Cantabria with your dog

Cantabria is, as its tourist motto goes, infinite. From the wonderful Picos de Europa to its coasts, it’s got practically everything. This region is noteworthy for having dog-friendly beaches which are accessible all day even in summer, although pets are yet to be integrated in the day-to-day activities of its citizens and visitors. Especially surprising is the fact that there is a ban in Santander on the presence of dogs in restaurants, bars, cafeterias and even pharmacies, unlike in other similar tourist destinations like Gijón.

“Dogs are in no way allowed to enter or stay in restaurants, bars, cafeterias or similar, or in any other public premises or sports and cultural events in general, in any type of premises where food is manufactured, sold, stored, transported or handled, health centres, pharmacies or public bodies”. I froze when I read this in the Municipal bylaw governing ownership of dogs and other pets in Santander.

Well yes, Santander is one of the chief tourist destinations in the country (we saw it in August, keen to find a room in a dog-friendly hotel), but things are made difficult for millions of people who want to visit because, as the law stands, it’s impossible to eat in any restaurant or bar. There are still the terraces, although in a city where it rains so much it would be nice to have indoor places that can be accessed. With this in mind, we all remember Gijón- a city with a similar profile to that of Santander which has appropriately met this demand on a social and tourist level and is just an hour and a half’s drive away. 

Of course, we have come across dog-friendly bars, restaurants and pharmacies in Santander, but decided not to provide names in this blog because, as things are, they run the risk of being fined.

Yet there are also some nice surprises in the Cantabrian capital for pooches! It was great fun crossing the Bay of Santander on board Los Reginas. This dog-friendly company offers a range of boat trips around the area (the one to the Cubas river might well be the best of these, although we weren’t able to to go on this trip because of the tides), and it also takes a lot of dogs like me every day to the beach at El Puntal, in Somo, where we can also enjoy a part of these huge sands in summer – and we dogs even travel for free….ha ha!

Talking of beaches… as you can see in my short film about Cantabria, I had a fab time at El Jortín, a small sandy beach beside the beach at San Juan de la Canal, in Soto de la Marina. I made a whole load of friends there and went swimming for the first time in the sea  (my first sea bathe was in O Grove, although the first time I dared swim was here and I really have to thank my friendly human companion who helped me get started). The beach, by the way, is great – seeing as a picture is worth a thousand words, I encourage you to take a look at it in my video. Oh, and here you have the official list of Cantabrian beaches at  viajacontumascota and  redcanina 

And if you are one of those doggies who gets seasick on boats, then you can also hop on the Santander  sightseeing bus without paying any extra to accompany your human companion.This is a good option for getting to know the city in a relaxed manner, hopping on and off the bus at the points you are most interested in. You can see this too in my video about Cantabria.

Other plans you can make in this city with your human companion include climbing up to the viewpoint at the Centro Botín or take the funicular from Río de la Pila for some great views over the bay, and then go for a long walk along Senda de Mataleñas, which runs alongside all the cliffs and passes by two beaches (Molinucos and Mataleñas). It’s also worth climbing up to the Cabo mayor lighthouse. 


By the way, being August, the hotels were all full in Santander, and so we stayed in Iruz, at a beautiful stone posada: the Ribera del Pas Posada Asador (in Los Valles Pasiegos, home of the wonderful local sobaos (a type of local sponge cake).This impeccable historic building was dismantled brick by brick a few years ago and put back together again. It’s surrounded by gardens where you can have breakfast with your human companion, and staying here is a real pleasure and luxury. Marisa, José Luis and Patricia make you feel at home from the first minute.

After visiting Santander, we headed for Solares where we stayed at the Hotel Los Guardeses, A truly dog-friendly establishment where two four-legged friends live, namely Asia and Cara. These doggies are lucky enough to live in a 17thcentury palace (with chapel included) and its gardens, and you can see both  hotels in my video. The truth is that we we had a great time there and I was able to make some new friends among the dogs living there, such as Thor, who lives in Tarragona with his humans. By the way, there is a park right beside the hotel that looks like something straight out of the Jurassic age, with some strangely-shaped rock formations and vegetation that might well have appear in a dinosaur movie – this is the Pipita Mine Mythological Park. Don’t forget to take a stroll around it if you are planning to go to Solares. And neither should you miss the legend of Fish Man, who you can see in the flesh in the neighbouring town of Liérganes (there is a sculpture in honour of him on the banks of the Miera river). This is a legendary figure from local mythology and you can emulate his story by taking a nice dip in the river.

Speaking of parks, the Cabárceno nature park (just a stone’s throw from Santander) is a must if you are heading for Cantabria. Some animals live at these former iron ore mines in semi-freedom and you can view rhinos, elephants, deer, monkeys, camels, jaguars, bears and many more there – the list is huge. It’s one of the most incredible habitats you can find in Spain, although the only thing missing is for us pooches to be allowed in the cable car. 


Another place you have to visit is Santillana del Mar, without doubt one of the most charming villages in Spain. Its cobbled streets and medieval architecture will take you back in time to another era. Everything is beautiful in the village of the three lies (as it was known because it’s neither a saint – santa– it isn’t flat – llana-  and it’s not by the sea – mar). By the way, here you can visit the  Museum of Torture which displays instruments of torture used during the Inquisition between the 16thand 19thcenturies. You can also see this interesting dog-friendly place on my video (all well-behaved dogs are welcome, but there  may be restrictions on entry at busy times because it’s a small museum, and so it’s best to call beforehand to make sure you can enter at quieter times). 


Lastly, in this stage of my Spanish tour we were able to make an incursion into the Cantabrian Picos de Europa. We entered via the San Glorio pass from León, and I was knocked out at the Collado de Llesba viewpoint by one of the most impressive panoramic views in the Picos de Europa. At this spot there is a large statue of a bear where people take their photo, but I preferred to lie down in the sun and watch the clouds - being there is like being in one of Heidi’s films. By the way, very nearby, just a few kilometres from Potes, I went to visit Mogrovejo, the village where one of the screen adaptations of this legend from popular culture was filmed.

Returning to the main theme, the bends on the descent from the San Glorio pass to the Potes area are enough to make anyone feel queasy, but I managed to control my car sickness. 

For accommodation, we chose the Posada Bistruey in Vega de Liébana, just five minutes from Potes. This is a stone posadalocated right beside the road and is easily distinguished by its pink blinds and flowers that cover the entire façade. Chefi is very attentive to her guests and tries to deal with any unexpected situation. She’s extremely affectionate towards pets, and we are allowed in the rooms and, if this causes no inconvenience to other diners, also in the dining room. It’s a simple posadawith a very personal style of décor – the truth is we were well happy and our stay also coincided with that of other doggies. 

We explored the area using the Posada Bistruey as our base for operations. Potes is a very touristy town, but having said that, we have to recognise that it has very charming stone architecture. The riverside area boasts some great spots – who’s going to catch all those ducks! 

Another little town in the area affording splendid views over the Picos de Europa is Tudes. It’s located up high, but you can reach it in just a few minutes from Potes.

The bad news about the Cantabrian Picos de Europa is that we didn’t manage to find anywhere where we well-behaved dogs are allowed to enter. Bars and restaurants only allow us on the terrace, and as for tourist attractions (museums, churches, etc.), just forget it. It’s a shame to peer into the School Museum in Mogroviejo or the Torre del Infantado tower in Potes, see them empty and get a “dogs not allowed here”. 

Yet the most inexplicable case is the cable car at Fuente Dé, which provides access to the central massif of the Picos de Europa. This means of transport doesn’t set aside even a solitary cabin for people accompanied by dogs. And I say inexplicable because it’s possible to go up to the Covadonga lakes in the Asturian part of the Picos de Europa (bus and microbus)  and we dogs can also access the  Bulnes funicular.  And if we visit the León side of the Picos de Europa, we are allowed to accompany our human companions on the boat across the Riaño reservoir, which is really fab. 

Here and now I would like to suggest that the Fuente Dé cable car establish certain times when dogs are welcome, announce these on their website and then everyone – whether they’ve got a dog or not – can plan their trip according to their preferences. A lot of people visit the Picos de Europa with their pets to go hiking and they are excluded – they can use the example of cable cars in Switzerland to organise this. 

And that’s the end of this particular story – the Cantabrian stage is over (I ended up making a lightning visit to Castro Urdiales, a delightful place by the sea). Now then, don’t miss out on Cantabria!