Chapter Twenty Eight - Ribadeo to Potes

Trip Start Jun 18, 2013
Trip End Aug 20, 2013

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Hostal Toscana

Flag of Spain  , Cantabria,
Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This is one of our longest runs, 300 kms. so it will be mostly on motorway. The Autovía del Cantábrico (A-8) runs all the way from Ribadeo to Unqueira, where we will turn off onto the mountains. We'll stop off at two attractive places along the way, Cudillero and Ávila.        

The motorway is excellent, and unlike the motorways in Portugal, it’s free. It sweeps over multiple deep valleys by means of lengthy viaducts and through mountains by extensive tunnels. It must have cost a fortune to build.

Our first stop is the fishing village of Cudillero. If you have seen pictures of Portofino in Italy, it doesn’t look unlike it, with colourful houses climbing up an almost vertical hillside surrounding a little fishing harbour. We find a spot to park and wander around the village, climbing steep, narrow steps that lead to fisherman’s homes. There is just one street; all other access is by stairs and alleys. Although the harbor is quite busy, it’s obvious that tourism is taking an ever greater role in the local lifestyle.    

Just a few miles further on is the industrial town of Avilés. It’s the centre of Spain’s steel industry and is surrounded by smoking factories. Nevertheless the town centre is a medieval jewel and has been lovingly restored. I had visited Avilés fifty years ago…yes, five zero! At that time I was a cadet in the merchant navy and our ship had docked to load steel products for South America. Even then I had been impressed by the city centre. I was certainly not disappointed seeing it again after such a long time.

The icing on the cake is the wonderful Niemeyer Centre, designed by famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. This spectacular complex contains a performing arts theatre, two museums, gourmet restaurant and retail space. We are fortunate to assist the visiting exhibition of National Geographic’s fifty most famous photographs.

After a very good lunch served by the fastest waiters we have experienced since our stay in Spain and Portugal, we continue on our way.

Throughout our trip we have constantly seen road signs warning of deer crossing. After a couple of thousand kilometres we have yet to see any sign of a deer, so after leaving the motorway, when one finally crosses our path, we are both surprised and gratified.

We now start entering the mountainous Picos de Europa. The road is excellent, but suddenly narrows as it threads through the Hermita Canyon. It’s bad enough negotiating the tight curves on this slender ledge carved out of the canyon wall, but meeting head-on the huge German double-decker coaches anxiously returning to the coastal resorts with their cargo of tourists, is hair-raising even for me.

We finally arrive at the town of Potes and check into our charming little posada "Toscana". What a difference from Ribadeo. A amiable and helpful host, a sunny room overlooking a stream backed by green mountains and a field full of jovial black and white cows, and brilliant WIFI to boot.. We could stay here forever!    

Our first stop is a visit to the Tourist Office. It's located in a chapel, which has been turned into a museum honouring Saint Beatus of Liébana. In the middle of the eighth century, when the future of Christianity in Europe was in the balance,a monk writing in the remote mountains of Cantabrica produced a work that was to be the equivalent of a European "best-seller" for the next 400 years. Umberto Eco used the Beatus manuscripts as the basis for his novel "In the Name of the Rose". The museum contains wonderful copies of the illustrated books that you can actually touch and turn the pages.

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