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Cantabria

- by Don Harris

Being originally New Englander, I love to drive along the coast of the Cantabrian sea in the autonomous region of Cantabria. It has some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Spain. I love its rocky coastline, which, now that I think of it, reminds me of the rocky coastline north of San Francisco just as much as that of Northern New England. It is blessed by more than 72 deep sheltered beaches.

I enjoy mingling with the locals in the seaside fishing villages. Their Celtic stock reminds me of my childhood days. Their anchovies and bonito tuna are legendary. Back home at La Tienda we send out to our Spanish food enthusiasts hundreds of trays of boquerones – the little white anchovies marinated in olive oil and vinegar.

Undoubtedly the most engaging place for people touring the area is the village of Santillana del Mar, which is filled with seignorial homes and a remarkable Romanesque church within whose walls rest the bones of Santa Juliana. I don't think there is a better place to experience the sense of timelessness as you walk in the evening to the quiet, dimly lit cobblestone streets, and drop by one of the local cafés. Several times we have stayed at a Parador in town, which is very tasteful and captures the spirit of the town beautifully.

Nearby are the fascinating caves of Altamira where stone age men found shelter. Their cave paintings far excel the sketch line drawings found in other caves. All the animals they drew our anatomically precise and drawn so that their bodies conformed to the curving, irregular surface of the cave walls. The effect is three-dimensional, and the visit within the cave is almost spiritual.

When my wife and I were with able to visit the caves and nineteen sixties and early seventies we were able to have direct pass access to the paintings. But as the word has spread and roads improved the number of visitors grew much that there was fear that the paintings might be compromised. Now they have been skillfully protected while preserving a remarkable experience for the visitor.

With the many cows grazing in the mountain pastures, the high quality of their milk is known throughout the country. The milk I have tasted there is some of the best I've ever tasted. I read somewhere that the Romans used the butter as sort of a sunscreen on their bodies. What a waste!

Cheese production is something of which the Cantabrians are very proud. I enjoy their Picón cheese. It is cured in seaside caves, as is the more famous Cabrales cheese, but I find it more approachable.

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