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Insider's Guide: Cantabria, Spain

For the third in our series of Insider's Guides, we head to Cantabria in Spain. Check out these recommendations from Andy McCulloch, regional operations manager at Casas Cantabricas (casas.co.uk), specialists in accommodation and touring holidays in northern Spain.

1 Santander's market, Mercado de Esperanza, is the place to go for local atmosphere and for one of Spain's best displays of fish and seafood. If you don't fancy cooking, enjoy a delicious meal at one of the restaurants in the Barrio Pesquero.

2 With more than 60 beaches along this coastline, you're sure to find one to suit you. After more than 25 years in the area, we're still finding little surprises, such as tiny Santillan or Sable. If there's a chiringuito (a shack-like beach bar), don't miss out on a portion of rabas, crisply fried calamari – the taste of summer.

3 If it's not quite the perfect beach day, head inland through the Hermida Gorge to Potes and the Picos de Europa, with their Mediterranean-like micro-climate. Or just pop over to the next valley or beach – the weather can often vary dramatically within a few miles.

4 The valley of Liebana, centred on Potes, is rich in flora and fauna. For a wonderful introduction, take a guided walk with Teresa Farino (iberian wildlife.com), author of the Picos de Europa Sunflower guide.

5 The valleys of the Saja and Nansa rivers are exceptionally scenic and have some of the prettiest villages – Carmona being a prime example. In the east, the valleys of Miera and Ason are equally dramatic and unspoilt.

6 Wherever you go in Cantabria, you'll find the typical, family-run village bar/shop. Seemingly open at all hours, with no Sundays off, they sell more than meets the eye. Have fun sipping a blanco – similar to a dry sherry – as you go through your shopping list. Look out, too, for the vans that zoom around the villages selling excellent fresh bread, fish, fruit, veg, wine and more.

7 Take the passenger ferry across the bay from Santander to the lovely beaches of Somo and Pedreña – it's a great way to appreciate the wonderful setting of the city with its belle époque buildings and palaces. If you're staying east of Santander, this is the way to visit the city – great fun and no parking problems.

8 If you've been to Barcelona and enjoyed the wonderful Modernist architecture, lovely Comillas is the place for you. Here you'll find works by Gaudi and his contemporaries. It's got a well-kept old town, a sandy beach, and a little fishing harbour, too.

9 The menu del dia in Cantabria is fantastic value, at €8 to €12 (£7-£10.50) a head – and ideally enjoyed at lunch in the proper local style. Don't be put off by external appearances – just go through that dark doorway behind the bar and you'll find tables laid ready.

10 Be a bit British and beat the crowds – beachside restaurants that are overflowing at 2pm are often deserted at 1.30pm. The same goes for just about everything. If you're out by 10am you can take your pick of the beaches, enjoy empty roads, even take the cable car at Fuente De without too much of a queue.

To get further information about holidays to Spain and to other destinations, visit the website of Aito (Association of Independent Tour Operators) at aito.com.