The World Ecomonic Forum’s biennial Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report was published this month and Spain – once again – topped the charts. All things considered, it’s simply the greatest holiday destination on the planet. Here’s why:
1. The sun, sun and sun
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, if indeed at all, as the country is statistically Europe’s sunniest. The coastal resorts of the Mediterranean enjoy, on average, more than 300 days of sunshine each year – well into the autumn and winter months.
2. Its enviable cities
Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Malaga. Too many of the world’s must-visit cities are found in Spain, from the cultural majesty of the capital, Madrid, to the trendy, proudly-Catalonian air of Barcelona, visitors plotting a trip are spoilt for choice.
3. And what the Moors left behind
Not to forget, Granada, where the Alhambra is found. “The beauty of this Moorish palace and gardens, named in Arabic for its reddish walls, truly does have to be seen to be believed; set high on a hill with views over the city of Granada,” writes Telegraph Travel’s Rachel Cranshaw. “It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions – book your tickets for first thing in the morning (and arrive in plenty of time) to minimise crowds, queues and sun in high summer.”
The city is also home to the birthplace of – and a museum dedicated to – Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, executed by nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War.
4. The cultural giants
While on the topic of Spain’s notable artistic exports, visitors will grace the same shores of surrealist Salvador Dali (the Teatro Museo Dali in his hometown of Figueres is a must), architect Antoni Gaudi (Barcelona is home to the unfinished cathedral, Sagrada Familia, as well as a number of other projects) and painter Pablo Picasso (his birthplace of Malaga has a museum home to some 300 works).
5. The best beaches in Europe
“With more than 5,000 miles of coastline, Spain has thousands of beaches, from tiny rocky coves to long strips of golden sand,” writes Telegraph Travel’s Spain expert Annie Bennett. “Blue Flag status was awarded to more than 577 beaches around the country and the islands last year, guaranteeing not only water quality but also, in most cases, access for people with disabilities. That number means Spain tops the global ranking, handing the country the accolade of best beaches on earth. Galicia has the most Blue Flags, with 131 awarded to its spectacular Atlantic beaches.”
6. It has lesser-known treats – like La Coruna
“Lurking in the north-west corner of Spain, this Galician port (turismocoruna.com) soothes its scuffed, salty soul on a pair of glorious urban beaches – Playa del Orzan and Playa de Riazor. Its cramped medieval lanes are abuzz with tapas bars, its Museo de Belas Artes (museobelasartescoruna.xunta.es) is an underrated nugget of visual wonder which boasts sketches by Spanish romantic Goya.”
7. And the forgotten Basque gem of Vitoria-Gasteiz
“From early evening until midnight, the atmosphere around the central plazas of Vitoria-Gasteiz and their bar-crammed side streets is as convivial as any I’ve encountered,” says Tim Pozzi. “It’s that familiar Mediterranean thing of people strolling, gossiping, waving wine glasses about, while seniors play cards and kids muck about on the steps of venerable churches” The northern Spanish city also boasts 15th and 16th-century palace and gorgeous, narrow-fronted belle époque houses to admire, pintxos to devour, and art galleries and museums to explore, while its pièce de resistance is the 13th-century cathedral of Santa María.
8. To see one of the world’s greatest ancient sites
According to historian Mary Beard, that is. “Go to Segovia for one single stunning Roman view, and a spectacular piece of Roman engineering,” she says. “The huge aqueduct, built at the end of the first century AD, on a series of double-decker arches almost thirty metres tall, still comes right into the middle of the modern town, dominating the central square. There is little else Roman to be seen, but Segovia is a World Heritage Site, not simply for the aqueduct, but also for its medieval architecture, from palace and cathedral to monasteries and taverns.”
9. Enjoy world class cycling
The Telegraph’s John MacLeary reckons Majorca is the best place in the world for cyclists, with terrain to suit all styles and abilities. He’s not alone – the island regularly serves as a training ground for decorated pro-riders. Don’t miss the spectacular Sa Calobra climb, a miracle of road building.
10. And beautiful mountains
Fred Mawer writes: “The provinces of Asturias and Cantabria offer the rare combination of spectacular mountains and fine beaches in proximity. From the northern valleys of the Picos de Europa, a ravishingly beautiful little range of lofty limestone peaks and lush, high-altitude pastures, it’s as little as 30 minutes’ drive down to superb sandy beaches.”
11. There’s the food
“Many of us are now popping chorizo and ibérico ham into our shopping baskets, as well as manchego cheese and, of course, a bottle of Spanish wine,” writes Annie Bennett. “You could spend a very happy holiday indeed exploring the regions where your favourite foods and wines are produced.
“The best hams, for example, are made in the west of the country, in Salamanca, Extremadura and the Sierra de Aracena in the north of Andalusía. Every region has its specialities. Around 40 artisan cheeses are produced in Asturias, while you could spend a fortnight in Galicia eating a different sort of seafood every day.”
Indeed San Sebastian has a good claim to being the world’s best city for foodies.
12. And the Guggenheim
The Frank Gehry-designed gallery is not only one of the best in Spain but the world. “In the Guggenheim Bilbao no space is specifically assigned to the special exhibitions or to present the collection: our art programme is a dynamic combination of both types of shows,” says Juan Ignacio Vidarte, the museum’s director general, in his guide to visiting. “Therefore, I recommend visitors explore the museum and discover the presentations from the collection, including permanent installations and site-specific works, and the temporary shows currently on view. In our experience, art display is significantly enhanced by the powerful architecture of the building, which our public must enjoy to the max by dwelling in the spaces both inside and outside.”
13. It’s only a few hours away
A flight from London to Barcelona is just two hours, while one to the south coast is still less than three. And airfares are usually cheap.
14. It has one of the world’s greatest rail journeys
The El Transcantábrico is billed as a five-star ‘cruise on rails’ and covers 400 miles between León and Santiago de Compostela, journeying via Bilbao and Santander in northern Spain on narrow-gauge tracks, with excursions by luxury coach each day to parts the train can’t reach.
15. It’s still good value
The pound may have taken a hit against the euro of late, but Spain remains one of the best value destinations in Europe for a summer getaway, with the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava and Gijón commended last year by the Post Office for low in-resort prices.
16. You can dance the night away – or try to
Partake or spectate the Spanish art of flamenco – guitar, dance and song. A week’s lessons in Seville taught Christopher Middleton that “you can’t hope to do anything other than scratch the surface of the parched Andalusian soil beneath which lie flamenco’s secrets. What you can do, though, by playing with and talking to the practitioners of this harsh, passionate and unforgiving art, is to take a break not just to Spain, but to another world.”
17. It boasts more than just the mainland
Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria – take your pick from these sun-kissed holiday Canary Island isles. Each has an enviable abundance of excellent hotels.
18. A healthy – and weird – range of festivals
Beyond the likes of Sonar in Barcelona and Benicassim, in, well, Benacassim, there is of course La Tomatina, the tomato-throwing shindig, and a variety of running of the bulls events to maybe steer clear of. Oh, and there’s that one, El Colacho, where grown men dressed as the Devil leap over babies on mattresses.
19. And Spanish surf
“The Iberian coastline’s Atlantic face combines river mouths, hidden coves and wide sandy beaches, providing plenty of variety for holiday surfers,” writes Demi Taylor. “Northern Spain is all about passion, parties, late nights and pintxos. And while the name of this lush, verdant mountain-backed region – the Costa Verde – may hint at rain, it is precisely the area’s ever-changing weather patterns that make it so appealing to surfers.”