Pereda Gardens Park by the Botin Centre

There’s something special about great city parks in the Summer and this year I’ve been more than happy to explore the newly re-opened Pereda Gardens in Santander beside the Botin Centre. The space has been THE topic of discussion with everybody in the city and the subject of much commentary on social media locally. One month in, it’s about time you saw what all the fuss is about.

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain bandstand

Mature trees and the structured pathways. It doesn’t seem too controversial from inside the bandstand in Pereda Gardens in Santander, does it?

Who was Pereda and how old is the park?

The park is named after one of Cantabria’s best-known writers, Jose Maria de Pereda (1833-1906). I mentioned him in the Raqueros post because some of his characters in the novel ‘Sotileza’ were the children who dived into the water searching for coins. His writing (initially as a critic, later as an editor and journalist, and finally as novelist) brought him fame throughout Spain. The writer was honoured in this city with the naming of the new ‘Paseo de Pereda’ Avenue in 1903 and just two years later, the ‘new’ park was named ‘Jardines de Pereda’ or Pereda Gardens. This whole area had been a docking area for boats until the land was reclaimed from the sea in the late 1890s. Have a look at the brilliant slideshow by local newspaper El Diario Montañes that captures its transformation from water to parkland. And while you are there, check out the petrol station in slide 14 and 15 that has received a bit of a face-lift as well. More on that later…

Where are the Pereda Gardens?

Slap bang in the middle of Santander. Think London’s Green Park or Dublin’s Stephen’s Green, although I should say it’s one quarter the size of Green Park and half the size of Stephen’s Green. At 11 acres, it’s not that much space, but it’s in an extremely privileged location. Even if you’ve only got an hour or two in the city, I guarantee you’ll be stopping by this patch of green.

paseo de pereda santander botin centre jardines gardens park

Up until the 1890s, there were boats docked where you see the traffic now on Paseo de Pereda. The park is reclaimed land

Why the Re-design?

You’ll have heard me go on about the Botin Centre here before. If not, you can pop over to my posts here and here. Basically, a new cultural centre is being built in the city and that (along with the tunnelling of a road) has prompted a re-design. The original plan was for the centre, tunnel and park to be opened at the same time but there have been a few delays with the centre itself.

The man responsible for the park’s re-design is Madrid-based landscape architect Fernando Caruncho. He was hired by Renzo Piano, the architect for the Botin Centre. Both Piano and Caruncho enjoy playing with water, professionally speaking. The brief for Caruncho (in my mind at least) was to make Piano’s objective of uniting the city to the bay a reality. In doing so, he had to absorb the new space created by tunnelling traffic underground, while respecting elements of the old park such as the trees and statues. All of this had to happen while the underground tunnel was being built and the construction of the Botin Centre was (and still is) going full throttle. If you see my photo of the building site taken back in January, you can see how forlorn the gardens looked. A very different picture to what you see below…

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain

The chunky red stencilled letters saying ‘creativity’ tell me this is less of a garden and more of a ‘art space’. I doubt it was planned by the designer but the stencils are the scene for lots of family photos with kids perched up on top of the letters or between them. The letter ‘v’ in ‘creatividad’ is a handy one for the small ones to sit inside

Cheeky, Irreverent, Fearless and Playful – at the Same Time

I suppose I should give you a disclaimer here. I’m not a gardener although I am very interested in parks from an urban planning point of view. If you are looking for detail, I can tell you that you’ll find magnolias, holly, palm trees, cedars, chestnuts, pines, boxwoods, yews and lime trees here and that 141 of the 262 trees in the park have been newly planted.

I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one clawing the ground to get inside the park on inauguration day one month ago. There was quite a crowd of us waiting in 30 degrees heat at 4.30pm on July 22nd when the workers finally cut the plastic clips and hauled off the fencing. Less than a metre in, we quickly saw that this was much more than just a re-planting exercise. It’s all about the space.

It’s feels more like an extension of the Botin Centre that curiously precedes the opening of the centre itself. Handily, it offers many clues as to what to expect when the buildings open in 2015. Take the new paths for example. Blue concrete treated with copper sulphate and iron. The romance of the Pereda Gardens has been replaced by a boldness. Of course, bold isn’t always popular and the paths have been the source of much discussion. The colour was chosen to represent the sea and act as a guide leading us towards the water but the coating and shade of blue isn’t ticking everyone’s boxes.

Playing with the Sea

A park without a playground is a very sad park in my mind. And when it comes to intergenerational hangouts in the city, this is where it happens. Outside of holiday-time, you’ll find more grandparents chasing around after kids in the playground than parents – which says as much about the demographics of the centre as it does about childcare. The old crowd pleaser, the Pirate Ship, which entertained my own three during the toddler phase, has been anchored elsewhere, but the sea-theme has been strengthened. The Pereda Gardens playground looks set to being as busy or busier than its predecessor. (I should mention that these photos were taken during naptime so they don’t reflect the throngs of kids that enjoy the space. You wouldn’t be able to appreciate the space if I showed you the pics from peak playtime.)

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain

The Wave is a huge climbing frame that pays homage to the sea, its waves stretching out in the direction of the bay.  I haven’t tried it myself, but just before the park was re-opened, I saw lots of adults zooming down – I suppose they were testing it! If you are wondering what’s in the background, it’s the scaffolding for the Botin Centre and the temporary stage at the end

I’m not sure how many kids were accommodated in the old playground but this new space of 800 square metres (up from 320 in the old park, I am told) is designed to handle 150-180 kids at any one time. On opening day, it seemed like double or triple that number were putting each apparatus to the test. My kids certainly enjoy the area, which caters well for all kids under 12, although it feels a little smaller in terms of space rather than bigger. I have been back to the park quite a few times since the first day – and the playground is always really busy.

Pereda Gardens Botin Centre Santander Spain carousel merry-go-round

I don’t really need to tell you to keep an eye out for the old-fashioned carousel. It’s so big you can’t avoid it! It’s nice during the day and spectacular at night when it’s beautifully lit

For me, the best part of this playground re-design is its proximity to the new café – allowing the addled parents and grandparents to sip on a drink while the kids play. Previously, you had to drag the kids off the rides to have a dose of caffeine, as there wasn’t a clear line of vision to the playground. (The coffee-to-go-revolution hasn’t had much success in Santander).

And when I say coffee, you can of course interpret that to mean a Martini, beer or a gin and tonic – depending on the time of day. I’ve seen quite a few parents catching up with friends well into the evening while the kids hang out on the swings. This is happening for a few reasons. First this bar is open later into the night. Secondly, the Botin Centre scaffolding is blocking some of the cold sea breezes and even the fog that used to sweep in to the park at dusk. And finally, the play area used to be beside a road that has now been tunnelled under the park. It’s never been so safe.

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain playground

The funky Sea Algae is designed for kids to climb on and weave around by footrope. To the right is the equally funky new café. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know how much I love this little structure that was a petrol station. Behind you can see the Botin Centre more clearly

The Café in Pereda Gardens

I’m not one for getting very excited about cafeterias – much as I like them. But I formed an emotional attachment with this one before it was re-incarnated. The moment the partitions came down, my eyes were locked on the ‘new’ café. You see, up until a year ago, it was a petrol station. It’s become my favourite section of the park.

cafeteria gasolinera petrol station Santander Spain

This little gem of a café, perfectly located between the playground and amphitheatre, had secured a little place in my heart

pond water pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain

A more soothing shot of the café hidden behind the trees. Please don’t ask about the ducks. They are gone and I don’t think they’ll be back – despite the pleas for same on social media

I love it because, in a park that has sections that scream shiny and new, it offers a curious connection with the past. The stunning ellipse design has coped extremely well with its re-purposing. It still echoes its original design but rather like it were in a gallery, it’s been draped in a neutral matt white. You can see it in its original glory in the earlier slideshow  (images 14 and 15). Built in the 1959, the design is attributed to Juan Jose Resines, a busy architect who designed the 1958 Tabacalera building that I always admire from the bay.

Petrol stations and petrol station conversions have a huge cult following and have become the focus of many a photography project and documentary. I recently came across the 2012 Kings Cross Filling Station conversion or KXFS as it is called and TIME magazine’s Gas Stations through the Years is also nice.  Within that context, it’s great to see this little gem from Santander is still standing. It was added to the DOCOMOMO register in 2010 but when the early conceptual design for the Botin Centre and the re-design of the park was being discussed by the powers that be, the curvy structure wasn’t originally considered worth keeping. In stepped the city’s architects and thankfully sense prevailed.

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain cafe

With my back to the bay, by the café, looking onto Plaza de Alfonso XIII (which is also referred to as Plaza de las Farolas). I like the colours picked up in the furniture. Will these colours be used inside the Centre also?

I love its curviness. And I’ve been told by people in the know that it’s the perfect location within the Pereda Gardens grid for such a feature. In fact, had it been taken down, something else would have been put in its place to provide a focal point within the space. When I heard this, I immediately thought of Jeff Koons’ Puppy in front of the Guggenheim. While it’s not as cuddly as the Puppy (and I’m sure Renzo Piano is sick to his back teeth of hearing comparisons with the Guggenheim and I do my best to keep them to a minimum) I’d be very happy for the café to be an icon for Santander in the way that the Puppy is for Bilbao.

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain cafe

The café is also close to the new purpose built outdoor fair and exhibition space that has hosted the antique book fair and the crafts fair over the past month

Botin Centre Pereda Gardens Jardines Santander Spain

Lots to observe from this re-hydration point, when you need to put your feet up…

The Interaction between the Botin Centre and the Gardens

As I said earlier, the Botin Centre isn’t opening until 2015 although we do have a better sense of how the park will interact with the Centre since the opening of the park. For the most part, it will be as expected – the Botin Centre will be hidden by the trees in the park. Let me show you what I mean…

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre site trees Spain

This might strike you as being pretty obscured but until recently it was impossible to get this close. You can appreciate from this angle how the trees camouflage the buildings that sit on stilts. I’m up on the bandstand to get a bit of height here and see over the wall

trees pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain

I crouched down to get this shot – it difficult to see either of the buildings when looking straight ahead at the bay – just as the architect Renzo Piano said it would be

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain stage

No need to crouch or get up on a bandstand from this angle. I’m northwest of the building and this is where it’s wide and bulky. Here you can see the temporary stage that will be replaced with a large cinema screen when the Centre is completed. Hidden behind the grass is the sunken amphitheatre. BTW If you like the proximity of the building to the bay, you’re going to enjoy the viewing platform that will stretch out over the waterfront

Pereda Gardens Botin Centre Santander park Spain

Since the park has opened, this is how close you can get to the Botin Centre construction site. I like the cactus-like look the scaffolding provides

Connecting the City to the Bay

The creation of new paths and re-opening of old walkways to the bay is the highlight of the re-design for many. Here’s what that means in practice:

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain paths

A nice example of linking the city to the bay – this is one of the new pathways to the waterfront. There used to be a road running parallel to the bay here that was not just busy but was also noisy. The scene above couldn’t be more different. I’m not sure how much it will change when the Centre is finished but I love the line created here

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain crane

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it until I saw it again. This is the 30-ton stone Old Crane from 1896. The Sheldon & Gerdtzen design was hidden away inside the perimeter of the building site for the past while. Not only is this crane protected in the city development plans but it is much loved by residents and visitors to the city

Bay sea pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain

Wish you were here? This section of the pier has been sealed off for over a year so Santanderinos are very happy to be able to stand or sit here and enjoy this stretch of the bay

Pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain

And now we can walk from the park to the Palacete del Embarcadero, designed by Riancho (one of the two architects responsible for the Magdalena Palace) and built in 1920. This is where you get a boat to the Puntal or take a cruise across the bay. As you can see, there’s still a bit of partitioning over on the left…

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain tunnel

Here is the mechanism for the new walkways. This tunnel takes the road that ran alongside the bay by the little petrol station underground. While most residents and taxi-drivers seem happy, there are a few people voicing their concern about the visual impact of the tunnel. And the mouths of the tunnel or the openings do create ‘no-go-zones’ for pedestrians above ground. Why do cars create more problems than they seem to solve in a city?

It’s Not All Shiny and New

Although much of the park seems like it’s fresh off a catalogue, there are many mature elements to this space as well. The trees are the most obvious example. The old iron benches are still there. And the statues remind us that this space is over 100 years old.

Pereda Gardens Botin Centre Santander Renzo Piano trees designer

When it all seems a bit 21st century, I look up to see a bit of unruly nature

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain statue

Here is Pereda getting lots of attention on the opening day of the Pereda Gardens on July 22. I think there were some drummers in action beside him which attracted the crowd. The 1911 sculpture is by Lorenzo Coullaut Valera who is best known for his statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Madrid’s Plaza de España. I wonder what Pereda thinks of the new park and what’s going on behind him. He has seen many a re-design from this perch of his

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain Concha Espina

My favourite monument (by Victorio Macho in 1927) is that of writer Concha Espina (1869-1955) who looks lovely here bathed in sunlight. Her life story reads like a good novel in itself – no shortage of drama and swapping of political allegiances

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain statue

A much more desolate female figure by Santander-based sculptor Jose Cobo Calderon from 1989. Herself and her six buddies used to be on a roundabout in front of the Ferry Station. They are part of the Monument to the Fire and Re-construction of Santander – I blogged about the 1941 fire last Summer. The sculptor’s most popular work in the city is his series of Raquero sculptures which I have also blogged about

Lots Done. More To Do

In addition to popping over to the park quite a few times over the past month, I’ve enjoyed reading about Fernando Caruncho, the man responsible for the re-design. I was interested to read his objective for the space:

“An old public garden should always preserve and value those milestones of the individual and social memory that connect the past with the present and the future. This is what this project is intended to do: unite present and past in the aesthetic forms of the 21st century, opening it to the future” (Botin Centre, July 22; my translation)

Pereda Gardens Botin Centre Santander Spain park paths

Early days in the park and landscape-designer Caruncho’s blue paths are very prominent while the plants are bedding in. Incidentally he prefers to be known as a gardener rather than a landscape designer

Although he speaks about the future, Caruncho is a man inspired by Greek mythology and classical garden design. He had originally started studying philosophy before switching to landscaping. You won’t find much meadow or wild planting in a Caruncho garden and it’s not the type of place you typically throw down a picnic blanket (although I saw a couple lying out there on beach towels last Friday). That said I’ve enjoyed looking at his planting in curved contours rather than straight lines. His style certainly lends itself to Mediterranean spaces and I wonder how much of a challenge it has been to switch into Atlantean mode.

pereda gardens Santander Botin Centre Spain

Looking very 21st century in this image. I shouldn’t be picking out the industrial elements in a park really but I do like the lines created here. When the scaffolding is taken down from the buildings behind and we are left with the polka-dot exterior, it’ll be even more edgy

Having read that Caruncho is usually praised for his use of grids, water and light and the harmony he achieves in a garden, I wonder whether that will be the case in Santander. I can see the grid system he has put down in the park already and when the grounds of the Botin Centre opens, I’m sure we’ll see lots of playful interaction with the water. Light is a trickier one for Caruncho to manipulate being in the North of Spain – is that’s why he chose the pale-blue shade of paving? It’s far too early to expect or look for harmony – we’ll have to wait until the last crane and dumper truck leaves the site and the plants have a while to bed in before any real assessment can be made. For now, he has succeeded in creating a singular stand-alone space that is attracting hundreds of residents and visitors every day.

What do you think of the park? Are you a fan?

Santander Cantabria Spain Botin Centre Pereda Gardens Park

If you haven’t been already, take yourself for a stroll and decide for yourself whether you like the new park…


  1. suesharpe04 · · Reply

    I’m so glad that they made the old petrol station into a café – It was such a quirky landmark! The park looks lovely, I can hardly wait to see it next year.

    1. Me too Sue! It would have been such a shame to let it disappear. I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks against the Botin Centre when it’s unveiled next year…

  2. Great post, Pam! If we can get away from gardening, painting and other home maintenance projects here in Ajo, we’ll take the ferry over and check it out! Thanks!!

    1. Thanks Tom 🙂 Cast an eye over the Centro Botin’s events calendar as there’s still lots of events in the Summer programme running throughout September

  3. Ken Baldwin · · Reply

    Great post Pam. I like the new park but funnily enough I got a sense that there were less trees or maybe that trees had been replaced with other species. Some trees seem to be missing. The play ground does feel a lot smaller. A few more swings wouldn’t go amiss and stuff for younger kids. Our kids loved the new playground but I miss the shade provided by the trees around old playground. This new one is exposed and on the sunny day we were there we had to be sure the kids had plenty of sunscreen. The petrol station conversion is terrific and I’m glad it was kept though the woman working there is a piece of work. The one who also operates the carousel. I witnessed her ripping in to some tourists who had dared to stand up for a moment on the carousel to take photo. It was so over the top and abusive I’m sure their trip to the new Pereda Gardens and Santander city will have been marred forever by the experience. Looking forward to the opening of the Botin centre and your thoughts. Hopefully it will be a great space.

    1. Hi Ken,
      I agree the play area does feel smaller than before and although the tree headcount is higher, many of those are recently planted and will take some time to mature. Glad you enjoyed the petrol station conversion. It’s a pity the staff in the park weren’t friendlier and more helpful. The city’s future in tourism depends on everybody going home and talking positively about their stay and it sounds like there’s are few visitors who might not be doing that. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  4. Jude Crowther · · Reply

    Nice post Pam. So glad to hear that old petrol station has been swapped for a café. Good to know I can easily fill up my tank with some caffeine as my daughter runs around there. Shame to hear about the poor manners from service staff. It’s something that really does get on my nerves!!!

    One thing I was aware of in the old park was how unpleasantly chilly it could turn in such a short space of time. My daughter would be running around and sweaty one moment and within a short space of time it felt like the temperature dropped suddenly and a nasty chilly breeze would be whipped up. Looks like that wont be a problem anymore.

    Thanks for the informative post. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Jude. Thanks for stopping by the blog and commenting. I love your description of filling up the tank with caffeine! Re: the poor manners, I know exactly what Ken was describing and it gets on my nerves too – although I have been lucky the last few times I’ve been there. It’s great that the building site blocks the breezes from the playground area – handy for us parents hanging around and good for the kids too. Although with the lovely weather we’ve been having this month – we could probably do with a sea breeze or two still. Cheers again for the feedback 🙂

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