Things to Do in Bárcena Mayor

The Village of the Foramontanos

This historic Rural Art Complex located in the Natural Park of Saja Besaya is one of the oldest villages in Cantabria that preserves its typical mountain houses and cobblestone streets. Its history is linked to its ancestral natives, the Foramontanos.

Planning your Trip to Bárcena Mayor

This locality — situated within the Saja Besaya Natural Park — preserves the medieval air of when it was founded in the 9th century; Its wonderful location makes walking on its paths a must-do. This historic ensemble envelops the traveler in an idyllic rural mountain environment thanks to the beautiful landscape that surrounds it and the mountainous architecture of its houses. Bárcenas is a small town that can be visited in the morning. After lunch, walk up towards the valley above to enjoy the waterfall of the Pozo del Amo and the beautiful panorama that the viewpoint from the Balcón of La Codosa offers.

You can also climb further north and discover the beautiful town of Cabezón de la Sal and its surroundings. If you want to discover where to enjoy the typical mountain stew and find the best accommodations, do not forget to visit our section on where to stay and what to eat in Bárcena Mayor.

Do you want to learn more about this place?

Here are remains of a Roman road that had to be used for the Empire to maintain vigilance on the indomitable Cantabrians. This infrastructure continued to serve as access to the Visigoths in this remote valley. There they must have been able to resist the Muslim invasion, as no vestiges of these have been found in the valley.

In the 9th century, King Alfonso II of Asturias expelled the Muslims from the north of León and Castile to consolidate their domain. Thus, it promoted the emigration of Cantabrian peasants towards the south. Coming from the other side of the mountains, these immigrants were called in their destinations Foramontanos.

The so-called “Route of the Foramontanos” was a road that departed from Malacoria (Mazcuerras) and connected through the Port of Palombera, within the region of Campoo. The route was popularized by journalist Victor de la Serna and Espina, son of the writer Concha Espina.

The fact that Bárcena Mayor is in the heart of one of the most inaccessible valleys of the Cordillera and that it has remained as a nucleus of an uninterrupted population since the Visigoth era has led it to be considered one of the oldest villages in Cantabria.

foto antigua Calle de Bárcena Mayor
Street in Bárcena Mayor

In the 12th century, at the time of Alfonso VIII, the locality became dependent on the Burgos Monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña. Later, like the rest of the valley of Cabuérniga, it passed to the stately jurisdiction of the House of Vega, one of the most important lineages of the territory, related to the Mendoza family.

In 1517, the emperor Charles V used the route of the Foramontanos on his first trip to Spain, and stayed overnight near Bárcena Mayor. It was recounted as a bad night, as he was bothered by the fleas between the skins of bear and boar in his room.

In the mid-eighteenth century, the town benefited from a period of great prosperity because the Cadastre of the Marquis of Ensenada (1750-1753) recorded almost two hundred houses, abundant livestock and lots of woodwork.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the locality suffered the habitual process of depopulation until reaching the current number of 84 inhabitants. They continue to be dedicated to livestock farming and forestry, as well as to the tourism sector.

The architectural ensemble of Bárcena Mayor presents a rectangular structure defined by two main entrances. On the one hand is La Calleja, by the north, an extension of the access road from Cabezón de la Sal. On the other hand is Calle Larga, by the south, that leads you to the Argoza River (the main tributary of the Saja). It ends with a stone bridge from the 16th century.

Both streets are crossed by perpendicular alleys. In them you can discover several surprising corners and small squares, such as the Mesón or the Corral de las Ovejas. There are preserved several public laundries where residents came to wash clothes.

Bárcena Mayor still retains its old medieval rural character in an unparalleled natural environment. The Reserve of Saja, full of oaks and beeches, is inhabited by protected species such as the grouse or the bear. The conservation of nature, its location, and its gastronomic culture, led by the famous mountain stew and meat from game, have made this locality one of the most visited in the whole region.

Most of the houses, from the 16th and 17th centuries, are the rural mountain type with two floors. They have a doorway on the ground floor that gives access to the house. There is also a balcony on the upper floor; while the eave roof is held up by beams. The noble houses have a ashlar arch that precedes the arcade. However, the most common houses have wooden doors that allow ventilation and interior lighting.

The facades are oriented to the south or the east, in order to make the most of the sun, and its sun lounge shows the colorful geraniums. The use of wood is emphasized with the carved beams, pillars and eaves.

Traditional houses in Bárcena Mayor

The Parish Church of Santa María, from the 17th century and reformed in 1772, is located in the center of town. With a square apse and two naves, it also has a prismatic tower with three levels. Although it is a simple construction, a masonry with ashlars in the corners, it preserves an interesting, decorative baroque altarpiece from the 18th century inside.

In the last years, the wood handicraft that brought so much prosperity in previous centuries has been recovered. They have been opening small shops with pieces of chestnut wood and basketry. Ceramics and leather works can also be purchased. It is therefore, not difficult to see the different craftsmen working at the door of their establishment.

A good time to visit Bárcena Mayor can be around the beginning of the fall, when you can listen in nature to the bellowing of the deer, an impressive spectacle, or maybe even see one. We recommend that you respect these animals and watch from afar.

The Essentials

Vista interior de Bárcena Mayor
Bárcena Mayor streets
Parque Natural Saja Besaya
Saja Besaya Natural Park

Important Information


43° 8′ 40″ N, 4° 11′ 34″ W


73 km from Santander, 16 km from Cabezón de la Sal, 428 km from Madrid


One place to park at the entrance and another at the opposite end of the town after traversing the village on an esplanade; Both are free


495 m


84 (2009)

Wooden objects (sandals, tools, cutlery), basketry

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