As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Green Spain, Ginny Light picks out a selection of outdoor activities in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country.
The variety on offer in Green Spain is very much a product of its geography - lush green hillsides slope down to beach with the Picos de Europa a snowy backdrop. Within an hour’s drive one can go from surfing the swell of the Bay of Biscay to rock climbing the Picos crags. Cycling is also popular here together with hiking, and watersports that require wind - kitesurfing, windsurfing and surfing. Diving is offered all along the coast and the many rivers flowing down from the mountains make for a varied offering for canoeists. The gastronomic scene is distinct here as a product of climate and history and as such there are numerous wine, cider and cheese tasting tours undertaken by passionate small and large scale producers.
Bike tour around Bilbao
You can tour Bilbao on foot, by rollerskate, by go-kart and by kayak, but one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground and get a feel for the city is by bike. There are numerous operators of which Tourné is highly regarded. The three-hour Bilbao introduction tour is offered every day at 10am for 2-12 people. The tour includes classic sites such as the Guggenheim and Palacio Euskalduna staying mostly to cycle paths and away from heavy traffic. It costs E32 and includes a pintxos stop. The company also offers the ‘Underground’ tour for E35 for three hours. It visits lesser-known areas of the city such as Bilbao La Vieja, Zorrozaure and Bótica Vieja. tournebilbao.com
Marques de Riscal
Rioja’s vineyards, or bodegas, are relatively new to the business of tourism but have rapidly upped the ante by building evermore adventurous structures to draw visitors. One of the most arresting is the Marques de Riscal bodega, designed by Frank Gehry, of Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum fame. The company started making wine in 1862 and the original cellar remains in situ but in 2006 a dramatic new look was unveiled. It has been compared to a scrunched handkerchief and the ruffles of a flamenco dancer’s skirt. The contorted twists of pink, gold and silver titanium stand out against the combed hillsides in the village of Elciego, but strangely co-exist, reflecting the changing colours of the vines and the limestone rock. There is now a hotel, two restaurants, a shop, cafe and spa with grape-themed treatments and two ‘barrel baths’. A tour lasts 90 minutes, costs E16 per person (free for under 10s, E8 for 10-17 year olds) and includes tasting of two wines paired with sausage and chorizo from Rioja.
Wine tasting at Bodegas Ysios
In the neighbouring village of Laguardia, another dramatic temple to wine has been constructed, this time with the help of Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. His winery flows in waves east-to-west alongside the vines and is intended to mimic a row of wine barrels. The design is a contrast of smooth shapes and square blocks which create an optical illusion from a distance and almost make it look pixelated. Visitors are offered a tour of the building and tastings of Tempranillo wines from Rioja Alavesa. It is a good idea to book any bodega tour in advance to get your desired time and language. visitas.pernodricardbodegas.com
Surfing at Somo
The Atlantic coastline of Green Spain makes it a popular year-round surfer’s paradise and there are countless beaches with good breaks and facilities for surfers. Somo is in the Bay of Santander in Cantabria and offers a 7km stretch of waves. It is popular with surfers of all levels and has a number of surf schools including Somo's Beach Surf School. It is one of the newer outfits and is popular for its young, enthusiastic instructors and for its location. You can have individual lessons from E50 for two hours or join a group and pay less. Somo is accessible by ferry from Santander. The currents on the beach are strong and surfers should pay attention to the warning flags. somossurfschool.com
Ruta Sidra y Queso
Across Asturias are reminders of the favourite local tipple - cidre. There are cidre houses, called siderias, in every village and orchards of trees which greet spring and early summer visitors with a stunning display of blossom. The most authentic cidres are produced using only apples with ‘PDO’ status or ‘place of designated origin’. This highly regarded tour offers a walk through the town of Asiegu where cider is made alongside Cabrales, the famous Asturian cheese, which is matured in a cave. It finishes with an ‘espicha’, a traditional celebration meal. Tours cost E25 for adults, E12 for six and over and free for under 5s and are offered in the morning and evening. It takes four hours and iis best to book in advance.
Cycling the Senda del Oso
The ‘Path of the Bear’ is a easy-going cycling and walking route through beautiful Asturian scenery. The asphalted path follows an old railway track that was previously used to transport coal. It is so-named because of the bear enclosure at Buyera that houses Cantabrian brown bears (behind a fence!). The 22km route goes from Tuñón to Entrago and includes 11 bridge crossings and a number of tunnels. There are options for a 2km and 6km route and also new branch tracks have increased the total rideable track to 48km. It is popular with families because of the flat paths and many local rental shops have trailers and toddler seats for bikes.
Canoeing in Picos de Europa
The descent of the River Sella is one of the most famous canoeing routes in Asturias. There is a mass event on the first Saturday of August each year when upwards of a thousand canoeists from around the world take part in the descent from Arriondes to Ribadesella on the coast. But it can be undertaken at any other time. The Ransella school of canoeing offers boats for 1-3 people and a transfer back to the start from Llovio, which is close to Ribadesella. It takes around 3-4 hours to reach Llovio from Arriondas. And costs E25 per person or E30 on the International Descent of Sella Day, now in its 82nd year (2019). The race is accompanied by a train on the Feve track, which runs close to the river, and carries supporters who can cheer racers out of the windows. piraguismo.com
Bird watching at Covadonga Lakes
The Covadonga lakes are two glacial lakes in the Picos de Europa national park about 30 minutes drive from the striking church of the same name. En route to the lake are a number of viewpoints, or mirador, from which to take in the stunning Asturian landscape. At the lakes birdwatchers can see griffon vultures, eagles, redstarts, yellow-billed choughs and northern wheateaters in the summer. The company Birdwatch Asturias can provide a guide, telescope, bird guides and binoculars, including ones for children, for E25 for a four-hour tour starting in Cangas de Onís. The tours, on foot and by car, include information about agrarian life, geography and, of course, bird behaviour, and run from mid March to the end of October. birdwatchasturias.es
8. Diving in Fuciño do Porco
The Fuciño do Porco, or ‘pig’s snout’ dive site in Punta Socastro is best known for its natural tunnel. This makes for an exciting dive that is accessible for all levels of diver from beginner to advanced. Atlantic marine wildlife includes octopus, brightly coloured sea slugs and star fish. The guided dive for 1-10 people takes 90 minutes and costs from E33 including weights and tank air. wildsea.eu/spain/galicia/marina-lucense/punta-socastro/dive-in-fucino-do-porco
Nautilus Environmental Cruise in Vigo
This guided boat tour of the bay of Vigo allows you to see the marine life of the Atlantic without donning a swimsuit - a remote vessel with underwater camera transmits images back to the main ship. The 90-minute trip includes sightings of shipwrecks and wildlife accompanied by commentary. It costs from E16 per person and is offered in Spanish, and is available in English if booked by a group. wildsea.eu/spain/galicia/rias-baixas
Follow in the footsteps of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago
Across Green Spain one can expect sightings of a scallop shell sign on trees, posts and walls guiding walkers along the trail of the famous pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago. There are eight main routes but the original, the Camino Frances, starts in France at St Jean Pied de Port and crosses the Pyrenees and Green Spain region to Santiago de Compostela. The shortest version is the Camino Inglés, starting in A Coruña and covering just over 100km to Santiago. It can also be tackled by bicycle or on horseback. The idea is to complete it alone, although most travel in groups. Either way, it is time for quiet contemplation and appreciation of nature, as well as the astoundingly beautiful cathedral at the end. caminodesantiago.gal/es/inicio
For nearby places to stay, local food and drink, and local attractions, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Green Spain