May 28th_30th 2017 – Bilbao to San Vicente – Cantabria should be re-named Canfabria as this region of Spain is as good as anywhere I have been

This week’s photo shows the beach and harbour in the small resort of Comillas in western Cantabria. Very few tourists go to Cantabria compared to the numbers that visit other regions of Spain. But in my opinion, they are missing out on a treat as Cantabria is full of tiny scenic beaches like the one in Comillas shown above.  It does get some visitors and there are lots of resorts and Laredo in particular, reminded me of Acapulco in Mexico with it’s high rise apartments. Other resorts were quieter which is a pity as the region and it’s coastline is so beautiful. When I eventually make it back to Ireland, I will rate each region I pass through as a suitable cycling holiday destination and so far Cantabria with it’s quiet roads and scenic coastline is top of my list.

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One last look at our hotel room in Bilbao. The hotel is a converted hostel as you can see from the layout of the beds in the above photo. You had to leave your sheets down at reception when you are leaving in a big laundry basket. So no luxury concierge service in this hotel but it was exceptionally clean and despite being located beside a motorway, the room was very quiet.

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Myself and Travoy all loaded up ready to go at the hotel lobby in Bilbao. The hotel had a display showing the location of all the major sights in Bilbao. So what better to use as a backdrop for a photo of myself and Travoy.

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Karen getting the bus to the airport. There is a bus every half hour to the airport and it only costs €1.45. Karen’s flight wasn’t until 5 but we had to check out at the hotel by 12. So it meant she had a 3 hour wait at the airport. Unlike her flight from Dublin which was delayed 40 minutes, the flight from Bilbao left on time and she made it home around 7 o’clock local time that evening.

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Total cycled Sunday May 28th – 45 km ( includes 1,000 m of climbing). Total so far – 1320 km. Just a short spin today as my legs were a bit rusty after 3 rest days. I had given Karen a big bag of stuff I wasn’t using so Travoy was at least 3 kg lighter but I still found the hills tough going. And no wonder as 1,000 m of climbing is a lot in only 45 km. My favorite spin in Donegal round by Dunlewy and up both the Errigal and Muckish roads is also 45 km in length but only about 575 m of climbing. So my route today was almost twice as hilly as going for a spin around Dunlewy something I have only done once with Travoy. But Travoy that day only had a 10 kg bag of turf on board whereas today the trailer had about 30 kg to carry.

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One last visit to the San Mames stadium. The stadium has a huge video screen which features highlights from the club’s history. But I like this shot of the Athletic Bilbao badge on the screen. I would have liked to visit the Athletic Bilbao museum and trophy room but it is still being built and not due to open for another year. The stadium does have a shop but most of the items were very dear. T-shirts cost €29 for example and the new Athletic Bilbao shirts cost €80. However, some items were reduced and we managed to get a mug for €3.

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The world famous Puente de Viscaya transporter bridge. The Puente de Viscaya (Viscaya is the Spanish word for the Basque Country) is not the longest transporter bridge in the world but it is the most famous. It is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is a remarkable feat of engineering.

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There is only space for 6 cars and also about 6 cyclists at a time. The bridge cable car is tiny and only has space for a few cars and cyclists. However, there were also about 20 foot passengers on board in cabins on each side of the cable car. A crossing for a bike costs 70c but I think foot passengers get to cross for free.

 

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Bilbao transporter bridge full of cars and cyclists for the return journey to Getxo. The crossing only took about 3 minutes and 5 minutes after arriving on the other side, the bridge was full of cars and cyclists again and ready to cross back to the Getxo side.

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Cruise boat in Getxo harbour. Cruise boats in Dublin are able to dock only about 1 km from O’Connell Street but in Bilbao, the cruise boat berth is at least 10 km from the town centre. However, there is a Metro line from Getxo all the way to the centre of Bilbao so any cruise visitors that dis-embark here are only a few minutes by metro from Bilbao city centre.

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10 km road race in Portugalese. My route today was supposed to take me through the centre of Portugalesebut the road was closed off due to a road race. The de-tour was for over 1 km up some of the steepest hills I have ever come across. I had to use the lowest gear on the bike for the first time as some of the inclines were around 15%.

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Huge Petronur oil refinery in Muskiz. In 2 years of travelling around Europe, I never once came across an oil refinery until today. There is only one oil refinery in Ireland in Bantry Bay in Cork but in Spain, there are dozens. Petronur have many garages in Spain and most of them are supplied from this oil refinery in Muskiz. It is absolutelymassive and covers an area of at least 100 acres. But surprisingly, there was very little noise or fumes coming from the refinery.

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Holy Communion meal at a pizza restaurant in Muskiz. This photo won’t win any awards but I don’t think I will take a better timed photo during the rest of my Tour. The photo shows a girl celebrating her Holy Communion at a restaurant as her proud family and relatives look on. Basque girls are just like girls anywhere in the world and this girl may have wanted pizza after her Holy Communion. Spain is full of restaurants, some of which are very opulent, but this restaurant was one of the more downtown establishments that I have come across so far. But that may not have mattered to this little girl perhaps because it sold pizza something very few restaurants sell in Spain.

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Border between the Basque Country and Cantabria. It is only a few km from Muskiz to the border with Cantabria. Once across the border, all the signs were only in Spanish but at the actual border the sign is wrote in both Basque and Spanish.

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Sea-side resort of Onton. It had been sunny when I left Bilbao but as the day went on it got cloudier and murkier. There was nobody on this idyllic beach in Onton but if the day had been sunnier, it would probably have been mobbed.

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Taberna de Mou in the small town of Miono.  The owner of the bar must be called Mou and he has had it painted in the style of a Simpson’s cartoon. It really is eye-catching and almost certainly draws a crowd. Notice the wine barrels outside the front door which are used as tables. These are quite common at bars in Spain but not something I have seen anywhere else.

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Arena in Castro Urdiales. I am not sure if this arena stages bull fights but there are plenty of bulls in cantabria so it almost certainly does. There were no posters up for the next bull fight so perhaps it is no longer used for that purpose.

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Total cycled Mon May 29th – 60 km (includes 950 m of climbing). Total so far – 1380 km. When it comes to cycling, Cantabria is just as hilly as the Basque Country but with fewer people, the roads are much quieter.

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Small beach at Islares. This beach is just typical of the Cantabrian coastline and again it was deserted.

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Seaside resort of Laredo. This town reminds me of Acapulco in Mexico with it’s high rise holiday apartments. Unfortunately, in Laredo, the weather had taken a turn for the worst and the rain had started. But despite the bad weather, there were loads of people about the town.

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Floral display at a roundabout in Escalante. There is similar floral displays in Malaga and Majorca where the town’s name is spelt out using flowers. This is the first such display I have ever come across on the Tour de Travoy and it looked stunning.

El Portillo mirador near Argones. You often see signs for miradors or scenic locations or laybys. This one was created in 1962 but you have to climb a number of steps to get to see the view. With the load on Travoy, there was no way I was going to climb any steps so I had to give the mirador a miss.

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Sign showing the Camino de Santiago route through Cantabria. The full hiking route for the Camino de Santiago in Cantabria is over 200 km but the way I went was slightly less as I didn’t hug the coastline as much as the hiking route does.

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Total travelled Tuesday May 30th – 75 km ( includes 1,175 m of climbing). Total so far – 1455 km. One of the most scenic days I have ever had on the Tour de Travoy though the weather was cloudy in the morning.

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Pena Cabarga. The mountain of Pena Cabarga totally dominates the port city of Santander and it looks extra menacing in this photo due to the low cloud cover. It has featured twice in the Vuelta d’Espana in the last 6 years and on both occasions, the stage was won by Chris Froome. In 2011, he beat Juan Jose Cobo to the top and last year, he out-sprinted Nairo Quintana but in both those years, he would go on to finish second overall in the Vuelta. I would have liked to have climbed it but the nearest campsite is 15 km from the start of the climb. It would have meant at least a 40 km trek to the mountain and back as the climb is about 5 km in length. It was just too far to tackle today but maybe some other time.

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Mural depicting the rowing boat crew in the Santander suburb of Pedrena. Rowing is not as big a sport in Cantabria as in the Basque Country but some towns and suburbs do have their own rowing team.

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Boat being repaired in Santander harbour. Santander marina was full of small yachts and boats but as for bigger craft, there were very few to be seen. There is a big ferry port in Santander and there is a sailing to Plymouth every week but there were no ferries in port when I went past. port

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Stylish roundabout sculpture. This is sculpture is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The Romanesque style of architecture is marked by numerous semi-circular arches and predominated in Europe between the 6th and 10th Centuries. Gothic architecture started in France in the 12th Century and lasted until the 16th Century and featured pointed arches and flying buttresses. But while this sculpture may look like the ruins of an old church, it is built on a roundabout and is probably no more than 20 years old.

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Sign for pandas at a local zoo. The sign says ” Today, the baby pandas are coming from China”. Notice as well that part of the sign is in English, something you would never see on a poster in France. This sign is for a zoo in Madrid which is about 500 km from Santander. The Zoo Aquarium Madrid is the gets the most visitors of any zoo in Spain and people travel from all over the country and abroad to visit it.

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Sign for the Camino de Santiago. The sign says 555 km to Santiago de Compostela. But the way I was planning to go, the total distance left is closer to 800 km.

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Stone bull sculpture on a roundabout near Torrelavega. This sulpture was absolutely huge and while bulls in Spain are huge, this sculpture was twice the size of an average bull here.

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Sign for the Museum of the Altamira caves in Santllana del Mer. When I was passing through Santillana, I noticed a sign for the Museum of the Altamira caves. The name Altamira rang a bell but at the time I couldn’t remember why. It was only that evening when reviewing the day’s photos that it hit me. Altamira is where the first pre-historic cave paintings were found in the 19th Century. The oldest paintings in the cave date from 36,000 years ago. Recently, DNA has been extracted from Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens bones in the cave and the DNA analysis seems to prove that the earliest cave paintings were produced by Neanderthals. There is a campsite in Santillana and in hindsight, I am sorry I didn’t stop there for the night and visit the museum.

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Winged figure probably an angel on ruined church in Comillas. This winged figure reminds me of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Winged Victory is located at the top of the main staircase in the Louvre and really stands out amongst all the hundreds of sculptures of Roman and Greek gods and other figures. Likewise, so does this winged sculpture which looks like it has been deliberately placed on top of a ruined church. But if it is original, then it is incredible that it has survived for maybe a thousand years as the church around slowly fell to pieces.

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Sandbar and harbour in San Vicente. You know what they say always save the best for last and Cantabria certainly does that.  San Vicente is located only a few km from the border with The Asturias but I doubt if I will ever come across a more scenic seaside resort in my lifetime than San Vicente.

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View of the beach from Camping El Rosal in San Vicente de la Barquera. The campsite too is located right beside the beach and was one of the best campsites I have ever stayed at. It was full of surfers which is always a good sign as they know the best beaches and the best campsites. A night’s stay only cost €9 but I would have happily paid double that to stay in such an idyllic location. I could have picked no better place to spend my last night in Cantabria.

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