It’s hard to choose just one highlight of Spain: beaches, food, culture, fiestas, majestic medieval towns, whitewashed Moorish villages, passionate locals and their love of life, family and friends – they’re all exceptional. Expect surprises around every corner and wonderfully diverse regions that are well worth seeking out.
Spain is packed with unique experiences, passionate people and rich cultural traditions, not to mention its excellent dining scene, wine-making traditions and chic cities across the country, from Madrid to Malaga.
- Seek out San Sebastian’s narrow streets crammed full of pintxo bars, counters piled high with everything from tripe to prawns. The Spanish certainly know how to eat.
- They also love to party and everyone’s invited, with fiestas a time to come together and celebrate. Sometimes they go on for days, with huge paellas being served up from tiny doorways, dancing, fireworks, music and singing.
- Toledo, in the Castilla-La-Mancha region of Spain, just south of Madrid, dramatically perches at the top of a gorge overlooking the Rio Tajo. It’s a stunning fortress city with medieval wonders at every twist and turn.
When to visit
Temperatures soar in the summer months of July and August, as do the crowds who flock to the beaches. The southern coastal regions can enjoy sunshine well into October and November. Spring is a good time to visit if you want to walk, hike or cycle through the Pyrenees.
Attarctions of Spain
Granada’s and possibly the world’s most beautiful Moorish palace was built sometime in the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 13th century and the arrival of the first king of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar, that a royal residence was built at the Alhambra. His arrival marked the beginning of a glorious period and the careful construction of the parts of the palace that still survive today. It has been carefully restored to its former glory, making it easy to see why it is one of Europe’s top tourist destinations. Walking through the serene grounds at sunrise before busloads of tourists arrive is the best time to visit. Mysterious, enchanting, romantic and a fine example of the sheer architectural brilliance of the Moors, this is not to be missed.
Cabo de Gata
Cabo de Gata Nija Nature Reserve is in the Sierra de Cabrera in Almeria, close to the intriguing Moorish town of Mojacar. Almeria is the driest region in Europe and has a desert climate with very little annual rainfall. Cabo de Gata has escaped the clutches of hasty mass development and the tourism trail. Instead there are mountains, arid desert landscapes, coves and secret beaches virtually unchanged since the area was first discovered. Not far from here is the Tabernas Desert, home to “Mini Hollywood” where many famous westerns were filmed – A Fistful Of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to name just a few.
Capital of the Navarre region of Spain, for eight days every July the city plays hosts to one Spain’s most famous festivals, San Fermin, otherwise known as Running of the Bulls. Bulls charge down the cobbled streets as revellers wearing pristine white shirts, drinking carafes of red wine watch from the safety of their balconies above the narrow lanes. Some are daring enough to run with the bulls, the sensible ones stay well away. Whether you agree with the concept or not, it really is a spectacular sight. Outside fiesta time, the city has some other worthwhile sights, along with some fantastic tavernas and bars serving up melt-in-the mouth jamon and the freshest gazpacho you’ll ever taste.
Mezquita de Cordoba
Cordoba’s great mosque is an architectural marvel. Islamic architects built it in the 8th century, creating an ornately decorated, serene escape from the outside world, unlike anything else you’ll see in Spain. Giant arches punctuate the building and there are 856 columns made out of granite, onyx, marble and jasper. The mihrab is a domed shrine of Byzantine mosaics built by Al Hakam II that famously once housed relics of Muhammad and the Koran.
The Moors, Romans and Christians all ruled over Spain during its colourful past but it was the Hasburg rule in 1516 that united the kingdoms of Spain. The 16th and 17th centuries saw the emergence of a powerful Spanish Empire and it enjoyed a period of great prosperity, becoming one of the most important states in Europe – and then globally, as it went onto discover “the New World”. Trade and commerce flourished and agriculture expanded. Between 1936 and 1939 the country experienced a bloody civil war that saw over 500,000 die. Following the financial crisis of 2008, the country’s economy plunged into recession and today there is around 20% unemployment.