Based on what I had heard and read of the history and architecture, I thought Seville and Cordoba warranted several days’ stopover each for our first visit there. I was not disappointed! But what a treat to discover a couple of other little gems – and these are the ones that make us want to return one day…
Before I tell you about them, let’s go back to Seville and Cordoba. For the last few days, they have predicted a deluge due to a huge band of rain covering the whole of Spain the day of our journey to Seville. Rain itself doesn’t worry us, but it is more the fact that it hasn’t rained in Spain for months and even walking across the road feels incredibly slippery so the roads are going to be absolutely treacherous for the first few hours until the build up of oil and rubber has been washed away. Luck is on our side again. We got up early enough and made it to our hotel in Seville an hour before the downpour.
Seville didn’t disappoint. It is so green! Orange tree lined streets, avenues, squares, orange trees everywhere. The oranges hadn’t turned to orange yet – I can imagine how stunning Seville would be a few weeks later. We take the bus to town as we are staying outside the city centre, always a great way to see a bit more and get a better feel of a place. On our first day in Sevilla, the queues to get into the Alcazar or the Cathedral are so long, I’ll try again another day I thought, but didn’t. We enjoyed the lifestyle of Seville – there is something about this place that makes you want to wander the streets, sit, enjoy the architecture and greenery and watch the world go by. There is an elegance to this city.
On day 2, we take the train to Cordoba – that way we don’t have to visit the town in all our riding gear on.
Walking into the Mosque-Cathedral, also known as the Mezquita, in Cordoba was totally awe inspiring.
Very brief background courtesy of wikipedia, the site was originally a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins. When Muslims conquered Spain in 711, the church was first divided into Muslim and Christian halves. This sharing arrangement of the site lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir ‘Abd al-Rahman I, who then proceeded to demolish the original structure and build the grand mosque of Córdoba on its ground. Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 during the Reconquista, and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century.
Once inside the Mezquita, I switch off the audio guide as I find it too distracting – I just want to take in the majestic grace of those columns, alone, without anyone in my head and wait for the various tour groups to move away a little. I first just stand then slowly walk around admiring the elegance, balance and sheer beauty of those pink marble columns topped with sturdy double arches and enjoying the indescribable serenity of this place – until I walk along the outer nave off which there are over 30 small chapels – each small chapel dedicated to a different saint more opulent, sometimes more garish than the other. What a contrast… It feels brutal, to have done that to this once stunning simple mosque, and the cathedral’s baroque choir especially nearly seems grotesque to me in comparison. I do not mean to offend anyone, just my personal feeling. Interestingly, the dual arch system, as seen in Roman aqueducts, enables the distribution of the weight along the many arches, allowing thinner elegant columns. I cannot put in words how stunning the prayer hall is and the feeling that envelops you.
What a treat to discover, as I peer down from the top of the Alcazar, that there is an event going on at the Royal Stables next door. I go and investigate: there is an annual equestrian fair at the Royal Stables in Cordoba starting tonight for 3 days. Entry is free today and we are allowed to watch the competition. The horses are stunning and the ‘trainers’ very dapper in their skin tight trousers, and white shirt, waist coat or silk polka dot cumber-band and sombreros. We are mesmerized as the ‘trainer’ shows off his horse’s skills to the judges. Guiding the horse with a very long lead, the horses gallops in circles then figures of 8, at some amazing speed until the horse is brought to a sudden stop. And this second part is what fascinated us: the ‘trainer’ seems to be feathering the short rope he is now holding, as if it were a bow and he were playing the violin. One certain stroke, and the horse moves one step forward, another stroke, it moves one or two ears. We didn’t get to find out what all the competitions were about but what we felt privileged to have been there at this time.
We could have stayed for a flamenco show that evening, but we decided on rather going to a friend’s favourite local tapas bar in Seville for dinner. Queues again and as I ask Anthony whether we should stay and wait, we get chatting with a couple behind us, Paul and Wendy, and end up sharing a table and the next 3 hours with them!
Our third day in Seville ends up being an ‘admin’ day. Bike maintenance check, tighten the chains, washing and drying, blog update, photo upload, emails.
We have given ourselves 3 days to get from Seville to Santander where we are catching a ferry back to the UK. We decide to make good progress on the first day, about 450kms, to give ourselves enough time in case of breakdown to get to our ferry in Santander in plenty of time. So I look for somewhere around Salamanca, and stumble across Salvatierra de Tormes thanks to rave reviews of a 10 roomed hotel there. This village has a long history as the medieval coats of arms testify but it’s more recent history is very most unusual: most of the houses were bought up by a hydro company building a dam back in the 60s expecting the village to be submerged and forcing all but a few tenacious villagers out. But the dam engineers miscalculated and the village never flooded. Now presumably because the company never wanted to admit their error, they have always refused to resell the houses to the previous owners or to anyone, so only the handful of residents who held out still live there. You arrive in the village and you immediately feel like it could be a movie set. The roads and pavements are immaculate but many houses are crumbling down. There is obviously a lot of pride in this village.
We eventually find our hotel. What an oasis. Beautiful garden out the back, birds are chirping, the internet is working and the most incredible kitchen is awaiting us. For a whole €10 each , we had a 3 course meal, where the entree was the size of a main course, the mains were first class, and the price included a litre of red wine and a litre of bottled water. And that was not all, at the end, we were given a half litre of some type of Baileys and another half litre of a most tasty home made green ‘eau de vie’. It was funny to see the villagers coming to the restaurant with their own barbecue and meat, with the hotel providing salads, drinks, plates etc. The bbq was brought over and left in the garden and restocked with fresh meat half way through their dinner. We were in the heart of the village. One of the gems.
The ride to and out the village was gorgeous – our kind of country. Our biggest surprise was Cantabria. This part of Spain is so green, hilly, gorgeous riding roads, tiny stone villages. We are heading to San Vicente de la Barquera for the night – great spot chosen by Anthony.
We have given ourselves an easy ride on our last day to get to Santander where we are scheduled to spend our last night in Spain before catching the ferry back to the UK. The route we have chosen takes us through many tiny villages, past are numerous small sandy coves. We are so pleased we have the time to spend a few hours in Santillana del Mar. Yes, despite the tourists, which we remind ourselves we are part of!!! We admire the many camino pilgrims we see along the way – this region is hilly!!
Cantabria is definitely an area we would like to return to one day. A great way to finish our Spanish trip. We get to our hotel in Santander in plenty of time, having checked the arrival route to the port for tomorrow morning – time to pack for our ferry trip now and relax. Ha, that was until we got a little surprise… I get our ferry tickets out and then ask Anthony why it says that our ferry leaves from Bilbao?!?! Haha, how did that happen? We will never know, but once again on this trip, we have been reminded that we may have been a little too relaxed about our trip ‘preparation’ this time… Oh well, it only means we have to get up extra early tomorrow to do a 100kms journey instead of only 2kms!!