The Knights Templar began to establish themselves in Northern Spain during the twelfth century and various sites were given over to the Knights by King Alfonso IX with the mandate that they protect the pilgrims who were walking the Camino de Santiago.
The Knights Templar became extremely wealthy Medieval bankers who lent large sums to the European monarchies but the secrecy around the powerful medieval Order and the speed with which they disappeared six hundred years ago over a short space of time because their power was so immense and feared by the great Royal Houses, has led to a number of extravagant Knights Templar legends. These range from rumours about their association with the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant, to questions about their association with the Freemasons, to heresy and to searches for a lost treasure.
With their military might, influence and extensive financial resources, the Knights Templar funded a large number of building projects around Europe, many of which structures remain standing today. Not surprisingly this includes several sites in Spain, one of which is the castle of Castro Urdiales in Cantabria.
Castro Urdiales is a busy resort in high summer but when we visited on a day in late April it was unhurried and relaxed with only a few visitors sauntering along the promenade. We had parked at the beach end of the town which meant there was quite a long walk to reach the harbour further to the west and this took us past the yacht club and elegant balconied sea front buildings all overlooking the wide sheltered harbour where a variety of boats were resting on the muddy sea bed at low tide.
We had been up for a long time and it was definitely time for lunch so we roamed along the pavement trying to select a bar that was serving what we were looking for and we were looking for pinchos, or pintxos in Basque. Pinchos are Northern Spain’s equivalent of the tapas, the main difference being that pinchos are usually larger and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks. They are called pinchos because this is the Spanish word for spike and many of them are held together with a sharp wooden skewer. Another difference is that whilst tapas are served on a small dish, pinchos are generally arranged on bread slices and laid out on the bar was a mouth watering selection of tasty snacks and every one of them an attractive work of art. We made our selections and sat at a table on the pavement as the sun continued to strengthen its grip and the day was getting progressively warmer.
After lunch we continued our stroll to the handsome old town of Castro Urdiales where the Town Hall stands adjacent to the immaculate main square next to what was the original tiny harbour that was sheltering behind its protective stone walls. Around the harbour side women were working under parasols repairing fishing nets and past the fish market at the far end of the harbour a set of weathered stone steps took us up to castle which stands on an elevated rocky outcrop. We made the tour of the restored Knights Templar fortress and then walked around the outside of the impressive medieval parish church, the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Asuncion, which had the external appearance and dimensions of a much grander cathedral.
The tide was coming in now and as the harbour was beginning to fill with water the boats were lifted into life from the sea bed and all around them the large grey mullet swam around scavenging for scraps of food. It was hot now and there was an attractive bar next to the water’s edge so we sat for a while in the sun and had a beer and a plate of octopus salad, which although rather expensive tasted absolutely divine.
After this pleasant sojourn in the sun we retraced our steps back along the promenade and watched nervously as some heavy black clouds began to roll in from the land and we quickened our pace because we feared we might get wet. We returned to the car just in time because very quickly there were some big spots of rain on the windscreen and in the distance there was a big electrical storm over the mountains.
Motoring west once more on the Autovia del Cantabria the rain stopped and the sun came out again and after a few kilometres we left the motorway for the village of Liendo to find our accommodation. We were staying at the small Posada La Torre de la Quintana, which was a converted stone mansion with an impressive façade and surrounded by carefully manicured gardens. And we were delighted with our choice of accommodation, which was rustic and authentic and we were lucky to have the best suite in the hotel complete with a glass fronted balcony. We sat in the late afternoon sun in the garden with a glass of wine or two and Marta, who ran the place, made some recommendations for sightseeing and for food.
Later we took a suggestion and stayed in the village to eat at a restaurant called El Roble, which didn’t look very promising from the outside but despite this, and a waitress who had forgotten to take her happy pill this morning, the food was excellent and reasonably priced and we instinctively knew that we would be returning again tomorrow. As we ate our meal the heavens opened and the rain poured down and we hoped that this didn’t mean the end of the fine weather.
K is for Knights Templar but it could well have been: