The fairytale village of Northern Spain: Santillana del Mar
The next stop of our epic Northern Spain road trip is Santillana del Mar. I'll describe this place in just three words: a fairy tale. When I went to Santillana del Mar for the first time, my eyes were filled with tears while I was looking at the traditional stone houses, small shops in the old, narrow streets, cozy-looking bars and restaurants and flowers coming out from every corner. I had never expected to see such a beautiful place, but soon enough, I was already certain that I'd come for the second time as soon as possible. If you, like me, want to get out of the crowds, avoid popular places and see Spain from a different perspective, then read on! (or check out our Santillana del Mar vlog on YouTube!)
Santillana del Mar is actually a tiny village in the Cantabria region. If you are coming from Bilbao like us, it'll take you an hour and a half by car. They call it "the town of 3 lies" in Spain because its name has nothing to do with the truth. Santi comes from "santa" and means saint, but unlike most cities and towns in Spain, this place does not have a saint of its own. “Llana” means flat, but this is not a flat place, it is a hilly place. And finally, it's also a lie that there is "mar", meaning the sea, because it's not on the coast. Well, then I can't help but wonder why it was given such a name!
You can walk around Santillana in 1 hour, but if you want to take your time, sip your café con leche at a nice café, look at this and that shop, take photos and videos, and fly a drone, you should stay for one night. We stayed in a historic house a little outside the city center (La Posada de la Abadia). This historical house has been inherited from the current owner from his family. The interior is furnished in a traditional style and makes you feel as if you are not a customer but a guest. The owner is also so sweet that if you ask, he will immediately give you a map and will start giving you recommendations for dining or activities to do in the village. By the way, breakfast is served in the form of a small open buffet in the mornings at the hotel.
You can walk from the hotel to the center of the village in 5 minutes. If you are looking for a historical and touristic sight to visit, you can go to the church of Colegiata de Santillana del Mar. This church which was originally built as a monastery in 870 A.D. and converted into a church in the 11th century. Apart from this church, there is no place to enter with a ticket. You will walk the narrow, cobbled streets and enjoy the fresh air. When you walk up the streets, you will see a horse farm with ponies. If you're traveling with kids, they might enjoy a pony ride in the lush countryside.
Now I'd like to dive into the subject of eating and drinking!
When we first visited Santillana del Mar, we went to a restaurant in the main square, which I chose just because it looked very cute, and we were not satisfied with the food. So, on our second visit, we decided to go to a restaurant recommended by the hotel owner and this time we were very pleased (Café Restaurante La Villa). When you go to this restaurant, you can order anything from the menu, but our recommendation is “Menu del dia”, that is, you choose from the menu of the day. If you do not know the Menu del dia system in Spain, I suggest you click here and read the blog post in which I explained it in detail. Most of the time, we order dishes from the daily menu because it is both more satisfying and more affordable. I had asparagus with sauce as a starter from the daily menu, and my husband had Cocido Montañes. I think it was the tastiest asparagus I had ever eaten in my life. We tried to decipher its contents with my husband, but we couldn't quite get it. My husband was also satisfied with his starter. As you can see from the photos, "starter" plates are almost no different from a "main course".
For the main course, I got a fish called “merluza”, which is "hake" in English, while my husband got a meat dish, similar to a crispy fried schnitzel, but in the form of a roll. The fish was not overly sauced, had very little garnishing and was very tasty. Lastly, we had plain cheesecake for dessert and Sorbete de limon for digestion, a cocktail with lemon ice cream and champagne (You can make Sorbete de lemon at home in 5 minutes – click here for the recipe!). We were very satisfied with all we ate. Moreover, the environment and staff were excellent. If you decide to go, I'm sure you'll love it.
When it comes to Santillana del Mar, there are 3 Cantabrian things you should eat: Sobao (butter cake), Quesada (a type of cheese cake) and Corbata (a snack like a crusty butter and puff pastry). When you buy a Sobao or Quesada from a patisserie, they serve it with milk to balance the sugar levels in your body. As you can see, Cantabria is a place where lots of butter, milk and cheese are consumed. My favorite pastry is Sobao, but I like all of them.
That's all I'm going to write about Santillana del Mar. I don't know if we will go for the third time, but it has definitely has a place in my heart. I hope I have succeeded in adding a new place to your list of places to travel. If you happen to be in Santillana one day, don't forget to share your thoughts with us and tag us in your photos on Instagram! And don't miss our Santillana del Mar vlog on YouTube!
Did you like this Northern Spain Santillana del mar travel guide? Comillas, Gulpiyuri and Cangas de Onis will be the next stop on our Northern Spain road trip. Stay tuned!