Autonomous Community Spotlight: País Vasco

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain. 

spain collage

I was fascinated with the Basque Country from my time studying abroad. Our shared bedroom was sparse, but had a detailed map of Spain plastered onto the wall, and I’d usually stare it before taking my siesta. Just north of Castilla y León lay a land where Zs and Xs and Ks seemed to make up all of the towns and cities, and once I began modern culture classes at the Universidad de Valladolid, I realized how different Spain was from region to region.

I jumped at the chance to visit regal San Sebastián and hip Bilbao during a long weekend, traveling five hours north by train. The arid meseta – experiencing a drought that summer – gave way to the lush gardens of Vitoria and rolling hills. I noticed the roofs slanted because of the rain. The words on shops and billboards became illegible. Tapas were served on bread.

Toto, we’re not in Spain anymore.

Name: País Vasco in castellano, Euskadi in Basque and Pays Basque in French

Population: 2.17 million

pais vasco region

Provinces: Three; Álava in the south, Bizkaia on the Bay of Biscay and Guipúzkoa. There are rather three regional capitals cities: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Bilbao and Donostia, though Vitoria is the legislative powerhouse of the comunidad

When: 3rd of 17, June 2005

About Euskadi: Located in the Biscay Bay basin and featuring mountains, plains and beach, Euskadi packs a lot of punch for a small region. Quaint fishing villages sidle up to industrial cities, and the mix of sea-mountains-plains make it an attractive pocket of Spain for outdoor enthusiasts.

Donostia

Anyone who has studied Spanish will know that there are two co-official langauges in Euskadi: Castillian Spanish and Basque. After centuries of repression and intense waves of immigration, the language is making a comeback and cries for independence from Spain are becoming louder.

But I’m ahead of myself.

The Basque people have traits that are untraceable to other ethnic groups, and their language shares no common roots with other European tongues. These indigenous people have long inhabited what is now the Basque region, which makes up the northeast part of Spain and southwest of France (St Jean de Luz and Biarritz are worth day trips!).

Aeriel view san sebastian

Though their exact origin is hotly debated, the Basque are said to come from the Vascon tribes that lived at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. For centuries they were left unattacked by the various groups that passed through the Iberian penninsula until finally falling to Castillian forces in the 16th Century.

After years of linguistic and cultural freedom, the constraints put on the vascos from the Spanish crown were surprisingly minimal until the Carlist Wars of the 19th Century, and Franco’s rise to power after the Spanish Civil War meant that euskera was banned and the region lost all of its self-governing rights in an attempt to homogenize Spain.

Bilbao city center

Two decades later, the Basque Separatist group, Euskadi Ta Astatasuna (ETA) was formed, and over 800 people have been killed in terrorist plots – a friend of my aunt’s father among them. After numerous ceasefires and resurgences, the group announced a definitive end to armed activity in 2011.

In the modern age, Bilbao has drawn the attention of economists for somehow sidestepping the financial crisis, and for a millennia old people, vascos are rather forward-thinking. 

Must sees: Euskadi’s three major towns are definite visits: San Sabastián/Donostia’s quaint old quarter boasts more pintxos bars than residents and its Bahía de la Concha is one of Spain’s most photographed beaches (and that’s not to mention the surfing or its world-famous film festival); Bilbao/Bilbo is home to the Guggenheim and a prosperous industrial city; Vitoria-Gasteiz is famous for its parks and gardens and is the administrative capital of the autonomous community.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Further afield lie charming fishing villages and hamlets like Lekeitio or Hondarribia, the jaw-dropping hike to San Juan de Guazalugatxe and Guernika, a city made famous for its role in Nazi bombings and immortalized in a Picasso painting of the same name.

Gastronomy is also a top draw to the region, with four of the top 20 restaurants in the world found here. Pintxos – small, generally seafood-based tapas served atop bread – are the north’s equivalent of tapas. Revelers take part in bar crawls called txikiteo, often imbibing in a sparkling white wine called txacoli or Alavese wines, which form part of the D.O. La Rioja.

Culturally speaking, Basque have their own traditions of Santa Claus, throw enormous parties and have long traditions of Basque strength sports. Local lore pervades daily life and, like Navarra, it’s a place where cultural roots have held firm throughout centuries.

bad weather in spain

Finally, a note on the weather: it’s not very reliable, particularly in Bilbao and San Sebastián.

My take: There was some truth to my initial observations of Euskadi, but as someone who was clueless about Spanish history and hadn’t even been to Madrid, were largely wrong. I traveled north a few years later with a friend, far more interested in what the region had to offer and more acutely aware of the differences between the Basques and the rest of Spain – and in far more than just language.

Andalucía and País Vasco couldn’t be more different, as evidenced in the hugely popular film Ocho Apellidos Vascos, in which a sevillano de pura cepa falls for a vasca on her bachelorette weekend in Sevilla. Rafa is as sevillano as they get, and follows Amaia up to her small town hidden deep within Euskadi, trying to win her – and her father’s – heart.

basque architecture

The film is a bit over the top, of course, but highlights how regionalism is still a big thing in Spain, and no one embraces it like the vascos. The main cities just feel like they’re not as Spanish as Madrid or Seville or Salamanca. Its citizens have darker features and seem to carry themselves differently. Food is a big deal, as is surfing, Athletic and txacoli from what I’ve gathered.

Suffice to say, I’m keen to travel back to País Vasco as soon as possible.

Have you ever been to País Vasco? What do you like (or not) about it? Check out the blogs Christine in Spain, a Thing With Wor(l)ds and Como Perderse en España for excellent insight into life in the region!

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia | La Rioja | Madrid | Murcia | Navarra

How to NOT Plan a Trip to Riotinto, Huelva

Julián was good at exaggerating and making up words. “My town, it is the most fantastical of all the towns of Huelva, simply the bestest.”

Julián and I parted ways long ago, but his stake that Minas de Ríotinto was the most fantastically bestest towns in Spain didn’t fall on silent ears. With a claim like that, I had to make a visit.

So off I set towards Ríotinto on a particularly warm November afternoon after meeting my friend halfway along the Doñana Trail. Windows down and Guns & Roses blasting, I drove north into the Sierra de Huelva via Bollullos. All signs – the brown roadside signs, that is – pointed me in the right direction.

But I never made it. Just as roundabout sculptures went from stone monoliths to oxidized mining equipment, my GPS told me to make a 180 degree turn around a roundabout and head back to where I’d come from. Sixty minutes later, I was back in Bollullos, seeing just a trickle of the red river.

Minas de Riotinto, Huelva

Turns out that Google Maps categorized Ríotinto as both a village and protected natural area. So, really I ended up where I had intended to go, but learned a lesson: Don’t rely on Google Maps when there are directions on the website.

Resolute to visit another day, it took me until May to find a weekend to print out directions and go. I grabbed Kelly and my sunscreen and decided to enter via Castillo de las Guardas in the north rather than risk a faulty GPS and lack of roadsigns (and to avoid the beach-going crowd on the A-49).

As soon as we’d turned onto the N-476, we scoured the twisty highway for the next sign of civilization. Though the hills have been excavated for copper, silver and gold for more than five millennia, the whole region is sparsely populated. As soon as I saw a sizable town, we ignored signs and I pulled off. Instinctively, we found the church and assumed the tourism office would be there. Our GPS said we were in the neighboring town of Nerva.

Nerva Huelva

Lesson learned: do rely on Google Maps when you know you’ve punched in the correct destination.

Around 2pm we arrived in the actual town of Minas de Ríotinto, a town whose number swelled when the Spanish government reopened the mines in the early 18th Century. Kelly asked me what there was to do, and I had to admit that I’d only looked for a place to eat and had paid little attention to the attractions.

Like many websites in Spain, I found the Foundation’s website poorly put together and confusing – both in English and Spanish. So, I decided to just show up. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have ignored the website or simply have made a phone call.

Rio Tinto Mine Tour

After the mines reopened in 1724 and later came under the control of a multinational company called Río Tinto, Limited. Hundreds of Brits flocked to the busy mines for work in the 1870s, bringing with them their language, food culture, Victorian decoration and even football – el Recreativo de Huelva, a second division team, is descended from the club formed at Ríotinto.

The company grew to be the largest mining company worldwide, though their exploitation of the mines in heir namesake town had all but finished by 1925. The mines ceased exploitation in 2001.

We arrived at the Visitor’s Center, housed in the old mining hospital and current mining museum, around 1:50pm. We were surprised to find it still open when most people would be having a leisurely lunch. The museum monitor told me that there were four big ticket options in town: the museum, a replica of a Victorian House, a visit to one of the mines with a guide and a touristic train ride, but that we’d arrived too late in the day to do it all. Don’t arrive midday and expect to be able to see all of the attractions – you’re better off starting early, breaking in the middle of the day for lunch and taking the train for the grand finale.

Mining Museum Spain

Kelly and I, as Chicago natives, have likely visited the Museum of Science and Industry and its mining exhibit a dozen times each, but we knew next to nothing about mining or the history of Ríotinto. The museum was a definite, but we had to choose between the mines and the touristic train. I was about to flip a coin when the monitor stopped us. “Don’t skip the train ride,” he told us. “The visit to the mines is interesting but not as esteemed as riding an old steam train.”

Steam Locomotives Huelva

Museo Minero en Riotinto Huelva

Signs all around the museum prohibited photography and videography, but having entered the museum so late we had missed the last guided tour – this meant we didn’t have to elbow past a group. They all stood baffled as they attempted to take photos on their mobile phones. If the guide wasn’t ruffled that they were deliberately breaking the rules, I certainly wasn’t going to clandestinely take out-of-focus photos on my cell. Ignore the posters.

The museum was small but traces mining activity in the area from the Roman times – complete with an underground replica of a mine – to modern day. Three trains take up residence in the old hospital alongside cancelled train tickets, RTC Ltd.-issued uniforms and excavated gemstones.

Promptly at 3pm, we were ushered out. I had seen that one of the town’s five restaurants was renown for their English take on Spanish dishes. At La Epoca, you can’t miss the menú turístico, a three-course meal served every day of the week for 9,50€. When the Riotinto Company took over the mines, they brought their traditional dishes and savory sauces: I chose an omelette of locally grown vegetables and pollo al riotinto, a battered and fried chicken breast in coronation sauce.

Restaurante La Epoca Riotinto

The scheduled departure time for the touristic train was 5pm, but don’t worry too much about being on time for the train. We left at 5:17, seated aboard train cars once used to transport passengers between the various excavation sites. The mines employed 3,000 laborers in their heyday, and the train line that joined the mines and the province capital of Huelva was traversed by more than 1,300 transport cars, used to move both men and might.

The 12 kilometer journey was slow to start, taking in the alien-like landscapes that reminded me of Teide. Definitely don’t forget your camera because the trip is scenic, if not eery with hollowed out mine cars, abandoned equipment and tracks that lead to nowhere.

Touristic Train of Riotinto Huelva

Touristic Train Minas de Riotinto

rio tinto railway

El Río Tinto is so-called for its crimson color – it literally looks like red wine – and believed to have a chemical component that is heavy in metals and iron. While no animal or fish life can be traced, bacteria thrives. In fact, NASA studied the chemistry of the water and concluded that Río Tinto is the place on Earth that most resembles samples taken from Mars.

visit to Riotinto

Landscapes of Rio Tinto Huelva

Spain's Red River Río Tinto

El Madroño and the Mines

Red River in Spain

Rio Tinto and its Color

Don’t be afraid to touch the water or bottle some up as a souvenir – though the water will stain your clothes, it won’t do any harm to your skin. And if you do get off the train, don’t expect to call samesies on your seat – all of the Spanish abuelos will have changed spots, looking bored and fanning themselves before the train pulls away.

After so many years of living in Seville, I’d seemingly done all of the day trips. The mines and museums of Riotinto stayed off my list for years, so if you have a car and a free day, don’t miss it.

If you go: Minas de Riotinto is located 90 kilometers from Sevilla. The museum, Victorian House, mine visit and touristic train are open daily except for New Year’s, the Epiphany and Christmas Day. Plan to spend a day and around 20€ for the whole visit. Follow my advice and check the website for opening times. 

Logo TNS-01

I visited Ríotinto as part of the Typical NonSpanish Project, meant to show a different side of Spain and power by Caser Expat. All opinions, text and photo are my own.

 

Have you ever been to Ríotinto or had an unplanned day turn out to be awesome?

Autonomous Community Spotlight: Navarra

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

spain collage

Navarre, to me, has always been a funny place – it’s wedged between the Basque country, France and the ancient kingdom of Aragón (plus La Rioja), making it a hotbed when it comes to political upheaval and culture.

Even if you can’t place it on a Spanish map, if you grew up in the USA and took literature class, you’d know it’s famous hijo adoptivo, Ernest Hemingway, who put Pamplona and the San Fermines festivals on the map.

Name: The Kingdom of Navarre, or Navarra in Spanish

Population: 647,000, with over a third in the capital city of Pamplona

Navarra Spain

Provinces: Just one, with the administrative capital in Pamplona.

When: 9th of 17, March 2008

About Navarra: Navarra has a strange mix of Visigoth, Basque, French and Mediterranean heritage and has been populated since before Roman times by the Vascones, a precursor to the Basque peoples. And throughout the jockeying between kingdoms, the navarros remained fiercely independent – even today, their tax system is kept local instead of being relegated to the central government, a responsibility that few autonomías have.

The name of Navarre has two widely-believed hypotheses: either nabar, a Basque word meaning ‘brown’ or ‘ruddish,’ and, more commonly, nava, which refers to the wide plain. Regardless, the linguistic heritage hints at the region’s origins.

pamplona houses

It’s a doozy, so I’m going to sum it up quickly:

Before the Navarrese kingdom was established in 934, Navarra was: Vascon, then conquered by Charlemagne, Basque, then Moorish, followed by a stint under the Franks. Rebel leaders then took control, but the Basques defeated them and ruled for 80 years. Borders changed frequently, and Pamplona and Navarre were considered to be two different entities for decades.

In 934, Sancho II declared himself King of Navarra, and under the successive king, the region grew prosperous, thanks to the fertile plains and trade routes. Sancho III, long considered one of Spain’s great rulers, expanded his kingdom before his death, upon which he left great claims of land to his four sons. This would alter the course of the kingdom – of both Navarre and Spain – over time.

But not without a fight – the kingdom jockeyed once more between French dynasties because of marriages and treaties. It didn’t give into pressure from Castilla to join the Inquisition but its greatest cities fell in the Battles of Chambrai to the strong Spanish crown. Nowadays, Spain’s coat of arms bears the navarro flag.

Pamplona scenes

The region remained mostly independent, prospering under individual fueros, or power holds governed by local law. But with the Spanish Constitution of 1812, all fueros lost power, eventually leading to the Carlist wars of the 19th century (and possible origin of the word guiri!) – and its eventual inclusion under the Spanish crown. 

Must sees: Navarra boasts its own wine region, lies along the French route of the Camino de Santiago and is home to one of Spain’s most globally known festivals. The Holy Trinity of navarro tourism is rural tourism, the region’s history and the Running of the Bulls. 

Rural and outdoor tourism is an important crux of local employment and income, and the so-named “Land of Diversity” offers mountains, a deep river basin and plenty of outdoor activities, like hiking and rafting, and nearly a dozen national parks and forests. This means that local meats and cheeses are also exquisite! The Camino de Santiago also passes through the Pyrenees on the Spanish side, Pamplona and several small towns before crossing into La Rioja.

Navarra was truly a sought land, thanks to its strategic position and fertile valley. As evident above, cultures clashed and left their mark on this region. Apart from Pamplona, check out the Frankish castle of Olite, the medieval stone towns like Roncesvalles, and monasteries dotting the little-used highways.

RUNNERS LEAD FIGHTING BULLS AROUND ESTAFETAS BEND DURING RUNNING OF THE BULLS IN PAMPLONA

The Running of the Bulls, or Sanfermines festival, is undoubtedly the most famous Spanish festival, characterized by terrifying races, bullfights and parades. After the chupinazo rocket has been sent into the sky, signaling the start of the party, revelers have a week dedicated to the province’s patron saint, said to have been killed and dragged thru the streets, with angry bulls charing after him.

Nowadays, Navarra retains its linguistic and cultural heritage thanks to deep-rooted values. It almost seems a little behind the times, in the best sense of the word.

My take: We only spent a day in Navarra, visiting Pamplona on a cold March day when we were staying in San Sebastián. I was impressed with the tenacity of the people we met, at the rural landscapes ranging from mountains to lush valleys and the small but quaint old city. There is even a small animal park tucked into an old city fortress, so I was won over immediately.

Like nearly the all places in Span I’ve visited, I’d like to go back!

Have you ever been to Navarra? What do you like (or not) about it?

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia | La Rioja | Madrid | Murcia

My Top Tips To Stay on a Budget While Traveling

It’s officially summer when I’ve had my first granizada, a lemon slushie synonymous with the sweltering season. Summer means freedom from work, from alarm clocks and from all of those ‘adult’ things for two blissful months. And, if I’m lucky and have applied for unemployment, a trip!

Saving Money in Europe

Many ask me for tips on staying on budget when traveling around Spain and further afield, which I’ve rounded up into seven quick travel tips:

Timing is Important

Even if you are visiting a swanky destination, you can stay on a budget if you time it right. You should visit your preferred destination after high season times if you want to save while you travel. Prices skyrocket in Spain in July and especially August, so if you can, travel outside of these periods, particularly if you’re headed to the coast.

Plan your meals

If you know that the restaurant around the corner is expensive and the food served isn’t really good, you should look for options and save money. For this, it is important to do some research and find some economical restaurants that taste great, too! Search blogs, Trip Advisor and newspapers for the skinny on where to chow down (or, check out my section on Food in Seville).

wine on the table in spain

Another alternative is to cook while on vacation. Spain is truly Europe’s fruit basket, and shopping locally and spending an evening in cooking with a glass of wine could mean more money for an experience or day trip.      

Rentals

It is important to be specific with car rentals and look for car rental coverage. Take advantage of insurance and credit cards that have car rental coverage. Here in Europe, the size of the car even matters. Choose the smallest car possible because it will help you save money when refilling gas, and note that automatic cars are generally pricier.

If you are traveling around with kids, you might think of bringing the car cheap and adding it to your luggage. However, it is advisable to ask the car rental company about their rental prices for the same and compare them. Choose an alternative that is cheaper. Remember, if you are adding it to your luggage, you might have to bear the charges for extra luggage.

Transportation

Rail, metros, and subway are often the best alternative because it is quite cheap, especially if you are traveling to Europe. However, it is better to choose a slower mode of transport if flying is too short. This gives you an advantage of sleeping while traveling, too.

Learning in India - Riding the Train

Even while moving around, it is better to avoid taxis and use public transport instead. For travel between cities, consider Bla Bla Car, a car sharing program in Western Europe that will automatically calculate your fuel charge.  

Currency

Watch out for the exchange rate and keep checking it regularly. Avoid exchanging dollars from such exchange centers, and instead exchange money at home to have cash at hand, or take from an ATM. Most big banks will have a partner in Europe from which you can withdraw at no charge. If they don’t, take larger amounts to cut down on silly charges.

The dollar is quite strong against the euro, so now really is the time to travel to Europe!

Mark the tourist spots

If you know where and when are you planning to travel, you will spend less time wandering around. This will help you save time and money on touristic sites, transportation and maybe even a pair of walking shoes!

bring a map on a trip

Always make the local tourism office you first stop for free maps and discount codes. Many museums in Spain have free days or afternoons that you can take advantage of, thus significantly reducing your spending.

Plan in advance

Air tickets and hotel bookings should be done in advance when possible. There are a number of sites that offer exclusive packages that can help you get the best prices on your bookings. Expedia is one of the best options available for you, and you can even use discount coupons for Expedia.

Note: If you are booking your tickets in advance, check your airline’s site regularly for updates or set up a price tracker.

madrid street signs

Budget travel is possible in Europe, even in the peak summer months. Your main ammunition is research, planning, and price comparison! Spend those American dollars here in Spain, please!

If you wish to contribute with a tip or two, please post them in the comments!

Spain Snapshots: the Monastery of Yuste in Extremadura

When I announced that I’d won a writing contest and had a free weekend’s stay in a luxury apartment in Trujillo, the Novio had one condition: that we could also explore the Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste, the place where Holy Roman Emperor Charles V went to die.

Ya sabes,” he said, not looking away from the TV, “that’s my plan, too.” To die in the countryside, that is, away from civilization with nothing more than warm air and mountains in front of him – NOT in Yuste.

Visiting the Monasterio de Yuste

For a history nerd like my boyfriend, the monastery where one of Spain’s most important rulers spent his final years was a must-see on our pilgrimage through the extremeño countryside. We’d been wowed at the Guadalupe Monastery after being lost for several hours, and I was enchanted by Trujillo’s medieval streets (and its stinky torta del casar cheese), but Yuste was not as thrilling as we expected.

I mean, the place has a ton of history: built in the 15th Century by Hieronymite monks and nestled between almond trees and rocky mountain peaks, the monastery has both renaissance and gothic architecture, quiet patios and allegories in classical literature.

inner courtyards of yuste

Yuste Extremadura

In fact, it was here that the Holy Roman Emperor chose to retire after abdicating the throne to Philip II (my favorite royal Spanish personality, thanks mostly to his silly hat and stockings), seeking peace and prayer in his final days. Ceded to the Spanish government after the Civil War, it was restored in the 1950s.

As the monarch that spearheaded Spain’s globalization of language, religion and culture, Yuste would be a must-visit for anyone who loves Spanish history.

Right from the beginning, I felt corralled as guides asked my to move along from the ticket counter (and, ouch, 9€!) through a small gift shop and to the first interior patio, which stood on the northern side of the chapel. As I snapped pictures, a blue-clad security guard cleared his throat behind me and motioned for me to move into the sanctuary.

gardens yuste

monastery at yuste

If Carlos V was looking for peace and quiet, he certainly wouldn’t have found it in the modern day monastery, and I couldn’t help feeling cramped during our brief visit. 

Perhaps the most interesting part were the royal apartments, built just a few years before Carlos V’s death so that the Emperor would have a view to the altar and feel the fresh afternoon breezes blow through. The torture device-looking chair that he was carried in on his final journey was also placed in the corner of the room facing expansive gardens to the south.

It was hard to imagine the tranquility he felt with so many families around chattering, so we beelined out of the bare rooms and into the warm March sunshine.

Carlos V apartments yuste

yuste monastery extremadura

The Novio, even more disappointed that it took us twice as long to get to Cuacos de Yuste and the monastery as it did to tour it, had one suggestion: let’s find the nearest town and the nearest bar, and enjoy the almond blossoms on a terrace.

If you go: The Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste is located in the village of Cuacos de Yuste in northern Extremadura, making it accessible from Cáceres and Madrid. The site is open every day but Mondays from 10am, and tickets cost a whopping 9€. For more information, check the Patrimonio Nacional’s website. Carlos V has been resting besides his son in San Lorenzo de El Escorial for centuries, and that monastery is definitely worth a visit.

Want more Extremadura? Trujillo Villas | Guadalupe | Garganta de la Olla

Prefer to read about places I’m iffy about? Barcelona | Setenil de las Bodegas | Luarca

Have you ever visited a historical site in Spain? Or a place that fell short of expectations?

Málaga: Spain’s Sleeping Giant of Tourism

There’s a lot of buzz around Málaga these days. With a newly christened port, a thriving arts scene and enough Spanish charm to bring native son Antonio Banderas back yearly, my neighbor city to the southeast is being touted as one of Spain’s up-and-coming tourist destinations.

Why Visit Malaga

As one of the most interesting destinations in southern Spain and a true Mediterranean getaway, Málaga deserves mention among Spain’s best spots for international travelers. It’s not a bursting metropolis like Madrid or a renowned party spot like Barcelona—but it’s full of the kind of visual delights and general comforts that make the south of Spain a desirable location in the first place. 

Perhaps the best thing about Málaga is that it’s situated closer to the sea than most might guess given that it’s a fairly large city. There are actually Mediterranean beaches within the city limits, though most tourists seeking beautiful coastline will likely opt to venture 15 or 20 miles beyond Málaga to some of the truly amazing beaches of Costa del Sol. Visit Costa Del Sol has a comprehensive guide to the beaches of the entire southern Spanish coastline, including options like La Malagueta, La Caleta, and San Andreas—all within very reasonable driving distance of the capital of the Costa. 

It’s also worth noting that Málaga is particularly accessible as Mediterranean cities go. The drive from Madrid only takes about five hours (and from Seville, just over two!), and coastal highways make it easy to reach Málaga from just about any Spanish city near the water—or from Portugal, for that matter.

archidona malaga pueblo

The city is also large enough to merit an international airport and sometimes attracts very favorable travel deals from outside of Spain. British Airways is currently listing flights to Málaga from the London area for less than £50 each way, perhaps capitalizing on the likely rush of students to travel following exams. And as the airline’s same page on Málaga travel notes, getting around is also easy once you’re in the city—a rental car gives you access to all of the beautiful surrounding areas and beaches with ease – as well as mountain towns and activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

But so far we’ve only covered Málaga’s surrounding beaches and how easy it can be to get there. The actually city itself is also filled with interesting perks for tourists. It’s one of the most fascinating visual and architectural areas in the whole country, thanks to its links to Moorish, medieval, and Roman culture. The Alcazaba palatial fortress is absolutely a must-visit attraction, and the Roman theater at city-center is also pretty fascinating. Really, Malaga is an interesting city to just look at, which might be one reason that there are multiple hiking trails in the hills and areas surrounding the city. 

a cooking day food collage
And finally, there’s the food! I’ve written about a day of culinary preparation in Malaga, and while that was a great experience, it only touches on the vibrant culinary culture that has sprung up in the city, revolving around all the traditional elements of Spanish cuisine: tapas, fresh fish, olives, citrus fruits and of course, fine Spanish wine!

Sardine month is approaching and I can’t get enough sweet vino de pasas, so between defying death on the Caminito del Rey and the beckon of the beach, I may be finding myself close to home, savoring the city’s renewed experiences for a traveler.

Have you ever been to Málaga? What do you like or recommend visiting in the capital of the Costa del Sol?

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