Top Destinations for 2017: Spain
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The Kingdom of Spain is one of the richest and most varied tourist destinations in the world. From the vibrant, bustling cities of Madrid and Barcelona to beautiful wide-open nature reserves to the sun-drenched beaches of the Costa del Sol, Spain has it all. It’s worth taking the time to explore the separate regions, as you’ll get a vastly different experience in each. Madrid is the central, administrative and more wealthy area, while Andalusia in the south is sun-drenched, beautiful but home to some of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty in Europe. The islands and North African enclaves have a completely different feel, and in the Basque Country and Catalonia people speak regional languages and there are some clamouring for independence from Spain. There’s a wealth of history for you to discover here too, as Spain (and especially Andalusia) is steeped in a unique mixture of Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultural history. When you’re done looking around old buildings and beautiful ruins, there’s mouth-watering food and a vibrant but relaxed bar culture waiting to be enjoyed at night. Where to go Start your visit in Barcelona, the tourist capital of Spain. Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia is unmissable, but make sure you take the time to wander around the beautiful old city as well, and soak up some of the history of this fascinating place. There are several different walking tour operators focussing on the old town, and some of them are even free, so all you have to do is offer a voluntary tip at the end. Next visit Salamanca, the ancient university town. Founded in 1218, the University of Salamanca is the oldest in Spain and the fourth-oldest in Europe. The city is now a Unesco World Heritage site, boasting an impressive plaza mayor and an old and new cathedral. This is an ideal place to brush up on your Spanish as well - the city accounts for almost 20% of Spanish language teaching in Spain, due to the pull of the 'neutral' local accent. Don't miss Santiago de Compostela, in the northern region of Galicia. This city and its cathedral marks the end of the Camino de Santiago, or St. James' Way, one of the most popular pilgrimage routes in the world. Every year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way from various starting points all over Europe to end up at the Cathedral where the apostle St. James is said to be buried. Then head south to Andalusia, the beautiful, rugged region in the south, also one of the poorest and wildest areas of Spain. Seville is a must-see; visit the cathedral, the Alcazar and the winding streets of the Jewish quarter, and make sure to take in a flamenco show before you go. Another highlight of Andalusia is Ronda, one of the most beautiful and unusual cities in Europe. The whole town is straddled across a 100m high lump of rock, with a gorge in the middle crossed by the iconic Ronda bridge. You can see gorgeous scenery from anywhere at the edge of the city, and a quick walk down into the valley will earn you some stunning views back up to the town. If you have time it’s worth getting someone (try Entrelenguas for a local feel) to take you out to the vineyards in the valley to experience some gorgeous local food and wine against the stunning backdrop of the town rising up out of the rock. No tour of Spain is complete without a trip to one of the country’s many islands. In particular check out the Balearics, in the Mediterranean to the east of Valencia. Famous for party destinations such as Ibiza and Magaluf, the islands also offer beautiful scenery and a host of more relaxed things to do. Make sure to visit the S’Albufera nature reserve on Mallorca and the ancient fortress of Dalt Vila on Ibiza. What to do Visit the Alhambra in Granada
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