Literally for years my wife has been saying, “Hey, maybe this weekend we can go to Potes!” It’s almost become a running household joke, like an unobtainable holy grail of family activity. Potes is a little mountain village in western Cantabria in the mountain range known as the Picos de Europa (European Peaks). At almost 300 meters of elevation, it regularly gets snowfall that we don’t get down here at 1 meter of elevation. For reasons explained above, it’s been one of the towns loaded into my phone’s weather app for years because I’m always asked what the weather’s like there this weekend. Normally it’s a handful of degrees colder than where we live, and often rainier.
We finally pulled the trigger. When my wife heard that I was playing golf on the beach last Saturday, she said, “Okay, but then we’re going to Potes.” I googled apartamentos en Potes and ended up making a booking with Booking.com for the Hosteria Sierra del Oso. They advertised a one bedroom apartment in the center of Potes that sleeps four. I was aware of Sierra del Oso as one of the best marketed brands of orujos (grape-based liqueurs) from that region. It turned out that our room was in the same building as that company’s main tourist shop. Here’s a great video of their distillery.
My phone told me that it was a one hour and fifty minute drive, but when we got off the motorway exit for Potes, it had only been 45 minutes of driving. That’s when I realized what we were in for. I’m so glad that the kids were asleep for the mountain pass we drove through. We followed the Río Deva down one of the most claustrophobic curvy drives I’ve ever done. It was the narrow road, the river, and then towering mountain cliffs on either side. Think Manhattan, but with all the roads bidirectional 1.7 lanes wide and curvy as a river.
The sum total of my knowledge of Potes was that it is famous for its bridge(s). I follow a group on Facebook that is full of photographers in Cantabria, and Potes, and its primary bridge, is a regular feature. Indeed, it was a photogenic bridge.
The first thing we did was to go down the steps to the river and walk along the stone path. Here you see that another creek joins the river.
Ian loved throwing little rocks into the river.
We got distracted with the rocks, and the girls got ahead of us.
At the end of the walkway, we found a little rocky bank where we spent a good hour chucking stones into the water. Both Ian and Nora threw with an awkward sidearm throw that required perfect timing on the release, which wasn’t always achieved. I’m frankly amazed that we survived with no one getting a stone to the skull.
Little mermaids. The weather was perfect.
Despite the short sleeve weather, we could see snowy mountain peaks.
Some sort of a convent. Judging from the stone carved roman numerals, it was pretty old.
The architecture was very charming.
We loved exploring the steep stone streets.
Ian felt the need to explore each little hole and climb every crumbling step. Some houses were clearly occupied and others looked like they hadn’t been occupied in at least a generation.
I’m glad that I don’t live with them on a daily basis, but old stone paths and walls still charm the hell out of my American heart.
After a full day of doing what the kids wanted, we finally got to sit down for a beer or two. The place we found was perfect because, from our table, we had a line of sight to a playground and there were enough railings to assuage concerns of a child plummeting into the roaring river. We liked the place so much that we stayed for two rounds, each accompanied by complimentary olives and nuts. My kind of place!
In the evening, it got a little overcast. When I shared this on Facebook, an observant friend of mine commented that Nora and I have exactly the same smile. I can’t argue.
Being a parent makes one appreciate a good railing. The school looking building to the left there is a boarding high school. As an alumnus of a boarding high school, I think it would be pretty awesome to live for a couple years in Potes. I’d hate to live there full time because of how difficult it is to get in and out of – Let’s go to the mall! Okay, that’ll be an hour of windy roads… – but it has its charm.
That night we retired to our hotel and got out our dinner that we had packed. A bag of salad, a tomato, a long loaf of bread, some salchichón and cheese, and a bottle of wine, and we dined like kings. Especially once the half dozen 22-year-old Americans reminiscing about “Bro, do you remember how awesome Kool-Aid™ was when we were kids?” left the common patio area. In their favor, they all said “Hola” to us as they went past, and as they were leaving to go out for a Saturday night on the town, I shot them a “You guys have a great time!”, in English, which confused them.
We had been hoping to catch the 2015 Copa del Rey Final on TV, and it was broadcast on Telecinco, one of the five primary television channels in Spain, but for some reason neither our television in our room nor the TV in the common lounge area could get the channel. I noted this in my review of the lodging. But it really was for the best, as we had a long night ahead of us.
The complimentary crema de orujo (liqueur similar to Baileys™) that was left in our room. At least I assume it was complimentary. We drank it. And it served its purpose to inspire the purchase the following morning of more orujo at the store below.
The design of the fold-out couch in our room (they really shouldn’t call it an “apartamento“) was one of the more clever designs I’ve seen. No cushions had to be removed, they just all folded under. Also, the room with the couch folded out wasn’t as cramped as we’d expected. However, due to all the excitement of the tourism and the break with regular routine, the kids had a really hard time falling asleep. We played musical beds for a while, where I was sent to sleep with the kids, but then they moved to their mother’s bed. Around 3am, when I was about to defenestrate them onto the cobblestones, I had a moment of realization of how much I would miss this kind of shit when they are older, so I recorded a video of their shenanigans for my future wistful self.
We put the television on the 24/7 cartoon channel – Disney, perhaps? – and when I heard snoring finally at 4:30 am, I turned it off and we finally got some sleep. We had been leaning towards attending a “livestock climb” the following day, an annual event in which the farmers and shepherds of the area all take their livestock up the mountain to graze the summer away at higher altitudes that had been covered by snow all winter long. But farmers get up early, and parents that are up all night by their own calves and lambs don’t.
This was the view out our room to the ancient houses behind and the communal patio below.
So we had a leisurely breakfast outside in the communal patio, leaving enough crumbs to justify the existence of the hose, and then had a relaxed morning full of more exploring.
First we explored the store on the ground floor. I love stores like this. Especially when the employees won’t shut up about, “Why don’t you try a sample shot?” That whole barrel on the right was full of a selection that I was encouraged to sample to my heart’s content.
My other vice: cheese. Especially goat cheese, which Potes, and the Liébana region is known for. I often buy Río Deva goat cheese, and now I’ve wet my hand in that river.
But really, you could do worse than be snowed in to a shop full of liqueurs and cheese.
To our morning adventures…
Just a typical Potes landscape: a stoney bridge – there are many more than the “main” one – with cobblestones, terracotta roofs and mountains.
Archy! This trip was the first time I’ve ever noticed a mind-blowing innovation in the art of stone streets. What’s the problem with cobblestone streets? They’re hard to walk on – even for those of us not condemned by society to wear high heeled shoes. But they (apparently?) are good for cars and their predecessors, horse-drawn carts, to roll on. Potes had implemented a system of a sidewalk-wide path down the middle of every street with flat stones that fits exactly between the wheels of a normal automobile, thus achieving the best of both worlds: a walkable and drivable path. Genius!
A quick visit to a children’s playground that was so hot that it was unbearable, followed by a quick re-application of sunscreen.
What am I blogging for if I can’t permit myself a brief rant?
Sprayable sunscreen is of the devil!!! The idea is lovely, but in practice you end up splashing it off the skin and onto any surfaces you happen to be around. We use ours by spraying it into our cupped hand and then applying it like any regular lotion UV protectant. I shan’t buy another spray-on sunscreen again.
After this, we had a beer at a place that was so lovely that I took another blog post’s worth of photos, so…stay tuned.
Coming down from the upper area of Potes to the main tourist section, I spotted a bright green turban among the throng of people. What happened next requires some backstory. Hold tight.
A few years ago – the exact date is unclear, but I clearly remember her presence for an important event three years ago – a woman began following this very blog, just as you are, dear reader. She has recently started her own blog, which is ambitiously bilingual (I considered that myself for roughly 1 second). Anyway, she is Indian, and she introduced me some time last year to an Indian man who lives in the nearby town of Laredo. We have since become Facebook friends and often make posts suggesting that we were mere meters from each other for a particular event or just a Saturday night out. I had yet to meet him, but, for reasons that will soon become apparent to you, I was pretty sure that I would be the one to spot him, rather than the other way around.
Anyway, here we were, almost two hours away from where we both live, and I saw a man who triggered my “Look out for someone like this!” neurons. Sure enough, it was my up-until-now-online friend, Arvinder.
As expected, he was lovely to talk to. Rather unexpectedly, Ian never once tried to tug at that glorious beard of his. We chatted for five minutes and discovered that his son (?) is living in my home state. No offense to Arvinder, but the main take-away that both my wife and I had was how amazing his [Spanish] wife’s English was. I know a thing or two about Spaniards’ grasp of English, and she was, obvious in mere sentences, showing an effortlessness and expertise I’ve only seen in Spaniards who have lived abroad half their lives.
I consulted my well traveled photographer friend, Ángel, about where one can most enjoyably fill one’s belly in Potes, and, without hesitation, he named Casa Cayo (shown here on the right) as the best place. Both of these places with their views over the river looked fantastic. He said that you need reservations for weekends, and probably week days if you want the window tables. We were, however, traveling with a rambunctious toddler, and very much needed a place where we could keep an eye on him and without ornamental crap for him to destroy. Our lunch on Sunday ended up being at the worst tourist-trap place (Pro Tip: any place where they have the English version of the menu already on the table), but it served our purposes and we were able to eat a whole meal without getting up to chase a child.
On the way to the parking lot, the children had to investigate this monument to orujo. The way they distill it involves containers shaped like this. As such, some of the bottles are designed to mimic this hourglass design.
We left Potes enamored with the little town. Next time, however, if we take kids, we plan on renting a cabin more out in the woods and just chilling in the Nature, rather than spending so much time in the town itself. If we don’t take kids, we’ve got a long list of things we’d also like to do: eating and drinking in peace, mainly.
Love you, Potes! See you soon, I hope!