Much the largest city in Cantabria, with a population approaching 200,000, SANTANDER is an elegant, refined resort with excellent transport connections. While its setting on the narrow Bahía de Santander is beautiful – from the heart of the city, you can enjoy clear views across the bay to rolling green hills and high mountains that seem to glow at sunset, and superb sandy beaches line much of the shorefront – the city centre lost most of its finest buildings to a massive fire in 1941. Nonetheless, the narrow lanes of the old town, running parallel to the waterfront, still abound in atmospheric bars and restaurants. The local beaches – the best is sandy El Sardinero, facing the open sea a couple of kilometres east – are broad and clean enough for Santander to rival Biarritz and San Sebastián as a favourite summer retreat for sophisticated holiday-makers from the interior. Santander may have a much more bourgeois identity than many of its earthier northern neighbours – and away from the beaches there’s not all that much actually to see or do – but it’s really not a bad place to while away a day or two.

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