Co-ordinates: N 43º27'21", W 03º48'21"
Weather: Persistent rain
Air Temperature: 15ºC
Pressure: 1019 hPa
Wind: 2.8 knots
Santander is extremely attractive in the early morning light: it needs to be; I am not a morning person. A group of hardy but not hearty guests were hunched over the breakfast tables, clutching pots of tea, even by the time I had got to The Restaurant, which was impressive of them. You’ll have guessed that we had an early start for our excursions to Bilbao, mainly for the Guggenheim, and to Santillana del Mer for the medieval village.
They say that this is the village of three lies because it is neither a Saint (Santo), nor flat (llana) and has no sea (Mar) as implied by the town's name. However, the name actually derives from Santa Juliana (or Santa Illana) whose remains are in the kept in the Romanesque church.
Santillana is one of the prettiest towns in Spain because so many of its 15- 17-century golden stone houses survive. The 12-century church of the monastery has a 17-century painted reredos of a spectacular nature and a carved south door, complete with horizontally flying angels. In the cloister, the capitals have been carved with biblical scenes and are worth a look even if you don’t think you’re interested in that sort of thing - fabulous. It reminded me a bit of the cloisters at Saint-Lizier and Moissac in the south of France. Although the tour was not hurried and we had plenty of time to linger, I could have stayed here a lot longer.
There are two main cobbled streets that have houses built by local noblemen; these have fine wooden galleries or iron balconies with coats of arms inlaid into their stone facades. In the past, farmers used the open ground floors as byres for stabling their cattle. The enchanting Plaza Mayor in the centre of the town has a mansion that is now used as a parador where we were refreshed with huge glasses of wine, tortillas and other tapas, all excellent.
By now, the weather had turned from a fine mist to a thickening fog that detracted from the views the guides assured us existed. We had a scenic ride (or it would have been a scenic ride) back to Santander, ending at the Magdalena Palace, which had been used by the royal family for summer holidays for 17 years until 1940. It now belongs to the city and is used for everything from conferences and courses to weddings and exhibitions.
We got back to the ship in time for lunch, followed by the other group (which had been to Bilbao and the Guggenheim) trailing us by about half an hour. As we weren’t sailing until 1700, a number of guests and crew (self included) took the chance to go ashore to wander round the fine city of Santander, some having quite a surprise to find themselves serenaded back on board by the city’s 20-piece municipal silver band.
Everyone was back on board by 1630 and ready for the Sail Away party at 1700 – goodness, more eating and drinking! – but it fortified us and saw us through to Recaps and dinner.