Enjoy a pastoral holiday in Spain with a trip to Santillana del Mar, a picturesque village in the heart of Cantabria that preserves the look and feel of yesteryear, with stout moss-covered houses and romantic balconies overlooking winding, cobblestone streets.
Paradores' luxury and historic hotels offer two different locations in this lovely town: Parador Santillana Gil Blas and Parador Santillana del Mar. Use these spectacular lodgings as your base to explore the region and visit the recently reopened Altamira Caves, home to the world's foremost remnants of Paleolithic cave art.
A room at Parador Santillana Gil Blas
The best of Cantabria
Referred to as "the loveliest town in Spain" by the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, Santillana del Mar was designated as a Historic-Artistic Complex by the Spanish government in 1889; today it continues to foster the traditional spirit of a quiet northern village, with quiet streets complimented by numerous monumental buildings like the Romanesque Colegiata de Santa Julia and countless noble homes.
Amongst them, you'll find the ancestral estate of the Barreda-Bracho family, today Parador Santillana Gil Blas, a charming 18th century home located in the centre of the historic town. The equally central Parador Santillana del Mar is a newly-built mansion that reflects the traditional local architecture. Both are great spots from which to explore the local sites, as well as nearby villages like Comillas, right on the Bay of Biscay.
Parador Santillana del Mar
While in Santillana make sure that you sample some of the delicious regional cuisine at the Paradores' restaurants. Classic dishes include cocido monañes (mountain stew) or roast suckling lamb, with pantortillas de reinosa (puff pastries) for dessert.
Located just a few kilometres away from Santillana, the Altamira Caves -a UNESCO World Heritage Site- preserve drawings of extinct steppe bison, horses and other ancient animals that dance across the cave ceilings and walls, sketched by unknown masters during the Paleolithic period.
Due to their delicate state, access to the caves is extremely limited and available to only a select few each week. The visit is nonetheless well worth the effort, as the Altamira Museum hosts a more widely accessible reproduction of the entire cave network, and the surrounding landscape is exquisite.