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Inspire Magazine - Spain's rich and varied tapestry

Spain
Inspire Europe 2013 Cover
Spain Europe
Arcos Spain
Northern Spain Coastline
Spain

Inspire Magazine - Spain's rich and varied tapestry

story by: Inspire Magazine

There’s more to Spain than great beaches. From the rugged Basque country in the north, down to the beaches of Andalusia in the south, it’s possible to experience dramatically different landscapes and equally distinct cultures.

For nearly 800 years much of the Iberian Peninsula was under the control of the Moors, and this legacy lingers on in the splendid architecture and North African influenced dishes, particularly in the south. The beautiful Alhambra in Granada is considered a shining example of Moorish architecture, and to stroll around the elegant galleries, pavilions and tranquil gardens is to understand just how opulent life was for the Muslim rulers.

The Romans too have left their mark on Spain; the Segovia aqueduct is an immense structure and marvel of engineering that’s undoubtedly one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts in Europe. From the past, right through to the present day there are countless landmark buildings that capture the spirit of the time, from Gaudi’s decorative exuberance on the Sagrada Familia church to the sensuous curves of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

With such an array of sights to see, the distances between each can seem daunting – luckily, the rail system in Spain is extensive and efficient. You may even choose to make the journey a part of the experience by climbing aboard one of the world’s most fabulous trains, the evocatively named El Transcantabrico. Journeying from Santiago to Léon or San Sebastian on the Atlantic Coast is an experience to savour. The ‘Classico’ train carries just 52 passengers in sumptuous comfort and double sleeping compartments with ensuite facilities.

It’s worth noting that this northern ‘Green Belt’ region offers a great driving holiday with National Parks, the Rioja wine region and short distances between the cities and towns. Similarly in the South, it would be ideal to book a villa and each day drive off to another place nearby to explore. The whitewashed villages and spectacular coastline are ‘must-sees’.

So what are you waiting for? Discover the real Spain and the warm and friendly people who you’ll meet on the way. Any season that you choose it will be a memorable adventure, although the winter months could be the best if you’re looking forward to cheery savoury dishes beneath sharp blue skies.

Many of Spain's more popular destinations will lose nothing by an out-of-season visit. The previously mentioned Alhambra delivers a particularly memorable photo opportunity with snow-capped mountains in the background. Plus large cities don't shut down outside of summer - Madrid's still a late night party town in the famous Plaza Major, and Valencia's Festival of the Fallas definitely turns up the temperature in March. This is when the locals poke fun at society's faults by building huge, gaudy (and sometimes ribald) Fallas or floats. The largest of these is ceremoniously burned at the festival climax in Town Hall Square. It sounds hazardous, but an 18th Century edict bans the placing of burning Fallas against the walls of houses (sounds obvious really). There's also a fireworks display to add to the general pandemonium, but in true Spanish fashion the pyrotechnics are designed to deliver deafening blasts and screeches rather than starry brilliance. The festival also has its more contemplative aspects with a welcome to spring with a floral extravaganza in Basilica Square. Thousands of bouquets and flower arrangements choke the square in a tribute to Our Lady of the Forsaken whose effigy includes a fourteen-metre flower bedecked cloak.

Barcelona is another great place to visit in any season, and not just because of Gaudi's influence. Take yourself along to Poble Espanyol, which began in 1929 as a showcase for architectural styles throughout Spain and has evolved into a cultural village with arts and crafts, traditional flamenco, kid's activities and more. Another great place to lose yourself in Barcelona is in the Gothic Quarter. The narrow, winding streets create a labyrinth where ancient buildings stand shoulder to shoulder with modern constructions. The tiny squares (placas) and streets are packed with places to eat, and the Placa Reial in particular is always full of life, day or night. Right in the centre of the Gothic Quarter stands a grand Cathedral with a courtyard full of plants, and strangely enough, geese.

There are many more places to suggest for your Spanish journey of discovery but if there is only room for one more it has to be Cuenca near Toledo, easily reached by car from Madrid. The hanging houses and precipitous gorges look more like the efforts of a Hollywood fantasist than the 660-year-old homes of a unique and flourishing community.   

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