The subject of El Greco and Ernest Hemingway, Spain holds a certain mystique for those who suffer chronic wanderlust. To appreciate what this country has to offer, you have to be willing to take the “road less traveled.” This means foregoing the more obvious points on the map.
If you are a traveler with a refined sense of adventure, the Spanish destinations listed here are places you must see in your lifetime. (For a list of “must-see” world destinations, read this article.)
1. Seeking Sanctuary in Covadonga, Asturias
Photo 1: Built into the mountainside, the Holy Cave houses the tomb of King Pelayo and the Virgin of Covadonga. The original chapel, burned down with all of its contents in the 16th century. A year after its destruction, a marble chapel was donated by a local cathedral. Access to the chapel is available by taking stairs up the mountain.
Located in the Pico de Europa mountains in the northwest of Spain, the sanctuary of Covadonga stands out against the mountains, with its Basilica of Santa Maria la Real de Covadonga being visible before you reach the sanctuary proper. It commemorates the great battle of Covadonga, in which Asturian leader Pelayo won a victory that began the reconquest of Spain from the Moors from North Africa.
Offering a variety of sights for the eager explorer, Covadonga provides breathtaking landscapes, access to the Pico de Europa mountains and its lakes, an awe-inspiring basilica, and a mythical grotto. What makes this destination truly original is the majestic beauty of the Holy Cave that appears suspended within the mountainside and houses the Virgin of Covadonga as well as Pelayo’s tomb.
2. Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Toledo
Photo 2: Toledo has served as the logistical, cultural, and political center for various rulers and regimes throughout its existence. Two millennia of history and monuments reside within its city walls. Ironically, when the capital moved permanently to Madrid, the ultimate result was the preservation of many of the city’s cultural and architectural elements. Today, the city is a reflection of the artistic excellence that can occur when heterogeneous cultures find ways to coexist.
Bearing the same name for both its municipality and its province, Toledo is a city with unique history and cultural influences. Known as the “City of Three Cultures,” this World Heritage site was once a branch of the Roman Empire, the capital to the Spanish Visigoths, and later the Moors. It was a place of harmonious coexistence of between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. It was also the main court of Spanish Royalty. The site was besieged by the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. With such a rich tradition built into every inch of this city, it is more like visiting an open-air museum than a destination.
If you plan to drive in Toledo, be careful. Centuries before the modern invention of automobiles, the labyrinthine streets where not built for cars. The streets are absurdly narrow in many places. You might want to check into some auto insurance quotes before getting behind the wheel, just to be on the safe side.
3. Life’s Literally a Beach in Fuertaventura, Las Palmas
Photo 3: Roughly translated to mean “strong winds,” Fuertaventura is the second largest of the Canary Islands. Home to over 150 beaches, either fine, white sands or black volcanic shingle are present on its coastline. Fans of windsurfing and kite surfing flock to this location due to windy locale. Similar to the climate in Florida, this destination enjoys year-round warm temperatures and many hours of sunshine.
With over 93 miles of some of the most impressive coastline in Europe, you are sure to find the perfect beach to suits your tastes. However, if you preference is for f fine, white sand beaches, and pristine waters, look no further than La Concha and El Cotillo. Having earned World Biosphere Reserve status in 2009, this island’s tradition of high winds and long hours of sunshine are known to attract both kitesurfing and windsurfing enthusiasts. Seasonal summer Trade Winds make Fuerteventura one of the world’s best windsurfing destinations. Annually, the island hosts World Championship events on the south side of the island.
Final Note on Road Trips in Spain
If you plan to travel by car in Spain for large stretches of time, save yourself some Euros by using the autovias (labeled on road signs with a capital “A”) that are free, as opposed to the autopistas (labeled on road signs with the capitals “AP”), which are toll roads. Remember to take time to enjoy the scenery and surrounding towns. Because the roads are very old, they wind through mountains and in between shade and light at certain times of day. Make sure to wear protective eyewear to avoid solar glare on these beautiful and sometimes treacherous roads.
Featured photo credit: Toledo, Spain/williamwheatley via flic.kr