Since I started to live abroad, one of the questions that I get quite often is “Where are you from?” and because I am not from a Madrid or Barcelona, my answer somehow get more and more complicated. Let’s hope this post will help to explain where I come from! CANTABRIA, my region in northern Spain.
“Where you come from?” Cantabria
I come from Cantabria, a little region in the north of Spain surrounded by mountains and the Cantabrian Sea. Sounds cool right? But I guess still nothing rings the bell with this little explanation. Have a look at the map bellow.
Basically if you look at Madrid and then go up, until you find the shore, that’s Cantabria. Also if you know where Pais Vasco (Basque Country) is, Cantabria is the region on the left of them.
Cantabria is a small mountainous and coastal region in northern Spain. With almost 600.000 inhabitants or as you can call us, Cantabros. The capital of Cantabria is Santander. It may sound you familiar because of Santander Bank, which was actually founded in this city around 1857.
What is the weather like in Cantabria?
If you think that Spain is all about sun, beach and hot weather, you are partially wrong. Most part of the country have a warm weather almost whole year. Although in the north we have completely different climate.
Winters are mild cold and rainy. With an average of temperatures that goes from 1º to 14º degrees maximum. They can even go lower at some moments. During winter, mountains peaks are covered in white and is possible to practice Ski.
Summers can vary from year to year. Usually we have quite “cold” summers with peaks of 25º degrees, but rarely goes beyond that. People who wants to “escape” from the heat in other parts of Spain, spend their summers in Cantabria or other regions in the north.
What makes special Cantabria?
Well, as as told you earlier, Cantabria is a region where it rains a lot and that help us to have the lushest nature. Everywhere you look at is green.
“As much as we hate the rain, we wouldn’t have this green paradise without the rain…”Cantabros
Looking for a escape from the city and find yourself immersed in nature? Cantabria could be your next destination!
I’ve decide to visit Cantabria, what to expect!?
Years ago, Cantabria was advertised as “Infinite Cantabria” and that was probably a good way to describe it. Basically you can do everything! Be ready to explore prehistoric caves. Visit one of the most “beautiful bays” in the world. Hikes around mountains. Or simply enjoy regional food in one of the many restaurants we have!
I want you to visit my region. So to help you a bit I will make a list with some places that you must visit in this little region. You don’t have to visit all of them, but if you can, do it. You will grasp the customs of the region better.
Cuevas de Altamira and Santillana del Mar
“Cuevas de Altamira” are one of the most famous sites in the region. Known worldwide because of the prehistoric paintings of local fauna and human hands that you can find inside the cave. The earliest paintings in the cave are dated in 36.000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic era. Altamira Caves were declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Unfortunately the original cave remind closed to general public. This is due to degradation of the paintings during heavy tourist boom from 1970 to 2000. Now is it possible to experience a visit a replica of the cave, opened in 2001. The Altamira replica cave offers a better and comfortable view of the art and paintings. Also shows some parts of the cave that are not easily accessible in the original.
The cave is located near the historic town of Santillana del Mar, definitely a place to visit and explore. The town is covered in stoned pavement and the historic buildings make Santillana del Mar a must for any tourist who wants to enjoy the typical architecture of the region. A tip, get lost in the numerous shops where you can find delicious regional products.
Santander, the region capital.
This city with around 180.000 habitants, is perfect to enjoy all the best that the region has to offer. Get a hotel in the city centre. Wake up and get a “cafe con leche” in any of the many coffee shops around. If you are not trying to keep up with your diet, you can start the day with a sobao (a buttery regional delicacy). Try “Churros with Chocolate”, which is also quite common to have with hot chocolate, perfect for a rainy day!
The city is surrounded by water and beaches. If the day is sunny and bright, take a towel and take a bath in the not so warm waters of the Cantabrian Sea. My favourite beaches are “Playa de la Magdalena” and “Playa de los Bikinis”. If you are not lucky, you can always take a walk in the shore, also a good plan!
Have a look at my portfolio, I have a nice gallery, called Santander B/N with black and white film photos of Santander, taken with my Zenit 11 on AGFA APX 100.
The city has many museums to visit, choose one of your choice and go for it. In 2017, “Centro Botín” opened right in the promenade of Santander, a modern building right in the bay of Santander. Centro Botin have a permanent collection and temporal exhibitions, and also they host many free events and music concert. Be sure to check their schedule, something will be happening for sure! Also don’t forget to enjoy the views from the different terraces. The views over the bay of Santander and the city itself are amazing!
To finish the day, you can find a nice restaurant around the city center. You will have great food, regional or even international. Also tapas and of course fresh caught fish from the day. The city has also plenty of bars and clubs, almost in every corner. You can find nice places around “Rio de la Pila” and “Cañadio Square”.
Potes and Picos de Europa
Last stop in this small list on what to enjoy in Cantabria, you have Potes. A municipality right up in the mountains, around 100km away from Santander. Potes is a really tradicional village, again stoned paved and a nice historic city centre. This region is known for one dish that they prepare, “Cocido Lebaniego”. A special stew made of chickpeas, served along various types of meat and cabbage, give it a try!
The region have a special mediterranean microclimate that allows to cultivate wine. One of the most famous products from the region is “Orujo”. Orujo is a pomade brandy with a content of 50% of alcohol. Probably after eating a “Cocido Lebaniego” the waiter will offer you as compliment a shot of “Orujo”. Try it, it will help you to digest the heavy lunch!
Nearby, we have Picos de Europa, a mountain range of 20km with the highest peak of 2650m, “Torre de Cerredo” (although this peak is not in Cantabria but in Asturias). From Fuente Dé, you will be able to go up to Picos de Europa in cable car. The line covers 750m of vertical drop, if you are afraid of heights, this is not for you, SORRY! From the top you will be able to enjoy the views over the valley and of course, start a hike around Picos de Europa!
Ready to experience Cantabria?
Cantabria is connected by car, bus, ferry and of course plane. You can find flights from all over Europe to Santander quite easily. If you don’t find any flight that works for you, you can flight to Bilbao, which is just 1,5 hour away by car. Madrid is only 4-5 hours away by car, bus or train.
If you managed to finish reading the article, CONGRATULATIONS! I guess you really want to discover Cantabria, I happy for that! I couldn’t include all the interesting places and things that this small region has to offer. Don’t hesitate to ask for more if you would like to know something more specific. If you decide to travel to Cantabria, leave a comment on this post, I would love to read your experience!