A mention of Spain conjures up vivid colour, stirring music, passionate people, a history both glorious and tumultuous, and a fusion of ancient and new. About 500 years ago Spain was a world power and the home port of famed explorers such as Columbus and Cortés. Before that, for 800 years, Spain was ruled by the Muslim Moors. These events have left an indelible mark on Spain – glorious cathedrals and castles built on great wealth, and the stunning Islamic architecture left behind by the Moors in Andalucia.
For today’s travellers Spain offers the cosmopolitan delights of cities such as the capital Madrid, extroverted Barcelona; and the fabled trio of Andalucian cities – Córdoba, Seville and Granada – with their palaces, mosques and gardens. Regional pride is immensely strong – in the north immerse yourself in the distinctive cultures of the Basque, the Pyrenees and the Catalan regions.
It’s a vast land; slow down, choose a few destinations and follow the Spanish way – revel in the sunshine and relish their art treasures, then siesta to save your energy for evenings, cruise the tapas bars and be drawn into the flamenco.
The Portuguese were once famed for their seafaring and trading, so perhaps they have a natural affinity with travellers, even though for decades they were somewhat neglected by visitors to Europe. That is changing now, and for good reason, as people discover the distinctive culture and landscapes of olives, almonds, cork trees, vineyards, windmills and unspoilt villages.
In Lisbon, its capital, take time to wander through the narrow streets of Bairro Alto or Alfama. Beyond Lisbon lies Sintra, known as one of Portugal’s most beautiful towns, with its fairy-tale palace, crumbling villas with wrought-iron balconies festooned with flowering vines, and verdant forests.
There are also kilometres of beaches, the most famous of which are along the Algarve and Costa do Sol, and the infamous surf beach Nazare, medieval monasteries and hills dotted with castles and wild flowers. Braga, with its Baroque churches, is known as the Rome of Portugal. To the north is Porto, on the River Douro, where the country’s most famous export, Port wine, is stored in warehouses known as lodges before it is dispatched all around the world. Take a cruise along the river or visit a tiny fishing village along the coast. Fresh fish, especially sardines, are a staple of Portuguese cuisine, along with bacalhau, and locally made olive oil.
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