experiences in cantabria

Experiences in Cantabria Spain| Holiday like a Local

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Do you ever wonder what professional travel planners do during their Summer holidays? Because we spend the Spring and Autumn months road-testing new hotels, venues, activities and experiences, in July and August, we stay local at home here in Cantabria. In Northern Spain, the temperatures are perfect for days on the beach, BBQs at home and lunches out with friends and family. Here is the longlist of 25 experiences in Cantabria we’ve planned for this Summer! If you’re planning an active trip to Cantabria, get in touch and we’ll design your perfect holiday!

Experiences in Cantabria | Holiday like a Local

1 The Aperitivo Hour in Scenic Locations

experiences in Cantabria

Getting out and about in Castro Urdiales – offers up delights like this – to be followed with an aperitif in the old town! photo credit: super 8 photography Playmobil #2 via photopin (license)

Seafood is a delight in Cantabria all year-round but Summertime is when we have more free weekends and that’s when we enjoy ordering dishes featuring clams, mussels, squid, octopus and even periwinkles for the aperitif hour – as its called here, which is from 1pm-3pm. When we have friends and family around, we like to show them a variety of foodie spots and one of the classics is having ‘prawns in their gabardines’ at the Bar del Puerto in Santander’s Puertochico – a mid-century institution designed by local architect Ricardo Lorenzo. But you’ll find wonderful places all along the coastline (and inland) to explore that have a wonderful traditional in great ‘aperitifs’. Take Castro Urdiales near the Basque Country – it’s a wonderful old fishing town with a great tradition in rowing and it’s always buzzing for aperitif. Vermouths are as popular as ever in Cantabria – and perfect at this time. We encourage everybody to try the local brand called Siderit  – which is wonderfully aromatic and perfect with seafood.

2 Artisan Cheese Platters

We adore the Picos de Europa National Park where you’ll find clusters of artisan food and wine producers creating top-class produce. When we go, we like to stay at Hotel del Oso in Cosgaya where you can dine and sleep like a king. We always go to Potes for the farmers market on Mondays – and that’s where we’ll pick up wedges of delicious fresh cheese straight from the hands of the producer. The Picos de Europa boasts its own micro-climate so if its raining on the beach, you know where to go! Of course, it’s beautiful here in Wintertime also – see why here… Wherever you are in Cantabria, you’ll be able to enjoy great cheese platters at the taverns and bars by ordering a ‘tabla de quesos’ accompanied by a local white or red vino!

3 Surfing class at Somo & Loredo – Ribamontan al Mar

Experiences in Cantabria

Taking a break from the waves at Somo beach in Cantabria. photo credit: Walimai.photo Descanso Mosquetero /// Musketeer Rest via photopin (license)

We’ve planned lots of surf holidays for clients in the Ribamontan al Mar surf reserve and this Summer, we’re going to sign up for some classes for ourselves at the surf school in Somo. And we’re also thinking about a stand up paddle and perhaps even a canoeing session or two session – either at the beach or along the Rio Deva.

4 Visit world-class Pre-Historic Caves

Perfect for a hot day and a cloudy one – the caves in Cantabria are dazzling for their cave art and the perspective they provide on history – and we love to return to them all. We really enjoyed reading Eva Garcia Saenz’ fictional trilogy about time travelling (read about it here) back to pre-historic times – and it’s always on our minds when we go back to the caves. We’ll probably pick one we haven’t seen in a while…here’s a list of the main caves if you fancy a visit when you’re here next.

5 Food Markets

Cantabria is home to some wonderful farmers’ markets as well as the traditional fish markets. Cartes, Lierganes and Potes come to mind (and the brand-new monthly farmers market in Tetuan neighbourhood in Santander). We are also big fans of the Mercado de la Esperanza in Santander. And we’ve also been lucky enough to visit a fish auction – which is really exciting – but don’t expect to just walk in – you need to be with a licensed wholesaler. We’ll definitely be planning more time padding around the great markets here on our time off – you just can’t beat the quality and variety there!

6 Michelin-Star Chef Tips

Cantabria is home to quite a few Michelin-star restaurants and we will make sure to dine at one or two this Summer. We also enjoy putting together groups for a cooking classes – as it’s a great way to meet the chefs and learn some new culinary tricks. Take Chefs Working in downtown Santander – it’s a great facility and they tailor the classes 100% to the group’s interests and experience. They also run Kids Cooking Master Classes where the children are taken out fishing and get to meet artisan food producers and shop at the food markets.

Experiences in Cantabria

Chef Oscar Calleja won his second Michelin star in 2017. The restaurant will be very busy in Summer because it’s such a great location overlooking the water at San Vicente de la Barquera.Pic credit: Annua

7 Camino de Santiago/Lebaniego

This is one of those really special experiences that will change your life forever. Whether you walk the coastal Camino or head inland to take the Camino Lebaniego, you will find a sense of freedom that is quite addictive. Don’t take our word for it – get chatting to a few Peregrinos and you’ll find lots are returning for their second or third Camino. We’re going to do a section of the coastal Camino this Summer – and plan on taking quite a few swims to cool off from the trail! And we love to drive the Camino, too – find out why here

8 Cycling

Cantabria has some marvellous ‘green routes’ called ‘via verde’ that are perfect for walking and biking. Basically they are old trainlines that are no longer in service. The local governments plant a greenway where the tracks used to be which makes a fantastically safe and scenic bike and walking lane. We love the combination of abandoned countryside with the occasional country inn or tapas bar where you can quench your thirst. And we’re also keen to take the cycling tour in Santander over the Summer on an electric bike. The city of Santander is very hilly and the road up to the lighthouse is very steep so the electric bike is just the trick! We’ll let you know how we get on!

9 Swimming

This really does mark the start of the Summer. Although we often take the first swim at Galizano, Trengandin or Somo – we also make sure to walk out from Somo to El Puntal to enjoy the amazing views and see the sailing crews strutting their stuff as we sip a cold beer and try some rabas. You can take the boat from Santander to El Puntal also which is a cute mini-boat trips for families staying in the city. Not convinced about how special this beach is? See it here featured in our guide to beach hopping in Northern Spain.

Experiences in Cantabria

It’s hard to choose where to head for the first swim of the Summer – but this one is always up there at the top of the list! photo credit: pdobeson Playa de Ris (Noja) via photopin (license)

10 Finding our inner Seve on the Fairways

Golf is such a great way to experience the countryside and in Cantabria we’re spoilt for choice. You probably know that golfer Seve Ballesteros was from Pedreña so this is hallowed ground for all fans of golfing. Those of us seeking to re-capture a little bit of golfing magic play at the Matalenas Golf course in Santander or the Royal Pedreña Course or La Junquera Course. We have a special place in our hearts for Sota Golf Club in Agüero run by golfer and master clu-maker Gabriel Sota and his two brothers. Gabriel’s father was Ramon Soto, four-time Spain golf champion and uncle to Seve Ballesteros. Agüero’s 9-hole golf club was devised by Ramon and designed by Seve and it’s priceless to experience the course (and hear all the stories) on a visit. Definitely on the shortlist for this Summer.

11 Cabarceno Gastro Bites in the Cable Car

Cabarceno is great fun all year round and we’ve had annual passes for many years. We’ve adore the cable cars that glide over the larger animal enclosures (the animals here live in semi-captivity – they have huge tracks of land in which to roam freely) but in the Summer months – you can try out the gastro evenings on board the cable cars. If you’re interested, you’ll need to book as the heady combination of cocktails (Oscar Solana of Taberna Solia) and gourmet tapas (by Sergio Bastard of Casona del Judio restaurant) will sell out fast.

12 Enjoy live DJs at the Centro Botin

No trip to Cantabria is complete without a walk inside and around the wonderful new arts centre designed by Renzo Piano. The auditorium is also glorious and we’ll be attending lots of recitals and concerts – as we do all year long. Read a bit about this space here and pay the place a visit if you are in Cantabria this summer where you’ll find Vermouth Sessions on every Sunday from noon til 2pm.

experiences in Cantabria

The Centro Botin in the centre of Santander – just celebrated its second birthday. Pic credit. PamelaCahill.om

13 Artisan Beer from Lierganes

Andrew and the team are probably still reeling from the rapid fire success of their recent crowdfunding campaign but it hasn’t gone to their heads and they’re still working full tilt to produce wonderful craft beers. If, like us, you like to visit craft breweries on your travels, don’t miss out on a visit to Dougalls in the lovely Lierganes. Pre-booking essential.

14 Via Ferrata Adrenalin Rush

We’re not huge adrenalin junkies at Totally Spain (unless you count some of the live concerts Ken gives in his spare time) but if we wake up needing a rush, we’ll be heading to La Hermida – following in the steps of Jesus Calleja (Spain’s answer to Bear Grylls). The Via Ferrata which opened back in 2010 is pretty impressive. See what heights you can reach here.

16 Vineyards of Cantabria

We’ve already documented how much fun you can have at the Vidular winery and vineyards and this Summer, we’ll be repaying a visit to a few of the wonderful wineries in Cantabria including Vidular and Bodegas See d’Aiz – which we visited on one of the coldest days last Winter – we’ll be hoping to enjoy the great views without all the warm winter layers this time around!

Experiences in Cantabria

Kids running around the vineyards a few Summers ago. They have as good a day as the adults do. Pic credit PamelaCahill.com

16 Sleep in a Palace

It’s funny how sometimes the best night’s away are only a short drive away from home. Cantabria really excels at the rural inns and one of the places we have yet to overnight is Carrejo Palace – so we’ll be putting that on the list for the Summer local getaways. We’re not often led by celebrities – but we were huge fans of the movie The Others which was filmed in part in Cantabria and Carrejo Palace was where Nicole Kidman overnighted while in the area. If you’d like to know more about Cantabria’s many palaces, get in touch and we’ll put together a fab itinerary for you!

17 Ziplining

Back to adrenalin rushes – but this one is very doable with the family. In the forest beside the Cabo Mayor lighthouse in Santander, you’ll find about three routes taking in 15 or so really cool ziplines that allow you to dangle and zoom around between the trees. We’ve been a few times – and this Summer, we’ll be back! After the experience, head for a swim ant nearby Matalenas beach or if you’ve knees are still shaking from the buzz – relax while you experience the sunsetting at the cafe beside the lighthouse.

18 Diving off Mouro

We’ve done lots of boat trips around the bay of Santander and love the stories about Mouro and its unique habitat for flora and fauna. All we’ve left to do is take a dive in this area. That means getting in touch with somebody like MouroSub to line up a session! It’s on the list!

experiences in Cantabria

The iconic island of Mouro in the bay of Santander. During the Winter months, the sea can be rough but Summer is a great time to plan a dive. photo credit: juantiagues Santander-Isla de Mouro via photopin (license)

19 Churros & Chocolate – Any Time of the Day

We’ve always said the best churros are sold from the churrería vans but you rarely get chocolate served at these road-side locations, so for the full experience, you need to ask a local (or us!). We’re quite partial to the old world charm of Chocolateria Aliva in Santander and if you are near Lierganes, the churros are delicious at Hombre Pez. We’ve had them in the Parador de Limpias – also delicious. Wherever you are this Summer, do yourself a favour and order some at least once! If you want to make them a little bit more 5-star, order a glass of the local Baileys called Crema de Orujo – on the side! Absolutely delicious!

20 The Maze at Villapresente

Perfect for families with younger children – we’ll be sending a few of the visiting friends and family over to Villapresente to see how they get on. This maze is a new addition to Cantabria’s experiences and its takes 30-60 mins to figure your way out. Just eight minutes from the Altamira caves, it could be a perfect treat after being indoors for a while!

experiences in Cantabria

Yes – those are people in pink – this is a large scale maze that is brilliant fun! Pic credit: Javier Rosendo/Laberinto de Villapresente

21 Anchovies & Sardines

Anchovies are those things that come on pizzas  – until you come to Cantabria – and that’s when you realise this is a gourmet fish that deserves far more love and attention that being smeared with tomato sauce and mozzarella. We never miss the Anchovy Festival in Santona and always recommend visiting an anchovy warehouse to learn about this often undervalued culinary treat. Sardines are another fish that are condemned to tomato sauce and buttery toast in many countries but here in Spain, the sardine is given VIP status during the Summer months. We’ll be making sure we take in a few sessions of freshly grilled sardines this Summer – get in touch if you’d like us to make sure you taste the finest fish in Cantabria too!

22 Maritime Museum in Santander

And while we’re talking about fish – we’ve been a few times recently to the Maritime Museum and always enjoy the wonderful models (many built by former director of the Museum, Jose Luis Casado Soto) and of course, the Aquarium is also a great space. Don’t miss out on the giant squid measuring over 5 metres long! Definitely one for an idle Summer’s day. For more great museums in Cantabria see here.

Experiences in Cantabria

The enormous blue whale skeleton at the Maritime Museum in Santander. Pic credit: TurismodeCantabria.com

23 The Capricho by Gaudí in Comillas

One of our favourite buildings in all of Cantabria is Antoni Gaudi’s Capricho in Comillas. We’ll be back again this Summer – it’s hard to stay away from this gem – see why here and where we recommend for lunch afterwards in Ruiloba.

24 Berry picking at Barcena Mayor

When the end of Summer is nigh and we want to go for a decent walk that will be followed by a burst of baking – we make our way to Barcena Mayor – and head away on a ramble in some of the nearby walking trails. When our jam jars are full of berries – it’s time to order an estofado de jabalí (wild boar stew) in one of the local restaurants. You might need a strong coffee or a nap in the car before you can leave Barcena – but the berries will give you the reason to head back and get them bubbling in a pot or pie. Delicious day out for anybody dreading the return to school!

25 Forests & Gardens

We’ve just written about the redwood forest near Cabezon de la Sal here which we plan on visiting by day and by night this Summer. Like us, those of you with an interest in gardening will want to visit some of the great gardens in Cantabria. We are always charmed by the town of Novales where lemon trees line the streets and every August they celebrate and lemonade and gin & tonic festival to put those lemons to great use! The money raised goes to local charities so it’s a great day to be part of. If you miss the event, you can visit Novales where you’ll find lots of lemons on the menu in the bars and restaurants as well as the more unusual places such as Federica&Co.

Experiences in Cantabria

A snapshot of the lemon trees in Federica’s garden in Novales ready for a picnic. Pic credit: Andrea Savini


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