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Beloved for its beaches and tapas, siestas and fiestas, Spain has much more to discover. Explore Roman ruins and Islamic-era art and architecture, volcanic islands and secluded coves, cliff-hanging villages and vast vineyards, world-class museums and Michelin-starred eateries, all under the warm sun that infuses you with the Spanish love of life.
Spain is passion and art, holding centuries of tradition in both. Whether it’s architecture or painting, dance, sports or cuisine, you’ll find a city or a village, a museum or a concert hall, a restaurant or a beach bar where passion finds its expression. All of this in an environment of sunshine and sea, jagged mountains and wide plains. In Spain, there is a surprise around every corner – a Moorish wall on a Catholic cathedral, Picasso’s work in a 16th-century palace, a village set in an extinct volcano, a 116-arch Roman aqueduct made with no mortar or industrial areas transformed into skyscrapers for startups. Come evening, Spaniards take time for their paseo, a stroll along the nearest promenade, then a meal with wine and conversation with friends, to feed and refresh both body and mind.
Explore the entire history of Europe in Spain, which was settled by Iberians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Goths and Moors, to name a few, and each left their mark on architecture, cuisine, culture and more. Close to Santander, see the colourful prehistoric paintings in the caves of Altamira. The Greek city of Empuries adorns the coast near Barcelona, or visit Roman amphitheatres in Málaga and Tarragona. Descend below Barcelona into the Roman city at the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat. Once the centre of an independent Muslim taifa kingdom, Zaragoza retains the 11th-century fortress-palace called the Aljafería, with geometric designs and delicately carved flowers, and Granada is home to the vast and inimitable Alhambra, and Córdoba to a combination mosque-cathedral. The dramatic Gothic shipyards of the Museu Marítim make Spain’s exploration and shipping prowess come alive. Seville is famed for spirited flamenco, born of a melange of cultures but now quintessentially Spanish. Fast-forward to modern art and architecture and see the whimsical works of Gaudí in Barcelona, Picasso in Málaga, Gehry in Bilbao and Calatrava’s futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in Valencia. Or walk through all of art history in the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid with must-see masterpieces by Velázquez and Goya, Titian and Rubens, Monet and Degas, Dalí and Chagall.
Spain’s seaside has many faces – the southern coast has at least six different stretches, from the sunny (obviously) Costa del Sol through the golden Costa Daurada to the craggy Costa Brava, and it turns the corner just after Gibraltar to become the windblown Costa de Luz on the Atlantic. In either direction from Málaga alone, you’ll find 26 beaches with the prestigious EU Blue Flag designation. Or of course you can also choose among Spain’s islands for your beach holiday –Tenerife, in the Canary Islands off Africa, boasts an arid southern coast, lush green hills in the north and the Teide volcano in the middle. Lesser known Fuerteventura, the second-largest of the Canaries, is a Biosphere Reserve that enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. Meanwhile in the Mediterranean, spend your days stretched out on the sand in a cove or on a yacht on Ibiza for a siesta before you watch the sun set, then hit the bars and clubs. Or choose Mallorca, where there are long stretches of golden sand in the north and south, secluded coves in the east and rugged cliffs in the west with tiny beaches you’ll have to hike to. Spain has a seaside destination for everyone – surfers, wind- and kitesurfers, sailors, scuba divers, whale-watchers, dolphin and turtle fans, toddlers and teenagers, party animals and holidaymakers looking for a spa or spiritual experience.
Inland Spain is no less impressive than its beaches. In the hills not far from the coast, go back in time to visit medieval walled villages such as Morella and Vilafamés near Castellón, Besalú and Vic near Barcelona. Some of Spain’s most impressive fortresses overlook the water, such as the walled citadel perched on a peninsula at Peñíscola, or the castle guarding the cove at Tossa de Mar. Don’t miss the awe-inspiring town of Ronda, which clings to a cliffside not far from Málaga, and is reached by an 18th-century bridge. The adventurous may attempt the Caminito del Rey, a once-perilous walkway along the steep walls of the El Chorro gorge, completely renovated for safety in 2015. Above Barcelona, make your pilgrimage to Montserrat, whose jagged peaks are the dramatic backdrop to the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria. You can hike or take a cable car, or go beyond Barcelona to the Pyrenees, even directly to the skiing and hiking paradise of neighbouring Andorra. If long-distance walking appeals, there’s the Camino de Santiago of northwestern Spain, or why not invent your own meditative journey?