Spain is a beautiful, cultural country, with the Cantabrian region in the North hosting world-class food, wine and waves, making it in my eyes the cream of the crop.
I’d like to think that I’m a Northern Espana expert, having fallen in love with the place at a young age and having a passionate affair with her over the past decade. But not everyone seems to share my appreciation, actually I think that the region is under-appreciated and totally over-looked except for a few wine snobs and passing surfers fleeing to France.
But Northern Spain has the best food, the best wine and perfect waves breaking before backdrops that’ll keep any surfer / photographer double act busy for months. It’s a remarkable place and here are my top ten reasons to go on a surf trip there.
1. Carlos Rodriguez
Carlos Rodriguez, ex-pro skater turned local mayor is 5’7 with smouldering eyes and wears a close cut skinhead. He can be easily identified by his bulky physique and hunched posture on a surfboard, ripping the beaches of his hometown of Loredo to pieces with power and worringly fierce aggression. In person he is even louder and more brash, but his welcome is warmer than your Gran’s at Christmas and laughter more infectious than the flu.
Carlos and his wife Ainize bought a run down old building over-looking the quality beach break of Somo and scary big wave spot Santa Marina some years ago as a home for themselves and the twins. Carlos’ passion for surfing, skateboarding and general good times took over and has now seen the rustic home turn into the glorious Latas Surf House, which sleeps 70 surfers in clean, airy rooms, has an impressively stocked surf school, a skate ramp, spare skateboards and a brilliant bar / restaurant that sells cervesas and rioja for €1.50. It’s actually the local bar of choice and is usually rammed with locals and live bands at the weekends.
Carlos is also a bit of a legend around town and if you go surfing with him, you’ll get waves, if you learn to surf with his team, you’ll be standing in no time.
If there was one reason to visit Northern Spain it would be to visit Carlos and share a few waves, a few beers and a few stories with him.
Yes Santander. The ferry-port city with the same name as a bank. Santander is in my eyes the shining crown of Northern Spain. Not Bilbao or the Basque Bastard San Sebastian, it’s the real deal Santander that floats my Brittany Ferry.
Why? Because it’s a local city with plenty of very stereotypically Spanish Tapas bars and little tourism, home to a fun beach break and macking left hand point break and is only a 20 minute, €2 foot passenger ferry away from Loredo, meaning you get a very unique experience of Northern Spain whilst being surrounded by surf.
There are nearly thirty Michelin Star restaurants in the neighbouring Basque Country alone, but you can just stroll into any bar that will have probably been run in the family for generations and will be presented with an impressive display of tapas dishes including local delights such as grilled lamb, cured meats, salt cod, sheep and goats cheese, anchovies, all of which will be the best thing you’ve ever eaten.
France may have its Cab Sav and its Merlot, but Northern Spain is the real wine country. There’s is a little town a couple of hours away from Loredo called La Rioja, which is home to the World’s best red wine that also bears its name and costs next to nothing. There are loads of wineries to visit and by chance the best time to come is Autumn which is when we host our annual Surf and Yoga Trip, as the vineyards are glowing golden, red and yellow with fallen leaves. Beautiful.
Culture Vultures will love Northern Spain. You have the iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Roman Baths and pre-Romanesque art (and world-class cider) in Asturias, the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way) that stretches from the French-Spanish border to Galicia on the very West tip and San Sebastian was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture.
Since the early middle ages the Camino de Santiago has been the most trafficked pilgrimage in Europe and takes at least a month to do, though it’s very popular to walk in bits and pieces and it just so happens that a great bit and piece to walk (or cycle) runs right through Latas Surf House.
6. Road Trip
This area and stretch of road essentially going from East to West is incredible and makes an epic road trip, or even better; cycle tour! The clifftops are dramatic and actually quite scary when on a bike and the small fishing villages and towns are breath-takingly beautiful. I remember feeling very spiritual after sleeping on top of a mountain over-looking Lekeitio, then getting three punctures in the space of 20mins, but very much enjoyed wandering through the medieval streets looking for a bike shop (which we did find but it never opened, classic Spanish)
7. The Guggenheim Bilbao
The Guggenheim is a special building, a European architectural landmark. The area where the famous Museum sits was derelict, polluted, an industrial wasteland, then it opened it’s doors in 1997 and encouraged a much needed revitalization of the city. Now a stroll along the river before viewing an exhibit is a pleasant and impressive experience and the city itself is a very cool place to hang, eat and drink.
8. San Sebastian
The Basque Bastard! The English and Portuguese destroyed San Sebastian in the 19th Century so pretty much all of the architecture is 19th Century and simply beautiful. The old town has heaps of Pinchos (Basque for Tapas) Bars serving incredible small dishes and dangerously moorish beers, but it’s the whole urban beach scene, with the Christ the Redeemer-eque Jesus statue over-looking the city that is so impressive and can feel very overwhelming. An unlikely city of sin or a religious pilgrimage awaits, depending on your mood…
Galicia is the most overlooked region in Spain, with few visitors except for a handful of curious surfers hoping to hit jackpot in the remote, green, rainy, remote corner of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s very different from the other regions, so different that they have their own language, Gallego and it hosts rich Celtic history as well as a very diverse landscape.
Pretty rural stuff
Oh and the waves. The waves are so varied and can be absolutely perfect with no one around for miles. However, conditions change fast and one minute you can be surfing a perfect slab, no wind, blue skies, just you and a mate, the next you’re in a death rip, it’s pissing it down and you can’t see your mate for the fog. Maybe that’s why no one ever goes there but in my eyes it’s worth the gamble.
10. The waves
The variety of waves in Northern Spain is unreal. Mundaka is one of the best left hand rivermouth waves in The World, everyone knows this, but it’s the unspoken gems like Playa Somo, Sopelena, Langre, Laredo etc that churn out consistent peaks all year round. Combine this with the general slow Spanish way of life and you can always find yourself empty waves, especially if you’re an early bird!
There are too many reasons for a surfer to visit Northern Spain, just go there yourself and add yours to this list.