Cantabria information

Introduction to the Province of Cantabria
The northern province of Cantabria was formerly part of Old Castile. It is a popular holiday destination for the Spanish but otherwise largely undiscovered in terms of tourism and therefore unspoilt and charming. The Cantabrian coastline may lack a Mediterranean climate but it makes up for this in spade loads with its series of low-key but attractive resorts, whilst the interior of the province is about as lushly green as you can get in Spain.

The capital city of the province of Cantabria, Santander is a favoured summer holiday destination of the Spanish who come here to escape the heat down south and for its understated elegance, its beautiful setting and the International Music Festival held here in July and August.

Much of Santander’s mediaeval architectural history was destroyed in a huge fire in 1941 but there are still sights to be seen, including the 13th Century Cathedral, but the best of them being the French style Palacio de la Magdalena, a former royal palace, in the far eastern part of the city and which has a window for every day of the year. It is set in some beautiful wooded gardens with a small zoo and also has a beach, Playa de los Bikinis, where supposedly the bikini was first allowed to be worn on a Spanish beach.

The northern city suburb of El Sardinero is wonderful for a relaxed stroll and for people watching. The city’s best beaches are here. Stop off at the Gran Casino del Sardinero to gamble away your euros. The best museum in the city is the Cantabrian Maritime Museum whose exhibits include a huge whale skeleton, which children will love. Santander has a free bike “hire” service.

Santander has a lively and late nightlife, best experienced by working your way through the many tapas and wine bars in the centre of the city. See below for more on the gastronomy of Cantabria.

Around Santander and Beyond
The Cantabrian coast offers up some great seaside resorts, popular with the Spanish and the French. The best of these are the village-like yet lively Laredo, Castro Urdiales with its beautiful natural harbour, curious Comillas and thriving San Vicente de la Barquera.

The picture-postcard village of Santillana del Mar, 26km west of Santander and 3km inland, is a major tourist destination but worth visiting nevertheless. South of Santander is the town of Reinoso, another pretty destination.

In the winter months, skiing is possible at the ski resort of Alto Campoo, 24km west of Reinoso.

For prehistory and cave lovers, the caves at Altamira and those at Puente Viesgo with their remarkable cave paintings are must-sees.

For nature-lover, there are the Cantabrian Mountains and part of the Picos de Europa mountain range as well as Natural Parks at Santoña and Besaya. Santoña hosts a strange Carnaval in February called the Carnaval Marinero, in which the townsfolk dress up as fish.

Cantabria has a sport all of its own which is a type of skittles called “bolos”, played in every town and village and taken very seriously.

The Gastronomy of Cantabria
The cuisine of Cantabria uses both produce from the sea and produce from the mountains in its dishes.

A typical meat-based dish is Cocido Montañes, a hearty stew of meat, beans and cabbage. Deer, rabbit and wild boar are often used in this and other local specialities. Milk is frequently used in cooking here too as in the dish Arroz a la Santanderina, a rice-based local speciality made with ham and milk. From the sea, you might come across Bocartes Rebozados, delicious fried whitebait. The anchovies from Santoña are highly regarded throughout Spain.

Traditional desserts from Cantabria you might find include Tarta de Queso de Cantabria and Quesada Pasiega, both types of cheesecake and Rosquillos de Reinosa, small aniseed flavoured, ring-shaped fried pastries, a little like doughnuts.

Nata de Cantabria is a well-known creamy cheese from this province, often used in traditional Cantabrian dishes. It also goes well with a glass of red wine and some crusty bread.

Cantabria’s most famous alcoholic drink is Orujo, a digestif liquor made from pomace, which is basically the bits of the grape that are left over after pressing. It is sometimes made with honey and herbs and the recipes are closely guarded secrets within Oruja-distilling families.


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