Full marks!Ms. Parr
Full marks!Ms. Parr
Starting in the north and finishing in the south, here are just a few of the regions of Spain and their highlights.
The north of Spain is overlooked by many visitors as it doesn’t have quite the same sunny Mediterranean image as the rest of the country. However, the milder temperatures are much more comfortable in the summer months and the higher rainfall makes these regions a lot greener and fresher. Galicia is particularly known for its lush vegetation and mountainous landscape.
People have travelled from far and wide to this far corner of the country since the ninth century to reach the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela, the end of the road for pilgrims following the Camino de Santiago. The cathedral here, a magnificent Romanesque structure with gothic and baroque flourishes, houses the relics of St James the Apostle and is Europe’s second most important religious shrine. The town itself has a remarkable old town which has been designated a Unesco world heritage site.
Away from the hilly interior, Galicia has an unspoilt coastline of rocky cliffs, wild beaches, capes and deep inlets, called ‘rias’, where a strong fishing industry has grown up. Important towns include Vigo, the largest town in Galicia and the most important fishing port in the country, and La Coruna. Both cities offer a mix of history, beaches and a taste of modern, cosmopolitan life, not to mention delicious Galician seafood.
Situated at the foot of the western Pyrenees, the Basque country was once a powerful medieval kingdom. As a coastal region, deep sea fishing remains a strong industry in the area and plays a large part in the superb local cuisine. If you like your food, make sure to visit San Sebastian and take a gastronomic tour of its numerous tapas bars. Bilbao, the largest Basque city and the leading commercial port in Spain, offers a range of cultural and historical attractions. The Guggenheim Museum is the principal interest of the city: not only does this museum house a superb collection of contemporary art, but the building itself is an exceptional piece of architecture.
Neighbouring this region is Navarre, once a small kingdom. Its capital, Pamplona, is home to the bull-running fiesta that takes place each year. South of Navarre is the small region of La Rioja, known for its vineyards that produce many of Spain’s finest wines. It also has many historic sites such as the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and the monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla and Yuso.
The two rival medieval territories, Castilla and Leon, were first brought together in 1037 and now form the largest region in the country. Within this vast area are many interesting cities to visit. Salamanca is a university city and a showcase of Renaissance and Plateresque architecture. Not to be missed is the Roman bridge, which has retained 15 of its original 26 arches, and the cathedrals of Vieja and Nueva, adjoining old and new cathedrals.
Towards the east of the region is the old town of Segovia, a walled city of great importance in Roman and medieval times and now a Unesco world heritage site. The most important monuments include the Roman aqueduct, the largest and best preserved of its kind anywhere, and the Alcázar, Spain’s most photographed castle.
As the country’s capital, Madrid has a relatively short history compared to other European capitals, but stands as one of the most culturally rich on the continent. The city is split into two main area, offering a contrast of old and new: old Madrid, largely dominated by the royal palace, an impressive structure used by the royal family until 1931; and Bourbon Madrid, located on the eastern side of the city, known as Prado, and host to the Museo del Prado, one of the world’s greatest art galleries with staggering works by Velasquez, Goya, El Greco and Picasso.
Madrid is the perfect short break destination: internationally renowned art galleries and museums, a royal palace, fine restaurants, shopping in El Rastro flea market, and leisurely strolls in the Parque del Buen Retiro will keep all interests amused. There are also a number of day trips that can be taken from Madrid, including the medieval city of Toledo, the Roman city of Segovia with its impressive aqueduct, and the majestic palace and monastery of El Escorial. Furthermore, Madrid is also a great starting point for a longer itinerary, situated as it is in the very centre of the country and with excellent transport links out to other regions.
If any region could be said to represent Spain, Andalucia would be it. Fiery flamenco dancing, bull fighting and beautifully dressed matadors, patios filled with the smell of flowers and the heady flavours of sherry all match the popular image of the intense Spanish character.
However, Andalucia is significantly different from the rest of Spain. Its distinct cultural heritage derives from many different periods of rule under the Romans, Visigoths and Byzantines, but in particular from several centuries under Arabic rule. Their reign extended across much of the Iberian peninsula but the hub of Islamic activity was here in Andalucia. Exquisite Moorish-influenced architecture can be seen in the cities: in Cordoba visit the Mezquita, a mosque now converted into a church; in Granada the Alhambra, a huge complex of palaces and gardens, dominates the town; and in Seville admire the intricate designs of the Giralda bell tower, formerly a minaret, by the cathedral.
Spend some time travelling through the beautiful Andalucian countryside and enjoy sherry tasting in the town of Jerez. This small town in Cadiz is home to the fortified wine made from white grapes, and is the perfect place to learn the history of sherry and sample some of the products.
Spain is the land of fiestas, and visiting during one of their many festivals is the perfect way to take in the Spanish culture. The most well-known of these are the bull running in Pamplona, Las Fallas in Valencia and the Feria de Abril in Seville. For more details about these celebrations, please contact Cox & Kings.
Beyond the big cities, explore into the mountainous countryside to the west of Malaga and you will be rewarded with an area dotted with pretty villages of white houses. Ronda is the largest of these settlements with the oldest bullring in Spain, a deep gorge spanned by a bridge and dizzying views out over the surrounding hills. Its beauty inspired writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles.
Go cycling, canoeing or rock climbing in this beautiful national park, forming part of the Cantabrian mountains just inland from the north coast of Spain. After a day in the outdoors, treat yourself to a tasting of the tangy blue cheeses which are a speciality of this area.
The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí changed the face of Barcelona. His unique architectural style can be seen throughout the city. Influenced by nature, he created buildings with an organic form, with twists, curves and contusions, and used tile work to give colour. The Sagrada Familia is probably his most celebrated building, a huge basilica and a Unesco world heritage site. Construction began in 1882, but Gaudí’s plans were so ambitious that works are still ongoing. If you have a head for heights, climb to the top of its spires for a closer inspection of the ornate architecture and for superb views over Barcelona.
See Spain come alive in this image and video gallery, showing off some of the best areas that you can visit and explore.
Discover the temperatures and rainfall you can expect when visiting the main areas of Spain, along with the best time to travel.
We have collated some of the best books and guides to Spain, to help you make the most of your holiday to the country.
Find out more about what you can expect from travelling in Europe – from internal flights to accommodation standards and local transport.
Learn more about the airlines we use to fly to Europe, chosen for reliability and good service; as well as any available upgrade facilities.
Before travelling to Europe, please read more about the entry requirements for each country, as well as any general health advice.
Get to know our expert Europe tour consultants, their personal recommendations and favourite hotels around the world.