The comprehensive guide to Spain
When you think of Spain, you consider glancing through the glossy holiday brochures showing coastlines of beautiful sandy beaches lined with row upon row of sun loungers and parasols, with blocks of hotels behind, noisy beach-side night clubs, tourists with 'kiss-me-quick' hats and bodies glistening with sun tan lotion. This is only what the tourist sees along the coastal resorts. This is ideal if you only have a week or two for your holiday, but if you have the opportunity you should take a trip from the coast, because inland is the real Spain.
Spain is a large, fascinating, spectacular and diverse country, where the north resembles the greenery you may find anywhere in northern Europe, and the south of the country gives you the dryness of north Africa and often Moroccan style architecture. The Spanish lifestyle reflects these differences. The north and west being colder and wetter where life is mostly indoors, while in the south, with it's near constant sunshine, life is lived out in the open with less attention given to living accommodation. In contrast to both of these, the high mountains ridges across the north and a few in the south of the country, are covered with snow for many months of the year, with nearby towns and cities catering for skiing holiday makers.
Spain's long history is reflected in it's prehistoric cave paintings, Moorish palaces, ancient castles, Roman ruins, a large selection of Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals, as well as some very distinctive modern architecture. Many come in the category of 'must see' for the many tourists, and most are well worth the visit.
The Spain we know today was originally created from a number of separate kingdoms. These 'Regions' still remain diverse in their language, culture, cuisine and art. They include: Andalucia, Aragon, Asturias, Basque Country, Cantabria, Castilla La Mancha, Castilla Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and Valencia. Most of these Regions are divided up into smaller area, usually based around a city or large town and called Provinces. Expect to get the two terms muddled up depending where you are. Some have their own languages in addition to using basic Spanish, with Catalonia, Basque, Balearic and the Canary Islands being classic examples. Even within all these languages you will find a large selection of local variations, which can make it very difficult as a foreigner to get to grips with. For ease we refer to these areas as regions, whereas the Spanish split them up as Regions, Provinces and Autonomous communities. This can get confusing to any foreigner.
Although not always in the news, there are beautiful quiet beaches along most of the Spanish long coastline - the quietest ones you have to hunt for, but if you prefer extremely developed resorts, there are plenty of crowded beaches during the height of the tourist season on the well-known Costa's, such as Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, Costa de la Luz and Costa del Sol. These busy beaches have plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can dine and drink, while for the quieter beaches you will probably need to take a packed lunch, and need a car to get to them.
Dress wear on beaches varies considerably. The busy beaches will mostly be normal swim wear, others may be topless, and the quieter beaches often having a nudist element. (Incidentally, Spain does not have a law banning nudism, but that does not mean the Spanish people appreciate seeing people naked. The only proviso is it must not be for sexual reasons. Walking nude down a high street may not be a good idea, and if you arrive at a beach, simply follow what the others are doing. The chances are that you will get more wrath from a mother with children, than from a policeman).
Unique and historic architecture can be found throughout Spain, and especially in Cordoba, Salamanca, Granada, Toledo and Madrid. For the more modern, the visionary architecture of Antoni Gaudi and the Picasso museum are in Barcelona and Malaga, while Madrid is home to Spain's top three art museums.
If you would rather get some fresh air, Spain is filled with endless opportunities to visit real untamed countryside, through to more organised wildlife parks. If you prefer to see Spain from horseback, the Pyrenees, especially around the Aragon region, is a great place for trekking. At the other extreme, if you prefer more exercise, in the south, Andalucia has its Sierra Nevada mountain chain, with luxurious skiing resorts which is usually busy from November to May.
Between Guadix and Baza (famous horse market) can be found cave-dwellings, cave hotels, and beautiful natural parks. Further north, you can still find unexplored desert sceneries (often used to film cowboy westerns), with hamlets not even found on maps! Don't just stay near the coast. Hire a car, go inland, explore and enjoy.
Spanish people are very open-hearted and communicative. You won't have any problems to get to know someone, especially in the big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. Many will be only too pleased to practice their English.
On the coastal resorts it is very different. Many Spaniards here will speak a smattering of English, especially if they want your business. They are usually friendly and easy going.
In the deep countryside it is still normal to greet people with a wave when you pass, even if you don't know them. At first they will be a bit suspicious of you (a foreigner), but if you can manage a few words in Spanish, you will be a friend for life, and you will be the topic of conversation in the local bar for weeks.
This page can't describe the whole of Spain in the space available, so to find out more, select some of the many options from the Red menu at the top of the page.
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