June 4, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Oh dear. Do you still remember me? The deep passion for tortilla española? The adventures with sheep? The cheese, ohhh, the manchego cheese!?! Yes, it’s me Tortuga Viajera, and I know, it’s been a little while.

After a couple of weeks of silence, though, I’m back, and (sort of) have an excuse: my father recently came to visit me in Spain. During his nearly two-week trip, we traveled up north, weaving in and out of the regions of Asturias and Cantabria, and covered ground here in Madrid, heading to places like El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen. We ate, we saw, we ate some more, and then my dad finally got food poisoning (because apparently this runs in the family). Overall, though, it was a magical a trip. And here are some of the photos to prove it.

The seaside town of Cudillero, where I will live one day. Promise.
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The Cudillero lighthouse.
The world’s best arroz con leche – EVER!!! – from Restaurante Isabel in Cudillero. See that mess drizzled on top? That, my foodie friend, was sugary syrup burnt to form a crusty layer of magic atop the tapioca-textured concoction. It was a miracle in my mouth.
I present you with extreme fishing at Cabo Vidio. Shortly after this, the guy left his two poles propped up on the ledge and left. We still can’t figure out his strategy. Seriously, can someone tell me how the fish he’s apparently catching don’t yank the pole straight out into the ocean? Really, I want to know.
The view of the Picos de Europa from just above the mountain village of Cahecho, and after an uber-Cantabrian lunch of cocido montañes at Casa Lamadrid (well worth the car sickness-inducing drive, should you be in these parts).
A backroad in the Cantabrian village of Potes. Not a bad place to get lost during a countryside stroll.
On our final night, we slept in the 30-person village of Bárcena Mayor. We stayed at the only open hotel (if you can even call it that) in town and were their only guests.
Blooming flowers in the gardens behind the El Escorial Monastery. Spring and summer have been trying to make an appearance here in Spain, but it’s been slow going.

March 16, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Spain

View of Santander from Hotel RealThe cows and sheep seem happy, the dogs seem especially happy, and I’m pretty sure I’d be happy there too – in Cantabria that is. Wandering around the community of Cantabria’s capital city, Santander, you can’t help but turn your head sideways at its citizens happily walking along the beachfront, even going for a morning jog, or kayaking out in the bay. It’s a different kind of Spain – one that reminds me very much of home. A breath of fresh air.

The bigger cities in Spain that I haven’t visited are few, and for some reason, Santander had been on my to-do list for quite some time. So this last weekend we finally set out for a road trip to Cantabria – land of green hillsides filled will sheep and cows, and inviting pueblos around every corner. And I should emphasize that happy livestock equals very happy food – veggies, milk, cheese, meat, etc. This trip would be a good one!

Our first stop was Santander, to unload our goods at the hotel before setting out for some pueblo hopping. We pulled up to a palatial mansion soaring over all the buildings on the peninsula around it (yes, our palatial mansion even towered over the other palatial mansion in the picture above) – it was the Hotel Real, built in 1917.

ComillasBefore exploring Santander, though, we had more road-tripping to do. So we got back on the road to carry on with our drive, heading first to the town of San Vicente de la Barquera. The city has its own little harbor, bordered by a historic quarter that is topped with a small castle. Before exploring its hilly streets, we first stopped for lunch at the restaurant Augusto where I had my first taste of one of Cantabria’s specialties, crema montañesa – like the famous crema catalana (which you will find in Barcelona/Catalunya) in that it is an egg-based custard with burnt sugar on top (and I think we can all agree that that is a very, very good thing).

After walking off our lunch (well, maybe I hadn’t yet really walked off the crema montañesa, but let’s pretend), we headed for the next stop on our Cantabrian tour – the pueblo of Comillas. Home to an expansive university sitting on a mountaintop overlooking the city’s historic quarter, where you will also, strangely enough, find a palace designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1883, called El Capricho de Gaudí. A little touch of Barcelona in Comillas. Otherwise, the buildings in Comillas, and in Cantabria in general, always seem to be characterized by rocky walls, the most darling wooden balconies with intricately carved railings that match the framework of the house, and are all topped off with overflowing flower boxes (even in this cold weather!).

Our last pueblo for the day was Santillana del Mar, a pueblo far more rustic and rural than the other two. Walking its streets you are accosted by the smell of burnt sugar, reminding you that you are in the home of such lovely desserts as arroz con leche, crema montañesa, and especially local treats like sobaos (a yellow cake) and quesada (made with cheese, yogurt, eggs, sugar, milk and flour, and which admittedly doesn’t taste as good as I’d hoped – you can pass on this one and double up on arroz con leche instead!).
That night we set out for tapas in the historic quarter of Santander, a city that sadly lost much of its historic quarter to a massive fire in 1941. Traversing the streets, we were on a mission to find good seafood, and ultimately some great arroz con leche. We accomplished both. I couldn’t have been more delighted to receive my bowl of arroz con leche with a separate bottle of cinnamon so that I could season it to my heart’s desire – I’m not sure if this is a tradition of the north, but if it isn’t, it should be. Our exploration of the city continued in the morning when we returned to the historic quarter to experience it by day. I fell in love. The fresh air, the people, the colorful buildings, the hilly streets – I see a pattern in the places I love, and somehow they all seem to bare a resemblance to San Francisco (which isn’t a bad thing, right?). Before leaving Santander, we passed by the Parque de la Magdalena, then the famous casino, and by then it was time to hit the road for one more stop before heading back to Madrid.

Our next stop would be Bárcena Mayor – a pueblo nestled deep within the mountains of Cantabria. The drive there was simply awe-inspiring – it was a sea of peaceful rolling green hills, only interrupted by the occasional rocky and rustic pueblo, each which was more picturesque than the last. It then only made sense that the last and most quaint pueblo on the road happened be Bárcena Mayor. Upon arriving, we first went to find ourselves some lunch and quickly (largely because the town is so small) found a little restaurant perched on the edge of a river. There we had cocido montañes (a bean-based stew, which you can find versions of elsewhere, particularly in Madrid) followed by another divine arroz con leche. If it isn’t clear by now – traveling Spain is as much about the food, if not more so, as it is about the sites!

Barcena MayorWhile I’d been to Cantabria before, this trip absolutely won my heart over, and has put both Andalucia and Galicia in jeopardy of losing their positions as top spots in Spain. Cantabria just seems to have a little of everything. If you’re looking for a good two-day road-trip in Spain, definitely consider this as one of the best options!