Green Spain-Wednesday

Santiago de Compostela
September 19 – 26, 2022


Wednesday – Corias – Santillana del Mar
Map Link

The night was quiet and dark – perfect for a good night’s sleep after an exciting day. And this morning held the promise of yet another exciting day: we would meander through the Pyrenees for a while before ending up somewhat near the coast, in the historic town of Santillana del Mar. But first: breakfast – again.

I was already getting into the rhythm of the trip: wake up, throw on some clothes, eat, then pack and put on my gear (I can never separate those last two actions). Wearing my gear, I dragged my tank bag and duffle bag out to the parking lot. I handed the duffle bag to David and attached my tank bag to my bike and then waited for everyone to be ready to go. Easy-peasy!

There was some discussion (well, hand gestures) as we lined up for departure. The Canadians were offering to let us follow Hana directly, but we “Swiss” were all too happy to keep the current order. It was so much less stress not to worry about holding anyone up. Well, “directly” holding them up, since they would still have to wait for us eventually. We pulled out the monastery’s parking lot and headed south. The day was overcast and verging on the edge of “cool”, but I will take “cool riding” over “too warm riding” any day. The roads leading out of Corias were just as good as the ones leading into it and was a great start to the day.

Blurry, but fun!

Early autumn colors cover the hills

Home of the Cantabrian brown bear

“It is estimated that the Cantabrian Brown Bear colony exceeds 200 individuals, mostly in western Asturias.” Sadly, I did not see any bears on this trip. I was just happy to have gotten a photo of the sign. I would have to come back in April or May to have a better chance of seeing a bear. That and leaving the motorcycle parked somewhere would probably help.

Catching up with Hana and the group

The group had only been waiting a couple of minutes when we caught up with them, but it is a little awkward to know that they are waiting for “you”, even if “you” have the right to ride your own ride. Oh well, I got over it quick enough. Hana leads a good tour. She makes a point that if there is an ambiguous turn then she will wait to ensure that everyone makes the correct turn, and she never encourages anyone to ride above their comfort zone. She is here to lead, but not to push.

Shortly after we were all together again we took a very small side road. I should mention that the map links I provide are not always accurate. I did not bring my own GPS to track the route (it is way too complicated to figure out the mounting and power connections for such a short trip), and while David later drew some lines on a paper map I had, I don’t know how accurate those lines were, or how well I transferred them to GoogleMaps. But Hana is awesome and answered my question for the location of this little side road: it is at the village of Sonande.

Approaching the next turn – we will take the road leading up the hill in the distance

Hana stopped again, this time getting off her bike and walking down the line of bikes to talk with us individually. Dan and I mused about what she had to say. Was there a dirt road ahead? (awesome!) Was she lost and we’d have to turn around? (not awesome, but it happens) The suspense was killing us – what could it be? And then I could hear her voice come through Dan’s comm system: there was a VERY tight bend in the road that we were about to take. She wanted to make us aware and cautioned us to take it carefully. True to her word, it WAS a very tight bend.

One by one we navigated the corner. Being near the back, I could watch everyone else work their way around it and when my time came I was ready for it. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad although I suppose being warned about it and starting from a complete stop helped me to roll through it without much difficulty.

Passing through the village before The Bend

Looking back at The Bend

In the photo above, Mac is making a mid-turn adjustment, having miscalculated her angle of attack. She wasn’t the only one to do this, and Hana was on hand to give assistance if needed. Of course when I look at the photo of Mac navigating The Bend, it looks harmless. “What’s the big deal?” one might ask. But it is a completely different feel when you’re sitting there on your bike, looking at the slope, the camber, the white lines, the gravel and leaves on the inside. Everyone made it around without incident and we were once again on the move. The narrow road wound itself up the hillside, through forests and fog. Ok, not so much “fog” as “clouds”. But no matter what you call it, it had the same effect: very limited visibility.

Eventually we met up with a more major road which, while still covered in fog, was a bit faster. And as we raced down this new road we eventually raced out of the fog and into sunshine.


Weak fog

Fog no more!

Valley of Clouds

A random obelisk shortly after crossing into Castile and León

New architectural style!

We were coming down from the mountains and into a wide, arid valley. The scenery was still spectacular and we were still at the back of the group. But now that the bends weren’t demanding top speed, it was easier to keep up with the others. I suspect that they had slowed down since the challenge of hard cornering had dissipated.

Behold, the expansive view!

We were approaching the town of Cabrillanes where we would partake in another ritual that just “doesn’t happen” when I’m not on a group ride: the Coffee Stop. Each day was the same ritual: Breakfast, ride, coffee, ride, lunch, ride, end-of-day-hotel, dinner. And a random gas stop thrown in there to spice things up, of course. The BMWs all had a similar range (“far”), but we would stop once a day to make sure that everyone had enough fuel to comfortably get where we were going.

Heading to Cabrillanes

Outskirts of Cabrillanes

Roadside parking (post-“parking lot “drop – it happens to everyone!)

As the others parked their bikes (and the fallen bike was picked up) and they made their way to the roadside tables, I looked around and was surprised to see this stork nest at the top of a pine tree. I have seen many stork nests in Switzerland, but they are always high up on a church tower. This one was so close and it really gave me a sense of the massive size. Cool!

Stork nest

Another stork nest

Roadside seating for a coffee break

After coffee we jumped back on the bikes and continued down the long valley. I admit that I really enjoyed this road. I liked the vast sight lines, the gentle turns, the feeling of being there (I don’t know how else to express this). It just felt “right”. And as a bonus, the warm, dry air was full of the scent of eucalyptus trees. Ahhh, the joys of riding: you get all of the smells, both good and bad.

Narrow roads are the best roads!

The group stuck together as we flew down the valley. It was a relaxing ride and the weather was cooperating perfectly. That was one thing that I had been concerned about when packing for this trip: the weather. It was late September so we could have had anything from a late-summer heat wave to icy cold rain. I checked the forecast before we flew out and it looked dry, but I also knew that we’d be in some high mountains, and mountain weather is never predictable. So far though, it was perfect.

On the hill in the distance I could see some road construction vehicles, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when we came upon a red construction light. We all piled up and cut our engines for the wait. I took the time to more fully appreciate our surroundings and have a more leisurely chat with Dan. I love having him in my head while we ride. I am really impressed at our comms system, too: we have old-school Sena SMH10s, first purchased over 10 years ago and still going strong despite the use and abuse that we give them.

My surroundings

The newly laid asphalt was angst-inducing. At first the surface looked great: smooth and black and nary an imperfection to be seen. But then I noticed the sun glinting off of the fresh oils and I was concerned about traction in the corners. And then the clean surface was no longer clean: it was covered in gravel. Lots and lots of gravel. Everyone’s pace dropped considerably through this section but thankfully it didn’t last more than a few kilometers. And then we were back on good, reliable pavement – and right off again, as we stopped at a viewpoint to take in, well, the view!

Looking back at the valley we had just traversed

I almost felt at home with the cows grazing nearby

As we rolled into the town of Cangas de Onís, Hana started to ride a little less confidently. She was clearly looking for something, but what that “something” was, I couldn’t tell. There was a little bit of backtracking and then she found what she wanted: parking. We were stopping for lunch!

The tour is called “Green Spain” for a reason

Prime parking in Cangas de Onis

“Big city” architecture

Lunch was on the other side of the Río Güeña (Guena River), crossed by a modern bridge – the same bridge we had taken getting into town. Hana and David led us to a lovely outdoor restaurant on the river’s edge and under an incredibly tall Roman bridge. How did I not get a photo of this bridge? This was a much more substantial bridge than the one we walked over the previous evening. And do the Romans ever not build anything dramatic and beautiful?

Photo of Roman bridge stolen from Flckr, since I can’t find mine

Once again Hana translated the menus for us, but most of us weren’t paying attention and ended up working things out ourselves. We managed a tasty lunch and, as I finished before most, I wanted to check out this ancient structure that soared above me.

Ascending the Roman bridge

The view of the restaurant seating, the modern bridge and the river

The nature of the river

The post-lunch walk over the bridge was enjoyable and I wandered through the side streets back to the parking area. Everyone eventually gathered there and David magically appeared with the truck – and our jackets and helmets, which we had stowed inside for safe keeping. The sun was warm and I was looking forward to getting some air flowing across my gear.

Just over Puerto Ventana Pass (1587 m)

Amazing geology

Cutting through a narrow canyon

Another granary, where the flat stones keep rats and mice from climbing up the legs and getting inside

And yet another narrow canyon

Back in the land of galeria windows – these ones are the nicest I’ve seen yet!

Making hay while the sun shines

Spain’s own Matterhorn!

The morning was spent running through mountain range after mountain range, with occasional towns interspersed for variety. It always amazes me that it is possible to just keep riding and riding and riding and never get bored. There is always something new to see, be it how the fields are plowed, or the timber harvested, or even the variety of cars on the road. Everything is new and I tried to absorb as much of it as I could. Yet another reason I like to focus on the view and not always the road.

Because we dallied so much in the mountains this morning and most of the afternoon, we took to the motorway to make up some time. It wasn’t a bad road and the bikes of course had no problem with the speed. There was little traffic to break up our group and Hana’s signal passed down from bike to bike as we eventually headed for the our exit. And with that, we were at our destination: Santillana del Mar.

Santillana del Mar is considered a living museum, its heart a medieval village that developed around the “Santa Juliana” church. I love the wiki entry for this town: “There is an old saying that Santillana del Mar is The Town of Three Lies, since it is neither a Saint (Santo), nor flat (llana), nor is it by the sea (Mar) as implied by its name.” Welcome to the Town of Lies!

Narrow street of Santillana

Hana double checked her GPS before leading us through a double gate and into a gravel courtyard. We had arrived out our lodgings, the Casa del Marqués.

The “back door” to our hotel

One by one, we were given keys to our rooms and instructed where and when to meet for dinner. Our riding days were always short enough that we had at least a couple of hours between our arrival and our dinner. Dan and I dropped off our bags, changed clothes and headed out for some exploration – starting with the hotel itself.

The hotel’s sitting room

The breakfast nook

Upstairs alcove

Our room’s door

Our room – I felt at home!

I didn’t realize how historic this hotel was until I looked out the front door and saw a tour group taking photos as their guide gave a description of the building I was standing in. Just what was this place?

Well, it was the home of the original Marquis of Santillana and built in the 15th century. It was renovated a few times over the centuries, but clearly the bones of the structure were preserved. Unfortunately, that was about the limit of the information I could find on this particular building. But the town? The town is literally built on history! Time to go have a look.

The tourist’s view of the Marquis’ house

The street that our hotel faces

The celebrated anchor of the town, the Colegiata, a Romanesque church and former Benedictine monastery (12th century)

Just imagine how many people have leaned up against these stones over the centuries

Known as the “prettiest village in Spain”, the tourists were plentiful

Well-preserved buildings built between the 15th and 17th centuries make up the village

Dan and I returned to the hotel, joined the group and we all wandered down the darkened, historic cobblestones to the Restaurante Gran Duque. We had reservations and took up a long table in an already crowded room. Once again, the “local wine list” was brought out and the group felt obligated to give it a try. The menu was in English so we could easily choose what we wanted. I admit that I can’t recall what I ate, but I do recall being impressed – as were the people around me with what they ordered. Once again, our Spanish hosts did not disappoint.

It was another late night but Hana and David had a surprise for us: we would have a slightly later departure tomorrow, so we could sleep in! What a great note to end the evening on.