Living in Northern Spain
Northern Spain is different from the Spain most tourists know. It is
more like England. It's wetter and cooler than the Mediterranean
coasts, and is dotted with green fields, small rivers, and is bounded
for most of the way by the great mountain range known as the Picos.
This is great climbing and walking country, and the cider is pretty
There are innumerable small coves, very short streams rushing down to
tiny sandy beaches. It is a delightful part of the world. Once you get
beyond Cantabria you are into the most sparsely populated province in
the whole of Spain, Asturias. There are a couple of large towns, but
the rest are very small, almost empty, and the rest of the countryside
is dotted with villages. It is very much a farming community.
Easyjet has flights to Oviedo from the UK, so the area is not as
isolated for travellers as you might at first think. I've never flown
into the airport so can give no advice.
Besides Oviedo there is Leon as a big centre, with an attractive
cathedral with some rather fine stained glass windows. However, this is
quiet country. If you move around here you have decided to get away
from it all.
The food is rustic and substantial. Lunch in Asturias is a major event.
The menu del dia arrives. You choose either fish or meat, but the first
course is a big bowl of soup made with beans and crustacia. This is
enough to feed a whole house. When I last passed this way, mindful of
what is to come, two servings is all I felt able to manage. It tastes
delicious. Next came the meat course, which consisted of three massive
chunks of mutton on the bone, with a few crumpled chips. One of the
meat chunks had to go in the doggy bag, and I had that for supper. The
wine was some vitriolic stuff, that is almost cerise in color, and
threatened to take the lining off my stomach. Pudding was a selection
of massive, rich cakes. By the time I had done I felt pole-axed.
One of the most characteristic sights here is the storage sheds. These
are raised high on staddle stones to keep out the rats, and with
verandahs all around.
As you cross into Galicia these storage sheds
take on a totally different aspect. They become long and thin instead
of square, and are vented by gaps in the brickwork, or by wooden grills.
Towards Galicia the land becomes flat, and the fields run down to the
sea's edge. The port of Ribadeo, on a rather fine estuary, was
obviously once a rich port. It now looks rather washed out, but the
town hall is a fine building with an amazing roof, and a cupola
supported by four angels. The main windows contain stained glass. The
secret would seem to be next door: the customs house. Presumably a lot
of useful dosh was made from import duties. But I have no guide book to
When I was last there, about a decade ago, there was a massive building
for sale right in the town with a fine view over the estuary.
Further across in Galicia there are scenic fjords called rias, where
the fisherman cultivate crustacea. If you like shellfish this is the
centre of the galaxy. Writer after writer from the early eighteenth
century onwards has waxed lyrical about the seafood, and I add my
But….. you will need to learn Spanish if you move here. This is most
definitely not tourist land.