Spain's underrated treasures
Spain’s headline sights and cities are rightly famous, from the magnificent spires of the Sagrada Familia and Seville Cathedral, to the Moorish palace and gardens at Granada’s Alhambra. But venture off the beaten track just a little and there are plenty of fantastic hidden gems to discover, too. Here are six of our favourites…
This remarkably well-preserved medieval village is like something out of a storybook – all golden-stone houses and cobbled streets, with an 11th-century bridge crossing the babbling waters of the Fluvià river.
There are Romanesque churches to admire, sunny squares to relax in, and a fascinating Jewish heritage to uncover (including a 13th-century mikveh, or bathhouse, thought to be one of only three remaining in Europe).
You’ll find Besalù in the north-eastern region of La Garrotxa. It’s about half an hour from Girona or 45 minutes’ drive from Roses, where we stay on our guided tours of Spain’s rugged Costa Brava.
Rural Mallorca, Balearic Islands
While Mallorca isn’t a particularly hidden gem (it’s one of the most popular Spanish holiday spots for Brits), most visitors tend to cluster around the coast, leaving the countryside gloriously unspoilt.
Hire a car or hop on a bus and explore – you’ll find almond orchards and citrus groves, traditional market towns and sleepy villages, silvery olive trees, honey-stone fincas (farmhouses), and bodegas serving up home-grown wines.
Towns and villages to look out for include Felanitx, Orient and Pollensa. Soller (the ‘old town’ perching in the hills above busy Port Soller) is also lovely, and easy to reach from Palma via the vintage narrow-gauge railway. Memories of Mallorca is one of our top holidays to Spain, and includes an excursion on the Palma-Soller railway (plus a few days at leisure to explore the island on your own).
Cartagena doesn’t grab the headlines in the same way as superstar cities like Barcelona and Seville, but it has a fantastically rich history to discover, making it an ideal stop-off on a cruise to Spain.
Steeped in over 2,000 years of history, this port city was built on a settlement site established by a Carthaginian general. More recently recognised as the ‘Port of Cultures’, there’s plenty to explore. Maybe begin at the Naval Museum, then set out to see everything from Roman ruins right up to modern creations inspired by Gaudi.
It's worth sampling the cuisine while you’re here, too – try salt-baked sea bream, garlicky seafood caldero (stew), or a slice of sticky fig bread alongside an asiático (coffee with cognac and condensed milk).
You’ll find this handsome hilltop town about half an hour north-east of Seville (we stop off en route during our touring holidays in Spain’s Andalucia region). One of the oldest towns in mainland Europe, its streets and squares are chock-full of beautiful buildings and mudejar architecture.
Don’t miss the Moorish Alcazar (fortress) or the Town Hall, adorned with colourful Portuguese-style tiles. The arcaded market square is worth a wander too, as is the Plaza de San Fernando, edged with pretty, balconied townhouses. There are also some beautiful churches to explore, and a town museum housed in a 16th-century palace.
Not far from the bay-carved coastline of Catalonia's Costa Brava is the little medieval town of Pals. Carefully restored thanks to the efforts of a local doctor, its Gothic old quarter is a delight to wander through, with pretty stone houses, ornate archways and a distinctive round tower (all that remains of the town’s old castle).
There’s an interesting museum (complete with an exhibition devoted to wine and cava), a thousand-year-old church and a host of little art galleries and ceramics shops to discover. Don’t forget your camera when you head up to the mirador – the views from here stretch across the Medes Islands, Montgrí Massif, Canigó and Sierra de l'Albera.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Andalucia
Andalucia is known for its pueblos blancos (whitewashed villages), and Setenil de las Bodegas is one of the quirkiest. Its houses are built into the cliffs, with white-painted facades constructed in front of caves. Huge slabs of rock loom overhead by some, while others have mini groves of silvery olive trees sprouting above them.
Stroll down Calle Cuevas de la Sombra and Calle Cuevas del Sol, then climb the 90-odd steps to the Mirador del Carmen for views across the town to the ruined hilltop castle.
Setenil de las Bodegas is not far from Ronda, where we base ourselves for the first part of our Cruise & Tour Spain holidays – about 30 minutes’ drive.
If you’ve been tempted to take a look at our group tours of Spain, head to our website or order a free brochure. Our travel advisors can help you find the perfect trip, too, whether you’re thinking of a last-minute holiday to Spain or you prefer to get your tour booked and in the diary nice and early.
Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.
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