Inspiration Alejandro  González Luna

A tour of rural Cantabria

We visit the six Cantabrian towns and villages that have been described as Spain’s most beautiful towns: Santillana del Mar, Liérganes, Bárcena Mayor, Carmona, Mogrovejo and Potes. These one-of-a-kind rural tourism destinations allow you to explore the most traditional side of Cantabria, from its gastronomy to architecture.

Images by Ben Roberts

  1. 1 Potes

    Known as the town of the bridges and the towers, Potes is the capital of the Liébana area. It was declared a historical heritage site in Spain in 1983. Its most famous building is the 15th-century Torre del Infantado (the former house of the Marquis of Santillana). In Potes, you can wander the mediaeval backstreets, cross the historical San Cayetano and Cárcel bridges over the Quiviesa river, or stop by the Plaza del Capitán Palacios square to watch the locals go about their daily lives. Check out the traditional market that is held on Mondays in Potes’ main square, or take one of the routes or excursions that depart from the village.

    Here, you will find numerous restaurants where you can try the cocido lebaniego, along with one of their famous artisanal liqueurs.

    Enjoy a getaway to Potes, one of Spain’s most beautiful towns, when you visit Cantabria.
    Due to Potes’ position between the Peña Sagra and Peña Labra sierras and the Picos de Europa massif, it has its own microclimate – unlike the rest of Cantabria
  2. 2 Santillana del Mar

    This medieaval town is 30km from Santander. Explore the cobbled streets, where you will find one of Spain’s most beautiful historical-artistic sites – the Collegiate Church of Santillana. Dating from the 12th century, it is the largest Romanesque construction in Cantabria. Other must-see buildings include the Torre Don Borja and Torre del Merino towers (15th century), and the Renaissance Palacio de Los Velarde, located in Plaza las Arenas square. Both spots will transport you to another time. Just 2km from the city centre, you can find the Cave of Altamira, one of the world’s greatest cave art treasures and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Access is restricted, but just metres from there, you can visit the Altamira Museum and the Neocave, a faithful replica of the original site.

    In Santillana del Mar, you can find – in a single place – all the traditional dishes of Cantabria’s regional cuisines: from sobaos and quesadas de pasiega, to anchovies from Santoña and corbatas from Unquera. There is also the traditional cocido (a stew based around chickpeas, potatoes, cabbage and pork) in all its varieties.

    Santillana del Mar in Cantabria is one of Spain’s Most Beautiful Towns.
    Santillana del Mar was chosen Capital of Rural Tourism 2019 by the website
  3. 3 Liérganes

    Liérganes, at the foot of the Picos de Busampiro, in northeast Cantabria, is a charming village with around 2,400 inhabitants. After becoming the home to the first Real Fábrica de Artillería known in Spain in the 17th century, Liérganes enjoyed an economic boom that led to the construction of numerous buildings of classical architecture, some of which still exists today. You can also visit the Puente Mayor bridge (17th century) and see the Hombre Pez (Fish-man) statue, erected in honour of a popular local legend about a man who disappeared in the River Miera and re-appeared years later, alive, in the Bay of Cádiz. Two other sights not to miss is the Liérganes Spa, which became famous after King Alfonso XIII visited the village to enjoy a dip back in the 20th century, or the Palacio de Elsedo palace (18th century), in nearby Pámanes.

    Don’t forget to try their well-known artisanal beers or traditional sweets (sacristanes, for instance, rocas del valle de Miera or Tetas de Liérganes).

    Don’t miss Liérganes, one of Spain’s Most Beautiful Towns, during your visit to Cantabria.
    Today, you can discover Liérganes’ past as you explore the cobbled streets of the Mercadillo district, its old town, declared to be of national historical-artistic interest in 1978
  4. 4 Bárcena Mayor

    Located on a floodplain of the River Argoza, among oak and beech forests, this is the only village within Saja-Besaya Natural Park. Its urban centre of cobbled streets and houses and mountain-style architecture buildings was declared a historic-artistic complex in 1979. One of its most important spaces is the 17th-century Santa María Church. The 16th-century stone bridge over the River Argoza is the starting point for several hiking routes that allow for discovering the flora and fauna of the Saja-Besaya Reserve (the largest in Cantabria).

    We recommend that you try the traditional cocido montañes before you leave.

    Don’t miss one of Spain’s most beautiful towns on a trip to Cantabria: Bárcena Mayor.
    Some claim that Bárcena Mayor – located in the municipality of Los Tojos and with fewer than 100 inhabitants – is the oldest town in Cantabria
  5. 5 Carmona

    This is an ideal place for exploring the rural side of Cantabria. Its baroque/mountain-style manor houses with wooden balconies adorned with overflowing flower pots give the village a mediaeval air – as if time had stopped. Its urban area was declared a Cultural Interest Asset in 1985. The building with the most history is the Palacio de los Díaz Cossío y Mier, a palace dating back to the 18th century, which also has a church. The River Nansa runs through the village. Carmona is also known for raising a particular breed of cow, the Tudanca. You can see the majestic green mantle of the Cabuérniga Valley from Carmona.

    Here, you can also enjoy the traditional cuisine of rural Cantabria, especially mountain-style cocido and meat.

    Carmona, in Cantabria, is on the list of Spain’s most beautiful towns.
    You can see artisans who craft traditional albarcas (a kind of wooden shoe) in the streets of Carmona
  6. 6 Mogrovejo

    You can see the imposing Ándara massif (Picos de Europa) from this hamlet with around 50 inhabitants, which is in Camaleño, 460 metres above sea level and was declared a Cultural Interest Asset in 1985. Last year, it was added to the list of Spain’s Most Beautiful Towns (it was also named ‘Town of Cantabria 2017’). Mogrovejo has a 13th-century mediaeval tower and a handful of Lebaniega-style houses with ironwork balconies from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Other places to check out include the Nuestra Señora de la Asunción parish church (17th century) and the Rural School Museum of Mogrovejo, which illustrates the importance of rural schools in the Liébana area were in the past.

    There are few places to eat in Mogrovejo, but try the quesucos de Liébana (local cheeses), traditional produce from the area.