Cantabria, Picos de Europa and Comillas

Of course it wasn’t like that at all and after we woke in the morning to find Bobby Ewing in the shower with Pammy and went downstairs the genial host was there to greet us and direct us towards our breakfast table.  We were the only guests though and we had no explanation for the ghostly footsteps.  We felt curiously in the way so we hastily finished breakfast and left the San Telmo for a drive along the coast.

Before we left the owner provided us with a map of Cantabria and made some recommendations about where to visit.  He also gave us a weather forecast and suggested that if we were to stay dry then we should be heading west.  Northern Spain has a temperate rather than a continental climate and with weather delivered directly from the Atlantic Ocean it has over one hundred days of rain a year and December is one of the wettest months.  We agreed that his advice was almost certainly worth following and we did exactly as he suggested.

Although the forecast was poor the weather by contrast was very good and there was a clear blue sky with just a few wispy clouds and from the hotel car park it was possible to see the sea only a few hundred metres away.  We drove out of the village on a road that climbed quickly and at the top we were overawed by a sight that we were not prepared for.  At a distance of about fifty kilometres we could see the two thousand five hundred metre high peaks of the Picos de Europa which were snow capped and glistening white in the mid morning sun.  There had been recent heavy snowfall in the mountains behind the narrow coastal strip of the Cantabria coastline and this morning it looked absolutely spectacular.  This I simply did not expect and I began to think about all the things about Spain that I don’t know about, which would fill several volumes of an encyclopaedia.

We headed towards the coast road and enjoyed the dramatic contrast of the Atlantic Ocean to our left and the lush green meadows of the hills to the right with the snow drizzled mountains in the near distance.   We were heading for the town of Comillas but stopped several times to admire the power of the sea as great waves rolled in and fizzed onto and through the caramel sand and caressed the random rocks littering the beaches.  I had always thought of Spain as a Mediterranean country but closer inspection of the map shows that a third of the Country’s coastline is along the much more dramatic Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian coast is over two hundred kilometres of panoramic beaches, hidden coves tucked into the pleats of the cliffs, green headlands and little towns where fishing boats shelter below harbour cafés.

In the summer Comillas is a busy seaside town but it is a lot quieter in December and there was plenty of room in the car park to park the car.  We walked across the pristine blue flag beach washed scrupulously clean by the strong tides and then towards the little harbour with a handful of little fishing boats sheltering behind the strong granite walls.  The tide was coming in quickly and as we watched the harbour began to fill with water and the little boats sprang into life as the sea lifted them off of the mud and they began to dance on the water.  There was a little café next to the harbour so we stopped for refreshments and planned a route to continue west.

Before we left we drove into the old town where there were some fascinating buildings including a rare example of the work of  Antoni Gaudi outside of Barcelona, a mansion called El Capricho complete with a signature tile clad tower, playful ceramic sunflowers and whimsical images of animals playing instruments. It was built in 1883 for a nobleman who wanted a an exotic villa in an oriental style.  There was a market in town today so we went to have a look but strangely it seemed to consist of stalls manned by gypsies and North Africans selling things we had no interest in so we didn’t stay too long.

Before we could continue west we had to drive south away from the coast and towards the mountains and the national parks of Cantabria.  It is an interesting fact that these mountains are the habitat of the Cantabrian Brown Bear, which is a relative of the European Brown Bear that used to be common all over the continent.  Luckily they are timid creatures and shy away from human contact and needless to say we didn’t see one today.  This was probably quite fortunate because these bears can reach weights of over two hundred kilograms and it is best not to startle them because this can be quite dangerous. This reminded me of my visit to Yellowstone Park in the USA where there a lot of wild bears and the park’s advice on what to do was clear enough but only really useful if you have Indiana Jones like nerves of steel.

  • If you stumble across one first you need to back away (This will probably be a bit undignified because due to involuntary bowel movements, you are sure to have messed your pants!)
  • and talk to the bear in a calm voice. (Unfortunately there is no additional advice on the sort of things bears like to have a conversation about, I suggest Sugar Puffs or anything to do with honey)
  • Keep backing away and whatever you do, do not run (this is sound advice because each of these beasts can reach speeds of thirty five miles an hour and is sure to outrun you)
  • and try in any way to make yourself seem less threatening (being in a state of extreme terror with a backbone turned to crème caramel this shouldn’t be too difficult).
  • In the unfortunate event that the bear does charge, and you are not equipped with a sidearm, promptly drop to the ground stomach-first and cover your head and ears with your arms.  In this situation fighting back will almost certainly intensify and prolong the attack.  This is obvious really because humans are seriously ill equipped to fight bears and it would be foolish to even attempt it. Seriously I expect that this playing dead routine might be a bit difficult to carry through and realistically, let’s face it,  you are probably going to end up as the three bear’s supper!

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