Dry stone and rock churches down south

Now I’m a huge fan of the south of Cantabria, it’s one of the areas I really hope to help open people’s eyes to through this blog section of the website. It has so much to offer, a fantastic network of well-marked PR routes, huge expanses of untouched forest, amazing viewpoints, Roman ruins and remains, medieval necropolis, rock churches, hermits caves, the wonderful Ebro gorges, a massive array of Romanesque churches, several great visitor’s centres with guided walks, great picnic areas, I could go on and on about this area all day. It’s very overlooked by tourists, despite the excellent efforts of the local area to promote itself, which in my opinion makes it an even more special place to visit.

So on this occasion I’ll tell you about a little trip we made a couple of months ago now, which ended up including a walk, 2 visitors centres, a rock church and a necropolis, not bad for one day!

Our first and only planned activity of the day was to walk the PR-S 37 route, a short, 1hr30m circular hike from Polientes, the capital (so to speak) of the deep south. Taking you along the River Ebro to start, where we not only saw a lot of trout fishing going on, but also saw someone actually catch one, and through the Parque Fluvial, with picnic benches and parking, and then along tracks, through pine woods, over a col with views back to Polientes, and back down to the town. It was a pleasant, if fairly unremarkable walk, but a good way to start our day. Finishing off with some really good rabas in the bar on the main square was a bonus too, mmm!
So then we decided to head back west along the CA274 following the Ebro upstream to La Puente del Valle, with its Centro de Visitantes de la Piedra en Seco (dry stone). This small visitors centre was shown to us by a very friendly guide, taking us through the different uses of dry stone, from walls to impressive cone roofed shepherd’s huts, throughout the centuries in Cantabria, Spain, and throughout the world. Sound a bit boring? I have to say it wasn’t! And since our visit, we’ve been looking at walls around the area in a different light! Outside in their small garden there is also a full scale model of a domed stone hut.
From here the guide also pointed us in the right direction to visit the Necropolis de San Pantaleon, just across the river. We left our car at the visitor’s centre and walked the 5 minutes there. To get there, go over the river, stay on the road, and follow it bearing left (not towards Sobrepenilla), and then at the top of the incline, where another road enters from the left, ignore this, instead come off the road and take the path across the field on your right, signposted. The necropolis is a wonderful place, hidden, peaceful, and great for a good bit of contemplating. It is comprised of a large rock with 2 or 3 hermit’s caves carved into it at the base (have an explore, great for kids!), and a whole load of tombs carved into the top of it of all shapes and sizes. There’s no explanation panels or anything, so if you want to know more about it, best to have a read here (also with a map). Adding to the charm of it all were various kinds of wild orchids and other flowers, a nice decoration!
So after this, we made our way back to the car, and headed further west to Santa Maria de Valverde. This village is home to another visitors centre, the Centro de Arquitectura Rupestre Santa María de Valverde, somewhere which should really be an obligatory starting point to visiting this southern area of Cantabria. It explains and maps out all of the rock churches and necropolis in the area very clearly, as well as having a great video presentation, worth watching for the images even if you can’t follow Spanish. This is upstairs, downstairs there is another excellently done presentation using holograms of a hermit to take you through the historical periods and find of the area. A word of warning though, as you’ll see, it’s very dark inside a cave! Not for little kids, I did this on my own and even I was a little spooked as the hologram popped up behind me!
As well as the visitors centre here, there is also the largest rock church in the area, which at first glance looks like a normal church, as it has a tower, but if you take a closer look you’ll see the roof is not actually the roof, it’s just been put up to cover the rock underneath, which is another necropolis, full of tombs, and inside houses a fully functioning rock church, you can actually attend mass here every Sunday! (see the photos for times) The church and the visitor’s centre are two different entities (as is often the case), and they don’t have the keys, but you can still peek through the windows, it’s quite special.
So there you go, my first blog foray into the south, many more to come! Go visit, it’s a wonderful area!
Some websites to get more info:
Sur de Cantabria: http://surdecantabria.es/
Valderredible: http://www.valderredible.es/

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