El Sardinero, one of the most elegant places on the Spanish coast, has a past full of glamour and a no less promising present. The natural beauty of the Cantabrian coast is added to man’s effort to turn this esplanade into an impeccable place dotted with gardens, charming spots and buildings worthy to see. This itinerary begins in the second part of Reina Victoria Avenue, at the curve of La Magdalena, and it extends as far as the Second beach of El Sardinero.
El Camello Beach
Its name (‘The Camel’) comes from the shape of a rock located to the right of the beach. In days of low tide and depending on the perspective it looks like a camel having a rest. Informal competitions of beach-tennis, known as ‘palas’, take place in this beach. It is a popular sport practiced throughout the year which can mesmerize the spectator if it is played by experienced players.
Reina Victoria Avenue
Back again to Reina Victoria Avenue, the walk continues along El Sardinero, a place that was inhospitable and virtually deserted before the bourgeois flowering of Santander. It was in the second third of the 19th century when it started to be urbanized thanks to the arrival of tourist attracted by the Wave Baths (Section ‘Events’ – See page 37) and the relations they could maintain here, being this the political and economic capital of the country during the summer. To connect this area to the city centre, the train of Gandarillas was opened in 1877. This means of transport replaced animal-drawn vehicles. Despite its low speed, the arrival of the train on the streets of the city was announced by ‘El Cagueta’, a man who used to walk in front of the train playing the horn and waving a pennant.
La Concha Beach and the Gardens of San Roque
La Concha Beach, so called (‘The shell’) for the shape it had in the past, is a sandy area of about 250 metres long which offers all the services. It is located right next to El Camello Beach and, in days of low tide, it offers the possibility to walk to the Second of El Sardinero as if both beaches were a single sandy ground of more than two kilometres. Next to La Concha Beach once stood the chapel of San Roque, built in 1870 in the place where now we can find the gardens bearing the same name.
First Beach of El Sardinero
El Sardinero already had this name in the 15th century due to the large number of sardines which could be caught in its waters. Whaling was usual too, at least since year 1329, and whales used to be marketed in a plot that existed in the area. The hearts of these cetaceans were given as purchase rights to those paying for them. From the wide range of urban beaches in Santander, this is the most iconic. The First Beach of El Sardinero was the
place where the nobility and the bourgeoisie of the city used to go during the golden age. The Second was the beach for ordinary people. Nowadays,
without distinctions, everyone can enjoy the fine white sand of this beautiful beach, one of the surfers’ favourites due to its location on the open sea.
Plaza de Italia
☎ Telephone 942 276 054. Opening hours: Gambling Hall from 8 pm to 4 am; It is imperative to bring papers, long trousers and formal footwear; Slot Machines Hall from 5 pm to 4 am.
Rotating 180 degrees, just in front of the beach, we can admire the Gran Casino of El Sardinero, one of the most striking buildings in the city. Its clean white colour and its classic lines make it a good example of the architecture of the Belle Époque, a stage in which Santander lived its greatest splendour. The building was built in 1916 in record time: one year. It has a staircase and impressive balconies, in addition to two magnificent octagonal towers flanking it and completing its characteristic outline. It is the work of Cantabrian architect Eloy Martínez del Valle, who was inspired by similar French constructions. It served as a casino since its inauguration until 1939. Afterwards it remained virtually closed till 1978, when after being restored it reopened its doors as a gambling room, a cafeteria, a restaurant and a nightclub. It also has an exhibition room where painting, sculpture and photography shows are scheduled.
In the surroundings of El Gran Casino there are plenty of hotels, restaurants and cafés that turn this place into the second urban centre of Santander, especially during the summer. The Italia Square extends from the foot of the Casino to the beach through a pavement café which serves as viewpoint and is directly connected to the sand.
The Fountain of Cacho
Avenida Antonio Maura
Very close to the Gran Casino of El Sardinero and the Auditorium is the most famous fountain of Santander, the fountain of Cacho. Its importance is due to a popular song which, over time, has become the unofficial anthem of the city and it is sung in the opening ceremony of the festival (chupinazo), when sporting triumphs are achieved and, in general, in every sign of Santander pride: “Yesterday I saw you were going up / the first tree-lined avenue / wearing the white dress / and the little silk scarf / tell me where you are going, brown girl / tell me where you are going, witty girl / tell me where you are going, brown girl / at two in the morning / I am going to the fountain of Cacho / to drink a glass of water / because it is said it is very good / to drink it in the morning…”. The victories of the local team, Real Racing Club de Santander, are celebrated here.
Next to the fountain of Cacho and behind the Gran Casino is located the park of Los Pinares, quite characteristic for its steep slope. It has a children’s play area, a sitting area and a traditional bowling alley. The large number of big pine trees turns this green space into a perfect place to enjoy and breathe. Moreover, the villa called “Los Pinares” is one of the finest examples of Cantabrian architecture. Built in the early 20th century for a rich ship-owner, it is the work of architect Valentín Lavín Casalis.
Back to the coastline we come across the gardens of Piquío, located on a small promontory separating the First and Second beaches of El Sardinero. It is an ideal place to admire the entire area. At night, these gardens are very well illuminated and they become the lovers’ romantic spot par excellence. From here, going down Castañeda Avenue, we arrive to the last stretch of El Sardinero.
The Second Beach of El Sardinero
This large sandy area shaping the Second beach of El Sardinero is very popular among Santander residents for the comforts it offers. The beach has lifeguards, showers, library and children’s activities. It also has a wide variety of hotels and restaurants, lots of parking places in the surroundings as well as an easy exit from the area through the S-20 motorway.
Doctor González Mesones Park
Located inland, parallel to the beach, we find the Park of Doctor González Mesones, a doctor who was mayor of Santander for 21 years. Before the construction of the new stadium, the field of the Real Racing Club de Santander was situated here, of which today only remains one of its corners hidden among some bushes. Another curiosity of this park is that the central pond reproduces on a small scale the outline of the port of Santander.
El Sardinero Sports Grounds
The Sports Grounds of El Sardinero is the name of the official stadium of the Real Racing Club of Santander, a football team that played its first match in February 1913 against the Strong. It was founded the 14th of June 1913 and its inauguration took place the 20th of August 1988. This municipal stadium is a replica of the Queens Park Rangers’. It has no columns, therefore it enjoys a perfect vision from any point, and it holds 22,251 seated spectators. This stadium lived the defeat of FC Barcelona 5-0, Real Madrid 3-1 and even Manchester City 3-1.