LIFE’S A BEACH If lazing on a beach or frolicking in the sea is your thing, then head to the golden sands that are found around the Spanish city of Santander.
Googling the word Santander instantly throws up dozens of references to the reputable high street bank. Happily, if you persevere, you will find some profiles of one of Spain’s most delightful cities, from which the multinational Banco Santander took its name and based its headquarters.
Founded in Roman times, the port city of Santander is the capital of the historical region of Cantabria and can be found on the north coast of Spain. Located east of Gijon and west of Bilbao, the city has a population of 178,465. Santander is now a major port and operates regular ferries to the UK and France. This region of Spain is very verdant and rather cooler than anywhere else in the country – Spain contains Europe’s only true desert, Almeria – and an exquisite mountain range, the Picos de Europa, acts as a backdrop to any vista south of the city.
My favourite place- The Corniche. From here you can view the port’s many machinations and bask in the splendour of the Picos de Europa, which were still snow-covered in late February when my wife and I visited.
Highlights- Devastated by fire in 1941, the city was rebuilt and today offers some of the most handsome and majestic urban buildings you can see in Europe.
Lowlights- The climate is less sunny, and the climate is much more humid than in many other regions of Spain. However, this didn’t stop the Spanish royal family from building a summer residence here, Magdalena Palace, and they first took the keys in 1912. They sold the palace to the City of Santander in 1977 and it is now its most visited attraction.
Souvenirs- Local nougat – turron – is very tasty and good at stripping out old fillings!
Where to stay- We stayed at the Bahia Hotel, which was well-equipped and very convenient for the highlights of central Santander and the ferry port. This hotel features underground parking, with the car park entry and exit by a lift. Sadly, my car fell victim to a support pillar in this car park and my ineptitude at parking. Any booking website can offer a huge range of hotels from budget to regal, and AirBnB can be used, too.
1. Visit Magdalena Palace. Public transport is excellent, easy to use and cheap.
2. Take a train to nearby Bilbao and explore the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, the building of which was designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry.
3. Rent a car and drive into the Picos de Europa but perhaps only in spring or summer rather than in winter.
4. Visit the Cabarceno Nature Park. A car is necessary.
5. For beach-lovers, visit any of the fine, sandy beaches that are a short bus ride from the city centre.