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Spain

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For thousands of years Spain was one of Europe’s leading cultural centres, it now ranks third on the list of countries with the most Unesco World Heritage Sites. Occupying 85% of Europe’s strategically important Iberian Peninsula, Spain is a stunning showcase of the legacies from Carthaginians and Romans who fought over it, the Arabs who conquered it and Catholic Monarchs who recovered it and made Spain into the most powerful empire in the world. Though the 20th century saw Spanish civil war, the country escaped the destruction wrought by the wars that raged throughout Europe. Today Spain’s historic towns and cities are extraordinary living museums with castles and palaces from its Moorish past, striking Gothic cathedrals and great mosques standing alongside fantastic modernist monuments from the creative spirits of Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudí. 
 
It was Spain’s popular Mediterranean coast that made the country a holiday hotspot, yet it has a beautiful and diverse landscape. The rugged mountains of the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada, lush plains of the Rioja, wetlands of the Doñana National Park and Cabo de Gata, the only desert in Mainland Europe where the hills that drop down to the coast are long extinct volcanoes. 
 
Andalusia, with its pretty, white-washed, hilltop villages, is often referred to as the heart of Spain for it is the cradle of bullfighting and embraces the traditions of tapas, fiesta and flamenco. A cruise on the River Guadalquivir is a chance to discover the richest of Spanish heritage.

Things to know

  • Spain produces almost half the world’s olive oil
  • Spain’s national anthem has no words
  • Spain has 44 (some sites say 47) UNESCO world heritage sites. Only Italy and China have more UNESCO world heritage sites. 
  • Sangria is a traditional Spanish drink – Traditional recipes feature Rioja red wine mixed with fruits and sweetened with sugar and orange juice. 
  • A tapa, which may be hot or cold, is a small appetiser or snack in Spanish cuisine 
  • Flamenco is actually a musical style which sometimes has dancing

Key Destinations

Salamanca
Salamanca

With an impressive skyline dominated by the striking silhouette formed by the towers of its old and new Cathedrals, Salamanca, home to the country’s oldest university, is one of Spain’s most alluring cities. Its Unesco-listed centre is home to a magnificent ensemble of Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque monuments, and the filigree plateresque decoration that is the hallmark of 16th century Salamanca. At the heart of the city, Plaza Mayor is quite possibly Spain’s most beautiful square.
 
Seville
Seville

From Roman ruins to Moorish minarets, Seville’s incredible mix of architectural statements has been shaped by more than 1300 years of history. Giralda Tower was once the minaret of a mosque that stood on the site of Seville’s Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in Christendom. Originally the medieval fortress of Moorish rulers, the Palace of the Real Alcazar became the home of Christian kings. Quintessentially Andalusian and home to celebrated flamenco, Seville is a charming city.
Granada
Granada

At the foot of the Sierra Nevada, Granada is a fascinating city with a Moorish heritage dating back more than 700 years. The iconic Alhambra is a palace, castle, summer retreat and enclosed town built during the 1200s and 1300s for the Nasrid princes. Built on top of a mosque at the start of the 16th century, Granada’s magnificent Cathedral is the second-largest in Spain. Once Granada’s Great Bazaar, Alcaiceria is today a Moorish passageway of shops and old school tapas bars.