With an exotic culture, an enticing range of attractions, a warm climate and even warmer people, it's not without reason that Spain is one of the most sought after traveler destinations in the world.
Isaac Newton's third law of motion can be easily adapted to explain Spain's diverse attractions - for every mad activity, there is an equally chilled out option. Tens of thousands take to the streets of Buñol for exactly one hour every year to throw truckloads of tomatoes in the world's largest food fight La Tomatina, but for the rest of the year, the city of Valencia is proud home to heritage sites including the gothic UNESCO heritage Llotja de la Seda building. A million brave souls run with the bulls in the Pamplona encierro annually, a green city with a tranquil Arga River Park that follows the meandering stream past fields, over numerous bridges, and to historical monuments and sites.
Interesting Facts about Spain:
- Málaga-born Pablo Picasso's full name has over 100 letters: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso
- About 100 tones of tomatoes were thrown within 1 hour of the 2010 La Tomatina; an equivalent amount would be able to make over 76,000 14oz bottles of ketchup.
- "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" might be good for accent tweaking, but it's wrong - the highest precipitation falls over the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain
- According to the country's National Statistics Institute, about 1 in 4 Spaniards are regular smokers.
- El Clásico, the twice-annual derby between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, is the second most followed club football match after the UEFA Champions League Final.
Visiting Madrid & Barcelona
Nearly a quarter of all Spaniards are based in the capital Madrid and Barcelona. Both cities are similar to their counterparts in other European countries in the sense of the prevalence of UNESCO heritage town centres, spectacular architecture, ornate fountains and magnificent squares. Impressive museums and vibrant markets are part of the local way of city life, as is shopping.
In Madrid's case, Salamanca is the barrio to be in for fashionistas looking to mix high global high fashion with local design trends. Parque del Buen Retiro, which translates to 'park of pleasant retreat', is just that. A former escape for the monarchy, the park is now one of the most popular attractions, and includes a museum, galleries, various intriguing statues, and a large lake.
On weekends, Madrileños and tourists alike flock to the garden for a lazy afternoon row on the lake or a stroll with street performers, musicians, and fortune tellers on hand for a bit of entertainment.
The seaside Catalan city of Barcelona has inspired its former inhabitants including Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, and it's easy to see why. The narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter display remains from the city's Medieval and Roman past, and the magnificent Barcelona Cathedral tells of the martyrdom of Santa Eulalia, the co-patron saint of the city to whom the hall church is dedicated.
The charming city also has several modern attractions catering to children, including a sprawling zoo, an aquarium, and a small amusement park atop Tibadabo hill. Visitors shouldn't miss a walk down La Rambla - a pedestrian mall street - and Poble Español, a Stepfords-esque village that houses cafés, restaurants, clubs, and craft workshops.
Beach & Island Highlights
Andalusia - with Seville as its capital - is a much sought after region for tourists, coming second only to Catalonia.
The Costa del Sol region encapsulates the romance of a Mediterranean lifestyle. Marbella is an international destination frequented by the cosmopolitan jet set, as well as nearby Puerto José Banús, its upscale marina facilities especially popular with the luxury yachties by day and its nightlife attracting the sexy and the suave.
Málaga is also another popular spot on the sunny coast, boasting many historical sites in addition to a museum and birthplace of Picasso that's open to the public.
On a more modern note, Benalmádena is home to an aquarium, Selwo Marina - an ocean park complete with sea lions and other marine animal shows - and a fun-filled amusement park, Tivoli World.
The postcard perfect white-washed buildings perched on the side of a hill in Mijas and the rugged coastal scenery of Costa Brava in Catalonia are also popular with visitors.
Off shore, the Balearic Islands - including Mallorca - and the Canary Islands' volcanic Tenerife are renowned for their Mediterranean charm.
Though images of golden sunshine and sparkling Mediterranean waters are what attracts visitors to Spain in the first place, there are plenty of activities to complement the pleasures of sea and sand.
The Pyrenees form the border between Spain and neighbouring France, with its mountainous terrain prominent in the regions of Aragon and Catalonia, and popular activities including white water rafting and trekking in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Sierra Nevada National Park also offers outdoor adventures and world class skiing, with Andaluscia's Granada a popular gateway town to access the slopes.
In addition to picturesque mountain backdrops, Granada also has several historical and cultural attractions to entice visitors year-round.
For a day out on manicured greens, Spain is home to some 300 golf courses, including the 2 San Roque Clubs in Cádiz which offer tennis, horseback riding, and other activities to keep the rest of the family occupied. The Valderrama Golf Club in Costa Del Sol is renowned as one of the best in the entire region, with Jack Nicklaus-designed Montecastillo also a golfers' favourite.
The social affair of sharing tapas over a lively conversation is the most popular aspect of Spanish cuisine, one that has been popularised around the world.
The bite sized appetisers are meant to be a pre-meal snack, however there are some visitors that opt to make a meal out of it to experience the array of tastes offered in the country.
Bordering the sea to the north, south, and most of the east, seafood is a running theme throughout the cuisine, from the prawn dish of gambas ajillo to the Galician signature octopus dish of pulpo a la gallega
There isn't a sweeping generalisation to describe Spanish cuisine - many of the more well known dishes started out as regional delights. The saffron rice based paella is originally from Valencia, while the cold tomato-based gazpacho soup traditionally hails from Andalusian summers.
A Catalan variation of the French crème brûlée is the creme catalana, a coveted dessert made of cinnamon and citrus zest. Sherry - fino - is the traditional Spaniard's drink, but in recent years various wine regions - including world famous Rioja and Penedès - have been changing the way the entire world savours vintage vinos.
Villa Holidays in Spain
Spain is considered by many to be the most exotic of its European counterparts, and with reason - many reasons, in fact. It's an allure to which Jim Morrison penned, "Andalusia … I have to see you again and again". A holiday apartment or villa rental allows travellers to chose their destination based on what they're seeking in their vacation, breaking free of constraints bound by the locations of large chain hotels.
Travel & Transport
Madrid-Barajas and El Prat are the main airports serving Madrid and Barcelona respectively, but the country is well connected with an air network spanning airports both on mainland and the islands. Trains and private car are convenient routes to get between cities, with private yacht charters an unforgettable way to reach the Mediterranean islands off shore.
Spain Top 5 Travel Tips [Bucket List]
1. The Legend of CD's
Ibiza turns into a unified throbbing mass of tourists partying to electronic dance music every summer, but the Balearic island is also famed for popularisation of chill out music. Check out Café del Mar, where it all started, take in one part José Padilla tunes and one part sunset.
2. Monument for Monument
Experience Egypt and Spain both in one go! With construction started in 2nd century BC, the Templo de Debod in Madrid is one of only a handful of ancient Egyptian structures outside the land of the pharaohs, donated to Spain in 1968 as a thank you from a grateful Egypt for helping them relocate and save another heritage site.
3. Gaudí Business
Catalan artist Antoni Gaudí has left his unique modernist touches throughout Barcelona. His works are so significant that a group of them have been Unesco-recognised under 'Works of Antoni Gaudí'. Look for the small delightful details in his designs - some of his more famous ones include the controversial Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, and Palau Güell.
4. Sir Walk-a-lot
The Pyrenees are renowned for their lush biodiversity, elevated passes, and mountain streams that cascade over cliffs forming waterfalls. Don't worry about what to wear on the beach - go take a walk instead to remember where we come from at Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
5. Bet You Can't Wait
There are over 30 casinos in Spain, but to experience Las Vegas in Europe, plans are well underway for a leisure city billed to be the biggest entertainment complex in the continent, complete with casinos, a racecourse and theme parks. The Gran Scala site is located in the Los Monegros desert and expected to open in 2012.