Ciudad Rodrigo (Castile y Leon), Spain June 2024 (Tour 9)

I adore places which are steeped in history and occasion and Ciudad Rodrigo is just such a place. Amongst other things it was the scene of a Wellington victory during the Peninsula War or, as the Spanish call it, the War of Independence. It was during the period 7 -20 January 1812 that the then Viscount Wellington (he didn’t obtain his dukedom until after the Battle of Talavera), laid siege to the city of Ciudad Rodrigo (occupied by French invaders under the French General Jean Leonard Barrie) with his combined British and Portuguese army. The city was successfully stormed by British troops during the night of 19 January, with the 88th Connaught Rangers and the 45th Nottinghamshire regiments both distinguishing themselves. Casualties were heavy with 2 British Generals killed, including Bob Crauford (General of the Light Division). The French lost almost 2,000 men (mostly captured) and 153 cannon. More importantly, the victory opened a route into Spain which the British would soon exploit. The Siege of Badajoz would follow.

Let me talk a little about Ciudad Rodrigo. The old town is wholly encased within thick 12th century walls (except for where Wellington’s troops forced a couple of breaches and these have long since been repaired). The walls are very much open to walkers but, more of that later.

I crossed the River Agueda and walked through the walls to the south of the city via the Puerta de Colada (one of 7 original entrances into the town) and this particular gate took me almost immediately to the 14th century castle of King Henry II (Henry II of Trastamara) which stands at the highest point of the city.

The castle is now a Parador and one of the earliest to be opened; the very first being the Gedos in 1928. In case you don’t know, the Parador’s are a chain of government controlled 3 to 5 star hotels (Paradores de Turismo) established in the early 20th century to accommodate tourists and travellers while at the same time showcasing Spain’s culture, nature and/or gastronomy. The word Parador is derived from the Spanish word ‘parer’ which means to halt, stop or stay and the intention was that they should help improve Spain’s image. Currently, there are almost 100 such hotels dotted across Spain (and another one in Portugal). More than half are located in historical buildings (castles or monasteries for the most part) and many others offer accommodation in National Parks or other such outstanding natural spaces. We would love to tour Spain using these hotels and the one in Ciudad Rodrigo is very reasonably priced but; they will not take more than one dog per room. Vanya and I would have to take two rooms if we were to bring Nala and Beanie along. That’s a very silly rule but, whether you sleep in them or not, these places are invariably worth a visit.

So there I was at the entrance to the castle on the Plaza del Castillo – In front of the castle is a verraco (another name for a wild boar, methinks?) left by Vettons (Celtiberian people who lived here back in the 6th century) but this particular verraco was pulled from the river where it had been dumped many centuries ago – I simply had to go in for a wander and a beer.

From the castle, I made my way to what is usually the centre of almost every old town in Spain – the Plaza Mayor with it’s numerous bars, restaurants & pastry shops. I was in heaven.

As is so often the case in Europe, the 16th century town hall (the ayuntamiento) is to be found on the Plaza Mayor, together with various manor houses dating from the same period (including the Cuetos House, the house of the 1st Marquis of Cerrablo but more about him later). I paused for a wine and got to talking with a local who advised that, during festivals, this square is fitted with a ‘mobile bull ring’ (or at least I think that is what he said). There’s no denying that most everybody hereabouts seems interested in bull fighting. There was quite a crowd inside the bar watching it live on tv. I read subsequently that the so called mobile bull ring here can accommodate almost 4,000 people.

The 16th century town hall on Plaza Mayor is as impressive as any building in the town. It’s front is flanked by two small towers and above the arcaded upper floor is a large bell tower. Moreover, two cannon are situated either side of the front entrance. Well, this city figured in the Peninsula war and, a hundred years before that, the War of The Spanish Succession The Tourist Office is housed inside but the town hall but it is the first tourist office I have ever visited where the staff (a bloke) doesn’t speak a word of English. Hey, we managed.

The old town is very compact and easily explored. It is in tremendous condition and kept very clean. Wandering the narrow streets and lanes is a delight.

To the north west of the Plaza Mayor, just moments away, the Calle de Julian Sanchez leads to a smaller but very pretty square, the 18th century Plaza Buen Alcade (the Good Mayor Square). You’ll likely cross it looking for the Cathedral. It’s surrounded by arcades and considerably quieter except on a Tuesday when it holds the weekly farmers market.

Another square to visit in this area is the Plaza de Conde which proved a very quiet square but, if you’re in to architecture, it contains three of the city’s most impressive mansions being the Palacio Alba da Yeltes (with it’s corner balcony), the Palacio de los Castros and the Palacio de Moctezuma (now a hotel).

And so to the 12th century cathedral of Santa Maria; built on the instructions of King Ferdinand II of Leon “as a testament to the return and ongoing presence of Christianity in the aftermath of Muslim rule”.

This cathedral has, quite literally, been through the wars. It still shows damage from when Wellington’s troops stormed the city and took it from the French (although at least one source claims it was French artillery which damaged the cathedral when first taking the city in 1810). I think the damage was caused by British artillery because the major breach in the city walls through which the British troops stormed on 19 January 1812 was just in front of the cathedral. No matter, the damage occured during the Spanish War for Independence and for that reason it has been left unrepaired. It’s not the original cathedral tower anyway. The original was lost in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and replaced late in the 18th century.

A small fee provides access to the cathedral, it’s cloisters and the tower. For some reason the tower was closed during my visit; which is a shame because it supposedly affords a great view over the city. However, the inside of the church and the cloisters are impressive enough although the cloister garden would benefit from some tlc. It is a bit of a mess.

Alongside the cathedral and also worth a visit is the Chapel of Cerralbo; he who owned the Cueto House on the Plaza de Mayor. I am told the First Marquis of Cerralbo had the chapel built after it was decreed that his family could not be interred in the original cathedral but, I think maybe I was being spun a yarn.

I spent almost a full day wandering Ciudad Rodrigo and was amazed by this wonderful little city. There is so much to see and revel in. There was just enough time before dinner to revisit and walk part of the city walls and look out where the two breaches occured on the night of 19 January 1812.

Where we were staying (Camping La Pesquera) is to the south of the Aguera in what I have heard described as the worst part of the city. For my part, it is the best place to take a photo of the bridge and the castle (see below) and it is not as bad an area as you might think. It is a very poor neighbourhood but the locals are friendly. It is the feral dogs which are more of a problem. Two of the locals went out of their way to warn us about them.

Vanya wanted to join me in the town that evening but was deterred, first by a British biker who had been pursued by a small pack of local dogs and bitten earlier that day. Then, later, she was again warned about the dogs; this time by a local who had also been badly bitten and insisted on showing us the damage to his leg. Carry a big stick and a pocketful of rocks is my advice if you are visiting or staying south of the river. Otherwise, this is a great place to visit.

Teruel (Aragon), Spain May 2023 (Tour 7)

We continue to potter around Aragon and the area continues to amaze us. We had not heard of Teruel but with it being just 25 miles east of Albarracin we thought we’d check it out and have lunch there before heading across to La Rioja.

Teruel, capital of Teruel Province, is a relatively small city (less than 35,000 inhabitants) but despite it’s limited size it is packed with places of interest and beauty. Given that it was a major Moorish city, it comes as no surprise to see so much Mudejar architecture but the quality of that architecture is as good as anywhere in Spain. The cathedral tower, together with the towers of San Salvador, San Martin and San Pedro are rare jewels and have rightly earned Teruel recognition as a World Heritage Site.

Parking our Van close to the city’s railway station, we made first for the nearby old town and came across the Escalinata del Ovalo. Built in Mudejar style, this grand old staircase was actually built in the early part of the 20th century but it’s mix of bricks and tiles is remarkable and a fine introduction to the more genuine Mudejar monuments in Teruel. I walked it with Nala. Vanya and Beanie took the elevator.

Teruel’s grand staircase (Escalinata del Ovalo) which connects the railway station with the old town.

The carving at the top of the Escalinata del Ovalo depicts a scene from the legend of the Amantes – more of that below.

The top of the staircase is just moments from the first of Teruel’s Mudejar Towers, the Torre de El Salvador. Unlike the stairs, this beautifully coloured bell tower, decorated with patterned tiles, is original Mudejar architecture. The Tower was closed to the public as we arrived or I would have climbed it for the views over the town.

These photos of the Torre El Salvador are not mine The photo on the left was taken before the Tower’s restoration in the 1990’s when it was faithfully restored.

The San Martin Tower is similar to the El Salvador but (supposedly) a little less spectacular. I can’t say that I noticed any significant difference between the two except that it was easier to take photographs of San Martin Tower because it isn’t situated in such a built up area.

San Martin Tower.

Another “must see” sight in Teruel and yet another impressive example of Mudejar architecture is to be found in the largely Gothic Catedral de Santa Maria de Mediavella. The roof especially is made in Mudejar style. The cathedral was built in the 12th century in a Romanesque style but received a Gothic-Mudejar makeover in the 13-14th centuries and was transformed into the building it is today.

A couple of photographs of the outside of the Catedral de Santa Maria de Mediavelle de Teruel…

The cathedral is stunning from almost every vantage point and nowhere more so than on the inside of the building where there are a number of important religious paintings, a 16th century wooden Baroque altarpiece and a particularly outstanding coffered Mudejar ceiling. Designed by Mudejar artists in the 13th century, the 32 metre long vaulted ceiling has detailed Islamic style carvings of medieval scenes and figures and has been referred to as the “Sistine Chapel” of Mudejar.

… and a photo of the inside of the ceiling.

The final Mudejar Tower, built very much in the style of the San Salvador and San Martin Towers belongs to the church of San Pedro and this is worth visiting to see it’s ceiling alone but there’s another reason to visit San Pedro’s. It has a famous legend which is worth following up on – the Legend of the “Amantes” or the “Lovers of Teruel”.

The ceiling of San Pedro’s

I’m aware of two different versions of the legend and both bear some similarity to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There are probably many more versions but the one I favour is as follows:-

In 1217, Juan Diego Garces de Marcilla and Isabel de Segura lived in Teruel. They were lovers. Diego was a second son and as such unlikely to receive much of an inheritance while Isabel was the only child of a very wealthy nobleman by the name of Don Pedro de Segura. Despite their deep affection for each other, the romance between Diego and Isabel was doomed unless Diego could prove to Don Pedro that he was worthy of his daughter. Diego persuaded Don Pedro to agree to the marriage if he could win fame and fortune within a five year time frame. Promising Isabel that he would return to marry her, Diego then went off to war to win the required fame and fortune.

During the following five years Isabel heard nothing from Diego but she waited patiently for him; turning down countless suitors and frustrating all efforts of her father to marry her off to another. Meanwhile, Diego was caught up in the war against the Muslims to the south. He failed to return to Teruel before the end of the fifth year and Don Pedro wasted no time in arranging an alternative marriage for his daughter which took place immediately the five years was up.

Diego returned from the war rich and famous but he was too late. Isabel had been compelled to marry a man from nearby Albarracin just two days earlier. Devastated, Diego went to Isabel and begged, “bésame, que me muero” (“kiss me, for I am dying”). Isabel refused, saying she was now a married woman. He asked a second time for a final kiss but again she denied him and Diego died at her feet, there and then, of a broken heart.

At Diego’s funeral the following day, in total silence, Isabel arose from her seat in the church, walked to Diego’s open coffin and gave him in death the kiss she had denied him in life. She then fell dead. Much moved by Isabel’s expression of love, the families agreed to bury the two lovers side by side in the Church of San Pedro.

An alabaster statue of Diego and Isabel in the Church of Saint Pedro over the spot where their bodies are interred.

Anyway, after a pleasant walk around a most interesting city, we made our way back towards the small Plaza del Torico. We’d passed through there earlier in the day while exploring the old town and it seemed a very popular square and an ideal place to stop for a pinxtos lunch. The plaza is home to quite a few cafe bars and the one we stopped at did a pretty good “Delicias de Teruel”. This translates to “Delicacies of Teruel” and it comprises Teruel’s own Serrano Ham with warm toasted bread and a fresh tomato jam. Needless to say, we enjoyed it with a glass of the local wine.

Plaza del Torico is named after a small sculpture of a bull (the emblem of the city) which sits atop a tall column in the centre of the square but one could be forgiven for overlooking the almost pocket sized bull on a square that has an impressive fountain and some really progressive looking buildings. The most thought provoking of these buildings is the Casa de Tejidos El Torico (which houses the Caja Rural De Teruel). Tejidos is Spanish for fabrics (or weaving) but I think a more appropriate name would be the Casa de Josiah Wedgwood. The facade to the building is not made of porcelain but you cannot tell me that those blue and white colours are not pure Wedgwood…

Casa de Tejidos El Torico aka the Casa de Josiah Wedgwood

There’s another square, Plaza Juderia, where there appeared to be a few decent looking cafe bars serving the local ham but they will have to wait until we next return to Teruel. Certainly, I would be keen to return to this lovely little city. I would like to climb one of those beautifully decorated towers for a closer look and I would like to walk the 16th century aqueduct (Acueducto de los Arcos) which connects the historic old town to the more modern part of the city in the north. The aqueduct is visible from many parts of the town but I simply didn’t have time to find the approach to the lower level walkway.

We’ll be back.

Salamanca (Castile y Leon), Spain September 2022 (Tour 6)

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.

Unfortunately 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.

Caceres (Extremadura), Spain February 2022 (Tour 5)

Still more than a month behind. We arrived in Caceres on 22 February and as I type this blog it is 27 March.

Caceres has much going for it and is now listed among my favourite Spanish towns. We stopped just outside the town at Camping Caceres near the old football ground, Estadio Principe Felipe. At first glance Camping Caceres appears a fairly basic site in a somewhat remote location but, no, it offers everything we require (most especially a popular bar restaurant) and; each plot has it’s own bathroom/toilet and; while the city is a fair walk away, it’s a pleasant walk through and around a series of olive groves.

Vanya elected to stay by the Van and catch up on some Spanish homework which was set by Varndean College before we left England. I left her to it. I exercised the dogs and then set off on a further 10 mile walk to from and around Caceres.

Caceres is a large town by Extremadura standards. It is a university town with some 90,000+ inhabitants and it is split into two very distinct parts, the new town and the old town. Except for Plaza Mayor, which is filled with lively bars and restaurants (and perfect for people watching), the new town does little for me but the old town more than compensates.

I sat for a while outside a bar on Plaza Mayor with a glass of the local wine and planned a route around the old town. Also known as Monument City, Caceres is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Spain and in 1986 was the first city in Spain to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It comprises a mix of early Middle Ages and Renaissance buildings all enclosed within ancient Roman and/or Moorish stone walls and it is full of character and quite beautiful.

Entering La Ciudad Monumental from Plaza Mayor through the Arco de la Estrella is like being transported back in time. As you walk the narrow cobbled lanes between the palaces, mansions and churches there is no sign of anything modern in the old town. Little wonder that the place has featured in countless historical dramas (and, more recently, in Game of Thrones although I’m thinking that almost everywhere worth visiting has featured in Game of Thrones).

My earlier route planning over a glass of wine went to pot the moment I entered the old town. It’s a captivating tangle of cobbled streets, small squares and palatial buildings. You go where the fancy takes you and all the better if you end up retracing your steps. You’ll see things you missed the first time around.

This particular blog would stretch into pages if I were to wax lyrical about all of the buildings I visited during my time in Caceres so, I’ll focus on just two of the more interesting places namely, the Santa Maria Cathedral and the Palace de los Golfines de Abajo.

Built as a church fortress, the outside of the Santa Maria looks a very modest 15th century gothic cathedral (with just a small statue of San Pedro de Alcantata outside to set it apart from countless other large medieval buildings in the city) but inside, it is something else. It has three naves each of which hold some wonderful pieces of romanesque art (including a crucifix with a black Christ) but the most remarkable is the central nave with it’s 16th century cedar altarpiece sculpted by Roque Balduque. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The cathedral has many other interesting features, including flagstones depicting the coats of arms of the region’s most influential families and a small museum of religious artifacts both of which I paused to admire but, it is the walk up the spiral staircase to the bell tower with it’s amazing panoramic views over the old town that hooked me.

The Palace de los Golfines de Abajo is the largest and most impressive of the city’s palaces. It was built piecemeal between the 14th and 20th centuries and has long been home to the Golfin family. I visited Caceres out of season and so couldn’t join one the theatrical guided tours which are supposedly quite enthralling but it was still worth going inside. The palace is crammed with historical treasures.

One place I missed during our visit to Caceres is the Cave of Maltravieso which can be found at the edge of the town. Caceres was developed by the Romans at much the same time as they built Merida in 25BC but, there is evidence of ‘human’ life in the area some 350,000 years before then. The Cave holds many ancient painting/stencils dating back to Neanderthal times.

Santillana del Mar (Cantabria), Spain August 2021 (Tour 4)

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 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.

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.

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…

Ribadeo (Galicia), Spain August 2021 (Tour 4)

Ribadeo is in Galicia close to the border with Asturias. Vanya had booked us into a small campsite on the coast not too far from Ribadeo and this site (A Gaivota) is within walking distance (at least for me) of a well known beauty spot, the Cathedral Cliffs (As Catedrais), which I have been told is a ‘must see’ in this part of the world. The combination of beautiful beaches and spectacular rock formations are to be found all over Galicia but the As Catedrais are reputedly the most spectacular of all.

After checking in to A Gaivota we crossed the road to check out the adjacent beaches. There are two, the Praia Benquerencia to the left (as you look out to sea) and the Praia de Fontela to the right. Both are magnificent. Not sure if the sea will be warm enough for us but the dogs…

The next day we walked the dogs eastwards past the Praia de Fontela, along an excellent paved coastal path, seeking a beach where the dogs would be allowed to swim. Sod’s law, Vanya turned back with the dogs just a couple of hundred yards before I stumbled across an excellent beach where dogs are permitted (i.e. at the very eastern end of the Praia de Longara, just before the Punta Corveira).

I carried on for quite a way beyond the Punta Corveira, passing across or behind variuos beaches (including Praia da Pasada, Praia de Arealonga, Praia de Reinante and Praia de Moledo) until I reached where the Playa de Las Catedrales would be except the tide was in and the beach and its attendent rock formations were totally underwater. Before you start laughing, I knew in advance that the tide would be in (that’s the power of Google) but I continued so as to determine whether or not Vanya would be able to cope with the walk (she could certainly manage the one way but not the return) and to ascertain if there is adequate parking for the Van in the event we were to drive there (no problem on that count). I’d put in a good day’s exercise by the time I got back to A Gaivota.

We were up early the next morning because we needed to get to As Catedrais for low tide. That meant packing up and getting across to one of the car parks I had checked out the day before by 08.00. We did it and were down on the beach by 08.15 (and that meant we could take the dogs with us too because there was no one around to say otherwise). I’ll let the photos do the talking…

Yes, we were both seriously impressed. We saw the most extraordinary natural rock formations – massive rock buttresses, stone arches at least 30 metres high and large sea caves which stretched deep into the cliffs. Most spectacular and well worth the visit – and free! Moreover, we were lucky enough to have had the place almost to ourselves.

Talking about luck… we discovered later that we should not have been there. We didn’t know at the time but, to stop overcrowding, visits in the summer months and at Easter must be booked online at least 30 days in advance, with tickets being checked on entry. As we walked up back to the Van we saw long queues of people at the entry point to the beach getting their tickets checked. It was just as well that we had arrived half an hour before the ticket collectors or we would have been denied entry. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Great result.

Cambados (Galicia), Spain August 2021 (Tour 4)

So, we are back in Cambados, in Galicia. We said we would return but neither of us expected it to be quite so soon.

It was a spur of the moment decision. We wanted somewhere back in Galicia, on the coast, where there is good overnight parking with easy access to a village or town centre and, in particular, a supermarket (so as to buy dog food). Cambados fits the bill perfectly. We parked in the aire on the small island just outside the town centre and, that done, set off for something to eat and drink. It was almost like coming home.

I’ll not repeat my description of the town. You can read about the town in the other blog I did on Cambados earlier in this year’s tour. Better still, if you want an expert view on the place, rather than just my initial thoughts, you can google it.

Back in Spain our first thoughts were to enjoy a a few glasses of Estrella Galicia and, of course, some Albarino wine. We did just that. I cannot remember all the bars we stopped in but I recall switching from beer to wine somewhere on the Rua Hospital (or just along from there) and then we paused for something to eat and a really nice (albeit expensive) bottle of Albarino on the Plaza de Fefinans. We finished our evening at the Maria Jose restaurant on the corner of Rua Principe and the Calle de San Gregario. I remember this because it was the first place we stopped at during our first visit to Cambados. We enjoyed two different Albarino’s here but it was the piped music in the Maria Jose that I best recall. It was excellent – the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks and even Leonard Cohen. And I remember the food! The food was unusual but surprisingly tasty. Would you believe I ate langoustine, prawns and mussels all wrapped in the largest lump of cream cheese and then deep fried in a thin crispy batter and served with strawberry jam? Don’t knock it until you’ve had it. It was great!

I don’t remember much of the walk back to the Van but it was late. I do remember getting up early and wandering off in the half light to find a baker because we were after an early start. The less said about that the better but we did make it away by 8am – that’s a record.

Cambados (Galicia), Spain July 2021 (Tour 4)

From Santiago we set off towards Sanxenxo which was recommended as a place to visit by a friendly and very informative waiter at Camping A Vouga. He also recommended Cambados and Arcade and upon learning that Cambados is a small fishing town on the coast road to Sanxenxo, we decided to visit.

Parking is easy in Cambados. There’s dedicated campervan parking on a small island down by the beach very close to the old town (N42.512135 W8.818061) and in no time we were parked up and strolling along the Rua Real to the town’s imposing stone square, the Plaza de Fefinans, which is the centre of Cambados.

I didn’t find out until after we left but Cambados is famous for its oysters. It is also considered the capital of Albarino wines and was declared European Wine Capital in 2017. Moreover, we had arrived in the town just as the annual Festa do Albarino was beginning. What a wally I am for not having undertaken even the most rudimentary research into Cambados before visiting. Had I known these facts beforehand I could well have agreed with Vanya that we reconsider our movements. She had proposed staying on (or at least returning in three days time) after learning that a three day music festival was scheduled to commence that very day in the Plaza de Fefinans. To be fair to me, there was no guarantee that we would be able to secure tickets for the final day and in any event heavy rain was forecast for then. Oh well!

We had a good mooch around the town, taking in the Plaza de Fefinans and the 16th century San Bieto Church and then; found a bar so as to sit and enjoy a glass of Albarino (and accompanying tapas) before continuing our journey down the coast.

By the way, a large glass of Albarino white wine and accompanying tapas cost little more than 1.50 pounds!

Santiago di Compostela (Galicia), Spain July 2021

We very reluctantly left that almost perfect campsite on San Francisco Bay (Camping A Vouga) but with the new Brexit rules limiting the amount of time we can spend in the EU to just 90 days in every 180, it is time to move on.

Our first port of call was Santiago de Compostela. Despite the criticisms I voiced in my last post (Finisterre), I am seriously thinking of doing a Camino next year (I might even create a new route of my own – LoL) and thought it appropriate to check out the finish point of Santiago di Compostela or; should I go on to Cabo Tourinan, near Muxia, which is Spain’s real westernmost point (not Finisterre).

We drove into the outskirts of Santiago and parked up near an Abu Dhabi size shopping mall with a huge Carrefour. I figured that Carrefour would keep Vanya occupied for the time it would take me to walk the six or seven mile round trip to and from the Prazo do Obradoiro where the Cathedral sits (and where the relics of Saint James are supposedly interred). As it happens, I was back at the Van before Vanya had finished in Carrefour.

It was an easy walk to and then through part of the old town to the Prazo do Obradoira and the Cathedral. You simply follow Camino shells until you can no longer see any shells because of the thickening crowds and then; you follow the crowds (especially the scruffier, smellier elements of the crowd) until you can see a cathedral spire or two. Then, there you are, standing on what must be the most wonderful square in the world to those pilgrims or walkers who have just completed a proper Camino. Honestly, the excitement of some of the pilgrims as they approached the cathedral was almost palpable; it was both emotional and uplifting even to an old cynic like me. Well done them!!!

My particular route on to the Prazo do Obradoira took me through a small arch where I was thrilled to hear a busker playing foliada (traditional Galician music which is almost Celtic in style). Just goes to show, you can take the lad out of Scotland but you cannot take Scotland out of the lad.

I had time to explore more of Santiago and when I next pass through here I certainly will but; on this occasion (after taking the obligatory photos), I was content to do nothing but sit and observe. Honestly, it was wonderful. Seeing the different ways that individuals and groups of people were expressing their total joy at having finally completed their Camino was well… sublime. “People Watching” at it’s absolute best.

Okay, so I made time to take a few more photos. Time to move on. We hope to get at least as far as Cambados today.

Ourense (Galicia), Spain July 2021 (Tour 4)

We decided to visit Ourense next although it was only ever going to be a short visit. The route we chose took us down the Canon de Sil. Oh, but I could do that journey every day. Some of the views were stunning. There was one viewpoint at the top of the canyon which I didn’t see until it was too late and then; we were sailing past it with no possible turning point for many miles. Even so, I would have continued until we could turn around and drive back up to the viewpoint but Vanya wouldn’t have it. She was almost on the floor having kittens at the thought of our going back up.

Entering Ourense we found a quiet aire, at which to overnight, on the north side of the city next to the fire station. The aire suited us because it is only two to three kilometres from Ourense’s old town (the Casco Vello) where we could find something to eat and drink. We had googled where to find the best tapas and discovered that the best restaurants are on either Lepanto Street (Casa Tonita for its Poached Eggs), San Miguel Street (Paris for it’s Garlic & Oil Potatoes and Ocugumalo for it’s Mushrooms & Prawns) and Hornos Street (O’Souto for it’s Mashed Potato & Beef and Atarazana for it’s Scallops). All three streets are to be found by the Cathedral which would serve as a great reference point and perhaps provide for some spiritual fulfilment too – only joking Vanya!

We locked the Van up and set off in the direction of the Cathedral, crossing the Mino river by the Ponte Vella (the High Bridge); otherwise known as the old Roman Bridge except, it is not an old Roman bridge. It is a medieval bridge with five arches that was simply built on the site of an earlier Roman bridge but; why ruin a good story with historical facts? It is now a pedestrian bridge and it provides fantastic views across to another of the eight bridges in Ourense which cross the Mino river – the Puenta Milenio (the Millennium Bridge). Our route to and from the old town took us under the Millennium Bridge and, for such a modern structure, it really is something quite different and therefore rather special.

It proved very easy to find the Ourense Cathedral (Catedral de Ourense or Catedral do San Martino) and I was pleasantly surprised by it’s very simple Gothic design and unusual octagonal lantern tower. I don’t know what it looks like inside. As has so often been the case during this tour, the doors were locked. We actually saw more of one other very impressive looking church in the old town, the Iglesia de Santa Eufamia, when we stopped just short of the Cathedral for a drink.

We hadn’t completed a circuit of the Cathedral before we found ourselves on Hornos Street and, almost immediately thereafter, on Lepanto Street. Scallops were a non starter because Atarazana was closed but the other bars on our list were open and there were plenty more to choose from. The approach here was different to Logrono. In Ourense, one sits at tables outside the tapas bar and are served by waiters whereas in Logrono one invariably stood outside and ordered food and drink through windows or across bars. This being so, in Ourense there is neither the same movement between bars nor as much interaction between diners and staff as was the case in Logrono. For me it wasn’t bad; it was just different. I think Vanya favours the more informal and friendly approach we experienced in Logrono but, we both very much enjoyed our evening in Ourense and we particularly loved the Tempura Prawns at Vinoteca Taperia. One final observation regarding our tapas evening in Ourense, Ourense still holds with the tradition of providing at least one free tapas with drinks (twice we were given free tuna empanadas). You don’t often see that nowadays in the larger towns.

Okay, so I found the Cathedral and I found the tapas bars. Unfortunately, I failed to find any of the thermal baths which are dotted all over the city but, the fact is, my sense of direction didn’t stretch that far and couldn’t without my first imbibing an Estrella Galician beer, a glass of Ribeiro red wine and a few Albarino white wines (and by then it was too late). Next time? Meanwhile, the Chavasqueira – Outariz Pools were the closest to where we were parked, being on the northern bank of the river and west of the Millenium Bridge.

After we had taken our fill of tapas and the Albarino, we had just enough time and energy for a last look around Ourense’s lanes before heading back to the Van and, in my case, a wee dram. It was a great evening.