Sample the delectable pintxos of San Sebastian, before exploring the exceptional architectural wonders of Bilbao; then tackle the craggy massifs of the Picos de Europa, continuing on the deserted sand beaches of coastal Asturias, and ending up your pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.
Indulge in the communal sharing of pintxos, little works of gastronomic art, in coastal San Sebastián.
HOW TO GET THERE
It’s possible to fly to San Sebastián via Barcelona with Vueling (from £75 from Barcelona; vueling.com), but perhaps a better option is to fly direct into Bilbao, just over 60 miles from San Sebastián, or to Biarritz, 30 miles away over the French border. BA, easyJet and Vueling fly direct to Bilbao from London airports (from £81; easyjet.co.uk); Ryanair flies direct from London Stansted to Biarritz (from £76; ryanair.com). If you are following our route exactly, buy a single fare and make your return journey from Santiago de Compostela ( from £33; ryanair.com). Alternatively, get the ferry to Bilbao from Portsmouth (from £694 return for two with a small car; brittanyferries.com).
HOW TO GET AROUND
A rental car is the best option (from £21 per day; europcar.co.uk). Watch out for narrow mountain roads in the Asturias region, and be aware that in the Picos de Europa, rougher tracks can be difficult to navigate with a regular car, so hiring a 4x4 is useful.
WHEN TO GO
Northern Spain is a beautiful place to visit during the warmer months, from March to November, but be aware if travelling in the peak of summer in July and August, as the weather can be stiflingly hot and hotel prices are at their peak. Ideally aim for the shoulder seasons of early June or late September to miss the rush while still enjoying the warm weather.
HOW LONG TO SPEND
The area outlined in our feature is not vast, but great mountains and curving coastlines mean it can take a long time to travel between destinations. Make sure to allow at least a couple of days in San Sebastián and a full day to explore Bilbao, while time in areas such as the Picos de Europa and on the Camino de Santiago will be determined by which activities you’d like to undertake there. To complete the itinerary outlined here, allow at least eight days and, if you have time, stretch it to 12 for a more relaxed immersion.
HOW MUCH TO SPEND
Daily expenses vary depending on the location. San Sebastián tends to be more expensive, the Asturian coast less so, for example – but it is possible to enjoy the region on a budget. Expect to pay from around £1.50 for small tapas or pintxos, or £7 for a main dish, and more than £100 for a multi-course menu with wine at one of the region’s lauded restaurants. Small b&bs and lodges offer good value, with private rooms from around £50, rising up to around £85 for good-quality mid-range options and £200 for high-end hotels.
HOW TO PLAN
Pick up Lonely Planet’s Spain guide (£17.99; lonelyplanet.com) and visit spain.info for all the details you’ll need to plan your trip. Official regional guides can be found at turismoasturias.es and turgalicia.es
WEAR The Basque beret is designed to be water resistant and good for wearing in weather when it's so windy that umbrellas are impractical. Try a traditional one made just south of San Sebastián by family hatmakers Elósegui (berets from £15; boinaselosegui.com).
DRINK Tangy cider should be poured the local way: the bottle must be raised over the head and poured into a glass held around thigh-level. This helps to aerate the drink and release its flavours.
EAT Valdeón, also known as Picos Blue, is strong, salty cheese aged in caves in the Picos de Europa. It’s perfect paired with some fresh fruit and a good sherry.
TRY Pantxineta, San Sebastián’s signature pastry. Created by Pastelería Otaegui bakery a century ago, this circle of delicately layered puff pastry is filled with custard cream and covered with a crunchy layer of chopped almonds.
LISTEN to ‘Pick-up choirs’ are large groups of locals singing traditional Basque-language songs on the streets of San Sebastián. On the third Sunday of each month, hundreds of locals gather in the Old Town (such as at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, left), pass around song sheets and sing classic regional folk tunes.