If you’re planning a trip to Europe in the near future, a must-see destination is Spain! This Mediterranean country in southwestern Europe is the perfect combination of people, culture and nightlife to keep anyone entertained for weeks. If you don’t know too much about Spanish history and culture, let me give you a quick overview. The first major inhabitants of Spain were the Romans in the 5th Century AD, but were quickly followed by a Moorish invasion from Northern Africa a few centuries later. As a result, a large part of the Spanish culture, specifically architecture and art, has its roots in the classic Roman and intricate Arabic styles. Most of Spain, especially the south, has many beautiful palaces and monuments epitomizing the grand and ornate Moorish presence. However, the Christian population of Northern Spain eventually took complete control of the Iberian Peninsula by the end of the 15th Century. The change in authority, along with the colonization of the New World, helped bring Spain to the peak of their wealth and power soon after. Recently, Spain has not been doing well economically, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a beautiful and enriching country to explore!
Here are some places off the beaten path to get you started:
Zaragoza – Located conveniently between Barcelona and Madrid by the high-speed train system, Zaragoza is a great city off the beaten path to totally immerse yourself in the culture. Full of broad, modern boulevards, Zaragoza is centered on the Ebro River. Narrow, dark alleys however, make up the old city that lead to the grand Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar) where you can see murals painted by famous Spanish painter Francisco Goya. The city also has a collection of interesting museums and galleries commemorating the history of Zaragoza and the nation. Not only that, but you are only a couple hours from great skiing and hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains!
Dalí Theatre and Museum (Girona, Spain) – If you’re planning on visiting Barcelona (which you really should), this museum is not to be missed. While it is located a few hours north of the city, the trip is well worth it as the museum was designed and decorated by Dalí himself. It holds a huge collection of famous and forgotten works by Dalí, including many interactive pieces that he installed before he died. You can also make a few-day trip out of the excursion and explore the unique Catalan culture and rugged coastline north of the Barcelona.
Galicia and Cantabria – The northern Atlantic coast has its roots in the Celtic people that populated this area before the Romans conquered Spain. These northern communities, as well as the landscape, remind many of their Celtic origins. Despite being known as “green” Spain, the rolling hills and large sprawling beaches are best enjoyed from June to September, as you are likely to get as many sunny days as other parts of the country. One of the most awe-inspiring sites, however, is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This cathedral marks the end of the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James), an important Christian pilgrimage crossing most of northern Spain. Definitely check out the Botafumeiro, or incense burning in the native Galician language, that swings weekly through the cathedral. Check out a video of it here!
Extremadura – Tucked against Portugal in southwestern Spain, Extremadura is far less visited than many of the others communities in the country. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have great opportunities for visitors the engage the culture and landscape! Full of mostly olive orchards and rolling fields, Extremadura has many small, but exciting cities that will make you feel like you’ve been transported back to the medieval times! Check out cities like Zafra, Mérida and Caceres for prime examples of the Moorish influence, especially when visiting the countless palaces that make up this region.