Monday 29th April
Jean Paul Sartre thought that Santillana was the prettiest village in Spain; and so far, so do we! Andy and Lesley stayed in a hotel here last year, on their cycle trip with Dom and Ruth, along the north coast and it was certainly worth another visit. The village is built around its 12thCentury church which was an important place of pilgrimage as well as being on one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, the mediaeval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella at the far western tip of Spain. (Spoiler alert, there will probably be more, possibly even a lot more about the Camino in later posts!) The church is on the site of a 9thcentury shrine to Santa Juliana, who allegedly captured the Devil.
The village is hardly changed since the 17thcentury and full of half-timbered buildings and grander manorial style houses complete with coats of arms. Most of these are now shops selling tourist tat or cafes. Unfortunately, as it was a Monday morning, early in the season, there weren’t any cafes with seats in the sunshine open; so we strolled back up our own little bit of the Camino to our campsite to carry on our own pilgrimage.
By the way, a brief bit about Camping Santillana for those who might come this way later. It is a big site, with a pool and a shop and a café/bar and a large, clean shower block. However (you could tell that was coming, couldn’t you?) as it was early in the season it had an air of neglect about it. The grass hadn’t been cut and was longer than the grass in the neighbouring fields that the farmers were cutting for silage, the locked pool was a darker shade of green than our crockery and the spacious showers and washing up areas were noticeably lacking in hot water. An interesting take on modern sanitary arrangements, was that they had installed the toilet roll holders on the outside of the cubicles, meaning you had to anticipate how much paper you were likely to need before you began.
Most of these shortcomings though were far outweighed by the aerial spectacle we were treated to on the evening we arrived. In the fir trees alongside the campsite there was a heronry where a couple of pairs of herons had made their nests in the uppermost branches. We became aware of their presence when they started clacking their beaks and making their hacking cough of a call. The reason for this was the appearance of three buzzards, circling their nests and the herons took to the air to chase them off.
We waved farewell to beautiful Santillana and its slightly down at heel campsite and set our sat navs for San Vicente where, 30 minutes later, we pulled up (or in our case passed by, stopped, did a 9 point turn and then pulled up) at Oyambra Camping.
Oyambra Camping is a first-class site. It is beautifully kept, with large, level pitches, an indoor and outdoor pools, a shop, restaurant and bar and even a gym. The staff were very welcoming, and it had an air of efficiency. Even more it was part of the ACSI scheme, so it cost us the same as unloved Camping Santillana. From our pitch we could even see the snow-capped Picos. No wonder it was a favourite with British tourers. There were already a number of other British vans and caravans on the site. Most of these had diverted here after hearing that their return trips to the UK had been postponed because of Sunday night’s fire on the ferry Pont Aven which caused it to stop at Brest.
Anyway, they weren’t unduly bothered as most of them had been in Spain or Portugal for at least a couple of months and a few more days wasn’t going to be too much of a hardship; and they had stocked up on plenty of wine and beer.
We had no time to chew the fat with them because Lesley wanted to show us the delights of Comillas, a little fishing port, 30 minutes cycle to the east. So, we shoved Alf in the dog chariot, while Rio jumped in his, and off we popped. Comillas’s jewel in the crown is hidden to all who refuse to pay the €5. While Andy and Lesley looked after the dogs and the bikes, Wendy and I paid our money and wended our way along a tree lined drive to El Capricho; one of the few buildings the polymath Gaudi constructed outside his native Catalonia.
Antoni Gaudi (1852 – 1926) built this house for a local lawyer when he was only 30 years old and superficially it is just a riot of ceramic tiles and eastern symbolism, however the house is a predecessor of many of the eco houses you see on Grand Designs. It is built around a large, south-facing conservatory that spreads light and warmth into the rest of the building. Gaudi also designed everything inside the house, including the furniture and door handles and the grotto in the garden. The house is now run by a local charity who have been responsible for its sensitive and classy restoration. Well worth a visit!