Pristine white-sand beaches, incredible azure waters and the kind of laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle you think only exists in novels are what make Formentera such a dream holiday destination. Located some 30 minutes by boat from Ibiza, Formentera is where Barcelona’s wealthy like to spend their summer holidays without any of the glitz or fuss of the city. Most of the island is accessible via one main road that runs from east to west, with many preferring to hop around on small private yachts or sand buggies instead.
Forget your hang-ups about resorts such as Lloret de Mar; there are some real hidden gems dotted along the so-called Costa Brava. Near the town of Begur, the beaches of Aiguafreda are tucked away among small alcoves and dramatic cliff sides. Further south and slightly larger, the beaches of Palafrugell have so far escaped the mass development of other resorts and offer charming seafronts lined with traditional restaurants and rustic B&Bs. Don’t be fooled though: the area has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain.
Located just north of the border with Portugal, on the shores of an eponymous bay, Vigo offers the best of Galician culture. A town with an important industrial past as a large port and fish-processing centre, Vigo has a rich food culture that benefits from the abundance of quality wines, seafood and meat available in the area. Best of all, the chances to sample the local fare abound, thanks to the local culture of offering free homemade tapas with every drink. Across the water, Cíes Island was once voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Often overlooked by foreign travellers because of its hot, dry summers, the region of Extramadura has to some extent managed to preserve a traditional way of life preserved from the effects of mass tourism. Towns such as Zafra offer a glimpse of an authentic Spanish culture, where large town squares are the epicentre of social life and local businesses still close for long lunches. The architecture is a testimony to the city’s history, with Moorish architecture blending in among Romanesque monuments, including a large number of medieval churches, chapels and castles.
After Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city, yet often seems to lag far behind as a holiday destination. Valencia is a city steeped in history, with a rich food culture, vibrant nightlife, cutting-edge museums and spectacular architecture including many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city’s Las Fallas festival is unlike anything you’ll ever experience, while Valencia is also hailed as the birthplace of paella.
The Urdaibai estuary
Located on the shores of the Bay of Biscay in the Basque Country, the Urdaibai estuary is one of Spain’s largest and most remarkable natural landscapes. Bordered by mountains, lined with tidal marshlands and beaches, the estuary is home to an incredible diversity of plants and birds. The fishing port of Bermeo is the largest city in the area, while smaller towns such as Mundaka – world famous for its surf scene – offer a much quieter setting from which to explore the estuary.
Located just metres from the border with France, Puigcerdà is a Catalan mountain resort that is as popular during the winter as it is in the summer. Surrounded by the Pyrenees, in the colder months it acts as a base station from which to explore the nearby ski stations of La Molina and La Masella, while during the summer, hikers and mountain bikers enjoy impressive vistas and scenic excursions through flowered meadows.
You’d be wrong to think of nothing but package holidays and overcrowded resorts when you think of Lanzarote. Recent years have seen a growing number of eco-friendly hotels promoting a different kind of tourism on the island. Lanzarote owes its surreal landscape to its volcanic nature, and features jagged craters that stand out in stark contrast with the flat ocean and blissful beaches. It also owes a lot to architect and artist César Manrique, who helped shaped and preserve the urban landscape of the island.
Located on the southernmost tip of Spain, where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet, Tarifa is a sleepy coastal town best known for its wide sandy beaches, free spirt and incredible kite-surfing. Beaches such as Playa de los Lances, Valdevaqueros and Punta Paloma are considered some of the best places for wind sports in the world. While there are a number of important historic landmarks in the area, some dating back to Ancient Roman times, most visitors come to enjoy the laid-back beach life and cool café culture.
Most people think of Seville when considering a trip to Andalusia, but the ancient city of Córdoba is just as rich in music, art, food and architecture. The capital of the Islamic Emirate during the time of the Moors, the city’s mezquita or ancient mosque is considered one of the most impressive Islamic monuments in Europe.
Best known for its bullfighting festival, Sanfermines, Pamplona is just as interesting outside of the month of July. The capital city of Navarra in northwestern Spain, which was its own kingdom until the 16th century, Pamplona’s Old Town was a favourite hangout of author Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War. The food culture of Navarre is considered among the most diverse in Spain; the area is famous for its white asparagus, and for a cohort of talented young chefs who are leading a revival of traditional Navarre cuisine.
Which are the ten most beautiful towns in Spain?