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Discover the Spain that exists beyond the cheerful, sunny resorts and man-made pleasures of the Costas.
Marbella, Torremolinos, Benidorm and Alicante may be among the most popular Spanish holiday destinations, but Spain has much more to offer than sun-baked sandy beaches and palm-lined seaside promenades. It's home to some of the world's most magnificent cities - from the nation's capital, Madrid, with its vast Plaza Mayor, world-class galleries and museums, to colourful, cosmopolitan Barcelona, flamenco-city Seville, the former Moorish capital Granada, and Cadiz - the four-millennia old port-city on the edge of the Atlantic. Spain is also home to some spectacular natural wonders, including Continental Europe's highest cliffs (at San Andres de Teixido in Galicia) and its only desert (the Desierto de Tabernas in Almeria). Out in the Atlantic, the Spanish island outpost of Gran Canaria is even home to 'Europe's' only coffee plantation.
Even beyond this, there's another 'real' Spain waiting to welcome you. This is a Spain where Castillians flock to Aranjuez’s green acres to escape the summer heat, where Rioja's vineyards produce some of the world's favourite wines and where elegant - uniquely Spanish - Parador hotels occupy little castles, ducal palaces and former monasteries.
Wherever you go, you'll discover that Spain is a country of singular sights. From the elegant sweep of Seville's Plaza de Espana to the brooding walls of Granada’s Alhambra and the beautiful parks within, and from the Modernista architecture of Barcelona's Park Guell to the dizzying sight of El Tajo gorge dropping away beneath hill-town of Ronda in Andalucia, everywhere you turn seems to offer a perfect snapshot or an unforgettable view. Don't miss the vast Royal Palace at El Escorial, Segovia’s magnificent Alcazar or Toledo’s walls and Jewish Quarter.
The nation's long history of Catholicism has given rise to some of the world's most iconic sacred sites - from the spectacular pilgrimage destinations at Santiago de Compostela and remote Vall de Nuria in the Pyrenees to the mountainside monastery at Montserrat and Gaudi's instantly recognisable La Sagrada Familia - and to a host of gorgeous churches and cathedrals.
Whether you've previously stretched out on its beaches or not, Spain has something to offer you. And out holidays to Spain are an ideal way to discover the country's hidden treasures for yourself.
Spain has so many treasures and such a rich history that simply deciding where to go and what to do first on your holiday to Spain can be a challenge. So, we’ve listed a few fascinating options you really shouldn't miss.
Food is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Spain. From the simply grilled fresh fish on the Costas to the Arab influenced dishes of the inland cities in Andalucia, Spain is a foodie's delight.
Tapas – traditional small dishes eaten on the hoof – are a way of life for most Spaniards, and you’ll not want to miss the wonderful cured ham – which can be surprisingly expensive – or the chance to try an authentic gazpacho. Madrid is a melting pot of Iberian cuisine. It even boasts the oldest restaurant in the world: Botin, dating back to 1725. In many restaurants the ‘menu del dia’ offers the best value. Sample the Cocido Madrileno (meat and chicken stew) or treat yourself to Porras, a thicker version of churros, served with hot chocolate.
In Barcelona, seafood and fish of every variety are the speciality of the Barceloneta and Port Vell areas. Don’t miss the fish stew - zarzuelas - or the paella. This European "city that never sleeps" is the Spanish city to visit for trendy cocktail bars, as well as the more traditional bars musicals, bodegas (wine bars) and cervecerias (which serve beer), where you can unwind with a drink and chat over tapas until the early hours.
Spain is also one of Europe’s premier wine-producers, and so there'll be no shortage of fine wine at reasonable prices wherever you choose to dine. Ice-cold fino sherry is traditionally drunk with tapas, while amontillado usually accompanies the Serrano ham, and a pre-lunch vermouth on a Sunday is a Barcelona tradition enjoying renewed popularity with the city's bright young things.