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Eh viva Espana for Spain Holidays

Few countries offer more choice to the visitor than Spain. It is a living passport to lush forests, wild mountain peaks, busy cities crammed with great art and architecture, and endless stretches of laid-back beach resorts.

Most tourists still come for the beaches and year-round sunshine. Still, many explore further afield, drawn by Spain’s rich cultural heritage and spectacular countryside where fascinating old towns and quiet villages sit in exquisite settings offering a prodigious variety of scenery.  

With food and wine being such a big part of Spanish culture, it is little surprise that almost 20% of visitors are attracted by the country’s gastronomic delights. With nearly 4,500 wineries across Spain, the vineyards cascade down hillsides, supplying the many innovative restaurants and boutique hotels dotted across the landscape.

For the sun worshipper, finding a beach on the Iberian Peninsula that isn’t occupied to some degree is almost impossible. Still, Spain’s greatest attraction has much more variety than the brochure images suggest. Long tracts along the Mediterranean coastline may have been over-developed, but many delightful pockets remain.

Enjoy a fiesta of Spain Holidays

In northwest Spain, the region of Catalonia is best known for Barcelona, which still maintains its number one city destination position by some distance, with over nine million overnight visitors and twice the number of day trippers, many of whom arrive on a continuous stream of cruise ships. This iconic city’s attractions are not hard to find, with the Sagrada Familia being the big draw, standing as the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world. Add wondrous architecture by Antoni Gaudi and the city’s compact Gothic Cathedral, plus the most famous thoroughfare in Spain – Las Ramblas, and you have a cultural overload accompanied by some of Europe’s best restaurants. Barcelona also claims to have the most incredible collection of Art Nouveau buildings of any European city and continues to sizzle with creativity. The region’s attraction is obvious with the bonus of several great beaches nearby on the Costa Dorada and Costa Brava, generously peppered along the way with wild picturesque craggy coves. Nearby Sitges and Girona offer contrasting distractions from busy Barcelona to add to a city stay.

Girona’s medieval and Jewish quarters attract considerable attention, the latter being one of the most picturesque sections. At the same time, the markets and cafes provide an authentic taste of urban Catalonia, and although Sitges may be a party town in July and August, it retains a classy feel during the rest of the year.  

Much further inland, everyone knows the wine of La Rioja, but few tourists can place the region on a map. Located in north-central Spain, this relatively small area offers much more than the 500 wineries it supports. It extends well into the neighbouring Basque Country and Community of Navarre, with beautiful, enticing villages and historic castles. 

In central Spain, the region of Castilla y Leon is the largest in the country, bordering Portugal and stretching towards Madrid, where some of Spain’s most magnificent architectural sights can be found among the cobbled streets of the stunning University city of Salamanca sitting beside its two cathedrals which seem to glow in their characteristic golden stone.

Travelling further west, Galicia is a region situated on the northwest coast of Spain, just above Portugal. It has its own language and distinctive culture and is home to Santiago de Compostela, one of the country’s most beautiful and magical cities. This is also the start and end point for over a quarter of a million walking pilgrims who trek the Camino de Santiago trail, an extensive network of ancient routes stretching from near Biarritz in France to SantiagoLa Coruna and Vigo are two other distinct towns worthy of a visit in the region. At the same time, the fishing port of Cambados is home to Albarino, Galicia’s delicate white wine.

Madrid, a city of only 3 million people and a region in its own right, is, perhaps, surprisingly the highest capital in Europe, offering cool winters and hot summers. Seemingly too grand for those who choose Barcelona, Madrid has become its own again with new restaurants, swish hotels, world-class exhibitions, and an abundance of parkland. It is perfect for a city break or as a base to venture into the surrounding regions of La ManchaExtremadura or Castilla y Leon.

Made famous by the adventures of Don Quixote, the plains of the region of Castilla La Mancha are laid out west of Madrid. Home to the iconic windmills of La Mancha stretched out along the ridge above Consuegra, this landlocked area is the second largest region in Spain. It is somewhat arid and sparsely populated but dotted with vineyards and castles. Only half an hour by train from Madrid but discovered on foot, the former Spanish capital of Toledo is popular as a city break destination due to its mix of museums, Renaissance buildings and churches. The town is picturesquely situated on a hill above the historic River Tagus, with a vibrant history within its city walls. Lunch on the terrace of the Parador overlooking the town across the river gives the viewer a genuine appreciation of this delightful place.

Sitting halfway down the Mediterranean coastline, the regions of Valencia and Murcia attract vast numbers of sun worshippers to their numerous beaches because of the year-round sunshine, with a range of well-known walking and cycling trails. Valencia is the birthplace of Spain’s national dish, paella, although various innovative versions can be found throughout the country. This is also where the delights of the Costa Blanca can be found, with Benidorm and Alicante high on the list and the less well-known Costa Azahar situated further north and noted for its beautiful orange groves.

Beach, city, countryside… Experience Spain Holidays

Andalucia is the region which typifies Spain in the minds of most tourists, from beaches to quaint whitewashed villages, from flamenco to fiestas. Home to two contrasting cities – Seville and Malaga, one the soul of Andalucia, the other a cosmopolitan port that has transformed itself with its blend of history and modernity. Malaga has ancient Moorish architecture, contemporary art galleries featuring its most famous son, Picasso, and bustling markets. Its profusion of quirky museums, delightful pedestrian centres, innovative restaurants and stylish hotels create a trendy bohemian atmosphere. The port area, set apart from the old centre, has dozens of shops, restaurants and bars stretching along the pier towards the open sea and is a magnet in the evenings.

Seville is the natural home of flamenco, and even though the dance has artists all over Spain and beyond, it is a uniquely Andalusian art form traditionally performed by gipsies. To experience the best flamenco in Seville, the visitor should be guided by recommendations and choose a small, intimate setting. To be seated in a tiny front room hidden away in the narrow alleyways with only a dozen other guests, being treated to what feels like a personal performance of flamenco, is one of the great experiences in Spain.   

Undoubtedly, Granada and the Alhambra are the jewels in Andalucia’s crown and leave an indelible mark on all those who have the good fortune to visit. Much has been written about the city with its rich history and incomparable charm, but without seeing it, it isn’t easy to understand the grandeur of this hilltop fortress.

However, a whole other world awaits beyond the coastal beaches and big towns and cities of Spain. For those who venture away from the beaches, the country rewards the visitor in many surprising ways. If you wish to experience the real Spain of old, there is no better way than to stay in some of the 90-plus Paradors covering most of the countryThese restored castles, monasteries, convents, fortresses and manor houses, all government-owned, offer a good standard of accommodation and some of Europe’s most atmospheric and romantic stays.

As George Orwell said, ‘I’d rather be a foreigner in Spain than most other countries – how easy it is to make friends’.

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