Like the famed canal city, this small mountain village dates back to Medieval times, it’s breathtakingly beautiful — and it’s fighting for its life.
Whether for their climate, their geography, their architecture or their people, some countries just seem to be gifted with a surplus of photogenic locales — and you’d be hard-pressed to find one more visually blessed than Spain.
Madrid. Barcelona. Cadiz. Seville. Toledo. And those are just some of the big cities. Like many countries, Spain is also a nation of villages, and a list of its most picturesque villages could take days just to read.
But there is this one village in particular that’s got me wanting to dust off my passport and load up my cameras — Puentedey.
It stands over the Nela River in the mountains of northern Spain in a region known as Las Merindades, roughly midway between the cities of Burgos and Bilbao. About a 1.5-hour drive from either.
A national organization has designated it as Spain’s Most Beautiful Village for 2022, and it only takes one look to understand why. Puentedey is short for “Puente de Dios” — God’s Bridge.
Puentedey literally sits over the Nela River. It was built across a massive stone archway, carved out by the river over millions of years — 230 feet long across the top, 50 feet high and 100 feet wide underneath.
You may have seen rock arches before, in deserts or along coastlines. How many have you seen holding up a whole town? It’s a feature seldom seen in the world, much like the canals of Venice.
But Puentedey has something else in common with Venice. It’s endangered — not by sinking buildings or rising waters pushed by climate change, but an exodus of young families.
It’s never been a metropolis, but in modern times, its young people have almost entirely left, mainly lured by the promise of job, more excitement in the big cities like Bilbao, or schools, which Puentedey no longer has.
As a result, the village now claims fewer than 50 residents. On any given day, the passengers stepping off a single tour bus can outnumber the entire population.
Like so many rural communities across the world, God’s Bridge is in very real danger of becoming God’s ghost town.
In Puentedey itself, a handful of young men like Ivan Alonso organize festivals and other activities to try to keep the place going. His efforts were featured recently on the German TV network DeutscheWelle.
Elsewhere in the world, people are trying in large ways and small to pump the brakes on this trend. In Italy and on the island of Sicily, as well as in France and Croatia, small communities in danger of extinction have put abandoned homes up for sale for a little as 1 euro — just over a buck.
The camera-ready beauty of Puentedey will always draw visitors. The question is whether it eventually can draw enough new residents to keep it alive.
Greg Gross is the owner of Trips by Greg travel agency.