Rain is a common feature of this sheer, windswept and lush province and the weather, be it grey rain or brilliant sunshine, does tend to settle for a few days. Spain‘s Santander is a summer destination but even winter temperatures stay relatively high, around 20C, due to local Foëhn winds from the surrounding mountains. Great swathes of sandy beaches and clean, calm waters line Santander’s shores but the focus here is Cantabria’s superb cuisine.
For rich chocolate con churros that will keep you full for hours, drop into Aliva on Daoíz y Velarde where anyone and everyone partakes of this national deep fried deliciousness. Santander in Spain is famous for its helados (ice cream), the loaded cones of which are apparently the only item of food a Spaniard will eat while walking. For dining, tapas really are the way to go, not only to fit in but to fit in all the varied culinary delights on offer, with locally sourced beef and seafood as favourites.
Seeing & Being Seen
The greatest concentration of bars and restaurants in Santander is inland from the promenade, Paseo de Pereda, but most everything is within walking (or stumbling) distance. Plaza Pombo comes complete with a bandstand and two carousels and is the bastion of noisy families while the late night scene in Plaza Cañadio doesn’t really start until past the witching hour. The eponymous restaurant on the same square is open all day and remains one of Santander’s best and most expensive, although select tapas at the bar won’t break the bank.
All Day Dining
As every Cantabrian knows, inclement weather produces rough seas and rough seas inspire tenacious and tasty seafood. The danger inherent in harvesting percebes from surf-pounded cliffs makes these tenacious barnacles the tastiest and the most expensive of them all. For the total seafood experience, although it has become a tad touristy, head over to the fishing port, Barrio Pesquero, where the freshest catch awaits. Bodegas Mazón on Hernán Cortés serves up some of the city’s finest meijillones (mussels) en salsa. Along the same street, Meson Los Arcos opposite the Mercado del Este has daily specials of pulpas (octopus) and rejas (calmari tentacles) among others. The more common rabas (fried calamari rings) are a traditional favourite at popular Bar Tivoli on Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and for winter visits, warm up with robust Cantabrian mountain stew at the permanently packed Bodega Cigaleña on Daoíz y Velarde. Spicy patatas bravas to go with hamburgers and other fast but good food can be cheaply filled up on in La Rana Verde further along the same street.
Up the hill behind these salubrious surroundings, it all gets later and louder. The narrow lanes around Calle del Sol create a challenging pub crawl for even the most expert drinker. Do drop into Sol’s Rubicon to sample Cantabria’s only microbrewery, Dougall’s. Andrew Dougall is a long time expat from London who brews up an earthy lager and a robust stout. Rio de la Pila is steep but worthwhile for some excellent tapas places – try Bodega Del Riojano – as well as late night live music at La Tienduca. A talented barkeep, Edourdo, worked in Amsterdam and Rome before opening Sante Fe on Valliciergo where cocktails and cool tunes keep the crowd jumping till dawn. And arty types should join the scene around Calle Burgos where neighbourhood bars and clubs line the narrow streets and the eclectic tables and tasty tortillas at Café Decó on San Luis are joined by live music on Thursday nights.