San Vicente de la Barquera is one of Cantabria’s most lovely coastal towns, with its old town, variety of restaurants and hotels and long lovely beaches for sunbathers and surfers alike. It’s also a great base to explore the surrounding area, being within half an hour Comillas, Santillana del Mar, Llanes, Oyambre Natural Park, Saja Natural Park and within 45 minutes of Potes and the Picos de Europa. It’s a place we personally spend a lot of time at, and when we had the opportunity to borrow a friend’s flat for a few days one Easter, we jumped at the chance!
We started with an afternoon walk around the beach area, through the fields above, and down to Merón beach.
Said flat has the most spectacular views from its balcony, so sunset and sunrise are always a pleasure. Waking up on our first morning was promising to say the least!
That morning our plans focussed around the nearby Nansa valley – starting with a visit to one of Cantabria’s harder to visit caves – El Chufín. This very off the beaten track cave is well signposted off the A8, but is not always open – pre-booking is essential, which can be done through the Cuevas de Cantabria website. The cave is located on the shore of the manmade reservoir of Palombera, and its visiting times are all to do with whether the cave is accessible due to water levels or not! In the past the cave was actually only accessible by boat! But now there is a lovely lakeside path through woods to get there when the water level allows. Generally speaking, the cave is open at Easter, and in summer. Prices are also higher than the other caves, at 15 euros per person, and groups are smaller. The car park is some distance from the cave, and visitors are transported to the cave in the guide’s vehicle (which is what limits group size). It’s all quite curious! And then of course to actually enter the cave you have to crawl…so not one for the less mobile. It’s a great visit though, and the paintings in the cave are pretty special, with engravings outside, and a variety of symbols and animals inside, and notably female symbols.
Our next stop was for a good old walk. As we were in the Nansa valley, we felt it only right to check out the Senda Fluvial del Nansa – the Nansa river walk. We’d heard it was pretty fun, and indeed it was! It’s a lineal walk of course, either starting at the large picnic area at Muñorrodero, or at the hydroelectric station below El Collado. Having two cars at this point, we started at the latter, and walked down to Muñorrodero. The fun parts are all the wooden walkways, many overhanging the river clinging on to the rocks, and the lovely spring flowers all along the route. Very recommendable walk.
That afternoon, we decided to go exploring back up the Nansa valley, before turning west down the high valley of Peñarrubia. We’d heard there was a lovely Romanesque church in the village of Lafuente – which indeed there was, and the valley in general is impressive with its high ridge to the north.
And just before we left the Nansa valley, we managed to catch the last tour of the day at another of its attractions, the Ferreria de Cades, a traditional ironworks in the village of Cades. It’s very well set up, although again, not open all year round, and the guided tour with the working hammers is fun! There’s also a nice picnic area and paths by the river.
Our visit to Peñarrubia the previous day had whet our appetites for what we knew lay at the far end of the valley – the Mirador de Santa Catalina. It’s perfectly accessible from where we had been the day before at Lafuente, however we’d kinda run out of time to make the most of it that day. So, we decided to approach it from the other side, this being from the Desfiladero de la Hermida – the Hermida gorge. Billed as one of the most beautiful drives in Europe, it is pretty spectacular as gorges go, and has several places to visit on the way up it. Today we started with a drink at the village of La Hermida itself, which has restaurants, and our choice for today, the Balneario de La Hermida spa, with its pleasant terrace. Its worth noting a couple of other interesting places in La Hermida, firstly under the bridge that leads to the spa, there are actually hot springs in the River Deva, which apparently can be swum in. And opposite the spa is the increasingly popular Via Ferrata de la Hermida – which has hire and guides in season.
From here, we turned off left up towards Linares. The first village you come to up this steep windy (but perfectly driveable) road is Caldas, which appears to be literally hanging over the gorge.
Continuing on is the village of Linares, which is home to the Torre de Linares, visitable on Wednesdays only – and also home to a nice bar with fantastic sunny views from its terrace.
We then continued on to the highlight of any trip to Cantabria – the Mirador de Santa Catalina. This viewpoint is accessed driving up through a lovely wood, and has two small parking areas at the top. There are picnic benches, and the remains of the fort of Bolero de los Moros. It’s a great spot for a picnic, vultures flying below you, swallowtail butterflies flying around you. And the views are unbeatable, both over the gorge below, and towards the Picos – and there’s a suitably vertiginous viewpoint to see them from!
The obvious thing to do after this is head up to Potes and Fuente Dé of course, but that wasn’t on our agenda this time. Our next stop was back down towards the coast, following the Deva and Nansa rivers to their mouths at the Ria de Tina Menor and Mayor. Firstly to the Deva mouth at Tina Mayor – and down to the dog-friendly beach of Las Arenas – the access is just next to the campsite entrance. And then round through Pechón (which for the record also has great beaches), up to the viewpoint over the rivermouth of the Nansa at Tina Menor, where the water looks the colour of the Mediterranean (although not today!).
We then headed back to San Vicente, along the coast, coming down into town with great views over the castle and estuary.
The next day we started with a walk around the castle and church of San Vicente’s old town – with great views to the Picos de Europa mountains.
Then we headed to the other side of town to the Centro de Interpretación del Parque Natural de Oyambre, located in the lighthouse. This small visitor’s centre explains the local coast and its geology – and inspired us for our next visit of the day – to the rock ledges of Oyambre beach.
These rock ledges are only accessible at very low tide, and require a good old scramble over the rocks to the far west of Oyambre beach. Worth noting that this is also a nudist beach – but not at this time of year unless you’re very brave! Geology students can often be found here, and the ledges are a great photo op for sure.
The following day started off with a morning surf for one of us, and a lovely morning beach walk along Playa Merón for the other – this is always best at low tide when you can get right to the end of the beach (and if you want to make it circular, up the track at the end to the village of Gerra – and a drink at one of the bars there – and then back down the bike path next to the road to the beach again).
Then we were ready to head off for the day, and for our first stop, a nice short walk from the village of Bustriguado to the curious waterfall of the Llasca de los Moros. It’s a pretty one, especially in spring, and more details of it can be found in this blog post.
Our last stop of the trip was a curiosity we’d heard of but not visited before – the Torre de Estrada. In the village of Estrada, it’s home to a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Maquis, the guerillas who after the Spanish civil war, continued to fight against Franco’s troops, and were famed for living in hideouts and caves in the mountains. The most famous Maqui was called Bedoya, and was from the nearby village of Serdio – it’s still a controversial topic around these parts, and the first thing the guide did was to ask where we were from, just in case!
And that concluded our stay in San Vicente de la Barquera! We were lucky to have had lovely weather during our stay, and of course being Easter week, all the museums, caves and restaurants were open, so a great time to visit – other times of the year outside summer, check opening times carefully would be my advice. Of course, there are many more places to visit from San Vicente, check out the additional ideas (in pink) on the map below.