Costa Cantabria, North Spain

Playas del Arnia, best Costa Cantabria Beaches, Spain

Playa de la Arnia, Costa Cantabria beaches, North Spain.

Best Costa Cantabria beaches

Spain’s eastern costas are an overheated, overbuilt and under-cultured mess in the summer time, while the southern Costa de la Luz is simply overheated, but North Spain’s Costas – especially the Costa de Cantabria – come into their own at this time with modest temperatures (generally no higher than 27C in midsummer), decent prices, mostly Spanish tourists (fleeing from half-baked inland cities or the costas-too-much) and huge, soft sand beaches, frequently decorated with interesting rock formations.

Playa de la Arnia, 15 minutes west of Santander on the Costa Cantabria

Starting with our favourite Cantabrian beach, Arnia is 15 minutes west of Santander – though it’ll probably take you 45 minutes to find the place to start with! Signposting is not a skill that the Spanish rate highly.
However, it’s not too difficult with a couple of pointers: From Santander take the S-20 west, then head for – and through – Soto de la Marina, towards Liencres. Take the turn off to (Playa? ) Covachos. Soon you will see the road forking to two beaches, Covachos right and Arnia straight on. Photos of Covachos in Vol II.

Playa de la Arnia rock pools, Costa Cantabria beaches, Spain

. . . which features a totally unique series of rock swimming pools where learning to swim could be a lot of fun, or challenging, depending on which way the tide is moving, and it does seem to advance/retreat very fast on the Cantabrian coast, possibly due to the gentle gradient of many beaches.

These Costa Cantabria Beaches were photographed July-August so you will have an idea on what to expect!

Northern Spain’s coastal provinces are, from west to east: Galicia (Costa da Morte {Coast of Death, a nice gothic touch there}), Asturias (Costa Verde), Cantabria (Costa de Cantabria) and the Basque Country Vizcaya (Costa Vasca), of which brilliant, resurrected Bilbao is the capital, though it has no beaches as it’s inland.

We believe that north Spain’s best beaches – for swimming, scenery and facilities – are mostly on the Costa de Cantabria, with Asturias’ Costa Verde coming in second place. Cantabria is also easy to get to for Europeans as it’s closer to France for overlanders and it’s main port is Santander which hosts UK ferries (from Portsmouth and Plymouth).

Note that we’re looking at more than just spectacular rock formations, useability is a key feature for bugbog, so we check sand quality (generally terrific, soft and light brown in Cantabria), dangerous currents, facilities such as nearby parking and showers (very often), cafés and toilets (not so common), warmth of waters (erratic, depending mainly on beach gradient and enclosure) as well as ease of access and crowding.

Inevitably during July and August all north Spain’s beaches are crowded with Spanish families, not only locals but steaming refugees from hot, dry central Spain. However, the number and size of beaches in Cantabria is so huge that there is always space for another family.

Playa de Amió, 30 minutes west of Santander, Costa Cantabria Beaches

Playa de Amio, Costa Cantabria Beaches, North Spain

Playa de Amió.

Amió and Berellin beaches on this page are all in the vicinity of San Vicente de la Barquera, about half an hour’s drive west from Santander (add one hour from Bilbao) on a great Autopista. However. . . Google Maps online/Michelin Road Map/our experience differ.

A-8/E-70/A-67 Autopista Confusion

Google and Michelin say the Autopista is A-8 or E-70, whereas we saw signs saying S-20 and A-67 and no signs otherwise! Maybe GoogMich are using EU standard designation but Cantabria is not, choosing their own way. Yeah! Stuff the Brussels bureaucrats!
Anyway, there’s only one west-east Autopista so take that heading east towards – and past – Torrelavega (forking right just before the town) and you should be fine.

Playa de Amió beach, Costa Cantabria beaches, North Spain

Amió beach seen from the approach ramp. This is almost high tide. At low tide it’s supposed to be 600m long.

Getting There: turn off the main route (whatever it is! ) to Pechón (CA 380). Then look for signs to Amió and drive as far as you can towards the shore. There is parking for at least 100 cars on the clifftop, in addition to a café, with moderate steps down to the crescent beach. n. b. in summer months access is one way so your return route will be different. But it’s not a problem.

Amió beach had showers, as usual, but no lifeguard or other facilities apart from an extensive and popular café on the clifftop which probably had toilets attached.

Playa Berellin, 40 minutes west of Santander, Costa Cantabria

Playa Berellin's rock formations, Costa Cantabria Beaches, North Spain

Playa Berellin’s swimming pool that dries out to bare sand at low tide. The beach is about 80m to the left.

Berellin is an extraordinary sight, more Thailand than Europe, a tiny, soft sand beach opening onto a series of jagged rocky inlets that changes character and size with the tides. It’s between Playa Amió and Playa Meron.

Getting There: Take the N-634 off the Autopista and then look for signs to Prellezo village. From there look for signs to Playa de Berellin. Parking near the beach is VERY limited, perhaps only a dozen cars slung over a grassy verge, so most visitors in the summer will be parking up the hill around a series of S bends, maybe 10 minute’s walk from the beach.

Berellin facilities are limited to two: A shower and a kiosk selling snacks and drinks.

Playa Berellin's waters with swimmers, Costa Cantabria beaches, North Spain

Berellin waters are quite chilly due to a combination of a steep decline about 60m out from the beach and a cold, freshwater stream coming down the hill and joining the sea on the far side of the beach, visible as the algae area in the photo above this one, on the right side. A wetsuit and snorkeling gear would be useful on this beach!