A short drive on from Bilbao, the city of Santander was an obvious next stop on the Spanish north coast. We had previously been sold on visiting some more rural areas of the Cantabrian coast, exotic coves where future episodes of Game of Thrones were to be filmed, but we were too impatient to reach the Picos de Europa that we decided on less stops at this point in our journey.
We passed the airport and followed a long road into the very heart of the city, past docklands, ports and attractive harbours to reach the centre. First impressions looked very promising, but with no obvious parking we continued out along the coast road, perhaps another mile, and found a suitable space on a wide, tree-lined road with bays of parking to both sides. This was a high scenic point to the east of the city, approaching a green peninsular headland housing Palacio de La Magdalena.
We walked back along the elevated promenade, with views to our left of wide, expansive and quite beautiful beaches that would certainly be given closer attention later; but first, the city. We walked downhill past an over-elaborate municipal building in a style reminiscent of James Stirling, with stonework interspersed with garish coloured steelwork forming geometric elements and shapes for no obviously functional reason. We continued downwards on our sea front walk, passing elegant facades and moored boats in neat marinas, spotting several bronze statues of swimming and diving boys on the harbour front.
Walking slowly in the morning’s sticky heat, we found welcome shade in a small park area that looked fairly central to the key areas of the city. From here we could see the central Banque of Santander building, their main headquarters we were told, looking more like a town hall with its prominent setting. Within the park was a nicely detailed timber bandstand and a short bridge over a duck pond with a decorative stainless steel balustrading. We also located the tourist office nearby in a little pod, and procured a map of the city and some other titbits of local information.
Crossing a small square from the park, we entered the old portion of the city, around the central Cathedral. We walked around to the side entrance, up some old steps to a tiny stone square, where the hustle of the city simply disappeared. There was silence all but for a few bird calls, and the low morning light lit up the autumn leaves of the few trees and the church’s stonework in a radiant yellow hue, instantly creating a feeling of calm and deep serenity, if only for a brief moment. This was soon shattered by the noisy arrival of a tour group looking to enter the cathedral, so we lamented the loss of our ephemeral peaceful moment and moved on, back to the bustling streets.
We later learned the entire cathedral was rebuilt after a large fire in 1941, when most of the surrounding quarter was also destroyed. We walked the central streets of the city, people-watching and getting a small taste of the city, liking what we saw. It’s nice to turn up at a place with no expectations and no knowledge, and simply learn and absorb the ambience, and on this sunny autumn morning the city was probably being shown off to us at its best.
After returning to Benny for a quick lunch, we headed out again for some beach time, local to where we had parked. There were some concrete steps down the cliff face to the sand, that fully catered for the sun-worshippers with water fountains, showers and feet-wash points, and with paths of timber decking that slowly disappeared into the sand on their way to the sea. There were some others sunbathing nearby but with such a wide beach we were still granted lots of space and privacy. We relaxed for a while on the damp sand and then decided on a swim, although the sea had a huge pull at the edge of the water, despite a lack of obvious waves, so we were initially wary as there were no other swimmers. We both tried out our new Powerbreather snorkel, a very thoughtful present from MarkP (see this separate post for more on this piece of kit.)
We passed a lovely, sunny relaxing afternoon on the golden sands, before remembering we needed to move on to ensure our spot at a rather special aire we had read about, in the village of Cabarceno, a few miles south of Santander, up in the hills.
We drove up steep, green hills on small winding roads to reach the village of Cabarceno. This turns out to be best known for being the main entrance point for a popular large animal safari park, but just outside the gates there is a large parking area given over to autocaravanas, set adjacent to a picturesque lake. The setting was perfect for us, and it seemed strange that we could arrive so late in the day and still have so much choice of spaces; I’m sure it is a very different story in July or August.
After we had positioned Benny for optimal views across the lake, we had a short walk and discovered that the safari park elephant enclosure boundary was only 100m away. We could view the elephants in the warm evening sun splashing in their small lake and making themselves a mud bath, all with a stunning mountain backdrop. We walked to a small local store for some fruit (and beers) before taking our camping chairs out into the trees, near the lake edge, for a spot of reading and relaxing.
Across the lake there were birds in a tall tree, all gathering together and wildly chattering. They provided a very noisy display, but it was also fascinating how they all chose to fight for nesting places in the same tree when there were literally hundreds of similar trees with similar characteristics. Security in numbers, I’m sure they would say the same of motorhomers in free aires.
Later another motorhome arrived and parked near us; they had a sticker on the rear carriage that tickled us; it read ‘Adventure before dementia’. This reminded us, as if we needed the reminder, to ensure we experience and enjoy every moment.