So to start off the blogging…well what’s inspired me to do this right at this moment is a little trip we very spontaneously made yesterday to Puente Viesgo. Those who have found this website from Tripadvisor will no doubt have seen me raving about this wonderful riverside town on the forums on there, I am a big fan! As we have friends close by, we have spent a lot of time there over the years, and often stop for lunch, dinner or tapas in one of the restaurants around the town, a picnic in the fantastic picnic area further up the cycle path, or ice creams walking along the river.
There are many reasons to visit Puente Viesgo, the most prominent nowadays are the fantastic caves of El Castillo and Las Monedas with their world famous UNESCO cave art, a must see, although you should book in advance (day before at least) through the website (or onsite). From the cave’s car park, there is a great, well marked short hike up to the top of the cone-shaped mountain which houses the caves, in fact you’ll pass more cave entrances going up, as well as a great viewpoint over the valley and the view and sensation at the top is well worth the short 30 minute climb through the eucalyptus trees. Aside from this, the town is home to the Gran Hotel Balneario, which receives visits from the Spanish National Football Team, and is well known for its excellent facilities (the Templo de Agua is my favourite) and for being a celebrated wedding venue. As I said before, its terrace is a great place for a drink or light lunch, and open to all. Aside from this, there is the fantastic Via Verde del Pas, originally a steam train track running up the Pas Valley from El Astillero, my mother-in-law can remember taking this train, but now excellently converted into a nearly flat cycle track, stretching all the way to the lovely park, spa and zip slide forest in Ontaneda (also bike rental). It makes a great day out and is hugely popular with all ages. In Puente Viesgo itself the old station is conserved and occasionally houses art exhibitions, as is the platform, now home to a play park, and one of the old steam trains, great for kids to clamber on and in. And the last, but very much not least, attraction in Puente Viesgo is of course the River Pas, lifeblood of the valley, and with some very special aspects in the town. Firstly is the wonderful fisherman’s path which runs up it, I’ll come back to that later, secondly is the huge picnic area with basketball court, barbecues and river swimming upriver, and thirdly the lovely area around the weir, another very popular and very good wild swimming spot, with its picturesque wooden footbridge, picnic benches, useful small car park, and summer ice cream van.
So…back to our excursion! Well, as always, it started with a spontaneous lunch on the terrace of the Marques restaurant. And then as we considered what to do next with our day we walked past the Balneario and remembered about the bikes they have to hire! Being a lovely hot sunny day, we went into the reception to inquire, only to find they were only 2€ an hour- wow, too cheap to resist! They’re great bikes too, 6 gears (you need no more, the track is flat), basket, bike lock, fab! So we hired a couple and off we went.
Now, we’ve done the track before with our own bikes all the way to Ontaneda, which takes about an hour going strong, but today we were just up for a leisurely cycle. First you go through the town, along the river, past the picnic spot (lots of kids swimming in both places today), and then past the quarry and its mini hill (watch out as you cross a road here on a corner), along past the impressive houses and fruit tree lined path (we counted hazelnuts, pears, cherries and walnuts), past a signposted bar and town model (which is curious), you arrive at Soto-Iruz, the crossing with the main road (and go under the first little bridge which reminds you you’re on a train track!). Here we decided to have a nosy at the interesting Convento de San Francisco, with its well known octagonal tower. The next bit was the unexpected bit, it was actually open! I think we may have been some of their first guests of the summer, we happened to turn up just as the two guides did, at about 4pm, and they gave us a very entertaining mini tour. We chatted away and walked around with both of them for a good hour, although a normal visit wouldn’t take nearly that. An interesting interior and some interesting stories, Baroque altarpieces, and a 16th Century “articulated Christ”. Unfortunately at the moment there is no access to the cloister or the tower, but negotiations are underway to open both up as part of the tour for small groups, we were advised to return at the end of July to see how the negotiations had progressed! Fingers crossed, as the glimpse we got of the cloister through a grilled window looked very inviting, and the tower I’m sure is something else indeed. Anyway, we were very pleased with our mini visit, lovely guides and free. Well done Valles Pasiegos! See attached photos for opening times for summer 2014.
After this we continued a bit further up the path to Villasevil, before turning back for an ice cream in Puente Viesgo, which we ate after returning the bikes, walking up the fisherman’s path. Now, let me explain how to find this little gem! You can see it below you from the bridge in the main town, and it’s accessed at this end by going up to the main road, walking up past the bus stop on the river side of the road and then taking the steep road down to the bolera (bowls pitch) and the base of the bridge. Here you go through the left hand arch of the bridge and there you’ll see the steps down to the start of the path. It is non-railed and drops straight down to the river in many parts, not suitable for young kids or those with mobility problems as there are lots of steps cut into the rock. The rock formations the river has carved along here are wonderful, and very quickly you forget you’re in a town, it’s magical. You’ll see trout and salmon in the river below, and we’ve often seen herons along here…and yesterday I have to say a rather long watersnake crossed our path too which was a little surprising! As you go upriver you come out through an area of vegetation at the wooden footbridge mentioned before, allowing you to cross the river and go back to the town via the cycle path…or you can turn right, not crossing the bridge, you’ll get to a T junction in the path, turn right and follow the track back towards the town which takes you through a curious park and the back up to the main road, or turn left and you’ll end up further up river at the picnic area, where there is another small concrete bridge to cross there, and you can walk back down the cycle path again. Finally, approaching the fisherman’s path from the bridge end requires a little more determination as it’s not initially clear where you have to go, but basically, you cross the bridge, and you’ll see a couple of openings in the vegetation to your right, follow one of these, over some rocks, through the vegetation, and you’ll find the path soon after.
So that was our spontaneous afternoon in Puente Viesgo…I hope I’ve managed to sell you one of my favourite villages in Cantabria! Would love to hear anyone else’s experiences of this town in the comments section below.