We also only had one night to stay here before we left Spain altogether. This, I can say, was really too short of a holiday because the whole region is just so beautiful and we would really love to come back for all the places we’ve missed and maybe even see some places again. The green part of Spain is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I’m just in love with it. ❤

Tenerife and La Gomera

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m back with a fresh(ish) post on our most recent trip. The second half of last year was exhausting at best as we did not go on holiday from August until December, something that the recent years have proven unusual for us. So before the year ended, we were on our maximum holiday vibe and bid Germany goodbye for the next ten days.

So why Tenerife?

  1. Tenerife is a Canary Island on the Atlantic Ocean, located closer to the African continental plate than the European and the winters are moderately warm.
  2. I may have mentioned before that we have been keeping up going to Spain at least once a year since 2015 as part of my studying the language.
  3. I also may have mentioned before that I work for an airline that is, for the most part, a holiday flyer and among our destinations are 5 of 7 Canary Islands, including Tenerife which we picked because it’s the biggest among the islands.
  4. Did I mention moderately warm winters? (as in around 25C, full sun and the ocean)

Where to stay in Tenerife

It is important to consider that the northern part of the island is much different than the southern. It is not only because of the wave of tourism that contrasts the two but also the climate. When we were in the north, it got cloudy with some drizzle from time to time especially in the early mornings and it was cold and wet on some days. The south, on the other hand, was warm and sunny, though on some days too windy for a proper swim in the ocean. But it was much quieter in the north, even in the capital, Santa Cruz. Tourists are everywhere on the island even this time of the year but the south is more of a haven for families on all-inclusive holiday packages. I guess it’s all more of a matter of taste.

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In our case, we had 4 different accommodations with 2-3 overnights at each.

What to do / Where to go

During the first few days, we were staying in Tacoronte, which is about 20 minutes away from Santa Cruz and Icod de los Vinos, respectively. We spent the days just driving around and exploring the area and the small towns.

Bajamar Natural Pools

Some coasts of the island are not safe for swimming because of the strong waves. As a solution, natural pools were built so people can still get their dose of Vitamin Sea without the danger of getting wiped out. Entrance to the pools is free of charge and it’s open to everyone! Unfortunately, we did not get to swim on that day because the water was just really cold and it was a windy day. But it was relaxing to watch the waves crash against the walls of the pools as they often get really high.

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And it was perfect for some silly mermaiding.

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Puerto de la Cruz

There is much more going on in this city since there are also some big hotels in the area. It’s a port city that also has a beach and some shops and restaurants.

Garachico

Garachico is a quaint little town close to our second Airbnb in Icod de los Vinos. We got out rather late to buy some snacks so our host recommended this town to us since there the other ones in the surrounding area close down early. We found this small café in the town’s plaza and it was beautifully decorated for the yuletide season.

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Sitio Litre – Orchid Garden

The orchid garden of Sitio Litre is open to the public for a small fee to satisfy our eyes with a variety of flora of all colours. Agatha Christie used to come to this garden and it inspired some of her works.

 

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San Cristobal de la Laguna

We found this city from driving from one Airbnb to another. Its historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its the most populous city of the island.

Teide National Park

No trip to Tenerife is complete without a trip to Teide National Park. The summit of Mount Teide is the highest point in Spain. We were able to book cable car tickets on the same day for 27,-€ each (roundtrip) so we could skip the queue. Driving up to the cable car station, I was already anxious because I thought we just blew away our money on the cable car tickets. We drove up some hairpin curves with very low visibility and couldn’t see 10 metres ahead of us because of the fog and I was afraid we won’t be able to see anything once we’re up there because of that. But once we were at a much higher point, it was clear and sunny and, apparently, we were high above the clouds. From this point everything around us was just spectacular and a visit was well worth it. Good thing the wife is an amazing driver even if the drive required her hand stuck permanently on the handbrake to start accelerating again mid-steep.

Once we finally got to the cable car station, we noticed immediately how the air was just different. It got harder to breathe because the air was so thin and it was also really cold, something one must not ever underestimate when planning a trip to Mount Teide.

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RIP Sunglasses that were blown away by some very sudden strong wind while they were sitting comfortably on my nose. There was no way to retrieve them since they landed on uneven ground in a restricted area. The wife had to convince me that they are “just sunglasses” and “it wasn’t worth it to risk my life over them” — yeah, right. 
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He’s just everywhere you look.

La Gomera

We combined our trip to Tenerife with a day-long excursion to La Gomera. It’s the second smallest of the Canary Islands and it’s pretty close to Tenerife, requiring only a 30-minute ferry ride. We took an organised tour which was a new experience for us. It was just rather hard to go by your own when you don’t really know where to go (also, it’s cheaper at around 60,-€ per person all-inclusive). This way, we were able to see the most important attractions — which were all spectacular. Also, I think it helps in the preservation of the island if tourists are in a more controlled environment.

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Our tour guide was a quirky guy who explained everything well. He was so passionate about keeping La Gomera a paradise. He brought us to beautiful, photographable places and also to a small eatery that serves a local specialty, the Gomeron – a mixture of grappa and palm nectar, a local product of the island. Next, he had us walk around a little bit to show us some plants, like this amazingly big Ficus benjamina:

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At garden centres they are rather small

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The trip included lunch at a local restaurant where some locals let us hear the Silbo Gomero – traditional whistling language used by the Gomerans to communicate even up to this day.

Lunch was followed by the trip to Garajonay National Park.

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View of the island of Tenerife from La Gomera

Beaches

Back to Tenerife, we explored some beaches as we were staying in the south in the latter days of our holiday. As expected, it was much warmer and the weather was a bit more predictable on this part of the island.

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This one is Playa El Bollullo which is located in the north. Though gorgeous, the stretch is almost in full shadow which is a shame because it’s really cold.

Snorkeling

  • Los Gigantes, Masca Bay. Los Gigantes is another port city but this one comes with some adventure. We booked a kayaking tour with Teno Activo that took us to see Masca Bay. Two hours of kayaking did our physical fitness a favour and it helped that we were surrounded by such beauty. Also, we had the chance to go snorkeling, which was a first for me and we took advantage of our new snorkeling gear which I recommend to everybody for they are really great.
  • Playa de las Teresitas. It’s a clean and family-friendly, but nonetheless quiet beach in San Andres with yellow sand and a chance to see some fish swimming close to the shore.
  • El Puertito. We read somewhere that there is a chance to see turtles here but no such luck for us. Anyhow, there were plenty of other sea creatures to stalk since the floor is pretty rocky but the water shallow and it was so far the best one we snorkeled at.
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Make sure to get yourself one of these babies if you want to snorkel because these are great and you don’t even have to accidentally breathe in seawater to spot some critters. Find them here.

Food

Spanish cuisine is absolute comfort food for me. I could dive into a tub of jamón anytime. But the Canarian cuisine has a few more specialties that are easy to love. The best way to find local food is to look out for Guachinches. Traditionally, they are small establishments that serve their own wine and homemade food. Today, more and more restaurants across the island tag themselves as “Guanchinche-style” but these are good nonetheless since they also serve traditional food that include grilled meat dishes, seafood, paired with the typical Canarian sauces called mojo. What I especially loved is the Canarian grilled goat cheese. Yum!

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One Guachinche was part of a banana plantation which made my heart really happy