Lesser Known Spanish Destinations to Avoid the Crowds

Escape the teeming tourists and head, instead, to the peaceful market square of foodie Logroño
Escape the teeming tourists and head, instead, to the peaceful market square of foodie Logroño | © Marc Venema / Alamy Stock Photo
Gethin Morgan

Content and CRM Executive

Spain has one of the most diverse landscapes in Europe. From rugged coastlines in the north to sizzling beaches in the south, with mountains, deserts and a fair few famous cities in between, there’s no shortage of choice. Avoid the tourist wave that crashes into Madrid, Barcelona and Mallorca, and opt for one of these lesser-known gems in Spain. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Agüero, Aragon

Village of Aguero beneath the conglomerate rock formations of the Mallos de Riglos

The quaint village of Agüero sits in the shadow of an extraordinary 200m-high (656ft) rock formation. The Mallos de Agüero, popular with climbers and abseilers, dwarfs the place so much that it’s pretty much constantly visible as you wander the pretty streets. There’s not much to do in the village itself, other than a couple of beautiful old churches and a quirky organ museum – the musical instrument, not body parts – but you’re perfectly placed to explore the surrounding beauty via a number of mountainous hikes. The village does liven up around mid-August, too, when it hosts a festival of theatre, music, good food and great wine.

Cudillero, Asturias

Port at Cudillero, Asturias, Spain

It’s a miracle that this fairytale fishing village has yet to be co-opted by mainstream tourism. A charming cluster of pastel houses climb the hillside, overlooking the Bay of Biscay, where local fishermen continue to thrive. Unsurprisingly the seafood is amazing, and you can wash it down with a delicious glass of Asturian cider. The culture here is unique, legend says it was founded by vikings, and locals have a strangely Nordic-sounding dialect, while they also love to perform traditional folk dances and celebrate pagan festivals. This is a one-of-a-kind destination and, when you’ve found yourself a good viewpoint to watch the sunset with a belly full of freshly caught delights, you’ll thank the Nordic gods that this idyllic spot remains untarnished.

Ronda, Andalusia

Small village in Ronda mountain

You may not know of Ronda but there’s a good chance you’ll recognise photos of this striking Andalusian town. Built atop the stunning El Tajo gorge and connected by Puente Nuevo, a beautiful bridge crossing a 120m-deep (394ft) chasm, this is quite simply one of the most visually spectacular places on earth. The town’s history is almost as old as the rocky cliffs below it and, as the birthplace of bullfighting, was a beloved retreat for Ernest Hemingway, while Orson Welles actually had his ashes spread here. It won’t take much exploring to realise why they both loved it so much.

Cerdanya, Pyrenees

Townhall in the small town of Das, Cerdanya valley, Catalonia

Discover emerald valleys and medieval towns in this mountainous region shared by Spain and France, and bordering Andorra in the Pyrenees. It was all part of Catalunya until the mid-17th century, and Catalan is spoken on both sides of the border in towns like Llivia and Puigcerdà – both full of ancient architecture and great restaurants. This whole region is a nature-lover’s dream, though, with fantastic hiking and cycling trails in the summer, before winter hits and ski season takes over.

Castril, Granada

Castril river trail, Granada

The real show-stopper in this countryside hamlet is the Sendero de la Cerrada del Rio Castril, a boardwalk that takes you on a jaw-dropping journey through the gorge that houses Castril River. It offers a truly unique experience as you carve through the cliffs with the rushing water, and it speaks to the natural beauty of the surrounding area, which can be further explored in Sierra de Castril Natural Park, a haven for birdwatchers and hikers alike. Not to ignore the village itself, which is full of well-preserved architecture and the remains of Castril Castle.

Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country

The islet of Gaztelugatxe was completely off the radar until 2017, when it became known as the location for the breathtaking Dragonstone castle in Game of Thrones. Today you might come across a few Thrones fanatics making the pilgrimage to the show’s multiple Spanish shooting locations, but other than that it remains off the beaten track in the Basque Country. There’s no giant castle or roaming dragons here in real life, unfortunately, but the incredible stone footbridge takes you from land to islet, following in the footsteps of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, until you reach the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe church. A trip here and a tour of the surrounding areas make a fantastic detour from Bilbao or San Sebastian.

Logroño, La Rioja

Plaza de la Constitucion, Logrono, La Rioja

Explore Spain’s most famous wine region with a trip to Logroño, the capital of La Rioja. Like any Spanish city there’s a beautiful cathedral and plenty of classic architecture, but the main attraction here has to be the culinary scene. As well as world famous wine, the region is known for producing lamb, spicy chorizo, asparagus, beans, peppers, artichokes and other vegetables. Head down Calle Laurel, which is lined with pintxos (Basque tapas), and embark on an indulgent bar crawl to experience first-hand Spain’s most underrated food scene.

Juzcar, Andalusia

Pueblo Juzcar in smurf blue, Serrania de Ronda

You might take one look at this strange collection of bright blue buildings, surrounded by greenery, and joke that it looks like a smurf village. Well, actually, it is a smurf village. In order to promote the release of The Smurfs (2011) Sony Pictures took 4,200 litres (7,391 pints) of blue paint and covered all of Juzcar in smurf colours. The original agreement was that Sony would then repaint the village white, but locals quickly realised the tourism opportunities and decided it was good to stand out from the countless white-washed towns of Andalusia. While it doesn’t take long to explore the place on foot, you can also take a bird’s-eye view by going down the zip wire hovering above Juzcar, which seems like an aptly bizarre way of viewing this strange little place in the middle of nowhere.

Segovia, Castile and León

Old town, Segovia, Castile and Leon

Less than an hour away from Madrid is Segovia, a city that has preserved its Roman architecture so impeccably it earned Unesco World Heritage status back in 1985. There are three impressive landmarks that stand out from the crowd. First there is the cathedral, one of the last gothic churches to be built in the 14th century, and then there’s the remarkably well-kept Roman aqueduct, striding through the city centre, towering above passers by. Lastly there’s the Alcázar of Segovia, a castle that may look a little familiar since it was one of the main inspirations behind Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Convinced?

Cadaqués, Catalunya

Cadaqués

Right on the northeastern tip of Spain lies the picturesque seaside town of Cadaqués. Crisp sandy beaches, coves, cliffs and glorious swimming waters all surround the area; while the town itself is a seamless blend of modernist Cuban-style buildings on the promenade, and the utterly magical cobbled streets of its old town. The common factor is white, which has earned Cadaqués the title Pearl of the Costa Brava. It was enough to entice Salvador Dali, who spent much of his life living here in a predictably surreal house that stands as one of his many great pieces of art, and is now the House-Museum of Salvador Dali, which you can visit to gain an insight into the inner-workings of his genius.

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