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Authentic Santander

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.com

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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.

Image: lito

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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.

Umma

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).

Mexsia

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).

El Remedio

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)

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Vibrant Nature, a Stone’s Throw from Santander

The Picos de Europa National Park was Spain’s first protected nature reserve. Situated in the centre of the Cordillera Cantábrica range, it is now a listed by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve and is undoubtedly one of the loveliest spots in all Spain. The area offers an endless variety of activities, notably a visit to the Virgen de la Salud sanctuary where a traditional shrine festival is held every year. It is attended by large numbers of shrine pilgrims from the Lebaniega district. Other destinations include an outing to the Cabaña Verónica, or to Las Manforas mines. We have to limit our scope, so we shall propose just two readily accessible routes to give you time to enjoy these wonderful landscapes. And, the best thing about it is that this paradise getaway is just over an hour’s journey from Santander.

The Road to Espinama – Accessing the Central Massif

The trail starts at the Hotel Áliva, some 4 km from the upper level of the Fuente Dé cableway. From there, you take the Montaña footpath which leads down on the left. On your way down, you will come to a turning on the left which leads to Sostres, followed by a turn-off to the Ermita de la Salud. The path winds down into the Nevandi river valley, which acts as a boundary between the Macizo Oriental and Macizo Central (Eastern and Central Massifs). You then come to the Invernales de Igüedri, where you catch a glimpse of the southern arête of the Pico Valdecoro (1,841 m). You will recognise the invernales because in the centre is a large concentration of stone barns dotting the southwestern slopes of Castro Cogollos.

The trail ends in the streets of Espinama. In all, the descent starts at an altitude of 1,600 metres and ends at the 900-metre level. After leaving behind the most rugged landscape, the mountain pass and meadows for summer grazing come into view. You finally reach Espinama, in the municipality and valley of Camaleño, one of the major points of access to the Central Massif of the Picos de Europa. This trail is a pleasure on the senses – you will not require a filter for any of your pictures.

Recommendations:

This trail is very easy, although the descent is abrupt and can take its toll on one’s knees. The worst part is having to make the 3.5 kilometre stretch from Espinama to Fuente Dé, if you’ve parked your car there. A good remedy is to take one of the mountain taxis in Espinama.

Start: Hotel Áliva
Destination: Espinama
Duration: 2 hours 30 min.
Difficulty: low
All ages

Rendezvous with History in Mogrovejo

Mogrovejo is well worth the visit. The village has an intense history and is designated as a Historic Rural Complex, said to be among the best preserved in all Liébana. It is also claimed to be the birthplace of St Turibius, the relic bearer, Bishop of Astorga, Lord of Mogrovejo and Don Pelayo’s deputy. And of another St Turibius, from the 16th century, who became Bishop of Lima. A tower in the village overlooks the valley and is flanked by the Picos. The illustrious Toledan poet, Garcilaso de la Vega, a luminary of Spain’s Golden Age, also descends from the house of Laso de la Vega there.

This trail also starts at the Hotel Áliva. You take the path down to Espinama as far as the Portillas del Boquejón, where you come to the third turn-off on the left. If you follow that path, you come to Pembes, where the Virgen de la Salud is paraded in winter. If you take the other turning on the left, you come to Llaves, providing access to another trail leading to Mogrovejo.

This route affords splendid views of the Puertos de Río Cubo (Cosgaya) and the Puertos de Espinama, where the livestock that grazes on the Áliva mountain passes is led in late July.

Start: Hotel Áliva
Destination:
Mogrovejo
Duration:
2 hours 30 min.
Difficulty:
low
All ages

Hotel Áliva

Hotel Áliva, located on the upper level of the Fuente Dé cableway, in the heart of the Picos de Europa National Park, is a family hotel surrounded by mountains, meadows and captivating scenery. It is framed by the lofty Picos de Europa mountains which will leave no one impassive. The silence, broken only by the clinking of the bells worn by livestock grazing nearby, makes for a pleasurable stay, if what you’re seeking is to switch off and relax. The location is also ideal for going on excursions into the Park.

It also has a restaurant featuring the stews so typical of Cantabrian cuisine and locally sourced meat, making for a great meal to round off a day in the wild. The menu is based on carefully prepared dishes made with local produce from the Liébana district.

The hotel is the ideal place for switching off and soaking up the peacefulness of the mountainside. Hikers have an endless choice of trails around the hotel. It has a capacity of 70 in rooms sleeping two, four and even six guests. Telephone: 942 730 999 (From 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.).

Why wait to indulge in these natural surroundings? Check out our flights to Santander here.

 

Text and images by Turismo de Cantabria

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