Spain

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Location

Spain is located at the Iberian Peninsula, in the southwest of Europe.(It occupies approximately 80% the remaining 20% are occupied by Portugal). In the north Spain borders on Andorra and France, with the Pyrenees as a natural frontier. The Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza) in the Mediterranean Sea, Canary Islands in Atlantic Ocean close to the Moroccan coast, and Ceuta and Melilla are located in northern Africa, are Spanish territory.

Spain is the 3rd country of Europe in extension and the 5th in population.

There are five big mountain ranges crossing the country.
Landscapes are extremely varied, some desert-like, others green and fertile, and of course there are the long coasts, in the east along Mediterranean Sea from the Pyrenees to Gibraltar, and in the west (the major part of the Iberian Peninsula’s western coast is occupied by Portugal) along the Atlantic Ocean and Cantabrian Sea. Its various regions are all different one to each other, geographically, climatically and even in personality.

Spain is widely known for Flamenco music and dance, bull-fights, fantastic beaches and lots of sunshine. Spain has to offer much more than that. It has been for thousands of years – one of the cultural centers of Europe. It has beautiful towns and cities, offering old monuments as well as architecture.
Attractions

Architecture

The oldest works of architecture in Spain of which rests are left go back to the megalythical culture, approximately 3000 B.C. Lots of Roman monuments are conserved, among the most important being the great aquaeduct of Segovia and the amphitheater of Mérida.

One of the most visited sights by tourists is;

The Great Mosque of Cordoba which is stunning, the other being Granada’s Alhambra which is perfectly conserved in its original condition. The Spanish Moors created a style of their own that differs in many aspects from their traditional architecture which you will find in Africa.

In Modernism,Spain played again a highly important role. Most outstanding are perhaps the works of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, as his great cathedral Sagrada Familia. Barcelona in particular has remained a center of modern and even futuristical architecture.

One of the most pleasurable ways to discover Spain’s natural beauty and abundant wildlife is to visit one of the National Parks.  The major national parks in mainland Spain are: Coto de Doñana (provinces of Seville and Huelva), Tablas de Daimiel (La Mancha), Ordesa (Huesca Pyrenees), Aigües Tortes (Lleida) and Montaña de Covadonga (Picos de Europa).

 

Madrid
The Spanish capital is a vibrant, atmospheric city, short on famous monuments but rich in cultural sights. Pride of place belongs to the city’s three superb art museums. The Prado has one of the most remarkable art collections in the world, with works by major Spanish and European masters from the Renaissance onwards. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is devoted to 20th-century Spanish art with representative works by Miró, Dalí, Juan Gris, and above all by the Cubists, including Picasso. The most famous work on show is his masterpiece from the Civil War period, Guernica. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is one of the most important private collections of western painting in the world, with more than 800 paintings from the Italian Renaissance to the 20th-century avant garde.
The Royal Palace dates from the mid-18th century.

Aranjuez
Aranjuez is famous for its gardens, an 18th-century Summer Palace, built by the Spanish Bourbons and Charles IV’s enormously expensive folly, the Casita del Labrador, on the banks of the River Tagus. Aranjuez is known for strawberries and asparagus. The Strawberry Train (Tren de la Fresa), complete with steam engine and wooden carriages, operates between Madrid and Aranjuez between mid-April and July and September to mid-October.

Chinchón
Chinchón
is an attractive little town with an atmospheric main square, Plaza Mayor, still used for bullfights during the fiesta (August) and for a passion play at Easter. The mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama are easily accessible from Madrid and are an important center for skiing and winter sports. Puerto de Navacerrada and Valdesquí are the main resorts.

Andalucia, Ceuta & Melilla
Andalucia is a mountainous region in the far south of Spain, rich in minerals and an important center for the production of olives, grapes, oranges and lemons

Seville (Sevilla)
The regional capital is Seville, one of the largest cities in Spain, bearing numerous traces of the 500 years of Moorish occupation. Seville is the romantic heart of the country, the city of Carmen and Don Juan; its cathedral is the largest Gothic building in the world and has a superb collection of art and period stonework. Christopher Columbus is buried here

Córdoba
Founded by the Romans, Córdoba’s heyday was during the early Moorish period when it was reputed to be the most splendid city in Europe.

Granada
The last city to fall to the Christians, Granada’s outstanding monument is the Alhambra, the palace-fortress built by the Nasrid rulers in the 13th to 14th centuries.  The highlights include: the Palacios Nazariés, its halls, courtyards and loggias decorated with painted enamel tiles, delicately fretted arches, stalactite vaulting, marble sculptures and stucco ornament.

The Sierra Nevada
South of Granada and only about 40km (25 miles) from the coast is the upland area of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range running roughly east to west. It contains the highest peaks in Iberia; one of these, the Pico de Veleta (over 3400m/11,155ft), is accessible for most of its height by road and coach trips. The region offers the unique opportunity to combine a holiday of winter sports with coastal sunshine and water sports in the Mediterranean. There are dramatic views of the valleys and ravines from the twisting mountain roads.
Costa de la Luz
This attractive stretch of coastline extends from the Portuguese border in the west to Tarifa in the east and, while popular with Spanish tourists, is still relatively undeveloped.
Points of interest include the sea fortifications, the ‘old’ and ‘new’ cathedrals and the tower,

Costa del Sol
This densely populated area, popular with tourists on account of its fine beaches and picturesque towns, extends along most of Andalusia’s Mediterranean coastline, from Almeria to Tarifa.
Usually regarded as little more than the gateway to the Costa del Sol, Málaga is an attractive and lively city with plenty to interest the passing visitor.

Costa de Almería
To the east of the Costa del Sol is the province of Almería, one of the most heavily developed tourist regions of the country. The capital of the same name is a former Roman port, dominated by its Moorish castle, the Alcazaba. Attractions here include the 16th-century Cathedral and the Church of Santiago el Viejo.

The African Enclaves
Ceuta is a free port on the north coast of Africa. The city is dominated by the Plaza de Africa in the town center and the cathedral. Bus services are available into Morocco and there are regular car-ferry sailings from Algeciras.
Melilla is also a free port on the north coast of Africa, and is served by car ferries from Málaga and Almería. The town is mainly modern, but there are several older buildings, including a 16th-century church.

Castile/La Mancha & Extremadura
This inland region lies between Madrid and Andalucia. Bordered by mountains to the north, east and south, it is irrigated by two large rivers, the Guadiana and the Tajo, both of which flow westwards to Portugal and thence to the Atlantic. Castile/La Mancha, the higher, western part of the region, is also known as Castilla La Nueva (New Castile).

Castile/La Mancha
To the south of Madrid is the ancient Spanish capital of Toledo. Rising above the plains and a gorge of the Rio Tajo, the city is dominated by the magnificent cathedral and Alcazar. The town seems tortured by streets as narrow as the steel blades for which it is famous.

Extremadura
This region consists of the provinces of Cáceres and Badajoz. Cáceres was founded in the first century BC by the Romans, and was later destroyed by the Visigoths and rebuilt by the Moors

Castile/León & La Rioja
The inland region of Castile and León lie to the north and northwest of Madrid and occupy the northern part of the Meseta Central, the plateau that covers much of central Spain. As with the Madrid region,

Castile and León are hemmed in by high mountains to the north, east and south and are the catchment area for a large river, the Douro, which flows westward into Portugal.

Castile la Vieja
Superbly situated on a plain overlooked by the Sierra de Gredos, Avila is the highest provincial capital in the country.

León
The lively city of León was recaptured from the Moors in 850, and the architecture reflects its long history under Christian rule. The cathedral is one of the finest examples of the Gothic style in the country and boasts some outstanding 13th-century stained glass.

La Rioja
This region is famous for its vineyards. The capital, Logroño, is in the center of the region.

The Northern Region
This region comprises northwestern Spain and the northern coast stretching as far as the French frontier. The two outstanding natural features are the Cantabrian Mountains and the Rías Gallegas estuaries in Galicia. The highest peaks are the Picos de Europa (2615m/8579ft) in Asturias, favored by walkers, climbers and wildlife enthusiasts. There are excellent beaches along the entire coastline, mostly of fine sand, often surrounded by cliffs and crags. Much of the hinterland, however, is green, lush and forested. This is at least partly due to the climate, which is noticeably wetter than in the south.

Galicia
Galicia is a mountainous region with large tracts of heathland broken by gorges and fast-flowing rivers. The coastline has many sandy bays, often backed with forests of fir and eucalyptus, and deep fjord-like estuaries (rías), which cut into the land. The dominant building material is granite. Galicia has its own culture and language, many of the roadsigns are in two languages.
La Coruña is one of the largest towns in the region and is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians.

Asturias
This small, once independent principality is predominantly mountainous although there are also large tracts of forest. The resorts are known collectively as the Costa Verde on account of the rich vegetation. Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, is an historic town with an outstanding 12th-century Gothic Cathedral.

Cantabria
The Cantabrian resorts make a convenient base for expeditions to the mountains. Cantabria (and Asturias) are important centers for skiing and winter sports.

The Basque Country (País Vasco)
Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Alava form the Basque provinces, to the east of the Cantabrian Mountains. The economy of this fertile region is based on agriculture, despite having been highly industrialized in the 19th century.

Navarre & Aragon
These two medieval kingdoms lie southwest of the French border, with the Pyrenees to the northeast.

The landscape offers spectacular views, the mountains contrasting with the lush valleys of the lower ground. This is a popular area for skiing and winter sports. The main resorts include Astun, Candanchú, Cerler, El Formigal, and Panticosa.
Navarre
Pamplona has been inundated with tourists ever since American writer Ernest Hemingway put the town on the map with his novel The Sun Also Rises (1927). At the Festival of San Fermín (Jul 6-14) brave or foolhardy visitors join the young men of the town in trying to outrun a large herd of bulls that stampedes through the town’s narrow, closed streets.

Aragon
Aragon rose to prominence in the late 15th century. Situated on the River Ebro, it is a university town with a medieval Cathedral, a 17th-century basilica.
Huesca, situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees, is an important market town. There are several attractions within easy reach, including the Ordesa National Park, excellent walking and climbing country; the popular summer holiday resort of Arguis in the Puerto de Monrepós region; the spa town of Balneario de Panticosa; and the high-altitude resort and frontier town of Canfranc.

Valencia & Murcia
Valencia
Spain’s third-largest city (population 800,000), Valencia is famous for its orange groves, its fruit and vegetable market (one of the largest in Europe) and its lively nightlife. It is also a popular tourist resort with beaches a short bus ride from the town.

Alicante & the Costa Blanca
The Costa Calida in the province of Murcia lies to the south of Alicante and is thinly populated except in the areas around the river valleys. Summer temperatures here can be unbearably hot in the resorts but especially inland. Murcia, the town, has a university, cathedral and small old quarter. The salt water lagoon at Mar Menor is good for watersports, while nearby, La Manga offers tennis, golf and so on. Other resorts include Mazarrón, La Unión and Aguilas.

Excursions from Alicante include a run inland to Guadalest, a village perched like an eagle’s eyrie high in the mountains and accessible in the last stages only by donkey or on foot. Also of great interest are several historical sites, including the castles at Elda and Villena, and Elche.

The Costa Blanca has expanded rapidly in recent years and most of the coastal towns between the Peñón de Ifach and Alicante are primarily tourist resorts. Temperatures are higher than on the Costa Brava and the beaches tend to be more extensive. Benidorm is the largest and most intensively developed resort.

The Costa del Azahar
This coastal region extends from Vinaròs and the Gulf of Valencia to beyond Denia. The region has expansive beaches around Benicàssim, but its most outstanding feature is, perhaps, the medieval fortress town of Peñiscola. This small town is situated on a fertile plain, and is the center of a thriving trade in citrus fruits.

Catalonia (Catalunya)
Catalonia is the eastern coastal region, bordering France. It has an ancient culture quite distinct from its neighbors, and many of the inhabitants speak Catalan, a Romance language influenced by medieval French. Catalonia is Spain’s industrial and commercial powerhouse but agriculture (olive oil, wine, almonds and fruit) is also important in the region. Catalonia is an important focus of tourism, especially the seaside resorts of the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada. Skiing and winter sports are on offer for up to six months of the year in the Pyrenees.

Barcelona
Spain’s second-largest city (population 2.5 million) is a major commercial and industrial center and an important Mediterranean port. Barcelona’s best museums include the Picasso (see above), the Fundació Joan Miró with works by another of Spain’s most innovative 20th-century artists, the Museum of Catalan Art, the Maritime Museum, the Zoological Museum and the Monastery of Peldralbes , which houses part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection.

The Costa Dorada
The coastline from Barcelona to Tarragona has more fine sandy beaches. Inland is the town of Montblanc with a fine Gothic church and the ruins of the 12th-century Cistercian monastery at Poblet. The two main resorts are Salou (the Port-Aventura Theme Park is a key attraction) and cosmopolitan Sitges.

The Costa Brava
This coastal strip northeast of Barcelona comprises pine-clad rocks, sandy bays and package resorts. Inland is Lleida, a province that borders the Pyrenees and boasts some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Spain. Some resorts on the Costa Brava, such as Tossa de Mar, remain largely unspoilt despite the massive influx of holidaymakers; others (Blanes and Lloret de Mar for example) are intensely developed.

How to get there

BY AIR ;  

Choose from many UK and European airlines

BY ROAD;

Spain has an excellent Road system, where you can travel at a leisurely pace in your own time.

BY RAIL;

Currently there are only a few high speed train routes in Spain but taking one (the AVE) will get you from Madrid to Sevilla in just two and a half hours!

When traveling from the UK you have the option of using the Channel tunnel, by either traveling as a foot passenger, or taking your car.

BY SEA;

From the UK the Ferry across the Channel have regular crossings, or why not try the Channel tunnel.

BY BUS/COACH;

Search the many bus/coach companies which offer direct travel to particular cities or specific tours within Spain.

 

Festivals

Best known among Spain’s folkloristic traditions are certainly Flamenco and bullfights.

Sanfermines in Pamplona – Bullfights you will find indeed throughout the country, the most popular event perhaps being the “Running of Bulls”.

Feria de Abril – Flamenco- April –Seville -is the musical tradition in the country’s south, in particular in Andalusia. That is where you have to see and listen to first rate dancing and guitar playing. An entire week of singing, dancing, drinking sherry wine and trying the tapas.

Semana Santa,  Easter week- with its world-famous processions.

El Rocio – May – a traditional pilgimship to the village El Rocio in the province of Huelva. Flamenco and wine freely flowing.

Las Fallas de San Jose – Valencia- March, when the entire city becomes the scenery of an enormous party with lots of good mood and excellent fireworks.

La Tamburrada – San Sebastian – February,

San Isidro- Madrid- May – If you like bullfights, don’t miss it.

Carnival is popular in all the country, the best is in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, but if you are at the peninsula, Cadiz and Sitges are the places to go.

Eating  Dining  Shopping

 Food and dining might be described as a passion for many Spaniards

  • Fish tends to be superb in most places – famous for spectacular fish restaurants, are Barcelona, San Sebastian, Madrid, Bilbao, and Santiago de Compostela.
  • Lamb, particularly in the northern half of the peninsula, tends to be incredibly good.
  • Fried food is another specialty there’s an infinite variety of battered and breaded delights: squid, fish, eggplant, veal cutlets, etc.
  • Shellfish is abundant and beautifully prepared.
  • Menu of the day (Menú del día) is a good way to lunch (and try new culinary adventures) at low prices. Restaurants are required to offer a fixed-price menu – typically 3 courses with wine and bread included.

Spanish wine is not to be missed. Again, the supply will vary according to the region. The least expensive alternative is “vino de la casa” (house wine), which can be “tinto” (red), “blanco” (white) or “rosado” (rosé).

  •  Cheese is another great Spanish unknown. Try the “manchego” cheese made from sheep’s milk and the potent “cabrales” blue cheese made from cow’s milk.
  • Cured meats are another gourmet treat: “chorizo” sausage and cured “serrano” ham.

For the more adventurous:

  • “Pulpo” (octopus) is boiled and usually served “a la gallega” with paprika, salt and olive oil. A real treat.
  • “Calamares” (squid) are served in many forms: battered and fried, grilled, or cooked in a black sauce made from tomato, onion and squid ink! You’ll also find “chopitos” (baby squid), “chipirones” (young squid), and “sepia” (cuttlefish).
  • Offal, otherwise known as the odd bits are very much a part of Spanish cuisine. The list includes: “callos” (tripe), “mollejas” (sweetbreads), “sesos” (brains), “riñones” (kidneys) and “criadillas” (testicles).

Shopping

The majority of Spanish stores are small family run affairs although many more hypermarkets and supermarkets have begun to spring up. The hypermarkets tend to lie in the rapidly expanding Spanish suburbs, while the older city neighborhoods hold fast to traditional shopping patterns.

History

Spain’s geography has not changed that much since the days when Spain, was put together by Rome. This common background persisted for several centuries as northern European tribes overran southern Europe and established themselves there.

The difference was made by the arrival in Spain of the Arabs in the 8th century. From that moment on, Spain’s development took on a distinctive character. The Moslems conquered much of the Iberian Peninsula and stayed on for nearly eight centuries.

There were many conflicts between the Christian nuclei in northern Spain and the Moslem invaders. Over the centuries these rugged groups grew into powerful Christian kingdoms that pushed southward. During this struggle, Spain served as an advance post for Christianity, a religious frontier. The victory achieved after nearly 800 years of effort gave the Spaniard a feeling of superiority, which was reinforced by medieval chroniclers who were quick to remind them that their country had once given great emperors to Rome. Rivers were more often used as moats behind which to fight raiders than as trade routes. Cities sprang up not because of economics but because of strategic imperatives. Such was the case of Segovia; and it was as a guardian of the mountain passes that Madrid had its humble beginnings. This also explains why the Spanish landscape often has a warlike appearance. Any mountain pass or meadow was a good place to build a fortress-castle.

The horses from Castilla of the late 15th and early 16th century formed the foundation of today’s South and North American horse population. These same war horses were the ancestors of the Andalusian and Lusitano horse.

 

Useful telephone numbers

Emergency Number 112

Airport Information (Alicante) 96 691 9000

Train station: (Alicante) 965 920 202

Tourist Office:(Alicante) 966 919 367

Holiday rents online:

National Transport Line

24 hour medical service

 


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