A Fish-Man and A Medieval Town – Liérganes & Santillana Del Mar, Spain
I travel because it’s easy…..said no one ever! Travel is pleasurable because of the experience it brings, because it allows you to explore new cultures and food, and because it leaves you rich in memories that feed your soul. But it’s not always comfortable or easy, especially in the beginning.
Dad and I are only a few days into our mini-trip in LMB and we’re both hurting.
The teeny living space takes time to adapt to, and so far neither of us have been sleeping that well. We’re still trying to figure out how to move around and manage our daily routine. Plus my back is acting up again (an on-going problem thanks to multiple slipped discs) and my head is feeling foggy. We’re both uncomfortable and tired, and still haven’t gotten into our full travel groove.
Thankfully we’re experienced travelers, so we know this is simply part of the transition phase from stationary life to a moving one. You work through it, you adapt and eventually you figure it all out. Kinda like life in general, I guess?
We Change Plans And Decide On A Short Travel Day
We were originally going to do a long drive today, ending in the mountains of the famous Picos De Europa. I had been reading about this area for weeks and had planned a pretty elaborate and (apparently) incredibly scenic route through the highest peaks, traveling small and curvy N-roads into the depths of the National Park.
The mountains are supposed to be amazing, one of the “must see” sights of Northern Spain, but the drive was an ambitious one that would require my full focus, and with my head feeling more like thick pea soup, now was not a smart time to try it. Plus, as luck would have it the clouds were still hanging low and grey from the last few days of rain so the mountains were fully obscured. We likely wouldn’t have been able to enjoy any of the views anyway.
So we adapted, as one does when traveling, ditching our mountain plans for a future date and deciding instead on a easy, super short travel day. We’d end up doing only 78 km, with just two stops off the main highway to explore a few off-the-beaten track towns along the way. It would be a different experience, and in the end not exactly what we expected but nonetheless still enriching. Again, kinda like life in general no?
The Town With The Legend Of A Fish-Man (And Some Great IPAs)
Our first stop was Liérganes, a teeny place seemingly in the middle of no-where with a rather interesting history.
Our decision to swing by here was not by accident. Our friends Iain & Kate (Tales From The Scenic Route) discovered this spot during their drive across Spain a few months ago, and raved not only about the little town, but also about how they’d found the best IPA they’d tasted in Europe. Given they’ve been traveling through the EU for several years now, this was high praise indeed and enough to tempt us to swing by ourselves.
We parked LMB at the convenient free Motorhome Parking Spot right next to downtown and took Polly out for a wonder around.
Liérganes is nestled into the foothill of the mountains (“Las Tetas de Liérganes”), and despite its small size it packs in an incredible number of historic buildings. There’s a arm-long slew of churches and chapels, a little museum, a bunch of restaurants and of the course the famous Fish-Man.
Known as Francisco de la Vega Casar, he was born in the town in the 17th century and moved to Bilbao as a young man, but was tragically swept out to sea while swimming in the estuary in 1674. Five years later in 1679 he magically re-appeared in the Bay of Cádiz, no longer quite man but rather a half-man-half-fish creature. He’d lost his mind and the ability to speak except for one word, “Liérganes”, which is how he eventually found his way back home. It’s a true story, or so they say. If you’re curious as to what he looks like there’s an interpretive site and a statue in his honor on the river downtown.
Dad, Polly and I walked for several hours around town, hiking the hills, visiting a few of the old churches, enjoying a coffee and of course swinging by to see the Fish-Man. It’s a relaxing and quiet place.
But what about that IPA beer????
Well sadly DouGall’s was closed the morning we stopped by, so we didn’t make it by to see it. However Iain and Kate left several bottles with us when they were visiting in France last month, so we can attest to the fact it’s delicious stuff (Mosaic and Centennial Hops, with a crisp, fresh citrus edge). , well worth the detour. Without a doubt we’ll be back to stock up in the future!!
We Arrive At the Saddest Little Campground
Our next stop was a historic spot, known as one of the prettiest Medieval villages of the North.
I’d read many a flowery review of the town itself, but I’d also read that the one and only campground in the area was fairly poor, and the reviews were not wrong. Camping Santillana wasn’t perhaps quite as bad as I’d prepped my mind for, but it wasn’t exactly spiffy either.
It’s a small campground with trees planted right by the curvy little road that goes through it, so tight that our 7m motorhome just barely made it around (I wouldn’t come here with anything longer!).
The sites are grassy, which seems rather nice until you notice deep muddy tire tracks in multiple pitches (where other poor motorhomes must surely have gotten stuck) and the fact that the grass doesn’t look like it’s been mowed in a month. Plus many of the sites are extremely unlevel and the electrics look suspect, veeeeeery suspect (I’m talking bare wires, duck tape, and boxes that are falling apart).
We decide for self-preservation purposes not to plug in.
But hey it’s quiet with decent views, it’s walking distance to the historic town and we’re the only motorhome here. So we snag one of the very few flat, firm sites, pay our 20 EUR and settle in. It’ll do just fine for the night.
We Explore The Historic Town Of Santillana Del Mar
With LMB safely parked away, we take Polly and walk the steep short hill into town.
Santillana Del Mar is a historic town with roots that go back to the 13th Century. It’s famous for its Medieval architecture and a prehistoic cave (Altamira Cave, unfortunately not visitable) with important cave paintings which was discovered only a few km from town.
Many call it “The Town of Three Lies” since it is neither a Saint (Santo), nor flat (llana), nor is it by the sea (Mar), but it derives its name from Santa Juliana (or Santa Illana) whose remains are kept in the Colegiata, a Romanesque church and former Benedictine monastery in the middle of town.
The town itself is visually very appealing, with pedestrian cobblestone streets that weave through impressive stone buildings and wonderfully preserved houses. It’s in top-notch shape, but it’s also kind of odd. There are no interpretive signs (anywhere) and zero info on the history of the buildings (even at the Tourist Office), so you’re not really sure what you’re looking at half the time.
Plus it’s super touristy with restaurants on literally every single corner. It seems like the kind of place folks come for a day-trip, just to roam amongst the pretty buildings and eat out, rather than the kind of place a history buff might enjoy.
It’s also an important stop on the Camino Del Santiago, for those walking the Northern Route.
The Camino Del Norte, starts at Irún and follows the coast of Northern Spain right up until it breaks off and drops down towards Santiago de Compostela. It’s a tough hike (much tougher apparently, than the other Camino routes) so there’s not as many who do it, but we notice the Camino markers (the iconic scallop shell sign) all around town and see quite a few pilgrims with their backpacks hanging out at the restaurants. Without really realizing it we’d been motorhoming this route pretty much ever since we crossed into Spain, albeit in the supreme comfort and ease of LMB. The folks who walk it on foot are made of stronger stuff than I!
Despite the touristy vibe in town, we enjoyed our walk around with Polly, stopping for a lovely outdoor lunch in the main square and covering several miles before we finally make it back home to LMB.
It was a pleasant stop and blissfully not too busy this time of year (summer must be crazy), but if we were to come back I’d probably just park for free by the Tourist Office (there’s space for ~4 motorhomes there) and walk around for a few hours rather than stay the night.
That evening we end up back in camp with our usual gin and tonics and a simple meal. The cats roamed about in the tall grass while we sat and chatted, enjoying the afternoon sun. It hadn’t quite turned out to be the day we’d expected, but it’d been good nonetheless and the weather was looking up for our adventure tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see what that day brings….