Cantabria, the chicest destination for screen tourism

A decade after the last episode of Gran Hotel, Cantabria is once again the setting for a new Spanish series starring members of an upper middle class entrepreneurial family. This new series is Galgos which will be go on the air before the end of the year on Movistar Plus+. The two series are set a hundred years apart, and now the Cantabria Film Commission is at the helm to attract and facilitate filming, helping to increasingly make Cantabria the ideal place to discover the sets of films and series up close. Not only is Cantabria home to the ideal palaces for the socio-economic levels required by these series, it also has villages and spots where it is still easy to imagine that way of understanding life and delve a little deeper into the heads of their main characters.

Santander: the royal summer capital home to Gran Hotel

Where does this distinction, this chic that distinguishes Cantabria, originate? We can go back to the middle of the 19th century, when Santander’s Sardinero beach was already promoting “sea baths”. These sea baths were the seed of a tourist movement which, at the time, was clearly reserved for the wealthier classes, nobles, and the gentry. In 1861, Queen Isabella II spent a few days in El Sardinero and, a little over half a century later, the city gave the land on the Magdalena peninsula to Alfonso XIII as a gift. The palace bearing the same name was built there between 1908 and 1912, designed by Gonzalo Bringas and Javier González de Riancho. The palace became the royal summer residence until 1930. 

One thing led to another, culminating in the construction of the Gran Casino, the Hotel Real, and the Bellavista racecourse. A distinguished and noble Santander was thus born, greatly aided by natural light. In this brief historical review, we also have to consider the economic stimulus provided by the wealthy Spaniards returning from the Americas who left part of their legacy in the form of beautiful and luxurious buildings with an easily recognisable aesthetic identity.

The Magdalena palace and peninsula, the setting of Gran Hotel / CANTUR

The class differences between the Alarcón family, the owners of the Gran Hotel, and the service staff are clearly reflected in the locations of this period series by Bambú Producciones. While the former move like fish in water in the Gran Hotel, the Magdalena palace, the maids and waiters have their natural space, service rooms separate from the rest, in the imaginary village of Cantaloa, recreated for the most part in Bárcena Mayor, a picturesque and magical place that we will discuss below. The four actors Adriana Ozores, Concha Velasco, Amaia Salamanca, and Yon González form antagonistic pairings, a textbook “Up and Down”. Other outdoor scenes from Gran Hotel, broadcast between 2011 and 2013 on Antena 3 and currently available on Prime Video, can be found on the beaches of Liencres and Mataleñas, the lighthouse on the island of Mouro (in the background of many shots), Cape Mayor, and the meadows and beaches of the Magdalena peninsula itself.

If you were a fan of Gran Hotel as you may have been of Highclere Castle and Downton Abbey, don’t hesitate to head to Santander to check out these sites. Your journey begins in the Cantabrian capital. The Magdalena Palace is the most important building in the region and the current home of Menéndez Pelayo International University’s summer courses. The palace is open for visits (there are different types of tickets, including themed tickets, on its official website). The Santander City Council Tourism Department offers visitors a very interesting route called Magdalena and Sardinero Belle Époque. From Avenida de la Reina Victoria, where “palaces, mansions and luxury hotels were built for the nobility”, and continuing along Calle Juan de Borbón, you can access the peninsula, but only on foot, which is bordered by four beaches: Bikini (a toponym that harkens back to its international character in the 1960s) and Magdalena, on one side, and Camello and La Concha, on the other. You would do well to set aside some time, weather permitting, to enjoy the beach on your visit to Santander.

The most iconic beach in Santander: the Sardinero / Paco Nadal

The Plaza de Italia, Sardinero beach (it all began on this fantastic urban beach!), the Gran Casino, the San Roque and Piquío gardens, Llama Park (one of the city’s main green spaces), the Mataleñas trail and beach, as well as Cabo Mayor and its 30-metre-high lighthouse are all points along this route that will take you through some of the settings of Gran Hotel. 

During your visit to Santander, be sure to walk around another great spot that illustrates the character of the Cantabrian capital, the Paseo de Pereda and the modernist palace of the pier. One final tip: you can stop for tapas in the nearby Plaza de Cañadío or in Puertochico, a little further towards La Magdalena.

Galgos: a new family saga shot in Comillas

From the Cantabrian capital, this journey through the chicest on-screen destination stops in the town of Comillas, whose magnificent Sobrellano palace is one of the settings for the series Galgos, the new family saga directed by Félix Viscarret and Nelly Reguera. The series also features the actress Adriana Ozores as the matriarch of the Somarriba family. the neo-Gothic Sobrellano palace, also known as the palace of the Marquis of Comillas, is one of the greatest examples in Cantabria of the legacy of Antonio López López, a wealthy Spaniard who returned from the Americas. López López commissioned Joan Martorell to build the palace as well as its chapel and pantheon upon López López’s return from Cuba in the latter third of the 19th century while the interior features furnishings by Gaudí. The town, which has been declared a historic and artistic site, boasts plenty of excuses to extend your stay, such as visiting the Pontifical University, Gaudí’s Capricho, as well as the cemetery. In addition to its beach, very close by towards the west you will also find the beach of Oyambre in the natural park that bears the same name.

The Sobrellano palace, the luxurious setting for Galgos / CANTUR

Next, we head inland, specifically towards the seat of the Saja Nansa region, Cabezón de la Sal, also the setting for Galgos, where you can take a refreshing walk in the Conde de San Diego Garden. Then we will continue to the estate of the Marquis of Valdecilla in Medio Cudeyo (taking us towards the east), which in the series Galgos represents the Somarriba family home in Torrelavega. First, however, we suggest going from Cabezón de la Sal to the Saja reservoir to visit Bárcena Mayor, the mountain village that served as the settings for the fictional town of Cantaloa in Gran Hotel. The town is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cantabria. Its typical stone mountain houses, balconies and wooden beams, and 17th century church form a small, very well-preserved village centre.

Marqués de Valdecilla Museum and Estate / Town Council of Medio Cudeyo

Then comes our final destination the estate of the Marquis of Valdecilla in Medio Cudeyo, which features prominently in Galgos. This estate is another excellent and recognisable example of the colonial architectural legacy in Cantabria. The estate of Don Ramón Pelayo de la Torriente, the Marquis of Valdecilla, has six buildings and a garden boasting hundred-year-old trees where you can blend right in with the surroundings. The Casa Blanca, the Marquis’s residence, now houses a museum about its history. La Casuca, which was the home of the Marquise de Pelayo and niece of the Marquis, and San Rafael show how they lived in these upper-class residences in the first half of the 20th century. In addition, the old coach houses and the old stables, typical of mountain architecture, complete the grounds. Incidentally, King Alfonso XIII once stayed in the San Rafael house.

But if you want to plan a themed route that lacks nothing, here is one more suggestion for you to enjoy in Cantabria: in Selaya you can find the museum of the Amas de Cría, an interesting site to learn about the work done by women who became wet nurses for other children, usually from the upper classes. To visit the museum, contact the local town hall in advance.

Don’t hesitate to visit these places in the distinctive and highly photogenic Cantabria to feel like the central character of your own family and entrepreneurial, or perhaps even noble saga for a few days.

By Carmela Fernández (1,000 places to see by Paco Nadal)

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