Why visit Santillana del Mar?
A joke that got less funny every time 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.
Despite its film-set qualities, 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.
It is also an ideal base for visiting 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.
Santillana del Mar: the facts
Situated on the northern route of the Camino de Santiago, the area around Santianna del Mar has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as demonstrated by the Altamira Cave, a UNESCO listed site discovered by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola in 1879. The founding of the town of Santillana itself dates back to the early middle ages when a medieval village began to form around the collegiate church of Santa Juliana, which gave the town its name. The majority of the town’s most impressive buildings today, including a plethora of aristocratic dwellings, date back to between the 14th-18th centuries.
The weather in Santillana del Mar is generally wet with rainfall frequent throughout the year. The climate is mild with winter temperatures averaging between 6oC–14oC and summers 16oC–24oC.
In keeping with the best of Spanish traditions, tiny Santillana del Mar is no stranger to a village festival. At the end of June the Fiesta de Santa Juliana is held in honour of the town’s patron and is marked by a procession, Mass and a special dance to St. Julia. The Fiesta de San Roque takes place on 15th & 16th August and features parades and romeria (local religious festivals). At the end of September the wonderfully named Festival de Música Infrecuente (Uncommon Music Festival) takes over the town with a delightful blend of worldwide ethnic and vintage music.