Fiery passion. The fine wines of Rioja. Architecture that ranges from traditional Moorish arches and soaring Gothic spires to the surreal works of Gaudi. Cuisine with deep roots in the sea and on land. Wide vegas rising up to soaring montañas. And dances that have withstood the march of time, from the energetic flamenco to the duel between el toro and el matador.
Spain is one of Europe’s grandest symphonies, at once slow and romantic and then impossibly quick-footed. Its rich culture engages and uplifts the spirit. Its long history enlightens the mind. And its welcoming people warm the heart. We can’t wait for you to experience it for yourself.
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 sight. 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.
Lovers of Spanish history and art consider Toledo a national monument, a rich canvas of all the elements that have shaped today’s Spain. Both Moorish and Christian architecture survive here; steep, cobbled streets offer endless (though strenuous!) strolls. Its St. Tome Church evokes the romance of the high-style Gothic era, and its chapel houses El Greco’s most famous masterpiece The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.
The city’s many cultural institutions 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 most impressive sight is its massive cathedral that dominates the skyline. You could consider them 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 – like in 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.
Christianity takes on a more powerful meaning in Santiago de Compostela. Devout pilgrims have gathered here since the Early Middle Ages after having walked the famed Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago, some from as far away as Eastern Europe. What makes this place so holy is one of the tombs within: It is believed that St. James, one of Christ’s apostles, is buried here.
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. Of course, 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 Cordoba, 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 great 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 Alhambra 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 seaside 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 an excursion to Gibraltar, the British Crown Colony renowned for its mighty Rock, and Malaga, birthplace of Pablo Picasso and one of the coast’s most historic and breathtaking cities.
Further 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 the 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 venues and museums.
Barcelona stands as Spain’s jewel on the Mediterranean – though residents of this Catalan capital have long advocated for secession. No matter your opinion on the matter, the city is a vibrant metropolis of long boulevards, hopping cafes, ocean breezes, and surreal echoes of its native son Antonio Gaudi. 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, however, is La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Gaudi’s perennially unfinished church. This soaring masterpiece – and the charming structures within his vast Parc Guell – looks 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 explore this beautiful nation rich in tradition for yourself when you choose a Gate 1 itinerary that helps you explore beyond Spain’s borders.
From Portugal’s 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 endeavours, 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 winemaking – beginning with the port wines produced in the nearby Douro River Valley, the world’s first demarcated wine zone.
Take a friend for 50% off! All Spain & Portugal Tours
For a limited time take a companion to Spain & Portugal for half price! Book any escorted Spain or Portugal tour by the 28th of October and the second traveller will receive 50% off. Click here to find out more.