Spain Travel Guide
Welcome to the Travel Inspires Spain Travel Guide, created by Jackie De Burca, author of Salvador Dalí at Home. Jackie has lived in Spain since 2003 and this Spain Travel Guide brings you insider recommendations from talented travel bloggers, tour guides and local experts.
Spain is an incredibly diverse country that is full of wonderful surprises for visitors; from beautiful, sunny beaches to magical natural parks, and from cities that simply ooze culture and character, to incredible events that run right throughout the year.
The reality is that if you have the time and the inclination, you could spend months each year following the trail of carnivals and fiestas, that is such an integral part of the culture and life here.
The Spanish way of life is infectious, as it is all about family, friends and fun. If you live in a small community like we do, people greet you and chat with you. Spain is also considered to be one of the top gay and lesbian friendly countries.
You may initially be attracted by Spain's beautiful beaches and fabulous Mediterranean climate, but it is easy to become addicted to one of Europe's most tempting destinations. Simply put, Spain has something for everyone.
As I write this, there are some silvery pink blossoms left on the almond trees, that are to be found in so many fields in the area where we live. The sky has been perfectly azure blue all day today, with its rays dancing on the leaves of the olive trees, that embrace our humble abode.
Spain Top Cities
Deciding on Spain's top cities is a massive challenge. Spain is full of architectural beauty, cities with fabulous old quarters, where life continues to throb away, in some ways just as it has for centuries. Our top cities are recommended and written about by talented travel bloggers and tour guides.
In this section, you can discover a selection of insider in-depth guides for Spain's capital, Madrid, and Catalonia's capital, Barcelona. In fact for Barcelona, we have two rather different guides:; one by Jessica Harding, a talented travel blogger, who has lived there for over three years. Her feature is overflowing with amazing ideas and beautiful photos. The other feature about Barcelona, is by a top tour guide, Eduardo Maturana, who unveils some of the mysteries and hidden secrets of Barcelona. Prepare to be amazed!
Madrid's highlights are wonderfully presented by top tour guide, Patricia Morcillo. Patricia's expertise and love for Madrid shines through in her article.
Zaragoza, which is a relatively undiscovered gem, is introduced to you enthusiastically by Ellie Quinn, who is another talented travel blogger. Her guide is packed with great tips and lovely photos.
Click on 38 Spain Best Cities to see our visual cities guide.
Editor's Choice: Tarragona
Spain Best Beaches
Whether it is a little, secluded cove or a vast sandy beach that does it for you, Spain has it....and plenty of them. There are still beaches and sandy coves where you can see the fishermen preparing for their day out at sea, or coming back with their catch. There are beaches which are total tourist traps, with so many facilities close by that they make the perfect choice for a lazy sunny holiday.
Travelling with younger children, you may prefer to know about Blue Flag Beaches, where you can feel more comfortable on your family holiday.
Spain also has quite a few nudist beaches for those of you seeking that liberty and all over tan!!
Here we've selected some top Mediterranean beaches, along with some Blue Flag beaches of Catalonia. Be sure to check back as this travel guide evolves. We've also included two articles about Mallorca and Menorca, where you can find fabulous beaches as well.
Eating Out in Spain
Foodie experiences here in Spain are both diverse and relatively inexpensive, when compared to many Northern European countries. Food and wine are an integral part of life here in Spain. General Franco even created a special menu for the workers, called Menu del Día, which luckily still lives on today. The number of courses and price varies to some degree, but on average you can expect a three-course meal with at least one drink (sometimes even half a bottle of wine per person) for between €9.00 to €12.00.
Olive Oil in Spain
Of course it is impossible to talk about foodie experiences in Spain, without mentioning olive oil. We are delighted that Antonio Tajuelo of 1916 Gourmet has taken time out of his busy schedule not only to introduce Spanish olive oil to you, but he has also developed an idyllic olive oil route....which includes a really superb restaurant.
By Antonio Tajuelo
One of the great secrets of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil and the largest worldwide producer is Spain. Historically, Andalusia produces approximately half of the olive oil produced in our country.
It is easy to find and see large tracts of olive trees - many of them centennial – that are one of the most fascinating landscapes of southern Spain.
Despite being a product already used in ancient civilisations, it is still a little known product in many parts of the world, although little by little it is experiencing a greater interest partially because of the general trend to seek healthy products.
It is especially interesting to experience first-hand the production process of extra virgin olive oil - olive juice - the highest quality oil produced only by mechanical procedures.
Understanding about all the necessary care during a harvest in order to have an oil of the highest quality - from pruning, flowering, rains, collecting - is an exciting journey.
To be able to see in one of Spain's multiple mills, all the processes from the picking of the olives to its packaging, is the best way to evaluate the product and its benefits.
This fat obtained from a fruit (olive) can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, is a natural anti-inflammatory, that helps prevent diabetes and many more undesirable illnesses ....
Immerse yourself in a world of aromas and sensations, which, like wine, makes you value the land and its people more. Oleotourism, like buying extra virgin olive oil, is on the increase.
This route is wonderfully authentic and should be a delight for foodies and explorers alike: An Idyllic Olive Oil Route In Western Granada, Spain
Other foodie experiences
In 2017, we were invited by Hertz, to create some specific foodie and wine routes, for the area that we are based in, which is halfway between Barcelona and Valencia. Of course, we couldn't say no! So we're excited to introduce these hidden gems to you.
Wine & Enotourism in Spain
According to top wine blog, Wine Folly, "There are over 60 different regional DOs producing everything from light and zesty Albariño to inky black Monastrell."
As you travel around, for sure you'll spot names that are familiar to you, but there is such an abundance of varieties that can be sampled, whether you do so in restaurants, or you decide to go on a wine tour.
Of course the name Rioja is synonymous with wine. Here we treat you to a wonderful article about the amazing region of La Rioja, written by a true expert and wine connoisseur, offering a real insider's perspective. Discover La Rioja: where the magic of wine happens . The author, Carol, has won the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for her tours, along with being featured in top media such as Elle magazine and USA Today. You can read about her wine and gourmet tours here: Tours in Rioja and the Basque Country.
Other wine experiences that you may be curious to explore are:
Living in Spain
Living in Spain, at least for me, is a bit similar to a relationship one might have with one's lover: sometimes there's a thin line between the things you love best and the habits that almost drive you over the edge. That said, I am still head over heels in love!
Spain is relaxed
Many people are familiar with the Spanish mañana (tomorrow) concept. Hardly any Spanish person seems to be in a rush to complete tasks, which on one hand lends itself to a relaxed feeling, but when you want to achieve something, it can be very frustrating.
I have found that the only way to deal with this is acceptance. I love living here so much and a massive aspect of this is Spain's relaxed vibe. Things to be taken seriously are food, drink, family, friends and enjoyment. What is hilarious is the level of efficiency that kicks in when it comes to setting up for the local fiestas ....
Spain is sociable
Spain has a feeling of acceptance. It is a sociable country, where it is normal to greet people and tell them to enjoy their meal; you can do this without knowing them personally. It is enough to know them by sight, and in a restaurant, it is totally acceptable to wish someone: Buen Provecho, if you make eye contact with them as you pass their table.
Spain is both beautiful & cultural
Spain is awash with amazing architecture, reflecting different eras and genres. The country is packed with gorgeous beaches and natural parks.
Spain concentrates on keeping its culture alive, and while aspects of this can vary throughout the different regions, important traditions have been passed down for hundreds of years. Attending a fiesta or two is a great way to experience some of Spain's culture and traditions.
Kissing and personal space
Kissing to greet people is the norm. This is done two times, rotating the side of the face. Personally I think this is a bit of a skill, and it took me a while to learn. There is an element of speed about it, and it should be a low impact activity. What I mean by this is that these are air kisses, you are not really meant to plant your lips on your acquaintance's face at all. I struggled with this for some time, receiving unusual reactions from some recipients.
Personal space barriers are much closer than they are in Northern countries. I like my personal space, so I've frequently found myself trying to subtly edge away a bit from some people, who aren't doing anything wrong at all.
Quality of life
The quality of life in Spain is amazing. I have never stopped feeling how lucky I am to be here. Of course, the weather is a big factor in this. It is possible to spend a lot of time outdoors. But even apart from the weather, the lifestyle is focused on enjoyment. You feel this a lot in Spain.
For visitors who have spent their holidays in the Costa del Sol or other parts of Spain where English is widely spoken, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that you don't need to speak any Spanish.
Personally, I don't believe you can truly experience a country over time and understand its people, without trying to speak at least some of the language. Apart from this, what happens to some expats here, if they have an emergency, is that they need to find the help of someone, who can speak the lingo and their own language.
This situation often becomes so extreme, that some people move back to their country of origin, especially as they get a bit older, as they start to worry about the real effect of not speaking the language.
Settling in Spain
If you're considering relocating to Spain, try to spend some off season time in your chosen location. This way you will have a more honest feeling about life there all year round. However, on this topic, I would like to introduce you to Ali Meehan, creator of Costa Women. Ali kindly agreed to an interview with us, and I believe you will find her wise words both useful and entertaining: Interview with Ali Meehan
After reading Ali's feature, you may like to check out Alan's article about: Javea Spain: as an Expat Relocation Destination
"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
Located in the very south of Spain, Andalucia is home to the Costa del Sol, where tourism kicked off back in the 1960s. Wander around squares filled with orange trees, as the aroma of orange blossom wafts deliciously through the air, and stop off for a drink and watch the world go by.
So much to offer
Andalucia has so much to offer, both on its coast and inland, where white villages abound, set off perfectly against the azure Mediterranean sky. Beaches are plentiful, and depending on the year's weather, you could be having Christmas lunch outside in the sun. Andalucía's Costa del Sol enjoys an average of 320 days of sunshine per year.
Flamenco, sangria, bullfighting, fiestas....
Think of Andalucia and visions of flamenco dancing and horses come straight to mind! In a way, many people regard Andalucia as the epitome of Spain, with its peoples' deep love for their fiestas, their passion and zest for life. Whether it is bullfighters or sangria that represent holidays in Andalucía for you, there's no doubt that its romantic, sun-blessed image lives on in the hearts of many foreigners. Even though the last few decades have seen much development and modernisation, especially in the coastal areas, the spirit of the romantic image lives on, albeit altered over the years by its booming tourism industry.
More than only ex-pat bars...
Best known for the Costa del Sol, the autonomic community of Andalucia has so much more to offer apart from English bars that charge tourists twice the price for a beer, and Costa del Tacky tourist shops. Yes I know sometimes there's a time and a place for this type of holiday, where you move yourself from your apartment or hotel, to the beach, and from the beach to bars and restaurants, for the evening's entertainment.
However even if you consider UNESCO World Heritage Sites alone, Andalucia is home to six sites, five of which are cultural and one which is natural. Not to mention its wealth of beautiful cities, seaside towns, pretty white villages, diverse natural landscape, flavours and experiences.
Did you know that in Andalucia you could be sunbathing on a Mediterranean beach in the morning and skiing in the Sierra Nevada in the afternoon?
UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Andalucia
Granada Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín Seville Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias The Historic City Centre of Cordoba (including the Mezquita) The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza Cave art throughout the provinces of Almeria, Granada and Jaen, 68 items in total. This makes up part of the Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula Doñana National Park in Huelva - a natural World Heritage site.
Within the Andalucia Spain Travel & Holidays Guide, you will find a variety of easy to reach sections such as the most beautiful cities, the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol, Andalucia's top attractions and National Parks. If you are curious about the wonderful city of Granada, check out this great feature from travel blogger, Candace Elizabeth Fykes: Granada Spain Travel Guide.
Don't miss the full insider Andalucia Travel Guide here
Our opening photo for Aragon is a little taste of what you are missing ....it is taken in the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, in Aragon's province of Huesca. In 1997, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photo credit: Les Haines
Sweeping down from the Pyrenees, where it touches the border of Southern France, Aragon is a land-locked community, surrounded by Catalonia, to its east, Navarre, La Rioja, Castile Leon, to the west, and Castile la Mancha and the Valencian Community, in the south.
Full of beautiful villages that time seems to have forgotten
Aragon was hugely historically important in Spain, yet these days, as it isn't a coastal community, it is often overlooked by the average traveller. But this is a massive shame, as it is overflowing with natural beauty and is home to a large number of Spain's officially most beautiful towns and villages.
Photo credit: Jorge Franganillo
Aragon is galaxies away from the stereotypical Costa del ...Spain, with a spirit that has been imbued by a different pace of life, in stone-built villages, that capture the imagination.
Photo credit: Juan EDC
This autonomous community is home to the beautiful cities of Zaragoza and Teruel; both of which are incredibly authentic, striking and full of wonderful things to see and do. Both are capitals of the provinces of the same name.
Zaragoza is the fifth-largest city in Spain, and apart from its impressive architecture and monuments, it offers one of the country's best tapas scene. Fransisco de Goya was born close to the city, in 1748, so Zaragoza is a top place to go to see some of his works. Travel blogger, Ellie Quinn, has written a great guide to introduce you to the gems of Zaragoza; check out Ellie's Zaragoza Travel Guide.
Photo credit: Juan EDC
Teruel is also a treat, with dinosaur remains, diverse landscapes around the province, Mudejár art and its throbbing centre, La Plaza del Torico. Teruel's pulse has been the city's heart since Medieval times, and continues to buzz with all sorts of activities. Visit and enjoy musical festivals, fiestas, charity events, painting contests and more ....Before planning a trip to Teruel, discover its famous 13th century tragic, love story: Los Amantes de Teruel.
Aragon's incredibly diverse nature
Aragon boasts an incredibly diverse range of gifts from Mother Nature, from Mediterranean forests to peaceful meadows, and from alpine peaks to inland lakes. Canyoning is a favourite activity in Aragon. Additionally, it is home to lots of interesting fauna, making it a great family adventure destination. (See the full guide to discover more)
Photo credit: Les Haines
One hour from the coast
From certain areas, in the south-east of Aragon, you can drive down to the Orange Blossom Coast in about one hour. For example, Monroyo to Vinaros. This route takes you by Morella, which is one of Spain's officially most beautiful towns and quite spectacular.
Although you will need to be prepared for the cold, February is a good time to travel if you wish to immerse yourself in the Middle Ages. Teruel has its Medieval Fiesta in February. However, be prepared, as this is one of Spain's colder areas. From the middle of June until early September are better times to visit, if you wish to go hiking in the Aragonese Pyrenees.
October is another good time to visit if you would like to experience one of the area's great fiestas. The Fiesta Del Pilar happens in the lovely city of Zaragoza, which like other Spanish fiestas, manages to balance perfectly the religious alongside the festivities.
There's a little area tha seems to be wedged between Cantabria and Galicia, on the northern shores of Spain. It was once known as the Kingdom of Asturias, and today it could be called the Almost Unknown Kingdom of Beauty! It's one of the smaller Spanish autonomic communities - it's Asturias.
Asturias is home to spectacular panoramas, outstanding beaches, exceptional food, wonderful pre-Romanesque buildings, friendly locals and the UNESCO delights of the Picos de Europa and the monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of Asturians.
Like Galicia, its verdant green landscapes are stunning. This is even more-so the case if you travel from further south, where the panorama is far drier, often with hues of reds and browns. In fact Asturias is a place which on one hand is very Spanish, but in other ways it is far more Celtic, and yet at the same time, it seems to contain many elements of Spain, all squished into one very small place.
The landscape appears more similar to Ireland than Spain really. It is certainly not stereotypical Spain, as the average English speaking tourist knows it. Yet somehow Asturias’ remarkable horizon is explained by the stunning Picos de Europa (the Summits of Europe) hills, which dominate the expansive skyline.
Asturias is a land of contrasts. From amazing nature, where you can still find bears and wolves roaming around, to its sandy shorelines and snow-covered hills, Asturias seems to have a little taste of everything. Just like the excellent food, which tends to range from the avant-garde to the most modest tapa bars you could imagine. In the daytime you could be exploring one of its three natural parks, and by the evening you could be partying away at some crazy fiesta!
And the contrasts continue. Oviedo, the capital city, which is a delightful place to visit, with its strong medieval flavour, is so different to Asturias's second biggest city, gritty Gijon.
This is a brief introduction to Asturias, check back soon as we are working on more information for you.
The Balearic Islands
Lying a little under 200 km off the east coast of Spain, the Balearic Islands are comprised of four isles, each offering wonderful holiday options, in various ways. Discover the difference between Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera.
Majorca's scenery is somewhat reminiscent of Tuscany, with Mediterranean vistas, sprawling vineyards and cute hilltop villages. The largest of the Balearics, Majorca (3,640.11 km2) may bring only beach holidays to mind, but its capital Palma is overflowing with striking architecture, culture and history, plus the island is a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors.
With an average of around 300 days of sunshine per year and a choice of around 120 beaches and coves, a visitor could be forgiven for wanting to do nothing more than loll around in the sun and relax of an evening.
Serra de Tramuntana
However, for those who wish to be a bit more active, especially when the weather isn't too hot, then the Serra de Tramuntana is a fantastic place to explore either by bike or on foot. This gorgeous part of the island is a UNESCO site.
S’Albufera nature reserve
Also, on the northeast coast, near Port d’Alcúdia, you can discover the S’Albufera nature reserve, which covers a space of 4,200 acres of wetlands, that are popular with birdwatchers, hikers and cyclists. Once in that area, you can discover the medieval town of Alcúdia, with is authentic, medieval centre.
Vineyards & traditions
For those of you who like wine, a trip inland to visit some wineries, will be a perfect day out, in beautiful surroundings, where traditions live on. Majorca is home to many stunning rural hotels, so luxurious days away from the island's dramatic coast, can be a super contrast to the beach life.
La Palma Majorca
If you approach Majorca from the sea, as I did for the first time in 2002, you'll see the magnificent sight of La Seu, the city's impressive Gothic cathedral. Palma is a lovely city, that you could easily spend a weekend break, especially if you like to shop!
A very enjoyable trip from Palma is the wooden train that takes you to the captivatingly beautiful town of Sóller, on an equally marvellous 27 km route, passing by citrus orchars, olive groves and pine forests. Sóller is home to gorgeous Art Nouveau houses, upmarket artisan shops and a harbour.
Photo credit: Mallorca Wine Tours
For those lovely lazy days on the beach, visit some of the island's best beaches, our recommendations are:
Cala Torta: turquoise water and fine white sand, set in a beautiful bay
Cala Deià: a hidden gem with a special quality of light, although the beach is shingly it attracts celebrities.
Cala Tuent: a combination of pebbles and sand, this beach lies under the shelter of pine trees.
Playa de Muro: a fine, sandy blue flag beach that seems to go on forever, a favourite with families.
This introduction would not be complete without reading an article written by one of the talented travel bloggers we collaborate with, Nicola Dunkinson. Nicola has been going to Majorca since she was a child, and now she brings her own baby there.
Don't miss out on Nicola's Majorca Travel Guide.
The most easterly of the Balearics, Menorca, is more low-key than both Majorca and Ibiza. Menorca is relatively unspoilt, with tempting turquoise waters, overlooked by pine trees and lush vegetation. Fine white sandy beaches are even welcoming off season, being pleasantly warm; inviting visitors to stroll or sit in the sun for a while.
Early adopter of sustainable tourism
Menorca embraced sustainable tourism long before the issue became mainstream. The island still feels quite rural, with whitewashed villages, rolling hills and lots dry-stone walls dividing fields. As you hike Menorca's countryside, you'll come across stone monuments that have stood there for thousands of years.
Photo credit: Record Rental Car
Coastal walks are stunning, along a coastline of 216 km, of golden and white sandy beaches, and turquoise bays. The island's terrain is not steep, making it idyllic for cycling and exploring. Follow the Cami de Cavalls, the restored medieval path, along the coast, which makes it possible to access some hidden coastal parts of Menorca and a number of spectacular beaches.
Menora is home to two beautiful cities; Ciutadella and Máhon. Ciutadella has a gorgeous old quarter, fashionable harbour-side bars and a great foodie scene. Capital of the island until the beginning of the 18th century, Ciutadella is the place to spot grand summer residences, elegant palaces and stately buildings.
Photo credit: Bare Boat Sailing Holidays
A ten minute stroll from the centre will bring you to Cala des Degollador, a small beach, liked by the locals. If you drive around ten minutes, you'll arrive at Cala’n Blanes, a gorgeous little beach, embraced by pine trees.
On Menorca's east coast lies Mahon, the capital since 1721, which has a great Gothic cathedral, many elegant 18th century mansions and fine churches. This city is the perfect choice for those of you who want a lively option, with lots of shopping and nightlife. Sash windows adorning balconied townhouses hint at Mahon's British colonial past.
Photo credit: Cruise Mapper
Beaches are within a ten minute plus drive, with the nearest blue flag option being Punta Prima or Mesquida, an idyllic cove, or further on Es Grau, which is flanked by sand dunes. (The driving time between the two cities is around 45 minutes.)
Visit the Xoriguer Gin Distillery in Mahon Port
Another remnant of British rule, was the practice of distilling gin. The British soldiers, apparently, missed being able to drink gin, so juniper berries were imported to the island and of course, a distillery was built. Gin caught on with the Menorcans, so much so that one family distilled their own brand, Xoriguer, building the distillery that you can visit today, in the 1900s.
Photo credit: London City Calling
Menorca also has a number of interesting Megalithic sites.
Menorca is the favourite place in Spain of another talented travel blogger, whom we collaborate with, Jessica Buck. Jessica has fond childhood memories of family holidays in Menorca and now in her mid-twenties, she still continues to go there.
Discover Jessica's tips for when you visit Menorca.
Sadly, or happily, depending on your age and point of view, Ibiza is known as the party island of the Balearics. On 6th February 2018, the British Sun newspaper ran an article with the following headline: ISLE BE WAITING Ibiza launches tourist crackdown and extra police ahead of holiday season: reporting that, "IBIZA is launching an unprecedented attack on the bad aspects of mass tourism and is calling for more police before the start of the summer season."
Yet on the other hand, the island is also home to places that are untouched by that raving type of tourism. Really all you need to do is avoid the party hubs of San Antonio and Ibiza town. Hire a car and actually, you can have a wonderful holiday discovering different pristine beaches every day.
Sleepy San Juan & Cala San Vicente
Head to San Juan, considered to be the last village of Ibiza, which is a sleepy, hidden gem. Located in the north, San Juan is surrounded by hills clad in pine trees. Its attraction is how laid back it is and not far away, sun worshippers can head to the wonderful beach of Cala San Vicente. Clear azure waters are embraced by golden sand, flanked by a promenade.
Photo credit: One Villas Ibiza
Incredible Italian food in sleepy San Juan
In San Juan, be sure not to miss out on a meal at the Cigale Restaurant. When you go there, it will be obvious to you that the couple who own it, Michela and Paulo, have a true love affair with food. Pasta is made fresh each day, vegetables are homegrown and fish have been freshly caught. For families, the restaurant's small playground makes for an even more relaxing meal out.
Photo credit: White Ibiza
Es Caña & Cala Martina
On the eastern side of Ibiza, lies the pretty picture-postcard town of Es Caña. White-washed homes and waterfront restaurants overlook the town's small working harbour. The town is busy enough to be entertaining, but still a pretty relaxed place. Each week the town hosts its famous hippy market.
Take a short walk from Es Caña to reach the sheltered beach, Cala Martina. This lovely beach is popular with snorkelers, divers and windsurfers, yet it is also family friendly and doesn't get too crowded.There is a windsurfing and diving school there.
Lamb chops & tomato salad
One restaurant that has built a great reputation for its food in general, is Restaurant Balafia – however it is almost legendary for serving wonderful lamb chops and tomato salad, at any time of the year. Not only is the food excellent, but the setting is idyllic in a pretty lemon grove.
Dalt Vila UNESCO
The island's capital, Eivissa (Ibiza), is where you can see the UNESCO listed Dalt Vila. Dalt Vila, in fact, means upper town, which is better explored in sensible shoes, as you wind your way through steep cobbled streets. Even though you may wish to avoid the clubbing aspect of the capital, it would be a shame not to take a day trip to see the magnificent, dramatic Dalt Vila, filled with monuments and alleys, including a cathedral and castle. As you explore it, don't forget that this place has been the site of all sorts of cultural activities for centuries.
As the saying goes, the best things come in small packages. Formentera is by far the most petite of the Balearic Islands and is considered to be Ibiza's little sister, but those sisters have very different personalities!
Europe's answer to the Caribbean
Formentera is Europe's answer to the Caribbean, with crystal clear waters and miles of gorgeous, white sandy beaches. Visitors don't come to Formentera to party and pose, they go there to feel at one with nature, finding peace and relaxation, on beautiful beaches backed with pine trees and sand dunes. On Formentera, no-one is in a hurry and the pace of life is laid-back, with a hippyish vibe. Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd were visitors in the 1970s.
Bikes are all the rage
This idyllic island is only 83 km2, and has no airport, so visitors make their way on one of the regular ferries, from Ibiza; a journey that takes about half an hour. Formentera's compact size dictates aspects of the lifestyle you can expect to enjoy there. As it is only 22 km long and in its thinnest, central section, just a couple of kilometres wide, scooters and bikes are the most pragmatic forms of transport.
Sant Francesc Xavier
Life in Formentera's capital, Sant Francesc Xavier, gravitates around the church square. The simple 18th century church, was fortified, and used to have a roof with cannons. Residents would hide in the church's thick walls, during pirate attacks. These days, local crafts people sell their artisan offerings in the church square, in the mornings. The quaint square has a lovely atmosphere, lined with bars and cafés, with pedestrianised streets where you can shop or relax.
As an island, most supplies have to be transported to Formentera, which, of course, makes it more expensive, but because of its wonderful beaches, marine life and relaxed atmosphere, the extra money seems worthwhile.
The Basque Country
Basque Country, known as Euskadi to the locals, exudes natural beauty from the innermost villages to the bustling cities to the scenic coastline. The unparalleled cultural traditions, renowned gastronomy, and unique language have allowed this region in northern Spain to remain autonomous since 1979.
The rigid coastlines, vibrant colours, modern urban cities, rolling hills and charming towns are just a few of the characteristics that have attracted tourists from around the world to this stunning region. Whether you’re looking for a city escape or a tranquil weekend getaway, the following places in Basque Country offer a little something for everyone.
The largest city in Basque Country is a great place to start your adventure. With a population of roughly 350,000, this booming metropolis maintains a small city feel. Boasting both old and new, Bilbao offers state-of-the-art, modern architecture combined with buildings from centuries past. The Siete Calles, or Seven Streets, located in the centre of the Old Town, is a great place to wander and take in the architectural diversity.
Head to the Guggenheim Museum for your dose of structural wonder. This contemporary and modern art museum features cutting-edge architecture and over 19 galleries.
For a spectacular view of the city, you can ride a gondola to the top of Mount Artxanda for less than one euro. If you’re hoping to learn more about the history of Bilbao, be sure to check out a guided tour or bike tour.
After a full day of sightseeing, the best way to unwind is to be introduced to Pintxos, which are bite-sized tapas served in bars and cafes. You can find the best of these Basque Country favourites at Cafe Bar Bilbao, or Irrintzi if you’re looking for a more modern atmosphere.
A quick, 35-minute drive from Bilbao will land you in the quaint fishing village of Bermeo. This particular region in Basque Country has been made famous by the television show, Game of Thrones. Fan or not, you’re bound to find the filming location at Gaztelugatxe exceptionally impressive. This islet, located along the Bay of Biscay, begins with a man-made bridge and ends with a church at the highest point of the island.
The Ercilla Tower is also a must see in Bermeo. Originally a 15th-century medieval tower, it is now a fishermen museum.
The must-try local cuisine in Bermeo is Marmitako, which was historically served to fishermen while they caught tuna on their boats. The main ingredients are tuna, potatoes and a type of pepper that is typically only found in Basque Country. Head to Restaurant Artza for this traditional dish, or to Kai Aide if you’re looking for a good pintxo bar.
Right around the corner from Bermeo is the world-class surf town of Mundaka. Surfers flock to this small village in Basque Country for it’s widely known surf scene, which is certainly not for the faint of heart. Rest assured, if surfing isn’t on the itinerary, this charming town offers beautiful beach views and areas for swimming.
The Hermitage of Santa Catalina, originally built in 1879 to control boat traffic, has since served as a quarantine area, ammunition storage and meeting place for fishermen over the years. Its beautiful location on the coast makes for beautiful photos.
Bermeo is located in the UNESCO named Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, so be sure to check out the unique forests, wetlands, beaches and diverse species.
El Puerto is a great place to relax and enjoy a drink right on the water after a day of exploring or Ibarralde for some delicious pintxos.
4. San Sebastián
Voted the European Capital of Culture in 2016, this Basque Country city is the perfect combination of breathtaking beaches, historical buildings, churches and a family-friendly atmosphere. Among some of the most popular things to do in San Sebastián is the Mount Igueldo Amusement Park, which is a mountainside lookout spot and amusement park all in one. Be sure to take the gondola to the top for the best views of the city.
For a white sand oasis, head to La Concha Beach, which was named one the top city beaches by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Be sure to stay hydrated and enjoy a drink at the Museo del Whisky following a delicious meal from the well known, El Quinto Pino.
If you’re up for a short day trip from San Sebastian, consider heading out to Oñati to tour the Sanctuary of Arantzazu. Nestled into the side of a mountain, this Franciscan monastery is the perfect place to soak in the cultural heritage of Basque Country.
Often overlooked by some of the other cities and towns, the capital and second-largest city of Basque Country is not one to be missed. Vitoria-Gasteiz is home to one of the best-preserved town centres with buildings dating back to the 1500s and parts of the wall dating back to the 11th century. A great way to start off your visit is to walk along the Paseo de la Senda, which is brimming with stunning mansions and palaces.
Within the city, you’ll find the Virgin Blanca Square (old square) and Plaza Nueva (new square). Here, you’ll find a multitude of busy restaurants, cafes, and bars. For something quieter, head to Sagartoki, which was named Best Pintxos Bar in Spain. El Clarete is also a great option that offers a seasonal, creative menu.
The Basque Country is an incredibly diverse region of Spain that demands to be added to every traveller's bucket list. With a multitude of accommodation options, an eclectic array of food choices, and varying landscapes, Basque Country is the perfect getaway for any type of adventure.
This Basque Country introduction is by Hannah Fitzpatrick
Hannah is a freelance writer and blogger who has a deep passion for travel, mindful living and people. Originally from Upstate New York, she’s had the opportunity to live in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and most currently, Maryland. She recently crossed country number 16 off her bucket list and is always devising a plan to fulfill her perpetual wanderlust. When she’s not busy writing or travelling, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors with her husband and puppy, exploring her local community or honing in on her photography skills.
Hannah also wrote this great article about underrated towns near Valencia.
Castile & Leon
For too long and for too many visitors, Spain has been synonymous with flamenco, sangria and sun-drenched beaches. Its Costas have been a safe haven for all sorts over the last few decades, including plenty of sun-starved tourists, who want nothing more than to lie on the beach by day and have fun by night. Don't get me wrong, I did this back in the day myself.
6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
However there are huge chunks of Spain that are sadly overlooked by the average quick-fix tourist. The autonomous community of Castile and Leon, I believe, currently falls into this category. It isn't home to Spain's capital, Madrid, nor does it have such a world-popular city destination such as Barcelona or Seville, but it has six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and lots more besides.
In search of Spanish soul
And this brings me to the question of the essence of Spanish soul. Spain is vast, and as diverse as the different personalities of some of its regions. A well-prepared traveller, who speaks some Spanish, can head to Andalucia only to discover that the locals tend to swallow half their words there. But sure between the fiestas, flamenco, sun and fun there, does it really matter?
Spend some time in Catalonia and you'll discover that these people are incredibly different to the Andalusians down south. Don't worry, Catalonia has plenty of fiestas, some of which are world-famous. But the Catalans have more of an edge, a kind of irony to both them and their fiestas. They are a very cultured, hard working bunch, with a great creative flair – if one is to generalise.
And then we could take Galicia, as another example, for some extra contrast. This autonomous community in the north-west of the country, is almost greener than Ireland. It has a number of truly spectacular spots, and is renowned for its hospitality.
But you certainly won't head there 12 months a year sun-seeking – in fact you're not really guaranteed sun there, perhaps just in July and August. But it is absolutely beautiful, and as an Irish person I can feel its Celtic heart. I know I run the risk of locals here in Spain feeling that these are generalisations, however I aim to make a point. Where is the location of the real essence of the Spanish soul?
I wonder can we pin what may be Spanish soul down to one autonomous community at all? Perhaps not. The reality is because of the history of the country, the soul has a number of veils, that can be experienced in different parts of Spain.
But if we really had to try to attach it only to one place, a bit like choosing that one disc for Desert Island discs, I think that the autonomous community would have to be Castile and Leon (Castilla y Leon). It is the land of kings and empire.
Spain heart and soul
Castile and Leon epitomises the heart and soul of Spain – of course only when one is forced to whittle it down to only one community. It is blessed with fairytale cities, amazing culture, a wonderful landscape and great food. Spectacular mountain peaks overlook vast plains, where the visitor can discover medieval gems of villages and towns.
Take the time to explore its quiet back roads, where the story of unspoilt Spain unfolds in front of you, as you discover isolated castles and quaint half-timbered hamlets. Drive southwest from the scenic Sierra de Francia to find more of the hidden Spain, that it's unlikely you've heard of, such as Calatañazor, Covarrubias and Medinaceli in the east.
An important area historically
Castile and Leon is Spain's largest region, which are more correctly referred to as autonomic communities. The community was created in 1983 when Leon and Castilla la Vieja came together, both of which were very important in Spanish medieval history.
This is evident as you travel around the area, with the large amount of castles, monasteries, cathedrals and fortified towns. For nature lovers, there are plenty of kilometres with almost virginal nature,as well as natural parks.
Castile and Leon gastronomy
Castile and Leon is a meat lovers paradise. Gastronomy focuses a great deal of excellent meat, especially lamb. However there are also vegetables and legumes, such as the famous Ávila creamy beans. Mushrooms are also important, during the season. There are a number of wine and foodie orientated routes that you can follow in the area.
Nestled in the north-eastern corner of Spain, snuggling up to the French border, is the autonomous community of Catalonia, whose capital city, Barcelona, attracts around 30 million visitors each year.
While undoubtedly Barcelona is both beautiful and magical in parts, there is so much more to Catalonia than its capital, which is currently Spain's most visited tourist destination.
Another city destination that we love is Tarragona: be sure to explore Tarragona in our first ever insider's family guide which includes a story for children and more...discover Tarragona
Spectacular coastlines & breathtaking beaches
Home to some supremely, spectacular coastlines and breathtaking beaches, Catalonia's diverse offerings and landscapes range from vibrant vineyards, to the splendour of the snow-capped Pyrenees, and so much more besides. In summer, visitors are spoiled for choice between the strikingly, dramatic coastline of the Costa Brava, where rocky paths are punctuated with pine trees perched over the ocean, or the seductively, serene, golden sandy beaches of the more southerly Costas, such as Costa Barcelona, Maresme or Dorada.
Distinctive culture & customs
Comprised of four picturesque provinces, Catalonia definitely has its own distinctive culture and customs, along with its own language, Catalan. However its population is cosmopolitan, with both international residents and many Spaniards, who relocated from various parts of Spain, making the question of independence a complex issue. Understandably many Catalans thirst for an independent state, predominantly due to culture, lineage and economics, whereas others, and those without a Catalan family-tree, question the pragmatic wisdom of such a move.*
Human castles & Salvador Dalí
But moving swiftly away from politics, if you are someone who likes to fit in as much as possible into your holiday, you could bear witness to human castles (Castellers) and then head off to immerse yourself in the Surreal world of Salvador Dalí. The prolific genius grew up in the tempting town of Figueres, embraced by the Empordá plains, but spent his dreamy summer holidays in the incredibly, charming coastal town of Cadaqués, where he truly immersed himself in the somewhat Surreal, yet dramatically lovely landscape.
Stimulating the senses
While undoubtedly Dalí was especially sensitive to his surroundings, anyone who wishes to stimulate all of their senses should consider spending time in Catalonia. If you love striking landscape and are a Dalí fan, then be sure to follow the Dalí Triangle.
Famous worldwide for its culinary offerings, Catalonia is full of fine architecture, artistic heritage, magic and mysteries, and spectacular natural beauty. The capital, Barcelona, is the sixth most visited city in the world, and it's not difficult to understand why. The capital is home to fine beaches surrounded by buzzing bars and excellent eateries, which are only a couple of kilometres away from the city's amazing architecture and superb shopping areas.
Two absolutely superb guides about Barcelona
I have visited Barcelona numerous times, since my move to Spain in 2003, but now I will hand you over to someone whose love and level of expertise about the city is far superior to mine. Eduardo Maturana is a tour guide, who has kindly written a wonderful feature, which not only gives you fabulous information about beautiful Barcelona, but it also introduces you to some of the hidden, magical secrets of Catalonia's capital city. You can read Eduardo's Barcelona guide here.
While Eduardo imparts his amazing knowledge, with his slant on some special secrets, our other superb guest guide about Barcelona, is written by the talented travel blogger, Jessica Harding, who has been living there for three years. Jessica has worked extremely hard to bring you a thorough and extremely useful guide to Barcelona. She includes tips for travellers from a non native's perspective, heaps of sights you should try to see, plus favourites bars and restaurants. Read Jessica's Barcelona travel guide.
Diverse natural landscapes
For those of you who prefer to avoid the crowded coastal and city areas, in Catalonia, you can immerse yourselves in a diverse selection of striking natural settings. From the dunes and paddy fields of the Delta de l'Ebre to the peaceful, verdant valleys which are overlooked by the Pyrenees, where you can wander, weaving your way through a natural paradise, dotted with quaint, lonely villages and romantic, Romanesque monasteries and churches.
*In writing this guide, I wish to comment on our respect for what has happened in Catalonia, especially as I am Irish, and I grew up in the times of the so-called "troubles" in Northern Ireland. That said, the purpose of this blog and all guides included within it, is purely to offer in-depth, expert information on the areas that we cover.
This introduction about the Community of Madrid has been kindly written by top tour guide, Patricia Morcillo. She has also written an excellent guide about Madrid city, which is linked just below and also, again at the end of this introduction.
Photo credit: Fernando García
The city of Madrid, located 650 metres above sea level (which makes it the highest European capital), is located in the community of the same name, in the heart of the country; don't forget that Spain is divided into 17 communities. The community of Madrid takes up a surface space of around 8,000 km2, and although it is not the largest community in Spain, it is the richest one.
The treasures of the Community of Madrid
The community of Madrid attracts more tourists every year. In fact, in 2017, some twelve million people have been captivated by the enormous and varied offerings that this region treasures; ranging from its impressive culture, good food, leafy nature, towns full of charm, museums, the possibility of practising any sport modality and, in short, the magnificent infrastructures that it offers.
Community of Madrid: sights not to miss
This community treasures up to four locations that have been declared by UNESCO as World Heritage, which are:
1. San Lorenzo de El Escorial: this is where the monastery of the same name is located, where King Felipe II lived, and where all the Spanish kings are buried. Check out more about this Madrid UNESCO Site.
2. Aranjuez: a municipality 42 km from Madrid, where its Renaissance palace and its splendid gardens stand out, where the royal family once dwelled. Learn more about this UNESCO Site in the Community of Madrid.
3. Alcalá de Henares: better known as the place where the most universal writer, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote, was born and lived for four years. There you can visit the museum in the house where he was born. ¨Discover more about this Madrid UNESCO listing.
4. Hayedo de Montejo: 250 hectares of beech forest from the Carpathians, Ukraine, Germany and Slovakia, which was declared UNESCO Biosphere, in 2017.
Madrid's mountains and sublime natural beauty
The Community of Madrid has many mountains, such as the Sierra de Guadarrama, where you can go hiking or even skiing in its Port of Navacerrada, only 60 km from the capital, or why not go fishing in the Cofio River, in Valdemaqueda, from its Mocha Bridge, of Roman origin. Go swimming in the Pantano de San Juan, which is considered the Beach of Madrid, or in the natural pools of the Presillas del Lozoya, located in the sublime natural environment of Rascafría, about 90 km from Madrid.
To tempt your taste buds
Of course, many of the twelve million visitors who came to this community last year, were tempted by the delicious cuisine of the region.
Meat is one of those delights; offerings include gastronomic highlights such as suckling pig and baked lamb. But you can also eat very good fish because, despite being in the centre of the country, quite far from the sea, it has the second largest fish market in the world after Tokyo. What's more, the community's signature dish is the famous calamari sandwich. Normally, it is accompanied by a cold beer, a vermouth, or a summer red (tinto de verano), which is similar to sangria, but made with soda and wine, in equal quantities.
Most of the locals, drink beer while eating tapas, especially, potatoes with aioli or brava sauce, Russian salad, Spanish omelette and the ineffable sandwich. Did you realise that the Spanish are the fifth biggest consumers of beer, in the world? For example, each inhabitant of the community of Madrid drinks about 20 litres of beer annually.
Dessert is also important in this area. In fact, the typical candy of the region is violet. It is sold in all the bakeries of the community, but the most characteristic place is a store, in the heart of the city, called "La Violeta", dating from 1915.
It is said that this sweet, made with the essence of the flower of violet, was the favourite of Queen Victoria Eugenia, granddaughter of Victoria of England, and, when she married the Spanish sovereign, the people of Madrid decided to accept her as one of their own. Her husband, King Alfonso XIII, used to buy two boxes of this delicacy of French origin: one was for his royal wife and the other for his mistress.
Nor should we forget the breakfast or snack par excellence, the chocolate with churros, and the energetic cocido madrileño, made up of noodle soup, different types of meat, chorizo, morzilla and vegetables.
Of course, it is considered normal to end your meal with a liquor, made from ingredients of the strawberry tree (Arbutus), which used to be a remedy against the plague epidemic in the Middle Ages. The strawberry tree is the characteristic tree of the region and is also its symbol, always accompanied by the bear, and it appears on the flag of the city, in a statue located in the centre, and in all kinds of street furniture.
You already have more reasons to know this part of Spain that, surely, will not disappoint you. Regardless of what country you are travelling from, there are lots of international flights going to Madrid Barajas Airport. Before making any travel decisions,....
Discover Madrid City intimately, through Patricia's eyes and in-depth expertise, in her Madrid Spain Travel Guide.
And for younger readers or those travelling with teenagers, check out our youngest writer to day, Sam Payne's article: Madrid through the eyes of a 16 year old: a city for all generations
The Valencian Community (Comunidad Valenciana) lies on Spain's east coast, tipping the south of Catalonia with its northern border, and meeting with Murcia in the south. The communities of Aragon and Castile & Leon embrace its western border. Coastal areas include the Costa Blanca, Costa Valencia and Costa Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast).
However few people realise how amazingly diverse this area is ....and I can confirm that as we have been living here since 2013.
Traditionally the Orange Blossom's best known spot has been Benicassim because of its music festivals, especially Festival International Benicassim with an amazing line-up each year. Apart from its festivals, Benicassim has lovely beaches, a charming city centre and for me the highlight is the Villa Route overlooking the beach, where I love to admire the architecture and imagine the parties they would have had in these seaside properties in the 1920s.
It won't surprise you to know that the capital of this community is Valencia city, which is wonderfully written about by travel blogger, Perri Johnson, who has been living in Spain since 2017. Discover more in her: Valencia Spain Travel Guide: a city full of surprises
While the capital is a fabulous city, there is heaps to be seen in other parts of the Valencian Community. Traditionally mass tourism has gravitated around the Costa Blanca. However some tourists are starting to get to know other areas such as Peñiscola on the Orange Blossom Coast, where Game of Thrones was filmed in 2015. This is partially thanks to good old Ryanair, who opened routes from London Stansted and Bristol to Castellon, which commenced on 15th September 2015.
Diverse natural beauty, great cities & lovely beaches
This is the community where we have lived since 2013 and I can tell you that within a half an hour's drive from us, there is so much diverse natural beauty, great cities and lovely beaches. One of my favourite experiences is to drive around 15 minutes into the mountains, and after spending time in the Natural Park Tinença de Benifassa to drive to the magical Delta de l'Ebre.
In the morning in the mountainous area of the Natural Park, you can be lucky enough to spot goats gazing at you from the craggy rock face, while just over the other side of the road people are paddling in the most picture perfect rock pools.
Then driving down to the Delta de l'Ebre the mountains become a mere memory as the roads are embraced by olive farms and orange groves. The lush landscape shifts dramatically on entering the narrow roads of the Delta that meander down through the paddy fields. Little houses almost appear to be floating in the water as go deeper into the Delta to discover its unique environment, beautiful beaches and sand dunes.
During my first few months in Spain, before I imported my car from Ireland, cycling was my main mode of transport. I adored to cycle down into the Delta merging with its magical landscape while stopping off here and there to marvel at the plants and birds that populate the area.
Cycling is very popular in this area because of the gorgeous varied environments and plenty of relatively flat terrain. If you're considering a cycling holiday for the first time you may enjoy 6 things you should know about planning a cycling holiday.
There are three Michelin starred restaurants, two of which are within ten minutes drive from us and the third is around twenty-five minutes away. The closest one, L'Antic Molí is famous for catering for weddings and parties, but it also does a Menu del Día (3 courses with half a bottle of wine per person) for €13.50 at lunchtimes during the week, that is always excellent, and incredible value for money, as well as some more up market tasting menus.
The truth is that we are kind of spoiled for choice here, without the area being overrun by tourists and lager louts, thanks be to.....We live in the countryside on an olive farm, which also has carob and almond trees. If we jump into the car in around fifteen to twenty minutes we can be in Vinaros, an authentic seaside town.
The reality is that there are numerous gems just waiting to be discovered here in the Valencian Community.
This feature, by Hannah Fitzpatrick, is a great introduction to 5 underrated towns in the Valencian Community.
Of course lots of holiday-makers prefer to gravitate towards places that are more used to tourists. That's why we invited talented travel blogger, Kelly Dunning of Global Goose, to introduce you to some of the jewels of the Costa Blanca. Discover Altea, Benidorm, Denia, Javea and Villajoyosa through Kelly's eyes.
Soon I will write a fuller guide about the Valencian Community, but this is just some food for thought. For those who love wine, why not check out our Castellon Wine Route.
If you are someone who is considering relocating to Spain then do check out Alan's interesting guide about how expat life is in Javea. Alan is the creator of Javea Life.
There’s so much to experience & do in spain
Explore by area
Spain is made up of seventeen autonomous communities and within each of these, you can discover an amazing range of special highlights and attractions.