Espinosa de los Monteros

Birthplace of the Royal Guard

The natives of Espinosa de los Monteros formed the long-standing guard of the Spanish royal family. The town has several beautiful houses belonging to members of the guard and their families. On its outskirts is the impressive Natural Monument of Ojo Guareña.

Plan your visit to Espinosa de los Monteros

The places listed in the section “What to see in Espinosa de los Monteros” can be seen in half a day. The rest of the trip can be dedicated to hiking and other active tourism activities in the area of the Ebro Reservoir and the Natural Monument of Ojo Guareña. An excursion to the south can consist of visiting the medieval towns of Medina de Pomar, Frías, and Oña. To find out what to eat in this comarca and make your reservations, see the section “Eating and sleeping in Espinosa de los Monteros”.

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The town was first settled in the 8th century B.C. by the Cantabrian tribe the coniscos, who gave it its original name of Velliga. Its tough resistance to the Romans required that Augustus himself command the troops that ultimately conquered it. The Romans built a fort there which they called Barrutha or Barrustha (“totally enclosed place”), where they exploited the gold of the rivers.

In the year 554, the time of the Visigoth king Athanagild, the Visigoths managed to defeat the Romans and proceeded to lay waste to the town. Between 600 and 700 A.D., the Goths created small villages which altogether were called “Val de Espinosa” due to the abundance of hawthorns in the area.

After 720, the Arabs carried out so many attacks that the inhabitants had to take refuge in the mountains, depopulating the area. Little by little, it was repopulated by the inhabitants of the Mena Valley, but in 920 it was attacked by the troops of Abd-ar-Rahman III and was once again depopulated.

In 1006 the event took place that inspired the nickname “Espinosa de los Monteros.” All the huntsmen (monteros) of Count Sancho García, the son of Count García Fernández and his wife doña Santa, were from this town. The count is the subject of the legend of the traitorous countess; one of his huntsmen intervened to reveal the plans of the count’s own mother to poison him, saving his life. In the 9th century the Cuerpo de los Monteros was created, a corps of nobles charged with custody of the royal family during the night. This body was the precursor of the present-day Royal Guard.

Old aerial photograph of Espinosa de los Monteros

The town was reestablished in 1086 by King Alfonso VI. He charged a couple of knights from Navarre, Martín Ruiz de Berrueza and his brother, with the repopulation. In 1501 it was granted the privilege of a weekly market every Tuesday. There were important textile factories in the town; the masts of many ships of the Spanish Armada of 1588 were produced there. In November of 1808, at the beginning of the War of Independence, the Galician army commanded by General Joaquín Blake was defeated by the troops of the French general Victor. After the battle, the victors plundered and destroyed the town.

There are two historical neighborhoods in Espinosa de los Monteros: Quintanilla and Berrueza. The heart of the city center is Plaza de Sancho García, with an irregular shape, samples of mountainous architecture, and glass windows. The plaza is presided over by the Church of Santa Cecilia (16th century), a Renaissance construction with three naves adorned by Gothic crestings and an apse covered by a scallop-shaped dome supported by two pendentives. A column from the primitive Romanesque church above which it was built is conserved on the southern wall.

The mansion of the marquees of Chiloeches (16th-17th centuries) has a beautiful façade beneath an arch that is framed by two towers. On the spandrels of the arch there are a man and a woman holding mirrors. The crest on the triangular part of the portal is a beautiful heraldic sample depicting a golden field, a green oak, two black foxes, and an azure field with a silver tower and two herons at the sides. The mansion has been uninhabited since the 16th century and served to quarter troops passing through the town, until it was restored in the late 20th century.

To the west in the neighborhood of Quintanilla, you’ll find the Church of San Nicolás, rebuilt in the 18th century. Inside its single nave there is a valuable 15th-century altarpiece made up of several panels in the Hispano-Flemish style painted by Brother Alonso de Zamora and the Maestro of Oña. Curiously, the Holy Spirit is represented as a woman.

Nearby, protected by a double enclosure of walls and fences, is the Palacio Cuevas de Velasco (1623). Its architecture is in the Mannerist style, but it has a Baroque chapel.

The Church of Santa María de Berrueza is from the 18th century and is dominated by a great Baroque baldachin. The mansion of the Marquis of Legarda, which looks like a fortress, is from the 14th century and is also known as Torre de los Monteros (“Tower of the Huntsmen”) or Torre de los Velascos.

The Velasco House completes the town’s monumental assets. Built in the 14th century, it is made up of two connected rectangular parts (a turret and a stable) and is next to the Trueba River.

The Museum of the King’s Huntsmen was opened in 2006. It has audiovisuals and panels explaining the history of the town, including the huntsmen that gave it its name (the corps disappeared in 1931 with the abdication of Alfonso XIII) and the 1808 battle that took place there during the Peninsular War.

Another museum to see in Espinosa de los Monteros is the Cuatro Ríos Pasiegos Ethnography Museum, which has information about traditional ways of life in the comarca’s valleys.

Mansion of the marquises of Chiloeches

Some 15 kilometers to the west in the town of Cornejo, there is the karst complex of Ojo Guareña, a group of underground caves that is home to several prehistoric shrines. The Ojo Guareña Visitors Center is found in the nearby town of Quintanilla del Rebollar and directs visitors as to how to visit the cave and rock shrine of Saint Thyrsus and Saint Barnabas. It is considered the greatest karst complex in Spain with its nearly 100 kilometers of underground galleries distributed among six levels which are connected to each other. Inside have been found unique invertebrates not found anywhere else in the world, fossil footprints, and cave paintings. The main entrance shelters the shrine of Saint Barnabas, from which point you can visit a 400-meter section of the cave. The shrine preserves a 13th-century sculpture of Saint Thyrsus and several murals on its natural dome dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the opposite direction, after crossing the Cabrío Port, you can do an excursion through the Mena Valley where you’ll find beech tree plantations (Relloso, Guardieta, Portillo de Aro), fountains (such as those of the Cadagua River), and waterfalls. There are also beautiful Romanesque churches tucked away in its towns.


Palacio de los Fernández Villa
Casa Porras, que ver en Espinosa de los Monteros

Practical Data


43° 4′ 0″ N, 3° 32′ 0″ W


Burgos 97 km, Santander 72, Bilbao 76, Madrid 333 km

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