29km (18 miles) SW of Santander, 393km (244 miles) N of Madrid

Among the most perfectly preserved medieval villages in Europe, Santillana del Mar is now a famous Spanish national landmark. A monastery houses the relics of St. Juliana, a martyr in Asia Minor who refused to surrender her virginity to her husband. The name Santillana is a contraction of "Santa Juliana." The "del Mar" is misleading, as Santillana is not on the water but inland.

Jean-Paul Sartre called Santillana "the prettiest village in Spain," and we wouldn't want to dispute his esteemed judgment. In spite of all the tour buses, Santillana retains its medieval atmosphere and is very much a village of dairy farmers to this day.

Wander on foot throughout the village, taking in its principal sites, including Plaza de Ramón Pelayo (sometimes called Plaza Mayor). Here the Parador de Santillana has been installed in the old Barreda Bracho residence.

A 15th-century tower, facing Calle de Juan Infante, is known for its pointed arched doorway. A walk along Calle de las Lindas (Street of Beautiful Women) may not live up to its promise, but it does include many of the oldest buildings in Santillana and two towers dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. Calle del Río gets its name from a stream running through town to a central fountain.

Santillana del Mar is the traditional base for visiting the Caves of Altamira , which contain some of the most famous Stone Age paintings in the world. However, the government has closed the caves. Instead of the original caves, you can visit an amazing facsimile, well worth your while.