SANTANDER TRAVEL GUIDE
We have found that when people ask us where we are living and we respond, “Santander”, they always follow up with, “Where is that?” Yes, it is not one of your major Spanish destinations like San Sebastian, Barcelona or Madrid, but it is a truly remarkable Spanish gem, without a huge tourist vibe. (The latter being a huge reason why we chose it.) We didn’t want to go where we would run into the English language around every corner. We knew ourselves well enough to know that if someone was going to speak English to us, we just might speak it back, so we got rid of our “security blanket”, so to speak, and chose a city that is a little lesser known where we would be forced, in a good way, to speak Spanish.
And conversely, many of our local friends have asked us the same question, “Why Santander?” Yes, it is a different choice since we had the freedom to choose anywhere in Spain. But, we are so happy we are here. Honestly, we took a trip to a town to the south, along the Mediterranean Sea and although it was amazing and beautiful, everyone there spoke English. And we learned later that a ton of people from the UK vacation there. Every menu was in English and we heard more English in a few days there than we had since we left the US. So, although the water is colder and the weather is a bit more “fresco”, all of the locals prefer to speak Spanish and that is one of the main reasons why we are calling Santander home for the year.
SO NOW, ONTO OUR BELOVED SANTANDER.
Santander is the capital city of Cantabria, which is west of the Basque region and San Sebastian (which is a city most people have heard of).
To get to Santander from the United States a majority of people fly into Bilbao, which is a stunning and entertaining city, not to mention it is the home to an amazing Guggenheim museum and many Michelin star restaurants. You will need to reserve some time for Bilbao the day before your flight home, but, since you are coming to Santander, on your way in, you will simply rent your car in Bilbao and drive west. Santander does have an airport and many flights to and from Madrid every day on Iberia Airlines but Bilbao offers a much wider selection of carriers and flight times.
Once you rent your car, be super careful to follow the speed limit, which changes every few miles for no reason, especially in the Basque region. “I may have” gotten a few speeding tickets on my visits here before moving. And those tickets always find their way to you. Always, in your mailbox a few weeks after you return. And the first thing you will ask yourself is, “Should I pay this?” Here is my answer, “If you want to travel to Spain again, then you should pay it.” You will know when you are out of the Basque region because the signs will only be in Spanish. Basque, to me, looks a bit like Greek. For instance this is Basque for “thank you”, “eskerrik asko”. So, you will know. Also, there will be a huge sign at some point that says CANTABRIA.
Your trip in the car is about an hour, through gorgeous country that is incredibly green, so much so that we call them “Emerald Mountains”. When you first exit the autovia you will be at the center of the industrial part of Santander. Don’t worry, it looks huge but like any coastal area, once you hit the water, it turns into a quaint, small seaside town.
Where every room is a seaside room!
When people want a hotel, I always tell them to stay at Hotel Chiqui, not because it’s glamorous but because it is a fantastic hotel in the best location for a ridiculously inexpensive price. I have stayed there a few times. There are several nice hotels in Sardinero and in Puerto Chico (two areas of Santander). Gran Hotel Sardinero looks to be one of the nicest hotels in the main area and is right across the street from the Casino, which I have never been in. But Hotel Chiqui is where you get a bang for your buck. I just booked a room at Christmastime for a family member for 10 nights and the total was 550 euro! Boom! That’s an ocean front room, with a balcony for only 55 euros a night. Which translates to $65.
Gran Hotel Sardinero
About a half a mile from Hotel Chiqui.
Now that you have your accommodations, you need some food and drink, so grab your walking shoes. No offense to the Chiqui but that is not where you want to eat. Getting a drink or a coffee there is fine, but for a meal, you want to venture out. Let’s get you out on the town. There are many places to walk to where you can grab a copa de tinto (glass of red wine). “Me pone una copa de tinto”. Or “Me trae una cope de tinto”. (both basically mean, “Bring me a glass of wine.” It sounds rude but it is the way you order over here. And, almost always, when you are experiencing Spain and are having La Comida, lunch, you start with a copa or a caña. (caña is a draft beer). When you start with your drink, you also need to tell them that you want to eat. So you would love a table after your drink. We made that mistake many times where we ended up telling them too late and their tables were full. Really, everyone just takes it slow and has a nice drink before sitting down. The wine is inexpensive and yet, fantastic, so you can really go anywhere along the water for a nice glass. If the weather is nice, sit outside and enjoy the sounds of the ocean. No need to order a tapa, your glass usually comes with a tiny little taster of something.
FOR LUNCH AND/OR DINNER
You should experience Puerto Chico. We have some favorites. (and, we plan on adding to this list)
With a wonderful vibe. And one of the best cups of cafe con leche I have had so far:)
Serbol (Michelin star and absolutely within a budget. The value at this restaurant is amazing. We had a phenomenal 5-course wine pairing dinner and it was 60 euro a person)
La Malinche Bar
OUR LOCAL STAND-BY’S
Mar de Cotez
(Trip Advisor works really well over here)
But, in general it is about walking around and finding the spot that looks good to you. No food is served before 8:30pm at most places, every single night. Even if we want to order take away from the Mexican restaurant below us, they open for drinks at around 8pm but NO FOOD until 8:30pm. So, settle in and be patient. It’s fun like that. We went to an Indian restaurant the other night in Puerto Chico with our friends and the kids. We walked in at 9:15pm and it was only, us and 2 other tables. When we left, the place was packed…and that was almost 11pm.
If you are fresh off the plane, you will probably wake up early, which is great because you can soak up a walk on the beach or a walk to the El Faro along the old pathway. And, if you are super, adventurous, you can run along the rock, cliff coastline for miles. At times you will feel like you are running through someone’s farmland but you are not, just keep going until you are too muddy, too tired or just need to eat breakfast!
The Endless Path
Along the coast from El Faro (the lighthouse)
The El Faro has a statue that dates back to their civil war, which really, was not that long ago. It ended just as WWII was starting. We have learned a ton about Spanish history through our language class. Anyway, make sure to take in the sites as you walk or run. If you walk along the beach, which at low tide is one mile long, watch for brave swimmers out in the water. They are out there every single morning. And when you get to the rock wall, look at the steps and imagine how long ago they were built/created. Also, be aware of the tide, which has a 10 to 15 foot shift from low to high tide.
After your dose of fresh air, go to any café for breakfast (desayuno) Just remember that a “carta” is a menu and a “menu” is the set meal of the day. Every restaurant is required to have a “menu”…which I would describe as, a set meal on a budget. But at breakfast, the deal is fantastic. At a place around the corner from Hotel Chiqui we can get two eggs, bacon, bread, café and fresh squeezed orange juice for 4 euro. So, go out for breakfast.
A DAY FOR SIGHTS AND SOUNDS.
They have a double-decker red bus tour here but we have yet to hop on. (we love those tours though!) But, for the most part, you can walk to all of these awesome sites and everyone does. There are always people walking. Just to walk and enjoy the air! And if it is raining, give it a second…it will/might pass. The weather is a lot like the bay area. “If you don’t like it, wait 5 minutes, it will change.”
SOME OF OUR FAVORITE SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES
*Palacio de la Magdalena
Palacio de la Magdalena
Which used to be the summer home of the Spanish Royal Family
*Puerto Chico paseo
*El Mercado (the amazing local market, famous for their fish and shellfish)
*Take the water taxi to Playa Somo y Pedreña.
OUR FAVORITE BEACHES
Playa de Mataleñas
Tucked away from the wind and has a fantastic set of stairs for our weekly exercise.
*Playa de Mataleñas
JUST OUTSIDE OF SANTANDER
We love it so much, because even when it’s huge, it’s gentle.
*Somo (our favorite surf spot)
*Liencres (tends to get bigger with a stronger rip)
THINGS TO DO BEFORE HITTING THE GROUND IN SPAIN
*Brush up on your parallel parking and manuel driving skills and really learn how to drive in a rotunda. Seriously, stop-lights are only for pedestrian walkways over here. (I will write a separate blog on how to drive in a rotunda very soon)
*Download WhatsApp and make it your go to for communication with friends and family in Spain and back home.
*Learn a few essential phrases and say them out-loud about a 1,000 times. A few phrases go a long way. “Por favor, puedes hablar mas lento. Solamente conozco un poquito español pero estoy aprendiendo.” (please, can you speak slower, I know a little Spanish but I am learning.) And put on that accent!
*Don’t buy fish on Monday. The local fishermen don’t fish on Sunday so nothing is truly fresh on Monday. And the fish portion of the Mercado where all the local fishermen sell their goods is closed on Monday.
*Words to know (sort of connector words that you can use to pause or sound local)
Pues nada…still undetermined on this one but it sort of wraps up a convo.
A ver…let’s see
Vamos a ver….we will see (it is sort of like, pues…let us see…what is next.)
Nos vamos, me voy…we go now, I go….but it’s with action right now.
Aseos, servicios, baños…all of these are bathrooms!!