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Spanish countryside / villages

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Did You Know…?

  • Sherry, a Spanish wine, takes its name from Jerez de la Frontera, sherry being the Anglicized version of Jerez.
  • At least 100 Spanish towns, besides Pamplona, celebrate their saints by running with the bulls.
  • Peru’s conqueror, Francisco Pizarro, was born in the village of Extremadura’s Trujillo (c. 1576).
  • Point Tarifa, the southernmost point on the European continent, is south of two African capitals, Algiers and Tunis.
  • The 17th century “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes was the world’s first bestseller and translated into 60-plus languages.

Beyond beaches and flamenco

Spain, a country about the size of California, boasts surprising variety in its terrain and climate — as well as attractive villages with unique architectural and cultural elements in all the country’s 18 regions. Some areas (including Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia) even have their own languages.

Choices for touring outside the cities are as varied as fishing villages on the north coast, mountain towns in central Spain or beach-facing hamlets on the Mediterranean. Further, a great portion of central Spain is a plateau crossed by mountains and rivers. Alpine conditions prevail in many of the mountains including the Pyrenees in the north and in the Sierra Nevada farther south.

Protected sites include the flora and fauna in national parks, as well as the culturally significant. In the latter category, the Route of Santiago de Compostela, ending in Galicia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Likewise, prehistoric cave paintings in several Spanish regions are UNESCO sites, some of them open to the public.

Sections of Extremadura and Andalusia are noted for their White Villages, characterized by whitewashed houses and walls, situated amidst striking mountain scenery. Several of the villages are inside the mountainous Sierra de Grazalema Nature Reserve.

Tourists may favor big-name destinations, but visitors to any assortment of villages and rural settings are likely to find some combination of quaint town squares, historic Jewish quarters, Moorish architecture, medieval castles, cathedrals and/or monasteries. Gaudi-designed structures are a distinctive part of that mix in Catalonia.

In addition, a wander through the Spanish countryside will generally lead to vineyards and wineries and certainly, in the villages, to bodegas for sampling area specialties.

With a little planning, visitors also may see flamenco dancers, attend a festival celebrating a local patron saint or, perhaps, run with the bulls. As to actual bullfights, the Humane Society International recommends against attending because attendance supports animal cruelty. For the active, choices range from caving, hiking and skiing to water-based diversions like boating, kite surfing and swimming.

Self-drive touring provides the most flexibility for getting into and around the countryside, but packaged tours and train travel are viable, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Dress in white (everyone does) and mix it up at the Tomatina (tomato fight) in Bunol, in the Valencia region on Spain’s east coast. The event is held in August each year.
  • Calasparra — known for its rice, ideal for paella, and located in the Murcia region on Spain’s southeast coast — has deep gorges and formations well suited to canyoning and caving. Some caves have prehistoric paintings.
  • Head to Tarifa in the far south for kite surfing and windsurfing.
  • Whether motivated by religion or not, spend a few days walking along the pilgrim’s Route of Santiago de Compostela, leading to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Overnight in guest quarters at the still-active San Julian Monastery. And, at the village of O Cebreiro, overnight in a palloza, a traditional thatched house of Celtic origin.
  • Hike or cycle on the Lozova valley nature trail in the Madrid region. Features include the Bosque de Finlandia forest and the natural swimming pools of Las Persillas.
  • Or, cycle or walk between the villages of Villanueva del Fresno and Higuera de Vargas in Extremadura.

Things to do for Centrics

  • In Deia, a mountain village on Majorca, sample local specialties such as sopes mallorquines, a vegetable and bread strew, and tumbet, a baked concoction that layers potatoes, eggplant and squash. Also, hike a coastal path from Deia to the port of Soller.
  • Tour Penafiel Castle, which houses a wine museum. Located north of Madrid in the Castile and Leon region, Penafiel is in Duero wine country. It also boasts a very photogenic medieval town square, and that is where locals set up their bullring.
  • Go skiing in the Pyrenees in the north or the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the south.
  • In Ribadesella, a fishing village in the north of Spain, visit the Tito Bustillo Cave, which has part of the Cave Art of the Cantabrian Coast. Different layers of paintings date from 22,000 to 10,000 B.C.
  • Carry binoculars to watch the birds in the pastures of Jerez de los Caballeros in the Extremadura region, which borders Portugal. In April and May, the courtship ritual of the great bustard is the key attraction for a birder.
  • Plot a self-drive itinerary to discover favorites among the White Villages of Extremadura and Andalusia.

Things to do for Authentics

  • In the home of sherry, Jerez de la Frontera, visit local wine cellars, called bodegas. Also, while here, see an exhibition of prancing steeds presented by the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, a riding school.
  • Shop for ceramics in Cuenca, a town known for its hanging houses, in the Castile–La Mancha region in central Spain.
  • Look for St. Felix in Arcos de la Frontera, a town on a steep cliff in Andalusia. His remains are on display in a glass case in St. Mary’s Parish Church.
  • Take the kids, or the kid in you, to the Toy Museum in Sant Feliu de Guixols, in Catalonia in Spain’s far northeast. There is the Cork Museum, too, recalling the importance of the area’s cork, which is used in the wine industry.
  • Watch the fishing boats come into Cudillero, a fishing village in the Asturias region on Spain’s north coast, then attend the auction in the fish market. Eat seafood for dinner.
  • Head to Consuegra in the Castile-La Mancha region to seek out the town’s line of windmills, traditionally associated with the fictional story of Don Quixote.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Tourist Office of Spain at www.spain.info