If you’re visiting Spain for the first time, be warned: once you look beyond the traditional clichés, this is a country that can easily enslave you. Wildly, timelessly beautiful, supremely sophisticated and unimaginably diverse (indeed, Spaniards themselves often speak of Las Españas - the Spains), there is poetry in its heart. It’s a land where the passions of the people are part of life’s essential, everyday fabric; devotion to good food and fine wine, love of the breathtaking landscapes and an inborn talent for celebrating all the joys of life, whether it’s  strolling in the park, lingering over lunch, or dancing until dawn.
There is truly something for everyone; charter a yacht and explore long, sandy Atlantic beaches charming Mediterranean coves and perhaps the Balearic and Canary Islands (on the volcanic island of Lanzarote, you can spend the morning hiking the volcano at Timanfanya National Park then enjoy a lunch cooked over an open volcanic vent). Travel inland to discover a history encompassing the Roman, Greek and Muslim empires, take in scenery that stirs the soul, music and art that stir the senses and food that has stirred the culinary world.
From the capital, Madrid, to the costas, to the snowcapped Sierra Nevada rising astoundingly from the sun-baked plains of Andalucía to the exquisitely ornate Moorish cities of the south, there are adventures around every corner, whether it’s super cool restaurants in Catalonia, spectacular vistas in the central plains, or cutting-edge galleries in the industrial north. And everywhere you go, villages of ageless beauty sit astride hilltops, nestle in valleys and cling to coastal outcrops as living reminders of the country’s rich cultural history. Even in the tourist-trap resorts of the Costa del Sol, you’ll still be able to find a truly authentic bar where the locals gather to eat tapas and chat over a glass or two of the regional wine.
   

People

For much of history, Spain was divided into multiple regions and kingdoms (the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 laid the foundation for political unification of the country) and even today many Spaniards identify first with their local region and only secondly on a national, Spanish, level. (You might think you’re in Spain, for example, but locals will be adamant that you’re in Catalunya and point to a whole range of differences in language, culture and artistic traditions, not to mention social and political attitudes.) However what Spaniards from every region do share is a strong culture of Catholicism, a deep love of family and an unparalleled zest for life, believing that it deserves to be lived with the utmost gusto at every moment. As a result, when not attending a fiesta, family get together or impromptu party, they can usually be found in bars and restaurants indulging in another of their passionately loved pastimes: eating and drinking.
       

Places  


Madrid
One of the most open and welcoming cities on earth, Spain’s capital is a vibrant crossroads, a cosmopolitan, modern, urban centre, with fiercely preserved traditions. Humming with life and with an addictive hunger for art, music, and gastronomic pleasure, the inhabitants - madrileños -  enjoy a lifestyle that’s one of the city’s key attractions: chilling in traditional cafés or summer terrazas, thronging the streets of El Rastro flea market on Sundays or playing hard until the early hours in the many bars, clubs, discos and tascas. Other attractions include the magnificent Prado museum which, together with the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, offers exceptional displays of both modern Spanish painting (including Picasso’s Guernica) and European and American masters, making Madrid a must-visit destination for art lovers. Sports fans will revel in the chance to visit the Santiago Bernabéu, home to one of the most glamorous and successful clubs in world football, Real Madrid, whilst a sprinkling of parks and gardens provide a haven away from the hurly burly of the city centre.

Barcelona
Answer the call of deep blue Mediterranean sea and sun-drenched beaches and call in to Barcelona. The enchanting seaside Catalonian capital (and avant-garde capital of Spain) is home to fabled architectural treasures, rich cultural heritage, world-class gastronomy, and an infinite variety of street life. Marvel at Antoni Gaudí’s extraordinary church of the Sagrada Família, explore every winding alley of the medieval Barri Gòtic, stroll the world-famous boulevard that is the Ramblas, the drink in the gloriously vivid ceramic tile and stained glass of Art Nouveau facades, or take a jog, bike ride or walk along the shore, followed by an invigorating swim. If water sports are your thing, enjoy stunning views whilst kayaking, paddle boarding or taking life easy on a private charter yacht.
 
Granada
Stunningly set in in the crook of Andalucía’s Sierra Nevada, renowned for its 1,000 year-old red-gold Alhambra palace - one of the world’s most beautiful monuments - and written in the pages of history as the last stronghold of the Nasrid sultans, rulers of the Spanish Moorish kingdom, Granada vibrates with a gritty, yet sophisticated energy and eclectic cosmopolitanism. Wind your way through the narrow ascending alleyways and small squares of El Albayzín to take in the soulful strains of the Granadina, Granada’s own offshoot of flamenco; call in to one of the many teterías, atmospheric tearooms where patrons sit around hand-painted tables taking puffs on shishas (water-pipes) and explore the cheek-by-jowl white-walled houses of the Barrio Realejo.  Also worth a visit is the cathedral with the adjoining Capilla Real, the Royal Chapel. Here lie entombed Ferdinand and Isabella - the Catholic Monarchs - more peaceful in death than ever in their turbulent lives.  

The Balearic Islands
East of the Spanish mainland, the four main Balearic Islands – Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca and Menorca – reflect a character widely different from the rest of Spain - and from each other. Ibiza, is infamous for its party lifestyle and a magnet for thousand of clubbers from around the world.  Its capital Ibiza Town, however, is full of historic interest. Next door neighbour Formentera, tiny as it is, has probably the best beaches in the Balearics and makes up in provincial charm what it lacks in more sophisticated interest. Mallorca, the largest and probably the most recognised Balearic, isn’t just sun, booze and high-rise hotels. In reality, there’s a great deal more: verdant mountains, attractive old towns, charming coves, and the Balearics’ biggest city, Palma. Last but not least, to the east there’s Menorca, where modern resorts are kept at a safe distance from the two main towns, the capital Maó, which boasts the deepest harbour in the Mediterranean, and the tiny, captivating port of Ciutadella.
Catalan is spoken throughout the Balearics, and each of the main islands has a different dialect, though locals all speak Castilian (Spanish). Do note though, that confusion may arise from the road signs and street names – they are almost exclusively in Catalan whilst many of the maps on sale are in Castilian.  

The Canary Islands
An archipelago of volcanic islands set off the coast of Africa, an oasis that boasts superb beaches and year-round warmth, home to the world’s second largest Carnival, award-winning wines and Spain’s highest mountain, the seven Canary Islands offer so much more than the general perception of sunburned Brits, chips with everything and straw donkey souvenirs from Tenerife.  

Fuerteventura, the second-largest island, features a desert-like landscape. However, Corralejo in the north is a mecca for surfers and windsurfers from all over the world. There are tiny tapas bars, gourmet restaurants and beaches right in the town.  

Gran Canaria offers more scenic diversity than the other islands, with vast stretches of sand in southern Maspalomas, subtropical forests in the interior, rugged mountains, hiking trails and, in Las Palmas, a buzzing nightlife.  

Lanzarote, the youngest of the islands, has a unique viticulture that stems from the island’s volcanic craters. Visit the local wineries to pick up  a few bottles or enjoy them in the many restaurants that have made the island popular with foodies.  

Known as the “Beautiful Island”, La Palma has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve for its remarkable scenery, the highlight being the Caldera de Taburiente National Park you can see the archipelago from Roque de los Muchachos at 2396m.  

La Gomera is a hiker’s dream with a spectacular trail network winding across the whole island. The local wine is delicious too, as is the Almagrote, a spicily piquant cheese paste that’s dangerously addictive.  

El Hierro is nature at its most raw: sheer cliffs, jagged hills and serpentine roads. Come for the great diving or to escape the hustle and bustle, stresses and strains of modern life.  

Then, of course, there’s the largest of them all, Tenerife. Look beyond the tourist enclave of the south and take in Teide National Park and its volcano, savour superb seafood and wines in Garachico and La Orotava, or take part in the top-notch hiking…this is the Canary Island with something for everyone.          

Pleasures  

Few places throw a party quite like Spain. From Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls to the Fallas fiesta in Valencia to Seville’s Semana Santa (Holy Week), not a day goes by without a fiesta or reason to enjoy the fantastic nightlife. In every city, there's a myriad of restaurants, bars, concerts, pubs and clubs that guarantee you a memorable night. Going to a string of different bars on a ‘tapas crawl’ (a personal favourite being Solomillo al Whisky), moving to the mixes of international DJs, partying on until after dawn in an after-hours club…the night is yours.  
Then there’s the shopping. Taking a basket to the local market for meat or fish, browsing antiques, or hitting big designer names with your credit card - Spain has something for everyone. Shops typically open at 10am, close from 1:30 pm to 4:30pm and shut at 8pm. Our advice? Go shopping at 10am or 5pm or visit a department store.  Saturday mornings are busy wherever you are because many shops don’t re-open on Saturday afternoons. And don’t look for anything other than souvenir shopping on Sundays or Bank Holidays unless you’re in Barcelona or Madrid.  
On the gastronomic side, food and wine are national obsessions in Spain, and visitors also reap the benefit. You may experience the best meal ever via tapas in a spit and sawdust bar where the noise is so loud you can’t hear yourself think, or via a meal cooked by a renowned chef in the refined ambience of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Ferran Adria’s legendary El Bulli was first choice in its day, and now another Catalan dining room, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona has taken the reins as one of the world’s top ten restaurants. Casa Botín in Madrid is the world’s oldest restaurant (continuously running since 1725) with a history that includes the artist Francisco de Goya working there as a waiter. Plus, it serves a pretty damn good roasted suckling pig.  
But wherever you are, you’ll find local restaurants serve consistently excellent and a seemingly limitless variety of regional food.  Take paella, for example. From rabbit and snails to mussels and prawns, to squid and octopus ink, this Spanish staple comes in dozens of local variations which are a matter of regional pride in most provinces. Luckily, they’re all utterly delicious. Famous regional specialities include Pulpo a la Gallega, Galicia’s succulent signature dish of paprika-flavoured octopus and Rabo de Toro, Andalucía’s traditional,melt-in-your-mouth oxtail stew. Hailing from Castellon, Arros Negre (black rice) combines white rice, squid or cuttlefish, seafood broth, olive oil, paprika, onion, and squid ink, which gives it an intense dark colour whilst for the sweet-toothed, turrón, almond nougat made the small town of Jijona in the province of Alicante, is a must.  
For those who like a glass or two of vino with their food,  Spain is well known for rich, spicy red wines, crisp white wines, sparkling wines or “Cava”, and the unique fortified Sherry wines or “Generosos”. And because most of it’s consumed internally, it’s still deliciously affordable.          

Do  

Shake hands with everyone, starting with the oldest. Expect a kiss on each cheek, a hug or a pat on the back from those you know.  
Be prepared for late lunch and dinner. Remember that dinner is around 9 PM and some restaurants won’t get busy until 11.
Wear a money belt or something to keep money close to your body to avoid pickpockets.
Understand that smoking is widely accepted in Spain and you’ll be ignored if you ask people to put cigarettes out.
Tip if you want to, although tipping isn’t customary.        

Don’t

Get involved with any drugs. The penalties are severe.
Wear shorts in public, except to the beach.
Eat with your hands - not even fruit.
Walk around alone at night at night.
Go to coffee chains. The local coffee shops are better and cheaper.          

Best time to go  

As the regions of Spain vary, so do the best times to visit. To take in as much of the country as possible, spring and autumn are ideal times to travel here, perhaps with the exception of the Atlantic coast, which can get heavy rains in October and November. In summer it's hot, hot, and hotter still, with the cities in Castile (Madrid) and Andalucía (Seville and Córdoba) being the hottest of all.  (Also be aware that the months of July and August are extremely crowded in resorts along the Mediterranean).          

Best way to go  

To get the most out of Spain, charter a private yacht (choose from a timeless wooden sailing yacht, an elegant cabin cruiser, a magnificent schooner or any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
To explore further inland, there are multiple travel options once you’ve moored; trains, taxis, car - or even scooter - rental are widely available (you’ll need a valid international driving licence) so you can tailor your itinerary as you please. And don’t forget that as well as visiting beautiful towns and cities, there’s plenty of activity on offer for the adventurous, with diving, surfing, windsurfing and hiking all on offer.          
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