A joke that got less funny everytime we heard it, and we heard it more than once: Santillana del Mar is a town of three lies. It’s not holy (santo), flat (llana) nor by the sea (del mar). In spite of this ‘hilarity’, Santillana is, in reality, a pretty little medieval town, which stuns visitors by its perfectly preserved cobbled streets and stone buildings.
With a population of a little over a thousand, Santillana del Mar has become a popular domestic tourist destination due its proximity to the UNESCO listed Cuervas del Altamira (Altamira Caves), famed for their upper palaeolithic period cave drawings featuring drawings and rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands. Within Santillana itself the delicate 12th century Colegieta, a Romanesque church and former Benedictine monastery, contains the remains of Santa Juliana, from where the town’s name actually derives.
Despite looking like a film set, Santillana is still a functioning town with families passing their houses down through the generations. Strict rules defining building regulations, dating back to the 15th century and about who is allowed to drive into town, only locals or guests staying at hotels with garages, help retain a sense of timelessness. The streets are flanked with nobles’ and landowners’ houses dating back to between the 15th and 18th centuries and the real joy is to be found examining the craftsmanship that created these wonderful abodes.
The effects of tourism have made their mark, however, as can only be expected. Numerous ten a penny eateries cater to the passing tourist crowds and souvenir shops teem with ‘authentic’ tea-towels. Don’t let this put you off, regardless.
The tourist information centre, and only supermarket, are positioned outside the old town in ye olde car park. The tourist information provides a shiny but essentially useless map. A good feed for a decent price is next to impossible but the restaurants around the car park are the most reasonably prices. Be warned, though, the bread put on your table isn’t free and will be included in your bill at the end.
Santillana is situated on the coastal CA-131 which can be reached by the motorway A-67 from Torreblanca or Polanco or alternatively from the A-8 (motorway of Cantabria) at various points. There are buses that runs to Santander three or four times daily.
Hitching out of town is relatively simply as there is only one road that runs through the city (CA-131).
To hitchhike out to the east, simply walk out of the campsite described below, turn right and walk 50m to the roundabout and position yourself somewhere safe.
To travel west you will need to go to the other side of town (don’t worry it’s not big) and do the same thing.
Accommodation and Wi-Fi
A reasonably priced campsite, Camping Santillana del Mar, €15 (2 people, 1 tent, no car) is within close proximity to the town and has a little shops and café/bar on the grounds. The hotel opposite the campsite Hotel Colegieta has working Wi-Fi for those with a laptop.