Day four of the trip and the longest drive so far had been about an hour. The road from Santander to Oviedo was going to be around 3 hours- so Diego decided to make a rest stop in the green hills of Santillana del Mar where you won't find beaches but lots of medieval coats of arms. Diego had been for a weekend in college with some friends who had property in the city, so he was a good guide down the cobblestone streets past marmalade, cheese, and anchovy shops to the Colegiata Church-a stunning example of Romanesque art. Reaching the colegiata, the golden afternoon sun glowed on the warm stone and although we didn't go in, we wandered through the arched columns, gazed at the simple carved saints guarding the main entrance, and guessed the meaning of cross carvings all around the worn stone of the courtyard walls.
From the steps of the colegiata the huge coats of arms wrap around corners or stand beween balconies dripping with flowers- Santillana was an aristocratic town and the coat of arms (escudos) proved the wealth and power of the past owners-even today the size and details of the escudos are impressive. The biggest of the big escudos in Santialla belongs to the Casa de los Hombrones (House of the Big men...haha) where two nearly life size soldiers stand guard between the balconies. Diego spent a weekend at this particular house when he was in college-today the house has been converted into a tourist shop, restaurant and terrace-but he says that it was the scariest night he'd ever spent anywhere-heavy wooden stairs, dark brocade curtains, paintings of old owners watching your every move...(read more about it on his website Contraportada here)
Santiallana is for wandering and wondering, imagining a medieval past-a lovely stop before heading into the Picos de Europa and Austurias. (ps...just a few miles from Santillana are the Altamira caves-prehistoric cave paintings- really really wanted to go, but by the time we left Santillana it was too late, on the agenda for next time.)