The Prado Museum, Madrid
The Prado Museum is regarded as one of the world’s great museums. The multinational exhibits include works by Spanish artists such as El Greco and Velázquez, Italian painters such as Fra Angelico and Raphael and Flemish artists as Bosch, Rubens and Van Dyck. The best known works include Velázquez’s Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), Goya’s Naked Maja and Clothed Maja, and Bosch’s The Garden of Delights.
Website: The Prado Museum
Sagrada Família, (Gaudí’s unfinished Cathedral), Barcelona
Work began on this rather ordinary neo-Gothic church in 1882. Two years later, the architect resigned and Gaudí secured the commission to complete it. The Sagrada Família became his favourite project; he even secluded himself on the site and lived in the workshop until his death in 1926. The church was left incomplete upon his death.
At first sight, the building is reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral but Gaudi has so transformed the style by his sidewalls, vaults and piers that the spirit of Gothic architecture has found new parameters and contexts. Since 1979 work has been underway to finish the church as true to Gaudí’s conception as possible.
Website: Sagrada Familia
The Alhambra, Granada
Granada is set against the mountain backdrop of the Sierra Nevada. The city is most famous for being the ancient Moorish capital of Spain and home to La Alhambra, one of the greatest undertakings of Islamic art and architecture. Nothing can prepare you for a day wandering around the magnificent palace, patios and gardens. The Alcazaba is the Alhambra’s Muslim fortress dating from the 11th century and offers great views of the city from the tops of its towers.
The Casa Real is the showpiece of the Alhambra, and is renowned for the intricacy of its stonework. Finally, there is the Generalife, the summer palace of the sultans, set in the peaceful Alhambra gardens. Wander the narrow streets and see the Albaicín, the city’s old Muslim quarter. Visit the Casa del Castril (Archaeological Museum) and the Baños Árabes (Arab Baths). The graves of Fernando III and Isabel, the Christian conquerors of Granada, in the Capilla Real are worth as look as are the Gypsy caves of Sacromonte, burrowed into a hillside in the north of the city.
Website: Alhambra Palace
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao opened its doors to the public in October 1997. It is one of the most important centres of modern and contemporary art in the world. The outstanding design of the building by Frank O. Gehry makes the Guggenheim in Bilbao one of the most significant constructions of the 20th century. It is a huge futuristic structure and a 10-foot dog made from flowering plants by the American artist Jeff Koons guards the entrance.
Website: The Guggenheim Museum
La Tomatina Festival, Buñol, Valencia
Fancy a visit to the world’s largest food fight? Then the ‘La Tomatina’ festival in Buñol is the place for you. Over 240,000 pounds of tomatoes are hurled by townspeople at each other from 11 am to 1pm on the last Wednesday of August each year. Once the bottle rocket goes off they all have to get together to clean up the mess. The streets are literally flooded with tomato juice, pulp, seeds, and skins. How do you dress? Bring at least one change of clothes! If you get there the night before the fight enjoy the paella night when gigantic pans simmer over wood fires.
Website: The Tomatina Festival
Cordoba and the Mezquita
The city of Cordoba was founded by the Romans. Realising the strategic importance of Cordoba as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, the Romans built a majestic bridge (El Puente Romano) across the river which still exists today. Cordoba was once the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus and is home to the Mezquita – one of the largest and most impressive mosques in the whole of Islam.
When the city was conquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers of the city were so impressed by its magnificence that they left it standing and built their cathedral in the heart of its rows of arches and columns. This resulted in the truly amazing building which is left today. As well as this unique mosque-cathedral, Cordoba’s treasures include the Alcazar, constructed by the Christians in 1328; the Calahorra Fort, built by the Arabs to guard the Roman Bridge and the ancient Jewish Synagogue, now a museum. The medieval quarter – La Judería – was once the home of the Jewish community and is a fascinating labyrinth of twisting, narrow streets, shady flower-filled courtyards and pretty squares.
Website: The Mezquita
The Feria de Abril, Seville
The Feria de Abril is a gigantic festival with flamenco dancing, bullfights and lots of partying. It was originally a cattle market and evolved into a popular festival held annually two weeks after Semana Santa (Easter Week). The festival commences each year with the official lighting of the lanterns when half a million little lights are turned on at once. See the natural beauty of the Sevillian ladies, enhanced by the typical flamenco dresses. The Ferra de Abril is the ideal place to see the real Spain. Enjoy glasses of manzanilla wine (sherry) and sample some delicious tapas -small Andalusian snacks.
The Picos de Europa
The Picos de Europa is a magnificent mountain range situated in northwestern Spain and straddling the regions of Austurias, Cantabria and Castille-Leon. These unique mountains are an easy two hour drive from Santander. Though fairly modest in terms of altitude and extent, the Picos are unique among Europe’s mountains for a number of reasons.
Geologically, they are the largest single mass of mountain limestone in the continent and the only true maritime range Europe possesses. The Picos are a haven for walkers, hikers and climbers. The rugged limestone peaks are home to a significant number of the world’s deep caves and attract potholers from all over the world. The area is rich in both plant and animal life. Red squirrels, wild cats, wild boar, short-toed eagles and buzzards can be seen on occasion and, if you are very lucky, you may see some wolves or bears.
The Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands lie just off the eastern Spanish mainland. They are made up of four main islands – Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Each island has its own distinct personality and charm.Toledo
The city of Toledo was officially granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1987. It is built on a rugged cliff and surrounded on three sides by the Tagus River. It has a lengthy and colourful history. It was captured by the Romans in 193 BC, then by the Visigoths and later by the armies of Islam. The Moorish period lasted from 712 until 1085.
Toledo is dominated by the large 16th century Alcázar fortress which now houses the Army Museum. The 13th century Gothic cathedral contains many works of art including a series of paintings by artists such as El Greco, Goya and Van Dyck. The city is dotted with ancient mosques, synagogues, and churches. Make sure to visit the 16th-century Hospital de Santa Cruz which is now the Provincial Museum of Archaeology and Fine Arts.