Spain - Exploring the Land & Sea

Spain - Exploring the Land & Sea
Photo by Elvis Bekmanis / Unsplash

"Traveling nourishes the soul and undoubtedly contributes to our personal growth."

It's 2024, and many of you may have already finalized your travel arrangements.

Having resided in Spain for an extended period and conversed with numerous individuals, we have curated a list of locations that potential travelers should certainly contemplate when visiting Spain.

While everyone is familiar with major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, there are numerous hidden gems in Spain that remain untouched by tourists, offering a more intimate connection with the diverse food and culture of the country.

Here are our top suggestions for your plans in the upcoming spring or summer.

Cuenca

© Juan Carlos Garcia

Cuenca is a historic city located in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain.

History:

  • Cuenca has a rich history dating back to ancient times. The area was inhabited by the Iberians and Romans, and later became a strategic location during the Moorish rule in Spain.
  • The city was officially founded by Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1177. The strategic location on a rocky spur, surrounded by the deep gorges of the Júcar and Huécar rivers, made Cuenca a natural defensive stronghold.
  • Throughout the medieval period, Cuenca flourished and became an important cultural and economic center.
  • The city's architecture reflects its history, with a mix of medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque influences.

Reasons to Visit:

  1. Historic Architecture: Cuenca is known for its well-preserved medieval architecture. The historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, features narrow cobblestone streets, ancient city walls, and iconic buildings such as the Cathedral of Cuenca and the Hanging Houses (Casas Colgadas), which are suspended over the cliffs.
  2. Natural Beauty: The surrounding landscape adds to the charm of Cuenca. The Júcar and Huécar river gorges offer stunning views, and nearby natural parks like the Serranía de Cuenca provide opportunities for outdoor activities.
  3. Art and Culture: Cuenca is home to several museums, including the Museum of Abstract Art, showcasing works from the Spanish abstract art movement. The city hosts cultural events and festivals throughout the year.
  4. Cuisine: The local cuisine is another reason to visit. Cuenca offers traditional Castilian dishes, such as morteruelo (a type of pâté), zarajos (grilled lamb intestines), and a variety of game meats. The region is also known for its delicious Manchego cheese.

Food:

  • Morteruelo: This is a traditional dish in Cuenca, a type of game meat pâté made with liver, partridge, rabbit, and other ingredients.
  • Zarajos: A unique dish made from grilled lamb intestines wrapped around a vine shoot. It's often seasoned and cooked over an open flame.
  • Manchego Cheese: While not exclusive to Cuenca, the region is known for its high-quality Manchego cheese, typically made from sheep's milk.

How to get there:

From Madrid: By car it's around 1.5H, By train it's around 1H

Bonus:

If you travel by car, do go to the Ventano del Diablo

Nerja

Nerja is a picturesque town located on the Costa del Sol in the province of Málaga, Andalusia, Spain.

History:

  • The history of Nerja dates back to ancient times. Archaeological findings suggest that the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with evidence of Paleolithic settlements.
  • The town has Roman origins and was later influenced by Moorish rule, which left its mark on the local architecture and urban layout.
  • Nerja played a role in the Spanish Civil War, and remnants of fortifications from that period can still be seen.

Reasons to Visit:

  1. Balcony of Europe (Balcón de Europa): One of the most iconic spots in Nerja, the Balcony of Europe offers stunning panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and the surrounding coastline.
  2. Caves of Nerja (Cuevas de Nerja): These caves are a major tourist attraction, featuring impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations. The caves also contain archaeological remains, including paintings that date back to the Upper Paleolithic period.
  3. Beaches: Nerja boasts beautiful beaches, such as Burriana Beach and Calahonda Beach, where visitors can enjoy the sun, sand, and crystal-clear waters.
  4. Charming Old Town: Nerja's historic center is characterized by narrow streets, white-washed buildings, and a relaxed atmosphere. The Church of El Salvador and the Church of San Miguel are notable landmarks.

Food:

  • Pescaíto Frito: As Nerja is located on the coast, seafood is a highlight. Pescaíto Frito refers to a variety of deep-fried fish, typically served in small bite-sized pieces. It's a popular dish in many coastal towns, and Nerja is no exception.
  • Ajoblanco: A cold soup made with almonds, garlic, bread, and olive oil. Ajoblanco is a refreshing dish, perfect for the warm climate of the region.
  • Espetos de Sardinas: This is a traditional dish consisting of skewered and grilled sardines. It's a simple yet delicious preparation that captures the essence of Mediterranean cuisine.

How to get there?

From Madrid: By Car it's around 5H, By train it's around ~5H

From Malaga: It's better to fly to Malaga if you're not already there and take a car from Malaga which will be almost a drive of ~50 minutes

Pontevedra

© Alby

Pontevedra is a city and municipality located in the autonomous community of Galicia, in northwestern Spain.

History:

  • Pontevedra has a rich history that dates back to Roman times when it was known as "Turonum." The city has historical landmarks that reflect its past, including remnants of Roman bridges and medieval architecture.
  • During the Middle Ages, Pontevedra was a bustling port and a significant commercial and cultural center.
  • The city played a role in the maritime and trade activities of the region, contributing to its economic and cultural development.
  • Over the centuries, Pontevedra faced challenges such as invasions, but it also experienced periods of growth and prosperity.

Reasons to Visit:

  1. Historic Old Town: Pontevedra's old town is well-preserved, featuring narrow cobblestone streets, charming squares, and historic buildings. The Church of the Pilgrim (Iglesia de la Peregrina) and the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Pilgrim (Santuario de la Virgen Peregrina) are notable landmarks.
  2. Pontevedra Museum: The city's museum houses a collection of archaeological artifacts, art, and historical items, providing insights into Pontevedra's past.
  3. Praza da Leña: This lively square is a popular gathering place, surrounded by cafes and restaurants. It's a great spot to experience the local atmosphere.
  4. Lérez River Promenade: Enjoy a stroll along the Lérez River, where you can take in scenic views and relax in a tranquil setting.

Food:

  • Empanada Gallega: This traditional Galician dish is a savory pie filled with ingredients such as tuna, cod, or pork, often mixed with onions, peppers, and other seasonings. Empanada Gallega is a popular snack or meal in Pontevedra.
  • Pulpo a la Gallega: Galicia is known for its excellent octopus, and Pulpo a la Gallega is a classic dish featuring boiled octopus slices seasoned with paprika, salt, and olive oil.
  • Albariño Wine: While not a dish, Albariño wine is a local specialty. This crisp white wine is produced in the Rías Baixas region of Galicia, including Pontevedra, and pairs well with seafood dishes.

How to get there?

From Madrid: By car it's around 6H, by train it's recommended to take the fast train to Ourense and then a bus/train to Pontevedra

Oviedo

© Rafael Baldoy

Oviedo is the capital city of the Principality of Asturias in northern Spain.

History:

  • Oviedo has ancient origins, dating back to the Roman period when it was known as "Ovetum."
  • The city played a significant role during the medieval period, especially under the rule of Alfonso II of Asturias, who established Oviedo as the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias in the 9th century.
  • Oviedo became a center of religious and cultural importance, with the construction of the Cathedral of San Salvador and the establishment of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.
  • Over the centuries, Oviedo experienced periods of growth and cultural flourishing, contributing to its historical and architectural heritage.

Reasons to Visit:

  1. Historic Architecture: Oviedo boasts a well-preserved historic quarter with architectural gems such as the Oviedo Cathedral (Catedral de San Salvador), a Gothic masterpiece, and the Holy Chamber of Oviedo (Santa Cámara de Oviedo), a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  2. Cultural and Artistic Heritage: The city is home to various museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias and the Archaeological Museum of Asturias, showcasing a rich collection of art and artifacts.
  3. Parks and Green Spaces: Oviedo is known for its parks, such as San Francisco Park and Campo de San Francisco, offering peaceful retreats and beautiful landscapes.
  4. Pre-Romanesque Architecture: Asturias is famous for its Pre-Romanesque art, and Oviedo is a gateway to exploring these unique structures, including the Church of San Julián de los Prados and the Church of Santa María del Naranco.

Food:

  • Fabada Asturiana: This hearty and iconic dish is a traditional Asturian bean stew, typically made with large white beans, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), and pork. Fabada Asturiana is a flavorful and filling dish that reflects the region's culinary traditions.
  • Cachopo: A popular Asturian dish, cachopo consists of two large veal fillets stuffed with ham and cheese, breaded, and fried. It is often served with a side of potatoes.
  • Sidra (Asturian Cider): Asturias is known for its traditional cider, and Oviedo offers the opportunity to taste this refreshing beverage. Sidra is often poured in a unique way called "escanciar," involving holding the bottle high above the glass to aerate the cider.

How to get there?

From Madrid: By car it's around 4.5H, by train it's around ~4H

Bonus:

If you visit the Asturian Capital, don't miss the following places:

Picos de Europa National Park

Ponga

Calp

© Suryal

Calp, also known as Calpe, is a coastal town located on the Costa Blanca in the province of Alicante, Spain.

Reasons to Visit Calp:

  1. Peñón de Ifach: The most prominent feature of Calp is the Peñón de Ifach, a massive rock that juts out into the sea. It is now a natural park and a popular destination for hiking, offering panoramic views of the coastline.
  2. Beaches: Calp has beautiful sandy beaches, including Playa de la Fossa and Playa Arenal-Bol, where visitors can relax and enjoy the Mediterranean sun.
  3. Fishermen's Quarters: Visit the traditional fishermen's quarters, where you can experience the town's maritime heritage and enjoy fresh seafood in local restaurants.

Food:

  • Arroz a Banda: This traditional Valencian dish is a rice-based paella-style dish cooked with fish broth and typically served with garlic mayonnaise (alioli). It often includes a variety of seafood such as squid, shrimp, and mussels.
  • Gambas Rojas de Calp: Calp is famous for its red prawns, known as "gambas rojas." These succulent prawns are often served grilled or in various seafood dishes, showcasing the fresh and flavorful seafood of the region.
  • Calp Salt: The salt pans near Calp produce high-quality sea salt, known as "Flor de Sal." This salt is often used in local dishes and can be purchased as a unique culinary souvenir.
  • Orxata: While not specific to Calp, orxata is a popular beverage made from tiger nuts and is widely enjoyed in the region. It's a refreshing drink, especially during the warmer months.

How to get there?

From Alicante: By car, it's around ~1H


In this post, we have compiled a list of destinations worth exploring when you visit Spain. Each of these alternative locations promises a more authentic local experience, with unique offerings in every city.

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