Santander, Spain: A Serious City by the Sea

19 May

I mention companies by name only if they give exceptional service or are horrendously bad.

Hertz rental car company, San Sebastian airport in Spain belongs in the first category. Imagine arriving at an airport by taxi with all your clobber, including food supplies. The Biarritz taxi driver (who was also a very nice man) strides into the Hertz desk and within two minutes the English-speaking Hertz rep is walking towards you, car keys in hand. ‘Are you happy with an X model or would you prefer the Y model station wagon for the same price?’, he asks. 

Umm, ‘Y please’, we answer. (Yes indeed, we are still hauling Stu’s skis around.)

´OK, let me just go and change the keys.’ He helps us load the car, does the paperwork painlessly, sorts the GPS, and and we are on our way. ¡Gracias Hertz!

It’s my turn to drive (Stuart refuses to pay the ripoff second driver surcharge all companies seem to charge so we take turns). Destination central Santander should be easy and is, even in the rain on the motorway, but busy, narrow one way streets and road closures leading to our destination become frustrating and a bit dangerous. 

Eventually, twenty minutes late for our rendezvous with Aneida, our apartment manager, we locate 2 Plaza Principe. Aneida manages the apartment along with her mother and sister. She is the third generation firstborn girl to be called Aneida (Aenaid in English texts) starting with her great grandmother. By chance we bump into her husband with their daughter, called Aneida of course, on the way back from our car park. I don’t quite get why the Trojan, refugee protagonist of Virgil’s unfinished, epic, mythical poem (published 19 BC) should be of such significance to their family and I don’t have the nerve to ask, but it makes for an interesting generational link.

Our ‘Balcones del Artes’ apartment (because we’re in the centre of the cultural district) is one of two tourist apartments on the top/fifth floor of one of the oldest buildings in Santander, serviced by a lift straight out of the 19th century. We comprehend the buiding’s historical significance only later when we read about the disastrous 48-hour 1941 fire that burned out the heart of medieval Santander. Our apartment’s interior has been totally renovated and seems brand new. Our balcony looks onto the bay and the other living room window has an eagle’s eye view of downtown Santander. We’re very comfortable during our four nights here.

Stuart walking past the entry to our apartment building, the cream one with yellow trim.

The main plaza to the side of our building.

His and hers.

Santander Bay in the distance. The living room, below.

The door to our apartment is typical of Santander entry doors, solid.

In our previous visits to Santander we’ve been on a motorcycle and have zoomed on or off the cross channel ferry. Time to make recompense.

The weather is mostly grey with showers during our stay (Santander has the same number of sunny days as London) but we venture out and are rewarded with a lovely afternoon waterside walk along the Bay of Santander to La Magdalena Royal Palace on the promontory. Built by the citizens of Santander for King Alphonso III as a summer home, it was acquired by the city from the royal estate and completely renovated to serve as museum, venue and conference centre.

The statues pay homage to the boys who used to make a living diving for coins in the bay.

The water is very clean and there is very little litter anywhere in Santander. ¡Muy propre!

King Alphonso III’s summer home.

Our walk and the villa give us a clue as to the nature of the people here which is confirmed over the following days. Traditional, stolid, formal, polite, there is no ‘edge’ to Santander, or at least none we could find. Even the grafitti heartfelt but tame. Having survived two epidemics of the plague and one of the Spanish flu, an explosive disaster on board a docked ship and the fire, they appear as survivors who play it safe. This is the home of Santander Bank after all.

Santa & Co makes an awesome vegan burger and the staff are sweet.

Santander market, Mercado Esperanza (Hope Market), has stood in the same place, selling the same foods for more than 100 years.

A day trip to San Vicente de la Barquera and Comillas was enlivened by a game of ‘count the pilgrims’. The northern route of the Camino de Santiago runs through both. We spotted 12 walkers and several Camino pavement signs.


Fortified El Castillo del Rey en la Villa, San Vicente de la Barquera sits high above the town guarding the waterways and land bridge.

Special mention for the Galleon restaurant in Comillas for a wonderful lunch. Stuart’s joy knew no bounds when he realised his menu del dia included a full bottle of rather good vino rosado which he had all to himself since I was driving.

We missed the very limited opening hours of the Gothic style Sobrellano Palace (1881) but enjoyed walking the grounds and seeing the house next door designed by Gaudi (who else…).

Gate designed by Gaudi for this private residence. The round hole is the door for birds.

Our final day was a lazy Sunday walking the city to visit the smallish Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art house in an old building, the Sunday flea market in an underpass, and the Cathedral which has the lowest ceiling we’ve ever seen. Two girls had been confirmed at that morning’s Sunday service. The family made the same fuss and expense as if they’d been wed.

The pintxos are huge in Santander.

Just point and pay!

This photo was taken at 10:45pm on a Sunday night. Families were still choosing a restaurant for dinner.

But enough of this lolling about, time to hike the Picos de Europa.

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