Cantabria: life in “Green Spain”
Cantabria – a region in northern Spain with a unique combination of natural landscapes, mild climate, ancient, rich history and excellent cuisine; property owners from Britain, France and America have long appreciated these places, but our compatriots here are still a rarity.
Geography and not only
As a rule, Spain is commonly represented as the sun-burned mountains and plains with endless olive plantations. That is why the first visit to the “green” Cantabria causes a pleasant surprise to visitors of this region. Here there is a coast of incredible beauty, where the steep cliffs alternate with long beaches of the purest fine sand, and above the pine and eucalyptus forests rise snow-capped mountains. The local population is friendly – and the rhythm of life can not be called other than measured. All this may well be a reason to buy a house here, or even to move to Cantabria for permanent residence.
Cantabria – a small province and community of the same name in northern Spain. It borders with Asturias, Basque Country, the autonomous community of Castile-Leon and is washed by the waters of the Bay of Biscay, which belongs to the Atlantic. The capital and largest city of the region is Santander. All major cities are located along the coastline, which stretches for more than 200 km.
Its area is just over 5000 square kilometers, or 1% of the entire territory of Spain. According to the census, the number of inhabitants of the province reaches 600,000 people, which is also about 1% of the total citizens of the country. Cantabria belongs to the so called “Green Spain” zone, the land area between the Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian Cordilleras mountain range, which got its name due to the lush vegetation and moderately humid oceanic climate. It is a mountainous and coastal area rich in natural resources. Along the coastal strip are low, wide, and gentle valleys. The area is hilly – and riddled with many mountain rivers. Turbulent and fast, flowing from the peaks, they flow into the Bay of Biscay or continue their journey to the Mediterranean Sea.
The region is little known to the Russians, although the British, French, and recently the Americans are very actively buying real estate here. Perhaps Cantabria is still not fully “mastered” our compatriots due to the fact that the coastal waters of the Bay of Biscay have lower temperatures than the Mediterranean – because it is dominated by the Atlantic Ocean. Many residents of Madrid and Barcelona have vacation homes or apartments here. Cantabria is also a much-loved “inland” resort by Spaniards wishing for a change of scenery and escape from the southern coast’s scorching sun.
A bit of history
Cantabria was not conquered by the Moors, as the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, which is why it has preserved the authentic Spanish architecture, traditions and way of life.
The modern province of Cantabria was established on July 28, 1778. The basic law of Cantabria autonomy was approved on December 30, 1981 giving the region its institutions of self-government. The area became popular with tourists at the beginning of the XX century, when King Alfonso XIII decided to build his summer residence here.
This land is rich in ancient archaeological monuments, of which the Altamira Cave, with cave paintings made more than 16,000 years ago, is particularly significant. Today, Altamira, along with nine other caves in Cantabria, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to get there
There are various ways to get to Cantabria. The easiest way is to fly from Moscow to Santander with a connection in Madrid. If you want to fly with one airline, Iberia and Vueling offer such flights. If you want to stay in Madrid longer you can choose one of the regular flights: Aeroflot, Transaero, Vueling, Air Europa, and S7 Airlines. If you want to save time and money you can fly from Moscow to Bilbao via Brussels (and also Munich, Paris, Frankfurt am Main, Amsterdam). There are buses and electric trains from Bilbao to Santander. There are also private transportation lines from Moscow to Santander. Experienced drivers say that the trip to Santander is not only tiring, but also very exciting. The distance between Moscow and Santander is about 4000 km, and you have to spend about 40 hours on the road.
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the climate in Cantabria is much more temperate than you would expect from the lands of this latitude: it is considered a humid oceanic climate, with warm summers and mild winters. July and August are the driest months of coastal Cantabria, although rain is not uncommon. The thermometer usually reads +25º-30ºC in summer and +20ºC in winter. The Picos de Europa, at an altitude of over 2,500 meters, has an alpine climate throughout the year, and the mountains are always covered in snow.
Cantabria has a clean environment and high-quality, natural foods. Small population and lack of large numbers of visitors and tourists, competent policy of local authorities regarding the preservation of nature and ecology has allowed these places to remain almost in their pristine condition.
It has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, also due to the small number of immigrants.
Santander, the capital of Cantabria, with a population of almost 180,000 people, is active all year round. A famous Spanish resort, it also has the status of the business center of the Atlantic coast. The headquarters of Santander Bank, one of the five largest European banks, is located here, as well as representative offices of many large international companies. Santander is home to scientific, industrial, medical institutions, schools and universities. This is a major seaport, which has a direct ferry connection to Britain.
Culinary wealth of Cantabria is represented by a variety of seafood dishes (fish, squids, lobsters, crabs, mussels), meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, excellent cheeses and wines, not “burdened” with chemical additives and all kinds of improveers. The traditional dish of the region, especially the mountainous areas, is Cocido montañes – a thick soup of white beans, meat (pork, ham), cabbage and blood sausage. As in other regions of Spain, all restaurants in Cantabria offer paella, only here it is prepared mainly with seafood.
Cantabria is appreciated by people who know Spain and Europe well – and can compare and understand the benefits of their different regions. As a rule, they are those who can distinguish natural beaches from bulk, ocean-caught fish from farmed fish, organic fruits and vegetables from farm-grown ones. In general, these are those who love nature – and prefer its gifts in pristine form. In addition, the locals of Cantabria are very friendly to the Russians.
Real estate in Cantabria is also loved by athletes and lovers of outdoor activities: it offers ideal conditions for surfing, windsurfing, sailing, skiing, horseback riding and mountain climbing. The region is good for families with children, many of whom are interested in educating their children in school and universities in Santander.
The situation in the real estate market
Comfortable living conditions in Cantabria have also determined the cost of real estate in the region. In terms of prices, Cantabria is one of the ten most expensive regions of Spain after the Basque Country, Madrid, Barcelona, major cities of Galicia and Andalusia.
According to official statistics from the Internet resource Idealista.com, 1 square meter of real estate in Santander in May 2015 cost € 1,899.6. According to the same source, the peak cost per “square meter” was in December 2008 – € 3,075.8.
Overall, since the beginning of the global financial crisis, property prices in Spain have fallen by 40% (46% adjusted for inflation). Despite the launch of the program “Golden Visa”, which guarantees a residence permit to any non-European, investing from € 500 000 in real estate, prices in Santander and the whole country continue to decline. Thanks to the program “Citizenship for investment,” the main interest in which the residents of the Middle East, Asia and Russia, the number of Russians in the Spanish real estate market in 2014 increased by 190%, and the flow of buyers from the Middle East has increased by a record 2500%.
But despite the natural and historical attraction of the region, in 2013 Cantabria was one of the leaders among the regions with the lowest number of transactions in the real estate market – only 3127. By comparison, the leader was Andalucía, with nearly 60,000 transactions.
Peak rates of rents were recorded in May 2007 – € 10,12 / 1 sq. m / month. Since then, rents in Cantabria have fallen in price by 38% – one of the maximum reductions in the country.
Land prices in Cantabria are among the lowest in Spain – € 154,1 per square meter. By comparison, a “square” is € 448 in Barcelona and € 546 in Madrid.
Popular areas for investment
Real estate in Cantabria can be divided into three parts: the objects of the capital, the coastal resort towns and real estate in the mountainous region of Cantabria.
According to observations by realtors, the average cost of 1 sq.m. in new monolith-brick houses in the center of Santander ranges from € 2,500 to € 4,500. This is the average apartment with two bedrooms. Rent in these houses costs from €500-€600 per month for long-term rentals, and from €70-€80 per day for short-term rentals.
A new apartment of 52 sq.m., 700 meters from the beach in the capital of Santander can be purchased for €190,000. A similar size apartment on the outskirts of the capital will cost from €80,000.
In the small resort towns of Castro-Urdiales – the third most populous city in Cantabria, Suanzes, Noja, where the famous cycling race, Laredo, Santonja cost in the new houses will be 30%-40% lower. These cities are located 10-60 km from Santander, and with excellent roads and low traffic distances are not a problem. The real estate market in these cities includes a wide range of: new buildings, secondary market facilities, houses from developers, residential and commercial properties. The cost of long-term rent here is also lower by 30%-40%, and in the summer season short-term rentals are about the same everywhere – from €70-€80 per day.
Three-bedroom apartment of about 100 square meters. m, five minutes walk from the beach in Castro-Urdiales can be purchased for €167,000. Apartment with two bedrooms on the primary market in the town of Suanzes will cost €130,000.
In the mountainous region of Cantabria there are no large cities in the countryside. But the nature in the mountains is magnificent. Here you can buy a secluded farmhouse with a plot, a small hotel or even an ancestral home of the XVII-XVIII centuries. Prices – from € 60,000 to € 5 million Property in the countryside prefer to buy the Spaniards themselves and the British.
HomesOverseas.ru thanks for the help in preparing the article Tatiana Gorbunova (DOCTOR DALI S.L.), Polina Skvortsova (Corporation Advex.Nedvizhimost).
Cantabria: sights and beaches of the most obscure region of Spain
In order to understand whether you should consider the Spanish region of Cantabria as a summer vacation destination, answer yourself honestly to the following questions.
How important is swimming in the sea to you? Do you like the heat? And the crowds of tourists from all over the world? If your answers are no, you can continue reading this article, but first answer yourself a few more questions.
Do you like mountains and hiking? Would you like to see authentic Spain with almost no foreigners? Do you dream of staying in small private pensions and hotels?
Are you comfortable with having to drive a rental car during your vacation? Do you want to have a great time, but not be too financially strapped for cash? If the answers to these questions are yes, then Cantabria, which Spanish residents themselves call the green region of the country, is perfect for you.
It is ideal for people who can not stand the heat, because in the summer it is always fresh. The temperature in the region rarely rises above a comfortable 27 degrees, the views of pristine nature are mesmerizing, and passing by the fields you will now and then notice soaring in the sky hawks and falcons.
What is especially nice, the prices in restaurants and hotels – very humane. For example, during a week-long vacation, we spent 600 euros per person, without denying ourselves anything (airfare is not included in that amount, just accommodation, food, car rental and entertainment).
Another nice moment: in local restaurants are popular set meals. For 15 euros you get a soup, a meat or fish dish, dessert, and a bottle of wine. The food is delicious and the portions are so big that one meal is usually enough for two.
As for the local gastronomic specialties, tender veal and seafood are popular here: navaga, rare shellfish presbes, nicknamed “sea ducks”, and canned salted anchovies from the town of Santona – they are considered a delicacy around the world and are valued almost as black caviar.
Santona wharf, where the most delicious anchovies are made
But most importantly, Cantabria is a true paradise, if not for the introvert, then for someone who cannot stand the hustle and bustle of popular Mediterranean resorts. There are almost no tourists here, who dance till dawn, because mainly fans of hiking (walking in the mountains), surfers and people who have decided to make a hiking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella come to Cantabria. But first things first.
SANTANDER – THE CAPITAL OF CANTABRIA
Inevitably you will start your acquaintance with the region from the capital of Cantabria – Santander. If you want to thoroughly visit the city, stay here for two days, but for a quick acquaintance with it 4-5 hours will be quite enough.
The place is atmospheric, but virtually devoid of historical sights. The reason for that is a monstrous fire in 1941, during which the entire center of Santander burned to the ground. “The only survivor is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin of Santander. It was built between the XII and XIV centuries on the site of the old monastery and abbey of the martyrs San Emeterio and San Celedonio, who are the patrons of the city.
It is true that it too came out of the fire with considerable losses, so the present building of the complex is the result of an extensive reconstruction. However, in the lower part of the cathedral there is the oldest church of El Cristo, as well as the ruins of the ancient Roman thermal baths – as you know, Roman ruins, like manuscripts, do not burn and survive almost any natural disasters – Pompeii is living proof of that.
Modern Santander – a city by the sea, where the air is saturated with the smell of iodine, salt, seaweed and money. A lot of money. The fact is that the headquarters of Grupo Santander – the largest bank and financial institution in Spain, which is owned by the Botín family, of course, natives of this city. Santander Bank was founded by decree of Queen Isabella II back in 1857 to invest in trade between Spain and its colonies in Latin America, but in 1986 Emilio Botín became head of the financial corporation, and it spun – now his bank occupies a leading position in Britain and the New World.
We must say, wealth suits Santander, for the Botin family invests wisely in the city. It does not install benches with gold railings, does not pave embankments with ceramic tiles, and does not erect ugly giant skyscrapers, but thoughtfully invests in art. Not without reason, the city’s main pride and landmark is the contemporary art center Centro Botin, which officially opened in June 2017.
It is located on the city’s waterfront, and is notable not only for the fact that its halls exhibit the works of the best artists and sculptors of our time. The very building of the Botin center resembles an outlandish spaceship. By the way, the author of the architectural project was the Italian Renzo Piano, the one who created the Pompidou Center in Paris.
If you decide to linger in the city, then do not neglect the Botin center, those who plan to explore Santander quickly, should be guided by their own tastes in matters of art: in the end, the installations and contemporary art is not everyone understands. In short, people who are far from modern art can simply look at the space object from the side, and drink wine in the open cafe at the center – it is located just on the waterfront.
Next, go for a walk along the pier, which local teenagers use as a beach: fearlessly dive from its stone sides into the abyss of the sea. By the way, in addition to living boys, there are also bronze ones doing the same thing: a sculptural group depicting boys jumping into the water is another landmark of the city.
Next, in terms of leisure time, you have several options to choose from. I tell you in order of personal priorities. For lovers of panoramic views, I heartily advise going to the Faro Cabo Mayor Lighthouse, which is located on the mountain above the city. It often tops all kinds of ratings of “the most beautiful lighthouses in the world” (amazingly, there are some!).
And the view of the sea, rugged with black cliffs, is so beautiful and high that one can feel dizzy with the beauty, height, and admiration for the power and strength of nature. In short, if you’re in Santander for a few hours, a stroll around the Faro Cabo Mayor is the perfect cherry on top of the cake.
Well, for people who decide to linger in the city, I recommend taking your swimsuit and beach gear the next day and heading to the out-of-the-way area of El Sardinero. There are two places to walk: the Piquio Garden and the Mesones Park, and for swimming and surfing, the Primera playa del Sardinero. The water there is pure, clear as a teardrop, the sand is the color of platinum, and at sunset it takes on the hue of a tea rose.
Are you excited? Eh, I’ll have to cool you down in the truest sense of the word! The water in the Cantabrian Sea is very cold and warms up to 17 degrees on average. This makes for a swift and invigorating dip, much like in neighbouring Portugal. Read more about Santander at this link.
ALTAMIRA – THE SISTINE CHAPEL OF THE PRIMITIVE WORLD
From Santander I strongly recommend everyone to go on an excursion to Altamira Cave, located only 30 km from the city. Archaeologists nicknamed it the “Sistine Chapel of the primitive world” for a reason, because its walls and ceilings are decorated with giant images of buffalo, horses, and impressions of human hands.
Paintings were made in ochre, charcoal and hematite, and some samples of rock art are even three-dimensional, as they say today, in 3D. The most impressive were created in 14500 BC, and the earliest – a modest imprint of the palm – archaeologists dated 36 000 BC.
The monument of primitive art was discovered in 1879 by the amateur archaeologist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. Until the 70’s came to look at the miracle one and a half thousand people a day, but then the walls of the cave began to appear mold, and now for the mass tourism it is closed.
True, it does not play a special role, because next to Altamira Spaniards built its exact copy, where today and go all lovers of prehistory. By the way, the complex is erected to the credit, many guests, leaving it, do not even realize that they have seen a copy, not the original.
However, you can also get into the cave itself. Only for this you need to have excellent karma and amazing luck. Once a week, on Friday mornings, at the entrance to Altamira, there is a ticket drawing. To participate, simply arrive at the complex by 9:20 and fill out a guest form. The results are announced at 10:00: five lucky ones are chosen from the applications, and at 10:40 they are accompanied by a guide on a tour of the cave.
INTO THE MOUNTAINS ON A HIKING TOUR: COLLADOS DEL ASÓN
There are two national parks in Cantabria where mountain lovers flock in the summer: the Peaks of Europe and Collados del Azón. Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the first one, although the Internet is desperately praising it, but I walked through the second one on my own.
So, the Collados del Asón is the green mountains, which beckons all lovers of hiking. However, the national park is not the realm of wildlife. There are cows and horses grazing on the heights, and you can often see farmers looking after the animals.
You can walk right on the roads, for cars come here very rarely: if you see at least one per hour, you can, as in your childhood, make a wish.
The park is famous for the fact that on its territory there is the highest waterfall in Cantabria, but alas, it has a seasonal character and to see the falling streams of water in all their natural beauty is real only in winter and early spring. In summer, the waterfall is depleted, and it is not even visible without binoculars. Only the murmuring of water can be heard. I tell you this to avoid unrealistic expectations.
A few more tips for hiking lovers: although the descents and climbs at Kollados del Ason are steep enough, the paths are completely safe, so there is no need for special hiking shoes – you will feel comfortable in ordinary shoes.
But you should stock up on water – there are no stores, where you can buy it, and drinking fountains in the park. It’s also worth taking binoculars on a walk: there are some rare birds here, they let you get up close, and feeling like Paganel watching hawks soaring through the sky is also an interesting experience in every way.
THE WAY OF SANTIAGO IN MINIATURE
Ever since Paolo Coelho made the hiking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and described his experience in his novel Diary of a Magician, the number of people venturing on foot from France to the Spanish region of Galicia has risen to half a million a year.
Most of them do not leave home for religious reasons. While in past centuries pilgrims have traveled 1,000 kilometers for the absolution of sins, today’s travelers seek to rediscover themselves and redefine their lives.
A part of the French Route of Santiago passes through the territory of Calabria: not without reason the roads here are marked with signs depicting a scallop shell, the symbol of St. James.
You’ll see pilgrims walking up and down the coast with their backpacks behind their ovens, leaning on staffs laden with seashells. Santiago’s roads wind along the region’s coast, and the largest number of pilgrims you’ll encounter is in the town of Santona, where they make the famous salted canned anchovies, considered an exceptional delicacy around the world.
A drive along this part of the St. James Path is worthwhile if only for the idea of the pilgrimage and to put it on your own list of things to do while you’re still young and full of energy. You look at today’s pilgrims and think, “If that grandfather has decided to do it, why am I sitting at home?”
CANTABRIAN BEACHES: THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL
Let the water in the Cantabrian Sea and is cold, but the length of its coastline is as much as 284 kilometers, in fact – this is the “upper boundary” of the entire region, if you look at the map.
Sootvetstvenno, there are no problems with the beaches here: they are everywhere, where there are no cliffs. All of them are the purest, and the water in the sea, even if it’s cold, but completely transparent and beckons to you endlessly.
Many beaches, by the way, are nudist – Spaniards generally have an easier attitude to nudity than Russians, so they prefer to bathe in whatever they were born. And, yes, vulgar tradition specifically in Cantabria does not seem, it seems that people just want to merge completely with nature. More precisely, with the elements of the sea.
If we take Santander as a reference point on the map, the beaches to the west of the capital of the region are more intended for fans of swimming, but to the east, that is, towards the Basque Country, for fans of surfing. Centers where beginners also practice are located on the coast between the towns of Prelleso and Tracerra. However, and professionals, easily bending their will unruly waves, too, plenty of them.
Another detail: the more you head westwards towards Galicia and Portugal, the colder the water gets. On the east, however, near the border with the Basque Country, the water is warm and pleasant.
However, the high waves, which for surfers – good, but for bathers – evil, turn the stay in the water into an attraction: how to dip and get out of the sea without falling ashore. Well, how can you not think of the Fox from “The Little Prince” and his sacramental phrase: “There is no perfection in the world! Photo: Julia Malkova, Davide Bacelle