Spain: the rolling green hills and secluded beaches of Cantabria

We asked Mira Dornakova, who has lived in various provinces in Spain for ten years, to give us some inside info on the seaside places in Spain that travellers usually miss.

Santander isn’t just a bank; it’s also the capital city of the Cantabria province in northern Spain. 

Although staying in Santander would be an obvious choice on your trip to Cantabria, I suggest you travel a bit further east along the coast, as I’ll shortly explain. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. 

However, you should at least take a day trip to Santander and get your dose of holiday sightseeing. The hop-on-hop-off bus will take you to the CathedralMaritime Museum and, most importantly to El Sardinero, one of the city’s long sandy beaches.

Once you’ve had your fill of taking pictures, tried out the fresh produce at the farmer’s market, and decided which of the tapas bars in the old part is the best, you’re ready to go further east.

Rural Cantabria
The first time I visited the beaches of the Ribamontán al Mar municipality and the countryside further east of Santander, I was amazed, and I’ve been coming back ever since. There are plenty of villages along the coast, and you can’t go wrong no matter which one you choose. 

If you like a lively atmosphere you can enjoy the surfers’ paradise of Somo, or, if you prefer something quieter, stay in Isla to marvel at the peculiar rocks that stick out of the sea at low tide. You might also want to go even further east to Noja and pick a hotel overlooking its endless sandy beaches. 

The whole area has a network of footpaths, each of them about three miles long, that will take you to the local churches, chapels, and beaches. The summer temperatures reach about 23C (73F), and the light sea breeze makes it bearable even on the hottest days.

Accommodation options range from little individual apartments to four-star hotels. We stayed at a spotless and well-equipped apartment with a terrace for £45 a night.

Galizano and the beaches
My personal favourite is a tiny village called Galizano, a hidden gem on the Cantabrian coast. The village itself is only a 30-minute drive away from Santander and lies tucked in between hills and farmland. There is a small supermarket, a couple of restaurants where you can enjoy a tasty set menu for little more than £10, and there is an impressive beach right at the foot of the hills. You can park in the local car park and take the short walk down the paved path to Playa Galizano, which is quiet in the spring and not overly busy during the summer. 

If you feel up for it, you can take an easy walk to Playa Langre, yet another long sandy beach with impressive cliffs looming over it. The beaches of Galizano, Langre, Loredo, and Somo form part of the Northern Way of the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can often see pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Cabárceno Natural Park
Would you like to go on a safari during your summer holiday? It’s only half an hour’s drive south from Santander before you find yourself immersed in the picturesque surroundings of a former iron mine, which is home to about 150 species from five continents. Make sure you arrive nice and early as Cabárceno lies inland, and it can get rather hot during the summer. 

The park opens at 9:30 a.m. and once you’ve paid your entry fee you can park your car and get a cable car that takes you over the main enclosures. Seeing elephants from above really does make you feel that you are about to land in Africa. 

Make sure you hold on to your ticket because you will need it for all the cable car routes. Then take your car and drive along the well-marked roads within the park, stopping to see brown bears, hippos, and dozens of other species along the way. You can have lunch in one of the restaurants, or at a picnic spot, where we were surprised by an escaped antelope roaming free in the picnic area! 

Cantabria unfolds before you as an unforgettable mix of lush green countryside, rugged cliffs, and sandy beaches. It’s welcoming and full of energy, just like the people who live there. So why not give it a try?