Why Visit Spain
Spain really has it all. With both Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches, natural parks, the best restaurants and topnotch cuisines, the best wine at affordable prices, architecture and museums to delight every artist, Roman ruins and soaring cathedrals to give historians much to talk about.
Today, it has 45 world heritage sites and visiting these places will take up most of your time.
My husband and I are right now spending the winter in Barcelona after visiting the parts of Spain we have not covered in our previous visits. Spain has not stopped to delight us no matter how many times we have visited.
The last time we were here in Spain, we visited the Extremadura region and the South including Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and Algeciras.
This time, we chose Barcelona, Tarragona, Zaragoza, Madrid, and Toledo. What we saw in these places intrigued us so we started digging into Spain's history and the more we knew the country, the more fascinated we were.
So, I will share why I think it is really a must to include Spain in your European trip. The topmost for me is history. However, it is not just history but how history shaped a culture that is interesting and unlike any other in Europe.
Reasons to Visit Spain
1. Rich History
The Romans had it right. Of course, long before the Romans, there were Spanish tribes thinly spread over the real estate and individually they kept attacking the Romans and getting flattened.
The Romans saw two things very quickly. Spain could grow the grain and the olives and the grapes that Rome needed to survive. It was an agricultural wonder.
Secondly, when you beat a tribe, it moved elsewhere and left a mass of empty land so the Romans settled in and built beautiful towns, ports and outposts most of which are still standing upright and its ruins attracting tourists.
Almost immediately after the start of Islam, assorted Middle Eastern and North African tribes invaded Spain and, as the Romans had, by then, really almost disappeared as a power, quickly occupied everything in the South and good parts in the North.
They added to Roman legacy with beautiful buildings, an awareness of architecture and a tolerant culture which seems to be unmatched in the modern world. The Moorish sites are stunning and gives Spain one of the best one, two punches in architectural history.
Spain used to be divided into kingdoms with Castille and Aragon as the largest. With the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, the two kingdoms merged but the people kept to their own culture. Navarre as an example was largely influenced by the French. There are now 17 autonomous regions in Spain and each one different from the other.
Then, came the Reconquista with the Christians throwing out the Moors and the Jews and replacing them with the heavy churches, convents and basilicas which squat on the top of almost every hill.
But all these early influences gave Spain all kinds of cultural traits differentiating one region from another. Such diversity is what made Spain more so interesting to visitors.
2. Awesome Weather
So, in Spain, you have a scattering of almost everything. including great weather and amazing beaches. It's all accessible, reasonably affordable and, for those who don't like the beach crowd, as long as you don't go near the east coast of Valencia and the south coast you can avoid the touristic unpleasantness of those who just want to have a fun break from work.
We are spending winter in Barcelona but the sun shines almost everyday that winter seems so far away.
3. Fantastic Food
With food, Spain has now the most number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world. It is no surprise because close to the beach, the fishing villages are busy bringing to the market some of the fresh fish and seafood you have ever tried.
There are the tapas and the pintxos which you must try. Don't expect the tapas you've gotten used to in New York or Capetown. Honestly, when we got our tapas in the home of the tapas, Merida, my husband and I looked at each other. You still can order the ones you're familiar with: the olives, the marinated vegetables and calamares, the thinly sliced jamon and chorizos. The variety of olives you can try each dish prepared differently will make you a foodie in one visit.
Mixed with rice and spices, you have the famous paella that you must indeed try when you're in Spain. Know that there are so many different kinds so try as many as you can.
The jamon stands out with names like Iberico, Bellota and Serrano, the chorizo, and Spanish vegetables are genius. Furthermore, Spain has an abundance of "panaderias" and "pastelerias" turning out whatever bread you fancy, cakes and cookies that will delight your sweetest desires.
Spain is a place of culture. Museums are fabulous. The Goya in Zaragoza, the Prado in Madrid, the El Greco in Toledo and the new Frank Gehry creation in Bilbao are tops in the world. The Prado blew me away with its fabulous collections, number must have come from Spain's Hapsburg connection.
In Barcelona alone, there is the Museum of National Art of Catalonia, the Picasso Museum, the Fran Durrell, the Art Nouveau Factory, the Sao Pau Art Nouveau Site and the Museum in Montserrat just to name a few.
The architecture is amazing. Just go around Barcelona and you'll find the imagination gone wild of the proponents of Art Nouveau, Gaudi, Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch and words like the Mudejar style which blends the European and Moorish influences.
Of course, there are many Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque architecture to which Spanish architects add their own unique style.
6. Fiestas and Carnivals
Architecture is not just the attraction. There are the fiestas full of colour and extraordinarily unique expressions that border on bizarre for some people but interesting and memorable. Every city has its own and locals enjoy food, drink and dances. Some of the most famous are:
7. Cultural Diversity
But beyond the museums and architecture and even the fiestas, Spain having been a major colonial power in the past now displays in its people, in its food and in its fashion so much of the various cultures it has colonized.
Whether you come from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, you feel very much at home in this European country. Even with in Spain, there are varied cultures such as the Andalusian, the Aragonese, the Catalan, the Basque and the others; all distinctly different.
It was a surprise to see in the picture below this huge banner in front of one of its national buildings.
8. Geographic Diversity
Spain is the second mountainous country in Europe (next to Switzerland) with the Sierra Madre in the South and the Pyrenees and Picos de Europa in the north; has the only desert in Europe, the Cabo de Gaia in Almeria; and, the Mount Teidi Volcano in Tenerife.
Spain's geographic diversity also offers magic to travellers: the mountains with snow when we drove from Madrid to Porto, the beaches which you still can enjoy even in November, the rich agricultural land, the orchards and vineyards. Each one of these offers a wonderful vista when you drive to different places in the country.
For adventure, traverse the world's scariest footpath, the Camino del Rey which features a cliff face boardwalk that hangs 100 meters above the Guadalhorce River. Originally to connect the 2 waterfalls for hydroelectric power, it starts in the village of El Chorro in southern Malaga.
Transport in Spain is easy and parking, as long as you're willing to pay, is available close to most of the attractions. We have driven from Barcelona to Zaragoza, Madrid, Toledo, Avila and back and have had no problem with parking.
On our own, we have taken the train from Barcelona to Montserrat and it was stress free withsig ns and help all the way.
The country is safe through having the smallest police car that can pop up anywhere featuring the largest and loudest klaxon-siren in the known world. Criminals give up immediately pleading with the police to turn off the noise.
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