Santillana del Mar
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Santillana del Mar "the prettiest village in Spain" - and to this day, it remains one of the undisputed highlights of Spain's northern coastline. Santillana del Mar is tiny - only six blocks long, and home to just 4,000 permanent inhabitants - and makes a wonderful base for exploring the alluring Cantabrian coastline. In the village, which is full of gorgeous Romanesque architecture lining ironstone streets, locals still sell fresh milk from open stable doors, and well-heeled visitors have the chance to spend the night in one of Spain's grandest paradores (the Parador de Santillana), a converted 17th century mansion offering luxurious and unforgettable accommodation. Santillana del Mar is also the closest urban area to the Cuevas de Altamira (Altamira Caves), featuring amazing Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, and often dubbed 'the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art'. Because Spain's northern coastline doesn't see nearly as much annual tourist activity as its southern coastline, independent travellers keen to avoid the crush of sun-seekers on the Costa del Sol are strongly encouraged to visit Santillana del Mar, which offers a relaxing seaside atmosphere as well as the chance to feel as though you've truly 'escaped' the hustle and bustle of the modern world.