Lierganes (Cantabria), Spain September 2022

Having chilled for two days at Candas we decided to return to France (just for a week or so) because (a) the weather looked as if it would be better there for the next week (rain being forecast across almost all of Northern Spain) and (b) Vanya wanted to stock up with more Cremant. We had just enough time before the weather changed to visit a couple of places in Cantabria and we settled on first Lierganes and then somewhere in the Valles Pasiegos, probably San Roque de Riomiera.

Liérganes, which has been recognised as ‘Uno de los Pueblos Mas Bonitos de Espana’ since 2016, sits on the Rio Miera at the foot of the two small hills of Marimón and Cotillamón. I picked it out as a place to stop because I had read that it was one of the pretty little towns of Spain and so it proved to be. It is a small quaint village and we paused there for both breakfast and lunch.

A word of warning before I continue – Don’t be tempted to buy the local delicacy known as ‘Chocolate with Churros’. You’ll see it advertised everywhere. I’m not sure what we were expecting when we ordered them but it certainly wasn’t that which arrived at our table – a cup of hot cocolate and a few doughnut sticks! I’ll let you know.

Lierganes is perhaps most famous for having been the home of the legendary “Fishman of Lierganes”. The legend goes that in 1674, a young man from Lierganes by the name of Francisco de la Vega Casar, who was working in Santander at the time, went swimming with friends in the Bay of Biscay. He was an excellent swimmer but the current caught him and he was sucked out to sea. Five years later near Cadiz on totally the other side of Spain a man was found in the sea with what looked like fish scales on his chest and back. He was half out of his mind and unable to talk except for one word -‘Lierganes’. Someone recognised that word as the name of a town in Cantabria and he was brought back to the town but, when a few kilometres away, he was told to lead the way. It seems he made his way directly to a house where his mother and three brothers lived and, even after 5 years, they all recognised him. The Fishman was left to live with his family although, he kept an odd lifestyle. He kept to himself, rarely wore any clothes, had strange eating habits (sometimes going a week without eating any food) and he never recovered the ability to speak more than a handful of words. One day, after nine years back in the village, he returned to the coast for a swim and was never seen again.

I read that Lierganes is “tucked away in a lush green valley”. I couldn’t agree more. Even after the recent drought and with the Rio Miera almost dried up, you can see from the photos below how green the area remains…

Any visitor to Lierganes will be impressed by the “Donkey Tail Cactus” which is grown throughout the town. The originals would have been brought back from Mexico many years ago but they seem to have taken to the Cantabrian climate. They are everywhere. Now I have to figure out how to stop Vanya buying any?

We enjoyed our brief visit to Lierganes. It doesn’t offer enough to warrant an overnight stay but it serves as an admirable gateway to our next port of call, somewhere in the Valles Pasiegos.

Candas (Asturias), Spain September 2022

So, we have made our way back to the Asturian coast to Candas and to the same campsite as before (Camping Perlora). Hey, we needed a rest after the Fiesta at Sanabria.

And what do we return to? Another fiesta!

I’ll not take you through everything we did upon our return to Candas and anyone wanting to learn more about this town need only refer back to the previous entry of a little over a week ago. It will suffice to say that the weather was once again kind and we enjoyed the same bars and restaurants as during our earlier visit and… here’s the proof:-

Early in the morning…
Late at night…

We stayed two nights so as recharge our batteries and then we were off to France for more of Vanya’s Cremant; pausing on the way in Cantabria at both Lierganes and San Roque de Riomiera.

Puebla de Sanabria – La Fiesta “Virgen de las Victorias” (Castile y Leon), Spain September 2022

We were committed to spending a couple of days in Puebla de Sanabria (after which we would go on to Braganza in Portugal) but, when we saw that a three day local festival of the “Virgen de las Victorias” was about to take place (and that it comprised parades, feasts, fireworks, dancing, giants and bigheads), we decided to stay on a full seven days. Braganza will be there next year and the longer stay would give us the opportunity to properly enjoy Puebla de Sanabria and it’s fiesta (to use the local term) and the surrounding area (particularly the Lago de Sanabria, Ribadelago and the small town of Puerte de Sanabria).

Most of what we saw of the fiesta lends itself more to video than photographs and, while I will one day get around to producing a video, I’ll only include photos in this (early) blog. The video can follow.

The Fiesta wasn’t officially scheduled to commence until the Wednesday but we had enjoyed music up on the Plaza Mayor the previous two evenings and we were there again for the Tuesday night just in case something happened – it did. A string ensemble, a quintet, started warming up on the square in front of the Church of Our Lady of Azogue where the evening Mass was coming to an end…

… Upon a signal from inside the church, the ensemble ceased warming up and proceeded into the church. Along with others who had been waiting on the square, I followed them and watched and listened as they made their way to the front and serenaded the Virgen de las Victorias at the front of the church.

The priest concluded his mass and the ensemble led the congregation back out onto the square where they entertained us for the next 90 minutes or so with what I can only describe as “regional” musical. I confess, the only songs I recognised were “Viva La Espana” and “Guantanamera” but everyone else seemed to know them because a fair portion of the crowd joined in with the singing and some were dancing. The evening continued with a disco and a rock band sharing the temporary stage which had been set up to one side of the Plaza until about 4am but we were back in bed long before then.

The next evening we found just a handful of people up at the Plaza Mayor. They were listening to some kind of stage production, a pantomime of sorts (judging by the audience reaction) which neither Vanya nor I could follow very well but; it didn’t last long and after a couple of drinks at one of the two temporary bars which had been set up on the square we made our way back down through the old part of the village. The streets were totally empty. The lull before the storm?

Suddenly, at about 11.15pm, just as we were thinking of making our way back to the Van; it all started to happen. People started congregating at the foot of the old ‘town’, some musicians amongst them; wind instruments mostly. A brass band formed and started to play amid the burgeoning crowd. Colourful smoke flares were lit from amongst the crowd and then, almost simultaneously, from somewhere behind the crowd rockets were fired into the night sky. The resulting loud blasts of the fireworks started the band up the hill towards the main square. The crowd followed eagerly.

A large crowd had already formed on Plaza Mayor as we arrived; it’s focus directed towards the verandah above the Ayumiento. Speeches were made by various dignitaries and the crowd cheered appreciatively. These were the people bank-rolling what would prove to be a very expensive fiesta and, in hindsight, they deserved all the applause they got. The speeches concluded, the organisers chose a Festival Queen from among a number of hopefuls (with the losers being appointed ‘Ladies In Waiting’ – we would see more of them later in the week) and La Fiesta de la Virgen de las Victorias 2022 was officially declared open. A disco followed which again went on well into the early hours.

At about noon the next day there was a parade of Giants. There were 10 of them and they came down from the Calle Rua to what I consider is the physical centre of the town (i.e. where Calle Braganza meets Calle De La Pena Letrero, close to where our favourite cafe bars are located). They were escorted by 33 Big Heads. Anyone interested in learning more about Giants and the Big Heads should head for the village’s Museum of Giants and Big Heads on Calle de San Bernardo.

I don’t understand the significance of the Giants and the Big Heads to the Fiesta de la Virgen de las Victorias but I did notice that two of the Giants were standing in the church the previous evening while La Virgen was being serenaded.

No matter, the Giants danced their way down Calle Rua to the centre of the town attended by the Big Heads and to the musical accompaniment of a Hawaiian Brass Band. I kid you not! Puebla de Sanabria sits at almost 1,000 metres above sea level and, when the sun is not shining at that height, you can feel the cold but; there was this Brass Band with all the musicians dressed in short sleeved Hawaiian shirts. Okay so one or two of them were wearing thermals under their shirts.

The Giants, Big Heads and Hawaiian Brass Band regrouped in the ‘centre of the town’ outside the Cafe Bar Espana and then made their way down the Calle De La Pena Latrero and across the bridge to the newer part of the village. There, down by the Rio Tera, they joined an afternoon disco and picnic (with food provided by the town) and, again, the music went on well into the night.

The second full day of the Fiesta started with La Virgen being conveyed through the old town on a litter. Women of the town carried her down Calle Rua from the church and, later, men returned her to the church.

This particular procession was preceded by pomp and circumstance with village dignitaries leading the way accompanied by the dancing giants and the bigheads. Then came the Virgen on her litter and she was followed by the Festival Queen and her Ladies in Waiting. The music was provided by another Brass Band, this one populated almost entirely by children. Half the town brought up the rear of the procession, many wearing traditional dress and all looking very smart. The other half of the town was watching on, clapping and cheering and shouting encouragement to their friends in the procession. The fiesta was well and truly under way and the rising expectation of the crowd was almost palpable.

At this stage of the proceedings we left the village to explore the surrounding area but we too were getting increasingly excited and looking forward to the evening’s firework display and especially the next day’s ‘Running of the Fire Bulls’.

According to the Fiesta programme, much of the afternoon and evening were to be given over to children’s events and Vanya and I again took the opportunity to explore the surrounding area. We were however back in time for a bottle or two of Albarino at one of the two bars on Plaza Mayor before the fireworks display started shortly after midnight.

The fireworks display was to be run from down by the river, close to where the previous day’s disco picnic took place and; we concluded that the best views would be from up at the castle or from the town bridge or from the Camping Quijote site. We chose the latter because it was further away and would not be so noisy – we were thinking of the dogs, neither of which are comfortable with fireworks. In fact, I took the dogs back to the Van and sat with them through most of the display. The video footage of the fireworks is all Vanya’s (and pretty good it is too). The display lasted about 25 minutes and you can tell from the video that it was wholly spectacular.

Our final day of the Fiesta was it’s third day, the Friday (we decided we couldn’t hang around for Saturday’s closing ceremony) and what a day that proved to be. The Running of The Firebulls was 60 minutes of total, wonderful, madness and once again we were in a prime position to witness it. We spent most of the early part of the evening in the centre of the town at the Taberna Las Animas and it became obvious to us that most of the action would take place in that vicinity and; so it did. I’ll let the video do the talking…

(Video of the Firework Display and The Running Of The Firebulls will follow)

We had been warned by some locals that this particular event would be too much for the dogs and this warning was echoed by video footage on Youtube of the 2020 running of the bulls. Vanya took the dogs back to the Van just as it started, leaving me to video the event. I’ll not say anymore except that it far surpassed anything I expected. It was fantastic and I’m certain my video footage does not do it justice.

A rock band and disco picked up where the Running of The Firebulls left off (back up on Plaza Mayor) and it was still going when I arose at 6am to walk Nala.

Lago de Sanabria (Castile y Leon), Spain September 2022

One place we both wanted to visit in this part of Spain was the nearby Lago de Sanabria. With a surface area of some 320 hectares and up to 50 metres deep this is one of the Iberian Peninsula’s largest lakes and it is wholly natural; in fact, it is a glacial lake. It sits inside what is one of the most beautiful parks in Spain (Sanabria Lake Natural Park) which, with it’s mountains, valleys, forests, fields, lagoons, rivers, gorges and waterfalls is a hillwalker’s paradise.

I read that the Park is home to 142 species of birds, including golden eagles, honey buzzards, Peregrine falcons, eagle owls and numerous species of vulture. So far as mammals are concerned, the Park contains at least 41 recognised species including the elusive Pyrenean desman. The area is also renowned for having large packs of wild wolves which live in the Sierra de la Culebra mountain range.

The Pyrenean Desman. It will just about fit into your hand. This is not one of my photos (as if you needed telling)

We visited the Park three times during our stay in Puebla de Sanabria, also taking in the Park’s Visitors Centre and two other local villages (Puerte de Sanabria and Ribadelago). Vanya even took a boat trip on the lake while I managed to get a short hike in on one of the many trails through the Park.

The first village we visited was Ribadelago, which is more of a hamlet than a village. There are actually two hamlets being, Old Ribadelago and New Ribadelago. I parked up at the edge of Old Ribadelago and followed a well marked trail up by the River Dera into the mountains. It is beautiful countryside with breathtaking views and I could have stayed out hours except I didn’t have the right gear for an extended hike and I had no way of letting Vanya know where I was.

The second village we visited was Puerte de Sanabria. We had previously passed through Puerte de Sanabria on the way to Ribadelago and the Lago de Sanabria. We had seen that the Park’s Visitor Centre is located just outside of Puerte de Sanabria and thought to visit it and learn a little more about the area. It wasn’t quite what we expected (Vanya was expecting an otter sanctuary but there was not a single otter to be seen – you would understand Vanya’s confusion if you saw the entrance to the place – large billboards covered with photographs of otters, statues of otters, pictures of otters on the tickets, etc) but, no matter, the entrance fee was just 1 Euro each and it proved excellent value for money. It was very informative and I learned all I needed to know about the history of the Park and it’s flora and fauna.

In an annex to the Visitor’s Centre I learned too a little about Ribadelago and, in particular, the tragic events of 9 January 1959. In the very early hours of the morning that day, a section of the Vega de Tera Dam (some 5 miles upstream of what is now known as Old Ribadelago) failed. A retaining wall burst and a 34 metre high flood smashed into the village. 144 of the village’s 664 residents (together with some 1,500 domesticated animals) were killed in the flood and only a handful of bodies were subsequently recovered from the lake further downstream. Most of the survivors subsequently left the area but a few moved to the higher ground which became New Ribadelago.

The aftermath of this tragedy was captured so very vividly in a number of photographs on display in the Visitor Centre annex. I don’t know who the photographer was but I don’t recall ever being so moved by photographs…

Puebla de Sanabria (Castile y Leon), Spain September 2022

I’d previously read about how pretty the village of Puebla de Sanabria is and, after Salamanca, we decided to go there for a day or two of rest and to catch up on the blog. As it happened, even after seven days in Puebla de Sanabria I had made no further progress with the blog and we were in even more need of rest.

We arrived just a couple of days short of the village’s fiesta of La Vergen de las Victorias and within hours resolved to stay on for the duration of the fiesta and it was some fiesta! To keep this blog manageable I’ll write it in three parts; the first will focus on the village alone; the second will describe the fiesta and the third will focus on the surrounding area (Ribadelago and the Lago de Sanabria).

And so to Puebla de Sanabria. It is a fairly large village of almost 1,500 people in Castille y Leon’s province of Zamora. Does that many people make it a town? It sits at the confluence of the Rivers Tera and Castro almost 1,000 metres above sea level not far from the Portuguese border (Braganca is just an hours drive away) and the Camino Sanabria passes through the village on it’s way to Santiago de Compostela. Perhaps most telling, the village is included in the list of Los Pueblos Mas Bonitos de Espana and it fully deserves to be there.

The village is divided in two by the River Tera with the old medieval part being built around a hill to the west of the river and the newer part being to the east. We very much preferred the old town. It was convenient for us too because the municipal campsite where we parked the Van is also to the west of the river.

More often than not, my approach when exploring a new place is to head for the highest point (whether it be a hill or a building) and then work down. That system worked perfectly in Puebla de Sanabria because the village’s highest point is it’s castle and the most direct route to the castle is via the largely pedestrianised main street, Calle Rua.

Calle Rua leads directly up to the Plaza Mayor where the village’s three principal buildings stand; the Ayuntamiento (the Town Hall), the 12th century Church of Nuestra Senora del Azogue and the 15th century castle, the Castle of the Counts of Bonavente. The castle is just behind the church.

I’ll not bore you with a lengthy description of the old part of the village. I couldn’t do it justice anyway. It will suffice to say that it ranks amongst the prettiest and best preserved (or restored) medieval villages I have seen. It’s easy to find your way around too. There’s a walkway to the east side of the village which runs parallel with Calle Rua and the Hotel Rural Guaza has a pretty little terrace on this walkway which provides great views down over the River Tera and towards the newer part of the village. On the other side of Calle Rua and again running parallel to it (but not it’s full length) are the two very pretty streets of Calle San Bernardo and Calle Florida. The tiny four star boutique hotel ‘Las Treixas’ is on Calle Florida.

The villages’s castle, the Castle of the Counts of Benavente, is particularly interesting and well worth the entrance fee. It is remarkably well conserved even by this village’s standards. The entrance fee allows access to almost the whole castle, including various exhibition rooms and the battlements from which there are great views over the town and the surrounding countryside.

Eating and drinking in Puebla de Sanabria was fun throughout. We tried one of the restaurants and the food was okay but we much preferred the pinchos (this is Castila y Leon and they don’t use the ‘tapas’ word here) in places like the Cafe Bar Espana, La Male Madre and Taberna Las Animas. Not only were the pinchos good (and very cheap) but the friendliness of the locals in these bars was unmatched anywhere we have been in Spain.

The crab pinchos in Cafe Bar Espana perhaps deserve a special mention.

Nights in Puebla de Sanabria were generally raucous affairs because the fiesta was in full swing during most of our stay but I did manage to take a few quiet photos early during our stay…

… and so to the fiesta…

Salamanca (Castile y Leon), Spain September 2022

The hot weather which troubled the dogs was expected to return to the coastal areas and so we decided to move inland, south to Salamanca. Salamanca is more than 900 metres above sea level and we expected it to be cooler.

The drive through the Cantabrian mountains and the beautiful Las Ubinas La Mesa Park was pleasant. The motorway was quiet and easy and the views were great.

We were keen to see Salamanca at night and so, shortly after checking in at Camping Don Quijote on the outskirts of Salamanca, we drove our Van the 7 kms or so into the city and parked up near the Roman Bridge on the edge of the old town. This lengthy wholly pedestianised bridge is estimated to have been built in the 1st century AD but I suspect little of the original bridge remains.

The entire old town of Salamanca (often referred to as La Dorado, the Golden City, because of the tone created by the setting sun on it’s yellow sandstone buildings) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and it is recognised as one of the oldest and best preserved cities in Spain.

My reaction after crossing the River Tormes and entering the old town by the Roman Bridge was one of increasing excitement. Few cities have had such an immediate effect on me. The old town is a compact forest of spires and none are more impressive than those of the two cathedrals. Yes, there are two cathedrals in Salamanca; an Old Cathedral which was put together between the 12th and 14th centuries and a New Cathedral which was built alongside the original cathedral between the 16th and 18th centuries. Believe it or not there are actually 6 cities in Spain with two cathedrals.

Vanya has never been into churches (I mean that both figuratively and literally) and she waited outside the entrance with the dogs on the Plaza de Ayana while I had a quick look. I didn’t stay long; it would have been unfair to leave everyone waiting outside for the time it would take me to properly view the cathedrals but, I promised to return the next day for a better look.

We were particularly keen to see the main square (Plaza Mayor) at night and the evening was closing in on us but we took time to eat at a small tapas bar on Calle Rua Major; which street almost connects the cathedrals with Plaza Mayor.

Plaza Mayor is to most visitors the main attraction in Salamanca, especially when seen at night. It is spectacular at any time of the day with all it’s baroque buildings and porticos but, when lit up it is truly stunning. Photos simply don’t do the place justice; you have to see it.

In case you are interested, there are 88 porticos on the square (although it is actually more of a rectangle than a square) and what sets the porticos apart from those on squares in other large cities in Spain are the stone medallions set at the top of each one. They commemorate famous people who have in some way, shape or form helped benefit Salamanca. There are very few foreigners among them but two that stand out are Christopher Columbus (he who opened up the Americas on behalf of Spain) and our very own Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon’s army under Marmont at the 1812 Battle of Salamanca.

September is fiesta time in many Spanish towns and a temporary stage had been set up in the square in readiness for some concerts next week.

Salamanca is one of Spain’s best cities for decent pinchos (pinchos not tapas because this is still Castilla y Leon) and the Plaza Mayor is an okay (albeit quite expensive) place to enjoy pinchos but; the better, more traditional scene is on Calle Van Dyck just outside the city centre. It will have to be good there to compare with Logrono but we will not find out until our next visit to Salamanca because we were already booked into a supposedly very good restaurant at the campsite for the next evening.

After savouring the mood in the Plaza Mayor for a short while we started back through the old town to our Van; both of us having very much enjoyed our brief excursion into the city. There’s no doubt Salamanca is very pretty and literally stuffed with interesting buildings but the one which most caught our attention on the way back was the Casa Lis. It was built early in the 20th century as a home for a certain Miguel Lis. I cannot tell you anything about him except that his taste was clearly ahead of his time and he was a great fan of stained glass. It is now an art-deco museum and well worth a visit if only to see inside. I love the house and I’m already thinking that two days and nights in Salamanca is insufficient.

Tucked just behind the Casa Lis is the ‘Cave of Salamanca’ which is actually the former crypt of the church of San Cebrian. This church was demolished some time in the 14th century. Legend has it that the devil subsequently taught black magic in this cave. Indeed, in many parts of South America, Salamanca has long been associated with black magic and witchcraft and it may be this legend that gave rise to that belief.

I returned to Salamanca the next day on a local bus – just 1.40 euros for a 20 minute journey to the northern end of Calle Gran Via. Cheap or what!?!

I came primarily to visit the city’s cathedrals but began with a circuitous walk around the city’s old town, marvelling at so many buildings as I did so. Whether they be public buildings like the Convent of San Esteban (a Dominican Church and Convent) or private mansions such as some of those pictured in this blog, they all look magnificent. Moreover, there are plenty of them to see and in such a small area.

And so to the cathedrals. I wandered inside the pair of them for almost two hours using an English Audio Guide and was enthralled by what I saw and heard.

Before entering the cathedrals, however, it is worth taking time to admire the front entrance. There are a couple of interesting features to be seen which are believed to be the work of the stonemason Miguel Romero. When restoring the front entrance in 1992 it is said he decided to follow a tradition which required that any restorations should include an element referring to the time or year of their improvement. He therefore made two additions being an astronaut and a dragon eating an ice cream. I wonder how many of these I have missed in the past. They’re not easy to spot.

Inside the New Cathedral there are three naves. Those to the left and right of the centre nave contain numerous chaples, each of which is explained in the Audio Guide. The ones that stood out for me include the Sepulcros de La Puerta de Ramos, the Capilla de la Soledad and the Capilla del Santo Cristo de las Batallas. The Guide also explained the intricately carved Choir Area in some considerable detail (the Choir Area sits in the central nave) but it is the cathedral’s long thin pillars and ceilings that most impress. The pillars, vaulted ceilings and 80 metres high dome are simply unbelievable.

Except on special occassions, access to the Old Cathedral is through the New Cathedral. Dedicated to Santa Maria de la Sede, the Old Cathedral is considered less grand than the New Cathedral but for me, for various reasons, it is equally impressive. The star of the show in the Old Cathedral is the beautiful 15th century altarpiece with 53 painted panels but I also liked the relative simplicity of Capilla de San Martin (St Martin’s Chapel) with it’s 12th century painted walls and I especially liked the cloisters and the Capilla de Santa Barbara.

Sadly I missed out on what is known as the Ieronimus Tour. Climbing the Ieronimus Tower provides access to the higher levels of the cathedrals (i.e. to the upper levels inside the New Cathedral and up on to some external terraces and towers where you can walk among the pinnacles, gargoyles, etc) and offers birds eye views both inside the cathedral and across the city. I’d return to Salamanca for this tour alone. Access is from the southwest tower of the Old Cathedral on Plaza Juan XXIII.

Having missed out on the Ieronimus Tour I went instead up into the bell towers of ‘La Clerecia’, sometimes called the Scala Coeli (Latin for Stairway to Heaven), for it’s views. This prominent early 17th century church, once called the Royal College of the Company of Jesus, is now the headquarters of the Salamanca Pontificia University. It sits alongside another celebrated Salamanca building, the Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells), a 16th century Gothic Palace which is now the City Library. The Casa de las Conchas is so named because it’s facade is adorned with 300+ stone carvings of scallop shells. Both buildings are well worth a visit; La Clerica for it’s views towards the cathedrals and across the city’s roof tops and La Casa de las Conchas for it’s amazing inner courtyard.

Given that Salamanca has long been recognised as a major seat of learning (particularly between the 13th and 16th centuries) and it’s campus fills the greater part of the old town, I should mention the University of Salamanca. It was founded in 1134 and is the oldest university in Spain and the 3rd oldest in Europe after Bologna and then Oxford. Some books identify Salamanca as being the 4th oldest university in Europe but it is the 3rd oldest surviving university.

It’s time to talk about food, the good and the not so good. First the not so good. While checking out the cathedrals I stopped for a beer and was given free pinchos. It wasn’t that nice. I subsequently discovered it was pig’s snout. Ugh!

On a brighter note, we had reserved a table in the very popular campsite restaurant and their food and wine (Albarino) proved very good. Their cheese board included a soft blue cheese (Musgo de Cabra) which was outstanding.

Our stay in Salamanca was all too brief. I could easily spend 3 or 4 days in the old town alone but there is also much to see outside the city. Leaving aside the pretty and interesting towns of Segovia and Avila (especially the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avila) there is the wine producing area around Valladolid and the dazzling nature park of Arribes del Duero. This place begs at least a long weekend in a hotel.

Cudillero (Asturias), Spain August 2022

During our stay in Candas we took a short drive west along the beach to another erstwhile fishing village which has turned to tourism, Cudillero.

Cudillero is much smaller than Candas and to some extent the village reminds me of the Cinque Terre in Liguria (Italy) in that it is made up of pastel coloured houses built into steep hills in a semi-circle around a small bay. There, I think, the similarity ends; it isn’t nearly as pretty as the Cinque Terre. The different colours of the houses in Cudillero are almost lost against the dark green foliage that forms the town’s backdrop while the colours of the houses in the Cinque Terre appear more vibrant against the stark rock which forms their backdrop. That’s just my view.

Whatever, Cudillero is a pretty place and it sits on an amazing coastline of sheer cliffs and fine sandy beaches. Not far away is the Playa del Silencio, surely one of Spain’s most beautiful beaches. It’s a long silver sandy cove of a beach backed by a rock amphitheatre.

There are two roads into Cudillero; the first enters the village from the top of the cliffs and the second more attractive route (and one that is considerably more suitable for large vans) skirts the village and curls down to the harbour. This harbour approach is interesting. Most people park up just short of the village and then walk along the harbour road to the town but; there’s a short cut which runs through the hillside and up into the town. This short cut begins behind a small artificial waterfall. Step behind the waterfall and there’s a 300 metre tunnel which leads directly into the town. Nala and I set off up the tunnel not realising Vanya had demurred and was opting for the more circuitous route along the road. Whoops!

Cudillero is not a particularly large village but it was packed with tourists when we arrived. That is to be expected in July and August. I hoped we would be able to avoid the large crowds in September but it wasn’t to be.

One place I wanted to visit, so as to take photos along the coast and out to sea, is a mirador (a lookout point) which we had seen perched high above the harbour. There are at least two (La Garita and La Atalaya) but I simply couldn’t find the access point. I tried going up from the lighthouse but met a dead end and Vanya and I walked well up into the town but, again, no luck. I have since discovered they are sign posted from the main square at the bottom of the village. That perhaps explains why I couldn’t find them. The bottom of the town was packed with tourists and I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

In conclusion, you only have to look at some of the photos to see how pretty the village of Cudillero is and I certainly wouldn’t rule out a return trip. However, I would not return at any time during early July to mid September. Too many tourists filling the streets, bars and restaurants.

Candas (Asturias), Spain September 2022

Until quite recently Candas was a major fishing village on the Asturian coast. Villagers were whale fishing here as long ago as the 13th century and the village was the first in Asturias to salt, pickle and can fish. Indeed, as recently as the mid 20th century, there were 24 canning factories in what from here on in I will call a town (because I’ve just read that the place has a population of 6,500+).

Fishing remains important, as is evidenced by the statues and murals across the town (they are nearly all concerned with fishing and the restaurants serve some of the best shellfish along the north coast of Spain) but, the fishing boats are largely gone from the town’s harbour and it is tourism where all the money now comes from.

We parked up at a good campsite on the edge of the town. It is only a short walk along the promenade to the town. It was a weekend and the small beach was full of visitors taking advantage of the warm weather and mild sea. Almost everyone we met was Spanish and we rarely heard anything other than Spanish spoken throughout what became a 4-5 day stay.

Candas from the campsite.

My first walk into town took me along the promenade, the beach, the harbour and up on to Cape San Antonio to the Candas Lighthouse and then; down into the town for a beer or two. I identified a couple of decent looking restaurants by the harbour and thought to return in the evening with Vanya and the dogs. My first impressions of the town were not that positive; I think they were clouded by the high number of holidaymakers I had seen on the beach and around the harbour area. As it happened, I needn’t have been concerned. The people we met later in the restaurant were engaging and great fun and, besides, all the holidaymakers (other than us) seemed to disappear once the weekend was over.

As I returned to the Van after that first foray into Candas I couldn’t help but notice some of the town’s statues and murals and their association with the sea. The most impressive is perhaps one of the smallest which I found down on the Plaza El Cueto. It was created by a local sculptor known as Anton (real name Antonio Rodriguez Garcia) and it is called La Marinera. It was inspired by the suffering of mothers who lost sons to the sea.

To summarise the following few days in Candas – fantastic.

At heart this is still a local fishing village with warm and friendly people, some of whom went out of their way to make us welcome. That first night in the restaurant, one of the diners at a table alongside us offered me a glass of his sidra (the local cider) and proceeded to pour it from on high, as would an Escanciar (see last year’s Oviedo blog). Before you knew it, other diners were pouring from much higher heights than was the case earlier. Of course, our waiter simply had to show the amateurs how it should be done. I too had a go but the less said about that the better. It will suffice to say that Nala who invariably lays at my feet while we are in a restaurant was somewhat splashed and moved away.

The welcome we received in other bars and restaurants was equally friendly. My favourite ‘local’ however has to be El Barcon. It doesn’t do food. It simply serves drinks and the occasional free tapas / pintxos / pinchos. You couldn’t find more welcoming hosts – Spanish hospitality at it’s best.

I must mention the seafood. The shellfish we tried in a couple of the restaurants were outstanding. The scallops were good, the langoustines were excellent and the mussels in the vinaigrette were the best. Oh, and Vanya adores the local anchovies.

I’ll not say anymore about Candas. A few photos will suffice.

Hontanas (Castile y Leon), Spain August 2022

We weren’t planning on visiting Hontanas until our friends Chris and Shannon mentioned that it is close to Castrojeriz and one of their favourite places on the Camino Santiago (France). That was a good enough for us to make the short detour on our way to Candas in Asturia and we were both very pleased we did so.

Hontanas is a tiny village with a population of less than 100 people but it is very pretty and it does seem to be very popular with those walking the Camino. The village’s church (La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, which used to be known simply as the Church of Santa Maria) is referenced in a number of blogs. In addition to the church the village has a number of albergues (one of which is almost a small hotel), a bar and, surprisingly, a small swimming pool. We couldn’t find a shop of any description.

… and the very unusual inside of the church. There’s just one Mass here a week with the priest sharing his time across a number of churches

From Hontanas we made our way to Leon (we needed a decent supermarket) and then up past the Embalse de los Barrios de Luna to the coast. We were looking to stay at the small fishing town of Candas for a few days R&R but, meanwhile thanks to Chris & Shannon for the tip regarding Hontanas.

Castrojeriz (Castile y Leon), Spain August 2022

The heat wave was set to return and so we decided to head for the Asturian coast for a few days where it would be cooler. On the way we stopped at Castrojeriz, a small very old town which is on the Camino Santiago (France).

It was a seriously hot afternoon but after parking up and getting settled, I was not to be deterred from making my way to the back of the town and then on up to the castle ruins at the top of the largest hill for miles.

The Romans erected the original castle on this hill some 2,000 years ago but there is little more than a footprint left of that particular structure. A newer 9th century castle was built on top of the original Roman fortress and this newer castle was added to in the 11th, 14th and 16th century. It is all a bit of a ruin now having collapsed in the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.

There’s not much left of the castle but it is open to visitors and it is free to visit. Whilst up at the castle I got to talking with a German and a Chinese who met each other on the Camino and were now intent on completing it together. We were agreed that so many of the villages on the different Camino routes would probably have disappeared by now were it not for the pilgrims.

Back to the castle. It has some history too. In 1358, Queen Eleanor of Castile was captured and imprisoned in the castle by her nephew, Pedro I. He had her killed there and it is believed she is buried in the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria del Manzo down in Castrojeriz.

There are three churches in Castrojeriz; a surprisingly high number for such a small town. I didn’t get inside either the Collegiate of Santa Maria del Manzo or the Iglesia de San Juan de Castrojeriz (this latter church is I understand the most beautiful) but I did spend an hour or so in the Iglesia de Santo Domingo and what it lacks in beauty it more than makes up for in interest.

The Iglesia de Santo Domingo (Saint Dominic to us British) is now more a museum to the Camino Santiago than it is a church and, because I was the only visitor that afternoon, I was given a private guided tour by the caretaker. He appeared very knowledgeable about St Dominic (and his friend St Francis) and the church itself (and the damage caused to the church by the 1755 earthquake) but, he was exceptionally knowledgeable about the Camino Santiago. His pet line was “The end of the Way is not the end of the trip but the beginning of another one”.

After an interesting half an hour he went off on another trip and left me to the videos and exhibits which form the church’s ‘Camino Experience’. Did you know that the Scallop of Saint James is known as “Pecten Jacobaeaus”, which is very common in Galician Seas, and it was pinned to the the Apostle’s clothes to authenticate his stay in Santiago during his return journey? No, me neither.

Not a lot else to say about Castrojeriz except that Vanya wasn’t overkeen on the place but… she neither saw the castle nor witnessed the ‘Camino Experience’. Actually, I very much doubt that either of those would have made any difference at all to her.

Just one more thing. A lot of the houses in Castrojeriz had these handmade flowerpot characters sitting on their window sills. I think they look cool.