Monte Castillo

September 27, 2017 - Puente Viesgo, Spain

Ah, decisions, decisions. The morning arrived clear but cool here in the country and we woke to the sounds of roosters crowing, cowbells jangling, that damn crow and the mailman tooting his horn as he did the rounds of the little lanes.

While we sat over our breakfast we considered today's possibilities. One original idea that I came up with before leaving home was the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos but after our visited to Santander we thought that should move down or off the list. We definitely wanted to see the cave art site at Altamira even if it is a replica and the real cave is closed to visitors. The real reason for staying in Puente Viesgo was the proximity to the cave art sites at Monte Castillo, and they do limit the number of visitors over the course of a day.

We decided that we should go to Monte Castillo today so that we had the choice of today or tomorrow to make sure we got tickets. We had seen the signs near the town several times but managed to miss them this time and had to retrace our steps to find the road. That was very embarrassing, especially as it is the same road we took to the parking area last night.

At the top of the hill we drove past several cars parked in lower carpark and a couple of buses to reach the upper carpark where a bus was filling 6 or 8 car spaces and there were one or two left. That did not seem a good omen but we parked and walked up the road to the Cave Interpretation Centre and the Ticket Office. It turned out we had a few choices of time slots and we could have rushed into a group that was about to leave but that was a large group of English High School students. Hmm, I think not. We chose to get tickets for El Castillo cave at 3.40pm and then Las Monedas cave at 4.40pm. There are two other caves with cave art, Las Pasiega and Las Chimeneas that are closed at the moment and I think they rotate visits over the course of a year.

So now we had tickets and some three and a half hours to kill. We took a walk from the ticket office and El Castillo cave along the path to Las Monedas. On the way we passed bay the entrances to La Pasiega and Las Chimeneas as well as some other caves including La Flecha which we assumed must have been a place where they found many arrow heads. We also tried to work out where our Hotel Villa Arce was. We knew we could see the pathway from our window but still could not spot it from here.

We then drove back down the hill. There is a park and a walk along the river and in fact the other half of the town to investigate. The original town and the church is on the other side of the river but the major road is on this side. We crossed the bridge and found our way back down to the river and a parking spot along the roadside.

The grounds of the Gran Hotel Balneario were on one side of the fence from our spot but we walked away from there and along the river to a footbridge and weir. That was a pleasant and shady place to practice some of the photo techniques we had learned in Torrox. From there we walked back toward the hotel and up to the Church of San Miguel.

With an eye to possible places to eat we checked out the El Jardin restaurant in the hotel but the menu outside looked fairly expensive. Across the road was another part of the hotel with a 'cafeteria' but that didn't seem to show opening hours and even the drinks seemed expensive. Well cross those off the list of places to eat in Puente Viesgo and that pretty well takes care of that side of the river.

From the hotel we walked across the old bridge (now purely a pedestrian bridge) to El Marqués bar and restaurant. I tried to order two Fanta Lemon drinks (Dos Fanta Limon, por favour) and pointed to a bottle sitting on the shelf. Perhaps it was my accent but just near the bottle was a beer tap that produced the most wonderful beer with a lemon tang to it. We sat outside with the beers and the barman delivered two small dishes of a bean stew to go with the beers. (There is always something to nibble with your drinks in this country.) I was suspicious of garlic but Margaret's reassurance and a search through the stew meant I gave it a try. Very good and not as spicy as I thought it would be.

While we were there I tried to enquire about opening times but only reached agreement on the number of fingers I held up. A look at the menu and the fact that there were live crustaceans in a tank suggested this was not a place for a cheap snack.

When we drove back to the caves there were far fewer cars in the carpark and when we arrived at the ticket office it was closed and there was hardly anyone around. We were still early for our appointed time so we looked around a little then sat in the shade to wait.

After a short wait the office was opened and we went in for another look around the displays inside before our guide gathered our group together and headed into the cave. We followed a little of the Spanish talk but on our way from one spot to the next I asked him whether he spoke English. 'A little', he said but then spoke quite well so I asked him if there were any paintings of animal tracks such as you would find in Aboriginal caves. He said not and then told me that most of the animals on the walls were not the same as those they were obviously hunting and eating at the caves. From then on, at each stop he would give us a quick synopsis, in English, before the Spanish explanation and questions from the Spanish.

The tour of the cave was brilliant and our guide was very kind with his English talks as well so we showed our appreciation at the end of the tour. We had held things up a bit we thought and felt we had to hurry the 600 metres up the path to Las Monedas. In fact we had to wait quite a while before our tour left. This guide helped a little with halting English explanations and a woman helped out with some quick translations from the Spanish.

This cave had much more in the way of cave formations but very little art. The only drawings were in charcoal and from about 12-10,000 years ago. Relatively recent compared to thse of El Castillo where there are traces of Neanderthal occupation and drawings from about 40,000 years ago (according to recent analyses). We still thought the tour was good and really enjoyed the 'smiling reindeer' which is interpreted as a change from realism to figurative drawing.

After a quiet time back at the hotel to absorb what we had learned and to while away the evening when kitchens are closed we headed back to town to eat at La Terazza again. A few drinks and nibbles and then the Croquettas again and the Combinado Hamburguesa (a delicious hamburger pattie with fried eggs and peppers), followed by one Tarta de Quesa (cheesecake) and our waitress brought extr plates and cutlery so we could share it all. Total cost, with drinks, was €26 about the price of one main across the river. It was probably a more colourful atmosphere as well with all the locals about and Barcelona playing football on the telly.

We carefully negotiated the laneways back to our temporary home in the country, very happy and full.


Looking from Monte Castillo toward Villa Arce
Weir on the Rio Pas in Puente Viesgo
Footbridge in Puente Viesgo at the weir
Church of San Miguel in Puente Viesgo
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