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You may find it helpful to view and print off a copy of the regional map and cross reference with the description below. The letters in brackets correspond to the biking routes.
Santander, capital of Cantabria is both a busy port and a lively resort. The town occupies a splendid location, with the port on one side and mountains on the other. Santander was founded as the Roman Portus Victoriae, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that economic prosperity really arrived. In 1754 the Pope made Santander an Episcopal seat, and the following year it was given city status. King Alfonsos’s visits early in the 20th century to take the baths made the city fashionable and gave tourism its initial impetus. The town has several great beaches – El Sardinero, fronting the luxurious Gran Casino del Sardinero is the pick of the bunch. Just west of El Sardinero is the Cabo Mayor lighthouse and further west near the villages of Cueto and Monte are the wild beaches of La Maruca and La Virgen (A, U).
To the west of Santander the village of Santillana del Mar has the most important collection of historic architecture in Cantabria and one of the best in Spain. Attractions include the Romanesque Collegiate church, the Museo Diocesano, the Fundacion Santillana and the Museo de las Comarcas.
A short distance from the village, Altamira, dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Stone Age Art”, is the site of some of the world’s most famous prehistoric cave paintings, discovered in 1879. A reservation to see the caves must be made a year in advance, so most visitors have to content themselves with a visit to the adjacent museum (A, B, C, D).
The River Saja flows north down the Cabuérniga Valley through the village of Cabezon de la Sal, an important treasury of ancestral heritage. To the west the spectacular Carmona Pass leads to the village of Carmona (B, T).
Further west, a beautiful road climbs gradually up the Nansa Basin, passing through the villages of San Sabastian de Garabandal, Tudanca and Polaciones before summiting at the Puerto de Piedrasluenga, high above the Picos Basin. All roads lead down from this point – to the north is Líébana – the collective name for the valleys that nestle below the Picos to the north – while to the south is the Cordillera Cantabrica (H, I).
The road that follows the River Saja south from Cabuérniga climbs through the forests of the Riserva Nacional de Saja, home of mountain goat, deer, boar, mink, wolf and brown bear. The mountain village of Bárcena Mayor is especially notable for its typical Cantabrian rural architecture. The inhabitants cultivate old craft traditions, in particular carpentry. Lamina has a 10th century hermitage and close to Ucieda is a beautiful nature reserve (C, T).
The village of Nevada is located in the Campoó region to the south of the Puerto de Palombera . Reinosa on the shores of Lake Ebro has been important since the 13th century because of its strategic location on the Santander-Castille trade route. Concorte is a tranquil spa at the opposite end of the lake (C, E, F).
Fontibre, in the Campoó region, is the source of the River Ebro, a brook that becomes Mediterranean Spain’s most important river. Further west, above Alto Campoó, the Pico de Tres Mares (Peak of the Three Seas) is so named because the three rivers that spring into existence on its slopes (Nansa, Pisuerga and Hijas) flow, respectively, to the Bay of Biscay, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean (C, E, F).
South from Reinosa, Aguilar de Campoó is a well-preserved medieval town dominated by a 12th century castle, where the houses and palaces are decorated with coats of arms. The Romanesque Iglesia de Santa Cecilia with its beautiful leaning tower is especially attractive (F).
Cervera de Pisuerga, sited above the picturesque Ruesga reservoir, is the setting for one of Spain’s famous Parador hotels. The Reservoirs Route ride from Cervera is a wonderful 85 km loop (G).
The road leaving Cervera to the north climbs gently up the southern slopes of the Picos to the heights of Puerto de Piedrasluengas. From here two roads descend to the north. That to the east follows the River Nansa down through Tudanca to Puentanansa, while the one to the west descends the Valley of Valdeprado towards Potes (H, I).
Potes sits in the basin of the Picos at the pivotal point of the four valleys of this mountain domain. The Casco Viejo (old town) has traditional stately homes, five ancient bridges, a 14th century church and the 15th century Torre del Infantado, now the town hall (H, I, J, K, L).
To the west of the town the road through the Valley de Valdebaro climbs gently alongside the River Deva. A side trip leads to the monastery of Santo Toribo. From Fuenta De, where the road ends, a cable car ascends 900m to a rocky plateau at the Mirador del Cable. From this vantage point there are magnificent views of the Picos’ central massif – and the option of a wonderful hike back down to the valley (K).
To the east of the Valley of Valdebaro is the Valley of Cereceda, formed by the River Quiviesa which comes down from the Puerto de San Glorio on the border with the province of Leon. The road up the valley carries very little traffic, and there is a succession of attractive villages between Potes and San Glorio (K).
The Valley of Valdeprado is formed by the River Bullon which leads up to the Puerto de Piedrasluengas on the border with Castitiasn province of Palencia. A turn off on the road from Potes leads to Santa Maria de Piasca, a beautiful Romanesque church and monastery (H, I).
The fourth valley is really the continuation of the Deva as it flows north from Potes towards the Bay of Biscay. En route it cuts its way through the impressive Gorge of La Hermida. At the hamlet of La Hermida, a road to the east roller coasters its way over the Collado de Hoz (658m) and the Collado de Ozalba (556m) before dropping down to Puentanansa (I, J, L).
The village of Panes sits at the southern end of La Hermida Gorge where the River Deva merges with the Cares, flowing in from the west. The Ruta del Cares which follows this river provides an exquisite ride through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Asturias. West from Panes, the village of Arenas de Cabrales is famous for cabrales, a pungent blue goats’ cheese. A festival on the last Sunday in August celebrates the delicacy. The village features many beautiful 17th and 18th century homesteads (L, M, N).
Further west, Cangas de Onis was the first capital of the kingdom of Asturias. The much-photographed ivy-clad bridge, although called” Roman”, is actually medieval. The Capilla de Santa Cruz, where kings once worshipped, is built over a dolmen (O, P).
Covadonga in the northern range of the Picos, is dominated by an enormous 19th century basilica and is an important shrine. It was here in 722 that Pelayo, a leader to the Visigoth nobles, destroyed the invading Moorish army. Legend has it that his army was encouraged by the appearance on the battlefield of the Virgin Mary. Pilgrims visit the warrior’s tomb housed in a chapel inside the cave where he is said to have lived (O, P).
Between the Valley of the Cares and the Costa Verde to the north are the Sierra de Cuera hills – little sisters of the more imposing Picos to the south. Due north of Cangas is the coastal town of Ribadsella, a fishing port and tourist resort at the mouth of the River Sella. Ribadsella has a lovely old quarter on the left bank of the river and important 20,000 year old cave paintings at the Tito Bustillo Cave, discovered in 1968. The drawings include superb images of stags’ and horses’ heads (P, N).
To the east along the coast, Llanes has a medieval quarter with buildings ranging from the 13th to 15th centuries. The town’s Sablon beach is especially attractive (P, N, Q).
A major port existed on the site of San Vicente de la Barquera in Roman times. Granted numerous privileges in 1210 which accelerated economic development, the town became an important stopover for pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela. San Vicente has a rich artistic legacy including the Iglesia de Santa Maria de los Angeles and the monastery of El Santuario de la Barquera. Close to the town are several broad picturesque beaches. There are numerous excellent fish restaurants in the town (J, M, Q, R, S).
To the east of San Vicente is the Parque Natural de Oyambre – a beautiful reserve of unspoilt coastline with fine beaches and estuaries that are a haven for birdlife (D).
The pretty resort of Comillas has the most unusual architecture of any village in Northern Spain, being crammed with Art Nouveau structures built by Catalan masters of the style Lluis Domenech i Montaner and Antoni Gaudi. Gaidi’s El Capricho, built as a private house and now a restaurant, is the star attraction (D).
East from the the Saja are a series of river valleys – the Besaya, Pas, Pisuena and Miera. This region is the heart of Cantabria. The Besaya Valley offers a rich trove of medieval architecture. The Palacio de Soñanes at Villacarriedo is one of the most important baroque building in Northern Spain, while Selaya has a number of impressive buildings. In Pas country the hillsides are dotted with pasiego huts (T).
From Selaya there is a good climb rewarded by spectacular views and a great descent through craggy limestone terrain to the River Miera. The spa village of Liérganes is well worth a stroll. Further north, La Cavada was the location of a canon factory founded in the 18th century (U).
Between La Cavada and the resort of Somo is a belt of rich pastureland. Somo, with its immense beach sits across the bay from Santander, and regular passenger ferries make the short crossing to the city (U).