- MAP Travel
Cantabria is a province and autonomous region, similar in many ways to Asturias but with its own character. The well-preserved towns and villages are characterised by stone churches and houses with red tiled roofs. The planning laws seem to have been adhered to as, apart from a few apartment blocks in the large resorts, most of the modern buildings are built in local style with red tiled roofs. The stone walls, red roofs, green fields and blue sea all combine to make this the most picturesque landscape in countryside where settlements date back to prehistoric times as seen in the many cave drawings. The most famous of these, the Altamira caves, in the Medieval village of Santillana del Mar, were the first to be discovered in 1880 and are now a Unesco World Heritage site. They have been closed for several years (except to archaeological groups with special permits) but a replica has been built in the museum with every detail an exact copy of the original caves. There are many other caves that can be visited in both Cantabria and Asturias.
Local ferries cross some of the estuaries in Cantabria and boat trips are arranged from many ports and harbours.
There are flights to Santander and Bilbao
Santander, a gracious city at the head of a wide estuary, is the capital of Cantabria. The wide estuary and five beaches, including the famous Sardinero beach, below the headland on which stands the Magdalena Palace, make this is one of Spain’s most attractive cities, with hotels and restaurants lining the seafront. The old town surrounds the Cathedral close to the port from where ferries cross the estuary to Somo and Pedrena, and Brittany Ferries from the UK also berth at Santander.
In Cantabria there is an endless chain of small rocky coves, fishing harbours and long surfing beaches all along the coast, a picture in Spring when the cliffs are covered with brightly coloured mezumbryanthemums flowers. Across the estuary from Santander is Somo with golden sand and dunes, and Pedrena with its fine villas and famous golf course. Heading eastwards, through the area known as Trasmiera, is a series of idyllic beaches connected to the large resort of Laredo by a 10-minute ferry journey from Santona, the fishing port renowned for its anchovies, and separated from its beach at Berria by Monte Buciero, a mountain on a tree clad headland which is a Cultural Natural Park. On the other side of Santona are extensive wetlands and marshes – birdwatchers’ paradise as many migrating birds visit every year.
West of Santander are small resorts at Suances, Comillos, and endless stretches of sand at Oyambre and beside the picturesque harbour at San Vicente de la Barquera, with little isolated coves at the end of rough sandy tracks across the headlands. There really are beaches to suit all on this magnificent coastline.
Picos de Europa Mountains
The mountain range runs along the whole North coast from the Pyrenees to Galicia, but it is in Asturias and Cantabria that they are most spectacular as they rise to 2648 metres in the Picos De Europa, a fairy tale group of peaks that resemble a theatrical backdrop. They can be admired from viewpoints from all directions and the peaks can be reached by a cable carbeside the Parador at Fuente De. It was these mountains that blocked the way to prevent the Moors reaching the North coast so that they retreated after the battle of Covadonga where there is a tiny chapel in a grotto, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and a large basilica standing high in the mountains marking the spot. A little further up the road are the picturesque Lakes of Covadonga. The mountain village of Potes is the centre of the area of Liebana where valleys meet from Asturias, Castilla Leon and Cantabria and are surrounded by mountains. The monastery of Santo Toribio is its famous landmark, as it is a pilgrimage site often linked to the Camino de Santiago and contains a piece of the “Lignum cross”. Many churches and hermitages can be found all around Liebana. Potes and many other mountain villages have become small tourist centres for hill walkers, mountaineers and those who simply want to relax.
Reinosa, a mountain town in the south of Cantabria, is on the main road going south from Santander to Madrid. Close by is the source of the River Ebro. The water from this tiny spring then heads eastwards for almost 600 Km to become the large delta flowing into the Mediterranean near Tortosa.
The Picos de Europa were declared the first National Park in Spain in 1918 with total protection. There are also many nature reserves and natural parks all over Asturias and Cantabria, notably the marshes and wetlands at Villaviciosa in Asturias, and near Oyambre and at Santona in Cantabria. All are favourites with birdwatchers as they attract many migrating birds in Spring and Autumn.
There are plenty of opportunities for golfers in the area as Pedrena, a small town across the estuary from Santander, was the home of Seve Ballesteros. He was very involved with the beautiful golf course there and also redesigned the Santa Marina course near San Vicente de la Barquera where there is a statue of him beside the 18th green. There are other courses at Noja, Oyambre and near
Cantabria’s Paradores Hotels
The Parador de Santillana Gil Blas
Santillana Gil Blas is a 17th century palace in the Plaza Mayor, with manyoriginal features making it one of the most atmospheric Paradores with an excellent restaurant.
The Parador de Santillana del Mar
The Parador de Santillana is built as a traditional manor house in a quiet corner just off the square with a garage - a necessity as the village is almost traffic-free, but if the friendly policeman at the entrance to the village hears the word “Parador” he waves you through with a smile.
The Parador de Fuente De
The Parador de Fuente De is a modern building in a stunning remote position high in the Picos de Europa - a paradise for walkers and nature lovers. Beside the Parador is a cable car going up to the peaks.
The Parador de Limpias
The Parador de Limpias, the former Eguilior Palace is in a small village beside the River Treto. Only 4 Km from the motorway and 8 Km from the coast at Laredo, the Parador is surrounded by well-kept formal gardens and woodlands. It has a large outdoor pool, a tennis court, small gym and a heated indoor pool.