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Archive for the ‘Cantabria’ Category

Potes- medieval housesAfter only 1 night’s stay, we were on the road again, this time to Potes. The road was winding with hair-pin bends, and vertical slopes of craggy mountains on either side. I slid the car’s panoramic glass roof open – just in time to spot deer and black mountain goats on the rocks. At times the scenery more resembled the remote southern parts of Chile. The neat little villages were far apart, making the landscape seem even more remote. We arrived in Potes in siesta time when everything was closed. The pretty town is spread across the shallow river, with huge blocks of granite laid out the shape of the river, directing its flow. Arched bridges make it easy to explore the very narrow lanes and wander past medieval houses built by people who were obviously much shorter then, judging by the low doors. Wealthy families, on the other hand, built mansions in the form of huge castle-like towers of which a few remain today. In one of the many shops that specialize in different dried beans, I bought a small bag of blond, round beans with a reddish-pink blush. So hard to choose from so many sacks of legumes I’ve never seen before!

Our small house in Argüebanes

Our small house in Argüebanes

Our accommodation for the next 2 nights was in the minuscule village of Arguébanes, 3 km outside Potes, in the mountains where the road ended. Our impossibly cute Heidi-house was either renovated or partially newly built. It was as tiny as 2 caravans stacked on top of each other with a steep narrow-tread staircase linking the two. The kitchen was only 2 meters long – one can stand in one spot and make tea, prepare meals, cook meals, turn around and sit down to eat! The specially made and carved shelving portray the skilful woodcraft of the owner, who made use of every centimetre of space for shelving, alcoves and hooks.

Preparing dinner: chickpeas, various mushrooms and vegetables

Preparing dinner: chickpeas, various mushrooms and vegetables

This area is known for its mountain cheeses (easy to make vegan version of various nut milk cheese); cherries (I made a cherry compôte which I poured over my nut cheese), grapes (fresh and dried), walnuts and almonds (great for making nut cheese) and apples which the locals make into cider – a great local non-alcohol alternative is to make apple kombucha). To mimic the local blue cheese, one could possibly make a dense almond nut cheese and insert wooden skewers dipped into liquidized blueberry. In preparation for the Camino de Compostella, I baked for us chocolate-flavoured wholemeal rusks which would be ideal: light-weight but very nutritious, with added protein powder in the batter, lots of nuts and dried fruit.

Chocolate wholemeal rusks

Chocolate wholemeal rusks

Driving in mountainous SpainFrom a nearby village, we took the cable car to Picos de Europa, a high mountainous area declared a national park. Here in the north, the temperature dips to 5 degrees C minimum (until almost 9 o’clock in the mornings), to 15 degrees maximum. But on the mountain it nearly felt like winter: we walked in thick mist past rocks covered in orange lichen, clumps of colourful mountain flowers, horses, sheep and cows all wearing bells. After nearly an hour’s walk we reached a lovely wooden mountain café.

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Santillama del MarFrom the restful San Sebastian seaside town we drove westwards, driving along the coast and going over high viaducts and through tunnels. The landscape here in the north is very green – rainfall is of course high and the temperatures on the cool side. We arrived at Santillama del Mar, a UNESCO declared hamlet that can only be described as storybook pretty: uneven cobblestone lanes from the 15th C, crooked little stone houses (shops now occupy the ground level which used to be stables) and carved wooden balconies with cascading petunia flowers. The main items for sale at all the shops are various honeys and chocolate: some shops boast 54 flavours of chocolates slabs. If it wasn’t for the fact that we’ve built up a veritable stash of dark chocolate already, I would have bought the roof tile size, 900g of 80% dark chocolate for only €10.

Lunch at Parador Hotel, Santillama del Mar

Lunch at Parador Hotel, Santillama del Mar

Tea in a garden

Tea in a garden

We went for lunch at the Parador we’re staying at for the night. My meal turned out to be raw vegan (straight off the menu, from the Vegetarian page): witloof, diced apple, raisins, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and black pepper. In the late afternoon, after walking around taking lots of photographs in this pretty hamlet, we enjoyed tea in a raised garden, accompanied by a bowl of roasted almonds (in fact marconas: a very tasty round type of almond).

Dinner of chickpeas and mushrooms

Dinner of chickpeas and mushrooms

We stayed the night at a Parador Hotel – these are government-run establishments of historical interest. They are usually renovated convents, monasteries, castles, palaces and noble houses. For dinner at the Parador, I had a mouth-watering dish (a vegan dish straight off the menu) of chickpeas cooked in plain water stock with wild mushrooms. For dessert, my partner had a kind of milk tart, but served without cinnamon on top (the spice influence in Spanish food from the Moors one encounters more in the south of Spain). An easy vegan version would be to set thick home-made almond milk with agar-agar in a delicate pastry shell.

Since breakfast at the hotel was not included and also not served buffet-style (which is certainly the easiest option for a vegan), we rather had our own breakfast in our room. I’ve already fermented soy milk and banana which I blended together with my trusty Tribest blender that always travels with me. In the morning I added my own home-made muesli, half a fresh peach, dried fruit and nuts.

My breakfast bowl

My breakfast bowl

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