09 September, 2015
The scenery in this land is highly varied, featuring the best of Cantabria, with its rugged coastline and inland landscapes blessed with nature in its pristine state. We are going to concentrate on two routes that traverse the province and boast an extraordinary historical and cultural legacy, studded with a host of priceless Romanesque churches. Both are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.
The Northern Road to Santiago
Also known as the “Coastal Road” and running for 936 kilometres, in the Middle Ages it acted as a distribution network along the north of the Iberian Peninsula. The coastal road coincides roughly with the current layout of main roads, stretching across the whole region from east to west.
The miraculous discovery in 813 of the tomb of St James sparked the beginning of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, situated at the western edge of the known world. This centre of pilgrimage gradually grew in importance, vying with others in Rome, Jerusalem and Liébana. The pilgrims took the roads that led westwards which were generally old Roman ways still in use. In addition to the main route, which led across the north of the Meseta, there were alternative routes like the coastal road, part of which ran through Cantabria’s maritime districts. Thus, the road led through Castro Urdiales, Comillas, Laredo, Santander, Santillana del Mar and San Vicente de la Barquera, all of which boast valuable medieval religious buildings, both Romanesque and Gothic.
You are advised to negotiate the route in nine stages:
Stage 1. El Haya de Ontón – Castro Urdiales (21 km)
This is the first stage on the Northern Road through Cantabria. It leads through Baltezana, Otañes, Santullán and Sámano. The route is smooth, with no marked slopes, and has restaurant facilities, rest areas and drinking fountains.
Stage 2. Castro Urdiales – Guriezo (12.9 km)
A short stage. It is worth taking time to visit the Gothic church of Santa María, particularly its interior. You will pass through the villages of Allendelagua, Cérdigo, Islares and Nocina. The standout stretch is the last three kilometres, with stunning views of the Cantabrian Sea.
Stage 3. Guriezo – Laredo (23.1 km)
This takes you through Rioseco, Tresagua, Lugarejos, Iseca Nueva, Sopeña and, on the way to Laredo, through Iseca Vieja, Las Cárcobas and Valverde. The most prominent features include the hillside walk which culminates in your first glimpses of the Liendo Valley, the beautiful scenery around San Julián beach, and the town of Laredo, with memories of its medieval and modern history cast in stone.
Stage 4. Laredo – Güemes (36 km)
The municipalities traversed on this stage are Santoña, Argoños, Helgueras, Noja, Soano, Isla, Bareyo and Güemes. Noteworthy in Laredo is its 16th-century Town Hall. This is followed by a stroll along the beaches of Salvé, which stretches for over 4 kilometres, and Berria. When you come to Bareyo, make sure you visit its church, a gem of the Cantabrian Romanesque.
Stage 5. Güemes – Santander (18 km)
A short stage which allows you to explore the capital of Cantabria more fully. The places you pass through are Galizano, Somo, Pedreña and Santander. In the capital, the acclaimed landmarks include the historic centre and the Reina Victoria promenade. Don’t miss out on the Jardines de Pereda and the Cathedral, set behind the post office, in addition to the Iglesia del Cristo, where you can get your pilgrim credentials, both for the Road to Santiago and the Lebaniego Road.
Stage 6. Santander – Santillana del Mar (40 km)
Peñacastillo, Santa Cruz de Bezana, Puente Arce, Requejada, Barreda and Queveda are the population centres you traverse on this stage. From a cultural standpoint, the most striking landmarks are the 16th-century Arce bridge and the town of Santillana del Mar, a medieval museum in itself.
Stage 7. Santillana del Mar – Comillas (24.6 km)
This is a beautiful stage which, like the previous one, can be broken into two parts. One as far as Cóbreces and the other up to Comillas. Both are worthy of stopovers as they boast historical complexes. And, make sure you don’t miss the villa of the Marqueses de Comillas with its Catalan Modernist features.
Stage 8. Comillas – San Vicente de la Barquera (12.5 km)
The highlights of this stage are undoubtedly the above two towns, and the scenery along the Cantabrian seaboard which connects them. The route takes you through Rubárcena, La Rabia, Guerra, Rupuente and La Braña. Keep your camera or mobile handy as you’ll be passing through the Oyambre Nature Reserve and some idyllic beaches.
Stage 9. San Vicente de la Barquera – Unquera (16.4 km)
Everywhere you look around you reveals stunning scenery. Behind you lies the town of San Vicente and, to the front, the spectacular Picos de Europa mountain range. This stage takes you through La Acebosa, Hortigal, Estrada, Serdio and Pesués. While you’re at it, between San Vicente de la Barquera and Unquera you can take a detour at Muñorrodero if you also want to do the Lebaniego Road.
The Lebaniego Road
This is one of the most important and beautiful pilgrim routes. In fact, 2017 will be a Jubilee Year in Liébana. The Lebaniego Road runs from San Vicente de la Barquera to the Monastery of Santo Toribio, passing through the municipalities of Val de San Vicente, Herrerías, Lamasón, Peñarrubia, Cillorigo, Potes and Camaleño. The route traverses some beautiful natural spots and boasts fine examples of Cantabria’s architectural heritage. It also provides access to the Northern Road (or Coastal Road), the French Road and the Road to Santiago from the routes in León and Palencia, pointing to the historic ties between the diocese of Liébana and the kingdoms of León and Castile. Many pilgrims make the journey to Santo Toribio and then connect up with the two roads to Santiago for the purpose of attaining both credentials. It is advisable to negotiate this route in three stages:
1st Stage. San Vicente – Cades (28 km):
San Vicente de la Barquera is one of the major and most touristic towns in Cantabria. Although outside the scope of the pilgrim’s route, it also features interesting sites like the 13th-century Castillo del Rey, the 15th-century Convent of San Luis, where Charles V lodged before being proclaimed king in 1517, the bridge known as Puente de la Maza and the Sanctuary of La Barquera, both dating from the 15th century. From there you set out to Serdio, and on to the mountain trail that leads to Muñorrodero. The trail ends in Camijanes. You then pass through Cabanzón with its Medieval Tower and, finally, you come to Cades.
2nd Stage. Cades – Cabañes (30.53 km):
From Cades, you head for La Fuente. There you can visit the Church of Santa Juliana, one of the jewels of Romanesque art in Cantabria, listed as a Cultural Interest Site. After reaching Cicera, the road leads to Lebeña, passing through an oak and beech forest with millennial specimens, as well as field mushrooms of all kinds in season. The route ends in Cabañes after negotiating a slope.
3rd Stage. Cabañes – Santo Toribio (13.7 km):
The first stop is in Pendes, which you cannot leave without trying Liébana’s typicalquesucocheese. From there, the road leads to Tama, and then on to Potes, with its impressive Torre del Infantado, the town’s most emblematic landmark and one of the finest in Cantabria. It makes a priceless picture with the Picos de Europa in the background. Finally, you come to the Monastery of Santo Toribio, where the Lignun Crucis is venerated. The classical Gothic and Baroque monastery was built from the 13th to the 18th century. It features the 15th-century Gate of Pardon which is opened every Lebaniego Jubilee Year; that is, every time 16 April falls on a Sunday, the feast of the monk St Toribio, a historic figure acclaimed for having brought the Lignum Crucis to Liébana. This is regarded as the largest relic of Christ’s Cross.
Full information on the Road can be found here. In addition to the information, news and routes, there is a link to a map of the Road.
Millennary Yet Modern Road
The Lebaniego Road was the first pilgrim’s route to have a wi-fi internet connection, thanks to the project, Camino Lebaniego en Red. The connection is achieved via a system of waymarkers that provide a signal throughout the route. The technology enables travellers to interact with one another, access information and share their experience with other pilgrims. It is also accessible to people with disabilities and is generally designed as a comprehensive system for those covering the 72 kilometres of road. More information here.
So, take up your backpack and don your sturdy footwear for the journey. Live out the experience of the Road for yourself. Check out our flights here.
Text and images by Turismo de Cantabria
09 September, 2015