Northern and Southern Spain are politically the same country but in most categories they differ. The south is known for vibrancy, heat, flamenco, touristy coasts and dry land, while the north is better known for green landscapes, exquisite food, unspoilt scenery, authenticity and a colder climate.
This article will be specifically discussing the northern coastal areas of, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country (Costa da Morte, Costa de Cantabria, Bay of Biscay ) and the southern costal region of Andalucía (Costa del Sol and Costa de La Luz). Let the match commence.
Round 1: Climate
In the red corner we have "Andalucía" - where it is sunny most of the year; summer is extremely hot, reaching daily highs of around 35C and 15C at night. For some people this is perfect, but for others it is a sweaty, uncomfortable and sticky endurance. September and October can be a pleasant time to be in Andalucía with temperatures averaging around the mid 20´s and ventures to the beach are plentiful. The chilly winter starts from around January - March, and in the Cadiz province (Costa de La Luz) the Atlantic Ocean makes this coast wetter than its neighbour, Costa del Sol.
In the blue corner we have the "underdogs" from northern Spain.Costa da Morte, facing the Atlantic Ocean and running along the Galician region, which is renowned for having the worst weather in Spain, comparable to the UK (maybe not that bad). The summers are usually in the 20s and temperatures in winter can fall to zero, however snow is rare. The Asturian part of the Costa del Cantabrico experiences mild summers and winters, however Cantabria encounters extreme changes in temperature and together with the Basque Country, they experience the least amount of sunny days in Spain. The climate of the Basque country can be humid and without much diversity in temperature. Summers average at 21C and winters 8C. The average annual rainfall is quite high, occurring during spring and autumn. Light snow is possible in winter
Round 2: Tourism
There is one coast that has attracted more holiday-makers and property buyers than any other in Europe; this is of course the famous Costa del Sol. During the summer months this area of Spain is jam-packed. Contrarily, Costa de la Luz in Cadiz is not so excessive, there are few foreign tourists and expats but many Spaniards who come and enjoy this coast.
The northern coast attracts several Spanish tourists but hardly any foreigners. One of the reasons for this is it does not strongly market itself in the tourist industry. Their economy is based on other industries such as, coal and iron ore deposits, engineering, shipbuilding and chemical plants. Their port facilities are used for raw material imports. Overall this gives the north much more protection in regards to house building and maintaining culture and landscape.
Round 3: Property / Money
Generally the north is more expensive than the south, apart from Marbella which is one of the richest areas in Spain. However in the property business there are many variables which affect the prices.
Due to the great weather in the Costa del Sol, people can enjoy their beach property practically all year round and take profit in the high demand rentability, which remains at 70% - 80% per annum. The Costa de La Luz is one of the cheapest areas in Spain however, property is costly, due to building restrictions, which increases prices. This is why in northern Spain; property in the smaller coastal cities/towns is cheaper than the southern equivalent. The Galician coastline is more or less the cheapest in Spain, yet in the Basque Country, Bilbao and San Sebastian are examples of the most expensive costal zones in Spain apart from Marbella.
The recent slow down in the Spanish property market will not really effect the north as there is not an oversupply of construction. Also the northern market caters for the Spanish property buyers, therefore the north is not a great option for renting out your property, as it may only attract visitors in the peak summer months and major festivals, however the rates are stable and attractive for long-term buyers.
Round 4: Culture
The Spanish are known for their friendliness and the Andalusians are full of life, feisty, spirited and warm. Here is where the spontaneous music flamenco was born. The north of Spain is more sophisticated and stylish and along with the weather people can seem colder than the south at first glance. Festivals are spread like flowing wine across the entire country, from San Sebastian's film festival to Cadiz's crazy carnival.
Round 5: Hostility
Spain is generally a safe country and minor crimes occur just like everywhere around the world. However, the Basque Country is the home of the terrorist organization ETA. The majority of their attacks are aimed at political figures, but occasionally they have planted bombs in cars which have injured many people all around Spain. Their actions against the Spanish state are so that the Basque Country can be independent.
Round 6: Beaches
The purest beaches without a doubt will be found in the north of Spain. The unspoilt coastline runs partly along the Atlantic Ocean and Bay of Biscay.
In the north you can find petite coves, lush yellow sandy beaches, and a classic sea, walled by high cliffs as fresh green landscapes lurk behind. Authentic Fishing ports and sheltered harbours are also very much part of the scenery.
Along the Costa del Sol, the beaches tend to be of a greyish tone and the sea is not the cleanest, (especially beaches near the big ports). If its tranquillity your after, then the Costa del Sol is not a good option to take, it gets absolutely jam-packed in summer time though to be fair it does calm down in September - October and May -June, with the weather still acceptable for beach life. The Cadiz area on the other hand is Andalusia's answer to paradise and they are not wrong. Here you can find fantastic beaches and it is a far cry from the over-powering tourism that you see in its neighbouring coast.
Round 7: Language
The Costa del Sol has lost its authenticity in many respects due to the increasing foreigners, even the language, in certain "hot spots", has dictated to English. This can be an advantage if you do not want to learn Spanish or a disadvantage if you are in search of a cultural change and authenticity. The Cadiz province is predominantly Spanish (Castilian) speaking.
Out of the northern regions only Cantabria and Austurias speak Spanish (Castilian), the Galician's speak; Gallego, and in the Basque country; Basque. All of these regions speak Spanish, but generally among each other will revert to their historic language.
Round 8: Food
In Andulucia seafood can be found in soups, fried or grilled. Sardines
tend to be grilled on spits over driftwood fires and Gazpacho (a cold blended soup
containing vegetables) is famous in this region.
The northern cuisine has influences from France and Italy. You can find pastas, stew
freshwater fish, seafood and cured meats. Galicia is notorious for its seafood, especially
the octopus dish, Pulpo A la Gallega. Overall the north is known to have the more sophisticated pallet whether as Andalusia the food is more like mamas cooking.
Round 9: Costal Cities
For those who like to have the best of both worlds; a city that has everything to spoil you day and night but just so happens to have a beach where you can forget about your stress and relax. Then you might want to check out the following locations.
The northern Spanish coast has more major costal cities than the south. For example the Basque Country holds the trendy cities of San Sebastian (which holds Spain's major film festival) and Bilbao. The first has an old town known for the largest concentration of bars in Spain and contains many museums including an aquarium. Both have great beaches and are known for their great surfing waters. Bilbao, also chic, is known for its fabulous building, the Guggenheim Museum, which holds international art exhibitions. Santander and Gijon are the bustling cities in Cantabria and Austurias and Vigo is Galicia's version also home to A Coruña hosting the most amazing city beaches you will find in Spain
In the south there is Malaga, home to Picasso, lively night life and many monuments, though the city beach is not particularly clean for swimming. Cadiz (more like a big town) has a fine city beach, good shopping and entertaining nightlife.
Round 10: Airports
In Andulucia there are six that can take you to the destinations mentioned above: Malaga, Gilbraltar (UK) and Jerez de La Frontera are nearest to the coasts but also there is Seville which is not too far away.
For Northern Spain there are many options, Vigo and La Coruña both have small airports (mostly internal flights) for the Gallician region. In Austurias and Cantabria there are two one being in Santander. In the Basque country there are two, one in Bilbao and the other Victoria.
The Winner is ...
The judges have calculated each round, and the North "underdog" has exceeded our expectations and stood its ground. The South remained strong, due to its supporters and overall it is down to personal view point.