Cantabria, where nature treats you as a friend
We explore the scenery of the film Seventeen through a region where many sites are still missing from the tourist guides, waiting to be discovered.
By: Luis Meyer
‘The pasiego watches the grass grow, the lebaniego listens to it’. This sentence, which poetically summarises the rivalry between the inhabitants of the regions of Liébana (lebaniegos) and the Pas Valley (pasiegos) is perfectly applicable to the rest of Cantabria. This historic region, buffeted by the fierce waters of the Cantabrian Sea and flanked by the jagged yet sublime Picos de Europa and Marina mountain ranges to the north, and the gentle valleys of Campoo to the south, is a 5000 square kilometre orchard full of contrasts, with an infinite array of places outside the tourist hubbub where you’ll have the sensation that, if you listen hard, you really can hear the grass grow.
With some 220 kilometres of coast punctuated by more than 90 beaches, mountains that reach over 2000 metres in height and the greatest number of archaeological sites in the world, Cantabria is a paradise that stretches from the sea to the earth, and even into the ground. Yet even so, it is one of the few regions of Spain that has avoided overpopulation because it has made a definitive choice to pursue rural and sustainable tourism. This move has allowed it to support the local economy while preserving the bastion of tranquillity that we all seek out in an escape. While rural tourism represented barely 6% of the region’s GDP at the start of the millennium, it reached 21.5% in 2018 according to a study from the University of Cantabria just before the pandemic.
The best stage
Though it is one of the smallest autonomous communities in Spain, the possible routes are almost endless. The natural enclaves in which Seventeen takes place are a good way to narrow them down. In fact, the Cantabrian Tourist Board have taken note and created a route which takes its name from the production.
Cantabria has about 220 kilometres of coastline and mountains that exceed 2,000 metres in height
Most of the film, a road movie in which a 17-year-old youth escapes from a detention centre in search of his dog, takes place in Carmona, one of the country’s most beautiful towns indeed, it’s been declared as such by ‘Spain’s Most Beautiful Towns’, a prestigious association.
Surrounded by the spectacular landscapes of the middle Nansa valley and fed with water from the river, the town preserves its centuries-old essence with an urban layout that has not changed since the 16th century. Navigating its small streets between the stone-faced shop fronts and balconies of the traditional houses that dot the valley slope (many of them set up for rural tourism) is a good way to disconnect from everything by taking in the beauty of the surroundings, feeling as if a time machine has transported you to medieval times.
The next stop on the film buff’s route is Langre Beach. This stretch of sand, close to the town of the same name is enclosed by the sea and by a 25 metre cliff. is known for the savage beauty of its surroundings… and its waves. This is why the white beach with Caribbean sands is a hub for surfers desperate to ride the wild crests of the Cantabrian Sea.
One of the most visually pleasing scenes of Seventeen takes place on a bench. But not just any bench: it may just be the bench with the best views in the world. Perched on the brink of the Bolao cliff where it juts out into the sea, the protagonists rest here, as many of us might wish to amidst the bustle of a stressful day. Yet this bench, unlike the rest, also invites you to walk on: contemplating the decaying, dreamlike ruins of the windmill, or being astonished by the dizzying waterfall over six metres in height. Cantabria is, as well, a place of surprises: it is not necessary to travel thousands of miles to find striking landscapes.
Likewise, it is not necessary to cross over to France to find structures worthy of the great Monsieur Eiffel. The Cantabrian Eduardo Miera was inspired by the great French architect to design the Treto bridge, a masterpiece of industrial architecture where another scene from the film takes place. It links the districts of Colindres and Barcena de Cicero over the Limpias estuary, and although it was built in the 19th century, it remains a marvel to this day. Instead of relying on the overly conventional drawbridge to let tall merchant ships pass, Miera opted to have his bridge turn on its axis.
Cantabria has the largest number of archaeological sites in the world
The route through the backdrops of Seventeen culminates (in an unintended analogy for life) in a cemetery. Specifically, the one which is found on the crest of the hill of Cabezón de la Sal, a town whose striking name meaning ‘Big Head of Salt’ from the main activity undertaken there for centuries: salt extraction. Today it is widely visited for its rich artistic and historical heritage, including the residential palace of Carrejo, repurposed as the Museum of Nature of Cantabria, the Palacio de la Bodega from the 18th century, and the abundant religious architecture that floods the surrounding towns.
This is the final stop on the tour through the scenes of Seventeen, which, like every film, comes to an end. But the traveller, it can be another starting point to soak up everything on offer in one of the few regions which still preserves an allure that is ever more precious: a feeling of returning to the origins, and treating nature as a friend once more.