Tradition says that when the sailors returned from America via the Cantabrian Sea, the first thing they saw were some high mountains that they called the Peaks of europe. What they did not see was the secret that was hidden in its deep valleys, sheltered from the inclement winds and storms, both Atlantic and Cantabrian: the region of Liebana.
Adjoining Asturias, León and Palencia, Liébana is a 570 km² region with its own personality, with a more temperate, drier and sunny microclimate than its neighbors, and a low population density that does not exceed nine inhabitants per square kilometer. Characteristics that, over time, would be cardinal virtues for the development of tourism.
We arrived by car from Santander, via Unquera, at La Hermida gorge which, with its 31 kilometers, is the longest in Spain. The panorama is impressive, almost vertical cliffs that reach 600 meters in height in some sections seem to engulf us. As Pérez Galdós said, “they call it a throat, but it could properly be called the esophagus, because when passing by, one feels swallowed.”
La Villa de Potes, a beautiful town, capital of rural tourism, an Asset of Cultural Interest since 1983, is its largest population and will be the ideal place for us to establish our base camp here. The Romans called it Pontes, due to its bridges over the Quiviesa river, and three of them still cross it, the Nuevo, San Cayetano and La Cárcel, before joining their older brother who comes from the Picos de Europa, the river Deva.
A meeting point for mountaineers and hikers, Potes offers a calm, peaceful and serene picture both under the arcades of Plaza del Capitán Palacios, when it rains, and on the numerous terraces of its bars and taverns when it is sunny. Also known as the Villa de las Torres (the Infantado, Linares, Calseco, Orejón de la Lama and Osorio …) has a Hanging neighborhood leaning over the Quiviesa sickle where some see healthy competition with the Hanging Houses on the Huécar sickle in Cuenca.
The Infantado TowerA postcard a thousand times collected by tourists’ mobiles, it is the most representative building. Solid quadrangular construction of the s. XIV, rises next to the river in a historically strategic enclave. It was the seat of the City Council and today, in the very center of the town, it houses several exhibition rooms and an advantageous viewpoint of the historic center, although from the nearby hermitage of San Miguel you have the best views of the valley with the Picos de Europa in the background .
Obligatory visit (common place that I do not renounce to use), unmissable (detestable hose) is the Santo Toribio Monastery, just three kilometers from Potes. There lived the Blessed of Liébana in the 13th century, who revolutionized the Christian world with his comments on the Apocalypse. Within its walls is a Lignum Crucis, one of the largest pieces of the Cross on which Christ died. And here, if the pandemic allows it, a large influx of pilgrims is expected in 2023, the next jubilee year.
Other points of interest are in Piasca, a town with less than a hundred inhabitants that has one of the most important pieces of the Cantabrian Romanesque, the Church of Santa María, declared a National Monument in 1930. Its exceptional portico shows the prodigious work of the master Covateiro and his disciple Juan de Piasca, who directed in the 12th century a traveling stonemason workshop.
Y LebeñaOn the banks of the Deva, next to the La Hermida gorge, it has a Mozarabic church from the 10th century, the best example of this mestizo art in Cantabria, some say in all of Spain.
The town of Potes was elected Capital of Rural Tourism 2020, an award promoted by the website EscapadaRural.com. It obtained 26% of the 94,545 issued. For their part, Lonely Planet travelers chose Potes as the most beautiful Inland Town in Spain.
Gastronomy is another of Liébana’s attractions, especially its lebaniego stew that can be tasted at Casa Cayo (www.casacayo.com) or at the Taberna Plaza (tel. 685 13 42 31), in Potes, or at the Hotel del Bear (942 733 018), in Cosgaya.