The art and culture lover’s Spain
Centuries and mixed cultures have left their mark on Spain with some of the most amazing artistic heritage in the world. Travelling in Spain means going back and forth in time and being surprised by a host of monuments ranging from an ancient Roman aqueduct to medieval castles and the most avant-garde, futuristic architecture (think the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao). Some of the most beautiful masterpieces created by Velázquez, Picasso, Dalí and Gaudí are here. It is well worth discovering them with the original guided tours on offer, retracing the footsteps of great masters through museums such as the Prado, or visiting palaces like the Alhambra in Granada on a moonlit tour. These experiences offer so much more than an average visit to a monument.
There’s a whole world of art waiting for you at the Paseo del Arte or Way of Art in Madrid, with three of the greatest museums in the world sitting in close proximity to each other. Along a stretch of just over a kilometre, lie the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofía Museum, as well as a number of other institutions and buildings well worth visiting.
Indeed, the streets of Madrid have a special relationship with art. After you visit the famous museums, check out the contemporary art galleries, following your intuition to discover the latest trends in sculpture, painting, photography, design and illustration. Art hotspots in Madrid include the posh Salamanca district, the bohemian Salesas (between Alonso Martínez and Chueca), the Barrio de Las Letras—which is known for its artistic tradition and hosts the well-known Leandro Navarro gallery—and Lavapiés.
Or you could simply follow in Pablo Picasso’s footsteps around Spain: from his birthplace in Malaga, to his days of heady success in Madrid, and even the quieter years in Catalonia and Galicia. At the Reina Sofia National Art Museum in Madrid you can see his most iconic work, the eight-metre-long Guernica.
Given its venerable history, it is no surprise that Spain boasts 15 Unesco World Heritage Cities. Yes, entire cities that are World Heritage Sites. These include Cordoba with its Great Mosque, Merida with its amazing Roman theatre, Santiago de Compostela where the apostle St James is buried, Toledo with its stunning Alcazar fortress, Tarragona with its archaeological sites and Salamanca with its cathedrals and ancient cloisters. In many of these cities, hot-air balloon rides are available, not to be missed For a complete experience, don’t forget to dip into the local cuisine and participate in the fiestas.
The Shopaholic’s Spain
Spain is one of Europe’s best shopping destinations, offering everything from charming little shops to large shopping centres, artisanal products to major brands. If you enjoy shopping, Spain is the place for you. What’s more, the shopping areas are usually near the interesting sites, so you can shop and see the sites at the same time.
The big cities have the posh shops selling well-known luxury brands. Some of the most famous high-end shopping areas are the Salamanca neighbourhood in Madrid, known as the Golden Mile; Passeig de Gracia and the Sarrià-Sant-Gervasi district in Barcelona; Gran Vía in Bilbao; and Puerto Banús in Marbella.
If luxury shopping is right up your street, the Passeig de Gracia (aka Paseo de Gracia) is your place. This is one of the main avenues in Barcelona, where you’ll not only find all the top brands, but you can also see spectacular works of modernist architecture. The head offices of banks that previously occupied the lovely buildings in this area have been replaced by exclusive flagship stores and avant-garde restaurants and cafés.
But for a truly bespoke experience you’ll have to head to the town of Ubrique, one of the stops on the Route of the White Villages. Wander its streets and discover its picturesque popular architecture and its ancient tradition of leather craftsmanship. You can make your own leather bag here.
Great for artisanal purchases as well, plus you’ll feel good about supporting small businesses. By purchasing these artisanal goods made with love, you’re also supporting small businesses in Spain. Cáceres is known for wickerwork products, Guadalupe for copper, and Elche specialises in footwear. Leather crafts can be found in various places, but Ubrique, a small village in Andalusia, is particularly worth mentioning. Toledo is famous for fine metalwork, steel and wrought iron, and you’ll find some interesting and unusual pieces. And in places like Teruel and Talavera de la Reina (Toledo), you'll be surprised by the pottery. You'll want to take everything home with you!
Being the foodie destination it is, you can’t leave Spain without some gourmet souvenirs. Some of these are available throughout the country, such as olive oil and wine, whereas others are typical of specific regions. In the north you could pick up a Tarta de Santiago cake and some anchovies from Santoña. On the central plateau, morcilla (black pudding) in Burgos and ham in Teruel. Some traditional local cheeses you should keep an eye out for: manchego from Castilla-La Mancha, Mahón from Menorca, and Idiazábal from the Basque Country and Navarre. In the south you’ll find alfajores, a sweet treat from Murcia and Andalusia. If you're looking for spices, there’s saffron from Aragon and pimentón (paprika) from La Vera. A feast for the senses, indeed!
The Great Journeys
With a diverse landscape featuring towering mountains, a splendid coast, rolling meadows and lush forests, and heritage towns everywhere, the active and curious traveller will be spoilt for choice in Spain.
Often, a love for nature can be combined with luxury, if you sign up for one of Spain’s popular tourist trains. The most famous of them is Al-Andalus, a veritable palace on wheels with Belle Epoque coaches which transports you back to a time when luxury was truly exclusive. The route takes in luxury visits to Seville, Cadiz, Granada and Cordoba. Another train to consider is the Transcantabrico, whose journey through green Spain includes stops at Leon Cathedral, the Peine de los Vientos sculpture in San Sebastian and the Picos de Europa National Park in Asturias, a World Heritage Site.
The Way of Saint James—and there are several routes to choose from—is justly famous, a walking pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Just throw your rucksack over your shoulder and get ready for an unforgettable adventure.
If you’re a biker, just put on your helmet and vroom off along the Silver Route from Gijon to Seville, one of the most scenic in Spain. Linking northern and southern Spain, the route follows an ancient Roman road dating back to the late Bronze Age.
Hikers should head to the Paso de Mont-Rebei, one of the most spectacular gorges in Spain located on the border of Aragon and Catalonia, and untouched by roads or electricity lines.
Nature lovers can choose from an array of spectacular experiences, from listening to classical music in the Drach Caves in Majorca to stargazing in the Canary Islands, walking amid volcanoes in Timanfaya and swimming through the largest seagrass meadow in the Mediterranean in Formentera. One of the largest and best preserved forests in Europe is in Spain too, the Irati forest in Navarre, formed by 17,000 hectares of beech and fir trees.
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