Spirited Spain

Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2014

For city lovers, Spain tours offers plenty of choices, but the best place to start is in the country’s capital, Madrid. The city is an art lover’s dream with some of the most highly regarded museums in the world. The Prado has the world’s foremost collection of original Spanish paintings while the Thyssen Bornemisza’s 13th century to late 20th century European works include outstanding pieces from the Old Masters and Impressionists. And the Reina Sofía’s modern art collection ranges from Cubism to Abstract and beyond. After your visit to the museums, Madrid’s location makes it a perfect gateway to smaller cities like Toledo, Segovia, Avila and Cuenca.

Barcelona also has a fascinating artistic heritage. The city was home to many famous artists like Dalí, Gaudí, Miró and, for a time, Picasso. But where Barcelona really shines is its architecture and history, with Roman ruins, a medieval Gothic Quarter and some of the world’s most beautiful Modernist buildings. Around all these beautiful structures, Barcelona’s streets teem with energy. Take a moment to stroll down the famous Ramblas, bustling with street entertainers, mimes and flower sellers. The vibrant Catalonian capital also offers fabulous dining from Michelin-rated restaurants to the plethora of food stalls at La Boquería, the historic food market in operation since 1836.

Thanks to native son Santiago Calatrava’s futuristic $2.8 billion City of Arts & Sciences, Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia, has blossomed into a fashionable new destination. Calatrava’s fascinating complex includes a science museum, planetarium, aquarium and performing arts center and has permanently put this charming Mediterranean port city on the tourist map.

If country life is more your speed, Spain has many options. Regions like Extremadura and Castile-La Mancha are dotted with picturesque villages. For science buffs, Asturias features fascinating Jurassic-era archaeological sites. And regions like Rioja and Navarre are filling up with trendy new wineries offering tastes of local vintages.

If history is your thing, Andalusia will astound you. The area has been called the “soul” of Spain because of its rich mix of religious heritage – Christian, Moorish and Jewish – that has played a monumental role in making Spain the country it is today. Andalusia’s man-made beauty is best represented in the sampling of religious architecture found in the region. Cordoba’s Mezquita Mosque is as ornate as it is enormous. Granada’s Moorish palace, Alhambra, is a formidable fortress looming over the city that is softened and beautified by the Generalife gardens that surround it. And the Moorish fortress Alcázar in Seville, a World Heritage Site, has been guarding the city since the 14th century. Architecture isn’t the only area in which Andalusia has blazed trails in its history, however. It is also the birthplace of two iconic Spanish favorites – flamenco and tapas – and the region’s cities and towns offer many delightful places to enjoy both.

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