There are many stereotypes that exist about travel in Spain, and whilst we won’t reprimand those drawn to this enigmatic land by visions of sultry castanet-clicking senoritas or magnificent cape-wielding matadors in their trajes de luces, suffice to say there’s much more to Spain than flamenco and bull-fighting…
Starting with the capital, Madrid, and you’ve got a colorful bustling modern metropolis, with some of the world’s finest art museums, like El Prado and La Reina Sofia, a nightlife where coming home at dawn = an early night, and fantastic parks like El Retiro. Yes, they like to stage a corrida or two in the capital, but you’ll find the main arena is Bernabeu, where the latest version of Real Madrid’s galacticos sweep aside (nearly) all that dare to step foot on this hallowed turf. Here in the capital life is so rich and so intense that it’s hard not to imagine yourself as a character in an Almodovar film (hell, you’re nearly as good looking as Antonio Banderas or Penelope Cruz, right?) and of course food and wine play a huge part in the sensual lives of Madrilenos. Follow their lead by sampling morcilla (blood sausage) or huevos rotos (a sumptuous medley of fried potatoes, eggs and chorizo sausage) at the best tapas bars in the city, nibbling on artisan cheeses and tucking into chocolate and churros at regal cafes that look like they haven’t changed one iota since Hemingway’s days. As you’d expect Madrid also has it’s fair share of Michelin-starred restaurants, trendy coctelerias and the like, whilst wine lovers can take tasting tours to vineyards outside the city, or time their visit to co-incidence with the Madrid wine festival.
Barcelona, Spain’s second biggest city and the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia, is often accused of eclipsing Madrid. Its star has been in the ascendancy ever since the 1992 Olympic Games saw it transformed from smelly provincial port into cosmopolitan coastal resort in what seemed like a blink of the eye. Beautiful, brash and independent (watch your step, the local Catalan population don’t like being considered part of Spain!), this city not only sparkles with Gaudi’s creations and the sunlight reflecting off the Mediterranean sea, but it’s also a foodie’s paradise, thanks to its traditional and modern tapas bars, its authentic xampanyerias, and its trendy restaurants serving innovative Catalan cuisine (this is where Ferran Adria harks from after all!). Around Barcelona lies some of the best wine-making country in Iberia in the form of the Penedes, and this is where Spain’s legendary sparkling wine made in Champagne style – Cava – is made. Many of the region’s best wineries and vineyards are accessible by train, or else numerous tour companies offering wine tasting excursions from Barcelona exist if you simply want to pay and go.
A lush, verdant and wild world unto itself Northern Spain, incorporates such diverse terrain as the rias of Galicia, the Basque beaches, the valleys of Cantabrica and the vineyards of Rioja, to name but a few highlights. For the foodie the treasures are even more numerous. Galician seafood is deservedly world famous and there’s no better time to taste it than on the same day it was plucked wriggling from the Atlantic ocean, whilst the along the Basque coast cities like Bilbao and San Sebastian abound with restaurants, gastro bars and tapas joints either selling traditional pintxos or Michelin-starred modern twists on the regional cuisine. Drinks-wise, and of course La Rioja, with its dazzling “design wineries” steals the headlines, but there’s a lot to be said for artisan Galician wines… and how about sampling the cider from Asturias? Culture vultures will also find plenty to sink their teeth into, from Bilbao’s glistening futuristic Guggenheim museum to the prehistoric cave paintings of Altamira.
The southern region of Andalucía embodies every aspect of your wildest Spanish dreams: gypsy women parading regal horses down slim, windy corridors during the Feria Seville; almost translucent cuts of cured jamon alongside fresh seafood; long sparkling sand beaches gleaming with rays of golden sun. For the history buffs among you, there are numerous majestic cultural heritage sites to visit, masterful works of art gracing ancient walls of cathedrals and small pueblito houses, not to mention the vast number of castles and fortresses that dot the region’s landscape. Nearly a fifth of Andalucia’s flora and fauna are protected, reflecting the unspoilt nature of its countryside where you can picnic with a basket full of fresh orange compote, cured meats, sheep’s cheese and enough locally grown veggies to make the rabbits jealous. It’s food mecca, and one that shouldn’t be ignored on your next visit to Spain!
Tours of Spain
If you want some professional help on exploring Spanish shores, then check out Catavino’s recommended food and wine tasting tours in Spain. We’ve compiled some tantalising options for the gourmet traveller to consider, sourced from the pool of local experts, sommeliers and travel guides we’ve been lucky enough to meet whilst living and working in Iberia.
Header image by Francisco Manuel Esteban