Our heads buzzing from the fascinating Human Evolution museums in Burgos and Altermira, we decided it was time to head for the coast and enjoy some salty air.
Santander, a port city, is the capital of Cantabria in Northern Spain, has a large university and boasts some beautiful beaches. It is also very hilly!
There was a convenient camper stop situated at the bottom of the steep hill on which the university campus is located. We had a lovely view looking on to a green space with a series of artificial ponds, called Parque de La Vaguada de Las Llamas.
Known as “the lungs of Santander“ the park has lots of walking and cycle paths and the ponds are popular with many water fowl species and other birds as a nesting site or a migratory stopover (but actually no llamas to be seen whatsoever).
We walked through this peaceful area on our way to the ocean and came to a vast shiny silver building which looked like a stainless steel mushroom but apparently is the Palacio de Deportes – an arena used mainly for basketball and handball.
Soon we arrived at Playa Sardinero -Santander’s main city beach. It’s golden sands stretched before us for ever (well at least 1.5 kilometres which is approximately one mile).
We strolled along the elegant promenade with its cleverly decorated bollards and brightly painted beach barriers, and admired the gracious Victorian architecture, such as the Gran Casino and the Eurostars Hotel Real overlooking the sparkling water. We even saw a solitary surfer!
Stopping at a beachside cafe we had a ringside view of the ocean while enjoying a glass of wine and delicious juicy olives before lunch.
After lunch we wandered along to the sprawling La Magdalena peninsula which in the early 20th Century had served as the summer playground of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia.
The Palace of La Magdalena was built between 1908 and 1912 on this headland with glorious views of the ocean on three sides.
Walking back over the headland towards the town beach we had a couple of pleasant surprises- the first was a group of boats (on land!). It turned out they were all replicas – one was a copy of La Balsa which was sailed by local hero Vital Alsar from Equador to Mooloolaba in Queensland in the 1970s. Alsar set the record for the longest known raft journey in history.
The other three boats were reproductions of the galleons used by Christopher Columbus to sail to the new world in 1492 and which Ramirez also used in a later expedition across the Atlantic Ocean.
Our next surprise was when we stumbled on a small collection of seals, sea lions and penguins swimming in large, fenced pools around the rocky shore of the peninsula.
We spent quite a while watching their playful antics before starting the long walk back to our campervan.
The next day we set out to explore a little more of Santander. This time we climbed up the hill that the university stands on. Once at the top we had a great view of the town below and in the far distance, on the water’s edge, we spied the famous arts centre building designed by Renzo Piano.
What comes up must go down so having toiled up the hill we had to make our way down the other side using steps, precipitous lanes and steep roads There was even a small funicular which was being used by grateful residents to save toiling up the steep hill with their shopping.
The road led to the historic Jardines de Pereda gardens in which Piano’s two hull-like blocks that comprise the art centre stood hovering over the picturesque Santander Bay. The two lobes are clad with 280,000 pearlescent ceramic disks, (reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House).
We entered the right hand building which houses the exhibition spaces and admired the elegant lobby before entering the most capacious lift/elevator that I have ever been in. Why don’t they have lifts like these at Heathrow airport?!
We spent time walking through the galleries and to be quite honest we were very disappointed with the contemporary art offerings on display. Some were pretty average and other downright pretentious with little artistic merit in our opinion. The building, however, was stupendous and we particularly enjoyed the series of decks, large picture windows and the rooftop terrace which provided spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean and the city.
There were more appealing pieces of art on display along the dockside and we very much enjoyed our stroll by the water.
After walking a couple of kilometres we had wandered out of the main part of town and into a lovely sandy cove with beautiful mansions stacked high above us.
We decided to head for a quieter part of the coast when we left Santander the following day and drove to a stunning spot near Cudillero, a two hour plus drive north along the coast.
Jonathan had found a carpark right on the beach where campervans are allowed to stay overnight but to get there we had to negotiate a death defying series of hair pin bends that reminded us of the eastern end of the Italian Riviera.
An expert at this kind of driving now Jonathan managed these without a hitch. The sun was just about gone by the time we reached our spot for the night but we just had time for a quick walk to the beach to catch the last rays of light before the sun set
The beach was deserted and glowed in the beautiful dusky evening light. We couldn’t wait to explore this stunning piece of coastline the following day.