Explore the essence of Spain’s towns and villages

Spain is a country which is hard to define as a whole. Its 17 regions are bursting with cuisine, culture and people unique to those areas, with places from northern Castilla y Leon to southern Andalucia as far apart in temperament as they are in distance. Many visitors are lured here by big-name attractions like architectural marvel Barcelona, or the Moorish legacy of Grenada, not to mention the warm-weather delights of the south and eastern shores. But it’s often in the smaller towns and local villages that you come closest to finding the essence of Spain, and many of them are only a short hop from the main tourist destinations.

Take holiday spot Costa del Sol, for example. Famed for sunshine, sangria and summer festivities, this coastline boasts some glorious scenery along with its plentiful hotels and resorts. Step back from the beach, however, and you’ll find yourself in Andalucia, one of the richest cultural regions in Spain.

Costa Del Sol

In fact, head the other way from Malaga Airport and Alhama de Granada awaits: a gem of a town hiding amongst the olive groves on Tajo Gorge, it even has its own hot springs. Elsewhere in the province, the ‘white village’ of Mijas is worth a day trip or longer, treading the Medieval cobbles, browsing locally-made ceramics and marvelling at churches perched high on the mountain-side.

Mijas - Spain

The Costa Blanca is sure to be another favourite for Spain holidays in 2013, with the vibrant beaches around Alicante a magnet for international visitors. But the wider province may surprise with towns like Elche, where you’ll find palm trees dating back to Phoenician times in the lush arboreal reserve. Then there’s Elda, famed in turn for its castle, shoe-making trade and delectable cakes.

Travel north from the White Coast and you’ll eventually hit Barcelona, the cultural holiday-maker’s destination of choice. But be sure to make time for Catalonia’s take on the seaside, Sitges. A modern, metropolitan feel vies with its reputation as an artist’s hangout – Picasso and Dali once trod on these very sands – and there are plenty of chic eateries in which to strike a pose and watch the world go by.

Steps from beach to church at Sitges, Spain

For the more adventurous at heart, the region of Extremadura lines the border with Portugal in the west and despite its remoteness, most places are under three hours’ drive from Madrid. It’s a worthwhile journey too; Trujillo in the Caceres province displays a beautifully-proportional town square, complete with Pizarro statue and fountains. The fortified town of Zafra also merits a day trip, where the walls surround the perfect image of a 15th-century town, marbled and white-washed and showcasing both Moorish and Renaissance influences.

Though northern Spain is not so frequented by tourists, cities like Santander are still relatively well-known in the Cantabria area. Inland, the fertile wine-making regions of La Rioja and Navarra unfurl and a wealth of smaller settlements can be found, including Santillana del Mar, once referred to as the ‘prettiest village in Spain’ by Jean-Paul Sartre. Car-free and full of stone cladding and meandering alleyways, it’s something of an open-air museum and also boasts the renowned prehistoric cave-paintings at Altamira.

Royal Palace in Olite, Navarra, Spain

Spain has far more destinations to offer the overseas visitor, and it’s worth noting that many of the country’s acclaimed festivals happen in the more modest places, such as Bunol’s tomato-throwing celebration, or the wine festival in northerly Haro. You might not have the time to travel the length and breadth of Spain’s eclectic regions, but venture away from the safety of your resort and you’ll be rewarded with everything from hilltop fortresses to trendy seafront tapas bars. All that remains is to start exploring.





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