At the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range lies the former capital of the Muslim kingdom in Spain. The former palatial residence of the monarchs of the day is now the second most visited monument in the whole country; the Alhambra, the apex of Andalusian artistry that is nestled high above the rest of the modern city. On the other side of the valley is the Mirador de San Nicolás, the lookout point in the center of the Albaicín neighborhood that has offered the finest views of the palace for centuries. After the Christian reconquest of Granada, the city became the preferred residence of the Catholic Kings even after their departure from this life; the Royal Chapel annexed onto the Cathedral of Granada is the final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabella, two’s of Spain’s most influential monarchs.
The city with the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain never fails to offer a surprise. All civilizations that chose Cordoba as their base have left their mark somehow in the city. The Moors bequeathed to us the Mezquita; a mosque-turned-cathedral that welcomes its visitors with a forest of 1,300 columns of marble, jasper and granite on which stand 365 elegant archways. Meanwhile, the Jews built their own lattice of narrow streets and alleys, known as the Judería, in the heart of which stands the 14th century Synagogue that is also the third best preserved Synagogue of medieval Spain.
Spain’s second largest city has a cosmopolitan heart – and its feet in the sand. This modern city is famed for its architecture, both modern and historic, the latter most visible in the medieval quarter. And Barcelona of course is most famous thanks to its fabulous cathedral, yet the impressive work of Antoni Gaudí is not limited to the Sagrada Familia whose towers scratch the clouds above; Parc Güell is just as emblematic, and equally as enjoyable to spend time in.
Tradition and cutting-edge modernity join forces in the capital of Euskadi. The arrival of the striking Guggenheim Museum, with its twisting titanium plates that cover a giant limestone structure, helped modernize the image of this city, though its past is still visible in for example the 15th century Stock Exchange building and the 19th century Arriaga Theater; both examples of historic structures that have been rescued by conservation efforts. And the mix of old and new can also be tasted in the city’s cuisine that employs much of north Spain’s excellent produce to beautiful effect – especially when paired with an excellent Basque wine.
This tiny town of less than 27,000 inhabitants is one of the leading tourist destinations in the south of Portugal. Its main attraction is the Isle of Tavira; 11 kilometeres of pristine white sand that are only accessible by boat. But don’t think that the town itself has nothing to offer the keen visitor. The views from its medieval castle are sublime, as is the feeling of the gentle sea breeze on your skin as you look out toward the water from the ancient Roman bridge.
The capital city of the Costa del Sol has been the choice destination for many foreigners who choose to relocate to Spain for many years. Is that thanks to its excellent location between two river valleys that join the sea? Or is it thanks to its temperate climate and temperatures that never drop below 13 degrees even in mid-winter? Malaga’s traditional “espetos” (skewers of smoked fresh fish) are enjoyed by millions of tourists every year, as is the city’s cultural heritage led by the Picasso Musuem that is dedicated to Malaga’s (and Spain’s) most accomplished artist. Anybody interested in learning more about the origins of this city should visit the 14th century Gibralfaro Castle – considered for the majority of its existence as an impenetrable fortress.
Overlooking a deep gorge, this town defies gravity while offering impressive views of the neighboring landscape. Don’t let vertigo get the better of you as you cross the bridge and step back in time to an era of horseback bandits and romantic travellers seeking adventure over the next hill. Ronda’s invaluable heritage spans its existence as an ancient Roman settlement up to an 18th century bullring. Throw in a couple of stunningly well-conserved Arabic baths and you have one of the absolute “must-see” towns in all of Spain.
A piece of Britain in Spain, and the last remaining colony on European soil. A simple hop across the border from La Línea de la Concepción (in Cadiz province) and you will find yourself in a typical English town, complete with avid tea-drinkers, scrambled egg with bacon and (who could forget?) fish and chips. But dig a little deeper and you will reveal all of the finer details that make Gibraltar unique; the Spanish sun, the giant Rock, its famous but mischievous monkey population and the tunnels built to protect the colony from German invasion in the Second World War.
Any time of the year is the perfect time to visit one of Europe’s most welcoming capital cities. Begin your visit with some of the city’s principle points of interest that transport you back to the Age of Discovery, such as the Belém Tower (constructed to control trade with Asia) and the Hieronymites Monastery (erected in honor of Portugal’s great navigators). Food enthusiasts must try the typical golden cod dish with a traditional Belém cake for desert. And don’t forget to use one of the city’s famous tram lines to climb up to Barrio Alto to enjoy Lisbon’s trendiest entertainment spots.
Have you ever ridden a camel? Their ability to resist high temperatures made them North Africa’s most successful mode of transport. As well as camel caravans, Morocco offers picturesque landscapes, such as the Grand Bazaar of Tangier, the Tetouan Medina or the Chefchaouen Kasbah, the latter of which is a quaint scene of small blue houses on the slopes of the Rif Mountains. Morocco also has a distinctive and delightful taste; make sure to try aromatic peppermint tea and delicious handmade cakes of puff pastry, almonds, dates, pistachios or honey.
The most southerly town on the Iberian Peninsula is famous for its beautiful beaches and for the forests that surround them, the ecological value of which is great enough to warrant protected status for 60% of the territory of the municipality of Tarifa. Furthermore, the particular wind patterns here have made it the world capital of windsurfing and kitesurfing; hundreds of extreme-sports fans from all across the globe come to Tarifa specifically to ride its waves.
This mosaic of diverse landscapes contains many natural wonders, such as a system of moving sand dunes and more than 25 kilometers of untouched beach and white sand. At over 68,000 hectares, it is an absolute paradise for birds (120 species nest in this unique enclave in the province of Huelva), and one of the few places left in the Iberian Peninsula where you may get chance to see the wild lynx in action.
Known as the “city of three cultures” thanks to the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews for thousands of years, Toledo’s medieval image is still strong today. Time stops as you walk its streets. The city’s cathedral is considered to be one of the finest pieces of Gothic architecture in all of Spain, and the abundance of watchtowers and town walls around you really help preserve the feeling of life under Carlos I during Imperial Spain.
Segovia offers abundant curiosities to anybody who crosses its imposing 28 meter high Roman aqueduct. Start with the Casa de los Picos and its grand façade complete with 617 granite spikes, before flocking to the 16th century cathedral on top of which storks like to congregate. Next stop should be the ancient Major Synagogue (now a convent) that conveys the city’s rich culture in architectural form. And we wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling peckish after all that; Segovia’s traditional roasted piglet always does the trick.
Salamanca’s 18th century Plaza Mayor has become one of the most recognizable images in all of Spain. Equally as impressive is the picturesque “Casa de las Conchas”, whose façade has been decorated with over 300 shell-shaped figures, and the cathedral of the city is a fabulous blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles.And if you get chance, seek out the hidden frog among the cathedral’s rich decorations. Legend has it that if you find it inside this university town’s cathedral, you shall succeed with your studies and get married.
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