If you are coming to Spain for the first time, be warned: this is a country that fast becomes an addiction. You might intend to come just for a beach holiday or a tour of the major cities, but before you know it you’ll find yourself hooked by something quite different – by the celebration of some local fiesta, perhaps, or the amazing nightlife in Madrid, by the Moorish monuments of Andalucia, by Basque cooking, or the wild landscapes and birds of prey of Estremadura. And by then, of course, you will have noticed that there is not just one Spain but many. Indeed, Spaniards often speak of Las Españas (the Spains) and they even talk of the capital in the plural – Los Madriles, the Madrids.
The cities – above all – are compellingly individual. Barcelona has the edge: for Gaudí’s splendid modernista architecture, the lively promenade of Las Ramblas, designer clubs par excellence, and for Barça – the city’s football team. But Madrid, although not as pretty, claims as many devotees. The city and its people, immortalized in the movies of Pedro Almodóvar, have a vibrancy and style that is revealed in a thousand bars and summer terrazas. Not to mention three of the world’s finest art museums.
Madrid Royal Palace
Then there’s Sevilla, home of flamenco and all the clichés of southern Spain; Valencia, the vibrant Levantine city with an arts scene and nightlife to equal any European rival, host of the 32 Americas Cup; and Bilbao, a new entry on Spain’s cultural circuit, due to Frank Gehry’s astonishing Guggenheim museum.
Wherever you are in Spain, you can’t help but notice the Spaniards’ infectious enthusiasm for life!
In the cities there is always something happening – in bars and clubs, on the streets, and especially at fiesta times. Even in out of the way places there’s a surprising range of nightlife and entertainment, not to mention the daily pleasures of a round of tapas, moving from bar to bar, having a beer, a glass of wine or a fino (dry sherry) and a bite of the house speciality.
One of Spain’s greatest draws is undeniably its beaches although with infinitely more variety than you would be led to believe from the sun-and-sand holiday brochures. Long tracts of coastline – along the Costa del Sol, Benidorm in particular – have been developed into concrete hotel and villa complexes but delightful pockets remain even on the big tourist costas. On the Costa Brava, the string of coves between Palamos and Begur are often overlooked, while in the south there are superb windsurfing waters around Tarifa and some decidedly low-key resorts along the Costa de la Luz. In the north, the cooler Atlantic coastline boasts the surfing sands of Cantabria and the unspoilt coves of Galicia’s estuaries. Offshore, the Balearic islands have some superb sands and Ibiza offers one of the most hedonistic backdrops to beachlife in the Mediterranean.