Spain - Overview
Some General Information about Spain
- Spain occupies an area of 194,884 sq miles in the South of Europe.
- Population is 46.157.822 (INE 2008)
- Languages spoken: Castilian Spanish (official language) but also Catalan( Catalunya) Basque (Basque Country),Gallego (Galicia), Valenciano (Valencia) and many more dialects.
- The capital is Madrid
- The government is a constitutional monarchy and it’s a democratic state in the EU.
- Currency - the euro
There are 17 different autonomous regions of Spain - each has its own character and parliament.
The weather is a big factor affecting the enjoyment of your holiday. So here is some information to help you decide on the best time of year to travel. In general, the summer months of July and August are hot and sunny with no rainfall in the South and very little rainfall in the North. The months of June and September also offer warm gorgeous weather with perhaps the odd shower. The spring and autumn months are still warm and sunny with midday temperatures reaching 20C or more but the nights are cooler and there's more chance of rain. The spring flowers and autumn sunsets make these particularly beautiful times of year to visit. These months are ideal for all activity pursuits hiking, touring, golf, cycling, riding, and bird watching as the temperatures are very agreeable. The winter months can offer extended sunny periods lasting several weeks but the chance of rain is greater. It's a great time for a winter getaway from N.Europe to warmer climes just to relax or to enjoy your favourite outdoor activity.
The climate in Spain can be divided into three main types centred around the North, Central Spain, and the South.
Mediterranean Spain enjoys a lot of sunshine, from 6 hours per day in the winter to 12 hours per day in summer. Winters are mild - much warmer than central Spain. Rain is very rare from June to August. The average daily midday temperatures in Malaga vary from 18 C in winter to 30 C in summer.
Central Spain and the Southern Atlantic coast have generally a low rainfall though winter snow can be heavy on the sierras. Summers are generally hot, especially in the Guadalquivir valley of Northern Andalucia running out to Seville, known colloquially as "The Frying Pan" for this reason.
Sunshine levels average 5 hours per day in winter and 12 hours per day in summer.The average daily midday temperatures in Madrid vary from 10C in winter to 31C in summer.
North and North West Spain are influenced by the Atlantic air streams, particularly in the autumn and winter, making this the wettest and cloudiest part of Spain.
Sunshine levels average 3 hours per day during the winter and 8 hours per day in the summer. Summer temperatures are lower than other parts of Spain but it's still warm and sunny.The average daily midday temperatures in Bilbao vary from 13C in winter to 28C in summer. For up to the minute weather forecasts and information regarding your travel plans check-out www.accuweather.com or any other internet weather site.
Culture and People
It's not just the amazing weather that draws millions of tourists annually to Spain, but also the beauty of its landscapes, Natural Parks, and beaches, the friendliness and charm of the Spanish people themselves, fabulous cuisine and tapas , great nightlife, wonderful art museums and world famous fiestas and folklore. There's a laid back approach to life that invites you to enjoy and relax and keeps visitors returning year after year, and even settling in Spain.
Spain has many interesting cities. Here are some:
- Madrid — the capital, with great art museums, architecture, fabulous food and nightlife
- Barcelona — Spain's second city, famous for its Gaudi buildings, museums, Old Quarter and a vibrant cultural life, nightclubs, and beaches.
- Bilbao — a Northern industrial city, home to the Guggenheim Museum
- Cadiz —the oldest city in Western Europe with nearly 4,000 years of history. This Andalucian city has the most famous carnival in Spain and a charming Old Town.
- Cordoba — The Grand Mosque ('Mezquita') of Cordoba found here is a must see in this quintessential Andalucian city. Also the exuberant floral displays of its Andalucian patios.
- Granada — stunning city in the south, surrounded by snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, home of La Alhambra - a wonder of the world.
- Seville — a beautiful, verdant city, home to the world's third largest cathedral and famous for its Easter Fair.
- Valencia — paella was invented here, explore its amazing architecture both old and new, beaches and the unforgettable Las Fallas fiesta .
- Almeria — best natural beaches and a great selection of "tapas"
- Malaga- for its beaches ,port, art museums, shopping, nightlife and famous August Fair.
- Toledo-in Castille-La Mancha,near Madrid , is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its extensive cultural and monumental heritage displaying the fascinating fusion of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures which tell much about the history of Spain.
Spain - it's cities, costas and mountains Spanish Destinations
There are so many wonderful destinations in Spain. Here are some to choose from
- Costa Blanca — 200 km of white coast with plenty of sun-kissed beaches -home to such resorts as Benidorm, Alicante, Calpe and Denia in Valencia province.
- Costa Brava —The rugged coast in Catalunya has many lovely coves, cliffs, and beaches with plenty of seaside resorts such as Llloret de Mar and Tossa del Mar.
- Costa del Sol — the popular sunny Andalucian coast in the South hosts such famous resorts as Marbella and Nerja amongst many, as well as enchanting interior towns -Ronda and the white villages- Casares ,Ojen, Mijas.
- Costa de Luz- the SW Atlantic coast has many fabulous beaches. San Lucar de Barrameda with its sherry bodegas and famous beach Horse Race is found here. The stunning hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera and the resort of Tarifa, too.
- Gran Canaria — known as "a continent in miniature" due to its many different climates and landscapes is a paradise for walkers and cyclists as well as beach lovers.
- Ibiza — a Balearic island; one of the best places for clubbing in the entire world .Also know for its beautiful interior landscapes and beaches.
- Majorca — the largest island of the Balearics, full of amazing beaches and great nightlife .While an extremely popular destination- it's still possible to find unspoilt beaches off the beaten track and there's gorgeous inland countryside too.
- Sierra Nevada — the highest mountains on the Iberian Peninsula, great for walking and skiing .Visit Mulhacen - the highest mountain in mainland Spain. The nearby Alpujarras offer a lusher mountain panorama with many enchanting white villages such as Orgiva , Trevelez ,Bubion and Lanjaron.
- Tenerife — offers verdant forests, exotic fauna and flora, deserts, mountains, volcanoes, beautiful coastlines and spectacular beaches .Visit Mount Teide-the highest mountain Spain.
For more information about destinations in Spain see our Spanish Snapshots and Inspiration Spain sections.
Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe .Many spectacular Natural Parks are found here, such as the Picos de Europa and the Sierra Nevada. Other Parks such as La Doñana(Huelva) occupy coastal wet lands and the Cabo de Gata Nijar(Almeria) offers some of the most beautiful unspoilt beaches in Spain.
The two best known and loved Spanish dishes are paella and tapas. Paella, while originally invented in Valencia, has numerous delicious regional varieties. A rice-based dish infused with saffron -its ingredients can include fish, shellfish , meat and vegetables. Savour the traditional paella Valenciana or tasty paella de mariscos(shellfish).Vegetarians can opt for the paella de verduras (vegetable paella) Tapas, are not one dish, but an endless variety of little dishes served with a cool beer, glass of wine or fino(dry sherry). Seville claims to have invented tapas, but nobody really knows. The name comes from the tapa(top) of a big cooking pot lifted to serve a small portion of food. Some delectable tapas are : Ensaladilla rusa(potato salad in mayonnaise) Tortilla(Spanish omelette), Boquerones (anchovies), Jamon (Spanish Ham), Queso Manchego (a flavoursome Spanish sheeps milk cheese), Albondigas (meatballs). There are many more to enjoy.
Tapas - Jamon and Manchego Cheese
All along Spain's coastline from Galicia to Cadiz fish / seafood restaurants and chiringuitos( seaside café-restaurants) abound offering a variety of fish dishes. Malaga is famous for its pescaidito frito ( fried fish of many types) and shellfish.
Meat dishes in the form of barbecued meats- a la parilla and also in stews - estofados are also very popular throughout Spain. Chicken, beef , pork and rabbit dishes are to be found on most menus. At country restaurants try the more exotic meats like venison and wild boar, often made into sausages of all kinds(chorizo).
In particular , Spanish people are very proud of their hams- jamones. The very best of these pata negra(black foot) have almost cult status with gourmands. The Iberian pig is allowed to roam free eating only acorns (bellotas) which produces a ham with great flavor. A must try for meat eaters.
The cheeses are also wonderfully good-made by traditional methods, such as the sheeps milk Manchego and many varieties of goats milk cheese - queso de cabra.
And lastly, los dulces- cakes and sweetmeats. Try the turrones(nougats) and marzipan made with the freshest sweetest almonds, locally. Or the famous crema catalana- a sort of crème brulle with a crunchy caramel top.
Every single town in Spain has several local fiestas when everybody turns out to celebrate in riotous fashion - one way or another-whether it be partying , all the fun of the fair, chasing bulls, throwing tomatoes-you name it-it's probably happening somewhere. Here are some of the better known fiestas to be enjoyed.
Los Reyes-the Three Kings. Most children and adults too, in Spain receive presents on Epiphany- 6th January, not Christmas Day. On the night of 5th January in every town in Spain a Three Kings procession passes through towns throwing sweets to the children. It's an exciting spectacle and not to be missed.
Carnival-Carnival is staged in all Spanish towns 6 weeks before Easter( Lent ) . The most exuberant and exciting festivities are to be found in Cadiz and the Canary Isles. In the Old Town of Cadiz the entire town turns out in intricately crafted fancy dress .Many fabulous costumes have been labored over for months and the partying lasts for days .
Las Fallas - Each year, the Las Fallas festival in Valencia takes place on the same dates. The main events run from March 15 to March 19, but numerous events take place in the fortnight leading up to this week. There are fireworks every lunchtime from the first of the month, as well as parades, shows and other festivities. (More about Valencia at Inspiration Spain )
April Fair in Seville
Feria de Abril- The April Fair (sometimes in May) In Seville . People from all over the world come to this biggest Fair in the whole of Spain- to dance to flamenco, drink and generally enjoy the ambience of a great street party. (More about Seville at Inspiration Spain )
Semana Santa (Easter) - During Holy Week there are many processions in Spanish towns. The best ones are in Malaga and Seville and are well-worth seeing.
Dia de Sant Jordi - On 23rd April Barcelona is decorated with roses. The day is celebrated with concerts, "happenings" , book selling and signings in the Ramblas. (More about Barcelona at Inspiration Spain )
Festival de Los Patios de Cordoba - In May for two weeks in Cordoba there is a festival that celebrates the beauty of the flower-filled patios of the Andalucian houses in the Old Town of Cordoba.
San Juan. All over Spain bonfires are lit in the night to celebrate San Juan on 24th June, accompanied by much eating and drinking.
San Fermines - Takes place in July in Pamplona, Navarra. People come from all over the world for this famous festival, whose highlight is the running of the bulls. Whilst the running of the bulls is best known in Pamplona, similar events take place in many Spanish towns.
Málaga's August Fair - In August the entire city erupts for one week in a swirl of dancing, drinking , eating, partying, and bullfights.
La Tomatina - Last Wednesday In August in Buñol, Valencia people throw crushed tomatoes at each other for fun. The orgy of tomato throwing lasts just one hour, by which time both the participants, and the town is awash in a sea of red.
San Sebastian International Film Festival - held each year towards the end of September in San Sebastian in the Basque Country.