Cantabria Travel Guide
An insider's guide to Cantabria, in Spain, featuring the region's best hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, things to do, attractions, and how to travel there and around
An insider's guide to Cantabria, in Spain, featuring the region's best hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, things to do, attractions, and how to travel there and around. By Isabella Noble, Telegraph Travel's Cantabria expert. Click on the tabs below for the best places to stay, eat, drink and shop, including what to do on a short break.
Ask any Cantabrian and they’ll proudly tell you the big secret to their beloved land’s success: "In summer we hit the beach, and in winter we go on mountain adventures". It’s this unique combination of landscapes and lifestyles – of breathtaking coast, quiet country, deep valleys, majestic mountains and characterful seaside towns – fused with fantastically fresh food and tremendous historical riches that makes this tiny region of northern Spain such a pleasure to explore. And yet, by Spanish standards, Cantabria remains relatively undeveloped, apart from the odd minor resort area here and there.
Lively bayside capital Santander is packed with elegant tapas bars, pretty plazas, lovely golden beaches and layer upon layer of history dating back to the first century BC, and will keep you more than entertained with its northern city flair.
Head out of town and you’ll come face to face with some of the oldest and most impressive cave art in the world, at Altamira and El Castillo. Scattered across western Cantabria lie the perfect little medieval village of Santillana del Mar, the Modernista marvels of Comillas, and some of Spain’s most stunning beaches, while the less-travelled east coast has its equal share of natural beauty. In the far south west, the magnificent Picos de Europa mountains rise to astounding heights, opening up some of the finest walking and adventure country in Spain.
When to go
Far from Spain’s main tourist trails, Cantabria escapes relatively unscathed from the hordes of summertime visitors who pack other parts of the country, and you’ll see very different sides to this beautifully green region, depending on when you choose to visit.
During winter (about November to February), it is usually mild on the coast by comparison with wintertime in the UK, and though it can be wet you can still expect a good few sunny spells. It will be cold and probably snowy up in the mountains. You’ll make huge savings on accommodation at this time of year.
The busiest periods are, predictably, Easter, July and August, with summer months proving particularly popular for both the coast and the Picos. Hotel prices soar accordingly, and it’s a good idea to book well ahead. Late July and August are also prime fiesta season in Santander.
Overall, the best months to visit are May, June and September, when the crowds are down, prices aren’t skyrocketing and the weather is (usually) pretty well behaved.