Cycling Spain’s North Coast – 3 Days all at once

Because there hasn’t been any time, prior to this!

Peter reporting, here…

Is this madness or fun?  Well, actually it’s both.  The fun will be obvious, if you read on.  Part one of the madness, which is hyperbole, of course, is the fullness of every day.  There has literally been no time to blog, other than eating into sleep time, which I have zero desire to do…because I’ve been exhausted.  The other element is one we knew we were creating for ourselves.   Question: how smart is it to book a vigorous bicycle tour after 2 months of sitting on your ass, on a boat?  Answer: it’s pure craziness.  But, as many of you know, I have tendencies that way.  And Shar is similarly disposed…or at least suggestible.  That’s why we make such a great couple.

So, this report is being started on Saturday evening, at the end of our third day.  And getting it done and posted before I run out of time on Sunday will be a stretch.  You see, Sunday is a layover day at a resort in the Picos de Europa National Park (Spain’s largest).  The Picos de Europa (literally: “Peaks of Europe”, often abbreviated in English to ‘the Picos’) are a range of mountains 20 km inland from the northern coast of Spain, in the autonomous regions of Asturias, Cantabria and Castile and León; they are part of the Cantabrian Mountains. A widely accepted origin for the name is that they were the first sight of Europe for arriving ships.  This gorge is on our route as we enter the mountains.

Going backwards in time…we arrived at the approach to the park after two days of riding along the north coast, west from Bilbao.  Bilbao was the meeting place to start.  Shar has posted her version of Day 1 events and has introduced the other cyclists and crew.  For me, it was the eye-opener about how negatively the lack of intense workouts is affecting my performance.  The hills weren’t awful, just slow and sweaty.  All of the mental effort melts away on the long downhills and in the shower, afterwards.

The first town, Castro Urdiales (generally just called Castro) is a seaport situated on the bay of Biscay.  It is a modern town, although its castle and the Gothic-style parish church of Santa María de la Asunción, date from the Middle Ages. The chief industries are tourism, fishing, and the preservation of fish, especially sardines and anchovies, in oil.  It’s mainly a tourist town, having greatly increased in the last thirty years. Many people from Bilbao and other parts of the Basque Country and Cantabria, and Northern Spain in general, keep summer homes in the town. Although the number of people registered in the town is around 32,000, the summer population can double or even triple this figure.  The town is popular because of its beaches…

…and scenic harbor.

The Cycling Country (our tour operator) style is keep the groups small and together.  By day, that means assisting the slower riders and engaging all of us at frequent gathering spots.  Somehow, it all works.  There are no jackrabbits, so that helps.  We stop for coffee each morning before lunch, then lunch is another gathering point.  In the evenings, were free, except two of three dinners, so far, have been provided by Cycling Country (CC).  So, we’ve been together a lot…and seeming to enjoy each other’s company more because of it.

We spent the second night on the water, too, according to the name of the place, Santillana del Mar.  BUT!  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). However, the name actually derives from Santa Juliana (or Santa Illana) whose remains are kept in the Colegiata, a Romanesque church and former Benedictine monastery.

This was a 65 km day on the bikes.  We broke up the miles with a coffee stop and lunch at the most famous anchovy restaurant, in the epicenter of the world’s largest anchovy center, Santoña.  Lunch was on CC.  Fearless leader and company co-owner, Geoff, ordered anchovies, grilled sardines, tuna salad, grilled squid and mussels.  What a feast!  Here we are with the first course, the anchovies.  These oil-soaked specimens were vastly superior to any I’ve had elsewhere…like in a Caesar salad.

Keen eyes will notice the wine glass in front of Shar.  She begged out of the last 25 km with a sore knee (it’s true).  What a great excuse to drink wine at lunch…   For the sake of pairing names and faces, the people are (starting on left): Shar, Laurie, Shakila, Kira, Mark, Kim and Geoff.  Guide Dani is absent.

Santillana has been called the prettiest town on Spain.  That might be true or not, depending on your taste.  For me, it was was pretty touristy.  ‘Nuff said.

Day 3 started out drizzly, so I had my excuse to sit out a leg through the coffee stop and lunch.  I really don’t like riding in the rain and I really needed some time off for both my sore butt and tired legs, so I rode in the van for a spell.  After lunch was a 28 km low-grade climb into Potes.  The weather cleared near noon, plus I wanted some exercise, so off I went with the rest.  And what an excellent reward I received for the effort (which wasn’t that bad).  The gorge is stunning and the road is a twisty contortion running alongside the Deva River, zigging and zagging back and forth from one side to the other on stone bridges.

Luckily, Spanish drivers are unfailingly polite to bikers.  They patiently wait for a suitable passing spot before accelerating past.  This is true in the towns and on the highways, when necessary.  It’s quite civilized and, for us, a boon for a more enjoyable trek.

Near Potes, the valley opens up for views of the hills and peaks.

The town itself is best known for being home to the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana.  It’s a Roman Catholic monastery, one of only five places, together with Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela (coming up!) and Caravaca de la Cruz, that have the privilege of issuing perpetual indulgences.  And it houses one of only four reputed true pieces of Jesus’ cross.  Somehow, I think the two are related.
In Portes, after gelato, we shipped the bikes aboard the trailer and ascended the last 25 km in the van.  That is, except for Kira.  She wanted to challenge herself.  Dani agreed to ride with her, so the two of them did it.  IT includes grades up to 11% and would be considered kick-ass to anyone other than a professional racer…and some of them might, too.  Her polite report: “It was hard.”

At the end of the road, at Fuentes De, is the Paradores hotel that is our home for two nights.  The setting is truly stunning.

So, this is full circle from the beginning of this post.  It’s late Monday night, so my prediction about getting this done by Sunday was spot on.  Complicating matters is super slow internet speeds in these remote spots.  Even reduced file sizes for images won’t upload.

I will pick up the stories, again, starting with our layover day at Fuentes De.  Expect delays.

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