Friday, 2 July 2010

Cantabria, Castro Urdiales



Castro Urdiales is a busy resort in high summer but on a day in late April it was unhurried and relaxed with only a few visitors sauntering along the promenade. We had parked at the beach end of the town which meant there was quite a long walk to reach the harbour further to the west and this took us past the yacht club and elegant balconied sea front buildings all overlooking the wide sheltered harbour where a variety of boats were resting on the muddy sea bed at low tide.

We had been up for a long time and it was definitely time for lunch so we roamed along the pavement trying to select a bar that was serving what we were looking for and we were looking for pinchos, or pintxos in Basque. Pinchos are Northern Spain’s equivalent of the tapas, the main difference being that pinchos are usually larger and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks. They are called pinchos because this is the Spanish word for spike and many of them are held together with a sharp wooden skewer. Another difference is that whilst tapas are served on a small dish, pinchos are generally arranged on bread slices and laid out on the bar was a mouth watering selection of tasty snacks and every one of them an attractive work of art. We made our selections and sat at a table on the pavement as the sun continued to strengthen its grip and the day was getting progressively warmer.

After lunch we continued our stroll to the handsome old town of Castro Urdiales where the Town Hall stands adjacent to the immaculate main square next to what was the original tiny harbour that was sheltering behind its protective stone walls. Around the harbour side women were working under parasols repairing fishing nets and past the fish market at the far end of the harbour a set of weathered stone steps took us up to castle which stands on an elevated rocky outcrop. We made the tour of the restored fortress and then walked around the outside of the impressive medieval parish church, the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Asuncion, which had the external appearance of a much grander cathedral.

The tide was coming in now and as the harbour was beginning to fill with water the boats were lifted into life from the sea bed and all around them the large grey mullet swam around scavenging for scraps of food. It was hot now and there was an attractive bar next to the water’s edge so we sat for a while in the sun and had a beer and a plate of octopus salad, which although rather expensive tasted absolutely divine.

After this pleasant sojourn in the sun we retraced our steps back along the promenade and watched nervously as some heavy black clouds began to roll in from the land and we quickened our pace because we feared we might get wet. We returned to the car just in time because very quickly there were some big spots of rain on the windscreen and in the distance there was a big electrical storm over the mountains.

We needed some alcohol so before leaving the town we looked for a shop and we stopped at Eroski, which is a Basque supermarket chain with nearly a thousand outlets across Spain and is the second-largest retail distribution group in the country after the French company Carrefour. I immediately liked Eroski because it had a wide and varied selection of wine all reasonably priced so we purchased another corkscrew, which would have to be left behind of course at the end of the holiday, and some various bottles of local Rioja to enjoy later on.

Motoring west once more on the Autovia del Cantabria the rain stopped and the sun came out again and after a few kilometres we left the motorway for the village of Liendo to find our accommodation. As usual this wasn’t that easy and we made a couple of circuits of the sleepy streets and tried to understand directions given to us in impenetrable Spanish before we chanced upon it hiding behind a high stone wall and with only a very discreet sign to identify it.

We were staying at the small Posada La Torre de la Quintana, which was a converted stone mansion with an impressive fa├žade and surrounded by carefully manicured gardens. And we were delighted with our choice of accommodation, which was rustic and authentic and we were lucky to have the best suite in the hotel complete with a glass fronted balcony. We sat in the late afternoon sun in the garden with a glass of wine or two and Marta, who ran the place, made some recommendations for sightseeing and for food. Actually we were the only guests in the place and when the staff went home at eight o’clock we were left all alone to rattle about the place as though it was our own personal property. The only problem was a power failure at just about dusk, which meant we had to call for assistance and a maintenance man had to turn out to attend to the fuse box.

Later we took Marta’s suggestion and stayed in the village to eat at a restaurant called El Roble, which didn’t look very promising from the outside but despite this, and a waitress who had forgotten to take her happy pill this morning, the food was excellent and reasonably priced and we instinctively knew that we would be returning again tomorrow. As we ate our meal the heavens opened and the rain poured down and we hoped that this didn’t mean the end of the fine weather.

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