Almost entirely surrounded by sea, Spain is Western Europe’s sultry heart. The mountainous north draws escapists to Galicia’s green hills, hikers to Asturias and skiers to the Pyrenees’ snowy peaks on the French border. Vast plateaux and valleys lead to the dynamic capital Madrid in the country’s centre. Edging east brings you to arty Barcelona and the Costa Brava’s coves. Gold sands washed smooth by the Mediterranean lure sun-worshippers south to the Costa del Sol. Find life beyond the beach in Moorish-influenced cities like Granada and Seville.
Culture buffs on breaks in Spain make for east coast Barcelona to contemplate Gaudí’s fantastical architecture and the Gothic cathedral’s riot of filigree spires. Spain’s vibrant capital Madrid has designer shopping, world-class galleries and a live-to-party attitude. Art-lovers head to forward-thinking Bilbao for a Pop Art feast at Frank Gehry’s striking titanium Guggenheim. Some of Spain’s hottest cities are in Andalusia – lose yourself in Seville’s flamenco rhythms, and the Moorish splendour of Granada’s ornate Alhambra Palace and Córdoba’s 1000-pillar Mezquita.
Whether you’re seeking sheltered coves or party-mad beaches, there’s a Costa with your name on it in Spain. Sunseekers leave Barcelona behind for the palm-fringed bays of lively Sitges and the rugged Costa Brava where Lloret de Mar pulsates with discos and theme parks. Sun yourself on the Costa Blanca’s golden sands, home to high-rise Benidorm and castle-topped Alicante. Continue south to the Costa del Sol for dazzling white villages, Mediterranean beach life in Benalmádena, and golf and glamour in Marbella. Escapists find secluded coves and quaint fishing villages on the northern Costa Verde.
Spain is Europe’s second most mountainous country. Strap on skis or boots in the jagged Pyrenees bordering France, where the Ordesa National Park beckons with thundering waterfalls, glacial lakes and canyons. Straddling Asturias, Cantabria and Castile-Leon, the Picos de Europa’s limestone peaks hide hilltop monasteries and a nature reserve where brown bears, chamois and lynx roam. Galicia and the Basque Country recall Ireland with green, rolling countryside and Celtic heritage. Go south to spend a morning swimming in the Mediterranean Sea before an afternoon skiing the slopes of Sierra Nevada.
Eat like a local on holidays in Spain with long, siesta-inducing lunches. Galicia serves Atlantic-fresh seafood - from gambas a la plancha (grilled prawns) to paprika-spiced octopus. Try rich bean and chorizo soup, fabada, washed back with cider in neighbouring Asturias. Rioja’s full-bodied red wines pair well with Castile-Leon’s meaty dishes like suckling pig and La Mancha’s flavoursome manchego cheese. Sample fried fish, smoked ham and garlicky gazpacho (cold vegetable soup) in Andalusia, or Spain’s best paella in Valencia. Throughout Spain, locals begin the day sweetly with churros (doughnuts) and hot chocolate, and end it with tapas in upbeat bars.