Before I moved out to Cantabria for the summer I’ll admit I didn’t really do my research. I packed a bag full of bikinis and short shorts and I boarded the plane with my sunhat in hand. It’s Spain? It’s bound to be sunny! I was hit with 3 months of mostly rain and cloud!! It’s been hotter in England which is depressing, but I have loved spending the last three months here nonetheless.
I have been living with a Spanish family in the busy industrial town of Torrelavega, famous for it’s cattle markets and mining heritage. It is definitely not the prettiest town I have visited, but it has a sort of charm to it. Everything feels compact, like the place could burst with the amount of tortilla bars, boutique shops, and newspaper kiosks. I have come to be quite fond of the place, and I love walking the streets in the evening and soaking up the bustle of the city, listening to the locals chat in Spanish over a cafe and a pincho, and eating Spanish ham in the square. It’s not exactly a tourist trap; in fact I don’t think I’ve ran into any English-speaking people since I’ve been here, but I am glad of that as it’s been a real authentic Spanish experience. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the city for your travel bucket list as there isn’t a great deal to do here, but it is perfectly located in close proximity to the most beautiful places!! The best thing is that here in any ice cream parlor you go to, they top it with ‘nata’ – whipped cream! 100% the best ice cream I have eaten..
Jump on a bus and in 10 minutes you arrive in Suances, the nearest coast! Suances is a lot prettier than Torrelavega, and it is compact with five stunning beaches all within walking distance of one another. When the sun decides to come out, you can find me soaking up some rays on la Playa de los Locos, and watching all of the surfer boys emerging from the sea… Locals tend to pack a picnic – usually Spanish tortilla and fresh watermelon, but if you’re anything like me, you get lured in by the smell of paella cooking in the beachfront restaurants. Suances is also the nearest town for a good night out if based in Torrelavega. Most Wednesday’s I go out with friends to do ‘botellón’ (i.e drinking calimocho on the beach until the early hours of the morning), dancing to reggaeton music in the bars, and then stripping off and skinny dipping in the sea before crawling back home the next morning..
Looking for a more cultural experience? Head to Comillas for a day of sightseeing and learning about the history of the town. At the top of the hill sits the Palacio de Sobrellano, once owned by Antonio Lopez Lopez, the wealthy founder of the transatlantic transport company, and also a slave trader. He had the palace built facing the university, which he also paid for, so that he could always watch over it (creepy and controlling if you ask me)..
A stones throw away sits the famous ‘El Capricho’, designed by Antoni Gaudi. He is famous for his designs in Barcelona including la Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà and Park Güell, but here you can find one of his rare pieces of architecture outside of Catalonia. What was once a house is now a restaurant, but looking at it makes me question, what on earth was he smoking when he designed this crazy looking place? El Capricho was built to encourage it’s inhabitants to move through the house to follow the sunlight as it moved during the day, like a sunflower that turns to face the sun. The entire design therefore, incorporates sunflowers on its ceramic tiles, and also music staves to reflect the owners love of music.
Santillana del Mar
One of the most colourful villages Cantabria boasts is Santillana del Mar, attracting herds of tourists from all over the world. This medieval village is made up of quaint cobbled streets, thatched houses, and balconies bursting with flowers. You can easily spend a day here wandering through the sleepy streets, eating ice cream in the stone square, or passing through the witchcraft museum ‘el Museo de la Inquisicion’. Not far from the centre is the world famous Altimara cave, home to ancient pieces of artwork engraved in the cave walls from 36,000 years ago. The artwork is so precious that it has been hailed the ‘Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art’ and you have to be invited to view it, however there is a replica of the cave for tourists.
So there you have it, my 3 months in Cantabria in a nutshell. It might not be as sunny as Barcelona, but it is definitely worth a visit for culture and beach lovers!!