Spain's Atlantic Coast: Costa Vasca, Costa Verde and Galicia
In contrast to the hot, dry and overbuilt coastline of much of the rugged shores of the Spanish Atlantic coast in the north present spectacular views of natural beaches framed by lush and dramatic landscapes yet to be overpowered by mass tourism.
There are well-established beach resorts with excellent facilities to be found on both the Costa Vasca (north east, the Basque Country - Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya provinces) and Costa Verde (north centre, Cantabria and Asturias) coasts, with more unspoilt beaches lurking further west in the Galicia region, north of Portugal.
Naturally the climate of north Spain is more varied and less predictable than that of the south. Summers tend to be humid and pleasantly warm (maximum about 27C), with plentiful sunshine and occasional rain, while the rest of the country is frequently unbearably hot.
Winters can be bitterly cold with significant amounts of rain (over 4 inches per month) October to April.
Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian (Costa Vasca)
Former Queen Maria Cristina's summer retreat in the late 19th century, the fine sandy beach of La Concha is considered by many to be one of Europe's most attractive urban beaches. It is set in the city of San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country, not far from France's Basque city of Biarritz.
La Concha refers to its scallop shell shape, which is bordered by a pleasant promenade and cycle lane. The bay has an gorgeous panorama including the two hills at each end of the crescent beach and Santa Clara island in the middle of the bay - which is accessible by ferry in the summer.
Mundaka, (Costa Vasca, picture at top of page)
A tiny, attractive seaside town 30 kms north-east of Bilbao city, Mundaka is dead in winter but turns into a vibrant surf Shangri-la in summertime, as its beach is home to Europe's longest and most awesome left-hander waves, a result of sizeable river-meets-Atlantic Ocean creating perfect surf-trigger sandbanks.
October sees the world championship Billabong Pro surf competition here.
Hondarribia, Guipuzcoa (Gipuzkoa)
Hondarribia beach is located in the lovely Basque-style medieval town of Hondarribia, near France. This wide beach next to the port is easily accessible by public transport, with fine golden sands, very calm waters and good facilities.
The 2.5km long Zarautz is Spanish Basque Country's longest beach. It's easily accessible, pretty wide, has a promenade with a lovely, relaxed atmosphere but lively bars and restaurants. Popular with watersports aficionados, especially windsurfing, but naturalists also like to hang out in Zarautz.
The Palace of Narros, adjacent to the beach, is where Queen Isabella II spent her summer holidays.
Zarautz is connected to the European road network and to the rest of Spain by the A8 motorway, while trains connect it with San Sebastian and Bilbao.
Sardinero beach, Santander
Santander, the capital of the little-visited Spanish region of Cantabria, situated between Asturias and the Basque country (the centre of the northern coast), has more than ten sandy beaches to choose from. The largest, Playa Primera de El Sardinero is the most famous, with fine golden sand and good facilities, while wide Playa de Valdearenas (also known as Copacabana) offers outstanding dunes - actually man-made - and is good for various water activities and also nudists. It's 12 km west of the Santander.
Playas de Matalapenas, los Peligros, de Bikinis and Blue Flag beach of Playa de la Magdalena are all south-facing, sheltered beaches with fine golden sands and calm waters ideal for swimming.
Playa Trengandin, Elguera (Cantabria)
Although it is close to Elguera village, this fine white sandy beach with pretty rock formations is relatively unspoilt. It's not very long but wide and quite flat with various places to eat and drink within a stone’s throw of the beach. It's accessed via an unpaved road and parking is restricted.
Playa del Silencio, (Asturias)
Spain's rugged Asturian coastline has countless beaches and coves, especially around the resort town of Llanes, such as Blue Flag Barro Beach and the surfing beach of Salinas. The best-known Asturias beach is unspoilt Playa del Silencio/Gavieiro Beach, famed for its dramatically enclosed bay, though it offers coarse gravel rather than sand; it's near the fishing village of Castañeras, west of Gijón.
San Lorenzo Beach, Gijón (Asturias)
Gijón's 1.5 km long town beach, Playa San Lorenzo, is a well-known surfing spot, as the wide, exposed beach has regular surf. Autumn and winter are the best time for waves.
Las Catedrales beach, Galicia
Playa de Rodas (Praia das Rodas), Las Islas Cies
The wild and spectacular Galicia region, north of Portugal, has more striking beaches with fewer people on them than just about anywhere in Spain.
The best one could be the remote Playa de Rodas on Las Islas Cies (Island of Gods), nicknamed 'Caribbean Beach' by locals. The Cies islands are uninhabited and part of a national park open to the public during summer only. To get to the islands requires a 40-minute boat ride from Baiona. The 1.5 km long, crescent Rodas beach is draped in soft, pale sand and backed by pine woods and dunes, a calm lagoon of crystal-clear water visited frequently by sea lions.
Playa de Las Catedrales, Ribadeo
Officially called 'Praia de Augas Santas', Playa de Las Catedrales is famous for its exceptional rock formations sculpted by the wind and waves. Located 6 km from the Spanish city of Ribadeo, the best time to visit is at high tide when the beach is left without the sands so the rocks look like a cathedral standing on water. But not such a good time for sunbathing!
Cathedral beach is along the scenic route of Autovia del Cantábrico, Highway A8. The nearest airports are in Coruña and Oviedo.
Playa de Estorde, La Coruña
Situated 80 km south west of La Coruña in Galicia, the crescent shape of Estorde beach is about a half km long with fine white sand and calm waters. Usually a peaceful hideaway, it becomes a playground for locals on Sundays.
Spain Beaches: Costa Brava | Costa Dorada | Costa de la Luz
Costa Blanca | Costa del Sol