Wilderness. Everybody needs a share of rugged mountains, roaring rivers, and wild forests in their life. For most of us metropolitans and suburbians, the problem is where to look for it. Luckily for you, the search for nature untamed is over. The following 1000-odd kilometres of the Green Coast, between Porto and Bilbao, are some of the most natural and wild stretches of coastline you'll find in Western Europe.
But before you decide to take on this road trip through pristine green, promise mother nature to respect her and her animal dwellers. We might be nature lovers at heart, but we can be blind to the environment in practice. Please be gentle with the plants, trees, and animals you come across—after all, this road trip is meant to get you in sync with nature. With around 1100 km to cover, we advise you take 10-14 days for this trip.
Portugal's largest national park (in fact, its only park with a national status) has quite a few mountains: those of Peneda, Soajo, Amarela, and Gerês. These mountains are home to rivers, forests, and rural villages that have kept their harmonious way of living for centuries!
Cascata do Arado
Of the park's most famous waterfalls, Cascata do Arado is the hardest to reach, but also the most rewarding. The Arado River springs from the Gerês Mountain and makes a few tumbles on its way down—with breathtaking results.
Take a hike along this roaring river, or go straight over to the Cascata do Arado. At an altitude of 900m, the cascade's lagoon is filled with cold, but crystal-clear mountain water, so make sure to bring your bathing clothes!
Mata da Albergaria
Apart from ancient times, when the Via Romana linked Braga and Astorga (two of ancient Iberia's most important cities), humans hardly every crossed the Mata da Albergaria, making this pristine forest's ecosystem is still pretty much intact.
People do make their way through the forest nowadays, and it's taken a toll on the ecosystem—but that's only because visitors don't know how to conduct themselves. As long as you park outside of the park, follow the allowed hiking trails, don't pick any plants, and don't litter, you're welcome to visit these oak-rich woods.
The rich Peneda foothills give life to Soajo, a village of terraced farms and houses built out of the granite of the surrounding mountains. The stone granaries that have been used as depositories for centuries make for an interesting sight.
Even though the shepherd village of Campo do Gerês can get packed with tourists during summer due to its proximity to the trails running through the mountains, the village still showcases rural life like its been in these mountains for centuries.
From resort towns to pilgrim cities, the northeastern tip of Spain has something for all kinds of tourists— and that includes us. We're trading some of the more frequented places in this rich region for a temperate rainforest and peaceful fishing towns.
Parque Natural de las Fragas do Eume
If you thought you can only find rainforests along the equator, think again! Like their tropical cousins, temperate rainforests are so dense and complex that they regulate their own climate, creating their own precipitation. Fragas do Eume is Europe's best preserved Atlantic temperate rainforest, and a stunning example of what Europe's nature looked like in neolithic times.
The most traversed route of the park is the Camino de A Ventureira, leading to the Monestery of Caaveiro that is hidden in the heart of the forest. The Camiño dos Cerqueiro is the park's most stunning trail, offering many different views of this diverse ecosystem.
While the most popular part of the Galician coast are the Rias Baixas, the estuaries of northern Rias Altas are at least as pretty as those of the Lower Rias— and, in fact, are much wilder and untamed. This less-populated coast receives the Atlantic's full wrath and is more temperate in climate. In return, the coast is more rugged and green, and less explored by tourists.
From below Cabo Fisterra to the eastern end of the Costa da Morte (named for all the ships it wrecked), you'll find little fishing villages steeped in history and culture, having kept their patch of land for themselves for centuries. On the southern end, the fishing port of Muros is worth a visit; while on the eastern end, tiny Corme sits in a little bay with its own beach.
Though these regions have their own distinct histories and peoples, we're mentioning them together because they share the wildest part of the region: the Picos de Europa. Both Asturias and Cantabria have a beautiful, jagged coast lined with little ports and secluded beaches, though its really the inland beech and oak forests, as well as the magnificent mountain range, that capture our imagination. And with wolves and bears roaming these woods and mountains—don't worry, they're shy of humans—one can really say this is the wildest part of Iberia.
Parque Nacional de Los Picos de Europa
Ranging from Asturias to Cantabria, these mountains were the first thing sailors saw returning from faraway voyages, hence their name. The Picos de Europa are truly wild, and the mountains' most famous resident attests to that: the Cantabrian brown bear.
With forests, pastures, and snow-capped peaks, the Cantabrian Mountains are a breathtaking sight to behold, soaring high above the surrounding green landscape. A popular destination for serious mountaineers keen on technical climbs, day hikers and amateur trekkers also get their fair share of fun in the park, as there are plenty of day trails along the mountain ridges.
Before reaching the Picos de Europa, the trail of Peña Mea in Asturias is definitely worth a stop. A relatively easy circular walk of about 4 hours (but do come prepared!), reaching the summit of Peña Mae at 1560 m is as rewarding for the views as it is for the route itself.
The trail takes you through the Canal de las Cuevas, where limestone rocks have giant holes in them; soft pastures along the way allow for wildlife observation; with views of the Tolivia Valley; and a few steep ascents along imposing vertical walls.
Caves in Cantabria
The abundant limestone mountains in the region make Cantabria especially cavernous. Inside these caves, drawings of bison, horses, deer and other animals show the life of our ancestors. The caves of Las Agueas, Altamira, La Clotide, and Cualventi are impressive caves open to the public.
The cave El Soplao is unique for other reasons: the geological formations in this system of caverns and crevices are magical. We've all heard of stalagmites and stalactites in geology class, but these caves have formations you can't even begin to name.
Basque Country, or Euskadi in the native tongue, is your final destination—and a magnificent ending to al the natural splendour you've come across. The jagged landscapes of Euskal Herria (another name of the autonomous region) are home to the rich Basque heritage, even richer estuaries, and some of the best waves in Europe and the world.
Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve
When the freshwater of a great river meets the tidal saltwater of the ocean to form an inlet, it produces some of the richest natural habitats in the world. The Urdaibai Estuary is especially rich; it's a sanctuary for marine life and migratory birds from all over the world.
With the nutrient-rich mix of fresh and saltwater being the bay's life source, it's best to explore the estuary from the water. An extra adventurous way to go at it is by SUP or kayak, giving you the possibility to visit the smallest creeks and nooks. But the Urdaibai Biosphere extends to the surrounding wetlands and forests, where you, too, can find birds and other wildlife!
Bay of Biscay
The Bay of Biscay has a fearsome reputation amongst seafarers, for being some of the roughest waters out there. The gulf produces large storms and high waves due to its shallow waters. Though it makes for a scary passage, it also makes for a gorgeously-sculpted coastline, as you might have noticed along your road trip. Here in Bizkaia, though, the coast is the most dramatic, the beaches the most idyllic, and the waves some of the most perfect in the world.
With its steep cliffs and unique landscape, Gorrondaxre Beach in the Andra Mari District is a great option for beachgoers. Sopela Beach is another solid option, and probably the most famous beach for the leisurely type. And while there are great waves for surfing all along the coast, like at Zarautz, La Zurriola, or Menakoz, the river mouth of Mundaka is the real gem here. When it's firing, these perfect peelers are arguably the best left-hander river mouth in the world.
Want to get in touch with your inner wolf? Start your trip in Porto!