Some cynical Spanish folk say that Santillana del Mar is the town of three lies: ‘Santillana no es santa, no es llana, y no hay mar’. Santillana is neither holy nor flat, and there is no sea! After visiting the town on Friday we can certainly vouch for the last two but as for being un holy?? Who are we to cast doubt upon this delightful towns saintly credentials!
Santillana lies 4km inland on the western coast of Cantabria and Jean-Paul Sartre in his novel Nausea described it as “the most beautiful village in Spain”. Quite an accolade we felt and were intrigued to discover if this claim was justified.
The town was founded by monks and during the Middle Ages the monastery grew increasingly more wealthy and powerful. In the 15th century local nobility took control of the feudal rent system from the abbot. Sadly the corruption didn’t end there and as the wealthy landowners became richer still they donated money in exchange for titles and built palacio style residencies in an attempt to outdo each other. These would have been considered to be pretty tasteless and ostentatious at the time but in the 21st century they have a charm and opulence all of their own.
The Colegiata de Santa Juliana is the jewel in Santillanas crown and is dedicated to the third century saint, Juliana. Sadly the much maligned Juliana was put to death by her husband for not consummating their marriage on their wedding night. A tad harsh you might say given that her major achievement in life was the taming of a demon that she used to drag around on a rope! What a woman eh?
Santillana is a pocket sized town with narrow, cobbled streets, lined with golden stone houses. Along the main street of Calle Canton and also around the main square are the rather grand palacios with their ornate and somewhat oversized coats of arms. Around every corner is a charming house or garden that will delight the visitor and yes, sadly they do come in droves. As with most tourist destinations around the world Santillana is blighted by some rather tacky, touristy type shops.
So is Santillana del Mar the most beautiful village in Spain? It is both charming and delightful and definitely worth spending time there whilst you’re cruising around the wonderful Cantabrian countryside in Poppy or Lofty (our campervans!). Yes it can be crowded and a little over commercialised, and If we do have a criticism its touristy feel has given it a slightly staged and ‘Disney does Spain’ air about it. But whether you agree with us or not Santillana del Mar will give you a real taste of Spain and its rich history in times gone by.
For more information take a look at www.santillana-del-mar.com