The larger of Iberia's two main landholders, Spain inspires fervor in the hearts of her visitors that reflects the passionate predisposition of this sun-drenched nation and her people. Spain offers the adventurous and the curious endless opportunities for exploration. Ahead of their time artists and architects, late and loud evenings over tapas and sangria, outrageous bull-dodging food-flinging fiestas, stomping flamenco dancers and cape-twirling matadors, sprawling Moorish and medieval castles and some of the most inventive cuisine and wines in the world are just a few of the things you can experience while in Spain.
A History Apart
Its proximity to Africa, an easy hop across the Strait of Gibraltar, has lent Spain a spicy exoticism not found elsewhere in Europe. Moorish rule excused Spain from the absence of enlightenment that plagued most of Europe during the Dark Ages. It also gave the southern region of Andalusia the distinctive architecture, culture and Middle Eastern feel that still resonates today.
The Alhambra palace complex at Granada continues to attract millions of visitors and the Mezquita de Cordoba, a UNESCO World Heritage site, testifies to Spain's Islamic past as well as the many religious changes it has undergone over the centuries. Christianity has also influenced Spain's development. Popular among tourists and the religiously devout, the Way of Saint James remains a fashionable pilgrimage, ending in Santiago de la Compostela in lovely Galacia where St. James is said to be buried.
Artistic Bounty: From the Classical to the Hedonistic
It's no surprise a country so awash with color, light, and life produced several of the world's best-known artists along with an incredible collection of museums. Among the Old Masters, Spanish artist Velazquez often receives credit for the "greatest painting ever," Las Meninas, displayed in Madrid's Prado. Some of the world's best museums are found in Madrid, among them the modern la Reina Sophia which displays Picasso's emotionally gripping Guernica. Spanish artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso dominated the 20th-century art scene with their visionary and often bizarre creations. Their works can be found throughout Spain, though the Dali Museum in Figueres is a must visit for visitors to Catalonia. Picasso has his own museum in Barcelona, another art lover's paradise peppered with the whimsical structures of Antoni Gaudi and the street performers along Las Ramblas. And to the north, Frank O. Gehry's undulating silver Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is the Mecca for modern and contemporary art in Europe.
A Land for All Seasons
A country of striking natural contrasts, Spain's topography differs whichever way you turn, providing great skiing, hiking and high altitude fishing in the Sierra Nevada and Pyrenees ranges for active and adventurous travelers, while also appeasing sun worshippers with an abundance of first-rate beaches along the Costa Brava and Costa del Sol. On the island of Mallorca, one of our favorite Belmond properties is a wonderful hilly hideaway and delights visitors from the mainland with its own cache of charms. And smack in the middle of it all you'll find Madrid, the political and geographical center of Spain, and nearby the lovely medieval cities of Toledo and Segovia, easily reached by car or train.
Cuisine and Wine
If you agree that sampling the local dishes and drinks is one of the major pleasures of traveling abroad, then Spain, who brought us tapas and sangria, is calling your name. Jamon serrano (cured raw ham), paella and gazpacho have achieved "national dish" status and are well known outside of Spain, but each area offers its own unique culinary traditions. Wines from the regions of Rioja and Valdepeñas have received international acclaim, though high-quality vintages are produced throughout the country. For authentic sherry, one must visit Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia, home of this often overlooked wine. Let us arrange a private cooking lesson or tapas tasting adventure, the perfect way to introduce the many flavors of Spain to your taste buds.
Photos Courtesy of: Alfanzo the XIII, Barry and Cathy Beck, Belmond, Maria Christina and Mas de Torrent