Santander to
Santillana del mar

Many people overlook Northern Spain when planning their Spanish getaways. But Northern Spain has a lot to offer that the South does not. Car hire comparison is easy enough to check out online, and drives between the main cities and smaller villages are just as wonderfully scenic as drives in the South. Santander is a great city with a lot going for it.

Santander is the capital city of Cantabria. It lies between Asturias and the Basque Country. It was once greater, architecturally, than it is today. In the 1940s a great fire burned for two days destroying the medieval centre and wrecking the interior of the city’s cathedral. The city has a bay (the Bay of Santander) and so has beaches. There are many places to sit and enjoy a peach juice or sample the excellent seafood. Here you will find ensis (saltwater clams, like those found on beaches in Wales in the UK), anchovies, seabass, sardines and squid. It also has lots of fruit and vegetables, produced in the region.

Santander does get a bit of stick for not being the most beautiful city, and it is true that there are many large blocks of flats and imposing office complexes and hotels. But the city is not far from the very pretty little town of Santillana del Mar, home to a wonderful statue, on top of the old monastery a little way past the farmland at the edge of town.

Santillana del Mar, doesn’t have a saint (santo), isn’t flat (lana) and is not by the sea (mar), the name actually comes from the saint whose remains are in the church, Santa Juliana.

More famous than Santillana del Mar itself is the nearby Cave of Altamira. The cave was the first cave prehistoric paintings were found in. It was actually discovered by a child in the late 1800s, who led her father, an amateur archaeologist called Marcelino de Sautuola, to them. He had seen prehistoric objects at the Paris Exposition the year before and contacted an archaeologist at the University of Madrid. There was much debate back then over whether the paintings were in fact prehistoric. At that time Marcelino was ridiculed, as it was believed that cavemen were savages who were incapable of artistic expression. Slowly, the paintings were revealed to be genuine and modern scientific dating suggests some of them are up to 35,000 years old.

Up until a few decades ago, visitors were allowed to go inside and see them close up. But as with many sites such as this, it was decided tourists breathing close to the paintings was damaging them and could ultimately result in the loss of them forever. To overcome this problem, the cave was closed to the public in the late seventies and a reproduction of it was built close by. What visitors actually see now is a replica of the real thing. This does take away from the experience a little but it is necessary for the preservation of what is an extremely important UNESCO World Heritage Site.

John Hutchinson has enjoyed travelling since he was a young boy when his parents first took him to visit family overseas. Since leaving home, John has tracked down family all over the world and regularly jets off to faraway lands to see distant relatives.

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