A New Look At Spain & Greece: Beaches, Forests & Hideouts For Solo Travellers

Southern Europe was one of my first solo travel destinations as an adult, long before I began to blog (read – How I Started a New Life in Catalonia). The region has a bunch of slow-paced countries that make you fall in love with life. The Mediterranean coastline works like a charm on every traveller. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Greece or Portugal or Italy (read – Italy Beyond The Usual) or Spain. If you are craving some sun without running into hordes of tourists, follow this list of recommendations (from experienced travellers) on offbeat locations in Spain and Greece-

Asturias – Spain

Asturias (Courtesy: Campbell & Alya)

Asturias (Courtesy: Campbell & Alya)

Recommendation by Campbell & Alya – Stingy Nomads

“Not many know of an area in Spain with lush green forest, cool temperatures even in the summers and breathtaking mountain scenery. For those who like going off the beaten track, a small region of Asturias in northern Spain is the perfect destination. Asturias is one of the least populated regions of Spain with its main treasure being natural beauty. There are mostly small towns and villages with very friendly and helpful locals here. It’s a real paradise for hikers – there are several short and long distance hiking trails including Camino Primitivo – the first Camino de Santiago walked by the Spanish king, Alfonso II in the 9th century. The famous mountain range – Picos de Europa with some peaks over 2600m is located here.

Both hiking and cycling trails are well marked, safe and easy to follow – definitely the kind of place where a solo female traveller can hike on her own without worrying about safety. The region is great for a beach holiday as well as there are several nice coastal towns like Gijón, Llanes where you can enjoy sandy beaches, clean water and delicious local food. Asturias also has some interesting cities whose foundation dates back to the 8th century. Oviedo – the beautiful capital city founded in 761AD has a charming historical centre with typical narrow cobblestone streets, a gothic cathedral, old houses and street cafes.”

Kalymnos Island – Greece

Kalymnos Island (Courtesy: Maureen)

Kalymnos Island (Courtesy: Maureen)

Recommendation by Maureen – Life On The Mediterranean

“Kalymnos is a small Greek island in the Dodecanese between Kos and Leros, near Turkey. It’s overlooked for other easier-to-reach islands like Rhodes or Kos, and more difficult and more expensive to reach. But once you do, you’ll find an extremely tranquil island whose economy is based on sponge fishing, rock climbing and a bit of tourism.

It’s a great place for solo female travellers as it’s extremely safe and people look out for one another. You’ll be alone, but you won’t. It’s a great place to chill, write, enjoy life on a quaint island, enjoy fresh seafood and get to know the locals if you want. Hotels and food are affordable. It’s a lovely Greek island where time has stood still. You could stay for a month on the weekly budget you need in some other pricier islands. Give it a try.”

Galicia – Spain

Galicia Cathedrals beach at sunrise (Courtesy: Inma Gregorio)

Galicia Cathedrals beach at sunrise (Courtesy: Inma Gregorio)

Recommendation by Inma Gregorio – A World To Travel

“The reasons why I can’t stop recommending Galicia as a friendly destination for visitors – and in this case, for women who travel alone – is as varied as the region. Still, I’ll try to give you some clues, girls: Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, is a semi-unknown region because it does not belong to the busiest tourist circuits, but it is equally beautiful due to the exuberant Galician nature and cities full of history.

The tradition of this land in receiving visitors who travel alone comes from the Middle Ages when the road to Santiago began to be ‘crowded’ by pilgrims who came from nearby and distant lands. That is why the Galician people are accustomed to receiving and treating well whoever comes here. An affordable living, world-acclaimed cuisine, many celebrations all-year round and funny weather, are awaiting you.”

Athens – Greece

Athens (Courtesy: Iulia - Alexandra Falcutescu)

Athens (Courtesy: Iulia – Alexandra Falcutescu)

Recommendation by Iulia – Alexandra Falcutescu – The Traveling Tulip

“While visiting Athens, I have discovered a wonderful blend of culture, history and contemporary air. I was simply enchanted to walk the streets of Athens and having to stop at every step, because there was always something to see, always a street vendor that wanted to show me their merchandise or an ancient building that “demanded” to be admired.

As a woman travelling solo to Athens, I have never felt unsafe. The people are so friendly, especially when they discover that you are a foreigner. They try to do their best to welcome you and make you feel comfortable. As with every other country I visited, I did my best to avoid dangerous situations or locations by staying informed on those prior to the actual visit. If you want to find out more of my time in Athens, check out my post about how to spend a weekend in Athens.”

Cercedilla – Spain

Cercedilla (Courtesy: Jamie Graffman)

Cercedilla (Courtesy: Jamie Graffman)

Recommendation by Jamie Graffman – Crashed Culture

“Cercedilla, Spain is a quaint but beautiful pueblo on the northern outskirts of Madrid, Spain. This town is full of many Spaniards’ former second homes before the country faced economic issues. This recent history makes for an interesting trip because while the area is clean and beautiful, it’s also completely empty and full of opportunities. Cercedilla is a popular stop for hikers and other nature lovers but is also fun just to walk around and see the beautiful buildings.

Cercedilla is a great destination for women travelling solo because it’s so open! For those concerned about strangers they’re likely to meet on the road, this isn’t a concern in such a desolate area. It’s a great place to just walk around and enjoy the scenery, which means travellers need not be concerned about finding things to do.”

Naxos – Greece

Pyrgaki, Naxos (Courtesy: Steph Edwards)

Pyrgaki, Naxos (Courtesy: Steph Edwards)

Recommendation by Steph Edwards – The Mediterranean Traveller

“The whole of Greece is ideal for easy-going solo female travel, but my favourite place is the island of Naxos in the Cyclades. From the moment you set foot there, you instantly feel relaxed. Plus, the people are super friendly. Despite its amazing beaches and fantastic food, Naxos is not overly commercial or busy like some of the more popular islands, and you’re bound to bump into other independent travellers there too (probably congregating in one of the laid-back beach cafes).

You can see the main sites by bus which is great for those who don’t want the expense of hiring a car. But – best of all – you can find cheap rooms a street or two back from the main town beach Agios Georgios, meaning you don’t have to worry about your stuff whilst you’re swimming. No wonder Naxos has devotees who return year after year!”

Do you also love islands and sandy shorelines?

Would you like to recommend some more places?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

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Flashback to 2011: How I Started a New Life in Catalonia

Sometime last year, I told you about my journey to Lleida (read: Lleida – A Reminiscence). What I did not tell you was what happened behind the scenes. To the casual onlooker it might have appeared that I was taking a lazy holiday in the country famous for its street parties and endless beaches. But “getting there” was a challenge for me. After several rounds of selection, I had grabbed a wonderful internship opportunity at a prominent IT firm in Spain. But taking leaves from my engineering college proved to be quite a trial! After many sleepless nights, I was finally all set to take my first solo step out of India. I was not just going to do an internship, I was going to #StartANewLife!

Estació de Lleida Pirineus

Estació de Lleida Pirineus

After a journey of over twenty hours that saw me changing flights and trains, taking the metro, and finally getting a car-ride, I reached my apartment. This was going to be my first long stay outside of the home I grew up in. I had never lived with other people before. I also did not know much Spanish or any Catalan. I knew that English would not take me very far in Lleida, where only a minority would understand the language. There were many thoughts that swirled in my head and intimidated me. But I was here for a reason. I knew I had to take a bold step and bring in some much needed change in my life. “Change” was the only thing that would make me grow. And I did grow on that trip… in more ways than I had imagined!

Barcelona

Barcelona

I learned to read coding errors in Spanish. I learned to greet my colleagues in Catalan. I scanned through the daily news in a language I could never comprehend before. I asked for directions on the streets using some broken Catalan and excessive gesticulation. 😛 And by the end of that month, I actually wrote an entire article in Spanish (of course, with a lot of help from Google Translate)! 🙂

Camp Nou

Camp Nou

Language was not my only learning. I cooked my own meals for the first time in my life. I did grocery shopping on my own. I learned to read maps effectively and developed some much needed road sense after two decades of relying on my parents for everything. But the best thing I learned was to TRAVEL. The travel-bug had bit me hard! The more places I wandered in, the more I wanted to wander. The more exotic dishes I tasted, the more grew my hunger.

Lleida

How I got “framed” in Lleida 😉

Before Catalonia happened to me, I knew travel as a list of things to be ticked off my list. We would go to the popular tourist attractions and come back with a lot of souvenirs. But it is here that I learned to travel for my soul. I wanted to linger at places and capture their “feel”. Photographs and videos can show you the places and play the sounds for you. But only your memory can recreate the feeling within.  I left Lleida after my internship, but I had just started a new life.

Have you ever embraced change in your life? Were you scared in the beginning? How did it make you feel in the end? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Lleida – A Reminiscence

Today, I’m going to tell you a story set in a Catalonian province – Lleida. This story will take us three years back in time as we retrace my journey through this beautiful region in the summer of 2011.

A cobbled bylane in Lleida

A cobbled bylane in Lleida

My joy knew no bounds the day I found out I was going to “Spain” for my summer internship. This would be my first solo-trip out of India. I did plenty of research on Lleida (pronounced ye-ee-da) and practised some basic Spanish which I thought would help me get by.

But nothing prepared me for what I would experience here. And nobody told me this trip would transform me as a person.

I had changed 6 modes of transport to reach my place of stay!

  1. I boarded my Swiss flight at 1AM from Mumbai and spent the entire night checking out their awesome inflight entertainment options. Needless to say, I was sleepy when my plane landed at Zurich.
  2. At the Zurich Kloten Airport (one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen), I took the inter-terminal train to reach the terminal for my connecting flight.
  3. Then, I boarded the early morning Swiss flight to Barcelona. This is where I first strained my ears to interpret the Spanish-English accent. “But airhostesses in all countries always speak in unintelligible accents”, I shrugged.
  4. After an hour of sleep on the plane, it was time for me to collect my things and catch the shuttle that would take us from the international terminal of the Barcelona–El Prat Airport to its domestic one.
  5. From there, we (“we” because 2 more interns joined me at Barca 🙂 ) took the metro to the Barcelona Sants train-station.
  6. We next caught a train to Lleida.
  7. And the final journey from Lleida station to our apartment complex was in our host’s car. Phew!
The mighty Pyrenees through my window

A charming hill (not the mighty Pyrenees) through my window

I was mostly dozing by the window on the Renfe-train but managed to catch some panoramic glimpses of the Pyrenees mountains. I thought the coach was unusually quiet (by comparison to Indian train-coaches), almost as if it were a library. (I would learn on my subsequent journeys that the Europeans are not as noisy as we are.)

It was such a delight to meet Marc, one of our hosts, who drove us to our final destination.

Estació de Lleida Pirineus

Estació de Lleida Pirineus

Before I could show off the little Spanish I had learnt, Marc proudly told us he wasn’t fond of Spain. And most Catalonians wouldn’t reply in Spanish if we asked them.

He erased my shock and confusion by explaining to us how Catalunya (as the locals call it) is trying to secede from the rest of Spain. But we didn’t have to worry about knowing no Catalan as the University of Lleida provided us welcome packs which had a translation-guide! 🙂 In the anticipation of learning another foreign language and meeting more interns at my apartment, I forgot that I hadn’t slept for almost 20 hours.

With the hosts & other interns

With the hosts & other interns

Summer in Lleida’s latitude means the sun won’t set until it’s past 9.  My watch said it was time for dinner, but my eyes refused to believe. This is when all the first-day (night, maybe?) fun started! I met all the hosts, and fellow interns from Belgium, Latvia, Germany, Mongolia, Peru, Greece, Panama & Belarus. Our Catalonian hosts had prepared a sumptuous spread for all of us. I too brought out my theplas (my mum fretted too much about food and whether I’d get anything to eat at all 😛 ) for everybody to try.

Did you know?Theplas taste better with gazpacho!

My last memory of staying awake that night ends in having some red wine and Picón cheese before I give in to jet lag and sleep-deprivation, and find myself sleeping like a log in my bedroom.

Passing by the River Segre

Passing by the River Segre

Day-2 in this charming city was spent walking around the place, locating department stores & bus stops and figuring out how I’d get to office next morning. My new home seemed great but I was still a little apprehensive about work. This would be my first office-experience outside of India, and I just hoped my colleagues were nice.

Dining with the amazing people from work :-)

Dining with the amazing people from work 🙂

Turns out, they’re the coolest co-workers in all of Lleida! 🙂 I went in thinking I’d have to do a lot of catching up on Catalan & Spanish, but they took one step forward by brushing up their English so they could talk to me! These are the people I lunched with everyday as we exchanged stories from India & Spain.

The study underground

The study underground

I could go on and on about how warm and friendly everyone in Lleida is. But now that I’ve introduced you to Catalunya, I’ll keep it mostly travel-centred from my next post. In the pic above, you will see where I sat and planned all my weekend trips in this country that many of us have only dreamt of.

Stay tuned for my next post on Barcelona! 🙂