Spain is considered as one of the most visited countries in the world. The tourism industry has attracted mammoth income and has added a good amount to GDP. Bullfighting, flamenco dance and singing, state of the art architectures and the scenic beauty; all alluding to the ultimate destination of tourists – Spain. Kingdom of Spain with a population of 46.7 million (2014) is a thriving tourist destination. The largest cities are Barcelona and Valencia, besides the capital city of Madrid.
Spain’s Autonomous Communities
Spain has 17 autonomous communities which are all divided into provinces of which there are 50. Below are brief summaries of each of the autonomous communities or ‘Comunidades Autónomas’ and in each the names of their particular provinces.However, 7 of these regions are single province regions which translate into them being ‘autonomous regional provinces’ of Spain. These are – Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia and Navarra.
Flag of Andalusia
Provinces: Cádiz, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Sevilla, Huelva, Jaén and Almeria
Apart from the glorious beaches of the Costa del Sol, this is the home of flamenco and traditional bullfighting, a much-loved spectator sport of the literary giant Hemmingway. But quite apart from the beach, dance and bullfighting, it is a region of the Moorish cities of Seville, Granada and Cordoba with all their history and architectural marvels. To top it all it is a region of fiestas and these are not confined just to its cities, each village has its own list of traditional fiestas celebrated throughout the year.
Provinces: Zaragoza, Huesca, Teruel
Here, in the north of Spain are the imposing Aragonese Pyrenees, historic villages and the awe-inspiring wilderness of Ordesa National Park. It is a region of great natural beauty and luxurious ski resorts. There are churches, towers and mansions of Mudéjar architecture and the walled and picturesque village of Albarracín. Here there is none of the frenetic activity of the usual tourist resorts. It is a region where the pace is leisurely and the surroundings peaceful and extremely beautiful especially the rugged countryside of peaks and gorges near the Sierra de Gúdar and in the east El Maestrazgo.
This is a region of old fashioned little towns nestled in the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Biscay in the north, with neighbours Galicia on the west and Cantabria on its eastern boundary. It is an area of great natural beauty with stunning beaches dominated by the majestic Picos de Europa Mountains. This is the holiday region of choice for Spaniards and the French and so escapes the overpowering numbers that descend on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Asturias has its own very distinct culture and is the only region known for its bagpipes and cider. Oviedo is the colourful and quaint regional capital which now offers the tourist a restored old quarter. Gijon is the region’s cultural centre with an exhilarating nightlife. Avilés is the town of beautiful palaces and a charming old quarter. The most breath-taking of the palaces is the 17th century Baroque Palace de Camposagrado.
Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera have been the favourite holiday destinations of mainly British tourists for decades. They boast some idyllic resorts and all have excellent beaches and facilities. There are some quaint and beautiful inland villages which most tourists overlook opting for the most part for the tourist areas. So if you tire of sun and sand a tour of the villages is well worth undertaking.
Provinces: Vizcaya, Álava, Guipúzcua
Bordering with France and on the Bay of Biscay is this region of green hills and colourful seafront villages. This region has its own unique language although locals also speak the accepted vernacular of Spain. Here you can enjoy traditional tapas especially at San Sebastián’s Parte Vieja and if its art and architecture which interest you then Bilbao with its amazing Guggenheim and Fine Arts Museums are simply are not to be missed.
Regions: Las Palmas, Santa Cruz de Tenerife
This group of islands off the north-west coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean have been a popular destination for travellers from Europe for many years. The busiest holiday resorts are on Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, but there are also the more peaceful and less visited islands of El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera for those who want a quiet holiday.
Neighbour to Asturias this green, lush region has been named the Costa Verde (Green Coast) and is the jumping off place for visitors from Britain arriving on the Ferries which land in Santander the modern capital of the region. The most picturesque and enticing of Cantabria towns is Santillana del Mar which abounds in beautiful mansions. Although the weather in this region is somewhat unpredictable the summer months are pleasant and the sea, warm enough for bathing.
Castilla La Mancha
Provinces: Guadalajara, Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, Albacete
This region in the centre of Spain is the least populated and the quietest and as the name implies is the area of Don Quijote and his tilting at windmills. Windmills are to be found in Consuegra where Spanish speciality cheeses are also made. If monuments are your interest then the city of Toledo, which was the home city of the famous artist El Greco has a intriguing walled old city filled with history and quaint little shops.
Castilla y Léon
Provinces: Léon, Palencia, Burgos, Zamora, Valladolid, Segovia, Soria, Salamanca, Avila
This region in north-western Spain is ringed by mountains and near the border with Portugal. With its nine provinces, it is the largest autonomous region in Spain. It is a region of castles and archaeological discoveries. In Atapuerca artefacts and fossils dating as far back as 780,000 years ago were found and it is the birthplace of El Cid el Campeador who is buried in the magnificent 13th-century cathedral. In Segovia is the fairy tale Alcázar the magical castle that inspired Walt Disney to create his logo castle. Here also is the oldest Spanish university built in 1218, and the amazing Roman aqueduct that, to this day, still supplies water to the city.
Provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, Tarragona
This region offers every possible interest for the traveller from historic towns to the beautiful beaches of the Costa Brava. The Catalan Pyrenees are just the place for hikers and ecotourists and in Barcelona, there are not only historical sites but also the amazing surreal architecture of Antoni Gaudí; the architect who is known for including the most colourful dragons in almost all his futuristic structures. Tarragona and Girona are both historic cities. Tarragona has many Roman ruins and if history is your thing then a short way away in Girona where you can wander through the old town and view the countryside from the town walls.
Provinces: Caceres, Badajoz
In the west of Spain on the Portuguese border and not in the mainstream of the tourism industry, is this region of contrasts. From archaeological sites, theatre festivals, monasteries and cherry blossom to the delicious cured hams of Dehesa de Extremadura there is much to see and do. Eco-tourists and birdwatchers will find the beauty of the Monfragúe National Park and the Jerte valley just right for hiking and exploring, while in Mérida there is the annual theatre festival held in its glorious, archaeological site. For truly intriguing historical sites one should head for Cácares, Trujillo and Guadalupe.
Provinces: A Coruña, Pontevedra, Lugo, Orense
The region known as ‘Green Spain’ boasts wooded valleys and fine, beautiful beaches. The region faces both the Cantabrian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its delicious seafood dishes, its wine route to vineyards producing the famous wines Ribiero and Albariño and its many spas, hot water springs and excellent golf courses. There are quaint villages to visit and monuments aplenty. You can even take a trip to what the Romans understood to be the end of the world, the peninsula of Cabo Finisterre. The great capital city of Santiago de Compostela with its pilgrim route and magnificent Renaissance and Baroque architecture makes an ideal beginning or a glorious end to a truly remarkable holiday spent in this all-in-one region.
A wine lovers paradise with the smallest population of all the regions in Spain, but more than 500 wineries (bodegas), all producing wines that bear the brand name of ‘Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja’. Logroño is the largest town in the region and Haro the loveliest. Here you can imbibe and eat great tapas as you partake of a tapas crawl or you can opt for a guided wine tour. The countryside is particularly beautiful and offers the most active some truly beautiful walks.
As well as being a region of Spain it is home to Spain’s capital. In the north are the majestic Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains with secluded villages dotted along its slopes. Visitors who like to get away from the big city head for El Escorial, Alcala de Henares and Aranjuez. The city of Alcalá de Henares was the birthplace of Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabel, and the first wife of Henry VIII becoming Queen of England until Henry had the marriage annulled. The capital Madrid with its beautiful parks and wide boulevards has at its heart the old Hapsburg Madrid where the baroque Royal Palace stands in all its majesty, and in the Prado Museum are works of art by Goya, Velázquez and many other famous Spanish artists.
This region in the south-east of Spain is a popular destination for sun worshippers, scuba divers, golfers and hikers alike. From the Costa Cálida with its 250 miles of beaches, to the region’s La Manga Mountains this region has much to offer the traveller. There are castles and quaint villages and in Murcia the regional capital, there is the great gothic cathedral with its 90m high bell tower.
This region in Northern Spain with its famed City of Pamplona and the annual running of the bulls is part of ‘Green Spain’. But it is also the historic area of the Ancient kingdom of Navarre. Art and culture are the watchwords of this region with its Romanesque churches, gothic monasteries, medieval towers and walls. There is even a Witches’ museum in Zugarramurdi. The countless villages of this region make for pleasing and peaceful rural touring. Outdoor activities are much in favour in the mountains of the Navarran Pyrenees.
Provinces: Valencia, Castellon, Alicante
The region of Valencia lies along the Mediterranean coast between Catalonia and Murcia and with its popular Costa Blanca is a much-favoured destination for beach enthusiasts. An outing to the rural El Castell de Guadalest is both beautiful and intriguing, while in Spain’s 3rd largest city of Valencia, there are the awe-inspiring City of Arts and Sciences and the huge aquarium L’Oceanográfic. For those who are keen on nature the area around Aitana and Montgó Massif offer mountain trails for hikers and many opportunities for rock climbing.
Spain’s autonomous cities in Morocco
If you are looking for somewhere different from the usual holiday destination then a visit to either both or one of the two Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla near Morocco are well worth a visit. These cities were once part of Cadiz province, but in 1995 were granted autonomous status.
The city of Melilla 380 km along the coast from Ceuta, was founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC. Centuries on it became a colony of the mighty Roman Empire, but its most prosperous times were under Arab rule, which ended when Spain was united under Isabelle and Ferdinand. This prosperous trading city then passed into Spanish hands and became an important strategic military base for the Spanish fleet.
Melilla is a fascinating combination of old and modern. The old town behind the city walls is filled with history and there is plenty to see and much to explore. Around the port itself, is the modern sector of the city where much of the architecture is art deco inspired most especially the Palace of La Asamblea.
Known as a city of four cultures, Melilla is home to Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus who live peaceably together and have done so for centuries. This diversity of cultures is reflected not only in the foods on offer in the many tapas bars throughout the city but in its many religious buildings. There is the Central Mosque, the Church of the Sagrado Carazón de Jesús, the Saruah Synagogue and the Hindu Oratory.
Food on offer in the city has much in common with Andalusian cuisine and of course, the seafood is enough to delight any palate, but if you would like to try something a little different then “pinchos morunos” and stuffed dates are definite must-tries.
The beaches of Melilla are truly beautiful and whether you merely want to laze in the sun or take advantage of the many water sports on offer, the sandy beaches of Melilla have something for everyone. There is jet skiing, windsurfing or scuba diving and if you feel so inclined you can even take a course in ocean sailing.
Across from the straits of Gibraltar on the Moroccan coast is this history filled and delightful city. Smaller than its sister city of Melilla it offers a great jumping off point for either Moroccan destinations or the mainland of Spain. As with Melilla, it is a city that also enjoys the benefits of its four distinct cultures: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu.
The city of Ceuta with its ancient 16th-century ramparts and drawbridge known as the Murallas Reales Defensive Walls and its picturesque cathedral, built over the original town mosque has a medieval flavour and really warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Ceuta’s coast is along the Straits of Gibraltar, the only place where the waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean meet and mix and the busiest shipping lane in the world. You can enjoy sipping wine and savouring tapas as you watch for ships or see if you can spot turtles, dolphins or even the odd whale. Or just enjoy the view across the Straits to the great rock of Gibraltar. The coast of Ceuta is just great for kayaking and scuba diving and for the avid fisherman there is the opportunity to do a little deep sea fishing.
Whether you decide on either Melilla or Ceuta as you holiday destination you can also enjoy day trips by ferry across to the Spanish mainland or across the border to Morocco. No matter what your holiday plan these small Spanish enclaves have much to offer.