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.

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.

Burgos (Castilla y Leon), Spain February 2022

It is 27 March as I write this entry. We arrived in Burgos on 24 February and so I still have a fair amount of catching up to do with the blog. Sorry, not least because this tardiness makes for very much abridged blogs.

Some places are always worth returning to and Burgos is just such a place. We stopped here for a couple of days during July last year, while the 800th anniversary of the building of the Santa Maria Cathedral was being celebrated, and we had a fantastic time. Moreover, we saw a great deal of the city.

The 2022 visit was always going to be a much shorter affair; just the one night. We parked up at the Municipal Camp Site and in the early evening set off along the banks of the Arlanzon towards the city.

The path by the river makes for an easy and interesting four kilometre walk into the city, passing as it does a significant number of landmarks (including the Museum of Human Evolution, the Puenta de San Pablo, the statue of El Cid, the Paseo del Espolon, the Arco de Santa Maria, etc) but I talked about those and other places of interest in the July 2021 blog. This time we were simply out for a pleasant evening walk to a decent cafe-bar. We were satisfied on both counts.

Just the 4 kilometre walk back to the campsite and then an early start towards the coast and Zarautz in the Basque Country.

Ponferrada (Castile y Leon), Spain July 2021

From Riano we set off down the N621 with no set destination in mind except that ultimately we would visit Santiago de Compostela before turning south towards Portugal and; we wanted to visit one or other of Astorga or Ponferrada on the way. We were in no real hurry.

The journey out of the foothills of the Picos de Europa took us deep into Castile y Leon and through wholly unexpected and rich looking arable farmland where corn and sunflowers were in abundance. The sunflowers were in full bloom and beautiful.

Once past Leon I started feeling somewhat tired of driving (I think sunflowers do that to you – Certainly, they have a soporific effect on me) and Vanya found us a suitable campsite in Trabadelo where we could overnight and simply chill. Trabadelo is a little beyond Ponferrada but we could always retrace our steps the next morning – and we did just that.

Ponferrada is another stop on the Camino Frances to Santiago – I’m going to have to do a Camino next year – the only question is which one – there are so many. The historic section of the town is overlooked by an equally historic looking castle, the Castillo de los Templarios (Castle of the Knights Templar) which was completed in 1178 to protect pilgrims walking the Camino (although it has been added to many times since then). It’s impressive; a proper knight’s castle and; in it’s day was one of the largest in Spain.

We did a complete circuit of the castle and wandered the old town for a while but didn’t stay too long after that. We had finally made up our mind as to our next stop on our way to Santiago and it was the very exciting looking city of Ourense over in Galicia.

Ourense, here we come.

Riano (Castile y Leon), Spain July 2021

The journey south through the Picos de Europa was full of beautiful views (mountains, gorges, rivers & forests) all wasted on Vanya. She really cannot cope with hairpin mountain roads and even the entrance to our campsite included a steep winding ascent (although nothing like the ascent at Lekeitio).

However, upon arrival and seeing the views from our spot in the camp site she began to change her mind about mountain views. The view down over Riano with the reservoir and mountain range behind it is as picturesque as anything we have seen. We immediately decided to stay at least two nights.

The next morning, after I had walked the dogs up the hill behind where we were parked, Vanya and I strolled down to the town for a look see.

Built as recently as the 1980’s, Riano (or New Riano to use it’s proper name) is one of the the youngest towns in Castile y Leon. The old Riano was demolished when a number of rivers in the area were dammed. New Riano is a well laid out little town of some 450 people and is now almost entirely given over to tourism. A pretty pedestrian area and market place has been built around the new church and it is filled with interesting features reflecting different aspects of life in the mountains and, of course, the local wildlife (which includes brown bears and wolves). These features presented Vanya with plenty of photo opportunities for Beanie.

The evening we spent eating tapas and drinking Asturian Cider in the friendly camp site restaurant and bar while planning what to do and where to go the next day. We had already decided to go on a boat trip around the reservoir but that was as far as we got. The fact is, I was enjoying the apple cider and Vanya was enjoying the local wine.

The following morning we were up (relatively) bright and early for the boat trip. This one hour trip provided some fine photo opportunities but otherwise was a bit of a disappointment.

Of more interest was our subsequent walk along the side of the reservoir. We were keen to take a last look at the town (especially the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario) and as we made our way along the reservoir path we came across a number of photo boards with some information and pictures about old Riano – very sobering…

…It is a tragic story. A plan was made during the 1960’s to dam three rivers in the area (the Esla, the Yuso and the Retuerto) so as to create a large reservoir for both irrigation purposes and to generate hydro electric power. The decision would ultimately impact on the population of seven villages (Anciles, Escaro, Huelde, La Puerta, Pedrosa la Rey, Riano and Salio) and various historical structures including the old Roman Bridge of Valdearana and the hermitage of (La Ermita de) San Bartolo. Over the ensuing years the local population showed intense resistance to the plan (which included the suicide of Simon Pardo) but to no avail. By 1987 all seven villages were demolished and the total population forcibly removed. The largest of the villages, Riano, is now several metres under the new bridge across the reservoir.

Only one building in old Riano was saved. The 16th century Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario was moved brick by brick to a new site by the bridge in New Riano. Not everything in the church could be saved but an 8th century baptismal font was moved as were some murals from inside the church.

Time for one last look at that great view…

Aguilar de Campoo (Castile y Leon), Spain July 2021

Yep. The heat had got to the dogs and, if I’m honest, to Vanya and I also. We simply cannot take it like we used to. We checked a Google weather map for destinations where it is likely to be both cooler and dry and then headed off up the A67 to the Asturian coast to a place not far from Lannes (Vanya had found an interesting looking campsite on Novales Cove).

We hadn’t planned on stopping at Aguilar de Campoo (we simply needed a stop to take lunch and buy a few general provisions) and we very nearly turned back to the motorway as the road to the town began to lead us through a large scruffy industrial complex of factories and warehouses. However, a small 12th century castle overlooks the town and it’s presence suggested there could actually be more to Aguilar de Campoo than factories and warehouses and so we continued into the town… and we were pleasantly surprised.

Having parked the Van we passed over a small bridge and into the town through an old town gate on to the Plaza Espana (the Spain Square, although in truth it is more of a Spain rectangle than a square). The collegiate Church of San Miguel fills one side of the rectangle and the other three sides are arcaded. It is very pretty.

There was a service underway in the church and, leaving the dogs with Vanya, I popped inside to take a few surreptitious photos. That was a mistake. It is one thing trying to sneak a few sneaky photos in a normal church service but quite another when it is a funeral. I hadn’t spotted the (silver coloured) hearse parked at the entrance to the church. Whoops! We beat a hasty retreat to the other end of the plaza. Well, I did.

There is a decent sized park behind the Plaza Espana and we took the dogs there such that they could exercise and yet stay cool under the park trees. We didn’t know it at the time but, in amongst the trees and flower beds, there is a series of muddy irrigation canals (fed by the River Pisuerga) which very much resemble a swamp. It was inevitable that, despite our screaming, admonitions, ultimatums and threats, the dogs would chose to cool off in these particular bogs and within moments they were an absolute mess. Bastard Whoops!!

We had stopped at Aguilar de Campoo because we were hungry and wanted to take lunch. Lunch however was postponed while we walked the dogs around the town until they had stopped shaking mud all over the place and had at least half dried off.

We got there in the end.