When we think of Spain, the images most often conjured up include sun-drenched beaches, vibrant flamenco dancers and valiant bullfighters. But Spain is so much more than just colorful costumes and passionate traditions. When you dig down deeper, past all the bustling crowds and away from all the tourists haunts; when you look beyond the clichés you’ll find a whole new side of Spain you didn’t even know existed. A side filled with raw, unadulterated beauty and unforgettable experiences.
Here are some suggestions that will bring you off the beaten path to discover the true hidden gems of this breathtaking country.
This quaint, unassuming town boasts some of the most fantastic scenery in the world with towering mountains bowing down to meet the rolling waves of the sea. Located along the beautiful Galician coast, Noia has somehow found a way to merge past with present, combining the ancient history of its medieval old district with the unique, modern flare of the Galician culture. Take a stroll down cobblestone streets and enjoy glimpses of the past, through antiquated structures like the charming little church that has become the cornerstone of the old district. Sip on a cocktail while watching a breathtaking sunset or enjoy a delectable seafood dish like percebes, which can only be found in Galicia.
If it’s a taste of old Spain you’re looking for, a visit to Sarria’s old quarter is an absolute must. While its new town counterpart has managed to separate away and become more modernized, the old town has remained refreshingly untouched over the years. In fact, it’s virtually unchanged from the way it was centuries ago. There are plenty of testaments to the area’s long history to explore, like the ruins of the ancient 13th century castle Fortaleza de Sarria or the magnificent old Church of the Savior (Iglesia del Salvador) from the same era. After a day of exploring, step into one of the many restaurants and feast on some delicious local fare. There are plenty of places to choose from in the restaurant quarter, located along the banks of the Rio Sarria, which runs right through this charming little town.
The tiny town known during Roman times as Asturica, Astorga seems almost out of place in comparison to some of the other local towns. It boasts some spectacular and elaborate architecture, such as the Palace for Bishops, located in the Plaza Catedral, which was designed by the famous architect Antonio Gaudí. This stunning structure is certain to catch your eye and captivate you with its impressive design. During its past, Astorga played a significant role in ancient trade and pilgrimage routes. Visitors are reminded of the area’s long history by the Roman walls that remain intact to this day, still encircling most of the town. One of Astorga’s most interesting (and delicious) features is its unusual dedication to chocolate. There are countless little shops and stores specializing in the decadent treat. There’s even a chocolate museum! Those with a sweet tooth will never want to leave.
Given the country’s long, rich and sordid past there really aren’t too many places to visit in Spain that don’t contain some type of historical find. Whether its ancient ruins, looming castles or tiny old homes, you’re sure to find remnants of the past wherever you go. The town of Cirauqui is no exception. Perched atop a high hill, its old stone houses are visible from afar as they overlook the surrounding area. Once you reach Cirauqui, you will be greeted by rugged, winding roads and medieval houses that remain remarkably well preserved. Perhaps most intriguing is the stretch of Roman road and arched bridge, both of which have been sustained over the generations. Take a trek on foot and experience the incredible feeling of walking the same time-worn path on which the ancient Romans once tread.
This charming little coastal destination derives its name from the Latin word Finisterrae, which literally translates to “land’s end”. And that’s precisely what the ancients who called the area home centuries ago believed it was – a rocky cape at the edge of the world. Nowadays Cape Finisterre presents the perfect picturesque seaside experience complete with rocky coast, ancient ports and fishing villages, narrow streets and a spectacular lighthouse. You’ll most certainly want to bring your camera along for this part of your trip. Located approximately 90 km from Santiago de Compostela, Cape Finisterre was the traditional end point of the well-known Camino Santiago pilgrimage, at the end of which pilgrims would customarily burn their clothing and boots. While this tradition is not necessarily still carried out, you’ll still feel an incredible sense of reverence for the many passionate voyagers who walked these long, rocky paths for generations.
For this unforgettable journey, we invite you to step outside of your comfort zone and explore a whole new side of Spain – a side that is adorned with picturesque villages, peaceful old towns and a long, fascinating history just waiting to be discovered. For only when you venture beyond the traditional, past the norm and off the beaten path can you truly experience what Spain has to offer and discover the unique charm and breathtaking beauty that lies hidden within.