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Budget airlines and affordable fares have turned Spain into a beach resort haven for northern Europeans wishing to escape their own (sometimes) damp and dreary climates. With sun-bleached beaches and a favourable exchange rate for most travellers, it's easy to see why Spain is such a popular choice for an unforgettable beach holiday in Europe. An incredible 53 million people visit Spain each year (the second most in Europe after France), and the country deserves its formidable reputation as a tourist haven.
Some may feel that the Canary and Balearic Islands have been overrun by tourists, and this is true to some extent. Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Mallorca have become synonymous with cheap package holidays and warm beer, and Ibiza's reputation has been somewhat tarnished by the revellers frequenting its famous dance clubs and beach parties. However, even in these crowded resort areas you will find many magical, unspoilt corners awaiting discovery.
Spain is comprised of numerous autonomous regions, offering great variation within one country. The hundreds of miles of Mediterranean coastline provide ample opportunity to get off the beaten track, and the country's vibrant cities and colourful festivals will amaze and delight even the most seasoned traveller. Art lovers can get lost in the Spain of Gaudi, Dali, and Picasso, of Goya and Velazquez - proudly displayed in the country's museums and galleries.
Spain's Pamplona is a unique experience of thundering streets that vibrate to the rhythm of man and beast during the annual running of the bulls, and while the whole country celebrates each February with the Carnaval, no place does it better than Sitges.
Barcelona is Spain's showcase of the unique architectural style of Gaudi's bizarre organic turrets and balconies. For a more provincial experience, the Valencian town of Buñol goes wild every year with the La Tomatina festival, a time when the region's surplus tomatoes following the annual harvest are dumped on the streets and pelted about in a friendly riot.
Spain is also a country rich in heritage, and the historic cities of Toledo, Salamanca, Seville, and Granada promise a wealth of early Christian and Moorish buildings and monuments, as well as the remains of some incredible medieval sites. Spain has six cities that have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any other country in the world.
Spain's many attractions and the journeys between them are infused with the warm welcome of its diverse people. Holidays here should be slow, with room for spontaneity amid the laidback lifestyle that Spaniards have perfected.
The wealth of things to see and do is such that the top attractions in Spain are whole cities, towns, and islands, and a single holiday can barely scratch the surface of what this country has to offer. It is often best to plan an itinerary around a single city or region.
Toledo is famous for its Roman architecture and ancient history, while Santiago de Compostela bursts with religious significance and art. Cordoba entrances visitors with the medieval charm of the Mezquita, while Barcelona is home to Gaudi and almost anything a tourist could want. Madrid is the capital, ideal for a cosmopolitan Spanish experience while Grenada contains mountains, tradition, and architecture.
Partygoers will look no further than Ibiza, and Bilbao is a hub of industrial creativity and boasts the Guggenheim Museum. Both Mallorca and Tenerife enjoy spectacular beaches and stunning landscapes, as does San Sebastian along with its good food. Lastly, Seville offers fun after dark and a wealth of history.
Granada is a high altitude city of romance and folklore, boasting one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain: the Alhambra. A palace-fortress built up between the 9th and 16th centuries, the Alhambra is the most important and spectacular piece of Moorish architecture in Spain. Set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the huge complex includes the Summer Palace with its fountains and gardens, the Palacios Nazaries with its intricate ornamentation, and a hilltop fortress. The queue to get into this UNESCO World Heritage Site gets ridiculously long and tickets should be booked online or booked weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. At least one full day is required to really explore the vast complex.
Renowned as one of Madrid's most famous attractions, and one of the world's greatest art galleries, the 19th-century Prado Museum has more than 7,000 paintings that include masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, El Bosco, Titian, Rembrandt, and Velazquez. The museum began as a Royal collection, which succeeding dynasties have added to. The collection naturally focuses on the Spanish masters, particularly Goya, whose exhibited works fascinatingly follow the development of his painting from the sun-soaked early scenes of joyful festivities to the grim madness characterising his 'black period'. Art lovers will find that the Prado has few equals.
The second gallery in Madrid's golden triangle of art museums is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Housing the former private collection of the Thyssen family, the works were bought by the city of Madrid to enrich its impressive collection of art treasures. The collection, housed in the restored 18th-century Palacio de Villahermosa near the Prado, contains more than 800 paintings, sculptures, carvings, and tapestries, ranging from primitive Flemish works to contemporary pieces. Among the highlights are works by Renoir, Durer, and Van Eyck, but many masters are represented in the Thyssen, including Claude Monet, John Sargent Singer, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Edvard Munch. The collection includes some major American works as well.
One of Madrid's famed art galleries, the Reina Sofia is dedicated to 20th century Spanish art, having been designed to give Spain a museum to equal France's Pompidou Centre and London's Tate Gallery. The museum was opened by Queen Sofia in 1986 and is housed in the former Hospital de San Carlos. The artworks displayed here include those of Spanish masters Juan Gris, Julio Gonzalez, Salvador Dali, Equipo Cronica, Gerardo Rueda, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, among others, and there are also international artists on display. The star attraction of the museum is Picasso's controversial Guernica, depicting the Nazi bombing of the Basque town in 1937 in support of Franco's cause in the Spanish Civil War.
The massive Royal Palace on the Plaza de Oriente in Madrid dates from 1734, when the 3,000-roomed royal residence was commissioned by Philip V. The imposing palace was built on the site of a Moorish fortress that dated back to the 9th century. It was last called home by the royal family in 1931, but is still an official royal residence and is used for some royal events. Most of the rooms are now open to the public, and others are used for state business. English tours are run regularly, lasting about two hours, taking visitors to the reception room and state apartments, the impressive armoury, and the royal pharmacy.
Madrid's famous central arcaded square dates from 1619 and was built by Philip III, whose statue still stands in the centre of the cobbled expanse. In medieval times, the Plaza de Arrabal, as it was then known, was the venue for numerous public spectacles including knights' tournaments, festivals, and executions. The buildings surrounding the square were burnt completely to the ground three times in 1631, 1672, and 1790. The most famous building on the square is the Casa de la Panaderia, which predates the plaza, but has also been rebuilt several times. The Plaza Mayor was always intended to be a public gathering space, and has been used for bull fights, royal events, and military parades.
The Panteon de Goya (Goya's Tomb) is situated in the Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida, and is known as Goya's Sistine Chapel. The artist decorated the dome and cupola of the little chapel with a fresco depicting the miracles of St Anthony, with the use of sponges, a project that took six weeks to complete. Amazingly, Goya persisted with the project despite the fact that he was struggling with deafness and apparently felt dizzy most of the time he was working on the ceiling. Mirrors have been placed in strategic places to provide better glimpses of the art. The chapel also contains the artist's tomb. The artwork in his final resting place is more bright and cheerful than is typical of Goya.
Madrid's lush central park covers 350 acres (142 hectares) and was originally laid out as the private garden of Philip IV. Opened to the public in 1868, it remains a favourite spot with locals and tourists. The vast park features formal gardens, statues, fountains, lakes, exhibition halls, children's playgrounds, and outdoor cafes. Visitors can stroll among the trees, admire the rose garden, and take a boat ride on the lake. Although usually quiet during the week, at weekends the park comes alive with buskers, clowns, fortune-tellers, and sidewalk painters. Thanks to its size, even when the park is crowded it is possible to find a quiet nook.
Arguably the most famous street in Europe, the wide tree-lined boulevard known as La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) is a long continuous pedestrian avenue that technically changes names five times as it cuts through Barcelona's Old Town, the Barri Gotic, from the Placa Catalunya to the city's port. It is lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops, usually thronged with leisurely walkers enjoying the sights and sounds. The sprawling marriage of nature and creative architecture and ornamentation that is Gaudi's Guell Park is a must. The pretty square of Placa Reial, enclosed by impressive buildings and promising some fantastic restaurants and nightclubs, is a popular social venue and sometimes hosts concerts and live performances.
Five palaces dating from the 13th to 15th centuries have been converted into the Picasso Museum, celebrating the country's most famous artist. Sitting on Carrer Montcada, a street known for its elegant medieval structures, it is home to one of the most complete collections of works from his youth and formative years. Pablo Picasso spent his early years in Barcelona (between 1901 and 1906), and the museum is now one of the city's top attractions. It was his wish that his early work would be displayed in Barcelona, and the core of the collection was donated by the artist himself. The permanent collection now consists of 4,249 works and the art is complemented interestingly by the old buildings, which showcase the Catalan Gothic style.
Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudi, was known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism, and left his mark on Barcelona nowhere more than in the gardens of Guell Park. Sitting on Camel Hill and offering splendid views of the city, it was originally planned to be a garden city suburb. But only two houses were completed before it was turned into a public recreational park. The gardens are festooned with examples of Gaudi's strange and mesmerising work, including flights of stairs, columns, and a plaza decorated with mosaics. Famous features include Gaudi's dragon, and the Sala Hipostila, or Doric Temple, which is a forest of 88 stone columns. Gaudi enjoyed experimenting with natural forms and the park is a fascinating mixture of art and nature.
Designed by modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, the bizarre Sagrada Família is one of Catalonia's most intriguing landmarks. Building started in 1882, but it remains unfinished and an object of controversy. Gaudi worked on what was considered his masterpiece until his death in 1926. The structure displays his characteristic Art Nouveau style and creates a unique interpretation of the Gothic architectural tradition. Gaudi's plans for the completed church were mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and those leftover have been disputed since. The extraordinary building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is fascinating even to those who don't find it beautiful. The church has been consecrated and is used for religious services.
A few of Barcelona's showpieces sit on the hill of Montjuic, overlooking the city centre: the main sites of the 1992 Olympics; the Poble Espanyol; the Joan Miro museum; and the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Montjuic has been the site of several fortifications over the centuries and the most recent of these is the Castle of Montjuic, dating from the 17th century. The castle is now home to the Military Museum as well as the Museum of Comics and Illustration. There are also some leisure attractions and green parks festooned with fountains, themselves popular attractions that entertain on summer evenings with displays of light, colour, and music. Accessible by cable car from Montjuic, the La Barceloneta port district is below the hill.
Barcelona's second landmark hill, Tibidabo, lies about four miles (6km) northwest of the city in a wooded range that forms a backdrop to the urban landscape. Tibidabo can be reached by funicular and is particularly popular on weekends with locals, as it is home to the Parc d'Atraccions: an amusement park that has some thrilling rides and a renowned house of horrors. Tibidabo also features the soaring Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower, which offers visitors the chance to ride in a glass lift to an observation platform 377 feet (115m) high to enjoy a truly phenomenal view.
The Costa Dorada's main city, Tarragona, was originally built on a rocky bluff and can trace its roots back to 218 BC, when it was founded by the ancient Romans as a military base. Impressive vestiges of its ancient past still remain in the form of ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, aqueduct, forum, and other buildings situated on the Paseo Arqueologico (Archaeological Promenade), which leads to some panoramic viewpoints. A wide boulevard called the Rambla Nova represents the modern main street outside the old city walls. A popular outing for visitors is to explore the old harbour, known as El Serrallo, and watch the fishing boats arrive and auction their catch.
The city of Girona, on the route from the Pyrenees to Barcelona, is one of the most important historical sites in Spain, founded by the Romans and later turned into a Moorish stronghold. Sitting astride the confluence of the Onyar and Ter rivers, this quaint medieval city attracts hordes of tourists from the Costa Brava resorts and Barcelona. All are lured by the experience of walking through the old quarter, the Call, with its narrow alleyways and ancient stone houses. Inside the ancient walls are such gems as the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants and the 14th-century cathedral built in the Catalonian Baroque style. The cathedral can be accessed by climbing up 90 steps. It includes a museum containing art works and rare manuscripts.
The impressive Santa Barbara Castle has its origins in the Muslim rule of the 9th century, towering over Alicante on top of the Benacantil Mountain. Most of the chambers that can be explored today date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The fortress is massive, encompassing moats, drawbridges, tunnels, cisterns, and dungeons, not to mention a stately tower and keep. It has endured many attacks, rebuilds, and renovations during its long history and was opened to the public in 1963. Today it houses the Museum of the City of Alicante. From the top of the castle superb views over the bay and the city can be enjoyed.
In the Plaza de Santa Maria stands Alicante's oldest building, a former granary dating from 1685. Ironically the city's oldest building contains its most notable modern art collection, donated by painter and sculptor Eusebio Sempere in 1977. The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante is commonly referred to simply as MACA. Among the noteworthy paintings on display are those by Dali, Picasso, Calder, and Miro, and one of the highlights is the section dedicated to Sempere's own geometrical, moving sculptures. As other famous modern art galleries have realised, the contrast between an old building and a colourful modern art collection is striking and interesting.
Just 12 miles (19km) inland west of Alicante is Europe's only palm forest, forming a lush oasis around the city of Elche (Elx). The city boasts several beautiful parks, public gardens, and palm groves. The Palmeral of Elche, an orchard of more than 200,000 palm trees, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Parque Municipal is one of the most popular places to enjoy the trees, with the palms interspersed by grassy promenades and children's playgrounds. The most beautiful palm garden is the Huerto del Cura, filled with trees, water features, and bright flowerbeds. Another attraction in the city, located right next to the municipal park, is the Altamira Castle, which was built in about the 12th century and was renovated in the 15th century.
The tiny islet of Tabarca is becoming an increasingly popular day trip destination from Alicante or Santa Pola, with its quiet fishing village offering an old fort, several very reasonably priced fresh seafood restaurants, a rocky beach with clear turquoise water, and several coves and tidal pools ideal for bathing. Tiny and picturesque, Tabarca is the smallest permanently inhabited islet in Spain and can very easily be explored on foot. The islet is part of a marine reserve (Reserva marina de la Isla de Tabarca) and promises varied marine life, clear unpolluted waters, and a healthy bird population.
Seville Cathedral is one of the largest churches in the world, and its massive Gothic edifice took more than a century to build, after a group of religious fanatics decided in 1401 to build a church so wonderful that 'those who come after us will take us for madmen'. The cathedral was built on the site of the Almohad Mosque, demolished to make way for its construction. Known as La Giralda, the mosque was originally built in 1198, of which only a minaret remains. Today it's open to tourists. Along with the Alcazar and the Archivo de Indias, the cathedral has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of a visit to Seville.
Alcazar is Seville's top attraction and one of the most famous in Spain. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an undisputed architectural masterpiece. The site of Seville's Moorish palace has been occupied by the city's rulers since Roman times, and has been a favoured residence of Spanish kings since the Middle Ages. Established by the Moors as early as the 7th century, it was primarily built in the 1300s and has been added to and altered by successive occupants ever since. Of the early Christian additions, most notable is the colonnaded quadrangle of the Patio of the Maids. The palace is set in beautiful, extensive gardens where it is possible to picnic.
A former Jewish ghetto, Santa Cruz in Seville is an enchanting maze of alleys, gateways, and courtyards. Every street corner has a romantic legend attached to it, with windowsills festooned with flowers and the fragrance of jasmine pervading the air. Santa Cruz is also bordered by the Alcazar, the Jardines de Murillo, and Santa Maria La Blanca, and can be reached via the Calle Rodrigo Caro. Some of the sights to look for are the Hospital de los Venerables, which contains Sevillian artworks; the beautiful mansions in the Calle Lope de Rueda; and the Convent de San Jose, which boasts relics of Saint Teresa of Avila; and the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca, which features Murillo's 'Last Supper'.
A restored convent dating back to 1612 houses one of Spain's most important and largest art collections. Hidden in a tiny plaza off Calle de Alfonso XII in Seville, the museum was established in 1839. It houses art spanning from medieval times to the 20th century, with the pride of the collection being the range of paintings from the 17th century, Seville's Golden Age. Highlights include the religious paintings of Seville's own Esteban Murillo, but the collection also includes other Seville School artists such as the macabre works of Juan de Vales Leal and Francisco de Zurbaran. There are also two paintings by El Greco among the exhibits.
Regarded as one of the loveliest parks in Europe, this half-mile area in southern Seville near the port, is planted with palms, orange trees, elms, and Mediterranean pines. Bright and beautiful flower beds vie for the eye with hidden bowers, ponds, pavilions, water features, and statues in this little paradise, which was designed in the 1920s and thus reflects a mix of Art Deco and Mudejar styling. The park was originally part of Seville's World Expo, which brought a burst of creative architecture and rejuvenation during the 1920s, and which included the redirection of the Guadalquivir River and the construction of some opulent buildings, such as the stylish Guatemala building off the Paseo de la Palmera.
Locals in Bilbao are divided on whether it's beauty or a beast, but the bizarre multimillion dollar Guggenheim Museum, opened in 1997, has brought thousands of visitors flocking to the city to be awed or floored. The massive museum, designed by the famous Frank Gehry, has no right angles, resembles a metallic flower clad in shiny titanium, and is situated in the former dockyard alongside the Nervion River. There are also some huge, striking sculptures outside the museum and many visitors consider the exterior the highlight of a visit. Inside, apart from breathtaking and unusual spaces, the museum houses the works of some important 20th century artists, including Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Willem de Koonig, and Clyfford Still. There are also sections displaying the work of young Basque and Spanish artists, and rotating exhibits lent by the Guggenheim museums in New York and Venice. There is a great cafe in the Guggenheim and a bookshop. It is a good idea to book your tickets in advance online to get a slight discount and to jump the queues at the entrance. The Guggenheim is undoubtedly one of Bilbao's greatest and most popular attractions and shouldn't be missed.
For a more mainstream artistic experience than that offered by the astonishing Guggenheim Gallery, the Museo de Bellas Artes in the Plaza Museo fits the bill admirably, with some valuable works on display behind an unassuming façade. The museum's impressive collection spans art from the 12th to 20th centuries, highlights being some excellent Flemish works from between the 15th and 17th centuries. There are also works by masters like El Greco, Goya, Gauguin, Francis Bacon, Picasso, and Velazquez. The museum hosts regular temporary exhibitions so check the official website below to see what is showing during your visit. To the rear of the building there is a pleasant sculpture garden. Audio guides are available in multiple languages for an extra €1 and the museum is very well curated and maintained. Bilbao's Museo de Bellas Artes is becoming increasingly renowned internationally and generally receives rave reviews from visitors. In fact, it is consistently one of the top rated attractions in the city. Entry to the museum is free on Wednesdays, which is a big bonus for those travelling on a budget. Prints and other merchandise can be bought via the online shop.
The Museo Vasco, also known as the Euskal Museoa or Basque Museum, is in the heart of the old quarter of the city, housed in a lovely 17th-century Jesuit cloister. The museum, established in 1921, depicts Basque culture, history and ethnology, and its exhibits span a wide range of interests including weaving, the blacksmith trade, pastoral life, and maritime matters. The displays offer the chance to dip into Basque political and social life, using everything from model ships to reconstructions of rooms and gravestones to guide the visitor along. The maps and the exhibition on traditional music and dancing are highlights. In an outdoor courtyard visitors can see a remarkable stone sculpture called Mikeldi, which is thought to date back to sometime between the 5th and 11th centuries BC. Although not all the information has been translated there are sufficient explanations in English. It is a simple, accessible museum, which children will probably enjoy. Budget at least three hours to take it all in. Conveniently located in the historic centre of town, the Museo Vasco is near a number of cafes and restaurants.
Dating from 1892 and designed by Joaquin Rucoba, Bilbao's elegant city hall in the Plaza Erkoreka Ernesto is located on the bank of the Estuary of Bilbao. The Baroque building includes a spire and a magnificent façade featuring balconies, columns, sculptures, and a sweeping staircase. The highlight of the interior is the Arab Room, an opulently decorated chamber used for weddings. Guided tours, lasting about an hour, are available, though these need to be booked in advance by phone. A brand new city hall building was recently completed, situated right next to the historic old building, and the unique, modern design of the new contrasts very interestingly with the old. The two buildings now share the functions of the city hall, with the modern's colourful contemporary décor contrasting with the ornate old hall, which is distinctly Baroque in its decor. The city is now well served by a combination of functional modern space and historic charm.
Palma's magnificent Catalonian Gothic cathedral is a landmark of the city, standing in the old town overlooking the ocean. The cathedral is actually called the Cathedral of the Saviour (Catedral del Salvador) but is situated on the Plaza de la Seo and is commonly referred to as La Seo. The cathedral forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral was built on the site of an existing ancient mosque and ancient Roman forum, and construction on the Romanesque Cathedral began in 1140. There have been numerous rebuilds, additions, and renovations since then, including an extensive restoration in the second half of the 20th century, when Roman and Muslim remnants were excavated and exposed.
Opposite the cathedral in Palma stands an austere fortress palace that was erected by the Moors and later became the residence of the kings of Mallorca. The Moors built the fortress in 1281 and it was converted into a royal residence at the end of the 13th century, but evidence suggests that the Moors themselves built on an existing Roman fort. The palace is still officially a royal residence, although very seldom occupied, and is occasionally used for royal functions and events. Inside, most rooms and corridors are bare, but there are some beautiful Flemish Gobelin tapestries on display as well as a few antiques, art works and suits of armour.
Built in the 14th century and surrounded by a double moat, this round hilltop castle was the summer residence of the kings of Mallorca. While once serving as a prison, it today contains Palma's Municipal Museum displaying archaeological artefacts and models of excavations. The unusual castle sits atop a lovely park area and its highlights include spectacular views and photo opportunities. Visitors can explore a series of chambers upstairs above the museum below, and should not miss the prisoner's graffiti etched into the stonework, visible if guests climb up to the roof. The Bellver Castle is on the route of the Palma City open-top sightseeing buses, but the walk up through the forest from Placa Gomilla is pleasant and not too strenuous.
Palma's most renowned art gallery contains works collected by the Juan March Foundation, housed in a restored mansion on the Carrer Sant Miquel. It focuses on modern works including Picasso's Head of a Woman and paintings by acknowledged masters like Miro, Dali, Juan Gris, and Antoni Tapies, as well as art by contemporary Spanish artists. It is a small but impressive collection and the 17th-century mansion in which it's housed is beautiful and fun to explore, contrasting interestingly with the modern art. The spacious and quiet gallery is a wonderful refuge on a hot day. The museum is very active, organising lecture series, many temporary exhibitions, and free art workshops. Guided tours of the gallery are available by prior appointment on week days between 11am and 3pm. There is a good museum shop selling exhibition catalogues, art books, posters, postcards, and the like. The gallery is wheelchair accessible. The fact that a gallery of this calibre is free is quite remarkable and the museum is popular with tourists and locals alike.
The only surviving Moorish building in Palma is the bathhouse of Banys Arabs, located in the city's medieval quarter. It contains an elegant horseshoe-arched dome chamber supported by 12 columns, fronted by a lovely little garden with picnic tables. Although this is a small attraction, basically consisting of two empty chambers (hence the low admission cost), the old architecture is graceful and photographers should enjoy capturing the romantically dilapidated walls and columns. The baths are worth visiting to get some impression of the character of the old city, as they are sadly all that remains.
In 1838, Frederic Chopin arrived in the small town of Valldemossa with his lover, George Sand, to stay in a former monk's cell in the Cartoixa Reial monastery and carry on their affair away from the eyes of Paris. The shocked locals shunned the sickly Chopin and Sand, and the couple were so unhappy that their relationship never recovered from the wet, windy and miserable winter in the monastery. Today the cells occupied by the lovers are open to visitors. The library and old pharmacy can also be visited and there is a small art museum with works by Picasso, Miro, and Juli Ramis. Valldemossa is one of the prettiest villages in Mallorca: it is quiet and traditional, with narrow cobbled streets and a backdrop of forested hills.
About 20 miles (32km) beyond Soller, after a drive through the Serra de Tramuntana in the north of the island, is the remote mountain village of Lluc, in a valley that has been an important place of pilgrimage since the 13th century. Lluc became Mallorca's most sacred site when a shepherd boy discovered a dark wooden statue of the Virgin in a cleft in the rock. The miraculous statue somehow returned to its cave three times after being placed in the local church. Now the statue, known as La Moreneta, has been encrusted with precious stones and resides in its own chapel, receiving pilgrims and tourists who come to pay homage each day.
The old medieval district of Ciudad de Ibiza (Ibiza Town), the capital of the island, sports narrow cobblestone streets, picturesque whitewashed houses and Gothic buildings around courtyards bright with blooming geraniums and bougainvillea. Ibiza'a Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with architecture spanning 2,500 years of history. The Old Town, enclosed by historic walls, is best entered through the Puerta de las Tablas, which sees visitors passing across a drawbridge flanked by ancient statues; there is another entrance, Portal Nou, behind the Plaza del Parque, which is somewhat less dramatic. The district is best explored on foot, and contains some interesting sights, most noteworthy of which is the Archaeological Museum.
The tourist attraction cave complex of Cova de Can Marca sits a few miles north of Sant Miquel, a village with an attractive hilltop church and good tapas bars. The caves have been commercialised and fitted with some spectacular sound and lighting effects, providing for an entertaining guided tour. The caves are situated atop a rocky inlet, with spectacular views over the bay and of the islands Murada and Feriradura. The cave is said to be more than 100,000 years old and features underground lakes, stalactites, and stalagmites. There was once a natural waterfall in the cave system but the waterfall featured on the tour today is a replica, as the waterbeds of the cave system are now fossilised.
The salt flats of Las Salinas are some of Ibiza's most famous landmarks, close to the airport on the southernmost tip of the island. They've been used for more than 2,000 years since the Carthaginians traded with the salt left in the pans after the waters evaporated in summer. The sparkling lakes provide one of the world's most beautiful sunset photograph opportunities. The fashionable Las Salinas beach on the southern tip of Ibiza attracts a glittering crowd of sun worshippers and party animals, including many celebrities, the wealthy, and the beautiful. There are numerous beach bars to try out. The salt flats can be found in the nature reserve that surrounds this gorgeous beach, along with pine forests, sand dunes, and a general abundance of natural beauty.
The tiny island of Formentera covers 35 square miles (90 sq km) and is home to just over 5,000 people. It can be reached by ferry from Ibiza Town, with a regular service running every two hours. Ferry services to Formentera from the mainland have also been established, due to the island's increasing popularity. It's relatively unspoilt by tourism development, although not as empty of crowds as it once was. Accommodation options are very limited. The main attractions are some pretty villages and marvellous beaches flanked by palms and pines, many frequented by nudists. The best way to explore is on a rented moped or bicycle, as there are well-maintained cycling tracks traversing the island.
Most visitors head straight for the string of restaurants and cafes lining the harbour of Mahon, Minorca's capital town. The town itself is sedate and conservative, featuring classic Georgian townhouses (bearing testimony to the British occupation of bygone days) and tall apartment blocks. Mahon does have some worthwhile attractions for those interested in making more of their holiday than dashing off to the beach. The mansion house of Golden Farm overlooks the harbour, and was once occupied by Admiral Lord Nelson. Also on the sightseeing list is the Xoriguer Gin Distillery, where famed Minorcan gin is produced in an age-old process. The celebrated organ (with more than 3,000 pipes) in the church of Esglesia de Santa Maria la Major is also a draw for some visitors.
The Museo Canario boasts mummies and the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls. The permanent exhibition is devoted solely to the aboriginal population of Gran Canaria, who inhabited the islands from the second half of the first millennium BC up until the 15th century. It covers things such as religion and mythology, funerary practices, economic activity, and the organisation of society. The award-winning museum in Las Palmas houses the most complete and comprehensive archaeological collection in the Canary Islands and should be of great interest to anybody keen on archaeology, anthropology, and the ancient history of the Canary Islands. There is a room full of the skeletal remains of the ancients, which is spooky but fascinating.
Christopher Columbus is believed to have stayed for different periods in the Casa de Colon, in the historical quarter of Vegueta in Las Palmas. The house now serves as a museum displaying relics of early transatlantic voyages and pre-Columbian cultures, as well as acting as a cultural centre for the study of the Canary Island's relationship with the Americas. The building is a famous example of the architecture of the Canary Islands, and has heavy wooden balconies, patios, fountains, and some unusual ornamental features. It was once the residence of Las Palmas's early governors.
The delightful town of Arucas sits beneath a dormant volcano on the northern coast of Gran Canaria, and is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. The neat town is dominated by the majestic Church of San Juan Bautista, which local workers carved in stone. It is possible to take a short walk out of the town to the Montana de Arucas viewpoint for a panoramic look at the northern coastline. The town is scenically situated, surrounded by fields of corn and potatoes and banana plantations, and the Palmitos ravine provides some beautiful vistas. The stunning, UNESCO-listed Gran Canaria Biosphere Reserve is also easily accessible from Arucas.
A colourful and entertaining look at nature is presented at Palmitos Park, a botanical garden, zoo, and aquarium situated four miles (6km) inland from Arguineguin on the south coast. The park is a subtropical oasis containing thousands of birds, fish, animals, trees, plants, and particularly orchids. The orchid house is the largest in the Canary Islands and the range is astonishing. There is a cactus garden too, a huge butterfly house, and an aquarium featuring a recreated riverbed. Attractions include dolphin shows and a number of bird shows including displays by birds of prey, parrots, and exotic birds. Popular displays help fund the park's serious conservation programmes.
The spectacular Parque Nacional de las Canadas del Teide was declared a protected area in 1954 and includes an enormous volcanic crater with a circumference of 30 miles (48km), out of which rises the highest peak in Spain, Mount Teide. It is the largest, one of the oldest, and the most visited national park in Spain and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2007, it has also been one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. In contrast to the coastal regions of Tenerife, the temperatures in the reserve can be extreme: winter in the park, which lies at about 6,562ft (2,000m) above sea level, brings snowfall and gale force winds, while in summer temperatures can soar to above 104F (40C).
On the east coast of Tenerife, south of Santa Cruz, stand six mysterious step pyramids of which archaeologists have yet to discern the origin. The pyramids were initially thought to be the remains of agricultural stone terraces, or random piles of stone cleared from fields by early Spanish settlers. However, Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who lived in Guimar on Tenerife until his death in 2002, thought differently. His research indicated that the pyramids were constructed on similar principles to those in Mexico, Peru and ancient Mesopotamia. The pyramids are now enclosed in an Ethnographic Park; the site includes a museum, life-size replica of Heyerdahl's reed ship Kontiki, a cafeteria, and souvenir shop.
A collection of modern artworks sit on permanent display in the Castle of San Jose, a fortress in built in 1779 to defend against pirate attacks in Arrecife. The castle was in military use till 1890 and then stood vacant till 1974, when it was converted into a modern art gallery and restaurant by architect and artist Cesar Manrique. The Museo International de Arte Contemporaneo is small but fascinating. The main attraction is actually the building itself and the contrast between the old fortress and modern art. Some of the artists featured are Bacon, Picasso, Miro, Botero, Damaso, and Luis Feito.
Timanfaya National Park, in the southwestern part of the island of Lanzarote, is unique because it is the only national park in the world to have been developed by local residents. Also unique is what the park offers, including a volcanic field filled with a variety of geological and geothermic phenomena. In fact, the reserve is almost entirely made up of volcanic soil, and volcanic activity continues beneath the surface, although there is only one active volcano. Attractions include some geysers by the restaurant. Although the landscape is strange and stark, 180 different plant species do survive in the park. The whole of Lanzarote is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and Timanfaya is one of the core protected areas.
In the northern part of Lanzarote, close to the Monte de la Corona volcano, is a spectacular system of underground grottos known as La Cueva de los Verdes. This is one of the largest volcanic galleries in the world, at just over four miles (6km) long, formed approximately five thousand years ago in a prehistoric eruption when a massive stream of lava boiled down to the sea, hardening around the spaces inflated by gases. Where the tunnel enters the sea there is an underwater section called the Tunnel of Atlantis. More than a mile (2km) of these grottos is accessible to visitors, and lighting effects have been added to accentuate the contours and colours of the weird shapes resulting from the lava flows.
Situated between Guatiza and Mala is an unusual sightseeing attraction that combines art with nature. Artist Cesar Manrique created a work of art in the form of a cactus plantation in an old quarry. The Cactus Garden was Manrique's final piece of work in Lanzarote. More than 7,000 cactuses from well over 1,000 different species from all over the world are represented in the garden, with many coming from Madagascar, Mexico, Chile, Morocco, the US, and the Canary Islands. The plants come in all shapes and sizes and have been arranged beautifully in a landscaped garden with many water features. The site also features a restored windmill, which visitors can climb.
The old town of Betancuria was founded in 1405 and was the first capital of Fuerteventura. The town enjoys a fantastic location, offering attractive views of the hilly terrain and winding river below. In the town are several beautiful buildings and churches worth visiting, including the Church of Iglesia de Santa Maria de Betancuria and the convent of San Buenaventura. The Casa Museo Arquebiologico has some interesting artefacts including fertility idols and farming tools that reflect the earliest history of the island. The town was built primarily to defend against pirate attacks and in 1593 it was all but destroyed by pirates and then slowly rebuilt. There are various shops and stalls in Betancuria that sell some of the best handcrafts and local produce on Fuerteventura.
Historic buildings from between the 17th and mid-19th centuries remain in the village of La Oliva, which people can still visit. Travellers should make their way to the centre of the village, where they'll find the pretty church of Parroquiade Nuestra Seiiora de Candelaria. Its highlights include a square bell tower, a finely carved wooden door, and an interior that features a painting of the Last Judgement, a Baroque altar painting by Juan de Miranda, and some wonderful trompe l'oeil work. The village also has an art centre exhibiting the work of Canarian artists (Centro de Arte Canario Casa Mane). The somewhat desolate and barren natural landscape of the interior gives way dramatically to the bright turquoise water of the sea, and the beaches around La Oliva are very pretty.
Travellers won't need to go far on Fuerteventura to find a perfect beach, even if they are intent on seeking solitude from other holidaymakers. The best are found around Jandia on the southern tip of the island. Juan Gomez is one of these and has an enticing stretch of golden sand. In the same section of the island is the pebbly black volcanic beach of La Pared. Giniginamar is surrounded by palm trees and other indigenous plants and is recommended for peace and quiet. If travellers are looking for a family-friendly beach, the southern Costa Calma is a great option, as the conditions are ideal for safe swimming and the facilities are good. Nudism is tolerated on all the island's beaches.
Listed as one of Madrid's top ten sights, the tablao flamenco (flamenco show restaurant) is renowned as the oldest and most famous flamenco show in the world. The multi-award winning establishment draws kings and queens, international presidents, film stars, and well-known artists and writers. They all come to witness the nightly performances of top flamenco stars, receiving excellent service and dining on exquisite meals prepared by some of the best chefs in Madrid. The Corral de la Moreria was opened in 1956 and is widely lauded as the best flamenco venue in the world. It has hosted some of the finest professionals of the flamenco discipline, as well as world-class singers and musicians.
The ancient Andalusian city of Almeria lies sheltered at the base of a bay, proudly dominated by the amazing Alcazaba, a huge Moorish citadel with three walled enclosures dating from 995. A 16th-century Christian castle was built on the foundations of the original Moorish citadel, creating a potent aesthetic mixture of architectural styles. From the citadel, visitors have a good view of the city's most impressive and important Christian monument, the Cathedral, dating from 1524, designed more like a fortress than a church because of the need to defend it from pirate attacks. The Cathedral contains numerous art treasures, including a tabernacle dating from the 18th century and designed by Ventura Rodriguez.
About 16 miles (26km) from Almeria and set between the Sierra de Alhamilla and Sierra de Filabres, the little village of Tabernas is in a barren landscape of canyons and rocky wasteland. A few decades ago, when Western movies were the most popular Hollywood genre, legendary stars such as Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson strutted their stuff here in the dry heat on film sets that fans will recognise from movies such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and The Magnificent Seven. The movie lots have now become theme park tourist attractions.
North of Almeria, a lighthouse stands at the tip of the Cabo de Gata Peninsula marking the extremity of Andalusia's largest coastal nature reserve. The park is a fascinating landscape of arid desert, volcanic mountains, jagged sea cliffs, sand dunes, wetlands, a lagoon, and hidden sandy coves. Mountain bikers, hikers, bird-watchers, and water sports enthusiasts enjoy this natural wonderland, which encompasses some quaint fishing hamlets, historic ruins, and magnificent stretches of beach. Two of the most popular beaches are Playa de Monsul, which has picturesque volcanic rock formations, and Playa de los Genoveses, which is within walking distance of San Jose. Tiny rock islands cluster off the rugged coastline and there are extensive coral reefs along the shore.
The busy fishing village of Cadaques draws plenty of visitors, but they do not come for the local beach, which is rather narrow and stony. Rather, the resort town's attractions are its picturesque natural harbour, some excellent restaurants, numerous galleries, fashion, and art and craft shops, and the former home-turned-museum of world-renowned surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, situated in nearby Portlligat Bay. Dali's bizarre home consists of a labyrinthine cluster of fishermen's huts, added to the original building in various stages by the artist over a period of 40 years. Visitors must reserve a time for entry in advance as only about eight people are allowed in the museum at a time.
Situated scarcely a mile from the beach of the popular resort town of L'Estartit on the Costa Brava, the protected Medes Islands are seen as heaven for divers. The craggy little archipelago of seven islets and a few reefs form one of the most important and rich marine reserves in the Mediterranean. Meda Gran, the largest of the islands, is the only one of considerable size, and there is a 10th-century lighthouse on it. Most of the islands are just rocky outcrops jutting out of the sea, with little vegetation. However, the magic happens underwater, where millions of fish and thousands of animal and plant species inhabit the shallows, crevices, and submarine caves at the base of the island cliffs.
The impressive, futuristic landscape of the City of Arts and Science covers a vast area, rising out of a man-made lake in what was formerly the bed of the River Turia. It encompasses various attractions accessed along a magnificent arched walkway, overhung with an array of flowering aromatic plants and shrubs. The city consists of five areas: the Hemisferic, containing the IMAX cinema and other digital projections; the Umbracle, a landscaped viewing and parking area; the Principe Felipe Science Museum, dedicated to interactive science; the Oceanografico, the largest aquarium in Europe, housing more than 500 marine species; and the Palau de lest Arts Reina Sofia, which hosts opera, theatre, and music performances.
The ancient district of El Carmen sits in the heart of Valencia's old town, with narrow cobbled alleyways, honey-coloured buildings, and bars and cafes contributing making up a chilled Bohemian atmosphere. El Carmen also has several interesting attractions, including the remains of the medieval city walls, and the Gothic tower gates of Torres de Serrano and Torres de Quart, the latter pocked with cannon-ball marks dating from an assault by Napoleon. Roman and Moorish influences are clear in the Old Town and the numerous squares and narrow streets give the area an authentic medieval feel, despite the invasion of tourists as the city increases in popularity. Along with several museums, there is also a convent complex dating back to the 13th century.
It is reputedly the resting place of the Holy Grail but, whether visitors believe that or not, the ornate Valencia Cathedral is worth a visit just because of its unique history and combination of architectural styles. Since it started out in 1262, it has shuffled back and forth from being a mosque to a Christian church, and has been added to accordingly in a variety of styles from Romanesque to Gothic, Baroque, and even Moorish. It houses an interesting museum, treasury, and the Holy Grail chapel. Visitors should also look out for paintings by Goya.
One of Valencia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the old Silk Exchange, founded in 1469, copied from a similar structure built in Palma de Mallorca. The walled tower and flamboyant Gothic trading hall, once used for the trade of precious items like silk and gold, is widely regarded as the city's most beautiful building, and is now a top tourist attraction, often used for hosting art exhibitions. The immensely high vaulted ceiling tops some unusual and very attractive pillars, the floors are lovely, and there is lots of intricate stonework and Gothic detail to admire.
The Crypt of San Vicente is an ancient part of Valencia and exploring the space takes visitors on an intriguing archaeological journey through the history of the city. The crypt has existed in many different incarnations: it was once part of a Visigoth chapel; was converted into palace baths during Muslim rule; and was incorporated into a Christian chapel dedicated to the martyr San Vicente (although it is unclear whether the saint was ever actually imprisoned here as some historians claim). There is even evidence of Roman architecture in the crypt, which is located in a district once occupied by Roman nobles. It is possible to wander in and see the ruins.
The Plaza de la Virgen is one of Valencia's loveliest squares. Once the site of an ancient Roman forum, a fountain sits in the centre and is surrounded by plenty of open-air cafes. On one side of the square is the impressive Gothic façade of the Palau de la Generalitat, seat of government for the Valencia region, and opposite is the Baroque Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados, a grand church dating from the 17th century containing fascinating frescoes. The Plaza de la Virgen is an entertainment hub during the famous Fallas Festival in Valencia, which sees the community building big, creative sculptures in the square and later burning them. Street performers come into the square during the evening.
Commonly known as La Pedrera, Casa Mila is an iconic construction by creative genius Antonio Gaudi. It was his last civil work before dedicating all his time to the assembly of La Sagrada Família. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and demonstrates the signature style of Gaudi with elaborate designs, globular shapes, assorted sculptures, colourful tiles, and intricate details. Built between 1906 and 1912, the distinct architecture of La Pedrera and her counterparts was unconventional and unheard of in the popular Spanish architecture of the time. The remarkable building is now a cultural centre that organises a range of activities and hosts exhibitions of various kinds.
Known as the Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gotic is Barcelona's oldest district. A former fortified Roman settlement, the maze of atmospheric narrow streets house spectacular Gothic buildings and cathedrals, marking the city's heyday during the 14th and 15th centuries. There are many significant sights, the most illustrious being the immense Gothic Cathedral La Seu, with its breathtaking facade and serene cloister. With an assortment of shops and delightful sidewalk cafes, the Barri Gotic is a worthwhile day out. To view the remains of this ancient Roman city, once known as Barcino, travellers should visit the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat in the Palau Real, where Roman streets are still visible in the extensive cellar.
FC Barcelona, one of Europe's most beloved football teams, has an informative museum with displays of photographs, documents, memorabilia, and trophies, covering over a century of club history. Visitors also get the opportunity to explore the famous stadium on the Camp Nou Tour, which takes fans to the heart of the club, the changing rooms, tunnel and Nou Camp pitch. With a panoramic view of the stadium from the grandstand, visitors can get a taste of the heady atmosphere of a FC Barcelona match on their home ground. The museum also has an official store where club jerseys, caps and accessories can be purchased.
A celebration of the life and work of world-renowned Catalan surrealist sculptor and painter Joan Miro, the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona houses the majority of the artist's works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and textiles. Distinguished by his use of primary colours, simple lines, and two-dimensional geometric shapes, Miro refused to be categorised into an established art movement and, as a result, continued to create unparalleled works of art. Another product of original artistic genius from Barcelona, the works of Miro at the Joan Miro Foundation allow visitors to further delve into the unrestrained creative energy of this exceptional city.
Barcelona's coastline offers a string of attractive beaches, the ideal diversion after excessive sightseeing and shopping. Travellers can visit the popular Barceloneta Beach, only ten minutes from the city centre, where there is a selection of beach bars, and can cool down with a refreshing swim and marvel at the bizarre architecture of Homenatge a la Barceloneta by Rebecca Horn. Windsurfing and kite surfing are popular activities on this always-bustling beach. The end of Barceloneta and the beginning of Icaria Beach is marked by Frank Gehry's El Peix. Marbella Beach is unofficially Barcelona's nudist beach but, although nudity is tolerated, many people choose to keep their clothes on. For a peaceful beach near the city centre look no further than Caldetes, which is invariably almost empty.
The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is situated in the once-shabby Raval District, just off La Rambla. Over the years its front plaza has become synonymous with international skateboarders, being fondly known as the famous MACBA, drawing skaters and creatives from around the world to unite, compete, and collaborate against the backdrop of this chic white building. Being a work of art in itself, the Museum of Contemporary Art was designed to take advantage of as much natural light as possible and the cool, airy interiors confidently hold the works of modern art luminaries such as Basquiat, Klee, Tapies, and Barcelo. Kids will enjoy the museum, as there is a lot to touch and interact with.
One of the most well-known plazas in the country, Puerta del Sol is the historical and geographical heart of the city. The 15th-century entryway earned its name by being bathed in the rays of the rising sun due its eastern position. Littered with famous landmarks, Puerta del Sol is home to the famous Spanish clock tower whose bell marks the beginning of the New Year. The official symbol of Madrid (El Oso y El Madrono) is immortalised in a 20-ton statue of a bear eating fruits off a Madrono tree. There's also a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III on display. The plaza is a popular site for rallies and protests, and remains an important venue for social gatherings, festivals, and events.
Located nearby the Prado Museum, the Royal Botanic Garden of Madrid is one of the oldest botanic gardens in Europe. With the foundation of the garden ordered by King Ferdinand VI in 1755, the Royal Botanic Garden has been cataloguing and nurturing rare species of flora for over 200 years. A welcome break after hours of art, architecture, and frenetic streets, the garden is a small haven of natural splendour. Divided into three terraces and extending only eight hectares, the garden boasts an array of 30,000 plants and flowers and 1,500 trees.
A worthwhile visit in a country known for its rich history, the National Archaeological Museum was founded in 1867 with the purpose of being a depository for the collection of coin, archaeological, ethnographical, and decorative art collections compiled by the Spanish monarchs. Situated in a stately neoclassical mansion alongside the National Library, the museum's collection ranges from prehistoric times to the 19th century. One of the major exhibits is the famous Iberian statue, 'The Lady of Elche', a carving from the 4th century BC found on the southeastern coast of Spain. Another intriguing exhibit is the Islamic collection, outlining the long and influential history of the Moors in Spain.
A hidden gem, the Sorolla Museum was the home of renowned Spanish Impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla and his family. Donated to the government in 1929 by Sorolla's widow, the house now operates as a memorial and museum, displaying a large collection of Sorolla's glowing works and other contemporary collections including sculpture, ceramics, furniture, and jewellery. A fine example of a bourgeois Madrid home from the early 20th century, the attractive museum has an intrinsically Spanish style with brightly painted walls, dark furniture, and a pretty garden. Much of the house remains as Sorolla left it, right down to his stained paintbrushes and pipes.
Surrounded by rolling green hills, the 13th-century town of Ferreries lies nestled in the centre of Minorca next to the island's second highest mountain. Travellers are attracted to the area by the Castell de Santa Agueda, the ruin of a Moorish castle built atop an ancient Roman stronghold. It exists as the last site of resistance for Arab inhabitants when the island was conquered by King Alfonso III of Aragon. The ruined fortress is accessed via an ancient Roman road and there is a chapel dedicated to Saint Agatha next to the castle. Ferreries itself is a sleepy little place, with a character typical of the island. It's a great place to buy local produce as the region is particularly celebrated for its cheeses.
Located in the centre of Barcelona, the Parc de La Ciutadella is a great place to spend a sunny summer's afternoon relaxing under a tree with a book, a picnic, and the family. Originally the site was chosen for a fortress in 1714, but in 1869 it was decided that the area should be a park and the palace was demolished. Exploring the park and being out on the water is a fun way to unwind, as the setting features a lake where visitors can hire a small rowboat, The paths for walking, jogging, and cycling are wide and well maintained, and there are some interesting sculptures dotted about the park, and some striking buildings.
Featuring thousands of brightly coloured and exotic fish, the Barcelona Aquarium is a must for children of all ages. With 35 different tanks holding creatures from different oceans, the aquarium is the largest of its kind in Europe and features species such as giltheads, moray eels, sunfish, rays, sand tiger sharks, and sandbar sharks. The oceanarium is the largest Mediterranean-themed aquarium in the world and the showpiece of the Barcelona Aquarium, with a transparent tunnel winding through it that gives visitors the exhilarating feeling of walking underwater. The whole aquarium houses about 11,000 organisms from 450 different species.
The mock village of Poble Espanyol is an outdoor open-air architectural museum featuring workshops, where visitors can see different types of craftwork taking place. Around 117 buildings, streets, and squares make up the village and have been reproduced to scale, giving the true feel of a Spanish village. The village was built in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exhibition and some of the replica buildings have now outlived the originals, which were found in villages across Spain. Visitors can purchase high-quality handmade dolls, embroidery, glassware, soap, textiles, ceramics and more from the more than 30 craft workshops that specialise in the traditional secrets of producing these items.
Kids will enjoy a trip to Safari Madrid, which is set in an African-style savannah landscape and is home to giraffe, camels, zebras, elephants, hippos, bison, bears, baboons, monkeys, and rhino. The main wildlife attractions are the big cats, including lions, tigers, and cougars. Many of the animals are allowed to roam free, simulating an African safari experience that lets visitors view game from their vehicles. Small kids will be delighted with the selection of meek, cuddly animals that they are allowed to interact with. Those who have been on real safaris will find the park disappointing, however.
Home to nearly 3,000 animals from all over the world and an impressive aquarium, the Madrid Zoo is a great attraction for kids on holiday in the city. Highlights of the zoo include koala bears, pandas, zebras, raccoons, bears, reindeers, rhinos, otters, lions, chimpanzees, hippos, lemurs, lynx, buffalo, elephants, wolves, orangutans, baboons, gorillas, giraffes, and tigers. The zoo also boasts a good variety of reptiles and birds. Marine animals include the ever-popular dolphins, seals, penguins, and sharks. There are dolphin and sea lion shows. The zoo carries out different conservation and breeding programmes for species in serious danger of extinction.
Parque de Atracciones is a fantastic amusement park in Madrid, and a particularly good option for those travelling with kids. The park is big and modern and offers a number of rides and attractions for all ages. There is plenty for the thrill-seekers to enjoy, but also some more relaxed rides. The park is divided into five large sections: Maquinismo (machinery), where many large rides can be found; the Gran Avenida (main avenue), which boasts shops, restaurants, shows, and street performers; Naturaleza (nature); Tranquilidad (relaxation); and Infantile, an area designed for young kids. There are a number of shows, games, and spectacles to keep everybody entertained.
Aqualand is one place that is not to be missed by families on holiday in Mallorca. Children of all ages and parents alike will have a grand time splashing in the pools, riding the slides, floating on tubes, a mini water park for the little ones, or jumping in the wave pools. Those who don't relish excitement can enjoy the lazy river or the Jacuzzis, and the whole family will enjoy the surf beach and group rides. There are lockers and sun loungers available to rent for a small extra charge and there are various options for food and refreshments in the park. Benches and beach areas provide space for relaxation in between the thrills and spills.
Katmandu Park is a theme park and mini-golf complex that proves wildly popular amongst younger visitors to Magaluf. Featuring cutting-edge technology, The House of Katmandu provides a thrilling and interactive haunted house experience for youngsters; The Asylum, aimed at older visitors (12 years and older), takes passengers on a scary journey through an abandoned mental asylum; the interactive motion ride Desperado is a comical cowboy gun slinging experience; and there is a 4D cinema to enjoy. The 36-hole (two 18-hole courses) Expedition Golf area of the theme park is hugely impressive, featuring fun and challenging courses, elaborately ornamented and themed, that even adults will find tough to master.
Aqualand is a must for all families visiting Gran Canaria, especially those with children. The wide range of slides, pools, and rides will keep the young and the young at heart happily entertained for hours. Those looking for an injection of adrenalin should try the wide array of thrill rides, while young children have their own water playground with fun mini slides and swings. There is a surf beach and a lazy river, which families can enjoy together, and there are plenty of benches and beach areas for relaxing and picnicking. Lockers and sun loungers cost a little extra, but visitors do get free bags to keep their towels and other belongings in. The park is clean and well maintained, generally receiving rave reviews from tourists.
Featuring a wide variety of activities, Holiday World is a fun park that caters specifically to families on holiday in Gran Canaria. Kids of all ages can enjoy rides such as bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, and a pirate ship, as well as games such as ten-pin bowling and things such as pony rides and a parrot show. There is a playground area for children too young to enjoy the rides. A range of restaurants and fast-food outlets are available and, after dark, there are some nighttime entertainment options, with frequent live shows and music concerts, an Irish pub, and some other drinking and dancing venues.
Mallorca's most popular hiking trail is the climb from the town of Alaro up to a ruined castle and hilltop chapel, which offers panoramic views of the sea and plains as far as Palma. From Alaro the walk takes about two hours to complete depending on fitness levels. A castle has stood on this site since Moorish times and the fortress was once so impregnable that the Moors managed to hold out against the Christian conquest for two years. Later, in 1285, Mallorcan independence fighters tried to defend the castle against Alfonso III of Aragon, but they were defeated and burned alive for their impudence. The castle ruins now visible on the hilltop date from the 15th century and dominate the landscape. They seem to grow out of the rock and are rather romantic and picturesque, fuelling the imagination.
Visiting the dormant volcanoes is not one of the typical things to do in Spain, yet they offer stunning scenery and a one-of-a-kind experience. Sandwiched between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, the region of Garrotxa is home to a multitude of prehistoric volcanoes as well as many castles and country houses. Visitors wanting to experience more of Spain than the quintessential beach and city breaks should head to Garrotxa Nature Reserve, just outside of Girona, to experience a land of amazing and rugged landscapes, fire, and ash. The reserve showcases the best of rural tourism in Spain and is perfect for enthusiastic hikers.
This truly incredible limestone formation sits at the end of the Iberian Peninsula, famous for its astounding geology and overly friendly furry friends. Though many countries have claimed the beacon over the years, it's officially owned by the British government and thus it is advised that tourists exchange euros for pounds. The Rock of Gibraltar is easily conquered by cable car, but it's worthwhile to hire a guide to explain the countless caves and rocks, and to entice the wild but sociable monkeys. On clear days, visitors can even view North Africa. St Michael's Cave, long believed to be bottomless, is a thrilling attraction with many myths and stories attached. Part of the massively deep cave is open to visitors and is even used as a concert venue.
The beautiful town of La Orotava is firm proof that there is much more to Tenerife than lovely beaches and a fun nightlife. Known for its aristocratic heritage and exceptional architecture, La Orotava is famous for its ornate balconies, many of which are concentrated on Casa de los Balcones. The town was settled by noble families in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest and they set about a flourish of competitive building, a legacy that modern-day visitors can enjoy at their leisure. The west of the island was home to Tenerife's nobility who built many fine houses. There are many churches and monasteries here too. La Orotava is beautifully situated, with volcanic black beaches and mountains that encourage hiking and other outdoor activities.
Andalusia's chalky soil is ideal for the cultivation of the palomino grape, from which the world-famous sherry (jerez) of the region is made. The main sites of sherry production in Andalusia are Jerez de la Frontera and Montilla, and these charming towns are home to plenty of self-proclaimed sherry connoisseurs, who will debate the quality of the sweet amber-coloured blends with the seriousness usually reserved for appraising the finest French wines. An increasingly popular tourist activity for visitors to southern Spain is to tour the bodegas of the region, wineries with a history dating back to Roman times, which specialise in the fermentation of palomino grapes and the production of sherry.
El Raval is a compelling and interesting neighbourhood, with a long and chequered history. It's one of two districts bordering La Rambla, with the other being the established tourist area of Barri Gotic. Located near Barcelona's port, El Raval has always had an exciting, multicultural character, particularly popular with backpackers and revellers keen to check out the city's cutting-edge galleries and clubs. While having undergone a period of development, the area still remains slightly dangerous and tourists should be careful of pickpockets and avoid walking alone at night. El Raval is full of cool bars and funky cafes that beg to be explored, from Bar Marsella with its Art Nouveau interior, to London Bar, a run-down though stately place once frequented by artists like Hemingway, Picasso, and Mirò. Another great sight in El Raval is the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi's lesser-known masterpieces, featuring large parabolic gates decorated with beautiful ironwork.
The ancient city of La Coruna has steadily been growing in popularity as a base for travellers in northern Spain. The bustling coastal centre has a busy port, a gorgeously long beachfront, and a reputation for liberalism. Today it is a cosmopolitan and proud city, popular with expats. The main attraction for sightseers is the Roman Tower of Hercules, an ancient lighthouse which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Coruna's Old Town, Ciudad Vieja, is picturesque, with some noble old buildings and a lively medieval fair in July. The newest and most talked about attraction is the MunCyT technological museum (Museo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología), a glass and concrete monument to modernism. Another feature that gets visitors very excited is the beachfront promenade, one of the longest in Europe, which winds past many of the city's best attractions. The Orzan and Riazor Beaches, in the heart of La Coruna, are both Blue Flag accredited and immensely popular in the summer months. For delicious and authentic Spanish food visitors should head to the prime tapas territory of Calle Estrella.
The fortified medieval centre of Montblanc is gloriously well preserved. The historic old quarter is best explored on foot and notable sights include the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, the Sant Miguel Church, the Sant Marcal Church, the Royal Palace, and the Castla Palace, all dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The picturesque village celebrates its medieval heritage every year in April with a two-week festival filled with parades and fireworks, which commemorates the legend of Saint George killing the dragon. Montblanc is inland from the port city of Tarragona and very close to the UNESCO-listed Poblet Monastery, which is one of the most famous attractions in the Costa Dorada. The kings of Aragon and Catalonia were buried here.
Spanish Phrase Book
|por favor||please||por fah vohr|
|gracias||thank you||grah see us|
|mi nombre es||my name is||mee nombr� es|
|cuanto cuesta||how much is||kwanto kwesta|
|donde esta||where is||donday esta|
|usted habla ingl�s?||do you speak English?||oo ste hub la in glays|
|no entiendo||I dont understand||no in tee endo|
|necesito a un doctor||I need a doctor||nece-sito a un doctor|
|uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco||one, two, three, four, five||oono, dose, tres, kwatro, sinko|
Southern Spain is the ideal holiday region, having the warmest weather on mainland Europe, even during the winter months. The southern and eastern coast of Spain has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters, while the western Atlantic coast is cooler in summer and wet in winter.
Inland the climate is temperate and the capital Madrid, which is situated on a plateau, can be surprisingly cold in winter. Most of Spain is extremely hot during mid-summer, in July and August. The rest of the year the climate is generally temperate in the north, but warm in the south.
The peak tourism season is summer, between June and August, with August the busiest month, but many people prefer to visit Spain during spring or autumn (May or October) when the weather is still pleasant and the crowds thinner. The exception to this recommendation is the Atlantic coast, which has heavy rains in October and November.
Budget travellers should consider visiting Spain in the winter as accommodation and flights are offered at discount rates. The Canary Islands are a good beach destination if visiting in winter, and cities such as Barcelona are exciting destinations at any time of year.
One of the most well known seafood restaurants in Barcelona, Botafumeiro consistently presents the finest regional cuisine of Galicia and prides itself on the freshness of its fish, clams, mussels, lobster, crayfish and scallops, which are either kept in large tanks near delivered daily from the ocean. The impeccable treatment of customers and the private atmosphere makes this a perfect dining experience for both business and pleasure. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Reservations essential.
On the beachfront, Can Majó serves delicious seafood that can be enjoyed on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Specialities include paella, but the fish is also superb. Choose from a daily catch including barnacles, prawns, crab, oysters and clams. Reservations required. Closed Monday. No dinner Sundays.
One of the many unassuming sidewalk café bars on Placa George Orwell in the Gothic Quarter, Oviso offers reasonably priced food and an intimate, bohemian ambiance. Good for breakfast or an afternoon snack, this bar restaurant often serves as a place to begin a night out or to end a long day. Great for people watching, Oviso attracts many artists and students and is a good choice for idling away a few hours in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Not called Rubi for nothing, this vibrant restaurant and nightspot is ideal for couples and friends looking for a chic but understated modern restaurant. With bright crimson booths, an elegant bar and high ceilings, Rubi has become one of Barcelona's quintessential nightspots. In true Barcelona style, Rubi is friendly and laid-back. Serving contemporary fusion cuisine made from only the freshest produce from local markets, Rubi also bakes homemade breads and desserts. After 11.30pm the restaurant shifts gears and the venue is transformed into a groovy bar with Latin American and funk tunes, heating things up a little. Open for dinner, Tuesday to Sunday.
For the best sandwiches in the city, and maybe the country, this hole in the wall take-away sandwich shop doesn't put on airs. Surrounded by fine dining restaurants and elegant tapas establishments, staff at Viena simply and quickly throw together the world's best ingredients between two delicious slices of bread and slides it across the counter. The restaurant is open from 8.30am to 11.30pm during the week and 12.30am on weekends.
Serving creative vegetarian cuisine, with dishes from all over the world and a keen eye for presentation, Amaltea is a well-known and frequented Barcelona vegetarian eatery. The décor is stylish but down to earth, ensuring that all the limelight is afforded to the colourful dishes of food that emerge out of the kitchen. For lunch there is a choice of four starters, mains and various house desserts with a fixed menu. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday and dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings.
This old family-run room is not an ordinary tapas restaurant and is on the fly in more ways than one. With standing room only, perfect for fast eats, the chef rolls out seemingly random (but delicious) concoctions from a huge list of ingredients lining the walls. A superb but also random wine list is best enjoyed quickly with the unique snacks before carrying on one's way. Advisable to call beforehand and check opening hours.
Immortalised by Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, when Jake invites Brett to Botin for the Segovian speciality, the Restaurante Botin has been catering to guests since 1725. Botin is a family-run restaurant that has spanned three generations, offering friendly customer service. Much of the décor pertains to the original restaurant, from the charcoal hearth to hanging copper pots and an 18th-century tile oven. The mixed fish casserole and the grilled filet mignon 'Botin' are excellent, a dessert favourite is strawberries with whipped cream. Open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.
This intimate and luxurious restaurant is decorated in deep shades of red and gold, and furnished in the finest dark wood. The menu offers an array of mouth-watering temptations which include lobster salad with sherry vinegar, followed by duck stewed in port. The chocolate blini with pineapple rounds the evening off nicely. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, and dinner only on Saturday. Reservations essential.
La Bola is one of the last restaurants in the city to don a blood red façade, initially operating as a wine shop in 1802. This family-owned restaurant has been passed down over seven generations and continues charming visitors with its 'olde worlde' décor of velvet, Spanish tiles and lace curtains. La Bola guarantees affordable prices and homemade dishes, packed with flavour. House specialities include Madrileña-style stew and roast lamb. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for lunch only. Reservations recommended.
A modern restaurant that offers cool interiors, tasty food and attentive service, Wagaboo is a good bet for lunch or dinner in Madrid. Specialising in pasta and noodles, Wagaboo has a great selection of contemporary Italian and Asain cuisine. The stylish industrial interior of exposed brick and piping is complemented with chic lighting, red leather seating and shiny dark wood tables. Contemporary art and photography adorn the walls, and the glassed-in kitchen allow patrons to see the pasta and noodles being made. Try an Asian stir-fry or the pizza with pesto, cherry tomatoes, arugula, feta and parma ham. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Bazaar serves creative Mediterranean food in a trendy environment. Priding itself on fresh produce and modern cuisine, Bazaar offers dishes such as thinly sliced tuna with mango chutney, or tender ox with parmesan and rocket. With oils, wines and various fripperies on display, Bazaar has an initial delicatessen feel to it. Follow the large staircase to the dining area with cream leather banquettes, and windows overlooking the streets of Chueca - ideal for people watching. The menu is displayed as a list of dishes with no definition between starters, mains and desserts. There is a wide-ranging wine list. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.
This extraordinary Michelin-starred restaurant (two stars) serves imaginative, unique food which is presented beautifully. Every dish is a work of art and foodies will relish the originality of the creations. Usually there are three set menus on offer and the creative meals are complemented with friendly service and a good wine list. El Club Allard is ideal for special occasions. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, but is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are recommended.
Maintaining its old world charm, quality dishes and unpretentious ambiance, Casa Paco has been a favourite of Madrilenos for over thirty years. A superb steak house, meat at this taverna is ordered by weight and the Casa Paco Solomilo (fillet steak) is a firm favourite. For those after something lighter, the sole and baby lamb are also first-rate dishes. The tiled dining room and traditional décor at Casa Paco add to the homely atmosphere, as does the old fashioned bar, natural sidra (cider) and conscientious service. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
For the best paella and a quality selection of cavas (Catalan champagne-type wine) that complements this traditional dish, Café Balear is the place. The elegant dining room is simply decorated with white linens and curtains, lifted by art prints and potted palms. Try the stuffed aubergines a la Mallorquina, or perhaps the vegetarian paella with fresh ginger. Attentive staff and a friendly atmosphere add to the appeal of this lovely restaurant. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
The Guggenheim Restaurant is located inside the world-class Guggenheim Museum, and it prides itself on being one of the city's very best eateries. Serving traditional Basque cuisine using the freshest local produce, diners can enjoy innovative dishes that have been expertly prepared by chef Josean Martínez, such as the mouth-watering perfumed 'euskal oiloa' chicken (Basque breed organic chicken) with rosemary and lime leaves, or the decadent pure chocolate with coffee ice cream and a hot marzipan sand. Bookings recommended. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and Wednesday to Saturday for dinner.
For a break from traditional Spanish and European food, this superb sushi restaurant is ideal. The friendly staff will help you select what you want to build your own take-away sushi box, or will make what you want if it is not available. There is no seating in the restaurant, but the glorious food can be enjoyed on the many benches outside or in a park nearby. Sumo also offers other traditional Japanese fare, like noodle dishes, but the sushi is definitely the highlight. Sumo is a good option for vegetarians.
Located in a quaint and charming country house just outside the city centre, Bilbao's Aretxondo Restaurant has a unique and distinctive character with modern and inventive twists on traditional cuisine. A popular venue for events, weddings and other special occasions, it boasts and extensive wine list, knowledgeable waiters, and simply heavenly food. Try the sautéed prawns with potato guacamole, tomato and condensed grapefruit, or the log on entrecote in fine herbs and black pepper, and end off with the mango cheesecake with mango ice cream and spices - deliciously light and decadent! Open daily for dinner, lunch on Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays, the first two weeks in January, Easter week and the first two weeks in August.
Clean white linen tablecloths juxtaposed by the colourful and almost garish artwork on one of the walls creates a somewhat classic meets contemporary feel to this popular Bilbao eatery. Run by owner and chef, Fernando Canales, Etxanobe is located on the top floor of the Palacio Euskalduna and delivers innovative and intelligent dishes that tantalise and haunt the taste buds. Try the boneless suckling lamb with sweetbread or the Muscavado pudding with cinnamon and rice. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.
The Michelin-starred Zortziko boasts a formal atmosphere and an air of grandeur and is, deservedly, one of Bilbao's finest eateries. Three distinctive and classy dining rooms, each with its own theme, create the ultimate sophisticated yet contemporary dining experience. Try the Bisket of rock fish or the Fricadellede chicken with pistachios, and for those with a sweet tooth, the chocolate sponge, Malden salt and oil Hojiblanca is pure indulgence. Reservations recommended. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Mondays and the second fortnight in August and the first two weeks in September.
The only 1-star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona, ABAC is "el bulli" style, but you can actually get a reservation. The tasting menu (without wine) is about €125-175 per person. The sensory experience and the amazing meal that accompany the price is well worth digging a little deeper into the wallet than normal. ABAC is known as one of the best restaurants in Spain.
Spain's official currency is the Euro (EUR). One Euro is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at bureaux de change and major hotels, but banks give the best rates. All major credit cards are widely accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and shops. ATMs are widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient method of obtaining money.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely understood in areas frequented by tourists. Catalan, Galician and Basque are spoken in the relevant areas.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are standard.
US nationals: United States citizens require a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: United Kingdom citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay, with the exception of passports marked 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, which will be accepted if valid on arrival.
UK nationals: No visa is required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar, and 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom). All other British nationals are entitled to a maximum stay of 90 days without a visa within a 180 day period.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
AU nationals: Australian citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South African citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessary.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, allowing the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. Non-EU nationals must hold a return or onward ticket, all necessary documents for onward travel and sufficient funds. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from Spain. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no health risks associated with travel to Spain, and no vaccination certificates are required for entry. Medical facilities are good in Spain, but comprehensive travel insurance is always advised. Spain has a reciprocal health agreement with most EU countries, providing emergency health care for EU travellers on the same terms as Spanish nationals. After Brexit, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for UK citizens. The GHIC allows UK citizens access to state healthcare during visits to the EU. The GHIC is not valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, nor is it an alternative to travel insurance. EU travellers should take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Travellers should take any medication they require along with them, in its original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Hotel and restaurant bills usually include service charges, but additional tips are welcomed for services rendered. In established restaurants, tips of about 10 percent are expected. In Mallorca, value added tax is usually included in restaurant bills, designated IVA, and may be mistaken for a service charge. Drivers of metered taxis expect small tips and it is customary to tip about 5 to 10 percent for most services, including guides.
Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, except for occasional street crime, which is common in the big cities. Travellers are advised to take precautions to avoid theft of passports, credit cards, travel documents and money. Crime is usually petty and violent assault is rare. Visitors should be wary of strangers offering or asking for help of any kind, as it is often a distraction for accomplices. There are also scams involving letters for outstanding traffic fines or Spanish lottery winnings. If travellers exercise all the normal precautions they should have a trouble-free holiday in Spain.
Smoking in public places is banned and stiff fines will be imposed for smoking in areas such as enclosed public spaces, areas where food is prepared and sold, public transport, non-smoking areas of bars and restaurants, and any places that cater for children. Drinking alcohol in the streets of Madrid and the streets of the Canary and Balearic Islands is illegal.
The business culture in Spain is slowly shifting but, for now, it's entrenched in tradition and it can take some time for foreigners to gain a foothold in the Spanish working world. It is important never to undermine authority, with hierarchy central to Spain's business world. Managers often tend to make decisions without considering input from their colleagues.
A strong emphasis is placed on social status, character attributes, and personal pride. Success is often hinged upon being well-dressed, honourable, and dignified, while also exhibiting great social skills. Business meetings are generally conducted face-to-face and can go on for long periods, as Spaniards prefer long deliberations in order to avoid uncertainty in corporate dealings. Business meetings in Spain tend to tread a fine line between personal and formal.
Conducting business in Spain can entail navigation through a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. Spanish is the language of business, but some of the larger multinationals conduct meetings in both English and Spanish. Business hours are often quite varied, but generally open by 9am and close in the mid-evening with a two-hour lunch break during the early afternoon.
Business attire is quite conservative with dark or linen suits, with shirts and silk ties for men. Women should wear modest dresses or tailored suits. Brand names or labels attract affirmation from colleagues and associates.
After the conclusion of successful negotiations, gifts are appropriate. Gifts should be of high quality and, when receiving a gift, it should be opened in front of the giver. Business cards are important and should be bilingual. Meetings are best scheduled for mid-morning, in which establishing a formal yet personable environment is important before beginning. Meetings often occur over lunches and dinners and may be characterised by several speakers.
The international access code for Spain is +34. WiFi is widely available; travellers can purchase local SIM cards for unlocked phones.
Travellers form EU countries are allowed the following items duty free: 800 cigarettes or 400 cigarillos or 200 cigars or 1kg tobacco; 110 litres beer; 90 litres wine; and 10 litres spirit. Travellers from non-EU countries may have 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits, 4 litres wine, and 16 litres beer.
Spanish Tourist Office, Madrid: www.spain.info.
Spanish Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 452 0100.
Spanish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 0207 235 5555.
Spanish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 747 2252.
Spanish Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 02 6273 3555.
Spanish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 012 460 0123 (ext. 116/117).
Spanish Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 01 283 9900.
Spanish Consulate, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 04 802 5665.
United States Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 587 2200.
British Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 714 6300.
Canadian Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 382 8400.
Australian Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 353 6600.
South African Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 436 3780.
Irish Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 436 4093.
New Zealand Embassy, Madrid: +34 915 230 226.
The magnificent hilltop city of Toledo, about 43 miles (70km) southwest of Madrid, was immortalised by Spain's renowned artistic genius El Greco in a cityscape that currently hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The city has changed little since El Greco captured it on canvas in 1597, with its golden spires and Gothic buildings spreading across the Tagus River Gorge, overlooking the plains of New Castille. Toledo was established by the Romans in about 192 BC and some Roman ruins are still visible outside the city walls. The ancient city was later the capital of Visigoth Spain in the 5th and 6th centuries and as time passed Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities all left their mark on the city's rich architectural heritage. Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Topped by four spiral towers, the huge granite edifice of the monastery is a foreboding sight in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. About 30 miles (50km) northwest of Madrid, El Escorial was a marriage of Roman Catholic power and Spanish. Once a monastery and a royal palace, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was completed in 1584 and took almost 21 years to build. The complex was built by Philip II as a memorial to his father, Charles V, as a summer residence and as a final resting place for Spanish royalty. The complex is similar to the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada in layout, but the architectural style and decor is far more austere.
Lying on a slope of the Guadarrama Mountains with the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers below, the ancient town of Segovia is a delightful taste of the glorious past of Castile in central Spain. Segovia is 54 miles (91km) northwest of Madrid and is well worth visiting for its reputation as being the most beautiful city in Spain; the journey only takes about an hour by bus (and only 30 minutes by high speed train), making it the perfect excursion. The ancient town has been awarded a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is a joy for photographers, with its historic pedigree proudly displayed. The ancient Romans turned the town into a military base, leaving behind Segovia's famous aqueduct.
One of the most visited sites in Catalonia is the monastery at Montserrat, 35 miles (56km) northwest of Barcelona. The monastery is surrounded by strange rocky crags and caves, and was founded in 1025 to celebrate local visions of the Virgin Mary. It has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Spain, sitting atop a 4,000-foot (1,200m) high mountain and housing about 80 monks. Its main claim to fame is a 12th-century Romanesque wooden sculpture of a black Virgin Mary, known as La Moreneta, which thousands come here to see and touch. There is lots to see at Montserrat, which has a fascinating museum housing masterpieces by artists such as Caravaggio and Picasso.
The medieval fishing village of Tossa de Mar, 56 miles (90km) north of Barcelona, is the most attractive town on the Costa Brava, offering lovely sandy beaches and a lively atmosphere. Visitors are drawn to its 12th century walled town, Vila Vella, the ancient walls, battlements, and towers enclosing a quaint historical labyrinth. There is also the ancient Castillo de Tossa de Mar, a one-time Roman fortress dominating the bay, which visitors are free to explore. There are four beaches within the town itself and numerous others flanking Tossa on either side.
The Basque region's most popular beach, La Concha, is to be found in the genteel resort city of San Sebastian, 62 miles (100km) east of Bilbao. The town became fashionable as a summer getaway during the reign of Queen Isabel when she took to holidaying there in 1845. Today the town hums with boutiques, surf-shops, and nightclubs. But the elaborate boardwalk and grandiose historic mansions lend an air of sophistication, as is appropriate for a resort endorsed by bygone royalty. For a spectacular view of the sea and countryside, visitors should ride the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo, or opt for the opposite side of the bay where it is possible to stroll through shady woods to the summit of Monte Urgull.
British visitors are reassured by the presence of a statue of Wellington, the 'Iron Duke', standing on the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca in the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, 41 miles (66km) south of Bilbao. The statue commemorates Wellington's victory in battle here against Napoleon's forces. The main reason for visiting this Basque city, however, is to enjoy the impressive new contemporary art museum, and soak up some of the charm of this green urban enclave, packed with avenues and parks. There is also an old quarter, full of Renaissance palaces, most of which are now art galleries and museums. The Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is the tourist hub of the old town, surrounded by old mansions, and is a good place to start explorations of the city. Vitoria-Gasteiz also has two Gothic cathedrals: one dating from the 14th century, the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria, with a 17th-century tower and paintings by Rubens and van Dyck; and one 20th-century Neo-Gothic creation, the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate, which is also definitely worth a visit. It is a city with many churches, and also two 17th-century nunneries. Vitoria-Gasteiz hosts a number of popular music festivals and attracts many music lovers.
Hordes of tourists flock to this town in Navarre, northern Spain, in early July each year for the Running of the Bulls, officially called La Fiesta del Fermin. The festival, in honour of the city's patron saint, was made famous by Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises, and it has become one of Spain's most popular events. A bust of Hemingway stands outside Pamplona's bullring, where the 8-day extravaganza of dancing, dashing through the streets ahead of rampaging bulls, and drinking, begins. The practice of driving bulls through the centre of Pamplona started in the 19th century as the most practical way to get them to the ring, and for many years the city authorities tried to prevent the practice of running with the bulls.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Parque Natural de Barenas Reales is a semi-desert landscape. The malleable clay, chalk, and sandstone of the landscape has been eroded into surprising and unusual shapes by wind and rain over the millennia. Vegetation of any kind is scarce in the reserve, as is human habitation, and the streams that flow across the barren land are seasonal. The rugged cliffs, hills, and ravines are home to Egyptian Vultures, Golden Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons, with a total of 24 species of birds of prey, as well as many other bird and animal species.
Just two hours southeast of Madrid lies Cuenca, one of the most charming small towns on the Iberian Peninsula. Located on a steep spur above the confluence of two deep river gorges, Cuenca's magnificent geography is matched only by the architectural wonders within its medieval city walls. In fact, the entire town centre of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visitors to Spain who are looking for a romantic town to wander around for a few days are strongly encouraged to give Cuenca a try. Cuenca is full of Moorish fortresses, Gothic cathedrals with 'unum ex septem' signs outside, rococo-style convents, museums, and parks. Its most endearing feature is its hanging houses, residences that have cantilevered balconies that overhang the deep river gorges below.
A wonderful daytrip destination from Barcelona, Figueres is a lovely Catalonian town that also happens to be the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The main reason for visiting Figueres is to see the Dali Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí), a suitably bizarre-looking building that is pink, studded, and crowned with enormous eggs. It was not only designed by Dali, but also houses a full spectrum of his imaginative output including paintings, sculptures, 3D collages, mechanical devices, and weird and wonderful installations. The artist is buried in the museum's basement.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Santillana del Mar the prettiest village in Spain, and it remains one of the undisputed highlights of Spain's northern coastline. Only six blocks long and home to just 4,000 permanent inhabitants, Santillana del Mar makes a wonderful base for exploring the alluring Cantabrian coastline. In the village, which is full of gorgeous Romanesque architecture lining ironstone streets, locals still sell fresh milk from open stable doors, and well-heeled visitors have the chance to spend the night in one of Spain's grandest paradores (Parador de Santillana), a converted 17th-century mansion offering luxurious and unforgettable accommodation. Santillana del Mar is also the closest urban area to the Altamira Caves, featuring amazing Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, and often dubbed 'the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art'. Because Spain's northern coastline doesn't see nearly as much annual tourist activity as its southern coastline, independent travellers keen to avoid the crush of sun-seekers on the Costa del Sol are strongly encouraged to visit Santillana del Mar, which offers a relaxing seaside atmosphere as well as the chance to feel as though you've truly escaped the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
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