Nestled approximately midway between Santander and Bilbao in the province of Cantabria, the town of Santoņa is a fishing port that has an interesting history but is perhaps best known today as a holiday destination in the Summer months and for its year-round fishing trade. Here are 10 great reasons why you should visit.
1. It’s Spanish
I know it sounds stupid… of course, it’s Spanish! But what I mean by this is that it’s a town and resort geared largely towards Spanish tourists, rather than international visitors. This means that you get a true Spanish experience, and you don’t face inflated prices. Even with the weak pound following the Brexit vote, we still found meals out, drinks, etc. to be very affordable and, if anything, significantly cheaper than back in the UK.
2. The anchovies
Take a stroll through Santoņa and there’s one thing that permeates the air: the smell of anchovies. Love them or hate them, the people of Santoņa are experts in their conservation. After being aged, cured and dried in sea salt, they are canned and matured for several months, maybe even a year, before being rinsed and individually opened, de-boned, cleaned and filleted, before being laid in tins to be pressed and submerged in oil. The process is followed meticulously, and all done by hand, resulting in premium anchovies.
3. The food
Although Santoņa is devoid of any mentions in the Michelin Guide, there is still good food (beyond high quality anchovies) to be found here, and informal restaurants, cafés and pinchos bars abound.
Our favourite was Café Juncal in one corner of the main square.
4. The beaches
Cantabria is home to more than 60 beaches and some of the best can be found near Santoņa. There’s a long stretch of beach right next to the town (although this is largely covered at high tide) as well as Playa de Berria, which is popular with surfers, on the outskirts.
5. The seafront
Santoņa has a lovely seafront in the form of Paseo Paredo which allows you to wander from the bull ring all the way to the Virgen del Puerto statue.
It’s a pleasant walk punctuated by seaside bars and cafés, and from here you can also take the ferry across to Laredo.
6. The sailing
Born in the mid-fifteenth century, Juan de la Cosa is Santoņa’s most famous son. He was a Spanish navigator and cartographer, responsible for the earliest European world map that incorporated the territories of the Americas, and who sailed with Christopher Columbus on his first three voyages to the New World, so you could say that the traditions of sailing are firmly-rooted in the town.
The reason for our own visit was to attend the RS Tera Worlds, a world championship sailing event that was this year held in Santoņa, which ours sons were competing in.
There were some great sailing conditions and the town put on a fantastic event.
We arrived a few days before the event began and were warmly welcomed by the local sailing club – Club de Vela Santoņa – and our boys were invited to train with the Spanish children which was a great experience for them also.
7. The atmosphere
They know how to enjoy life in Spain! The Spanish don’t tend to go out for the evening until quite late, often with young children in tow, which makes for a fun, family-friendly environment even well into the night.
They also know how to celebrate. Santoņa put on excellent opening and closing ceremonies for the sailing event we were attending.
Visit in February for Carnaval de Santoņa and you can enjoy a very colourful three day fiesta and blessing of the fishing boats.
8. The history
Santoņa is full of historical interest, from Romanesque churches to medieval forts, and a lot more besides. Strategically important by virtue of the mountain of Buciero, it once served as one of the headquarters for Napoleon’s troops.
Close your eyes and you can imagine the galleons passing by…
9. The nature
There is lots of natural beauty around Santoņa including the Reserva Natural de las Marismas de Santoņa y Noja, a delicate network of marshes and one of the most important wetlands on the Iberian Peninsula as it serves as a stopover for birds migrating between northern Europe, southern Spain and North Africa.
10. Street art
If you like street art, you’ll find a few examples scattered around the streets of Santoņa. As well the usual ugly scrawls you find in most towns and cities, there are some impressive large murals if you take the time to wander up and down the streets.
Many make reference to the town’s fishing traditions.