It is a 45 minute walk from Camping Playa del Regaton to Laredo town centre, taking in the town’s immense beach on the way. The lengthy curved Playa de la Salve is perhaps the longest and most popular beach on the north coast of Spain but in September almost all of the (predominantly) Spanish tourists are gone.
There’s a fair sized and very historical port in Laredo but I was more interested in the appealing old town behind the marina. It’s narrow streets, dotted with a number of famous 16th and 18th century houses, lead up to the Church of Santa Maria de la Ascuncion and on beyond that to the fortress of Fuerte del Rastrillar where there are quite exceptional views over Laredo and Santona Bay.
The Gothic style church above the puebla vieja was built in stages between the 13th and 18th centuries and is renowned for it’s large 15th century painted flemish altarpiece of the ‘Virgin of Belen’ (Virgin of Bethlehem) but it also has a very attractive and unusual stained glass window.
I liked the contemporary stained window… such a contrast to the beautiful entrance porchThe old town is beautiful and very lived in (although as always I did my best to keep people out of these photos)
Another interesting feature of the old town is it’s unusual street art, much of which celebrates the Camino del Norte (which route passes along this coast to Santiago de Compostela) and the old town’s fishing heritage.
The older street art in the old town…… and, yes, well…
I timed my arrival into Laredo perfectly. The locals were eagerly erecting all manner of booths and market stalls and adorning the old town with flags, bunting and posters. A local fiesta was scheduled to begin from 6pm that day.
Needless to say, Vanya and I were in Laredo long before 6pm that day… and we were there the following day. The fiesta wouldn’t begin in earnest until the weekend but we were there for the opening and, most especially for when all the booths and stalls opened up. Moreover we were there to follow the local pipe and flute band around the town and market and, when we’d had enough walking, to sit and enjoy a nice glass of wine and indulge in one of our favourite pastimes – people watching…
…and then it was a pleasant evening stroll along the beach to… where I’d parked the Van. There was no way Vanya was up for the long walk to and from Laredo.
With just a few days to go before we were to board our ferry for the trip home (Bilbao to Portsmouth) we headed north to the Bay of Biscay and the small town of Colindres. Vanya had found a nice campsite on the outskirts of Colindres (Camping Playa del Regaton) which is situated on the edge of a National Park and would serve us well for a couple of days. We had things to do. Firstly and most importantly we needed to get the dogs seen by a vet (UK rules require that the dogs must have tapeworm tablets administered by a Vet shortly before their return to the UK) and a vet in Colindres had agreed to do the necessary for just 20 euros. Secondly, there was a fiesta on in nearby Laredo for much of the week and we were not going to miss out on that although it would have to be special to top the one we experienced in Puebla de Sanabria. Thirdly, there’s a hike in nearby Santona (just a short bus ride from Colindres) that I was keen to do.
The drive back to the coast through La Rioja was beautiful….
The drive back to the coast took a little over two hours because I kept stopping to take photos…… and the views from our campsite on the beach were great.
Colindres is not a pretty town and there is little of interest there but the walk from the campsite along the Rio Tetro estuary was enjoyable enough and the town is well placed from which to visit a fair few beautiful and/or interesting places. Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites are to be found in this part of Cantabria. There’s also a wetlands bird sanctuary (now a National Park); a number of stunning beaches, including Laredo’s La Salve and Santona’s Berria Beach (sometimes referred to as Playa de San Martin) and; the nearby towns of Laredo, Santona and Liendo are all worth visiting.
There is little to see in the town of Colindres…… but the views along the estuary as I took the dogs to their appointment with the Vet in Colindres were fine enough
During this tour, I was able to visit Laredo (a couple of times) and Santona. To get to Santona I took a bus from Colindres but next time I would be inclined to try the Laredo – Santona ferry.
I’m currently very much behind with this blog. We arrived back in the UK on the Bilbao to Portsmouth ferry on Wednesday 28 September to receive the worst possible news (my mother died within a few hours of our getting back to Brighton) and I’ve not looked at the blog since. It is now Friday 7 October. I suspect the remaining entries regarding our 6th European Tour will be rather brief.
From Lierganes we made our way up into the Cantabrian Mountains for the night, stopping at a small mountain bar in the area of San Roque de Riomiera which reminded me of the Ponderosa out of the tv series Bonanza. It was just for the one night before we returned to France where Vanya would top the Van up with Cremant and other French wines. The Brexit limit of 90 days in any 180 means this tour is coming to a conclusion.
I love the mountains and we really don’t see enough of them these dayThe bar really did look like something out of Bonanza
It was a lovely warm summer’s evening up in the mountains and we sat on the back porch of the bar talking and drinking the local wine (a really good Albarino and Riesling mix) until late into the night. This was probably one of the most chilled of all our evenings during this particular tour.
And that wine (Casona Mikaela) was wonderful. We stopped in Lierganes on the way back out of the mountains and I was delighted to find that the local shop stocked it. A few bottles were purchased for when we get homeI slept like a log that night notwithstanding that there are bears and wolves in these mountains
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.
The ‘creature’ leaning on the village sign is a cartoon character of The Fisherman of Lierganes
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.
There’s a bronze statue of the Fishman of Lierganes down by the Old Bridge. The legend of the Fishman was perhaps explained in the 20th century by a Dr Gregorio Maranon who suggested that Francisco could have been suffering suffering from an iodine deficiency. This was commonplace in the area at that time (because of the diet) and can lead to cretinism, which symptoms include mental deterioration and, more to the point, pale scaly skin.
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…
The first photo is of the old bridge. The second photo was taken from the old bridge and in the background are the two hills of Marimon and Cotillamon. It is easy to understand why they are popularly known as the “Breasts of Lierganes”
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?
Donkey Tail Cactus (Sedum Morganianum)
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.
Comillas is a small town on the coast which has been hailed as one of the most beautiful towns in Cantabria. We decided to stop there for a couple of days.
The town is split into two quite distinct parts being, (a) the old town and (b) the port & beaches (and the area immediately overlooking the beaches). I decided to start with the port and leave the old town for the next day (but, if you wanted to, the place is small enough to do both in the one day).
We were parked at one end of the large golden sandy beach of Playa de Comillas and within twenty minutes or so I had walked the length of this beach to the small fishing port at the other end. There are a few cafe bars on the beach but they were all plastic chairs and tables and very busy and so I sought out a small quiet more traditional bar at the back of the port with picture postcard views out to sea and back over the harbour and beach. I don’t know the name of the bar but it was a great place to take a cold beer and watch the world do it’s thing.
After a beer I set off to find a suitable restaurant for the evening (that was easy – there are two or three with outside seating alongside the harbour) and then I continued up behind the town to a very imposing building on La Cardosa Hill which I subsequently learned is the Old Pontificial University of Comillas. This university was commissioned by the first Marques De Comillas (more about him later) with a view to training and educating young priests from poor families.
I didn’t dwell at the university but made my way back down to a couple of other interesting features which overlook the beaches and which I had seen on my way up the La Cardosa. The first of these features was the Gothic looking San Cristobal Cemetery which is built on the ruins of an old 15th century church. I don’t make a habit of wandering around cemeteries but some are worth a visit and this one certainly is. It’s a small but quite spectacular cemetery, almost entirely enclosed within the ruined walls of the old church and accessed through large, forbidding wrought iron gates. There’s a huge marble statue of what I think is supposed to be a Guardian Angel perched on one corner of the ruin but it looks really eerie and could pass as an Angel of Death. Not sure I would want to be in that cemetery on my own at night.
The second of the sites on the grassy hills overlooking the beach is the Monument to the Marques de Commilas. The Marques was born Antonio Lopez y Lopez in 1817 in Comillas. He was of humble origin with limited prospects and at the age of 14 he emigrated to Cuba. When he returned some years later it was as one of the richest men in all of Spain. It is thought he made his fortune in the slave trade but, whatever, he used some of that fortune to support King Alfonso XII’s ventures in Cuba and in return was appointed Marques de Comillas.
That first night, I took Vanya and the dogs back along the beach to the Restaurante Cantabrico and we sat on their terrace overlooking the harbour and beach and enjoyed a long meal of spider crab and scallops and a couple of bottles of Albarino.
Great meal at the Restaurant Cantabrico (albeit expensive by local standards – that spider crab?)
Sorry, I was talking about Antonio Lopez y Lopez. The newly appointed Marques immediately set about creating a legacy in his birthplace. He commissioned numerous significant building projects by some of Europe’s finest architects and builders including but not limited to the aforementioned University, the Sobralleno Palace (together with it’s imposing Chapel-Musem) and a particularly impressive summerhouse, now known as the Capricho da Gaudi (because it was designed by Anton Gaudi who later worked Barcelona’s cathedral, the Sagrada Familia).
On our second day, late in the afternoon, we set off into the old town of Comillas to track down some of the projects which the Marques had commissioned. We’d left it too late and and arrived at the Capricho da Gaudi just as it was closing to visitors. They wouldn’t even let us walk the gardens. To be fair, I believe the building is now an upmarket restaurant and they were probably making ready for their evening covers. No matter, we took a couple of photos through the fence.
The tourist office
The Capricho de Gaudi
A typical street scene
The Sobralleno Palace
The Palace’s Chapel-Museum
Neither Vanya nor I were prepared for the old town and were pleasantly surprised. It is a wonderful mix of new and old; narrow cobbled streets and squares combined with cafes, souvenir shops and, most unusual, a surprising number of ladies clothes shops. Some of the merchandise we saw was fantastic. We had a good walk around (with Vanya showing particular interest in a dress shop on the Plaza de la Constitucion) and then settled ourselves down on the Plaza del Corro (by the church) for beer and doughnuts.
I was pleased we stopped at Comillas. Back to France now.
Today was about our going to the beautiful and very unusual village (or is it a town now) of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. What is unusual about the place? Well for a start, the whole village is a registered national monument. That is unusual. Of course, that also means lots of tourists (especially during the holiday month of August) and with the nearby Altamira Caves also attracting tourists (this area is the most visited tourist destination across the whole of Cantabria) we decided to have a good wander but move on after lunch. Mine was an absolutely delicious Chorizo in Cider.
It is a very attractive village and quite unlike any other that we have seen (so far) in northern Spain. Jean Paul Sartre that well known travel writer and part time literary existentialist described Santillana del Mar as the most beautiful village in Spain. I’m joking about Sartre being a travel writer but not about the other bits.
The village (or old town) is largely pedestrianised (with only the locals being allowed to drive in the centre). It probably hasn’t changed much in the last 200 years and is, in effect, a ‘living museum’. Many of the town houses have large chocolate coloured wrought iron balconies on at least two floors and these are invariably brimming with flowers. Those houses which don’t have balconies use window boxes and these too are overflowing with flowers. The whole place is a riot of colour.
The village/town has it’s fair share of tourist shops but not too many
The Calle de San Domingo leads to the town’s main square (the Plaza Mayor de Ramon y Pelayo) where there is a stunning little 12th century church complete with cloisters. This is the collegiate church of Saint Juliana (Colegiata de Santa Juliana) and her remains are held in the church. There is a small entry fee but it provides access to both the inside of the church and the magnificent cloisters and it is worth every cent.
The Calla San Domingo from the Plaza Mayor de Ramon y Pelayo
The collegiate church of Saint Juliana (Colegiata de Santa Juliana)
The cloisters are beautiful and many of the pillars have biblical stories carved into them
During my visit, one whole side of the cloisters had been given over to a magnificent diorama reflecting events leading from Christ’s journey into Jerusalem, through his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
The diorama of Christ entering Jerusalem through to his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection
Like I said, too many tourists for us to want to stay around and we decided over lunch to move on to the coast towards lovely Comillas. A few more photos to reflect on…
Impending bad weather on the coast prompted us to move inland again, this time to a small town (a village, really) in the Picos de Europa called Riano. Unbelievable that the better weather should actually be up in the mountains at 1131 metres but, these are not normal times.
The drive to Riano first took us eastwards into the Cantabria Region. Almost immediately after leaving Asturias we came across the very impressive 28 arch bridge, La Puente de la Maza, which spans the Rubin and Pombo estuaries. It’s sheer scale ensures you cannot miss it. In light drizzle which was inevitably going to get heavier once we had parked up, we followed a busy road (this town is a favourite amongst Spaniards and it is a weekend) into what once was an old fisherman’s refuge and has now become the small town of San Vicente de la Barquera.
There are two main bridges in San Vicente de la Barquera but with it’s 28 arches the Maza is easily identified. Just look at the traffic entering the town. There’s no doubt it is a weekend.
In common with just about everywhere on the north coast of Spain, San Vicente offers a picturesque old town and wonderful beaches (it even has a small castle, La Murilla, the King’s Castle which was built to defend against Norman and Viking invasions) but, for me, the single most important feature in this place is at top of the narrow staircase leading into the old town, the church of Santa Maria de los Angeles.
The Pilgrim’s Door
Santa Maria de los Angeles
There are plenty of interesting buildings along the route up into the old town, including the old prison, the pilgrim’s door into the Hospital de la Concepcion (a shelter for pilgrim’s on the Northern Camino) and at it’s very end the Santa Maria de los Angeles – to say nothing of the castle, etc.
Originally built in the 13th and 14th centuries but developed further over the ensuing 200 years, the church’s exterior is not that different to many other churches in the Region but inside…I’ll let the photos do the talking:-
The inside of the church took my breath away -it’s three naves with their high pointed vaults, the detailed altar piece, the solid oak floor, even the tomb of the 16th century Inquisitor, Antonio del Corro. I could have stayed for ages but Riano beckoned
One final picture that the weather was never going to allow me to capture. The following picture is currently on display in the town by the local tourist board. So that is what San Vicente de la Barquera looks like when it is not pouring with rain.
San Vicente de la Barquera con la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles al fondo