Road Trips With Avis: Northern Spain
Northern Spain - Travel through time
See the best of the Spanish coast on a road trip with AvisFrom modern harbour towns, through medieval villages, to ancient caves – a drive through Northern Spain takes you back in time. There's more to this region than superb architecture. Head south from the sandy beaches to discover rolling hills, high passes, forests, fields and Romanesque churches.
Test drive this two-day road trip for the best of Northern Spain
Pick up your Avis hire car from Santander Parayas Airport and head southwest on the S-20 road to the time-warp town of Santillana del Mar before travelling back to pre-history at the Cuevas de Altamira. After the cool of the caves, it's on to the manicured elegance of Comillas, before passing through the Cordillera Cantabrica Mountains via Cabuérniga to Reinosa and the village of San Pedro de Cervatos. Head north, via Los Corrales de Buelna, Vargas and Solares, before returning to Santander.
High points en routeSantillana del Mar – All the world's a stage
With its mansions and churches, balconied houses and red-tiled roofs, Santillana del Mar was built around the collegiate church of Santa Juliana, Cantabria's most important Romanesque building. Most of the buildings here date to between the 14th-17th centuries. Wander along the cobbled streets and take a close peek at the facades on many of the buildings to see coats of arms of the noble families and knights that once resided here.
Cuevas de Altamira – Art history
Discovered in the 19th century, these prehistoric cave paintings of bison, boar and deer are among the most significant on the planet. Although the cave proper is currently closed for conservation reasons, you can visit an exact replica of the famous paintings at the nearby Neocueva, housed in the Altamira National Museum and Research Centre, which recounts the cavernous history of the area.
Comillas – Architectural dream
On a hill overlooking the sea on the lovely CA-131 coastal road, this little resort is home to the elegant neo-gothic Palacio de Sobrellano. Constructed under the jurisdiction of the Marqués de Comillas, it has fantastical towers, gorgeous gardens and striped brickwork that has the appearance of snakeskin from a distance. This is also where you'll find El Capricho ('the whim'), designed by renowned Catalan architect Antoní Gaudí, and which today houses a restaurant.
Cordillera Cantábrica mountains – Enjoy the ride
Drive along the road via Cabuérniga to Reinosa and you'll go through the gorgeous Cordillera Cantábrica mountains. Along the way you'll climb over the Puerto de Tajahierro Pass and the Palombera Pass, which has great views of the forests and fields of the Saja Valley.
Colegiata, San Pedro de Cervatos – Hear no evil
This tiny village, surrounded by winding mountain roads, is home to the 12th-century Romanesque Colegiata church, with its quirky carvings adorning the frieze above the door. Originally a monastery, it became a collegiate church and underwent numerous additions, including the 17th-century tower. The stone relief work is the most interesting element - look out for the biblical characters like Adam and Eve and St Michael the Archangel as well as others with abundant sexuality, a common Romanesque feature.
Free time on your hands? Take your pick from the following gems1. Pamplona – Follow in Hemingway's footsteps
Pamplona is best known for the annual Bull Run, in which thousands of people take to the old town's streets in an attempt to outrun angry bulls. It's all part of the annual Fiestas de San Fermín each July – a spectacular celebration of Basque culture. If you miss the festival, wander the winding cobbled streets, enjoy a drink in an ancient cafe and discover why Ernest Hemingway loved the place. It's just a 50km drive inland from San Sebastian.
2. Monte Igueldo, San Sebastian – Live the high life
Take the 1920s funicular railway (or hike if you're feeling frisky) to the top of Monte Igueldo, where you'll get a king-of-the-world view of the ocean and San Sebastian's harbour. If you'’re feeling brave, the Igueldo amusement park, close to the Hotel Monte Igueldo, has a roller coaster dating back to 1912.
3. Santiago de Compostela – Holy city
A focal point for pilgrims for over 1000 years, this is the third-holiest town in Christendom – after Jerusalem and Rome. While the entire place was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the main attraction is the cathedral, with its fabulous Romanesque architecture and the tomb of St James.
4. Guggenheim Museum – Architectural masterpiece
Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has one of the most daring designs in the world. Its titanium-plated swirls sweep down to the waterside of the Nervión River at one end and are pierced by one of the main access routes into the city – the Puente de La Salve – at the other. In and around the building you'll find wacky installations by artists like Yves Klein and Jeff Koons. Splash out and stay at the designer Silken Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao, with its Pop Art bar and Bauhaus-style café – it’s right opposite the museum.