One of the four autonomies (along with Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Country) that borders the Cantabrian Sea, or Bay of Biscay, Cantabria also belongs to the strip of the country known as: “Green Spain”. The name comes from the verdant vegetation that grows in the air trapped between the Atlantic ocean and the Cantabrian Mountains. The climate, however, is more temperate than Oregon, with which it shares the same latitude. Warm summers and mild winters along the coast and valleys, more precipitation in the mountains; those in the Alpine altitude region have year round snow.
No one can say for certain where the legendary region, sea and mountains got their name. The general consensus in linguistic circles is — the root “Cant-” is Celtic for rock or stone, while “-abr” was a common suffix used in Celtic regions. Based on this, Cantabrian means: “people who live in the rocks.” Spanish highlanders, if you like. Although, there aren’t lochs. There is the Ebro Reservoir, however, built under General Francisco Franco.
The three main cities are:
- The port city and capital of Santander. The popular summer resort of King Alfonso XIII, he built “El Palacio de la Magdalena” at the start of the 20th Century for the royal family. The locals are known as “Santanderinos” and are proud of having one of the major Gothic Cathedrals in its historic center, as well as a university popular with students from all over the world.
- Torrelavega is a a small city through which two rivers flow. Located in Cantabria’s agricultural and industrial heartland, it stands at the halfway point between Santander and the neighboring Principality of Asturias and Basque County. Come in August and see the florid carts of “La Floral Gala” flower festival.
- Castro Urdiales is another port city, with a medieval heart. Sirenucas (little mermaids) are said to inhabit its, and the rest of Cantabria’s, waters. Wander around the Castro Urdiales’ cobblestone streets to take in the Gothic architecture or venture outside to explore the many caves found throughout the land. Just be careful not to run into “La Guajona”, the wife-bear of Andara, a vampire-type monster with gnarled hands and bird’s talons for feet.
In addition to these municipalities, many of the towns throughout the region throw festivals that harken back to ancient times, such as “La Vijanera” in the town of Silió, which celebrates nature and seeks to banish last year’s demons, to welcome in a clean new year.
“Los Cántabros”, in the eastern part of the region, played a significant role in Castilian Spanish’s development and speak a clear form of “Castellano”. In the western mountains, “Cantabrian”, a dialect of an Astur-Leonese language, is also spoken. “Ternera” (beef) and “game” (caza) are often found on the local menus. The fish and seafood used in Cantabrian dishes come from the Atlantic Ocean. The food the region is most famous for, however, is its “cocido montañés” (Highlander stew). A simple, zesty “sobao“ for dessert and “un chupito de orujo” (a shot of a pomace brandy) made in the “comarca” (region) of Liébana, to help with the digestion.
Here’s a video from the local tourism organization, because pictures to music paint a much better picture than words.