The prettiest ugly place in Spain
San Vicente de la Barquera
At the moment my backpack is readied for a weekend road trip, stuffed with clothes, toiletries, and optimism. With every adventure I’m giddy with possibility—the possibility of new sights and sounds and surprises.
However, I would do well to temper that optimism sometimes. I am the type of traveler who loves to research the heck out of place before I go, and often I read such glowing reviews from the pages from travel diaries that I have a hard time aligning the reality with what I’ve heard previously.
Hey, where´s the water?
This was certainly the case with San Vicente de la Barquera, a tiny fishing town in Northern Spain. I had been planning a trip to Cantabria and, when I asked a co-worker for recommendations, was met me with a starry-eyed gaze. It just so happened that his ABSOLUTE FAVORITE PLACE IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY!!! was in Cantabria, and I had no choice but to swing by. He lovingly described San Vicente de la Barquera as an idyllic village lulled by the waves and topped with a castle. Vamos, the stuff of fairy tales.
You’d never guess it from this fog, but I was rosy-cheeked from a sunburn in Santander the day before
April 2011. My travel partner and I arrived in San Vicente with tons ‘o expectations as well as a hand-drawn map courtesy of my coworker. Not only was this town the most picturesque spot in all of Spain, it was apparently home to the best seafood in the entire country. We gave three cheers for insider knowledge; four or five of these fine establishments were crisscrossed on the map like a trail of kisses. My pal and I couldn’t wait—bring on the castles, boats, and fresh fish!
As we pulled in to the bus station, however, our hearts sank. The bay was nothing but a murky, shallow swamp dotted with slimy patches. The cloudy sky did nothing to help the grey feel of the morning and served to make the worn stones of the street and castle appear even colder.
Determined to make the best of things, we walked around the bus station in search of a place to leave our bags. No such luck—this station offered little more than a kiosk to buy tickets out of town. We headed into the village, popping into hotels and pensiones every chance we got to ask if we could pay them to hold our backpacks for the day. Everyone turned us away. Lugging our possessions like a turtle shell only added to the annoyance and let-down of the experience.
There was a castle–we would make the best of things. We bought tickets to enter the castle grounds and started our ascent. Along the way we took pictures of the many sheep that bleated, blocked traffic, and grazed on the sloping greenery.
Finally, we reached the castle!…and discovered you had to pay an extra fee to get in. I skipped the interior visit, opting instead to drop my bag and rest my weary back.
Navajas, or razor clams
After the castle climb we were ready for lunch–at least we couldn´t go wrong here! We checked out two of the restaurants and settled on a siderería, or cider house. After a bottle of natural Cantabrian cider was delivered to the table, we decided to try some of this spectacular seafood. Unfortunately, the navajas were slimy and gritty. A strong squeeze of lemon didn’t shake the awful taste they left in my mouth, and my friend K could barely choke them down, either. We took a look at the rest of the seafood and ordered chorizo instead.
The rest of our time in San Vicente de la Barquera was spent walking around the village and killing time before the next bus could come to take us away. We took a few cheesy shots…
I approve of this sign–don’t swim in the scummy water!
I normally focus on the positive parts of travel on my blog, but I am just as entitled to an opinion about what I consider a disappointment as I am a place that I declare a roaring success. San Vicente de la Barquera, in my opinion, was the former.
Low tide in San Vicente
When a friend of mine told me she was planing to visit Cantabria last year, she mentioned San Vicente de la Barquera. I immediately warned her about my experience, telling her that she might not want to buy tickets in advance in case she disliked the town and wanted to leave early. Would her visit to the town prove me wrong? She later sent me a picture on her phone with a message of how ugly she thought the place was.
Not everyone I know has had such bad luck with San Vicente de la Barquera. Shawn encourages a visit to this sleepy little town, and the lush shots he posted turn me green with envy. Perhaps I had too many expectations, demanded too much. Or perhaps I simply visited San Vicente at the wrong time of year.
After we got back from the trip, I uploaded the photos to find that most of them took that green ooze and made for some of the most interesting shots I’ve taken in Spain. I especially adored shots of a lone fisherman rowing out in the shallow water (see the first and last photos). Dare I declare this village the prettiest ugly place in Spain? San Vicente, that sly devil, had the last laugh.
Do you ever have too many travel expectations? What destination has let you down?