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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

A World Heritage Site, the Alhambra was rebuilt from ruins in the 13th Century by a Moorish emir. After the Christian reconquest in 1492, the site was taken over as the royal court of the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It was here that Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for the expedition that ended up finding America.

Walk the Caminito del Rey

This walk is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a 100-metre-high pathway along a gorge in Malaga province, built in 1901 so that workers at two hydroelectric power plants could travel between them. It used to be the world’s most dangerous walkway, and claimed the lives of many who attempted it. Now though, the path is completely safe after an extensive renovation in 2015. You still have to walk on a narrow track above a gorge, but these days there’s a fence and railings between you and and the river below. It’s worth the slight vertigo as the views throughout are breathtaking.

 

 

Skiing in the Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada, in Granada, is Europe’s most southerly ski resort. It’s a bit different to most skiing experiences, as the season runs all the way from November to May, and you’re pretty much guaranteed sunshine while you’re out on the slopes. It’s only an hour’s drive from the coast so you could literally go skiing in the morning and be sunbathing on the beach in the afternoon…

Take in a festival

Spain’s festivals are legendary, and for good reason. The melting pot of a largely Catholic country, some long-respected pagan traditions and a modern population who really know how to party makes for a wealth of fiestas to choose from. The Tomantina, a tomato-throwing festival in August, stands out in Valencia, as does Las Fallas in March, during which enormous handmade figures are burned in the street to cleanse and welcome the new spring. Around the beginning of Lent, Carnival season takes over villges and towns across Spain. The most famous can be found in Cadiz, which attracts thousands of people from across the world to its ten-day celebration featuring satirical songs, music, parades and of course fancy dress costumes for all involved.

Eat tapas

You can’t reasonably visit Spain without sampling the range of delicious food it has to offer. Go out for a drink, order a tapa or two and then don’t be surprised when you follow it with one or two more! Make sure you try tortilla de patatas (a kind of potato omelette) and croquetas, delicious bites of ham, cheese, fish or other fillings in breadcrumbs. Also try some paella, which is more of a shared dish than a tapa – restaurants will often cook up a giant pan on a Sunday or feast day for customers to share from. And of course, you can’t leave the country without eating a lunch of serrano ham, manchego cheese, walnuts, olive oil, bread and red wine. Heaven….

 

Feeling inspired? Check out more of our Top 20 Destinations for 2017 HERE

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