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Spain may be renowned for its beaches and sunny climes, but it is a country of diverse landscapes. Its mountains are majestic, from the northern Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa to the Sierra Nevada in the south (home to Europe’s most southerly ski resort) and the Mount Teide volcano on the Canary Island of Tenerife. Spain is home to Europe’s only desert, Cabo de Gata in Almería, which inspired Hollywood spaghetti westerns, many of which were filmed in the area.
From the one of the world’s scariest footpaths to a zip line between Spain and Portugal, the opportunities are endless in Spain if you want an adrenaline kick. Skiing and snowboarding, scuba diving and hiking are all world class, while Spain’s northern coastline plays host to annual surfing competitions.
You have to experience tapas in Spain at least once in your lifetime – and realise it’s probably very different from the fare offered at your local tapas restaurant back home. San Sebastián’s pintxo scene is world famous, its bars serving mouthwatering food, much of it in bite-sized portions on a slice of baguette. Order a drink in many bars around Spain and you will receive a free plate of tapas, an excellent tradition every other country should seriously think about adopting. Spain is renowned for its seafood, jamón (cured ham), abundant and fresh fruit and vegetables, which make a trip to the local market a feast for the eyes and the stomach.
From its rich Moorish past and its position as the world superpower during the Golden Age, to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, dictatorship and the country’s successful return to democracy, Spain’s has a fascinating history that is well-preserved in its buildings and museums. Visiting Córdoba’s mosque, one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in the world, you get a real sense of the power and creativity of Spain’s Islamic rulers, and the rich legacy they have bestowed on modern Spain.
Spanish is one of the world’s most widely-spoken languages and where better to learn than in the country of its birth? But in Spain, you’ll also have the opportunity to discover the country’s regional languages, from Catalan and Galician to Basque, which intriguingly, has no known linguistic relatives in Europe or the wider world and is the oldest language in Europe.
Spain is home to some beautiful islands, from the party isle of Ibiza and the volcanic landscapes of Tenerife to the peaceful Menorca and Graciosa in the Canary Islands, where the streets are made entirely of sand. The Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands attract millions of tourists every year for their beaches, incredible weather and friendly locals.
Spain has some of the world’s most famous – and wacky – festivals and fiestas, from the San Fermín running of the bulls in Pamplona and La Tomatina tomato throwing festival in Buñol, to La Rioja’s annual wine drenching festival. And as well as these more out there festivals, each Spanish town holds its own fiestas, when locals get together, dress up, eat, drink and celebrate.
Flamenco is a style of dance, singing and guitar playing that originated from the traditional music and dance styles of Andalusia, southern Spain. The rich cultural tradition is closely linked with Spain’s Romani gypsy community, who pioneered the now world-famous style. The genre is also known for its elaborate costumes, with female flamenco dancers wearing exquisitely handcrafted dresses.
Some of the world’s most famous painters hail from Spain, from Francisco de Goya to Pablo Picasso. You can discover the work of Spain’s most lauded artists in the country’s world-famous art galleries, from Madrid’s Prado and Reina Sofia to Bilbao’s modernist Guggenheim and Barcelona’s Picasso Museum. Also worth exploring are the country’s smaller museums, the Salvador Dalí museum in Figueres, Catalonia, for example, is a great homage to the surrealist painter.
Spain has nearly 5,000 km (3,107 miles) of coastline and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, with five of the country’s beaches making TripAdvisor’s top ten in Europe – Playa de Ses Illetes, on the Balearic Island of Formentera, took the top spot in 2016.
With its position in southern Europe, Spain enjoys long summers and pleasant year-round weather, making it an ideal destination if you want to catch come rays.
From Seville’s Gothic cathedral (the biggest in the world) and Gaudi’s many Barcelona masterpieces, to Frank Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Santiago Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain is packed full of incredible architecture that encompasses both its rich history and forward-thinking modernism.
Spain has the third most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, with 45 in total. From the ancient cave paintings of Altamira and Segovia’s Roman aqueduct, to the Alhambra fortress in Granada and the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela, the country is bursting with some of the world’s most fascinating historical and cultural sites, just waiting to be explored.
While France might be famed as Europe’s capital of wine, Spain is a dark horse and under appreciated when it comes to all things vino. The country has over 2.9 million hectares of vineyards, the most of any country in the world, and is the world’s third biggest wine producer, after France and Italy. Major Spanish wine regions include the stunning La Rioja and the Ribera del Duero. Cava, Spanish sparkling wine, is made mainly in Catalonia, while sherry comes from Jerez de la Frontera, in southern Spain.
Spain might be a Roman Catholic nation, but Spaniards also worship at the altar of football, the country’s national sport. Spain is home to two of the world’s best teams: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, who count among their players some of the world’s most famous, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Watching a football match at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid or in Barcelona’s Camp Nou is an unforgettable experience for any football fan.