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You’ve used your points to get you to Madrid or Barcelona. Hurrah! Now what? It’s boiling hot in the urban jungle, and not a Spanish city dweller in sight (all have long since fled to their country homes and beach apartments). Madrid-based contributor Lori Zaino suggests you hop on a train/plane/automobile and head straight out of the city to paradise. Try a road trip through off-the-beaten path Asturias for rugged mountains and hidden beach hideaways, Alicante for fun in the Mediterranean sun, or Gran Canaria for an island vacation.
1. Asturias, Spain. Authenticity Level: 10 (of 10)
Asturias is one of the most authentic and naturally beautiful regions of Spain. Located north between Galicia and Cantabria and above Castilla y Leon with the Mar Cantabrico (bay of Biscay) to the north, this region has everything you could possibly want: stunning beaches, mountain landscapes, lush green pastures and charming villages. It’s the ideal spot for a road trip. Often called the “Spanish Switzerland” by locals, you can easily rent a car in Madrid (just a four hour drive) or Barcelona (seven to eight hour drive) and be on your way to the land of sidra (spiked apple cider),
The Asturias region scores a 10 for authenticity (on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most authentic Spanish experience) as this zone is relatively untouched and unknown to foreigners. Almost no one speaks English, and you probably won’t see many people (if anyone) that isn’t from Spain around these parts. The region is refreshingly un-commercialized. However, even though foreign tourism isn’t really a thing here, people are still friendly, helpful and will repeat and gesture wildly in hopes that you will understand their Spanish.
The main cities in Asturias are Gijon and Oviedo (you may remember Oviedo from the Woody Allen film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)–both lovely places where you’ll see crumbling architecture along cobblestone streets as you eat and drink to your heart’s content, but the real pride of Asturias lies in the pueblos (villages) which is why it’s essential to rent a car for this trip.
Drive along the A-8 highway with beautiful coastline views and stop to see whatever piques your interest. This drive will take you through farms, beaches, mountains and more. You will drive by many horreos, old houses on stilts with space for animals to live underneath. Be sure to enjoy at least one night or more in each of my favorite tiny towns, Llanes and Cudillero. Both are picturesque, coastal villages where you can enjoy beaches, incredible seafood and just stroll around the towns, shopping, relaxing, and attempting to interact with the locals. Make sure to hike up to the lighthouse in Cudillero and the big walled cliff in Llanes for gorgeous views. Llanes has a small town beach you can enjoy, and then head out a few miles east of Cudillero to the stunning Playa de la Aguilar.
Attempt pouring sidra, the delicious local cider drink that goes down like water. Chorizo la sidra (sausage marinated in sidra) is one of the region’s most popular and most delectable dishes, as well as fabada (bean stew) or different types of cabrales (goat cheese).
Cangas de Onis is an antique village with a famous bridge made by the Romans. Stop here for lunch and take a walk over the bridge. A trip to Covadonga is a must, as this national park is unlike any other. Located at the base of the Picos de Europa mountains, the park has two of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen (Lakes Enol and Ercina), and you should visit the monastery, cave and shrine of Our Lady of Covadonga, where she supposedly kept Christian troops safe from Muslim attacks back in 722.
Don’t expect luxury chain brand hotel digs here. The best spots to stay are casa rurales (rural B&Bs) like the El Habana (summer rates start at 84 euros/$114) just outside of Llanes or small hotels and hostals, like Hotel Prendes (summer rates start at 50 euros/$68) in Cudillero. You may not have all the luxuries you normally have, but the hotel owner personally walking you to his favorite restaurant or discussing futbol (soccer) with you for 45 minutes over a caña (little glass of beer) as you stutter back in broken Spanish are things that makes Asturias a one-of-a-kind adventure.
2. Alicante, Spain. Authenticity Level: 5
Located on the Eastern coast of Spain, this city is one of the most sought out vacation spots for Spainards. Many foreigners head to Valencia, Benidorm or Malaga, but Alicante has managed to retain its Spanish charm. However, there will be some foreign tourists here and many speak English. You can easily arrive in Alicante from Madrid by train (see my post about traveling through Spain via train here). After an easy three hour ride, you will arrive to Alicante’s city center, ready to explore everything this Mediterranean spot has to offer.
If it’s sun and sand you are after, the city’s main beach, Playa del Postiguet is located a stone’s throw from the city center. It gets extremely crowded in the summer, so arrive early to get a good spot. Be sure to bring an umbrella, the temps can get into the 100s here in summer and the sun is fierce. The beach is located at the bottom of the large Monte Benacantil, a strangely placed mountain with the Santa Barbara castle on top. I, myself, have never made it up the mountain in the heat of summer, but if you are determined, go in the early morning or evening to explore in cooler temps.
Alicante is a bustling beach city with many great spots to eat, drink and party. Make sure to try the pescado frito (fried fish) or the navajas (long, skinny razor clams) here. There are marisquerias (seafood restaurants) on every corner. One of my favorites for any kind of seafood is the Marisqueria del Barrio, or for a more gourmet experience, try L’Atelier. Afterwards, head to the Castaños or Mercado districts if you are looking to party. Walking around and people watching in the city center or along the shore is a wonderful evening activity, as Alicante has a nice ambiance.
For long stretches of sandy beach, head out to Playa de San Juan or Campello. You can easily take the above ground tram. Just check when the last tram heads back to the city–otherwise you may be stranded on the beach for the night or subject to a pricy taxi ride. Another option is to plan to spend the night in San Juan. There are plenty of cute hotels and the nightlife there is on point, especially the chillout lounges located on the beach (bring your mosquito repellent). You can even use your IHG points at the Holiday Inn Alicante San Juan (summer rates start at 70 euros/$95).
One of the most popular Alicante hotels is the Spa Porta Maris, (summer rates start at 95 euros/$130) located right on the edge of the water. This is considered a luxurious place to stay, or you have your pick of cute hotels throughout the cobblestoned city center, like the simple but charming Hostal Les Monges Palace (summer rates start at 50 euros/$68) for those on a budget.
3. Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. Authenticity Level, 2
Gran Canaria is one of the largest and most popular of the seven Canary islands, and is often frequented by European tourists coming from places like the UK and Germany. Due to it’s warm temps all year round, it’s a great escape from cold weather, in fact, I spend a week here every January to escape the cold and rainy Madrid winter. Although it can be touristy, if you know where to go, you can set yourself apart from this bubble and have a very enjoyable trip.
Getting here from any major city in Europe is easy and cheap, thanks to low cost airlines like Ryan Air and Easy Jet. It’s about a two and a half hour flight from Madrid, and can cost as little as just 60 euros/$82 roundtrip if purchased in advance on a low cost carrier such as Ryanair. You can also get here using points on airlines like Iberia or British Airways.
If you are looking to party, Playa del Ingles is the biggest and most touristy resort spot on the island, which you can either head straight towards or steer clear of, depending on the vacation you are hoping to have. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs, hotels, apartment rentals and long stretches of sandy beach here, and everyone speaks English, and usually German and Russian too. If you end up hanging out here, make sure to visit the rooftop lounge for a sunset vino at the Bohemia Suites & Spa for panoramic views of the coastline.
Maspalomas is another resort town, slightly less touristy, a little calmer and also frequented by Spanish travelers in addition to plenty of foreigners. The beach is long with white sand, and the African sand dunes here will make you feel like you’ve accidentally stumbled into the Sahara Desert–that is, until you spot the sparkling ocean in the distance. The Costa Meloneras Lopesan (summer rates start at 162 Euros/$221) is a gorgeous hotel to stay in, and even if you are not a hotel guest, take advantage of the four hour spa circuit, complete with a Himalayan Salt Room and a floating pool with Dead Sea salt. The entire circuit costs just 39 Euros ($53), and is one of the most amazing spa experiences I have ever had. The infinity pool overlooking the ocean is the best spot to hang out.
Near Maspalomas is also the small beach resort, Meloneras. The restaurants along the beach, although catering to tourists, have excellent seafood. Aqua is a trendy and cool beach discoteca with a sexy Ibiza vibe, and both tourists and locals flock here for a late night out.
Las Palmas, the island’s capital is where locals live and spend their time. The city beach here, Playa de Las Canteras is actually quite nice, but it can be cloudy in the north, so it’s best to head to one of the southern resort beaches if you’re after surefire sun. However, Las Palmas is a happening spot if you’re tired of beaches and want to walk around the city center and visit the 16th century St. Ana Cathedral . You can stay overnight in Las Palmas at the AC Hotel Gran Canaria using Marriott Rewards points (summer rates start at 59 euros/$80 or 15,000 Rewards points).
Playa de las Amadores is a beautiful little inlet beach with a few hotels and my favorite chillout lounge, Amadores Beach Club. You can spend your entire week relaxing here, or just pop down for a beach day and a sunset cocktail at the beach club. It even has a pool in addition to the lounge and restaurant, in case you get tired of so much sand. This area is also a good spot for kids or calm swimming as there is very little wind.
These options are just a few of many Spanish adventures you can enjoy for a summer getaway (or even a spring, fall or winter getaway). Have you ever visited any of these Spanish spots? Any other suggestions for Spanish summer adventures? Please to share in the comments section below.