Every country is proud of its culture but in Spain this seems to be even truer than elsewhere and you can feel it as soon as you step foot in the country. Regional cultural identities are particularly strong and from Catalonia to Galicia you’ll see unique celebrations, customs and traditions still very much alive.
These days the art of flamenco has been somewhat lost in the tourist-trap mega-halls which greet people by the coach-load. But the soul of flamenco is far from dead – you just have to search a little harder to find it. Down in Andalusia where flamenco was born and is an important part of the local culture is where you’ll be able to experience the art at its simplest and purest. The strum of a guitar, a clap of the hands, a stomp of the foot, a glint in their eye and you’re off.
It’s no coincidence that the Spanish word for party is so famous, after all there’s nothing quite like a Spanish fiesta. Whether it’s an all-night bar crawl through the old bodegas of the Gothic Quarter and ending up on a rooftop terrace in Barcelona, to a week-long celebration for Easter in Sevilla – the Spanish know how to party.
The Spanish way of life is often portrayed as running at a slower pace than in other parts of the world – and this is really no bad thing. When so many of us today have lunch on the go or find ourselves checking work emails late at night, slowing down a little can do us good. Take time to concentrate on the most important things and get your priorities right – you’ll probably even find that you’re more efficient and deliver better results.
The north-west of Spain is famous for the quality of its seafood and many of the finest restaurants across the country receive daily shipments of the best catches from Galicia and Asturias. Here you’ll be able to sample some of the freshest fish and seafood, usually served with nothing but a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice. However you should also try some of Spain’s famous tinned seafood: cockles, clams, mussels, anchovies and more.
Chances are you’ve already thought of – or even started – learning Spanish at some point in your life and spending time in a Spanish-speaking country is by far the best way to really immerse yourself in the language. It’s so much easier and much more fun to strike up a real conversation with someone in Spanish than it is in the classroom.
Perhaps the most controversial of Spain’s traditions is bullfighting or corrida de torros in Spanish. While some hail it as an ancient art form and sport essential to Spanish culture, other see it as a cruel act of animal torture which has no place in modern society. Make your own mind up once and for all by speaking with those for and against the activity here in Spain.
Here in Spain, spending quality time with your family is generally regarded as an essential part of life. Weekends usually involve time to see grandparents, cousins, uncles or at the very least your closest relatives, as maintaining close family connections is considered important.
Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, El Greco… the list of revered Spanish artists goes on and on. A trip to Spain will give you the chance not only to discover the works of these great masters but also the people and places who inspired them. Watch life go by from the terrace of Picasso’s favourite café in Barcelona before a visit to the nearby Picasso Museum and you’ll soon kindle the artist within.
When life gets on top of you, sometimes you need to stop and reset. A retreat is often the chance to take a break and reflect on where you are and where you’re going. There are many outstanding retreats in Spain located in some of the country’s most scenic and peaceful areas such as the Pyrenees mountains or the Andalusian countryside. This might just be the break you need.
The first time you’re confronted with a range of dishes you’re expected to share can be a little overwhelming, especially when it comes to deciding who gets la de la vergüenza (the one of shame, i.e. the last morsel on the plate). But once you’ve adopted it, it’s hard to go back to anything else.
The magnum opus of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the Sagrada Família is one of Spain’s most formidable monuments. The art critic Rainer Zerbst once said of the building that ‘it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art’. Amazingly, the church is still incomplete despite having been under construction for more than a hundred years.
For over 600 years large swathes of Spain were occupied by the Moors, who left their imprint on the country in some rather spectacular ways. Southern Spain is particularly rich in monuments dating as far back as the 8th century, with later buildings displaying the unique Mudéjar architecture style which evolved out of Spain during the Reconquista.
One of the most photographed Spanish celebrations La Tomatina is the world-famous tomato food fight which takes place in the small Valencian town of Buñol each year. Celebrated since 1945, there are around 145,000 kilos of tomatoes thrown over the course of the day.
There are some 46 sites across Spain which have been awarded the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site status owing to their cultural, natural or historic value. These include landmarks such as the Alhambra palace, the Las Médulas rock formation and the Tower of Hercules which will all leave you in awe.
There’s nothing quite the same as tasting Spanish cured ham or jamón in the land where it was made. Cured in salt and then air-dried for a minimum of six months and up to two years or more, the hams are considered by many to be Spain’s finest delicacy. For a special experience, seek out of the jamón Iberico de bellota, made from only black Iberian pigs fed only on acorns in the last part of their life.
If a train ride doesn’t sound like a luxury experience to you, you’ve not yet discovered the joys of El Transcantábrico – a five-star train experience taking you from Léon and Santiago de Compostella. The train includes luxury suites, a gourmet restaurant catered for by some of northern Spain’s finest chefs, on-board entertainment and elegant lounge areas from which to enjoy the spectacular views.
Perhaps the most famous walking route of all times, the Camino de Santiago is a historic pilgrimage route leading to the town of Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain. For centuries, thousands of people have embarked on the journey which still has a religious meaning for some, though for others it’s simply a spiritual journey of self-discovery.
There’s nightclubs and then there’s super-clubs. Ibiza is renowned for its epic party scene which has been slowly gathering momentum since the sixties. Today the island attracts some of the world’s biggest DJs and, unsurprisingly perhaps, has the world’s largest club – Privilege – able to host some 10,000 guests on any one night.
Spain is home to some of the Mediterranean’s most stunning beaches with turquoise waters and sparkling white sand. The Costa Brava is replete with hidden coves and secret beaches which can be accessed by boat, while the Balearic Island of Formentera boasts paradisiac beaches drawn straight from a holiday brochure.
The list of reasons why travelling is so good for you goes on: it broadens your horizons, opens your mind, introduces you to new ideas, allows you to meet new people and to get a little perspective on life. However, travelling doesn’t always come cheap and this is something you need to take into account when choosing where to visit. As far as Europe is concerned, Spain is still relatively affordable compared to France, the UK or Germany for example, especially when it comes to the cost of food and accommodation. So there’s really no reason not to make Spain your next destination.