Has someone ever told you incredible things about a place? Then, you look at photos on the Internet and they are even more impressive. You see that a bunch of people you don’t know has rated the local attractions and restaurants with 5 starts. And, when you finally get to visit this little piece of heaven, you cannot help but wonder why is this place so popular. It is nice, but not like in the pictures. Well, my experience with Santander has nothing to do with that scenario. I was told that it is rather a decadent city that could have been worth visiting many years ago.
I arrive in the capital of the Spanish region of Cantabria and I head straight to the historic center. I need no map because I have the extraordinary skill of intuitively finding my way around places I have never been to before. I usually observe from and to where the crowds of people are headed so I can choose the right direction. On a Sunday morning in Spain that turns out to be extremely difficult because the streets are empty and lonely.
Surprising as it may seem – I get the directions wrong and I find myself at a Roman market. I love food and I adore the history and culture of Ancient Rome. So the combination makes me forget where I was headed for at least an hour, maybe two. There are dozens of stalls lined up on the sides of a very long street. The sellers, dressed up like real Romans, try to sell their exceptional goods.
You can find anything here: unique jewelry, antique mascots, figurines of Guardian angels, metal armors, hand-painted fans, fragrant candles, wooden roses, flower crowns, non-wrinkly bed covers, embroidered bags, natural cosmetics, fruit liquors, roasted nuts, fresh spices, huge olives, cotton candy, caramelised popcorn, a variety of cheeses and much more.
The Roman swing, the blacksmiths and the exhibition of wild birds like owl, screech-owl and eagle, are by far the most popular on the Market. Occasionally a group of musicians, a Roman legion or the coach of the Emperor himself passes by and the noise and the festive mood double up. Now I see why all other streets seemed suspiciously desolate.
I pull myself away from the charm of the market and I head to the center, this time for real. I end up on the seashore promenade that leads me to Pereda Park (Jardines de Pereda) which has the most intelligently designed benches ever – they allow you to stretch out your feet! I keep on walking by a little boat harbor until I get to the Sailing school. Here, the bench is even more remarkable – it has the size and the look of a ship deck. I stop to enjoy the view: boats cutting through the calm sea water, beautiful hills on the other shore and clouds getting more and more threatening.
I rush to see as much as possible before the weather soaks all of my paper plans. I pass by a lovely beach (Playa de los Peligros) and almost without any stops to take photos I get to the Magdalena peninsula. This place is known for the palace that stands here. It was built in 1912 as a summer house for King Alfonso XIII and his family. During the next 17 years Santander becomes a popular destination among Spanish aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The splendid park around the palace and the marvelous views turn the peninsula into a wonderful place for a walk or a picnic. The weather finally shows some mercy – the rain stops, the Sun is shining and I dash to take some photos of the Magdalena palace before my luck gets blocked by a stormy cloud.
At last I find the historic center which was right under my nose during the whole time. This is the dining quarter but I have managed to miss even the late Spanish lunch. I find the Cathedral which was built in the 12th century in the exact same place where the first Roman settlers found the city of Santander. Back in the day this spot offered a view over the whole sea and therefore it was chosen for strategic purposes.
I finish my day with a dinner at the same place that I dismissed earlier thinking I would not like to have a breakfast in some mainstream, chain café. Actually La Gallofa & Co. turns out to be a cozy bakery with over 30 years in business. The dough for bread here is still kneaded by hand and baked in a special oven. The taste, as you can imagine, is inimitable. Nowadays they offer traditional and modern desserts, a range of sandwiches, savoury pintxos and freshly-squeezed fruit juices. The interior of this café is also a charming combination of contemporary and retro elements. The atmosphere and the food are so good that I even get slightly angry at myself for finishing the delicious vegetarian sandwich and the rich Red Velvet cake a bit too fast.
I say goodbye to Santander just how I like to: fascinated, satisfied and eager to come back here again. The city might have lost its former popularity with the high society, but it still has its charm. If you love calm strolls, sea views, gorgeous palaces and the smell of freshly-baked bread, then Santander would not disappoint you. While in Cantabria, you would not like to miss Comillas, a gorgeous town with an impressive collection of architectural monuments.