A land of romance and exotic tastes, Spain is a place to be taken in with great gulps. If you are planning a trip, here is an overview of the country.
Overview of Spain for Travelers
The official name of the country is the Kingdom of Spain. It covers an area of approximately 194,000 square miles. This includes both the mainland and the Balearic and Canary Islands. This total square mileage makes Spain one of the bigger countries in Europe, approximately the size of the combined states of Arizona and Utah.
The capital of Spain is Madrid, home to roughly 5.5 million residents. Other major cities include Barcelona with 4.9 people, Malaga with 1.3 million, Seville with 1.8 million and Valencia with just over 2 million residents. The terrain of Spain varies from flat to mountainous. Temperatures range from cool in the winter to baking hot in the summer, particularly in cities such as Madrid, which do not have access to costal breezes.
Until 1975, Spain was a functional dictatorship ruled by General Francisco Franco. Following his death in 1975, the Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon was named King and Chief of State. He subsequently moved to liberalize the country and assigned an independent head of state that is now an elected official.
Spain has been in a near constant state of civil war for much of the last 100 years. Basque factions seek independence from the rule of the King and federal government. This has manifested itself in the form of bombings and such. Barcelona is considered a Basque city, which makes for a major rivalry between the city and Madrid. If you have an opportunity to attend a soccer game between the two, do so! Violence is rare, but the insults are definitely unique.
The people of Spain are known as Spaniards or Spanish. The total population is just over 44 million and growing at one percent a year. Ethnic breakdowns are geographically oriented, but include Basques, Catalans and Galicians. The religious tendency of the country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
The official language of Spain is Spanish. That being said, Catalan-Valenciana, Galician, and Basque languages form a prevalent minority. Education is compulsory through age 16 and literacy rates are in the 98 percent range.
Spain is a unique country. Whereas much of Europe seems to be in a rush to mesh cultures, Spain stands uniquely apart.
Spain Travel: Year Round Events
Spain is one of the better countries in the world with rich culture based on religion and customs. The country is inhabited of about 45 million people of whom 80-94% are Roman Catholics. This is the reason why local as well as national events are based on Catholicism and faith. Spain is also home to several great things to do. While in this country, you will never have to worry how to spend your days because believe it or not, Spain travel can give you total vacation experience.
Here are some of the events you can catch and the things you can do if you decide to travel to Spain:
Run with the bulls. If you dare and tough enough to face the challenge of running with the bulls or simply want to join the fun without actually getting face to face with the bull, Pamplona should be your destination. The festival happens every July and has already attracted visitors from all parts of the world. The celebration is offered to San Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona. This religious and unusual celebration makes Pamplona a good destination for your Spain travel.
Skiing and Mountaineering. Visit Catalunya, Aragon, and Torremolinos and Malaga in Andalucia and stay at one of the top winter resorts in Spain. Perfect time to go is during the late spring where you can have your winter sports by day and go at the beach and sunbathe in the afternoon.
Watch the Primera Liga Live. See you favorite football stars like Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Ronaldo, and David Beckham as they all play for the best football team in the UAFA Cup: Real Madrid.
Café all Day. Treat yourself in the relaxing day at one of the café in Spain. The country has lots of cafés in every village, town, and city where you can spend your whole day chatting with friends or alone savoring the Spain environment.
Go to local village fiesta. Spain travel might not be complete if you haven’t seen any local village fiestas. Since every town has their own patron saints to offer thanksgiving, you can never miss attending one. Fiestas normally have parades, religious activities, and parties during the night.
Meet the Artists. Spain travel would introduce you to several world-renowned artists. Visit Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Barcelona beach’s giant copper fish and other Gehny’s contemporary structures. Know more about the art of Antoni Gaudi in his structures at Barcelona and get introduced with his unusual tile style and graceful organic curve.
Take a glimpse of Diego Velazquez’s art in Prado Gallery in Madrid. Diego Velazquez painted the “Old Woman Cooking Eggs” and “The Rokeby Venus”. And of course, who would not recognize Pablo Picasso? See his work Guernica at the Reina Sofia. Or visit the Picasso Foundation in Malaga.
Stay during the Holy Week. Spain travel is also ideal during holy week where the whole country commemorates that passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. See all the plays, activities, traditions, and the celebration of the country. If you are not a Catholic, you can still witness this activity.
Eat Snails. The Snail Festival happens every snail Lleida give you a different appetite for food. Although snails are the main course, you can also drink, dance, and eat other local foods all day and all night.
Thinking about traveling to Spain? Spain – located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula – continues to be one of the most popular tourist attractions and vacation spots just as much today as it has always been in the past.
Maybe you’re wondering about where to visit in Spain… Maybe you want to learn more about its history and experience its tremendous influence in European art… Whatever your reasons for wanting to visit are, you’re certainly bound to enjoy the rich culture, customs, and history of this country once you’ve arrived there.
As you can imagine, the architecture of Barcelona, the Holy Monstreat, and the Toledo cathedral make this a popular coordinate. And because this is such a hot travel spot, you’re advised to make your airline reservations, hotel reservations, and car rental preparations early – three to four months in advance as a matter of fact – especially when tourism is likely to be high (summer months, holidays, etc.). If you prefer to travel “off-season,” – that is, during a time when tourism is low, you may not need to make such early reservations. In the latter case, one month-advanced preparation may suffice.
After you’ve made your reservations, you can fulfill the rest of your time preparing for everything that Spain has to offer. One of the ways that you can do that is by taking a local trip to your favorite library and perusing the immense number of books about Spain. By doing this, you can prepare yourself with the language – perhaps even check out a few books or audio tapes of the language and additionally learn about Spain’s monetary system.
You should always learn about entry requirements, inoculations and other safety information you might need before you go not only to Spain – but also just about anywhere out of the country. But you can also familiarize yourself with the dress of the land and maybe try a few local restaurants that serve Spanish cuisine and play a little of its native music. Of course you can always visit your museum and inquire about the art of the land so that you’ll know what to look for once you get there – in particular, the works of El Greco. The idea here is to educate yourself amid all the excitement of visiting a place so rich in culture!
Now some people like spontaneity – a little adventure – the unknown – whatever you want to call it, but some of us like to create an itinerary of things to do and places to go. If you’re the “planning type,” then you might appreciate taking the time to map out your excursion. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that – seeing that you’re visiting a new area, your chances of being bored or going against spontaneity are very slim because Spain has so much to offer to each one of your physical senses!
When and if you create such an itinerary, some of the things that you will want to include of course are things like times to eat, take tours, attend shows, and shop! You might think that this information is hard to find but thanks to the Internet, it really isn’t’ hard to find at all. If you’re working with a travel agent, then your efforts to fill an itinerary should be pretty minimal. But if you’re working alone, you can certainly visit the tourist websites of Spain and create your own chart of things to discover and enjoy.
If you’re handy with the native language of Spain, you can certainly read a few online Spanish newspapers to find events and locals that might be of interest to you. Chances are that you’ll find a lot more entertainment information by reading a Spanish newspaper than you would if you solely relied on an English interpretation.
Once you’ve arrived and have found transportation to your hotel, you can inquire further to find even more interests. By this time, you should be speaking a little Spanish so that you can effectively communicate and exchange money with your hotel manager:
Gracias! (Thank You)
Como te llamas? (What’s your name?)
Como estas? (How are you?)
Me llamo… (My name is…)
Soy de United States of America (I’m from the United States of America)
No comprendo (I don’t understand)
Por favor (please)
Me numero de telefono es el… (My phone number is [and then the numbers in Spanish [uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, etc.)
You’ll of course want to learn how to ask for other important things like help and/or directions. These are some of the things that will make your trip to Spain more enjoyable – especially as you converse with the natives and experiment with new foods or amusements that you hadn’t even planned for! Just remember to pack your camera or your small video cam so that you can record your experience and enjoy them with loved ones back home.
Andalusia is probably one of Spain’s most varied areas with its mountainous regions leading down to the Costa del Sol, Costa Tropical, Costa de Almeria and to the far west bordering Portugal, the beautiful Costa de la Luz. It is ideal for a holiday in winter as well as summer as there is skiing in the Sierra Nevada.
An Andalucia vacation has much to offer from its National Parks to a visit to Jerez for some sherry tasting. Also not to be missed are a day out to the wonderful city of Granada with its Alhambra Palace, Jaen or similarly Cordoba which also has much Moorish history.
The white towns (pueblos blancos) named because of the Moorish tradition of whitewashing the buildings are a glance back in time to traditional Spain. Towns such as Ronda, Gaucin and Jimena de la Frontera to name but a few.
Inland, rural Andalusia has three wonderful cities to explore, namely Cordoba, Granada and the capital of the region – Seville. In addition to these historic cities with their Moorish past, there are many traditional and picturesque whitewashed villages to visit, as well as nature reserves or simply walking or hiking in the scenic countryside.
Western rural Andalusia is home to the wonderful city of Ronda. It has a spectacular setting being located on a huge outcrop of rock. It is also famous for its bullring, which is the oldest in the country. The Punte Nuevo – ‘the New Bridge’ spans the gorge and links the old part of Ronda with the new. This part of Andalusia is also home to the whitewashed villages – pueblos blancos – of Gaucin, Jimena de la Frontera as well as picturesque towns and villages such as Alhaurin el Grande, Alhaurin de la Torre and Coin. Also in this area near the village of El Chorro is the geographical wonder of the Garganta del Chorro, a vast natural chasm in the limestone mountain. The national park of El Torcal is also popular with walkers, hikers and nature lovers.
In the east of the Malaga region Antequera is a busy market town within easy reach of Malaga for a day trip. It is a more traditional town and is well known for producing olive oil. It is possible to walk around the walls of the 13th century hilltop castle from where there are wonderful panoramic views over the surrounding area.
Some of the smaller rural villages in this area are Villanueva de la Concepcion, Alcaucin and the pretty white village of Competa. Here and in similar villages you will find a wealth of culture and a taste of real Spain. We have many holiday fincas and cortijos to rent as well as charming village houses all set in rural andalucian locations, yet the sea in most cases is within an hours drive. If you are looking for a vacation rental to get away from it all, then this is the area of choice.
For many people Andalucia is all that they imagine Spain to be. Great climate, sun, sea and beaches, bullfighting, sherry and flamenco. Covering over 33,000 square miles and running the length of mainland Spain’s southern coast it is the largest and most populous of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain. Andalusia is crossed by the Sierra Morena mountain range in the north and in the south by the snowcapped Sierra Nevada. The fertile basin of the Guadalquivir River lies between these mountain ranges. Huelva, Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba, Malaga, Jean, Granada and Almeria, all named for their principal cities, are the eight provinces that make up the region
History – Phoenicians first settled here in the 11th century BC founding several coastal colonies among them Gadir which is now Cadiz. Greeks and Carthaginians came in the 6th century BC. The Romans expelled the Carthaginians in the 3rd century BC and they in turn had their rule ended by the Visigoths in the 5th century AD. 711 saw the Moors cross the Strait of Gibraltar and establish the centre of their western emirate here in Cordoba. The Moorish period was the golden age of Andalusia. Agriculture, leather working, mining, pottery, textiles and trade were all fostered and brought great prosperity. Cordoba, Granada and Seville, embellished by the greatest Moorish monuments in Spain, the Mezquita, the Alcazar and the Alhambra Palace respectively were celebrated as centres of arts, culture and science. It remained under Moorish rule until the 13th century when, with the exception of the Moorish kingdom of Granada, most of it was conquered in by the kings of Castile, who in turn fell to the Catholic kings in 1492. Andalucia declined along with the rest of the country from the 16th century onwards. Although trade with the New World enabled the ports of Seville and Cadiz to continue to flourish. In 1713 Gibraltar was ceded to Britain and in 1833 Andalucia was divided into the present eight provinces. The region was a stronghold of anarchism during the Spanish republic. It, however, fell early to the insurgents in the Spanish civil war. Recurrent demonstrations against Franco were seen across Andalucia during his dictatorship. It became an autonomous region in 1981and elected its first parliament the following year.
The region has some interesting contrasts. The deserts of Almeria in the east are the driest part of the whole country, while Sierra de Grazalema in the southwest, because it exposed to winds of the Atlantic, is the rainiest part of Spain. Both the cities of Cordoba and Seville are notorious for their stifleing heat during the summer months but the peaks of the Sierra Nevada remain snow capped all year round. And contrast the rugged coastline of the Cabo de Gata or the Atlantic coast of Cadiz, both with their comparatively deserted beaches, with the intensely developed area in the province of Malaga. Yes the beaches are still there – you just can’t see them for the tourists.
There is still a strong Moorish influence in the character, customs and language of the people. With its tradition of bull fights, flamenco music and dance it is one of Europe’s most strikingly colourful regions. With the abundance of Moorish architecture and it’s pleasant climate it is easy to see why the growth of tourism has been so strong in recent decades. Agriculturally, barren lands contrast with richly fertile regions where cereals, citrus fruit, grapes, olives and sugar cane are produced. Industries, based generally on local agricultural produce, include flour milling, olive-oil extracting and wine making. Cattle, bulls for the ring, and fine horses are bred. The rich mineral resources, exploited since Phoenician times, include copper, iron, lead and zinc. But despite all this poverty is widespread. Farm labourers are among the poorest in Europe and many unemployed people have migrated to the industrial centres further to the north.
Semana Santa – Easter is Andalucia’s major festival and is celebrated for a full week. It features processions of hooded penitents alongside floats decorated with scenes from the passion travelling through the streets of most cities and large towns. Accommodation can be difficult to find during the week and booking ahead is advised.
Flamenco is believed to have been introduced to Andalucia, it’s home today, in the 15th century by gypsies arriving in the region. It is a combination of music, predominantly the guitar, song and dance and is played at fiestas, in bars and at private parties. Audience participate is very much encouraged.
Almeria – Probably founded by Phoenicians, Almeria flourished from the 13th to the 15th centuries as the outlet of the Moorish kingdom of Granada. In 1489 it fell to the Christians. Today the sunny, mild climate attracts many northern Europeans both as tourists and permanent settlers. The capital, also Almeria, is a busy Mediterranean port. It exports significant amounts of agricultural produce, as well as iron and other minerals mined nearby. The city has refineries, chemical and cement plants, and light industries.
Cadiz – In 1100 BC the Phoenicians founded the port of Gadir, known today as Cadiz, which became a market for silver and tin. Some 600 years later it was taken by the Carthaginians and passed in the 3rd century BC to the Romans. It flourished until the fall of Rome, but suffered from the Visigoths and unlike much of Andalucia declined further under the Moors. Its fortifications were rebuilt following it’s reconquest in 1262 by Alfonso X of Castile. Following the discovery of the New World, Cadiz revived its prosperity, as many ships from America unloaded their cargoes there. Columbus sailed from Cádiz in 1495, his second voyage. Inthe late 16th century both Sir Francis Drake and the earl of Essex led attacks on the fleet anchored there and the city respectivly. When in 1718 a sandbar blocked Seville’s port Cádiz became the centre for New World trade. The city declined after Spain lost its American colonies .Cádiz resisted a two year siege by the French from 1810 to 181212 unti lthe Duke of Wellington’s forces relieved it. Cadiz fell to the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. Today the city, which lies at the southern end of the bay of Cadiz, has an abundance of parks promanades and squares. It is chiefly a port exporting wines, notably the local sherry which has a worldwide reputation and other agricultural items and importing coal, foodstuffs and iron. There is a large fishing fleet based here and some shipbuilding on a limited scale takes place. At the northern end of the bay is the US naval base at Rota.
Cordoba lies beside a loop in the river Guadalequiver upstream from Seville. During the time when the Romans ruled Cordoba was the largest city in Spain and enjoyed great prominence during the time of the Moors. They built the Mezquita, the most beuatiful mosque in Spain.
Granada – Originally a Moorish fortress, it became the seat of the kingdom of Granada in 1238. At the hieght of Moorish rule this kingdom encompassed both the nieghbouring province of Malaga and Almeria as well as parts of Cadiz and Jean. During this time the city was recognized as a centre of art, commerce, industry and science. As the christians drove south the city was the stronghold of the Moors in Spain, surrending eventually in 1492. In the 17th century Granada owed it’s exi prominance to the fact that it was a major silk centre. It stands at the confluence of the rivers Darro and Genil. The local surrounding area is given over to agriculture and mineral extraction with Granada acting as the commercial hub for these. The city is a major tourist centre with attractions such as the Alhambra Palace and other notable Moorish buildings. Facing the Alhambra across the Darro river, the Sacromonte hill is honeycombed with gypsy caves. The nearby ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada also bring visitors to the locality. South of Granada lie the valleys of the Alpajarras bounded to the north by the Sierra Nevada and to the south the sierras of Lujar, La Contraviesa and Gador. The area is very picturesque dotted with the traditional whitewashed villages. Fertile soil provides good farming with citrus fruit, bananas and avacadoes amongst the food grown.
The city of Huelva which is the capital of the province of the same name lies on the Odiel river. It is a busy port exporting copper, cork and sulphur. Like most Spanish ports it has it’s fishing fleeet and in addition some oil refining and ship building. It has a limited tourist trade during the summer months. The city is supplied with water via a Roman aquaduct. Columbus planned his voyages at the nearby La Rabida monastery. The Coto de Donana National Park, Europes most important and largest wildlife sanctuary, lies in the delta of the river Guadalquiver. 60,000 acres have been fenced of to provide the perfect habitat for varied speices of wildlife, birds in particular.
Jaen was once the seat of a small Moorish kingdom and played an important role in the conquest of Granada from the Moors by Christian forces during the 15th century. During the Peninsular war of the early 1800’s the French won a major victory here. Today it is the commercial hub for a fertile agricutural area producing olive oil and wine. Europes richest lead mines are nearby and copper and iron are also extracted. The town Alcalá la Real is known it’s mineral springs. The Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, over 2,000 square kilometres, is the biggest protected are in Spain. Here you might see ibex, red or fallow deer and wild boar.
The city of Malaga was founded by the Phoenicians and passed through the hands of the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors when it prospered as a major seaport for the kingdom. It finally fell to the Christian forces in 1487 Málaga is situated on the bay of Malaga and is a major port. Exports include the local wine, almonds, dried fruits, olives and iron ore. It’s beaches, luxurious vegitation and mild climate make it one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. Picasso was born in here and you will find a museum of his works.
Seville was important in Phoenician times and favoured by the Romans. It continued as the major city of southern Spain under the Visigoths. It fell to the Moors in 712 and became a prominent centre for culture and commerce. After a drawn out siege it was captured by the Christians in 1248. Some 300,000 Moors are reputed to have fled the city following it’s capture. Seville entered its greatest period of prosperity with the discovery of the Americas and was the main trading port with the new colonies. In 1718 a sandbar closed the port to shipping and Seville went into a steady decline. The French sacked the city in 1810. Throughout the civil war Seville was held by the Nationalists. Today Seville is both capital to the province and the region of Andalucia. Standing on the river Guadalquiver, which connects it to the Atlantic, it has returned to be a port of note accessible to ocean going vessels. Exports include minerals, cork, fruit, olives and wines. Armanents, chemicals, explosives, machinary, perfume, pharmaceuticals, porcelain, textiles and tobacco are all manufactured locally. It is a major cultural and tourist centre. Seville has kept much of its Moorish aspect and one of the world’s largest cathedrals occupies the site of a former mosque. The Giralda tower and the court of oranges remain from the original Moorish structure. You will also find the tomb of Christopher Columbus within the cathedral. The 14th century Alcazar, built by Moorish artisans stands next to the cathedral and is superseded only by Granada’s Alhambra Palace. It is recognized as Spain’s leading centre for bullfighting.
Spain Driving Tips
European Union citizens (18 years or older) must own a national driving license to drive in Spain, however non-European Union citizens (18 years or older) also need an International Driving Permit as well. Both types of citizens must have car insurance and identification (license, passport, etc.) by law, is required at all times. Seat belts must be worn by all passengers, and travelers under the age of 14 must be seated in the back seat of the vehicle. When driving, remember that driving positions are reversed to American drivers. You must yield to on-coming traffic from junctures and traffic circles.
Special care should be taken to restrict your driving to the main routes outlined on the most recent maps of this area as other routes may not be appropriate for driving (dirt roads, mountain passes, etc.). In urban areas, you can conveniently refuel your vehicle from unleaded or diesel gas stations. But if you’ll drive for long periods of time, it’s wise to completely fill your tank, as fuel stations are sparse in rural sections of the country.