Excursion to Gaudi’s El Capricho and to the Picos

It is Wednesday, May 8th. Our excursion takes us from Santillano del Mar to Comillas with Gaudi’s El Capricho and then to the Picos of Europe, where the blue cheese DOP Cabrales is produced.


Comillas – perched on a hill above the sea

The old city of Comillas is perched on a hill above the sea.

On the other side of this hill, inviting small cottages stretch along the sea.

In the center, we find small houses along cobbled streets.

Comillas was a posh seaside resort around 1900, when the king of Spain, Alphonse XII, used to spend his vacation here, attracting other aristocrats that built villas such as the noble and spacious neogothic Palacio de Sobrellano.

In addition art nouveau palaces have been built here, the most famous of which is Gaudi’s El Capricho.


Gaudi’s early work: El Capricho

The villa El Capricho (the Caprice) is an early work by Gaudí built in the 1880’s. It is a playful building, decorated with green tiles and yellow sun flowers, adorned with a minaret like tower – somewhat reminding of the Mudejar style. This is the view from below.

And this is the view from above. The white winter garden is attached to the house.

Several doors provide access to the villa – this is the one leading to the winter garden.

I like the somewhat intimate low rooms under the roof.

Then I feel like playing with the mirror.

When leaving Gaudí’s villa, we look at one another and agree, the villa was interesting, but to our taste, Gaudí’s style is close to what we would call kitsch.


Continuing to the mountains, the Picos de Europa

The sun has come out and we continue our way to the mountains, the Picos de Europa. They are still covered with snow.

Where we stop our car, we find orchids.

We head to Las Arenas de Cabrales and on the way, we admire this mountain farm on a steep slope. Tough work here.

In Las Arenas de Cabrales, we arrive just right in time to join the tour to the caves, where the DOP cheese Cabrales is maturing. We learn about the production of the Cabrales cheese. It is made out of 95% cow milk, 5% goat and sheep, and the mixture is flexible, according to whatever is available. The cattle spends summer in the mountains and returns to the valleys in autumn. The cheese is first dried and then transfered to the limestone caves, where the temperature is constant at 8 to 12 degrees, and where water dripples from the rocks producing a humidity of 90%. In this microclimate the Penicilium Claverum (similar to Roquefort) emerges spontaneously and is allowed to grow for three to six months. In the process the white cheese loafs become blue. I buy a piece of sealed Cabrales cheese.

When continuing our ride, I see this panorama in my back mirror. Wauu. The tower like mountain is called Picu Urriellu or Naranja de Bulnes (2519m).

We return home to our Casa de los Güelitos and eat a tasty cocido (hot pot) with white beans. Then we sleep once more in our quiet room – tomorrow we will change to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias.


Altamira – an old dream of mine comes true

On Tuesday, 7th of May, we visit Altamira and the medieval town of Santillana del Mar.


The caves of Altamira – an old dream of mine comes true

When I was a child, I read the book about how the caves of Lascaux in France were discovered: Some children walked with their dog in the valley of the river Vézère in the Périgord. The dog disappeared all of a sudden. It had fallen into a hole that turned out to be the cave of Lascaux with the beautiful prehistorian paintings. The book then talked about Altamira that had been discovered earlier, in the late 19th century. I had seen the caves of Lascaux some 30 years ago (the copy) and I had always wished to see the caves of Altamira. Now I am here. My dream has come true. Oh yes, I know, what I see is a copy, but a well made copy. The bisons seem to look at me with their eyes wide open.

The prehistorian artists made use of the natural forms of the rock to place their animals. This one has been hit by arrows.

And this is another bison – just amazing.

An excellent museum is attached to the reproduction of the cave. The map shows the occurrence of prehistoric paintings in Europe, and such paintings have been found all over the continents (not only in Europe), as another map explains.

This was a wonderful experience and it would be wonderful with children, as there are many videos and animations that explain the history.


Strolling through medieval Santillana del Mar

Our Dumont announces Santillana del Mar as a medieval small town with palaces that have been built by “Indians” or Spaniards after having returned wealthy from the Americas. The Palacio de los Velarde is one example.

The palaces are decorated with coats of arms. 

Between the medieval buildings, there is the laundry house, and in the bar to the left, we have a zumo de naranja (an orange juice).

Santillana del Mar is pretty – I can understand Sartre who said that this is the most beautiful town of Spain. But that was at the time, when Sartre lived. The town is still pretty with all the houses perfectly renovated… but it is almost “too” pretty: Too many souvenir shops, too many bars, too many restaurants and too many hotels. The town just seems to live for and from tourists.

In the shops we learn about local products such as the quesado (a cheese casserole)…

or soboa (similar to our Madeleine). In a somewhat “normal” shop, I buy a sausage of jabalí (wild boar).

The Romanesque church of Santillana was built in the 11th century. It is dedicated to Santa Juliana. In Roman times, Juliana’s father found a husband for his daughter, but she had become Christian ad did not want a non-Christian husband. For that, her father tortured and killed her. She is buried in the church. This is the main gate…

… and this is the choir.

We pay the entrance fee and enter the cloister. Ursula says, look here – uoarmmmm, look, George kills the dragon by penetrating it with his sword – right in the middle.

The interior of the church is sober.

The altar is of Isabelline style from around 1500. Isabelline is late Gothic at the transition to Renaissance.

“Look, this must be a modern antependium,” Ursula says. But no, the antependium is from the 11th century. Not modern at all. Well, it is not the first time that we thought a Romanesque sculpture to be modern – Romanesque art just holds for ever.

On the antependium, the second person from the left is Petrus with his key, the other half reliefs cannot be identified. The altar, the antependium and the martyrdom of Juliana are carefully documented in the church.


Santillana del Mar has a beautiful Plaza Mayor,…

… with two towers from the 14th century.

After three hours, we leave the pretty town that is full of tourists and souvenir shops. WeIl, we had expected more local shops and more local people here – this really looks like an open- air museum to us.


Evening meal

We return to our Casona de los Güelitos and enjoy a nice dinner. We do feel at home in this cosy house.