Santillana del Mar: Spain’s “Prettiest” Village

When a Parisian, (from arguably one of the world’s most elegant cities) comes to your town and calls it “the prettiest village in Spain”, their judgement must hold some clout, right? When that Parisian is Jean-Paul Sartre, an author whose words won him a Nobel Prize in literature, what he says surely holds some value. Though opinions are subjective, this Sartre guy was really on to something. Santillana del Mar is indeed pretty, not to mention one of the best-preserved medieval towns that exist in Iberia.

I went to Santillana del Mar for just a few hours after my weekend in Santander. For a small town, it does have some buildings of historic interest, but honestly I went on a whim without researching anything (the horror!) and just wanted to wander around with my camera and walk along its cobblestone streets.

As it turns out, sometimes the best plans are the ones we don’t make. Apparently it tends to swarm with tourists in the high season, but I went in December when there were no crowds. You already know I love low-season travel, and Santillana del Mar was the perfect town to get lost in for the afternoon.

A beautiful doorway in Santilla del Mar

A beautiful doorway in Santillana del Mar

A shop selling ceramic and leather goods.

A shop selling ceramic and leather goods.

A view of the countryside in Santillana

A view of the countryside in Santillana

Lavender plants in Santillana del Mar

Lavender plants in Santillana del Mar

A gorgeous stone house

A gorgeous stone house

The center of town

The center of town

Some of the buildings in the center.

Some of the buildings in the center.

A house dripping in flora.

A house dripping in flora.

La Colegiata de Santa Juliana

La Colegiata de Santa Juliana

Fresh milk for 1 Euro per glass

Fresh milk for 1 Euro per glass

Every street is covered in cobblestones.

Every street is covered in cobblestones.

An old stone wall.

An old stone wall.

How to get to Santillana del Mar:

Catch a bus from Santander to Santillana del Mar. For hours and rates, click the link.

 

The Best Way To Tour Santander: By Bike

Santander, the capital of  the autonomous community of Cantabria is elegant, full of cozy cafés, and compact enough to explore in a day; making it perfect for a weekend getaway in Northern Spain, or as a base to explore the Cantabrian countryside. Its sights are few, and it’s not particularly famous for anything–but it has gorgeous beaches and was once the summer destination of choice for Spanish royals. Though I didn’t know much about Santander before visiting, I figured if it was good enough for the Queen, I was sure I’d find its allure!

Upon seeing rows of blue bikes throughout the city (offered to locals and tourists alike for laughable prices), a spontaneous bike ride seemed like the perfect way to hit all of the sights while fitting in a great workout to burn off all the tapas and wine I’d indulged in. Here’s the route I took:

Start–Santander Waterfront

 

Santander waterfront

Santander waterfront

Santander, thanks to the bike rental program through the tourist office, is super bike-friendly and bike paths are located all over the city. I started my route from where I rented: at the waterfront, and snapped this pic of the storm that was on its way out of the city.

Stop: Playa de la Magdalena

Beach house in Santander

Beach house in Santander

Here, you’ll see why Santander’s beaches are talked about so much–while it’s not considered the city’s best beach, Playa de la Magdalena is still a beautiful stretch of golden sand that will have you cursing the fact that it’s not summer yet. Added plus: checking out all of the beautiful beach houses and ritzy summer residences in the area–they sure beat the hotel you’re staying in!

Next Stop: Palacio de la Magdalena

Palacio de la Magdalena, Santander

Palacio de la Magdalena, Santander

Since Franco’s dictatorship in the 1930’s, the royal family hasn’t vacationed here. Not a shabby vacation home, is it? The architectural style of the palace is all over the place: with elements of French, English and regional design incorporated into it.

Explore the sprawling grounds and take in some sweeping views of the coast. This is some serious prime property.

Next Stop: The Zoo!

Santander Zoo

Santander Zoo

Yes, there’s a small zoo in Santander featuring, sea lions, seals, and penguins located right on the beach down from the palace. The best part? It’s free, and the animals are free to come and go as they please…except for the penguins.

Next Stop: Urban Green Space

Biking in Santander

Biking in Santander

This is the part of the ride where you get to sit back and enjoy: take in the beautiful residences that line the ocean-front avenues, stop for a café con leche, or rest your legs (these bikes are pretty heavy!) in one of Santander’s many park you’ll find along the bike paths.

Next Stop: Parque de las Llamas

Parque de las Llamas, Santander

Parque de las Llamas, Santander

You’ll continue through yet another Santanderino park–this one situated on 27 acres with a lake and wetlands surrounding it.

The End: Near the Train Station

A painted tunnel in Santander

A painted tunnel in Santander

Finally–you’ve arrived! Though there are stations to drop off the bikes all over the city, I decided to do almost the complete bike path, and ended up by the train station–just outside the center of town.

To rent a bike for the day, head to any of the bike stations and rent it through the machine (accepts major credit cards). The price for 2013 is a base price of 1.56 euros, a free first hour, and the second hour and each after only 63 cents! After spending all day touring Santander, I spent a whopping 3.50 euros! I couldn’t recommend this service more. More information on bike rentals in Santander: look here (in Spanish)

This post was written by me, and sponsored by a third party.

Photos: Christmas Lights in Santander, Spain

I’m a complete lover of the holidays–I’m the kind of person who listens to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving, who takes utter joy in finding the perfect gift for my friends and loved ones (though I admit to getting utterly stressed too!) and who is found gleefully decorating my house like an elf straight out of the North Pole. Christmas in Spain is a pretty magical time and nothing gets me more in the holiday spirit than seeing all of the beautiful lights put up each year.

When I traveled to Santander a couple of weeks ago, there was nothing I wanted to see more than their Christmas lights. So in-between the sight-seeing and tapas-tasting of my weekend getaway, I set apart a generous window of time to indulge myself in a bit of Christmas, Spain-style.

Here’s what I saw:

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Does your town/city decorate for the holidays?

 

 All Photos © Christine in Spain