Italy, and Tuscany in particular, holds a special place in my heart. But after 3 visits to Spain in the last year (twice to visit my daughter who was studying overseas, and for a “girls” trip), I’ve decided that Spain deserves more attention from travelers who are looking for culture, charm, narrow cobblestone streets, culinary adventures, and friendly locals. Here’s why I think so.
Spain has a fascinating history that spans millennia. If you’re a history buff, there’s way more to digest than can be handled on a single trip. Spain’s history includes domination by Roman emperors, Muslim sultans, Catholic monarchs, and Fascist dictators. Each has left their mark on the Spain’s culture, architecture and personality, region by region.
Spain has fabulous cuisine. Having visited most of the major regions of Spain, my personal favorites for great cuisine are in the Basque region (San Sebastian and vicinity, including the Rioja wine region) and Barcelona. Southern Spain also has some wonderful Moroccan dishes that I love. Take a cooking class to learn authentic techniques and recipes!
There are charming, unspoiled hill towns. This is true in the north (check out the sleepy town of Elciego, or the nearby Laguardia) and in the south (don’t miss the White Hill towns, including Ronda, Grazalema and Zahara).You can go wine tasting or take cooking classes with the locals. The Rioja wine district produces stellar wines, but you do need to plan ahead to get a tour or tasting. And cooking classes can also be arranged, along with a trip to the local markets.
If you like big cities with art, culture and nightlife, no problem. Madrid and Barcelona each have unique personalities, cuisine and nightlife, so city-lovers won’t want to miss these two destinations. Barcelona, in particular, is so heavily influenced by the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, you have to see it to believe it (don’t miss Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia, and the Casa Batllo).