When you think of Spain you probably think of a coastline of crowded beaches with rows of deck chairs, flanked behind by rows of hotels, noisy beach-side night clubs, tourists with 'kiss-me-quick' hats, etc.. This is not the real Spain. This is only what the tourist sees along the coastal resorts..
Spain is a large, fascinating, spectacular and diverse country, where the north resembles the greenery you may find anywhere in northern Europe, and the south of the country gives you the dryness of north Africa and often Moroccan style architecture. The Spanish lifestyle reflects these differences. The north being colder and wetter and life is mostly indoors, while in the south, with it's near constant sunshine, life is lived out in the open with less attention given to living accommodation. In contrast to both of these, the high mountains ridges across the north and south of the country are covered with snow for many months of the year, with nearby towns and cities catering for skiing holiday makers.
Spain's long history is reflected in it's prehistoric cave paintings, Moorish palaces, ancient castles, Roman ruins, a large selection of Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals, as well as some very distinctive modern architecture. Many come in the category of 'must see' for the many tourists, and most are well worth the visit.
The Spain we know today was originally created from a number of separate kingdoms. These 'regions' still remain diverse in their language, culture, cuisine and art. They include: Andalucia, Aragon, Asturias, Basque Country, Cantabria, Castilla La Mancha, Castilla Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and Valencia. Some of these regions have their own language (or variation of Spanish) in addition to using the basic Spanish, with Catalonia, Basque, Balearic and the Canary Islands being examples.
Although not always in the news, there are excellent quiet beaches along most of the Spanish long coastline - the quietest ones you have to hunt for, but if you prefer extremely developed resorts, there are plenty of crowded beaches during the height of the tourist season on the well-known Costa's, such as Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, Costa de la Luz and Costa del Sol. These busy beaches have plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can dine and drink, whereas for the quieter beaches you will probably need to take a packed lunch.
Dress wear on beaches varies considerably. The busy beaches will mostly be normal swim wear, others may be topless, and the quieter beaches often having a nudist element. (Incidentally, nudism is permitted anywhere in Spain, providing it is not for sexual reasons).
Unique and historic architecture can be found throughout Spain, and especially in Cordoba, Salamanca, Granada, Toledo and Madrid. For the more modern, the visionary architecture of Antoni Gaudi and the Picasso museum are in Barcelona and Malaga, while Madrid is home to Spain's top three art museums.
If you would rather get some fresh air, Spain is filled with endless opportunities to visit real untamed countryside, through to more organised wildlife parks. If you prefer to see Spain from horseback, the Pyrenees, especially around the Aragon region, is a great place for trekking. At the other extreme, if you prefer more exercise, in the south, Andalucia has its Sierra Nevada mountain chain, with luxurious skiing resorts which is usually busy from November to May.
Between Guadix and Baza (famous horse market) can be found cave-dwellings, cave hotels, and beautiful natural parks. Further north, you can still find unexplored desert sceneries (often used to film cowboy westerns), with hamlets not even found on maps! Don't just stay near the coast. Hire a car, go inland, explore and enjoy.
Spanish people are very open-hearted and communicative. You won't have any problems to get to know someone, especially in the big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. Many will be only too pleased to practice their English.
On the coastal resorts it is very different. Many Spaniards here will speak a smattering of English, especially if they want your business. They are usually friendly and easy going.
In the deep countryside it is still normal to greet people with a wave when you pass, even if you don't know them. At first they will be a bit suspicious of you (a foreigner), but if you can manage a few words in Spanish, you will be a friend for life, and you will be the topic of conversation in the local bar for months.
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