A Quick Tour of Spain

A Quick Tour of Spain

With over fifty million tourists visiting Spain each year, this popular West European country must have something special which attracts the visitor. What exactly is it…?

The main beauty of this lovely land can be summed up in just one word – variety – and, as you all well know, variety is the spice of life!

Whether you are referring to its climate, geography, history, culture or cuisine… there is something to appeal to all tastes, ages and pockets.

The tourist explosion which took place in the 60s was originally due to its marvellous beaches. And, with good reason, for the Foundation for Environmental Education states that “Spanish beaches are the most environmentally healthy in Europe” and has awarded the much-coveted Blue Flag to 450 of the country´s beaches – more than any other participating country.

But maybe lolling about on the beach all day is not your thing and you prefer more action… a touch of sophistication?

Should this be the case then Spain´s major cities are ideal for you… jam-packed full of history, and an art-lover´s dream. Yet, with their abundance of parks and wide open spaces, good shops and pulsating night-life, they are a joy for everyone – children included.

So … mooch around the truly marvellous museums and monuments of Madrid. Enjoy the bustle of stylish Barcelona bursting with vibrant Gaudí influence. Savor the delights of romantic Mediterranean cities such as Valencia and Alicante. Or journey further south to the exotic cities of Granada, Seville and Málaga. Immerse yourself in their haunting Islamic palaces, the brilliant colors and sounds of flamenco, and in the birth-place and works of Picasso.

Maybe you hunger for the peace and quiet of a hideaway hotel in an unspoiled village? Then rural Spain is for you: full of forgotten villages, bursting at the seams with medieval castles, and offering prolific flora and fauna, it is ideal for walking holidays, painting, photography or just plain “get away from it all” holidays. Not to mention ski-ing opportunities for the more active amongst Spain´s snow-capped peaks.

Should you fancy a mix of all three – beach, city and rural – then that is also easy to arrange. Although Spain is the largest country in Western Europe after France, it is certainly no problem to get around. Littered with airports – both national and international – it also offers a good train service, though the cheapest and most convenient method of internal travel is by using the national bus / coach system.

For those who are a little tired of the stereo-typed hotel chains, Spain has a unique alternative on offer in its state-established “paradores”. In these, you will find accommodation in converted castles, palaces, fortresses, monasteries, convents…

The aim of the “paradores” is to offer high standards at reasonable prices in a noteworthy building or location and to help preserve the traditions of regional cooking by serving the best of local cuisine in the “parador” restaurants.

Which brings us on to yet another delight that Spain has to offer – its rich and varied cuisine. Whichever region of Spain you decide to visit, you will surely encounter scrumptious Spanish food!

What´s more, the traditional Spanish diet, with the liquid gold of its olive oil, its rich supply of wine (in moderation!), its wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, plus an abundance of seafood, all mean that it is extremely good for the heart. On top of that, it is affordable!

Even their “caviar” of cured hams – “jamón Ibérico” – has fat unusually high in oleic acid which is known to lower cholesterol levels! Now I ask you, where else can you get something pleasurable, that is cheap, and also good for you?!

Even if you fancy picking between meals you can opt for their tempting “tapas” – much healthier for you than a packet of crisps or a donut!

Tapas originate from the large, southerly region of Andalucia and it is this region that we also have to thank for flamenco and the Spanish guitar. Which holiday would be complete without visiting an authentic flamenco show or dancing the night away to the beat of romantic Spanish music?

So… come visit this land where the warmth of its climate is only surpassed by the warmth of its people. You are bound to have a great time!

One special day at La Palma, Canary Islands

One special day at La Palma, Canary Islands

As though it were caught floating halfway away from the Iberian peninsula of Europe towards South America and became lodged off the coast of western Africa, La Palma has something of each continent in its soul. The steepest island in the world at only 16 miles wide and 8000 feet high, La Palma also has enormous ecological diversity and a historic significance dating to 1492.

That was the year that the first Spaniard, Alfonso Fernández de Lugo, landed on La Palma. The island soon became a stopping ground for crews heading west to the New World. For Columbus it was a necessary stop-over for rest and supplies. The capital Santa Cruz grew to become one of the three most important ports in the Hispanic world. It also saw the departure of thousands of immigrants to South America, such as Cuba where the islanders set up tobacco plantations.

When we visited Santa Cruz we found a pleasant and relaxed city. It’s tidy and tiny with old colonial buildings. There are white churches accented with dark volcanic stone and quaint houses decorated with colorful wooden balconies. There’s a replica of Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria at the end of the Plaza de la Alameda, a delightful square shaded with old laurel trees.

It’s the island’s laurel trees that today make up Los Tilos, a protected biospheric reserve north of Santa Cruz. The name, Los Tilos, is derived from the Spanish word for smelly, since laurels stink when felled.

One special day at La Palma, Canary Islands

We joined a guided trek through Los Tilos and were astonished by the diversity of its greenery. Our guide Ilonka from Natour-Trekking explained that there are more than 2000 forms of vegetation and 70 plants unique to La Palma. The hills are a tapestry of fig trees, orange trees, palm trees, banana crops, vineyards, pines, laurels and dragon trees, a tree found only on the islands of the middle Atlantic and which can grow to be centuries old.

“Banana’s are boozers,” explains Ilonka as we stop at a banana orchard in San Andres y Sauces, another colonial village with cobbled streets and narrow alleys. “One kilo of bananas needs 1000 litres of water.” So avocados, which are much less demanding of the island’s water supplies, are slowly replacing banana farming.

For now the island is covered by huge patches of banana land, with the gigantic leaves swaying in the wind. Some of the fields are covered in plastic to prevent the heavy leaves from bruising the bananas, but as a local restaurateur tells us, bananas cultivated in this way are less tasty.

And taste, it turns out, is a specialty here. We encountered our tastiest treats during our hikes on the western side of the island, known as the sunnier side. As we approached a small almond farm the farmer’s wife appeared with satchels of roasted, sugared almonds for us to buy. At Tazacorte, a genteel village with bright, arty street furniture, we drank sugar cane juice pressed through an old-fashioned hand-mill. It gave us that extra kick needed to climb the cliff for a panoramic view.

The goats we saw roaming the northwestern hills produced the best delight of all: goat cheese roasted over pine-brush and topped with a typical Canary Islands sauce called mojo verde. The crushed coriander and garlic sauce combines tantalizingly with the smoky flavour. La Palma’s goat cheese is so fine because of the very diversity of greens the goats can freely graze.

These pampered goats also have spectacular views of the island’s most majestic feature, the Caldera de Tarubiente. This snowy peak is an extinct 5-mile wide crater and the climax of the volcano trail that runs along the north-south spine of the island. The western winds cause clouds to pour over this ridge like milk spilling in slow motion. From here you can also see the tips of the other Canary islands Tenerife and La Gomera.

After all the trekking and fantastic sea views, we were ready for a day at the beach. At Los Cancajos, near Santa Cruz, the sand is very black from the volcanic explosions that formed the island. The lava-rich soil is also the reason for La Palma’s quality wine. With a bottle of malvasia—the wine that was once noted by Shakespeare—and anise-seeded bread, we enjoyed the view of Santa Cruz’s miniature skyline from the warm beach.

Very few ships still dock at Santa Cruz. There are ferries from the Spanish mainland and some afternoon day-trippers from the other Canary islands. All this means that it’s a pretty peaceful place. It‘s the rich history, food and colors—from the black sand beaches to its white peaks and the green in between—that gives La Palma its unique flair.

Spain: Enjoying beautiful sunset of Costa Brava

Spain: Enjoying beautiful sunset of Costa Brava

Of course, beaches are the best place to relax and rejoice. But the beach in Catalonia called ‘Costa Brava’ makes a huge difference. The natural beauty which is present in the Costa Brava is not to be seen on any other beaches of Europe. The range of Pyrenees hills, the historic buildings and delightful coastal towns, museums etc. have made Costa Brava a ‘jewel of Spain’.

To make the tourists feel at home, there are luxurious villas and apartments and many hotels and bars within walking distance from the beach. Interestingly, a portion of the Costa Brava has been transformed into a tourist spot with the construction of villas and apartments etc. and the other part of the beach still retains its traditional look. In fact, some tourists call this area with a traditional look as the ‘hidden gem’ of Costa Brava.

Some tourists say that natural scenery in Costa Brava is simply splendid. Beautiful sea water, vast beaches, the row of mountains and the rich vegetation; it is something to be experienced. The place is so beautiful that Costa Brava has been a source of inspiration for many artists like Picasso, Salvador Dali etc. Tourists will certainly enjoy the water sports and some of the popular beach sports like volley ball, basket ball etc. This coast is also famous for coves, gorges and nooks. In fact some tourists call Costa Brava a ‘dreamy place’.

Spain: Enjoying beautiful sunset of Costa Brava

Want to play golf in this beautiful environment? If so, go to Costa Brava! Some of the most popular golf courses are situated in Costa Brava. The traditional villages around the beach are another place of attraction. The narrow roads in these villages with most of the buildings having whitewashed exteriors are something amazing to look at. Many of the villages have churches that were built centuries ago.

Apart from this are the restaurants and bars which serve mouth watering cuisine with traditional Spanish wine. Tourists are of the opinion that these villages are the most ideal place to spend time in a quiet environment surrounded by beautiful nature. Many of these villages are within walking distance of the beach.

Those who enjoy trekking could venture into the Pyrenees hills, which are located very near the beach. A view of the sea from the top of the mountain range is really astounding. Many villas and apartments are located on the beach making the tourist’s stay comfortable. There are many hotels and bars serving delicious continental food.

The Historical Richness of Granada

The Historical Richness of Granada

There is so much history to Granada’s glory, causing it to be unstable through the ages and through the reigns of many conquerors before it was established as a sovereign kingdom by Ibn Ahmar, an Arabian prince of the Nasrid tribe, in 1238. He was really a fair and able ruler, but did not have the opportunity to reign longer with the whole of Spain coming under the Christian Re-conquest.

Granada’s Rich History

Although the Moors were first at Granada, they were encumbered with battles throughout the ages until they succumbed to King Fernando III in the 13th century. With the death of Moorish leader, Ibn Ahmar, in 1275, the Moors remain as Spain’s only Muslim kingdom living till today. However, its incoming refugee numbers fueled its growth in various industries, such as culture and commerce, which are flourishing today.

Thus, the Christian and Muslim kingdoms have molded Granada’s historical glory for more than two centuries up until today. The famous Alhambra palace was the brainchild of these Muslim sultans that brought fame to this area, until the city was entangled in an internal battle fueled by two of the sultan’s favorite wives. By then the Christian Re-conquest, which had been going strong, took full reign in 1479 to set up the united Christian kingdoms of Spain between Castile and Aragón when Fernando and Isabel married one another. The rest is history, as they say, when through the royal reign, Ronda, Málaga and Almería were finally conquered, thus fulfilling the Christian Re-Conquest goal.

The Historical Richness of Granada

The Gitanos of Granada

As with many of the Andalusian cities, Granada is still home to an old and traditional gypsy population, known as the Gitanos. There is quite a large number of this tribe today in Granada; the clans from which Spain’s best flamenco dancers, guitarists and singers emerged.

These clans tend to occupy the caves which their forefathers used to inhabit, but now specifically at Sacromonte Hill, giving tourists a dose of zambras.

Gastronomical Options

It may not offer the best of Spanish cuisines due to the free tapas offered by some tapas bars, but Granada still can offer some North African flavor at its ‘Little Morocco’ where there are plenty of health foods and Moroccan tearooms with a delectable menu. This unique street can serve as the gathering point for picnics on one of the Alhambra visits.

There are restaurants that are easy on the pocketbook serving economical meals everywhere in Granada. You can check out Campo del Principe, a nice square with a restaurant that has open air terraces at the south of Alhambra Hill; it is very popular at night during summer.