Their interior design and decor are clearly aimed at newcomers and avant-garde visitors, but they retain the traditional flavours of their cuisine through formulas cherished for their long-standing success. I am referring to Bodega La Cigaleña and Bodega del Riojano, two beacons of Santander whose labour reminds us that wholesome traditional cuisine based on no-frills quality produce is the secret of their permanence over time.
Bodega La Cigaleña
Wine, wine, wine; produce, produce, produce; history, history, history – that’s what makes Bodega La Cigaleña the epitome of classics in downtown Santander, a place well worth visiting, particularly to savour their food and drink. Simple dishes based on the finest ingredients is the perfect excuse to try the best wines – especially the natural ones – a trend picked up on some years back like some visionary pioneer by the manager of the establishment, Andrés Conde Laya, the third generation of business owners here since it opened in 1949. An eatery with the atmosphere of a rustic inn and a museum of myriad curiosities.
And, if they are not natural wines, don’t fret, as their wine cellar, with some 10,000 items, can count itself among the finest in Spain. You need only to look up to discover a ceiling crammed with bottles – they have, for instance, a Madeira wine from 1830.
Not-to-be-missed dishes include a sauté of 18 vegetables (a tribute to a creation by Michelle Bras), and grilled octopus and Norway lobster covered in a thick sauce of lobster heads. A word of advice – let yourself be guided by Andrés when it comes to choosing a wine.
Bodega del Riojano
Bodega del Riojano, which celebrates its platinum anniversary this year, is one of the quaintest eateries in town on account of its wine casks decorated by artists. Most of them are located above the heads of the guests. This restaurant-gallery features snapshots of Woody Allen, and works by Ramon Calderón, Antoni Clavé, Oswaldo Guayasamil, Eduardo Gruber, Manuel Viola, Miguel Ibarz and even the comedians, Andreu Buenafuente and Moncho Borrajo.
Their culinary offerings could be described as homemade, with a prevalence of traditional recipes and stews, like their leading performers – red beans, peppers stuffed with beef, and pork and codfish with tomato. Also noteworthy are their mussels and prawn croquettes and their scrambled eggs with ham and baby broad beans.
Text and photos by Ferran Imedio of Gastronomistas.commore info
Must-see in Santander
Cabárceno Park: an ideal place to spend the day with the family and feel in touch with nature. This is not your typical zoo but a park where you can see around a hundred animals living in semi-freedom. The more than 20 kms of tracks covering the park take you through fantastic gorges, tranquil lakes and evocative rocky features.
Caves of Altamira: Cantabria’s most famous image and the most important Paleolithic cave discovery. The cave is situated near Santillana del Mar and has been a World Heritage Site since 1985.
Comillas: 20 km from Santander, Comillas is one of the most interesting towns from an architectural point of view and in addition, offers a beautiful beach.
Fabulous beaches : Santander has wonderful urban beaches such as El Sardinero, the Camello, the Playa de Los Peligros or La Magadalena, as well as more isolated spots such as the Usgo, Virgen del Mar or Cuchía beaches. Its golden sands will certainly impress you as will all the beaches along the rest of the Cantabrian coast.
The Magdalena Peninsular
The Magdalena Peninsular is one of the most emblematic locations in Santander thanks to its situation between the city centre and the El Sardinero beach. It is also recognised as a Place of Cultural Interest.
Its two beaches are situated to the south of the Peninsular, La Magdalena and Bikinis. They offer a total of 1,570 metres of fine, golden sand, from where you can make out the islands of La Torre and la Horadada, the spectacular Santander Bay and the beaches of El Puntal and Somo.
Its 25 hectares also include a spectacular public park featuring a mini zoo with penguins, seals, sea lions and ducks.
The Magdalena Palace stands on the summit of the peninsular, built in 1912 by Bringas and Riancho. It was later given as a gift to King Alfonso XIII and used as a summer residence until 1930. Today the Magdalena Palace is the headquarters of the Menendez Pelayo International University and its Royal Stables now provide lodgings for hundreds of foreign students.
Fancy visiting Santander? Book your flights here
Santander – Apart From “Rabas”
Two clichés about Santander. One is 100% true. The other is gradually becoming less so. The first (true) one – you simply have to visit Santander, as it is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. The second (dispensable) one – you have to eatrabas(deep-fried squid rings). Well, no, you don’t need to because the Cantabrian capital’s culinary offerings have grown in quality and diversity, something we went to try out on our palate.
Modern, informal cuisine tends to be a ploy. On the pretext of being modern and informal – wham! – they pull a fast one on you. This is not so with Umma. On the contrary. The dishes are recognisable, the produce good and, above all, the sense of taste is above average. Well above average. Miguel Ángel Rodríguez has turned an erstwhile family restaurant into one of the must-visit eateries of Santander. His flair for toying with new ingredients in the same dish, balancing them and bringing out the best in each recipe is prodigious. He takes it in his stride, and it stands to reason, as he has done it all at Noma (Copenhagen), Mugaritz (Rentería) and Cenador de Amós (Villaverde de Pontones, Cantabria), all distinguished by the Michelin Guide and the magazine, Restaurant.
Star dishes; each better, tastier and more dazzling than the next, refining and updating the flavours of Cantabria. Starting with the scrumptious croquettes – round, crisp on the outside, and creamy, almost liquid, on the inside. Then the Santoña anchovy pizza, pork jowl, Gomber cheese, black olives, rocket and dried tomatoes, and ending with two symphonic dishes – beef tongue, mushroom and hazelnut carpaccio and organic eggs with jerky and mushrooms. Take note of the home-brewed beer and the wines, far removed from the wine-cellar establishment. Noteworthy, too, are the exhibits gracing the walls, and the jazz and soul concerts held on Thursday nights.
Umma is what the Japanese exclaim when they like something a lot, and umma is what you’ll say on leaving the establishment after lunching or dining there.
Average price: €35-40 (lunch menu, €18; fast-good menu from Tuesday to Friday, €14, and tasting menu, €39).
When you enter Mexsia and catch sight of the glasses placed any old how, teetering on the edge of the table, you think, “This must be a special place”. Well, yes, because, as you came in, you noticed the background music and the lighting that made you think you were in a pub, rather than a restaurant. Maybe, no… well, yes – this is a gastropub. It is the brainchild of Óscar Calleja, holder of a Michelin star at Annua (in San Vicente de la Barquera). Mixture, fusion, delight. Mexico and Asia – “Mexsia”. Pungent, spicy sauce, like serrano-chile green gazpacho and charcoaled scallop, shrimpaguachile with Chamoy sauce – a fine dish with citrus accompanying excellent produce; exciting like fried maki in tempura with spider crab, masera and avocado pear, or like singed salmon nigiri with crisp nori algae. Sharp, like the homemade nachos served with three, likewise homemade sauces…
Average price: €25-30 (fast-good lunch menu from Tuesday to Friday, €15, and tasting menus for €25 and €30).
They might as well have called it El Paraíso, because the spot where the restaurant is located is paradisiacal, dream-like, marvellous, beautiful… A 19th-century hermitage, a deep green meadow, a cliff, with the sea in the background – unsurpassable! Here, you can live out the Stendhal syndrome for yourself. But, El Remedio is also a good name because, while you are there, you forget about all your concerns; so, it is a remedy for all ailments, albeit a temporary one.
While splendid when the sun shines, in a storm it must be spectacular. A gift on the eyes and the soul, bolstered by the cuisine of Samuel Fernández, attached to the land and sea seen from his restaurant. You must order the megano (a tiny squid done on the griddle) with potato in squid ink, scallop with boletus sauce and cured bellota ham (with a long, intense flavour), dried beans with field mushrooms, a finger-licking, long-simmered stew, fried bull’s tail with beetroot mustard and barbecue sauce. And, all this eaten while gazing out over the horizon. And dreaming away…
Average price: €40.
Goodness me – what gastronomic diversity! Why wait to relish it all? Check out our flights here.
Text and photos: Ferran Imedio (Gastronomistas.com)more info
Santander Unveils a New Art Centre
Santander is making its debut, a long overdue debut at that. The project, commissioned in 2012 by the deceased Emilio Botín, was slow in taking shape and transforming the waterfront of Santander bay, until it was finally unveiled on 23 June this year. A good thing is worth waiting for, or so they say, so this might well be the key to the secret of the Botín Centre, which has materialised in the Cantabrian capital and imbued this beautiful city of northern Spain with a cultural boost and a new lease of life.
A Signature Building
The first thing that strikes the eye about this new cultural space is the building housing it. The architectural project was obviously intended to not go by unnoticed and it drew both praise and criticism, like anything which entails a certain element of risk. This work by the Pritzker prizewinning Renzo Piano, who happens to be truly enamoured of Santander, was developed in conjunction with the studio of Spaniard Luis Vidal. It has endowed the city with a touch of modernity in one of its most emblematic spots – its bay. The building comprises two large volumes, connected by an ensemble of walkways and spaces that act as a main distributor. The western volume houses a big, 2,500 m² exhibition hall, with shopping and restaurant areas in the basement. The smaller module on the east side, which will be given over to educational activities, sports a large, protruding terrace with splendid vistas over Santander bay. Supported on pillars, which make it look as if floating in the air, its highlight is the large glazed frontage, affording privileged views of the coastline and the city, while the outer cladding is rendered in white porcelain shards.
However, this fabulous building, which acts to articulate the city centre with the harbour, doesn’t quite steal the show on its own. Its construction has been paralleled by an extension to the Pereda Gardens, located in the vicinity of the Botín Centre, which has seen its surface area increased from two to four hectares. Landscape gardener Fernando Caruncho and artist Cristina Iglesias have been tasked with making the approach walk to this new cultural space a veritable delight on the senses.
The City’s New Exhibition Venue
The Botín Centre made its debut with two opposing exhibitions – one classical, dedicated to the great master of modern painting, Goya, with his drawings as the centrepiece, and the other, more contemporary show dedicated to Carsten Höller, the first monographic of this Belgian artist’s work to date in Spain. Running parallel are a number of scheduled activities of all kinds, from workshops to film screenings, concerts, etc.
Ahead lies a long road and the project has spawned the question of whether it will experience the “Guggenheim effect”, providing yet another enticement to travellers on their visit to Santander, as well as giving extra momentum to tourism and the city itself. For the time being it has become the talk of the town this summer, as well as the venue that is willy-nilly pulling in visitors from among both locals and holiday-makers.
Fire up for an escape to Santander to discover this new art centre – book your Vueling here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS