Numerous tour operators are now offering a huge range of walking holidays in northern Spain to meet an increasing demand from foreigners fed up with the over-crowded Spanish Costas. There are walking tours to suit all abilities and tastes - the casual rambler who enjoys his creature comforts is as well served here as the have-a-go hiker who expects his holiday to be a major test of endurance.
There's no doubt that the best way to enjoy the wealth of gorgeous scenery on offer in this relatively untouched swathe of the Iberian Peninsula is on foot. Hikers can enjoy the region's spectacular peaks, steep gorges, flower-filled meadows and sandy beaches. They may even be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the wolves, wild boar, bears and eagles which populate the wilder corners of northern Spain.
Walking holidays have taken off in the north with the advent of good transport links, making the region easily accessible to foreign visitors. There are international airports at Bilbao and Barcelona and at Pau in the south of France. Many walkers from the UK choose to use the ferry services which run between Plymouth and Portsmouth and Bilbao.
Holiday packages on offer range from guided walks where you're accompanied by an expert guide every step of the way to more flexible deals which allow you to travel independently with back up from local tour guides. Some firms offer suggested itineraries, guide books, maps and recommended hotels then transfer your luggage from one hotel to another while you do the walking. Some combine guided walking tours with other activities such as canoeing and cycling whilst others transport their guests in comfortable 4x4 vehicles, stopping for a gentle stroll around the region's mountain towns and medieval cities.
The Spanish Pyrenees are a firm favourite among hikers, being less crowded and generally warmer than the French Pyrenean mountains. Though several ski resorts have sprung up on the Spanish side in recent years, these mountains are still mercifully free of the hordes that blight the French Alpine resorts. And much of the area is greener and more scenic than the Alps. The mountains are peppered with "refugios" (mountain refuges) which provide basic dormitory style accommodation for hardened hikers. And there are plenty of hotels for those who look forward to an en-suite bath and mini bar at the end of the day's trail.
Another top hikers' haunt is the awesomely beautiful Picos de Europa national park in the mountains of Cantabria. Spectacular limestone peaks and deep gorges are a magnet for mountaineers, bird watchers and hikers but the area remains one of the most unspoilt beauty spots in the whole of Europe.
Northern Spain is also home to what is arguably the world's most famous walk - the Camino de Santiago (Santiago Way) which has been trodden by pilgrims for more than 1,000 years. The pilgrimage is in honour of the apostle St James (Santiago) whose remains lie in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. There are actually a number of different " Santiago Ways" including the 350 kilometre route from Leon and the more testing 750 kilometre hike from Le Puy in France.