Sail to Santander: Hop on board Ireland's first direct ferry to Spain
Brittany Ferries begins sailing between Cork and Santander next weekend
Ireland's first ever direct ferry route to Spain kicks off next weekend, and Santander is its destination, writes Lizzie Enfield.
Set the Mood
Did you know you can sail direct by ferry from Ireland to Spain?
The new Brittany Ferries route will depart Cork and deposit you right in the heart of Santander, a city with some of the best urban beaches in Europe and lots of sparky seaside nightlife.Crossings will take from 26 hours... quite the journey ( see 'get there', below) and the first sailing is scheduled for Sunday, May 6.
Cantabria's capital has been popular with Spanish holidaymakers ever since King Alfonso XIII and his entourage spent summers among the tumble of turrets and gables that make up the Magdalena Palace.
The city bustles with plazas, busy tapas bars and rustic bodegas, grand belle époque buildings, sandy beaches and seaside promenades, all centred around the imposing Bahia de Santander. With most foreigners bypassing it for the southern Costas, you'll have a fraction of the crowds, too.
Hire a bike and cycle from the belle époque casino to Magdalena Park, which has a little zoo. Stop along the way at the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology, (prehistour.eu; €5), stocked with anthropological booty from the nearby Cantabrian caves; or walk beneath a 60-ton skeleton at the Maritime Museum (museosdecantabria.es; €8pp).
Santanderinos make for the beaches at weekends. Take a ferry across the bay to the wild Atlantic sand dune backed Somo (a return ticket costs €4.85), or choose between the big, sandy swathe of El Sardinero or itsy-bitsy Bikini Beach - the first in Spain to allow daring, two-piece swimwear.
A royal welcome awaits at the grand, early-20th-century, Eurostars Hotel Real (hotelreal.es; doubles from €130), built by King Alfonso XIII to house his court.
The white hilltop palace, set in its own quiet grounds, enjoys unrivalled views across the bay and Peninsula de la Magdalena's green parklands, with an elegant cocktail terrace and restaurant serving Cantabrian cuisine. Guests can also make use of the spa and thalassotherapy centre with seawater swimming pool, sauna and Turkish bath.
The hotel's old world elegance is married with modern luxury but characterful features from the past remain - including wooden staircase, elaborate chandeliers and an antique lift, complete with upholstered seat.
Take a bus to the nearby Picos de Europa, Spain's oldest national park (created 100 years ago this September) and enjoy a walk through ancient oak and beech woods and across heathland and meadows filled with wild flowers and butterflies.
Or climb rocky paths up towards the distinctive serrated limestone peaks, which were the first sign for ships arriving from the Americas. The mountains are home to a small community of shepherds producing Cantabria's famed blue cheeses.
The weather! Santander is too close to the Picos to avoid the changeable mountain climate. A bright sunny day can quickly become shrouded in mist and there's more rain than elsewhere in Spain. Still, there's plenty of alfresco life and most bars and restaurants have outdoor-canopied areas.
Get me there
Brittany Ferries (brittanyferries.ie) starts direct sailings between Santander and Cork from Sunday, May 6. Crossings last 26 hours or 33 hours, depending on the sailings, with prices from €211pp return for a car plus four passengers sharing a four-berth inside cabin.
If you'd prefer to fly, Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies direct from Dublin to Santander, while Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to nearby Bilbao.
For more, see spain.info or turismo.santander.es.
Elizabeth Enfield's latest book, Ivy and Abe (Michael Joseph) is out now.