The Rest of Spain

All Ways Spain – La Concha San Sebastian Basque Country

A truly diverse country

The two prin­ci­pal cities, Madrid and Barcelona, illus­trate in them­selves just how diverse Spain is – these two are the nation’s half-broth­ers, each quite dis­tinct but with a shared pedi­gree that nei­ther quite wants to admit. While the cap­i­tal, Madrid, has a rep­u­ta­tion as some­what haughty and aus­tere — no doubt its Aus­tri­an Hab­s­burg parent­age has a lit­tle to do with this — its Cata­lan rival, Barcelona, sees itself as hip, alter­na­tive and cos­mopoli­tan. Geog­ra­phy can explain some of this: the Mediter­ranean takes Barcelona’s gaze out­wards while land-locked Madrid stares out over those much-quot­ed plains.

Both cities reward patient inves­ti­ga­tion to get beyond these stereo­types — they are sure­ly among the most enrich­ing cities in Europe for a trav­el­er to vis­it. Madrid boasts some of the world’s finest art col­lec­tions, his­toric and con­tem­po­rary, in the sig­na­ture gal­leries of El Pra­do, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Borne­misza as well as in less­er known venues such as Caixa Forum, Cen­tro­Cen­tro Cibeles and Ivory Press. Ernest Hem­ing­way assert­ed (with cus­tom­ary hyper­bole) that “Nobody goes to bed in Madrid till they have killed the night!” and while it is cer­tain­ly true that bars, restau­rants, clubs and cafés line its ele­gant streets and plazas and one is nev­er short of places to go at any hour of the night, this is large­ly true of any Span­ish city – Madrid just hap­pens to be the largest! Barcelona also offers top-notch art and nightlife, but its sta­tus as a world-class city is aug­ment­ed by its inno­v­a­tive con­tem­po­rary Cata­lan cui­sine. Cel­e­brat­ed chefs such as Fer­ran Adrià treat food like a cross between art and sci­ence and their restau­rants offer real culi­nary explo­rations, plus the pro­duce can all be sourced in one of the world’s out­stand­ing food mar­kets, La Boquería, as well as in local mar­kets such as Mer­cat de San­ta Cate­ri­na, where you will find stalls heaped with cur­va­ceous Montser­rat toma­toes, piles of pig parts, and huge dis­plays of fresh fish and seafood. Foot­ball, the nation­al pas­sion, is also promi­nent on the CV of each city, with the Barça-Real rival­ry, one of the most intense in club foot­ball, dri­ving the acqui­si­tion of the world’s most tal­ent­ed play­ers – the so-called “galác­ti­cos”.

Although Spain’s coast­line is well-known, its vast and rel­a­tive­ly unex­plored hin­ter­land, with a great vari­ety of land­scapes, is one of the country’s jew­els. From the sweep­ing sands of Atlantic beach­es to walled medieval hill-top towns, impos­ing moun­tain ranges like the Pyre­nees and the Picos de Europa to rivers, lakes and reser­voirs, and an agri­cul­ture that is still fun­da­men­tal­ly tied to day-to-day life, Rur­al Spain has it all. While a car and some local knowl­edge is help­ful in pen­e­trat­ing the deep­er reach­es, the Span­ish train net­work is a great asset, with high-speed (AVE) trains con­nect­ing the major cities (in door-to-door times that the air­lines are hard-pressed to bet­ter) and a good cov­er­age of region­al TALGO and ALVIA trains tak­ing you into the depths of the coun­try­side en route to the medi­um-sized cities. It is here where Spain’s cul­tur­al and his­toric DNA is most read­i­ly seen. Among count­less con­tenders, those of Ávi­la, Cuen­ca, Sala­man­ca, Segovia, Pam­plona, Girona, Oviedo and Cáceres mer­it spe­cial men­tion.

Per­haps the best means of real­ly con­nect­ing with the land is to walk across it — and here the cen­turies-old pil­grims’ way of St James offers the per­fect itin­er­ary. The Camino de San­ti­a­go con­sists of sev­er­al routes, all of which con­verge on the Gali­cian town of San­ti­a­go de Com­postela, and which take you into some of the more remote parts of the Iber­ian Penin­su­la. The leg­end of St James (“San­ti­a­go” in Span­ish”) bring­ing Chris­tian­i­ty to these lands is ven­er­at­ed to this day, but for most peo­ple the nat­ur­al beau­ty of the way, and the chance it offers for fel­low­ship and con­tem­pla­tion, are the main moti­va­tions. Rea­sons to vis­it Spain, as a whole, are infi­nite – and our Sam­ple Itin­er­aries aim to inspire in you a few more…