Santillana del Mar is a marvellous medieval town in Cantabria on the northern route of the Pilgrim's Road to Santiago de Compostela. Cantabria borders the Basque country to the east, Castile and León to the south, Asturias to the west and the Cantabrian Sea to the north.
Santillana is made up of three words saint, illana (meaning flat) and mar (sea), but as none of those apply, it is referred to as "the town of the three lies".
It was developed around the collegiate church of Santa Juliana and its defence towers and Renaissance palaces make it one of the area's most important historical. The church is considered to be one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture. Its cloister, with decorated capitals and interesting façade decorated with sculptures and panthocrator, are something to behold.
The town's origins go back to the 8th century and its centre has been declared a national monument. Its main street, Calle de Santo Domingo, leads to the historic quarter which has travelled the passage of time most successfully. Its cobbled streets are lined with stately buildings, most of which were built between the 14th and 17th centuries.
Santillana is easy to explore on foot it's just six blocks long and there you will see people from all corners of the world, and Spaniards visiting one of their favourite weekend getaway spots. A big drawcard is Santillana's food, particularly superb cheeses, anchovies, cider and soba sponge cake which is even eaten dipped in coffee for breakfast.
Another local favourite is Fabada, a rich bean stew with pork, sausage, saffron and seasonings. It is a very heavy dish and best eaten at lunch time, but always accompanied by bread and red wine.
You will see locals creating wood carvings as their ancestors have done for centuries. They are for sale and make a great souvenir.
People still sell fresh milk from their stable doors, as if the Middle Ages had never ended, but you can live in comfort at one of Spain's grandest paradors, Parador de Santillana Gil Blas, a converted 17th-century mansion.
The beautiful Barreda-Bracho ancestral home is in the square of Santillana del Mar. It has just 25 rooms and three suites, a bar, restaurant and is air conditioned. Rooms have wooden floors, forged metal lamps and paintings depicting motifs from the Altamira caves. Outlooks are rural and gentle.
The dining room offers excellent examples of local food vegetables, beef and excellent seafood from the Bay of Biscay are delicious.
Parador de Santillana Gil Blas rooms start at around $255 a double a night. Breakfast is included.
Emirates has flights to Madrid.
- Perth, $2875
- Melbourne, $2922
- Brisbane, $2934
- Sydney, $2939
- Adelaide, $3541
- Darwin, $4264
For sale until March 31, 2007, and for travel between October 2 and November 11, 2007.
Prices quoted are correct at March 22, 2007.
Parador de Santillana Gil Blas
Plaza de Ramon Pelayo 11
Santillana del Mar 39330
Ph: 0011 34 942818000
Fax: 0011 34 942818391
Ph: 1300 303 777