Spain, the land most frequently written about in travelogues, is a beautiful and diverse country located in the southwest of Europe, sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal, Gibraltar and Andorra. Travel to Spain and you will find everything, from lush meadows, green valleys, hills and snowy mountains in the northern regions to almost desert zones in the south. Its beaches are also famous and worth visiting, small and charming creeks in the north and wide white sand beaches on the south and western parts of the country, without forgetting the exotic black sand beaches of the volcanic Canary Island.
An epic land: Spain's diverse landscapes stir the soul. The Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa are as beautiful as any mountain range on the continent, while the snowcapped Sierra Nevada rises up improbably from the sun-baked plains of Andalucia; these are hiking destinations of the highest order. The wildly beautiful cliffs of Spain's Atlantic northwest are offset by the charming coves of the Mediterranean. And everywhere you go, villages of timeless beauty perch on hilltops, huddle in valleys and cling to coastal outcrops as tiny but resilient outposts of Old Spain.
Art imitates life: Poignantly windswept Roman ruins, cathedrals of rare power and incomparable jewels of Islamic architecture speak of a country where the great civilizations of history have always risen, fallen and left behind their indelible mark. More recently, what other country could produce such rebellious and relentlessly creative spirits as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudí and place them front and center in public life? Here, grand monuments to the past coexist alongside architectural creations of such daring that it becomes clear that Spain's future will be every bit as original as its past.
Cities to visit:
Barcelona: Barcelona feels a bit surreal – appropriate, since Salvador Dali spent time here and Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí designed several of the city’s buildings. Stepping into Gaudí’s Church of the Sacred Family is a bit like falling through the looking glass - a journey that you can continue with a visit to Park Güell. Sip sangria at a sidewalk café in Las Ramblas while watching flamboyant street performers, and then create your own moveable feast by floating from tapas bar to tapas bar.
Valencia: is a city bursting with highlights: from the churches, towers and city gates to the bullfight arena, indoor market and botanical garden. The weekly water courts still meet, after a thousand years of doing so. But Valencia also is a lively city with city beaches, an exciting nightlife and futuristic museums in the City of Art and Science.
Seville: Originally founded as a Roman city and now home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Seville is bursting with antique charm. The Metropol Parasol is the world’s largest wooden structure, a massive mix of grids and swirls that contains a market and a terrace observatory.
La Gomera, the magic island: La Gomera on the Canary Island chain is an oasis of quiet in stunning natural surroundings. No mass tourism here, no high-rise buildings, small villages with easy-going inhabitants, potters, fishermen and banana growers. Beautiful views of the ocean, terraced hillsides, mountains and ravines cutting through them. At the center of the island is an ancient, foggy rainforest.
Must see sites:
Alcazar: If heaven really does exist, then let's hope it looks a little bit like the inside of Seville's Alcázar. Built primarily in the 1300s during the so-called 'dark ages' in Europe, thecastle's intricate architecture is anything but dark. Indeed, compared to our modern-day shopping malls, the Alcázar marks one of history's architectural high points. UNESCO agreed, making it a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Mezquita: It is impossible to overemphasize the beauty of Córdoba’s great mosque, with its remarkably serene and spacious interior. Being one of the world's greatest works of Islamic architecture, the Mezquita hints, with all its lustrous decoration, at a refined age when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived side by side and enriched their city with a heady interaction of diverse, vibrant cultures.
Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela: The grand heart of Santiago, the cathedral soars above the city center in a splendid jumble of moss-covered spires and statues. Built piecemeal over several centuries, its beauty is a mix of the original Romanesque structure (built between 1075 and 1211) and later Gothic and baroque flourishes. The tomb of Santiago beneath the main altar is a magnet for all who come to the cathedral.
Universidad Civil: Founded initially as the Estudio General in 1218, this university in Salamanca reached the peak of its renown in the 15th and 16th centuries. The visual feast of the university’s entrance facade is a tapestry in sandstone, bursting with images of mythical heroes, religious scenes and coats of arms. Behind the facade, the highlight of an otherwise modest collection of rooms lies upstairs: the extraordinary university library, the oldest university library in Europe. Containing some 2800 manuscripts gathering dust, the library is a real cemetery of forgotten books.
Museo Guggenheim: Opened in September 1997, Bilbao’s shimmering titanium Museo Guggenheim is one of modern architecture's most iconic buildings. It almost single-handedly placed Bilbao firmly in the international art and tourism spotlight.
La Tomatina: The tomato fight of La Tomatina has been a tradition in Buñol since ages. In the hours leading up to the start of the tomato battle, thousands of people cram into the narrow streets in the small town of Buñol. As it nears closer to 11am goggles are secured, swimming caps put in place, the first cracker sounds and trucks filled with tomatoes push through the heaving crowds, dumping literally thousands of tonnes of tomatoes in the middle of the streets to start the tomato fight.
A Culinary Feast: Food and wine are national obsessions in Spain, and with good reason. The touchstones of Spanish cooking are deceptively simple: incalculable variety, traditional recipes handed down through the generations, and an innate willingness to experiment and see what comes out of the kitchen-laboratory. You may experience the best meal ever over tapas in an earthy bar where everyone's shouting, or over a meal prepared by a celebrity chef in the refined surrounds of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Either way, the breadth of gastronomic experience that awaits you is breathtaking.
Fiestas and Flamenco: For all such talk about its ancient past, this is a country that lives very much in the present and there is a reason why 'fiesta' is one of the best-known words in the Spanish language. It is because life is itself a fiesta here and everyone seems to be invited. Perhaps you will sense it along a crowded post-midnight street when the entire world has come out to play. Or maybe that moment will come when a flamenco performer touches something deep in your soul. Whenever it happens, you will find yourself nodding in recognition: this is Spain.