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As you get out into the countryside of Cantabria, particularly in the smaller villages or hamlets, the proportional number of strange wooden shoes increases.  These aren´t just any wooden shoes.  They are “albarcas.”

Albarcas Cantabras

Albarcas are wooden shoes worn by ranchers and villagers throughout Cantabria to keep up out of the mud, snow and yes, cow poop.  When they are not out and about tending to the cows or running an errand at the local village store or having a “blanco” (barrel white wine generally consumed before lunch in Cantabria ), village folk leave their albarcas by the door ready to be stepped into, like in those in the photo above outside a door in the hamlet of Cicera. They generally wear escarpines (wool slippers) or plain house slippers to keep warm and make them comfortable.

Albarcas and wool escarpines to keep warm

Albarcas are carved by hand from a single block of wood, generally from beech, birch or walnut.  They have mini stilts on the bottom called “tarugos” that can be replaced when they get worn or damaged and a pointed toe to keep unwanted stuff (snow, mud, cow poop) out of the shoe as you walk.

Designs and colors vary depending on the owner.  For example priests and widows tend to wear black ones. They generally have more or less intricate designs carved especially on the front part (know as la capilla, the chapel literally, where your toes are). Here is a shot of the detail of my albarcas.

Carving detail on albarcas

While I don´t wear mine everyday like my grandfather did (he was a miller, a rancher and a farmer and fathered 12 children), I hope to soon.  I got my albarcas as a birthday gift recently and may get my chance.  I am learning to play the bagpipe with a local band and they wear albarcas at performances.  If I can get good enough to perform you may get a shot of me donning my albarcas, bagpipe and montañes outfit 😉

Cantabria is a place full of cool little traditional tidbits such as albarcas that make the culture of this tiny region so unique and a pleasure to stumble upon (no albarca pun intended, well maybe…)

Albarcas worn by group of mountain song singers