Santander is not the end of a route but rather the start of a journey. Whether it’s sandy beaches, scrumptious seafood, stunning scenery, surfing, Santiago Camino or even soccer, I think the range of options and opportunities thrown open by the twice weekly Brittany Ferries Santander route out of Cork are really exciting and enticing. This scene, a surfing sculpture at sunset on the promenade in A Coruna.
I am so excited with the new Brittany Ferries service from Cork to Santander which was introduced this summer. It is top of my list as a first choice option for next year and while I have yet to get reliable first hand feedback on the Connemara Ferry ‘no frills’ sailing experience, I am optimistic.
is a beautiful laid back city. The Cantabrian capital is long a favourite of royalty and affluent Spaniards who flocked there from Madrid’s baking mid-summer temperatures. It has been a popular port of call for ferries out of England, but now for the first time directly from Ireland.
itself is grand if grandeur is your thing – and those island beaches just a 15 minute boat ride away are a great way to pass a day – but it’s appeal for me is more the world of possibilities the Santander route opens up.
Hang a left and Bilbao, San Sebastian and Biarritz are just down the road. Now that’s a hat-trick of Basque destinations that you are not going to beat in a hurry. Basque yes but all so different and delightful in their own unique way. I have visited them numerous times. While there are direct Ryanair flights ideal for short breaks to these parts they have usually been on the far end of a long haul down from Roscoff – and then there is the return leg.
If the Basque country is your destination rather than France then I think the Santander option comes into its own. Fuel and toll costs also have to be taken in to consideration when evaluating what’s best. I never fancy those 12 hour breakneck non-stop drives so for me there must be worthwhile stopovers to take in some of the places en route – otherwise you might as well be on a motorway anywhere.
I’ve always had enjoyed Biarritz. There are plenty of camping options within the city and its outskirts. It’s handy to get around, its terraced slopes into the Bay of Biscay are simply wonderful to walk and yes I almost forgot, it’s a surfers’ paradise. Lugging surf boards around on buses and bikes here is the norm. You are in the heart of a countryside that loves its rugby, a great calling card if you tell them that of course you know Brian O’ Driscoll and Johnny Sexton back home. One of the best fireworks displays you will ever see takes place in Biarritz each summer on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th, but be warned, it gets mobbed.
A busy grand plage in Biarritz during August
Bar Jean is one of dozens of popular restaurants in the heart of Biarritz
Biarritz is surf central. Here along the Cote de Basques is a favourite haunt of long boarders who enjoy a cold beer apres surf in Le Surfing bar along the promenade. With parking at a premium bikes are a favoured mode of transport
Bilbao is a grittier town but it steals the show with the Guggenheim which is an exhibition in and of itself even before you go inside. It’s an earthy town with one of the best market halls in the world and I’m a sucker for markets.
The breathtaking Guggenheim is a must visit in Bilbao
In between is San Sebastian which is as cool, chic and vibrant as you have been told. A heaving city with bustling streets and busy in-town beaches and promenade stunning views from Monte Urgull and Castillo de la Mota and well the best tapas and pintxo bars in the world.
All of this before we even get to think about Pamplona or St Jean de Luz…
The stunning scenery of San Sebastian which boasts some of the best restaurants in the world
That is a mouth-watering trip by any standards, but there is the road less travelled to consider too.
Hang a right in Santander and you head into Asturias and port cities like Gijon and one of my all-time favourite places, A Coruna and a series of amazing coastal town and village after another, like Pontevedra. If you are being adventurous there is the option of forging on down to Vigo and on to Porto, which is getting such rave reviews.
A typical Galician tavern where fresh seafood such as octopus, prawns, and squid are among the local favourites washed down with some local cider, Albarino or a cold beer from the nearby Estrella Galicia brewery
The Galician coastline, to be explored and enjoyed properly would take numerous visits on its own and that’s before you head inland to Santiago de Compostela, so famed for its Camino and the former Roman bastion of Lugo, in this region so proud of its Celtic heritage.
Santiago de Compestelo is at the end of the most famous Camino route
Santander is not the end of a route but only the start of a journey. Whether it’s sandy beaches, scrumptious seafood, stunning scenery, surfing, the Santiago Camino or a love affair with soccer, (as most of these ports of call play in the top flight Spanish La Liga), I think the range of options and opportunities thrown open by the twice weekly Brittany Ferries Santander route out of Cork are really exciting and enticing. For instance if fashion is your fancy, you will find plenty of sophistication strolling the promenades of San Sebastian and Santander, while A Coruna is home to the top selling Zara brand.
From Mundaka to Pantin the coastline across the Basque country and Galicia offer some of the best surfing spots in Europe
It’s also worth noting that the north of Spain and Galicia in particular offers some great value compared with the south of France and the south of Spain.
Ok, so it’s a no frills service with estimated journey times from 26 to 33 hours and I have yet to get first-hand reports of the service (which would be most welcome?) but I for one am going to give it a go at the first opportunity.
The return service from Cork-Santander runs until the start of November. For more details: www.brittanyferries.ie or call 021 4277801.
John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland www.communicateireland.ie.
John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics.
He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at www.thelastbeekeeper.ie.