Spain long held a strategic role as a link between North Africa and Europe. For centuries, anyone who controlled the Iberian peninsula held great commercial and political power; variously throughout history, Moors, Arabs, Christians and countless others knew this and called Spain their own. Still today, Spanish hills and plains embrace richly adorned citadels and Moorish influences can be seen coast to coast.
But still … you have to wonder if they were all just in it for the gorgeous real estate. After all, Spain boasts a very singular beauty: central plateaus rise to the snow-capped splendour of the Pyrenees in the north and the Sierra Nevadas toward the south. Vineyards and olive groves blanket the famed ‘plains of Spain’. Mediterranean beaches invite long strolls and refreshing dips. One can only envy Don Quixote’s wanderings across such a rhapsodic land.
The masterpieces of those former kingdoms still stand – fortresses, cathedrals and citadels of staggering scale. And today Spain overflows with thrilling culture, colourful history, and a diverse natural beauty that takes your breath away. So we invite you to raise a glass of sangria, cava or rioja … to a spellbinding land lauded by Hemingway and immortalised by Cervantes … a land where a flamenco-fueled fiesta is sure to follow close on the heels of an afternoon siesta.
The Beating Heart of Spain
You might call Madrid “el corazón de España” – the heart of Spain – the central point and capital from which Spanish life and culture flow. Its colossal Royal Palace, on the vast Plaza Oriente, was built on the site of a former Alcazar, or castle, in the mid-1700s by Philip V and Carlos III. Paired with the adjacent Almudena Cathedral, it is a spectacular site. The Plaza de España – with its skyscrapers and towering memorial to Cervantes – is no less impressive. Art lovers flock to El Prado, the huge repository of Spanish art featuring the works of Goya, Velazquez, Picasso, El Greco, and countless others.
History is palpable in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Segovia, north of Madrid. The Romanesque city has gone untouched for six centuries, but its most amazing site predates even that. The remarkably preserved Roman aqueduct stretches 2,700 feet long and – at its highest – 90 feet tall; it is a remarkable feat of ancient engineering, built without a dash of mortar. The city’s Jewish Quarter, or aljama as it was historically known, stands as testament to the city’s diverse past. The enormous Alcazar watches over it all from the city’s edge.
Toledo is considered by lovers of Spanish history and art a national monument, a rich canvas of all the elements that have shaped today’s Spain. Both Moorish and Christian architecture survive here, having had little influence on one another, a rarity in Spain. Steep, cobbled streets offer endless (though strenuous!) strolls. Its St Tome Church evokes the romance of the high-style Gothic era, and the city’s many museums have earned it the moniker, ‘The Museum City’.
Farther west, historic Salamanca rises on the plains like a medieval crown. This breathtaking city is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, founded in 1134, and was long a major intellectual centre of Europe. Still today, it exudes a lively student vibe and café scene. But the city’s most impressive sight is its massive cathedral that dominates the skyline. You could consider it two cathedrals in one: the Old Cathedral was built in the 12th century and the “New” four centuries later. Together, they are an imposing echo of the power of Christianity in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
To the North, Sample World-Class Art and Wine
The Mediterranean climate of the province of Rioja – on par with southern France and Italy’s Tuscany – creates a prime wine-growing environment. Vineyards and bodegas, or tasting rooms, dot a landscape of rolling valleys and towering mountain ranges. We find it the perfect northern idyll for its wine-tasting opportunities.
Perhaps the north’s most famous city is Bilbao, linked to the Bay of Biscay by the Nervion River. Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim Museum might have put this city on the international map – a wondrous work of glass, titanium and limestone – but Bilbao’s Old Quarter, or Casco Viejo, is a fantastic preservation of the medieval city’s original seven parallel streets.
Live the Spain of Your Dreams in Andalusia
For many, Andalusia – the sun-kissed southern province on the Mediterranean – is the real Spain: flamenco dancers, matadors, bougainvillea spilling over wrought-iron balconies in white villages, and the Alhambra. The truth is, Andalusia is only a slice of this scintillating country – but a glorious, historic, and festive one.
Perhaps no other city conveys Spain’s diverse past as powerfully as Córdoba, once the most populous city in the world and the intellectual centre of medieval Europe. Its Jewish Quarter and synagogue are marvellously authentic pockets of history that were once strolled by the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides. The marriage of Muslim and Christian is poignant in the massive mosque-cathedral of La Mezquita – also known as the Mosque of the Caliphs. Its forest of 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble and granite is an unforgettable sight. Predating all of this is the still-standing first-century Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir River.
Seville, home of the flamenco, is arguably one of Spain’s great cities. Its cathedral is the largest Gothic building on earth. Christopher Columbus, one of the country’s heroes, is entombed here. This too was once a mosque; when Spaniards razed it, they couldn’t bring themselves to tear down its lovely minaret. So they topped it with a five-story bell tower that shifts in the breeze and called it La Giralda, roughly translated as “something that turns.” Nearby, the Santa Cruz Quarter – the Jewish Quarter in medieval times – is a labyrinthine network of intimate warrens. A more recent symbol of the city, the Plaza de España, is a graceful, tile-adorned work of perfection, built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition.
Any visitor to Granada will understand why Boabdil, its last Moorish king, wept when he lost his city to Ferdinand and Isabella. Indeed, its magnificent setting and palatial fortress brings a tear to the eye of many a visitor. The palace overlooks today’s modern city, but within its walls kings and caliphs savoured a world of their own: cavernous rooms, ornate courtyards and extensive gardens overlooking snow-capped peaks.
Catch Spain’s Mediterranean Breezes
The resort town of Torremolinos provides a taste of Spanish beach life. Mediterranean sands and the city’s delightful beachside promenade are right across the street from your hotel, and the town’s shops in the upper town invite an afternoon of browsing. It all makes for a relaxed stay, but truth be told, relaxing may be the last thing on your mind when you’re tempted with a day trip Morocco, right across the Strait of Gibraltar. If you opt for our tour including a three-night stay on the Costa del Sol, there’ll be time to embark on a ferry and explore the intoxicating streets of Tangier, touring its colourful medina and perusing the treasures and trinkets of the Grand Bazaar.
Farther east lies the city where the famous Spanish dish of paella was invented by fishermen. Fed by Mediterranean moisture and the waters of the Turia River, Valencia is Spain’s Garden City. Its most historic buildings – aside from its ornate City Hall – huddle around a 14th-century cathedral. But perhaps its most incredibly preserved structure is the Torres Serranos, or City Gates, that have greeted travellers for thousands of years. A decidedly more modern addition is the Arts and Science City, a massive and futuristic complex of entertainment and museums.
Barcelona stands as Spain’s jewel on the Mediterranean – though residents of this Catalonia capital have long advocated for secession. No matter your opinion on the local issue, the city is a vibrant metropolis of long boulevards, hopping cafes, ocean breezes and surreal echoes of its native son Antoni Gaudí. For a true taste of Catalan culture, there’s no place like Las Ramblas, the pedestrian zone lined with cafes, tapas bars and shops. Even more of a draw, is La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s perennially unfinished cathedral. This soaring masterpiece – and the charming structures within his vast Parc Guell – look torn from the pages of a storybook. Outside of town, Montjuic Hill overlooks the city. The hill saw intense competition at the 1992 Summer Olympics in the Olympic Stadium, still in use today.
Take in All of Iberia – Add Portugal!
You’ve long heard of Portugal as the launching pad for the Age of Discoveries. You can discover this beautiful nation rich in tradition for yourself when you choose a Gate 1 itinerary that helps you explore beyond Spain’s borders.
From Portugals’ shores, courageous mariners set sail to claim new lands, map the world, and develop global trade. Much of Lisbon’s wealth was built on these endeavors, as its palaces, monasteries and monuments show. And in the city’s Alfama district, strains of Fado music spill into narrow lanes. Farther north, on the Douro River, the city of Porto has witnessed a long history of wine making – beginning with the ports produced in the nearby Douro River Valley, the world’s first demarcated wine zone.
There are so many reasons to visit Spain with Gate 1 Travel. Rich history, magnificent landscapes, stunning architecture and opulent palaces might top your list. Gate 1 Travel gives you another reason – a value that you simply won’t find anywhere else. Join us!
Follow this link to our exciting Spain Tours. Or call 1300 653 618 to speak to our travel specialists!