Casona de Quintana hotel in Cantabria is a secluded valley stay with artfully placed antiques, charming hosts and verdant mountain views. Idle sorts will enjoy the slow pace of rural life, city fans can head to Bilbao and activity enthusiasts can birdwatch, cave walk or hike the hilly trails.
Double rooms from £79.85 (€95), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast (€10).
Pillows are big business around here: each room has a menu with options for various feather preferences.
At the hotel
Gardens, shop and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV with a built-in DVD player, CD player and Pure Harvest or Lauren Hutton bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each room is styled with a particular ambience in mind (regal, rustic, etc) – our vote goes to the romantic Junior Suite El Castano for its feminine French feel, with whitewashed furniture, drapes over the bed and grey and white antiques. Contemporary-cool hunters will like the modern El Roble (a Junior Suite), especially its all-slate bathroom. Splash out on the Tower Suite to see how the old wooden beams were used to create an impressive centerpiece in the bedroom.
The hotel may be close to the Bay of Biscay, but the misty mountains can get muggy – wellies and a brolly may come in handy.
Buy a little bit of the owners’ chic French style in the hotel shop, selling beautiful pieces for your home, white blouses and candles, as well as preserves.
Welcome, but the trinkets and antiques may not be toddler-proof.
Admire the lush valley views alongside one of the windows.
You'll feel as though you're staying with friends or family – no need to dress up for dinner.
Co-owner Nuria heads up the kitchen, where she uses only local produce to make hearty dishes that are gracefully presented. The dining room has an airy feel thanks to high ceilings and whitewashed Provençal furniture. Elegant, feminine touches include a French dresser and a cabinet of porcelain.
Upstairs in the cosy living room of this country-house hotel is a bar with board games in the corner and a fireplace. When it's quiet, it's run as an honesty bar, though during busier months, the room will be staffed.
Casona de Quintana is secluded in a peaceful valley, just over an hour west from Bilbao…
The drive from Bilbao airport should take an hour and 15 minutes. From Santander, allow an hour. EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) serves Bilbao; for routes into Santander, try Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) or British Airways (www.ba.com).
Take a train from elsewhere in Spain to Bilbao or Santander (www.renfe.es), but getting to these remote, rural parts will be far easier by car, so pick up a hire vehicle at one of these cities.
To reach the hotel from Bilbao, head west along the coast on the A-8, then drop down south into the hills. Coming with your own car is recommended.
Worth getting out of bed for
This remote mountain setting is the perfect place to get back to nature – head into the Collados del Asón Natural Park for the area’s best hiking and cycling trails, as well as birdwatching opportunities. The wetlands of the Santoña, Victoria and Joyel Marshes Natural Reserve also play host to various migrating species in winter. Marvel at the prehistoric paintings at some local caves, or for golden beaches, try Laredo, Noja or the sandy stretch in Santoña.
Michelin-starred Restaurante la Solana at Santuary de la Bien Aparecida is where to go for innovative fine dining. Coventosa in Asón is a great lunch spot offering excellent regional food. In Santander, try Dias de Surfor tapas, international food and an impressive wine selection.
Here’s a strange thing. One minute, you’re bowling along the motorway west of Bilbao, the ports and beaches of the Bay of Biscay away down to your right. The next, you’ve taken a left turn and found yourself, for some unaccountable reason, in Switzerland. D’oh! The road twists and turns through wooded valleys, mountains rise above you, wooden and stone chalets with verandas and log piles decorate the hillsides. Cowbells clank, old tractors pull carts, dusty dogs, stray cats and chickens scavenge in farmyards.
Do not adjust your SatNav. This is Cantabria. Brochures might describe it as undiscovered Spain; this would be news to Paleolithic man, who discovered it over 20,000 years ago and left paintings in the caves to prove it. But, for all intents and purposes, it’s Switzerland in the springtime. Who knew? Even after a hot summer, everything is green: forests, meadows, hills. They even call it Green Spain. From this you’ll gather that the rain in Spain falls not on the plain, but mainly in Cantabria. 47 inches a year, on average.
We’d come to see the art galleries in Bilbao (the spectacular Guggenheim and the Museo de Bellas Artes) and thought we’d spend a couple of nights up in the hills. Which brings us back to… D’oh! After the twists and turns, down a long valley, we found Casona de Quintana, and its delightful owners, Josep and Nuria. Antique dealers from Barcelona, they moved to this 17th-century farmhouse just over 10 years ago to realise their dream of running a small guesthouse, where Nuria would cook and Josep would manage the hotel.
Their dedication is everywhere: each room (there are eight) is tastefully and beautifully arranged with antiques and linen. Two junior suites have glazed terraces where you can read in the sun (or the rain) and the spacious master suite, with its own outside terrace, is in the old tower. Everything is neat and clean in wood and stone, the ambience simple and charming. Forget cool, hip, contemporary: think rustic, charming, quiet, peaceful. A grass terraced garden winds up the hill behind the house, but there is no pool. The weather’s not hot enough, says Josep. You’d only use it for a few weeks a year. He plans to put in an outside Jacuzzi soon.
The bright gallery dining room looks out over the valley at the hilltops (and wind farm) opposite. Here, dinner is served at 9pm (this is Spain; it can, of course, be requested earlier) – delicious, simple three-course country fare (tuna carpaccio, onion tart, risotto, stew, figs with honey) – all cooked by Nuria. At nine the next morning, the croissants arrive and continental breakfast is served. For lunch, you need to venture 20 minutes down the valley to one of the larger towns.
Josep is always around to ask if you need anything, if you’re getting the sense that the Casona’s not geared up to provide full-on five-star service round the clock. So kind and gentle were our hosts that we felt almost embarrassed to bother them; but it’s a long time to wait for dinner at nine if you haven’t requested an earlier sitting. Nuria will happily do you a small picnic, or rustle up a sandwich if you ask in advance. Since guests are expected to be off exploring during the day, particular as it is only an hour’s drive to Bilbao, Santander and San Sebastián, most folks usually opt for the local dinnertime.
Quintana is one of two dozen hamlets dotted around the valley of Soba, and to call it the largest isn’t to say it’s big: when Josep and Nuria arrived here, they represented a population explosion, swelling the numbers by ten per cent. The houses fall into three categories – or, in the case of the third category, just fall; those that aren’t derelict are either in the process of rebuilding – incoming Sarah Beenys realising their dream of restoring a house in this peaceful, unspoilt valley – or are traditional farmsteads, their yards home to chickens, rusting equipment, and the odd pig. As we strolled around the village – there is only just over a score of houses in the entire place – and we met a small herd of cows ambling the other way, looking like they could barely be bothered to be milked. This is definitely off-the-beaten-track, proper rustic, ideal for walkers, bikers, birdwatchers, visitors to the amazing caves (did I mention the caves?) or those seeking peace and quiet.
The Casona is definitely more rustic-but-refined guesthouse than full-service hotel. Although funnily enough it does actually have a boutique – a sweet and lovingly created little shop selling candles, fragrances, linen and teapots. Nuria’s cooking is delicious; the entries in the five-year-old guestbook (which start off in Spanish, and then are increasingly in English) all, without exception, sing praise for the food and hospitality.
With my mystery-reviewer hat on I observed that there could be an honesty bar with a fridge full of cold drinks – and in fact there is a well-stocked bar in the living room. There was a day when we craved lunch of a simple salad off the menu, even though you can request cold cuts in the dining room, the garden or your room – but the owners’ gentleness makes this sound like carping, and I don’t mean to. What they’re offering is a home from home. And that’s what makes it so special.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Casona de Quintana’s Guestbook below.
We had an excellent stay at Casona de Quintana. We were looking for a place to stay between Madrid and San Sebastian and this was the perfect location. About four hours outside of Madrid, Casona de Quintana is located in the countryside, tucked away in the mountains. The hotel is a charming old house with a cozy downstairs area for guests to relax, read, and have a drink by the fireplace. The dining room is flooded with light, and there's a lovely outside sitting area which offers wonderful views. We only stayed one night and wish it had been longer. Dinner was three courses and only €20 per person. We arrived around 5pm and were so hungry, so the chef made us a nice plate of jamon and pan con tomate, and we enjoyed a bottle of red wine while talking to other guests.
Don't expect any modern furnishings or amenities. The rooms are well-appointed and the things that matter the most are high-quality: beds and linens, bathroom fixtures.
Stayed on 6 Oct 2018
Warm hospitality, stunning views, hearty meals. Eat dinner at the restaurant at the hotel - beautiful food.
Anything to disturb your sleep
Stayed on 17 Jul 2018
The hotel is in a very quiet rural setting. The surrounding countryside in beautiful and peaceful. The restoration was done perfectly with immaculate detail. Jose, the owner, is extremely helpful in making recommendations for things to do in the area, as well as other restaurants if looking for alternatives to the hotels gourmet dining.
Stayed on 25 Jun 2018
The setting. Total tranquility amongst Cantabrias rolling green hills. The staff were also excellent – extremely attentive. The chef went out of her way to make special dishes for me, after informing her that I didn't eat meat or seafood. Beautiful interiors. A very homely, rustic feel. Check out a few of the miradors near the hotel for beautiful views of waterfalls and mountains.
Don't expect to do much in the evening. The hotel is very much in the middle of nowhere! There arent really restaurants or bars nearby. In the summer months there's greater choice, as a lot of restaurants don't open in the evening throughout most of the year. Also, Monday in Cantabria is a dead day – nothing is open!!