Spain is the original overseas family holiday destination and remains as popular as ever today, thanks to the lively cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia; fabulous local cuisine of tapas, paella and jamón and adventure sports such as skiing in The Pyrenees, hiking in the Picos de Europa and trekking the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Throw in the rich iconic architecture and artwork from Antoni Gaudi, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali and you’ve got a holiday made in heaven!
Ditch your preconceptions of the 1960s European package destination and discover a new, vibrant country, which yes still has more idyllic beaches than you could ever hope to explore in a lifetime, but offers so much more to curious travellers. And with many currencies riding high against the Euro, there has never been a better or cheaper time to take a Spanish vacation;
Explore the churches of Barcelona
Irrespective of which religion you may believe in, visiting the churches of Barcelona is a real treat, both architecturally and historically. Discover Santa Maria Del Mar built in 1383 in medieval Catalan Gothic style; Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia aka Barcelona Cathedral, completed in 1450 and displaying ornate and varied gargoyles; and of course the most famous of all the religious monuments in buzzing Barcelona – the Sagrada Familia (pictured above) designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. Curiously construction on the basilica started in 1882 and is estimated to be completed by the year 2028. The Sagrada Familia is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and certainly the most familiar building on the landscape. Beautiful gold statues, chandeliers, stained glass painted windows and stunning, historic architecture are just some of the delights that await at the churches and cathedrals across Barcelona.
Try a cycle trip amidst the Andalucian landscapes at the southernmost tip of Spain and experience the beauty of Spanish villages, such as Ronda pictured above, and truly absorb the amazing Spanish sunlight while cycling past Montecorto and Ronda. Choose a local specialist operators to help guide you and assist our throughout your journey. Since Andalucian offers a large number of natural hills and tracks, cycling here is fun and challenging. You can arrange your own local accommodation in Andalucian, as there are some great rates and very comfortable villas on offer. Carry plenty of sunblock and water and enjoy the trip which is punctuated with quaint cafes, boutiques and photo-opportunities.
Experience some authentic Flamenco dancing in Madrid
As soon as you touch down on Spanish soil, grab the local entertainment listings and make your way to an authentic local flamenco venue in Madrid. No visit to Spain is complete unless you get to witness a powerful and passionate flamenco performance, or even take part yourself! Get yourself a table at the Casa Patas or the Corral de la Pacheca, two of Madrid’s most famous places known for their amazing flamenco performances. Take note of a few things before you head out to a flamenco performance; the really great ones usually start after midnight, search out the popular stars of Madrid, the best time for flamenco performances is at festival time in Madrid. The lively Festival de Flamenco Caja Madrid happens each year in February at various locales across the city including the Teatro del Canal. And in May check out the San Isidro Fiesta which is a giant blast of energy. Make sure you book in advance and check out the food reviews. Flamenco clubs and cafes are noisy, smoky and have an extremely charged atmosphere so bringing the kids along is probably not a good idea.
Explore the El Tajo Grand Canyon
If you love historical sites, the El Tajo or the grand canyon of Spain is a must see. Located in the Malaga province, it gives a spectacular view of the roman ruins. A good idea is to rent a car and head to Ronda as most routes leading to this beautiful place are full of scenic mountains, villages and Spanish homes that are definitely worth seeing and snapping away at. Once at the El Tajo, follow the signs to the bridge. Follow the stairs down and you will be able to take in a beautiful and breathtaking view of the roman ruins. You could also spend a few days exploring Ronda which has its share of wildlife, museums, mountains, shops, churches and exciting cafes. The bridge and stairs are quite a bit of a walk so wear closed walking shoes.
If you love a drop of Tempranillo on a weekend then a wine tour is essential for you! Spain makes some of the world’s most superior and most loved wines. There are over 5,500 vineyards in Spain and some of the most popular ones are in the La Rioja region in the north of Spain. This is where the ‘Rioja’ red wine comes from and the most used grape is tempranillo which is native. Choose a gourmet or luxury wine tour and head out with the vineyard guide for grape crushing, wine tasting and a look into what goes into the making of wine. Highly recommended in Rioja are the vintage wine tours by the Alonso family. Not only is the experience extremely enriching and authentic, you get to experience true Spanish hospitality. They will even pick you up and drop you back to your hotel if you sign up for a short, day excursion!
If you’re partial to a cheeky glass of red then the other main quality wine regions to explore are Ribera del Duero, Albariño, Navarra and Priorato. And if you find a cheap local courier company, you could ship supplies of your favourite tipple home!
Visit Calpe in the Alicante region of the Costa Blanca for amazing Spanish cuisine, botanical gardens, its beach and the famous Penon de Ifach National Park, aka ‘the rock’. Plan to spend at least three days here to cover everything that Calpe has to offer. Begin your trip by heading to the Ifach rock, climb up and enjoy a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and the unique sounds of some rare bird species that live up there. If the climb up is not your cup of tea, head to the beach, located to the north of the Ifach. There are a large number of restaurants and cafes near the beach and you can head to the botanical gardens later if you get tired of the Spanish sun.
Shop for shoes in Madrid
If shoes are your thing then head to Augusto Figueroa Street in Madrid, which is definitely the place to be for stylish footwear. With lots of old fashioned stores and extremely excited sales people, this is the street to be for all those who appreciate a good pair of shoes. With leather shoes, stilettoes, sandals, boots and all kinds of pumps, Madrid is known for its shoe factories and amazing, high quality leather and synthetic goods. You can find shoes ranging from 200 up to 5,000 USD so, unless you’re window shopping, pack your credit card!
By Julie Bowman