Travel: Making History All over Again; Perrott Phillips Visits Some of Northern Spain's Most Precious Sites. but Things in Altamira Aren't Quite What They Seem
MAGINE creating a life-size replica of the Tower of London or Durham Cathedral to relieve tourist congestion - and then finding even more tourists queueing up to visit the imitation.
This kind of virtual reality tourism has already happened at Altamira in northern Spain, where the prehistoric caves - famous for their stunning wall paintings - were once the area's top tourist attraction.
They still are ... sort of. Only they are now 200 yards down the road in a modern building. An exact copy, accurate to the last millimetre.
The trouble with Altamira was that it was too popular.
Experts called the caves "the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art", but condensation caused by the breath of thousands of sightseers left the paintings in such a delicate state that, eventually, only 20 people were allowed in each day.
So five years ago, they opened the copy-cave.
A replica of the adjoining village of Santillana del Mar wouldn't be a bad idea, either. Often, you can't see the town for the tourists.
Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called it "the prettiest village in Spain". Cobbled streets descend from a 12th century Romanesque church, lined with noble mansions in honey-coloured stone with geranium-covered balconies and carved coats of arms above the doors.
Boastful family mottos were a medieval form of one-upmanship. One crest bears the slogan, "We marry our daughters to kings!".
I drove on to Spanish Switzerland, following the 20-mile chain of the Picos de Europa range.
This is Spain as it used to be, and one of the most spectacular drives in Europe. Empty roads run through deep, bottle-green valleys, past villages with wooden houses festooned with dried peppers.
As you near the Picos, the scenery seems to burst with pride. Here, bears, wolves, eagles, capercaillies and the rare moufflon goat still survive.
I spotted all of them. But only as hunting trophies on the walls of the welcoming Casona de Cosgaya, a 16th-century manor house now converted into a rural hotel. The Casona's 14 rooms are in typical local style, with views of the Liebana valley and the Picos. …