7 Spanish Destinations You've Never Heard Of
With so many destinations becoming overcrowded, and residents taking a backlash against tourism, more and more travellers are looking for alternative destinations to visit, away from the hordes. One destination, which keeps coming up in news of over-tourism, is Spain. While places like Barcelona and the Costa del Sol may be overcrowded, there are still so many destinations in Spain that have yet to be fully ingrained into tourist map. Here are some amazing alternative Spanish destinations to inspire you.
One region of Spain that foreign tourists have yet to discover is Aragon, and its capital of Zaragoza. Sitting approximately half way between Barcelona and Madrid, Zaragoza is easy to reach, but many people simply pass it by. The main thing that attracted me to Zaragoza was the Palacio de Aljafería, one of the best Moorish buildings outside of Andalusia. The inner courtyard is flanked by Moorish arches and intricate Islamic carvings, while the newer part of the palace is still used today by the Aragonese government. Zaragoza is also a great destination for chocoholics like me, as the city is closely associated with the origin of chocolate in Europe, and is filled with historic chocolate shops. The tourist office even sell a ‘Chocopass’, which allowed me to sample sweet treats at some of the oldest stores.
If you’re a fan of grand architecture, then Burgos is sure to delight. The Medieval city is dotted with monasteries, cathedrals, castles and monuments. It’s an attractive destination, filled with grand squares and narrow pedestrianised streets. Enter the old city through an impressive castle-like gateway, the Arco de Santa María, and come face to face with the majestic cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the tomb of warrior knight, El Cid. Pair this with outstanding restaurants and tapas bars, and you’ll soon discover why Burgos gave me a pleasant surprise.
The city of Cuenca lies around 170km south-east of Madrid and sits on a hilltop, clinging to the edge of a dramatic gorge. While the views certainly make this destination, the main draw here are the historic Hanging Houses or Casas Colgadas. Rising like ancient skyscrapers, they were originally built in the 15th century. Perching precariously over the gorge, visitors can even step inside them. Some of the best views can be seen from the San Pablo Bridge.
You may not think that visiting a mining site on holiday would be an enticing destination, but how about an ancient Roman gold mine? Las Médulas lies close the town of Ponferrada, right where Castilla y León meets Galicia. Now protected under UNESCO Heritage Status, the site was once the largest working mine in the Roman Empire. Today it’s left a scarred, yet epic and otherworldly landscape, where red mountains rise from the lush green undergrowth. Besides the views, the thing that struck me the most was that you can still see the marks left by the miners over 2,000 years ago. For more culture and history, do what I did and hop across the border into Galicia, to join the pilgrims walking the last 100 plus kilometres of the Camino de Santiago.
Just 100km west of Malaga and a world away from the Costa del Sol, lies the historic town of Ronda. Sitting on a hilltop, it affords spectacular views down into dramatic gorges and across the verdant green valleys. One of my favourite sights in Ronda is the Puente Nuevo, one of three bridges that spans the 120-metre-deep crevasse down to the Guadalevín River. I’m not a fan of bullfighting, but the Plaza del Toros here is a remarkable sight and well worth a visit. One of the oldest in Spain, it’s also home to a horse school and a bullfighting museum.
Forget Barcelona, Madrid or even the foodie Basque city of San Sebastián, my favourite place for tapas in Spain is Logroño. The capital of Spain’s wine region of La Rioja, Logroño is an attractive little city with an atmospheric Old Town. Head to Calle Laurel, which lies at the heart of the city’s tapas quarter. Here, many of the tapas and pintxos bars specialise in just one dish, which they excel in. There are bars that have standout spider crab, those that specialise in patatas bravas and those making bites from white asparagus. My favourite bars though are Bar Soriano and Bar El Cid, which only serve mushrooms, grilled and dripping garlic butter.
Tossa de Mar
One of my favourite towns, within easy reach of Barcelona, is Tossa de Mar. Situated on the Costa Brava, it’s an attractive town fronted by a crescent of golden sand and backed by rolling green hills. My favourite thing to do here is to climb to the top of the ruins of the old castle, standing high above the town. The French artist Marc Chagall dubbed Tossa de Mar the ‘Blue Paradise’, because of its incredible blue sea. Many other famous people also fell under the town’s spell, including Hollywood actress Ava Gardner.