The final place we visited in Northern Spain was Santillana del Mar, which is not far from Santander. What an amazing place! Described by Jean-Paul Sartre as “the most beautiful village in Spain”, it is today a well-preserved medieval town.
As we visited out of season, the large car park was almost empty when we arrived, and the village itself wasn’t too crowded. Santillana del Mar, which isn’t ‘on the sea’, has a very peculiar history which isn’t covered well in the Wikipedia entry. The inhabitants made their money in medieval times through wool and linen, and by 1600 nearly every man in town was a noble (hidalgo) with a title. In fact, they had so much money that they didn’t need to work any more, so they stopped, and Santillano has changed very little ever since. Most of the houses have beeen carefully maintained. No one has been allowed to dig up the streets every six months, and it is a joy to wander around the cafes, shops, houses and plazas.
It is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval villages anywhere in Spain, probably in Europe.