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Sitges
 
Just a short hop south from Barcelona, Sitges has always attracted an arty crowd including the eccentric Salvador Dali. Today it continues to be a glamorous seaside resort offering both golden beaches and rocking nightlife.
 
Spain
 
Spain is where many things come together. For centuries it marked where the Arab world came to face to face with Western Europe as the eye-dazzling Moorish architecture of the Alhambra palace in Granada bears witness. It is where the high culture of Madrid’s world-leading Prado Museum jostles with the different pleasures of the ‘Costa crowd’ … Blanca, Brava, del Sol, de la Luz. (And remember that Torremolinos and the like are so popular because they are so perfectly situated.) Spain is where the traditional nobility of Seville, flamenco, corrida and all, contrasts with the fascinating modernity of Gaudi’s Barcelona. And where the old rivalries of the medieval kingdoms, Navarre, Aragon, Castile and Catalonia is matched today by Real Madrid versus Barça in La Liga. The home of sherry is also the source of superb Rioja wines; the enormous family Sunday lunch paella, is in complete contrast to the pick-and-choose of a tapas bar. It’s a ‘different’ country, Spain.
 
Alicante
 
For many visitors, Alicante’s busy airport is the gateway to the resorts of the Costa Blanca. But having seen off the crowds to Benidorm via a sleek ultra-modern tram or on to the ferries to the Balearic islands, those of us in the know can settle back to enjoy both Mediterranean climate and real Spain. Battled over by Carthage and Rome, the strongest outside influence is that of the Moors (Moriscos) who actually named the ‘City of Lights’ in Arabic. A colourful fiesta still celebrates the Moors vs Christians ‘match’, closely rivalled by the fireworks and bonfires of St John’s Night (June 24). The Postiguet beach is perfect, the harbour area is lively, the climate makes for an ideal winter break (anyone for golf?) and the local Arab/Spanish culinary mix is a gastronomic delight.
 
Altea
 
Looking east over the Mediterranean is Benidorm, the heart of the Costa Blanca. Shaking off a sunburn and chips reputation, the resort may still sport tower blocks that seem to jostle for the best view of the bay and its beautiful sands, but it is also reinventing itself. If you’ve been before, come again: its four state-of-the art theme parks – Aqualandia, Mundomar, Terra Mítica and Terra Natura – are some of the biggest and most original in Europe. Further up the coast, quieter resorts like Altea with its pebble beach and winding streets run at their own sweet pace. Jávea and Calpe each sit on spectacular crescent bays with mountains, medieval castles and neighbouring coves all within easy reach.
 
Barcelona
 
Climb to the leafy surroundings of Montjuïc Park, home to the 1992 Olympics, for the best view of Catalan Barcelona. Below, you’ll spot the statue of Columbus and the knobbly spires of the Sagrada Família. Modernist architect Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, a riot of biblical scenes, angular sculptures and beehive towers is still being fettled 80 years after his death. A stroll along La Rambla, the avenue that cuts through town, taps into the energy and creativity of the place. Landmarks such as the recently restored Liceu Opera, mouth-watering tapas bars, the bustling stalls of La Boqueria, its eponymous square paved by Miró, and the ancient Gothic Quarter are never more than a street away.
 
Benalmadena
 
The marshmallow pink Castillo del Bil Bil heralds the approach to this sophisticated coastal resort. Beaches lined with a promenade, palms and straw parasols lead to a spectacular modern marina. A sea life centre, water park, casino, cable car and Tivoli theme park count among the attractions nearby.
 
Benidorm
 
Levante and Poniente, the two beaches that make up Benidorm are its best assets. In and out of the water, there’s plenty for bathers of all ages to enjoy. By night, tapas bars, clubs and venues hosting tribute bands make this the entertainment hub of the Costa Blanca.
 
Calella
 
Holiday hedonists can enjoy waterpsorts on Calella's vast sandy beach and then head into town for the myriad of bars, clubs & restaurants. The Costa Brava's most southerly resort is officially on the Costa del Maresme and the coastline continues all the way down to Barcelona, a fabulous daytrip destination.
 
Calpe
 
Looking east over the Mediterranean is Benidorm, the heart of the Costa Blanca. Shaking off a sunburn and chips reputation, the resort may still sport tower blocks that seem to jostle for the best view of the bay and its beautiful sands, but it is also reinventing itself. If you’ve been before, come again: its four state-of-the art theme parks – Aqualandia, Mundomar, Terra Mítica and Terra Natura – are some of the biggest and most original in Europe. Further up the coast, quieter resorts like Altea with its pebble beach and winding streets run at their own sweet pace. Jávea and Calpe each sit on spectacular crescent bays with mountains, medieval castles and neighbouring coves all within easy reach.
 
Casares
 
High in the hills, ancient villages that look like sugar cubes glistening in the sun invite you to explore. Down on the beach, bodies sizzle in the heat between refreshing Mediterranean dips. Much of this cosmopolitan coast lined with apartments and hotels can be enjoyed with your eyes closed, swimming or tanning. Yet, just a few miles inland, Andalusia will open your eyes to all that is most Spanish about Spain. For some, the top attractions will be Granada’s imposing fortress, the Alhambra. For others, it will be the tantalizing prospect of sinking that final putt on any of hundreds of golf greens, shopping for fine leather shoes, sipping sangria on the beach, or savouring the secrets of paella.
 
Estepona
 
Moorish watchtowers and an ochre Lego-like belfry rise around the town’s jumble of sun-baked roof tiles. Follow the Spruce Walk through the Sierra Bermeja, dine out on Andalusian dishes, or choose a spot on the sandy beach that runs for over a dozen miles.
 
Formentera
 
This tiny island escape is dotted fig trees, vineyards and traditional whitewashed villages, each more charming than the last. Around the coast, idyllic beaches shaded by pines and palms are a popular draw with day-trippers: Mitjorn, the longest, is pebbly, while Es Pujols is sandy, and Cala Sahona in the west, the most developed.
 
Fuengirola
 
Sands swelter the length of this major resort where towering apartments have swallowed up the original fishing village. When not on the beach, dine out on the promenade, take in the colourful mercadillo stalls, or explore the Castillo de Sohail’s Moorish battlements.
 
Fuerteventura
 
Closest to Africa, Fuerteventura is the oldest and also the least developed of the Canary Islands. For those seeking to escape the hubbub of busier coasts, the island’s 150 beaches will leave them spoilt for choice. Some feature golden sands, others dark volcanic pebbles. Many are backed with rolling dunes that lead the eye over largely low and rolling hills parched by the sun, but enjoying a climate milder and kinder than its Saharan neighbour. Resort life serves up a host of sporting options – golf and tennis, with surfboards and glass-bottomed boats eager to whisk you out to sea. Inland, sleepy village squares hide artisan workshops while neat little chapels mark time, looking out over a landscape dotted with goats, geckos and windmills.
 
Gran Canaria
 
Sometimes billed as a “continent in miniature”, what Gran Canaria may lack in size, it certainly makes up in variety. Between the bustle of the capital and the buzz of its beach resorts, you’ll find all the ingredients for a perfect holiday. With a mild climate year-round, landscapes that include sandy dunes, banana plantations, lush valleys and slopes that soar to the centre of this circular island, there are also man-made distractions aplenty. Visit Columbus’ house in Las Palmas, browse upmarket marinas and resorts, have the family watching a wild west brawl at Sioux City or feeding time at a crocodile park, or send the kids splashing down the slides at one of several water parks.
 
Granada
 
Sunsets across the Sierra Nevada bathe historic Granada in an ethereal light. For lovers of history, art and architecture, the Moorish Alhambra that dominates the skyline is a destination unto itself. In town, galleries tempt the eye, tapas tease the palate and traditional flamenco stirs the senses.
 
Ibiza
 
Hotter and flatter than its Balearic neighbours, Ibiza owes more to the Moors than the Romans when it comes to spotting heritage and influence. Delving into the back streets of Ibiza town (a.k.a. Eivissa), the old city of Dalt Villa that dominates the view is a lovely haven of peace, all cobbled streets, massive walls, wrought iron balconies and the like. In contrast, La Marina down below is all about now: ever since hippies in the Sixties put Ibiza on the map, this has been the place to set trends and defy convention. To see and be seen. And while spotting famous faces and flexing credits cards is still a favourite pastime here, younger crowds will head instead for the new palaces of San Antonio where DJs are today’s royalty and mixing decks ring out anthems for a new generation.
 
Islantilla
 
A purpose-built resort with a wide stretch of fine golden sand and a palm-lined pedestrian promenade. The nUmerous watersports on offer include sailing, diving & surfing and, for those who prefer dry land, the lush green slopes of the golf course are just footsteps away. Atlantic breezes keep summer temperatures bearable and make this an ideal resort for couples and families seeking a quiet Spanish resort.
 
Javea
 
Looking east over the Mediterranean is Benidorm, the heart of the Costa Blanca. Shaking off a sunburn and chips reputation, the resort may still sport tower blocks that seem to jostle for the best view of the bay and its beautiful sands, but it is also reinventing itself. If you’ve been before, come again: its four state-of-the art theme parks – Aqualandia, Mundomar, Terra Mítica and Terra Natura – are some of the biggest and most original in Europe. Further up the coast, quieter resorts like Altea with its pebble beach and winding streets run at their own sweet pace. Jávea and Calpe each sit on spectacular crescent bays with mountains, medieval castles and neighbouring coves all within easy reach.
 
Jerez
 
English has always had problems with foreign pronunciation, so the best we could do with the Spanish ‘J’ and ‘z’ here was turn it into ‘sherris’ and hence sherry. Jerez de la Frontera, to give its full name, is the main town and one corner of the wonderful Andalusian triangle which is legally the only area to produce sherry. Jerez and the Andalusia region are the home of much that is regarded as classical Spain. Flamenco originated here – its gypsy connotations coming from the Moorish invaders. Andalusian horses and horsemanship are world-renowned and the Jerez annual horse fair (May) is a fiesta riot of colourful costume, haughty horsemen, dancing, eating and, of course, drinking. The ‘solera’ system of continual aging in the cool dark bodegas, before fortifying with brandy, is unique and the Jerez wineries (bodegas) are extremely visitor friendly. The region is also the largest producer by far of the ideal accompaniment – olives. ‘Manzanilla’ in fact is both an olive variety and a very dry style of sherry.
 
Lanzarote
 
Landscapes around Lanzarote transport you to a different universe, one that legend claims was once Atlantis. With its lunar looks – nowhere more evident than in the spectacular Fire Mountains – and beaches than run silver, black and ochre, you might think this was the setting for a science fiction film. Yet it is nature that predominates. Over 300 volcanoes crowd the island, cinders a few inches beneath your feet feel warm to the touch, while digging a channel deeper and pouring a pail of water is all you need to create an instant geyser! Camel trails and towering cacti add to the sense of the exotic, while friendly resorts right along the coast bring you closer to the world we know.
 
Lloret de Mar
 
Once a traditional fishing village dating back to Roman times, Lloret has become a full-on tourist extravaganza with plenty of fast food, neon & nightlife.
 
Madrid
 
Europe’s highest capital is a fascinating collection of contrasting neighbourhoods. On a fleeting visit, don’t miss the wonderful collections that fill the Prado or the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Velázquez portraits, Goya frescos and haunts once frequented by Cervantes seem to crop up everywhere you look. Whet your appetite in a tiled tapas bar before joining the locals as they dine out late. Set your pulse racing with the sounds of jazz, rock, salsa and flamenco in the fashionable clubs around Chueca and Malasaña. Then soothe away that hangover in the gardens of Retiro Park, a family-friendly space, like that of Casa del Campo, where ponds, fountains and Punch and Judy shows wait to distract.
 
Majorca
 
The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands conceals many personalities. Historic Palma is dominated by the buttresses of its cathedral and the walls of the Almudaina citadel. Whether you party in the up-all-night bars and clubs of its best-known resorts, or prefer to rise early and escape to a landscape filled with olive groves, poppy fields and almond trees, Mallorca is sure to make you smile. You’ll discover underground lakes and caves, colourful markets at Pollença, sleepy villages like Valldemossa woken by the toll of monastic bells, adrenaline biking trails that tear down from the heights of the Tramuntana mountains in the north, and miles of beaches in the south that soak up three hundred days of sunshine each year.
 
Marbella
 
Deck hands polish the brass as yacht owners and their poodles parade along the front of Spain’s most exclusive resort. Glitzy boutiques and smart restaurants with eye-watering prices complement the manicured charm of the old town, Casco Antiguo, a few streets back. As you’d expect, some of Spain’s finest golf courses are also nearby.
 
Menorca
 
There are two sides to most things in Menorca (Minorca if you’re Catalan). In the west lies Ciudadela (or Ciutadella), the capital until the Middle Ages, filled with noble palaces and homes. In the east is Mahón (or Maó), today’s first city filled with Georgian echoes of its heyday as a naval base in Nelson’s day. In between, the island is dotted with characteristic Bronze Age Taulas, T-shaped stone altars, and cone-shaped hives called Talayots. Linking all of these is the island’s main road which puts most attractions within a hour’s drive. Shop for hand-made shoes, sup on fragrant lobster stews, sample the local gin (another British legacy), and choose any one of a hundred sheltered beaches.
 
Salou
 
Once an important Roman & medieval port and then a pirates enclave, Salou is today renowned for its fine golden beaches & intimate pine fringed coves. Enjoy relaxing walks along the remodelled promenade or try the PortAventura for some higher octane entertainment.
 
Seville
 
The province of Andalusia and its capital Seville epitomises what most would regard as typical Spain; the Spain of flamenco, toreros, strumming gypsy guitars, fierce sun. Situated on the River Guadalquivir around 100 kilometres from the coast (Cadiz), it is a million miles from the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol. It was a Roman city, but more significantly a Moorish one for more than 500 years, with strong Arab influences remaining everywhere, from architecture to cuisine. The Cathedral is built on the site of a mosque (the Giralda bell tower was the minaret with a broad ramp to allow the muezzin to ride up). The Alcázar was a Moorish fort that became a palace, still used by the Spanish Royal family, its beautiful gardens providing the theme for De Falla’s ‘nights’. More surprisingly, the University building was once the tobacco factory in which Bizet’s Carmen worked. Early spring is perhaps the best time to visit – for the Holy Week celebrations and the vibrant April Feria.
 
Tarragona
 
Established by Scipio in 218BC, Catalan Tarragona still displays a wealth of Roman antiquities. Most prominent among these are the Forum, the Amphitheatre and sections of the city walls. A fusion of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque, the city’s cathedral dominates Part Alta, the Old Town. Antique shops and art galleries invite your curiosity, while seafood menus and tapas bars around Plaça de la Font let you sample the region’s signature sauce: Romesco. Lovely sand beaches line the Costa Dorada on the fringes of town, while traditional fiestas fill the calendar, best known for their Castells, dancers who form human pyramids. If your visit doesn’t coincide with the Sant Magi festival in August, seek out their statue on the Rambla Nova.
 
Tenerife
 
A snow-capped peak, a Dragon tree said to be 3,000 years old, a chat with a parrot and a dip in a natural salt water pool – you can do all of these in the space of the same day on the largest of the Canary Islands. From the fun-filled beaches that line the south west coast, to the green valleys strewn with orchids in the north east, there are rare Laurisilva forests rich with jungle-like vegetation, arid volcanic slopes dotted with candelabra cacti and dozens of species of flora and fauna you’ll only find here. Along with this botanical who’s who, traditional fiestas happen around the calendar, restaurants serve up local delicacies doused in red or green mojo sauces, while bars and clubs open round the clock.
 
Torremolinos
 
Perhaps only the sand and the sunshine will remind you you’re in Spain. For plenty of fun, whatever your age, Torremolinos serves up a safe six-mile beach and clubs by the bucket load. Menus in the beach bar ‘chiringuitos’ come in every language. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll discover great seafood in the fisherman’s district of La Carihuela.
 
Valencia
 
An important Mediterranean port since Roman times, Valencia offers a wonderful blend of traditional Spain with beach/sunshine lazing – overlaid with one of the most stimulating arts centres imaginable. Spain’s third largest city has an old quarter, the Barrio del Carmen, full of Moorish and even Roman streets. The port is the (still-hoped-for) venue of the next America’s Cup contest and is straddled by many clean and safe beaches. The futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex, with its highly modernistic half-domed buildings, is stunning. A visit to Valencia at any time is rewarding but perhaps the most exciting event is Las Fallas (mid-March), the San José fiesta, with Rio-style colorful processions, bonfires and fireworks, plus giant street-cooked paellas – Valencia’s ‘signature dish’.
 

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