I have lived in Spain since I was 10, but moved to the UK when I was 18 for my bachelor’s degree. One of my dreams has always been to explore more of Spain than I had been able to so far. I have been lucky enough to spend some of my summers here and to plan some trips around the country. And, whilst I have already explored quite a bit more than when I took off to the UK, there are still so many destinations in Spain on my list! This post is all about my trip to the Cantabria in the summer of 2019. I decided to travel my own for the first time to explore this beautiful region and to improve my surfing skills.
Cantabria on the other hand, whilst being the neighbouring autonomous community of the Basque Country, is completely different. It offers beautiful beaches, a delicious and distinct cuisine, caves showcasing prehistoric art, and beautiful hike routes. Cantabria, together with the Basque Country, is one of the best places to surf in Spain, with some of the biggest waves in the country in the winter season. This autonomous community is also one of the best for relaxing as it has two beautiful resort towns to offer; Laredo and San Vicente de la Barquera, as well as some excellent spas and wellness centres such as the excellent Puente Viesgo Spa Resort.
Santander is the capital of the region, located in the Bay of Santander. Santander is famous for its long, white, sandy beaches, beautiful parks, and the iconic royal palace. Unfortunately, a large part of the historical district was destroyed in a fire in 1941, but the city has been able to make the best of it, now showcasing a fine combination of its remaining heritage and the modern new developments. It is also home to what is my favourite surf school in Spain; Escuela Cantabra de Surf, located just on the other side of the bay.
The most worthwhile places to visit
My route through the north of Spain was 12 days in total, but this included 6 days of surfing. Therefore, I included only the places that I thought would be most worthwhile, which in Cantabria were Somo, where Escuela Cantabra de Surf is and Santander, where I stayed for another couple of days after the surf camp. Of course, there are way more places to see and activities to do in this beautiful region of Spain. Below you can find my guide to Santander, as well as some of the most beautiful destinations in the area.
- Accommodation: if you’re on a tight budget or backpacking like me, I would recommend staying at Santander Central Hostel, a super cute hostel with colourful decoration and extremely welcoming staff. It was a joy to stay here. The location is also great as it is very close to the historic centre of town. Other options if you have a more lenient budget include:
- Eurostars Hotel Real – a palace-style hotel with great value for money rooms and a spa and wellness centre, perfect for a romantic getaway;
- Le Petit Boutique Hotel – an elegant small boutique hotel located just a few minutes from Sardinero Beach with city-inspired decorated rooms, great for couples;
- Suite Home Sardinero – a 10-room boutique-style hotel located in a quiet neighbourhood just a couple of minutes walk from the beautiful Sardinero beach; or
- Jardin Secreto – a guesthouse in the centre of Santander accessible by foot to the tapas and shopping areas, perfect if you want to stay right in the heart of town.
- What to see and do: Magdalena Park, the Palace of Magdalena, Sardinero beach, Santander Cathedral, Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico, Centro Botín arts museum, stroll through los Jardines & Paseo de Pereda, shop in Mercado de la Esperanza or rent a bike and cycle all the way from the city centro to the end of the boulevard by Sardinero beach.
- Where to eat: my favourite place was El Diluvio, a small tapas bar where you can find a huge variety of pintxos and is also a winner for the classic Cantabrian double-layered tortillas it serves. Cañadío for a more up-class dining experience with top-notch creative dishes inspired by the local cuisine. Others include El Serbal – a Michelin-starred restaurant, Casa Lita, La Bombi, Casa Mariano, La Bodega del Riojano and Los Peñucas.
Other places to see in Cantabria
If you have more time some other places that are really worth a visit, and are still on my list are:
- Somo: I have put this first on the list, but only because I have been to surf here and am therefore extremely biased about this small town. It is the home of one of the best surfing schools in Spain Escuela Cantabra de Surf and offers one of the best beaches in the area to practice surfing. Other than that there is not much to do here, but you are bound to meet a lovely bunch of people if you do decide to come here to surf. You can opt for anything from renting a surfboard for half a day, to signing up to a full week of surfing lessons.
- Santillana del Mar: this is also a medieval village, but what makes this worth a visit is that it is one of the best-preserved ones, making the city centre a historic landmark.
- Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa: this national mountainous park spreads across the regions of Asturias, Cantabria and León. It has been recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and it’s Spain’s only nature reserve that is also inhabited, offering a great mix of nature and civilisation. More than 30 self-guided routes exist, free guided tours are offered during the summer months (July – September) and 17 viewpoints exist across the entire region, offering some breathtaking views of the area. Here you can find a map of the entire mountain range. You can find a great summary of hiking routes in the area here.
- Potes: this picturesque village is located in the interior of the Cantabria region. Apart from the beautiful historic quarter with multiple historic monuments to observe, it is also surrounded by mountains and streams, making it the perfect area to go to for a mountain adventure.
- Comillas: this town sits in a spectacular location, right on the border of a long crescent-shaped beach and on the top of a peninsula that sticks right out into the sea. The town is filled with beautiful historic architecture, charming cobbled streets and some more modern buildings. On top of the hill above it, are the magnificent buildings of what used to be the Comillas Pontifical University. Comillas is also home to one of Gaudí’s colourful constructions, the quirky El Capricho.
- San Vicente de la Barquera: this old fishermen’s village is located at the mouth of a river estuary within the Parque Natural de Oyambre, and surrounded on the inside by the peaks of the Picos de Europa. It has an array of historical monuments that are worth visiting, including which the church of Santa María de los Ángeles, the Castillo del Rey (King’s Castle) and the impressive La Maza bridge. There are also some beautiful beaches nearby to enjoy.
I hope you enjoyed the guide! To get more inspirations for trips around Spain check out my post about the Basque Country or check out the dedicated destination page here and discover more about my other trips around the country.