On the contrary, the very first fact that I heard about Santillana del Mar immediately affirmed that I would like the place very much.
“Santillana del Mar is a town that is founded on three lies,” our guide announced.
I was already intrigued.
The lies come from the very name of the town:
1. ‘Santo’ implies that the town has something to do with the life of a saint. It doesn’t.
2. ‘Ilana’ means ‘flat’. Santillana del Mar is located within a very obviously hilly landscape.
3. ‘Mar’, of course, means ‘the sea’. The town, although located in northern Spain, is not a seaside destination.
Always one with a soft spot for the quirky, I had, after that introduction, already decided that my experience of Santillana del Mar would be an overwhelmingly positive one.
Located about 30 km from Santander and near the world-renowned Altamira Cave, Santillana del Mar is often referred to as a living museum. As our walking tour progressed, I could definitely see why.
The town is easily explored on foot, as the oldest part of Santillana del Mar is compact. Filled with cobblestoned streets and alleyways of irregular widths, these thoroughfares are lined with some of the most exquisite – and most well preserved – medieval buildings I’ve ever seen.
|Decisions, decisions! Picking the right tapas bar is never as easy as it should be.|
|I adored this building purely based on the fact that none of the windows had the same size.|
|Just some of the medieval houses in central Santillana del Mar.|
Many of these structures were built between the 14th and 18th centuries, with some looking as though they haven’t been modified in the slightest since then.
We had two major stops on the tour, the first being at the triangular-shaped Ramon Pelayo Square.
The ‘square’ is surrounded by many notable buildings, including the town hall as well as one of the most colourful houses I’ve ever seen. The upper level of the latter had flowers and plants covering every available inch.
|Ramon Pelayo Square.|
The second pitstop involved – arguably – the town’s most famous attraction: the Colegiata de Santa Juliana.
We were visiting in the off season, yet this was where we spotted our first crowd of the day, as a group of schoolchildren had congregated on this collegiate church’s steps.
Construction of this Romanesque church began in the 12th Century, and the structure had several additions over the following centuries. My one regret from our day in Santillana del Mar is that we didn’t get to see the interior of the church, as it is reportedly beautiful.
|Colegiata de Santa Juliana.|
Other medieval buildings lie within the vicinity of the church, and, once we decided to walk around the church, I realised just how small Santillana del Mar really is. Right behind the church, and the rest of the town centre, we sighted rolling green fields and, offering their presence for a good photo opportunity, some horses.
At this point in the day, we had worked up an appetite, and it was time for dinner.
With a table booked at Parador Gil Blas, located just off the aforementioned Ramon Pelayo Square, we were looking forward to trying some of the region’s best dishes.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that we feasted that night. The starter alone featured an array of Cantabrian favourites: anchovy toast with tomato paste and olive oil, Tresviso cheese (tangy, but delicious), squid with onions, and a stew of white beans, vegetables and pork. I couldn’t imagine that any dish we had afterwards could top it, but the rest of the meal was just as tasty.
|A plateful of Cantabrian treats.|
|Spanish cheesecake – I’d love a plate of this right now!|
The main was veal with potatoes and grilled peppers, while the dessert was a traditional cheesecake, served with honey and nuts. Coupled with some top-notch Spanish wine, our little group had a perfect evening in Santillana del Mar.
After the meal, it was time to say goodbye to Santillana del Mar, a town that I had just become acquainted with and one that had only started working its way into my affections. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go, as our accommodation for the night was just a short drive away.
Family owned, La Casona de Los Guelitos is a 17th Century house with ten double rooms. Although the facilities here are everything you’d expect from upmarket accommodation, our experience at La Casona de Los Guelitos was warm, inviting and homely. Even our breakfast the next day carried this touch; a basket of different types of bread, still warm from the oven, awaited us as soon as we woke up. I’d definitely stay here again.
|La Casona de Los Guelitos.|
While my time in Santillana del Mar was short (too short), my visit there reaffirmed an idea that had started forming in my mind a while back. I have been to Spain numerous times, mostly to the big cities, but I’m anxious to come back and explore it in a different way: by car.
I’d love nothing more than to hire a car and explore the Spanish countryside as I go, stopping at whichever town or village that looks appealing at the time. I’m convinced that I’ll come across many gems this way, just as we had come across the medieval and hopelessly picturesque Santillana del Mar.