Snow-capped mountains, limpid lagoons, breathtaking beaches, historic cosmopolitan cities and fantastic food… doesn’t sound much like the Spain that we have come to expect, but go a little further than the travel brochures and you will be rewarded with some of the finest destinations in all Europe!
A romantic land of grandeur and a fiery history that is still apparent in its inhabitants, this country has been a magnet to tourism since the 60’s. The clichéd image of bullfights and sangria still exists, as do the Costas, packed with lobster-red tourists but Spain has so much more to offer.
Madrid is not only the Spanish capital city; it is the hub of Spain, specifically constructed to be in the geographical centre of the Iberian peninsular, or Kilómetro Cero. Ignoring the suburbs, the city has maintained its open, low-rise architecture, punctuated by green parks, palaces and art galleries. Tapas bars abound and when it’s too hot in Retiro Parque, adjourn to the air-conditioned Prado Art Gallery. Walk to the west and take the cable car to Casa de Campo where the last days of the civil war were played out. Visit el Templo Debod, a real Egyptian monument rescued from the desert sands. Within an hour’s drive are Toledo, also Aranjuez and further south the high, open landscapes of La Mancha.
There’s plenty to see and do here, but whatever you do, make sure you take a week at the very least!
To Madrid’s north is the Rioja wine-growing region, then towards the coast, the Basque Country. The north is picturesque, with high mountains and rugged coastline. The alpine scenery of the Picos de Europa giving way as you travel west to the pastoral lands of ‘Green Spain’ and a coast marked with fishing villages and sandy beaches. It’s a real escape from city life.
Heading south from the famous pilgrim city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain shares a long border with Portugal. This rugged terrain was the scene of many historical Napoleonic Peninsular wars in the early 19th century and boasts many old castles.
The south is definitely where the majority of tourists go, resorts such as Málaga, Marbella, Fuengirola and Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol being extremely popular. However, head inland for the real gems of Seville, Córdoba and of course, the fantastic Moorish La Alhambra palace in Granada.
Continuing along the Mediterranean coast, passing Costa Almería and the large port of Cartagena are the other popular resorts, mainly on the Costa Blanca and Costa Brava.
Not far from the French border is Barcelona the capital of Catalonia and Spain’s second city, although if you listen to the inhabitants you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is predominant! It certainly has a lot to offer; from Las Ramblas to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church (a UNESCO World Heritage site), from world-class Art Galleries to Museums, with its Roman origins Barcelona is a great destination with a cultural heritage and provenance second to none.
Finally, no guide would be complete without the Spanish Islands, the Balearics and the Canaries. The former may be found off the Spanish Mediterranean coast, in order of size, Ibiza, Menorca and the largest, Mallorca; all firm favourites, the latter are warmly located in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of north Africa.
However, for sheer diversity, the jewel in the crown of Spanish destinations must go to the Canary Islands. Tenerife’s Mount Teide is Spain’s highest mountain and the island of Fuerteventura is surely its most sandy. Gran Canaria is a tourist paradise, whilst not forgetting Lanzarote and its wonderful beaches. Settled on and off since prehistory, this wonderful volcanic archipelago offers everything, from superb nightlife to tranquil towns, picturesque coasts and beaches to almost lunar landscapes; no matter what floats your holiday boat, the Canaries is bound to have it!