* Easy to get to, but takes a bit more effort.
** Perhaps a bit out of your way, but worth it.
*** Strap up your boots. But MUCH easier than Nepal or the Machu Picchu Trail.
**** Not necessarily easy, but places like this are where dinner party stories are created.
The Vibe – Mountainous area of tiny stone villages reminiscent of North Africa.
Where – Sandwiched between Granada and the Mediterranean.
Why Go – Everyone thinks the Moors left Spain in 1492 after the fall of Granada. In fact, they ran a small kingdom up in these mountains for another 100 years.
For – Casual hikers, romantics, lovers of historical footnotes.
Insider’s Tip – An old-fashioned handloom in one village creates high-quality products from local wool.
*** Aragon and Cinco Villas
The Vibe – Full-on fairytale grandeur.
Where – Central Spain, a three-hour drive from Barcelona, Madrid, or San Sebastian.
Why Go – To marvel at perfectly intact medieval villages and castles.
For – Your inner marquis or countess.
Insider’s Tip – Sos del Rey Catolico (the town where King Ferdinand was born) is our favorite.
*** Asturias and Picos de Europa
The Vibe – Idyllic, untouched, mountain scenery.
Where – Northwestern Spain, between Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela.
Why Go – Landscape, raw beaches, and of course, the food (in particular Spanish bean stew, known as fabada, and arroz con leche, or rice pudding). Culturally, this area is very different from other parts of Spain and has its own language (Bable).
For – Hikers and outdoors enthusiasts.
Insider’s Tip – The sacred cave of Covadonga occupies an important place in the Spanish psyche because it was the site of the first battle in the Catholic Reconquest of Spain was fought against the Moors. It took the Spaniards almost eight centuries, but they won.
The Vibe – Remote, oft-overlooked, slightly rugged region, ripe for exploration.
Where – Southwest Spain, a three-hour drive from Madrid or Seville.
Why Go – The well-preserved town of Caceres, the longest existing Roman bridge in the world (it’s a half-mile long), or the cherry-blossoms (in spring).
For – The intrepid. This is the land of the Conquistadores, after all!
Insider’s Tip – If you love architecture – ancient or modern – don’t miss Rafael Moneo’s stunning Roman ruins museum in Merida.
The Vibe – Serious Celtic roots – just ask the kilted bagpipers.
Where – The northwest corner of Spain, surrounding Santiago de Compostela and the final stretch of the Camino.
Why Go – Breathtaking coastline, crisp Albarino wines, and great seafood, especially scallops.
For – Daredevils who can’t resist names like the shipwreck-strewn Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) and Finisterre (End of the Earth).
Insider’s Tip – The town of La Coruna is stunning. And a boat trip on the saline estuary of Ria de Arousa is a great way to explore the most productive fishing area of Europe.
The Vibe – The traditions and energy of Spain’s oldest university (founded 1218).
Where – A three-hour drive west of Madrid and en route to Portugal.
Why Go – For gorgeous honey-colored Renaissance architecture centered around one of Spain’s most beautiful Plaza Mayors. Plus, the best jamon, chorizo and salchichon (summer sausage) in Spain.
For – The young at heart. And the hungry.
Insider’s Tip – Go at graduation time (book early) to experience Salamanca at its rowdy best.
** Santillana del Mar
The Vibe – A gorgeous little town with cobblestoned streets.
Where – Northern Spain, an hour and a half west of Bilbao. Despite its deceptive name, it’s inland.
Why Go – It’s adorable, frankly, and there are pretty and drivable areas all around it.
For – Those who just can’t resist the pull of a town so cute that it was actually declared one of the most beautiful towns in Spain.
Insider’s Tip – A favorite Spanish saying of ours goes, “Santillana del Mar is the town of three lies: It is not a saint (santo), it is not flat (llana), and it is not by the sea (mar).”
** Ubeda and Baeza
The Vibe – Two stunning towns chock full of Renaissance architecture and quaint cafes.
Why Go – Two hours north of Granada and an hour and a half east of Cordoba.
Why Go – For the palaces, streets, and squares of two very pretty and highly walkable cities.
For – The inner romantic looking for a town too pretty for words.
Insider’s Tip – Visit the castles at Sabiote (northeast of Ubeda) and Canena (northwest of Baeza).
The Vibe – Town is not our favorite. There is only one reason to go – the astonishing Palacio de la Aljaferia.
Where – On the main AVE (high speed train) line between Madrid and Barcelona.
Why Go – After the Alhambra and the Mezquita, the Palacio de la Aljaferia is the greatest Moorish monument in Europe.
For – People who seek a little jewel of the Alhambra without the crowds of Granada.
Insider’s Tip – Stop here on your way from Madrid to Barcelona. See the cathedral and the Aljaferia, then leave town.