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September, 2016

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A small Spanish town built on the whaling industry simply had to find another source of income. Llanes clearly has: most of the locals look prosperous; boats in the harbour are obviously more for pleasure than work, and the old town has been beautifully restored.

We travelled there on an excursion from our hotel at Barro, a few kilometres away. It was approaching the annual fiesta: a long queue at a ticket kiosk continued to grow throughout the morning while we walked about, looked in shops and of course sat down for coffee. There are several cafe/restaurants in Plaza Mayor, a small space for pedestrians but of course with frequent incursions of vehicles. Sometimes these were making deliveries, at others a driver stopped to collect from a shop; nobody actually parked and went for a coffee but it seemed likely.

Across from where we sat was a superb shop, its only English equivalent would be a delicatessen on a grand scale: Selfridges or Harrods perhaps. It had everything from vegetables to many kinds of meat and cheeses to make anyone’s mouth water, not to mention wines. We toured the products almost as if at an art gallery.

A different kind of exercise followed. As the queue at the kiosk grew even longer, we set off for the harbour. At its entrance was the former fish market now an elegant tourist office with, a friend from our party explained, the best toilets in town. This was no apology: they were good. You could even take a shower, as someone did.

The boats in the harbour are moored to floating pontoons that rise and fall with the tide on hydraulic piers. We walked along one side then climbed a steep (mercifully short) ramp to regain the town centre. The harbour mouth was narrow enough to tempt an Olympic long jumper but not us.

On the opposite side of the harbour is the old town, which proved a delight. The former house of governors sent from the capital shows they began work in the early medieval period. Whaling produced plentiful revenue from taxes. Nor was that the only building of the time. A round tower served as look-out post and fortification. There was a second small plaza in that area, and what looked to be a good restaurant. The church was one of those dedicated to seamen and all the more emotional for having small models of ships dedicated to the patron saint. (There are several similar along the Suffolk coast, as well as in Normandy and the Faeroe Islands. No doubt there are many more.)

The main purpose of our visit had been to withdraw cash from a bank but as this was quickly effected we had plenty of time for exploring. It was rewarding: we could have stayed much longer and tried the restaurant. Someone went into the former casino, built by returning emigrants who had made good. It is now more of a civic centre and art gallery. There was a lively debate in progress about the coming fiesta, which was announced at one o’clock by a number of rounds from a cannon. Unfortunately we had to return to the hotel, but everyone agreed it had been a worthwhile visit.


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