celebrations of a local fiesta or the breathtaking architecture in some of its cities or the wildly exotic landscapes of the Extremadura or the heartbreakingly beautiful beaches? Or is it all that and more? For the naive and unsophisticated traveler, Spain can become an addiction; an obsession even. So beware.
Although the name of the country conjures images of bullfights, the Bull Run, flamenco, huge cathedrals and Muslim palaces, it is pretty difficult to define Spain by just these. You might be forgiven for thinking that Spain is not just one country. Even Spaniards, sometimes, refer to it as Las Espanas (The Spains). Intense and passionate regionalism has its roots to the creation of 17 autonomous regions in the 1970s, with each region having its own government, language and dialects, culture and traditions.
The Spain Itinerary
For any traveler, Spain is not just a country with the largest number of World Heritage Cities or with the second largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it is an experience to savor and cherish. With hundreds of cities worth visiting and thousands of things to do, here is a list of ten important cities that ought to be part of a traveler's Spain itinerary.
1. Madrid - Capital of Spain. Famous for museums, architecture, amazing food and nightlife.
2. Barcelona - Second City. Known for its modernist architecture, beaches, vibrant culture and nightlife.
3. Cadiz - Oldest city in Western Europe. Spain's most famous annual 2-week carnival (Los Carnavales) takes place here.
4. Bilbao - Industrial City. World famous Guggenheim Museum is here.
5. Cordoba - Famous for the Grand Mosque of Cordoba.
6. Granada - At the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Home of the Calat Alhambra, a stunning fortress complex which served as the personal palace of the Sultan of Granada.
7. Seville - A beautiful city in Southern Spain. Home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites - St. Mary's Cathedral, the Alcazar and the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies).
8. Valencia - Third largest city. The traditional Spanish dish, paella, originated here. An annual tomato fight called La Tomatina and the festival Las Fallas, are held here and attract thousands of tourists every year.
9. Zaragoza - Fifth largest city in Spain. Known for its folklore, local cuisine and landmarks like Basilica del Pilar, Aljaferia Palace and La Seo Cathedral.
10. Almeria - Founded by the Muslim Ruler Abd-ar-Rahman III. Best known places include the Alcazaba, a medieval fortress; Almeria Air Raid Shelters, built during the Spanish Civil War and the Cathedral.
What Not to Miss
It is deemed absolutely criminal if you miss either the party life in the small island of Ibiza or the gourmet snacks in San Sebastian or the Roman aqueduct of Segovia or the Dali Museum in Figueres or Toledo, the capital of Medieval Spain. But then a lifetime is hardly enough to take in Spain in its entirety.
Spain doesn't simply welcome you with a bow; it embraces you totally. You get absorbed in, and mesmerized by, its rich culture, its gastronomic delights, its history and its architecture. Yet, you remain grounded through its people's loud celebration of life and their simple lifestyle.
Three climatic zones span across Spain and it could be a daunting prospect for a traveler to keep his health intact while on a sojourn to Spain. It is worthwhile to have a comprehensive travel insurance plan to protect you from the unforeseen and unpredictable difficulties of travelling. The plan covers hospitalization and lots of other costs like reissuance of lost passport, etc. Those taken care of, immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of Spain. It might well be your personal nirvana.