Cantabria infinita. As the tourism marketing goes, Cantabria appears infinite in terms of green, rain, mountains and sea, much like the entire Northern Coast of Spain. Contrary to its neighbour Euskadi (the Basque Country), Cantabria prides itself on its Spanishness. On my recent second trip to province and comunidad autonoma capital Santander, I was met with a sea of red and yellow flags everywhere I went. The only Spanish republic flag (with a purple bottom stripe instead of a second red stripe) I saw was in the offices of the Izquierda Unida (United Left). In the Basque Country, the republic flags are becoming as common as the Basque ikurriña flag itself. Granted, it was the same week Spain had lost their World Cup by failing to qualify to move past the first round and Prince Felipe became King Felipe VI, but it just felt odd seeing all the red and yellow.
Like its neighbours Euskadi to the east and Asturias to the west, Cantabria is a place for those who love nature and the great outdoors. The Cantabrian Sea to the north and the Picos de Europa mountains to the south make for some striking landscapes. While they borrow the idea of “pintxos” from their Basque neighbours, the region feels distinctly Spanish, especially if you’ve been living in the Basque Country like I have.
My first visit to Cantabria was in 2010. I found in an old journal some impressions and memories that I had forgotten. For example, from the flight from Madrid to Santander, the plane was going in for the landing when suddenly it took off again. The captain came on to explain that the airport did not open to 7:30, and although it was currently 7:32, he still had to wait until the airport opened before he could line. This experience can only happen on Ryan Air and in Spain.
That trip also took me to the infamous town of three lies, Santillana del Mar. It’s not named for a saint, it’s not on a plain, nor is it on the sea. It’s a quaint medieval village that is on the Camino de Santiago del Norte, and I remember it having a lot of flowers. It was the beginning of June when I went. That same day, I went on to a beach village called Comillas. The beach was nice, but I had missed some of the best parts of the village. I missed the bus, which gave me time to explore the village adequately. It has a nice Gaudi-designed house, and I still remember the great ice cream I had. The Spanish comedy Primos (Cousins) was filmed in Comillas.
The capital Santander itself isn’t as beautiful enough to rival the Basque San Sebastián-Donostia as the most beautiful city on the peninsula in my opinion. However, it does offer some spectacular views of the Bay of Santander and the mountains on the other side. The Magdalena Palace is must-see, and I liked the zoo that they had. I remember being enthralled with that zoo and thinking the palace could be a rich person’s house in New England. The Cathedral of Santander is white, making it somewhat different. (At this point in the game, I strongly believe that every Spanish Cathedral and Church is the same. I refuse to pay money to enter a house of God, but I do enjoy going in the free ones or if there is something unique, like in Sevilla, Granada, Valencia, Burgos and León.) I enjoyed seeing this one in 2010, but it was closed this June Saturday on my return visit.
The best part of Santander I discovered the second time around. For 4,75€ round trip, one can take a ferry across to the village of Somo, offering spectacular views of Santander and the bay. The beach is home to one of Spain’s most famous surf schools.
One thing I should mention about Santander is that it is very right-wing politically. The Banco Santander is headquartered there, which has to have a lot of influence (the less said about Spanish banks at the moment, the better!), and it is said that Santander was one of the last cities to take down their statue of Franco after his death. But never fear, the left-wingers out there. Like any Spanish city, “hay de todo”.
Closer to my current home in Bilbao, there are several villages that the bilbainos invade during the summer. The two I’ve visited are Castro-Urdiales and Laredo (not Texas). Laredo has a big beach with a nice view of a few hills, but the village itself lacks character for me. Castro, on the other hand, is a gem. Only 30 minutes from Bilbao, it is a great afternoon escape with history, beach and tons of restaurants and bars. The Santa Ana Castle and Santa María de la Asunción church are located on the port.
1. Picos de Europa (as yet unvisited July 2014)
2. San Vincente de la Barquera (as yet univisted July 2014. I’m sure these two places are made of awesome.)
4. Santillana del Mar
5. Palacio de la Magdalena (Santander)
6. View from Somo (Bay of Santander)
(Note: The featured image is from the Camino de Santiago and added post publication).