Travel Spain's sun-drenched costas

Spain's diversity is simply astonishing. From snow-capped sierras and endless deserts, to jam-packed coasts and cities offering a chunky slice of culture, it's no wonder this nation has won our hearts time and again.
  • Spain
    © Sean Pavone / 123RF
  • Spain
    © masterlu/123RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Spain

From Sierra to Costa

Centuries-old cities, towering cathedrals and crumbling monasteries make Spain an historic and cultural hotbed for all who venture over its borders. Partner that with snow-capped Sierras and sun-drenched Costas, and you'll find that this mighty monarch of the Med has something to offer even the most intrepid traveller.

An important identity

The country oozes flare from tip to toe, each province and archipelago steeped in its own unique identity of history and tradition. The whirl of a flamenco dress and the hypnotising clack of castanets will sweep you off your feet in Andalusia, whilst the quaint plazas and intricate coastline of Asturias will swing you into the gentle rhythm of rural Spanish life.

Activity aplenty

Adventure lovers will relish the adrenaline of the southern Sierra Nevada and the northern Pyrenees, home to world-class slopes and mountainous terrain for bikers and hikers alike. Those with a flair for history will delight in the archaeological treasures of Castile and Léon, lap up the religious trails of Santiago de Compostela and bask in the architectural grandeur of Catalonia.

Endless beaches

The Spanish coasts have long been known as the birthplace of modern-day tourism, home to the first seaside resorts packed with towering hotels from Iberostars and Barcelos to Melias and Rius. Though certain sections have seen rigorous development since the seventies - especially around Benidorm on the Costa Blanca and Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol - the vast majority of the Spanish coast remains wonderfully untouched by mass tourism.

Unforgettable islands

From parties of pure excess to tranquil seaside charm, Spain's archipelagos cater to an astonishing array of holidaymakers. Whether you opt for Majorca, Ibiza, Formentera or Minorca, the Balearic Islands guarantee turquoise waters, excellent cycling terrain and non-stop nightlife surrounded by the Mediterranean. Otherwise, head to the Atlantic and the Canary Islands for the promise of incredible natural parks, volcanic landscapes and eternal spring sunshine.

Gastronomic paradise

Great quality Spanish food and a glass of sangria can be found wherever you stay. However each region's identity is stamped with its signature dishes - from fresh calamares on the Galician coast, to meat-packed paella in Valencia and cured ham in Salamanca.

Life at a leisurely pace

For many, Spain's priceless attribute is the leisurely pace of life, which makes for an exceptionally therapeutic break. Afternoons are spent basking in the sun amongst friends or family, or in the cool of an air-conditioned bar or restaurant savouring your tapas. However, come sunset and the night is set ablaze with dancing to Latino rhythms that will have you crying Viva España! at the top of your lungs.

Spain : travel tips

Even Spain's best-known cities are full of surprises and the capital - Madrid - is no different. Take a stroll through its historic centre to the Plaza Mayor, lose track of time in the immense Prado Museum of art or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with avid football fans at the Santiago-Barnabéu stadium. For a weekend break, it doesn't come much better than Barcelona. Visitors and locals weave in and out of the magnificent architecture of Antoni Gaudi - the renowned Sagrada Familia and Park Güell - or enjoy a shaded stroll down La Rambla.

Beyond its sprawling urban hubs, Spain becomes a haven for nature-lovers. The desert regions of Tabernas and Bardenas Reales, as well as numerous national parks veiled in thick forests, lakes and mountains, offer adventure at every turn. Real explorers should venture into the proudly independent Basque Country or discover the tiny fishing ports of Catalonia to experience the stark cultural differences which so divide Spanish politics.

For a relaxing holiday, choose the sun-kissed coasts in summertime, such as those of the Costa Brava, the Costa del Sol or the Canary and Balearic archipelagos. But it's Andalusia which wins our hearts hands down. Travellers rarely return home without beautiful memories of the winding roads to Ronda, the walls of Granada's Alhambra palace tinted red at sunset, the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, a walk to the mouth of the Guadalquivir river or the unfaltering beauty of Seville, with its colourful mosaics and fiery flamenco.

There's never a bad time to visit Spain, with a climate which remains temperate the whole year round. Temperatures can nevertheless drop dramatically in winter - especially in the northern regions - whilst summer in the big cities can be suffocating. Spring and autumn always guarantee pleasant weather, though, as a general rule, the best months are June and September.

Spain : the key figures

Area : 505992.0 km2

Population : 47190493 inhabitants

Spain: about the culture

To say that Spaniards speak Spanish is a gross simplification. Castilian is the official language but the country also acknowledges four other co-official languages - Galician, Basque, Catalan and Valencian - as well as numerous dialects. It's always useful to learn a few handy phrases if you're planning on visiting one of these regions - it will earn you an instant smile nine times out of ten, as well as the respect of those you meet.

Spaniards have lunch around 2:00pm and dinner after 9:00pm. Most shops will close in the afternoon for a 'siesta.' Evenings are long and the streets can remain animated until dawn, with a strong sense of community amongst the local population. Levels of eating, drinking and partying reach new heights during a festival or fiesta, when every woman, child, man and his dog embraces the communal spirit! Processions during Holy Week are world famous, often packing city centres and villages for the entire seven days.

Spain : what to visit?

Spain: what to eat?

Chances are you're already very familiar with classic Spanish dishes, from Andalusian gazpacho to the nation's famous paella. But each region has its own distinct flavour, using the best local products to create delicious seasonal dishes. In Mediterranean regions, such as Catalonia, olive oil and garlic figure heavily, as well as fish and fresh vegetables - especially tomatoes - to give those well-known sun-drenched flavours. In Galicia and Asturias, seafood wins pride of place whilst the Basque Country is famous for its varied cod dishes.

You'll also find over 100 types of cheese, as well as an endless variety of charcuterie - serrano ham, smoked mountain ham and jamón ibérico to name a few. But the real culinary delights come over a glass of sangria or an ice-cold beer in the form of tapas. Order your drink and wait for the train of bite-size pieces to arrive at your table - chorizo chunks, potatoes in spicy tomato sauces, ham croquettes, olives...the list goes on!

Spain: what to buy?

Spain is one of those rare countries where spending hours searching for gifts can actually be a pleasure. You may even come back with a genuinely 'authentic' souvenir! At the crossroads of numerous civilisations, Andalusia overflows with artistic offerings. In particular, it's known for its ceramics, crafted by the hands of local artisans who take inspiration from the region's Muslim heritage. They'd no-doubt find a place in your home. You'll also find guitars, flamenco dresses, decorated fans and even castinets. Something for all the family!

Seville, meanwhile, is known for its mantilla available in silk or lace - a piece of clothing which women traditionally wear during Holy Week. Cordoba is known for its leather, strips of which make attractive wall-hangings, and for its jewellery. For beautiful pearls, head to Majorca of course! Each region is equally inspiring for its unique treasures and visitors will always be able to find something to take home with them; culinary or otherwise!

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