Family holidays in Cantabria
Cantabria for Children
Will children like it? It’s a question every parent asks when planning a holiday. Just going to another country is a fascinating experience for most children, but it’s good to know that there are special experiences for them to look forward to, also.
Good things that come in small packages? That assuredly goes for Cantabria. It's a compact region, with mountains and valleys folded up close to its 165 km of Atlantic coast between Asturias and the Basque Country. From Santander, the road soon rises up to the fabulous Picos de Europa.
Green and natural, Cantabria offers a clean, healthy atmosphere where families can enjoy lovely walks in the mountains. Children can also look forward to a Wildlife Park, a ride in a cable car, some magical caves where both nature and man have worked their artistry, and spy out high caves where the rare, protected brown bears still live. We suggest 15 holiday ideas for families in Cantabria, northern Spain, one of the country’s most beautiful natural destinations:
1. They like children.
While amenities are modern, Cantabrian society has a fairly traditional outlook. You’ll find this reflected in the pride people take in their regional gastronomy (no haute or nouvelle cuisine here, simply tasty home-cooking of substance), the architecture of the stone cottages in village and on mountainside, but also in the importance attached to family life.
Spain is always a good place to take children. It’s a culture where babies, toddlers and youngsters are welcome and treated very sociably. Families with children feel very much at home, tending to attract the goodwill of local people. Waiters often attend children with the tolerant respect they would an adult.
2. Interesting cottages to stay in.
Children love old houses and a holiday in one is an unforgettable experience. Mum and Dad will like it, too, when they realise how good the facilities are. There’s nearly always a garden to play in or countryside to safely explore. And that’s before you go out and find things to do. Where we can stay: Holiday cottages and villas in Cantabria
3. Visit Argüeso Castle in the Alto Campoo area.
A well-preserved medieval castle on a hill. A good place to play at being Lords and Ladies or shoot imaginary arrows at a besieging army.
4. Visit the Maritime Museum.
For many people, holidays in Cantabria begin at Santander, a fashionable seaside resort with its own international airport and ferry port. The newly extended Maritime Museum on the sea front has displays of interest for children of all ages. Swimming in the tanks (that’s the fish, not you), you can see sharks, sting rays and octopus, plus a 9-metre whale skeleton Afterwards you can play on the beach. Opening times: Summer (May – September) 10 am - 7.30 pm. Winter (October – April) 10 am - 6 pm. Closed Mondays.
5. Go horseriding.
There are various opportunities to ride a horse in Cantabria. Aravalle equestrian centre 6 km from Potes in the Liebana offers short rides as well as longer treks, and there are more stables near Abiada, for example.
6. Go up in a cable car.
From the impressive glacial cirque at Fuente Dé, a cable car takes you up into the Picos de Europa. It’s an amazing, fun ride for most, a little hair-raising for others. At the top, the views from 1,850 metres are astounding.
7. Walks to look-out points or place of interest.
Children soon tire on long treks, but shortish walks with the promise of something at the end of it turns the hike into an adventure. In the Liebana, for example, a good look-out point with minimal walking is that near Santo Toribio Monastery.
At Hoz, in the Abiada area, there are also ancient forests, you can find what is possibly the oldest walnut tree in all of Spain. And the Liebana and Picos de Europa have no end of options for hikes in areas where there might be bears (although they are wary of people and unlikely to show themselves).
8. Splash, spray and bubble: the thermal baths at La Hermida.
Also in Liébana, north of Potes, this balneario at Hermida offers a swimming pool with hydro-massage jets at different depths as well as hydro-massage beds and seats, a bubble garden, curtains of falling water to shower in and a wave machine that will have you swimming bravely against the current.
9. Visit the forge in the village of Cabezón de Liébana.
Open from Wed – Sun, 10 am - 2 pm & 4 pm - 8 pm. An opportunity to see an old iron forge set up as a museum.
10. Visit Cabárceno Natural and Wildlife Park.
South of Santander, children can enjoy a mini-safari through this reserve. The park is home to a hundred animal species from five continents living in semi-free conditions. Spot gorillas, sea lions, elephants, eagles and find out about bears and other animals living in the forests of Cantabria. You drive through ravines and past lakes.
11. Find Bedoya red onions at the oldest market in Spain.
In Potes, capital of the Liébana, the Monday morning market has been running continuously for centuries. One old man there looks as if he’s been there from the since it started. The red onions are special, quality produce still brought by villagers from Bedoya to sell at Potes Market.
12. The Cheese Walk (and don´t forget the puddings).
From the village of Tama in the Liébana, where there is also a Visitors Centre for the Picos de Europa, a signposted walk of 45 minutes crosses a bridge over the River Deva and continues to Pendes, famous for its cheeses, which children can see being made and try nibbles of. The nearby chestnut tree forest of Pendes is an added attraction. If your parents haven’t done their homework, remind them that Cantabria also has good cakes and puddings that you really ought to sample for the cultural experience.
13. Go canoeing.
If you're 7 or older, you can try your hand at navigating a canoe on the river, with an adult behind to guide you (and help steer). The activity, which takes place on the River Deva where it widens in the north between Panes and Unquera, can be booked at tourism agencies in Potes, the capital and hub of the Liebana.
14. Visit the caves
Amazing rock formations
West of Santander and south of San Vicente de la Barquera on the way to the Liebana, El Soplao Cave is considered to be one of the geological treasures of the world, attracting 300,000 visitors a year. The fantastic and colourful rock formations extend through different galleries as nature puts on an otherworldly underground spectacle. Added attractions here are the significant discovery of quantities of amber, in which fossilized insects have been dated back 110 million years, and the lovely views all around from the hilltop outside. Opens from 10 am Mon – Sun. Closed Mondays Oct – Jun.
One of its outstanding attractions of northern Spain, of incalculable cultural wealth, lies hidden away amongst the hills: cave art from 30,000 years ago. The most renowned of all are the cave paintings at Altamira, near Santillana del Mar. After Altamira, said Picasso, all is decadence. A carefully protected World Heritage site, there is a 3-year waiting list to gain admittance and so faithful replicas of the paintings have been created in a Neo-Cave at the same site: believe me, most grown-ups wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from the originals...
But if you think you might be disappointed not to see the real thing, needn’t worry: there are other caves with prehistoric paintings that you can visit. Try El Pendo in the Camargo Valley near Santander or the caves of El Castillo and Las Monedas, both at Monte Castillo, Puente Viesgo.
As a record of a crucial stage in mankind’s evolution, the strikingly executed animal figures are quite awe-inspiring. You will also see hands as negative images, the paint outline having been blown over a hand held up by the artist against the rock face. It may be best to ask your parents before doing this at home. Altamira. Opening hours from9.30 am. Closed Mondays. El Pendo / El Castillo / Las Monedas. Opening hours from 9 am. Guided visits of 45 mins for groups. Closed Mondays.
15. Have a day at the seaside.
Combine San Vicente de la Barquera fishing town with serious playtime at nearby Oyambre Natural Park. There are cliffs and meadows and estuaries, but what interests us most here are the sand dunes and unspoilt beaches and the sea.
Travel information for Cantabria
Santander is the usual and most convenient point of arrival for those people not driving down from France. RyanAir operates to Santander airport and Brittany Ferries to the ferry port. Bilbao Airport and Ferry port, further east, provides further options. Other possibilities for international arrivals with flight + car hire are Asturias, Valladolid or Madrid airports.