Okay, so what I am trying to say is that Spain really is awesome* and that this summer we fell in love with northern Spain in particular. Amazing beaches, mouthwatering cuisine and so many things to see and do. In other words, my perfect holiday.
* My apologies to anyone who speaks Spanish if I have messed up this phrase.
Northern Spain: Eat, beach, sleep, repeat
The first stop on our tour of the north of Spain was foodie mecca San Sebastian.
The streets are lined with a multitude of little bars and restaurants selling pintxos, small snacks that could be likened to tapas, but are oh so much more. Most of the time we didn’t know what we were picking out, we just pointed to what we liked the look of and each one seemed to taste better than the last. It was also the perfect situation for a five year old who is pretty fussy about his food; he got to choose only the ones that he thought looked good. so, no sea urchin for him.
After stuffing our faces and then spending a lazy afternoon at the beach right by the city centre, we moved on to our hotel just outside Bilbao, which meant we could easily visit that city too.
Who would have thought that we could manage almost an entire day at a modern art gallery with two rambunctious boys? But, yes, the Guggenheim in Bilbao proved that it is possible.
This gallery is seriously stunning, from the swooping curves of its exterior to its cool exhibitions inside, which are just perfect for curious little minds who don’t mind saying what they think (“Do you like this?“, “No, not really. I can paint better than that!”).
The whole city is fantastic and we only managed to explore a very small part of it, along the river, listening to the talented musicians every few hundred metres, and at the brilliant playground next to the gallery.
And we also ate well in Bilbao, starting our day there with little snacks at a small bar by the water and then topping up with lunch at Bistro at the Guggenheim. We barely wanted dinner after that.
Winter is coming?
The next day really gave us that “Winter is coming” Game of Thrones feeling, with plummeting temperatures, fog and rain. But it seemed appropriate as we were off to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, which is now known as Dragonstone in the most recent season of the series.
The rain and fog did clear a little for us on our climb and the boys were excited to be doing the trek up to the top, even though they have never seen GoT.
We had stopped for lunch on the way in the surfing town of Bakio and had decided that we definitely wanted to go back there for dinner. After a wander around the town, we settled down for a fish and seafood dinner at Gotzon – definitely worth a stop.
As we had missed a day at the beach, we took advantage of the better weather the following day and camped out on the sand at Getxo, in strolling distance of a beach-side restaurant so we could satisfy our cravings for food. The area is famous for the Vizcaya transporter bridge that still carries people across the wide river mouth in a hanging gondola. Unfortunately, we were too busy eating and relaxing to visit. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Gijón: A hidden gem
Out next stop along the coast was Gijón, where we were going to a wedding. I have to admit that before we were invited, I’d never heard of the city or even the Asturias region of Spain, and that’s a terrible shame. Because we fell for it so hard that we immediately started planning our return. And that’s always a sign of a great place.
The town is packed with great bars, cafes and restaurants, alongside little boutiques and shops, and fronted by a stunning beach. It also satisfied our little travellers with its excellent aquarium.
The city is also dotted with incredible statues and sculptures.
We also knew that we’d eat well in Gijón when the starter at the wedding was five enormous prawns and half a lobster each.
On the day after the wedding we ate one of our best meals on the trip at a restaurant next to the aquarium, Tierra. Coming from Sweden, the price was a revelation and the four of us managed to eat dinner (with wine for us two) for a fraction of Stockholm prices. And we even took home leftovers for the next day.
We’d booked our stay in Valladolid purely for access to the Rioja wine region and as the hotel had a pool. So when Valladolid proved to have amazing restaurants, it came as more than a pleasant surprise.
We started with La Cotorra, a restaurant that looked like it had been designed for Instagram. The boys loved all the little details and the food was fresh and delicious.
After that, we progressed to an award-winning pintxos restaurant that matched what we’d tried in San Sebastian. And on our final night, we stumbled across Bar El Comandante, a fantastic spot close to our hotel where the owner treated us to samples from the kitchen. We also found a wine that we’re hoping gets imported to Sweden soon.
So, you see what I mean about Northern Spain? It simple is so easy to eat, drink and relax there. And that is the recipe for our perfect summer holiday.