My guide through Spain has not been a Lonely Planet or Eyewitness book but a 1953 hardback of Auto Nomad in Spain by Wilson MacArthur.
You might think that a lot can change in 60 years but in fact as many of the historical sites are hundreds of years old, this is not the case. Yes, towns and cities have expanded greatly and to say that Benidorn (now Benidorm) is “a pretty village” is no longer true.
Mr MacArthur was travelling through a post-Franco Spain where years of civil war had left scars on the buildings and in the souls of the population. He was constantly having trouble getting pesetas from the banks, patiently and politely passing through bureaucratic border controls, and his car, Huberta, had to put up with some rough road conditions. At least some things have improved.
I have found it interesting to see how the places that I visited had changed, or stayed the same, in the last 60 years. San Sebastian is described as, “probably the most fashionable seaside resort left in Western Europe” and, “a cosmopolitan town…….far more attractive…..than Monte Carlo in its heyday.” I loved San Sebastian but I’m not sure it’s still the most fashionable resort in Western Europe.
In Auto Nomad the Basque people are described as, “shrewd, hard-headed and stubborn…….opinionated an utterly determined.” I found them to be a bit cold and distant but very passionate about their history and culture. I also have to agree with Mr MacArthur when he says, “Biscay is not Spain.”
Unfortunately I missed market day in Gernika. Markets are always lively and colourful places and a good opportunity to meet the real rural people who come to town to buy or sell local produce. In Auto Nomad the description of the men in the market is very detailed. “The streets were crowded, men in the traditional black smocks and blue or red berets, pin-striped green trousers tucked into their socks, and thonged leather shoes.” I did see a few men dressed in the traditional Basque style but no leather thongs.
In some ways I am jealous of Mr MacArthur. He was able to visit the real Altamira Caves before they were closed to the public and he didn’t have to pay €7 to visit Burgos Cathedral or €2.50 to see the monastery of Miraflores. I’m sure fuel was also a lot less expensive in the 1950s but perhaps not so easy to find.
But some of the most interesting features of his travels are related to the places where he stayed and the people who owned the small hotels and guest houses. By travelling in a Motorhome I am missing out on the interaction with these local people. However, as most of the hotels seem to be shut up for the winter, I guess it’s just as well that I have my own accommodation.