When we had mentioned Spain, all our friends suggested Barcelona, but my wife and I wanted something quieter and less crowned, which is how we ended up taking the plane to Oviedo, and then driving east in our rented car to the municipality of Llanes, in the northern Spanish province of the Austurias, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Llanes stretches for many kilometers along the coast, so that during our two hour drive we were offered scenic views of the Bay of Biscay, the arm of the Atlantic Ocean which Spain shares with France. We knew from our Spain road map that Llanes was bounded not just by the ocean in the north, but also by the limestone ridge of Sierra del Cuera to the south, so we decided to stick around the coast. We settled in a small, family-run hotel in the town of Llanes itself, close to the coast — Hotel Rural Arpa de Hierba.
Set amid green hills in a beautiful garden, the Hotel Rural Arpa de Hierba turned out to be as charming and as inviting as we hoped it would be. Our well-decorated and comfortable room afforded us the few hours of rest we needed before starting our local explorations. We cherished the natural silence of the place, which was only enriched by the tuneful chirping of the birds coming from the garden greenery. Now and then, we also heard the ringing of the cowbells which were crossing with their slow grace a nearby pasture, the sight of which we could admire at our leisure from our airy and refreshing balcony.
Soon we headed into town. From a distance, the town walls still looked imposing, but as we neared them they began to show their age — we had read they were hundreds of years old. Although Llanes is a popular tourist city in Spain, constantly ranked among the best destinations in the country, we were impressed with its quietness. We wandered slowly through its old, cobbled streets under a bright blue sky dappled with fluffy white clouds. The Basilica of San Maria in Plaza De Cristo was the first local attraction that caught our eye, and my wife, who knows so much more about architecture than me, was especially delighted with what she called ‘its Gothic style’. For my part, I liked more the 13th century Tower Alfonso, whose round vastness rose imposingly over the nearby rooftops, like an old grandfather of the town, gazing down upon its stone descendants. A local guide told us with her good English that the tower was a national monument and used to be a prison.
In the heart of the town we stumbled upon the restaurant Covadonga, where my wife and I enjoyed authentic Spanish food for a great price, including a free drink of sangria which my wife absolutely loved. The wine, the soft breeze, the quiet intimacy of the old streets prepared us for a romantic walk around the harbour, where we admired the fading Cubes of Memory, a surreal type of sculpture consisting of cubes tossed into the cliffs above the ocean. From up close, the colorful cubes, yellow and green and red, looked even stranger than they did in the many pictures we had seen of them. Beyond them, the immeasurable ocean trembled softly under a sky full of twinkling stars. We held each other tightly and kissed.
We knew it was just the beginning of a great vacation. There was the whole seawall to explore, and the San Pedro Walk, and the many caves in the area, with their open passages and ancient art drawn on their walls, and the fiestas, and lots of good food to enjoy, and lots of swimming, and it would all be wonderful, even better than in the Spain travel video we saw.