, or Green Spain
is not usually where the tourists go, and certainly not where
most people choose to buy property. This could be a mistake,
but I suppose it depends on what you want to find.
The sea, and indeed the weather, is not so hot as it is down
on the Costa del Sol. There is more rain, and the countryside
is more like green England.
There are the Picos de Europa
, which are steep and
rugged, and have snow on them during the winter, and of course
are not far away.
The bays and charming little coves are really sweet, and I
would certainly recommend the area for a holiday expedition.
is the name given to the strip of land
between the Cantabrian Sea, otherwise known as the Bay of
Biscay, and the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain
is a corruption of the Spanish word Vizcaya
meaning a mountain or cliff, and probably relates to the way
the Picos de Europa
dominate the northern coast of Spain
facing the bay.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Cantabria
regained its independence from the rule of the Visigoths, and
remained independent until the Arab invasion. In the year 714,
a mixed Arab/Barber army invaded the upper valleys of the Ebro
and succeeded in capturing Amaya, then the Cantabrian capital.
However, they did not get beyond the mountains, and this strip
was the one area the moors did not manage to
When I last travelled along this northern coastline with Julie
we stopped in the little town of Castro Urdiales
which is Roman in origin and was originally called Portus
. In AD 74 a Roman colony was established under
the name Flaviobriga
, during the reign of Vespasian,
probably to mine the abundant iron ore in the area.
The chief industries now are mining, fishing, and the
preservation of fish in oil, especially sardines and
Many people from Bilbao and other parts of the Basque Country
and Cantabria as well as Northern Spain in general keep summer
homes in the town.
By its name I assumed it was an old Roman town. The centre is
certainly old, but not much of the very old is left. There is
a charming small inner harbour filled with the usual bobbing
boats, but one or two of the ancient houses in the suburbs are
rather fine villas.
All along the north coast of Cantabria
foothills of the Picos de Europa
, covered in lush
green, with small valleys funnelling into the sea; small
inlets where the sea brushes in beside the hills, and, as it
retreats, leaves a bank of sand overshadowed by woodland
clinging to the steep sides of the hills.
Inlet after inlet cuts the coastline. Here and there are
villages, usually set back from the coast behind a rise in the
land for protection from the winter winds. Farmers are cutting
small patches of grass. Behind are wife and children with
rakes, collecting the new-mown grass into rows, and then into
Down on the beach another farmer is raking up the seaweed left
by the retreating tide and bundling it into a cart. The
tractor tows the cart up a perilous track, and the seaweed is
dumped in what look like giant molehills on the fields as
fertilizer. This is then spread slowly with a long-handled
rake wielded by a farm-hand with a bent back.
Further along the coast is a large valley where the river runs
from tiny stream to estuary over the space of half a mile. Set
in behind the trees, and in amongst the folds in the rock, are
The sun is shining, the beaches are empty, the leaves glisten
with the drops from yesterday's rain, the fields are green,
there are cows with massive horns, farmers are tilling tiny
plots, and up in the sky a few white clouds define the clear
Further west are the high mountains of the Picos de Europa
with snow shining on them. The mountains are a jagged lot, and
all around them are the lesser mounds of the Cantabrian
mountain range, which seems to stretch almost from the Pyrenees
to the edge of Asturias
. To the north is the blue calm
sea, and dozens of little bays. For every steep valley that
cuts into the foothills, there is a small rushing stream
tumbling down the rocks and fanning out onto a small flat lea
before being claimed by the waves toppling onto a crescent