Blazing sun, glinting seas and dazzling sands; Spain has everything needed for a traditional beach getaway and much more besides. Away from the sun loungers are captivating cities so diverse that being part of Spain is about the only thread that links them, and a soul-stirring landscape, which extends from the snow-capped Pyrenees peaks of the north to Europe’s only desert in the south.
Spain is covered by an extensive network of trains that reaches major cities and most large provincial towns. Buses supplement the cross-country routes, though a car will certainly provide easier access to the lesser-populated corners. If you are using public transit, be aware that services are much reduced on Sundays and holidays.
A trip to Spain can mean many different things, depending on what direction you choose to take. It may be a city break in cultured Barcelona, hard-partying Madrid, gallery-filled Balboa or spirited Seville; a beach retreat in the Balearics or Canary Islands; a massif hiking adventure in the Picos de Europa National Park or even a cycling expedition along the top-to-tail Via de la Plata pilgrimage route.
You might treat your stomach to a culinary tour of the Basque Country, sip your way through the wines of the Rioja region or marvel at Córdoba’s glorious Mezquita, a Mosque dating back to the glory days of Islamic rule here. You could gawp at Gaudi and Dalí designs, learn flamenco dancing in the sizzling south, trek along part of the famed Camino de Santiago or admire grand remnants of the once-powerful Roman Empire. And that’s before we’ve even got started on the country’s myriad of festivals, among them the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona (July) and the tomato-throwing La Tomatina festival (August).
With so much happening in Spain, you could keep returning year on year and find something new and unfamiliar every time.
Despite its popularity as a holiday hotspot, Spain still manages to conceal lesser-known delights. There is the tiny hamlet of Júzcar, for instance, in the sierras of southern Spain, whose 200-plus residents decided they actually quite liked the blue paint job their town was given for the filming of ‘The Smurfs’ movie and kept it. For empty beaches in the Canaries, try the silent, deserted shores of La Graciosa, just a half-hour boat ride from Lanzarote. In Valencia, the L'Albufera lake nature reserve is where locals go for bird-watching and to revel in the quietude before refuelling with authentic paella in one of the nearby waterside hamlets.
Like the country itself, Spain’s cuisine is multifaceted. Eating options run the gamut from sleek urban snack-style tapas bars to rustic country eateries and Michelin-starred dining temples. Outstanding fresh seafood, cured meats (like chorizo and jamón Ibérico) and tortillas (omelettes served in all kinds of ways) are commonly accompanied by a glass of one of Spain’s celebrated wines, a cold beer or sangria. Eating is a sociable affair and often involves drawn-out feasts, so be prepared to linger around the table. Barcelona’s packed La Boqueria market is world-famous and jam-packed with excellent Catalan produce.