by Annie Bennett, The Telegraph, April 11, 2018
No matter how many times you have been to Spain, there are always new ways to see the country.
Mainland Spain covers an area of around 200,000 square miles (double the size of the UK) and it is 600 miles from Santander on the north coast to Málaga in the south, with a huge range of landscapes. It is a wonderful country for touring holidays, however you choose to travel. Taking an escorted tour with a planned itinerary saves a lot of time and will spare you the headache of trying to devise a route.
It is tricky to advise on the best time to go, as the climate varies so much around the country and obviously it depends on what you want to do. Spring and autumn are the safest bets, however, particularly for city breaks and activity holidays.
Majorca is becoming increasingly popular with cyclists in February, March and November. You can usually sit outside during the day on the coasts of Valencia, Murcia and Andalusia even during the winter months. If you want to do anything any more demanding than lie on a beach in August, stick to the north, where temperatures are pleasantly warm rather than stiflingly hot.
The suggestions below are just a few ways to explore mainland Spain and the Balearics. There is no space for the Canary Islands, unfortunately, which need a list of their own.
1. Andalusia by rail
Touring the great cities of Andalusia is made relatively easy with fast, modern trains that cross mesmeric landscapes of undulating olive groves, deep gorges and fields of sunflowers. Over 13 days, in between trawling the tapas bars, you trace the region’s Roman, Arab and Christian history through its astounding architecture, starting with Seville. After a day in splendid Jerez, you travel to Granada to see the Alhambra and finish up in the whitewashed passages of Cordoba’s Old Town. There’s also time to visit Madrid and Barcelona.
Great Rail Journeys (01904 521 936; greatrail.com) offers a 13-day Andalusian Explorer itinerary, with departures between May and September 2018, from £3,295 including accommodation, some meals and first-class rail travel, activities and guided city tours.
2. Experience the art and gastronomy of Valencia
The writer Gijs van Hensbergen, a leading expert on the art, architecture and food of Spain, leads this tour through the Valencia region on the east coast. In Valencia city, you get into the swing with a workshop in the Art Nouveau market with Michelin-starred chef Ricard Camarena and have an opportunity to see Santiago Calatrava’s astounding City of Arts and Sciences. You will eat paella by the Albufera lagoon, visit wineries in the hills and experience the cuisine of Quique Dacosta at his three Michelin-starred restaurant in Dénia.
Martin Randall (020 8742 3355; martinrandall.com) is running the Gastronomic Valencia tour from April 23-30 in 2018 from £3,410, including British Airways flights, accommodation and most meals.
3. Picos de Europa
Spain’s third-highest mountain range, the Picos de Europa is a limestone massif strewn with forests of beech that stretch over hills and mountain ridges, capped by the peaks of the Picos. An eight-day hike from Exodus (details below) – based at the family-run Hotel Torrecerredo – meanders through the Arenas de Cabrales range, with its high pastures, wild peaks and limestone outcrops before ascending the Pandescura peak the following day. There’s a hike on the Cares Gorge, one of the most popular walks in Spain; a summit to Peña Main; and a walk up to the twin summits of Moncondiu which offer views of the Central and Eastern Massifs. Spend a free day caving, canoeing, canyoning or simply relaxing on the coast.
Exodus (074 340 4587; exodus.co.uk) has departures between April 2018 and October 2019, from £1,069 including accommodation, most meals, transport, activities and flights.
4. Family adventure in the Pyrenees
Your kids will never say they are bored during an active holiday in the Pyrenees, staying in a hotel in Benasque, a beautiful town surrounded by lakes, forests, glaciers and rivers. The seven-day tour from Families Worldwide (details below) starts with a guided walk in Besurta, taking an easy path along flat terrain to the Aigualluts Plain where you can stop to admire the famous Forau d’Aigualluts waterfall and the Aneto peak, the highest mountain in the Pyrenees. From here, you’ll continue upwards through the Escaleta Valley to Coll de Toro, a pass between the Benasque and Aran valleys used by shepherds. Other highlights include a climbing course, rafting, canyoning and a bike ride though Conques along ancient trails.
Families Worldwide (01962 737560; familiesworldwide.co.uk) has departures between May 2018 and August 2019, from £1,129 (per child) and £1,249 (per adult) b&b including activities and flights.
5. Rural cycling in Majorca and Ibiza
Take a bike ride on quiet back-roads in Majorca and Ibiza, past medieval fortresses and secluded villages on this eight-day Balearic Island boat-and-bike tour organised by Freedom Treks (booking details below). Pedal through varied landscapes, from the green mountains of Majorca to the white-sand beaches of Formentera. With accommodation on a three-masted barque, this tour also cruises across the Med and stops at remote islands. Highlights include the beautiful resort of Andratx; the famous Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa; and a bike ride to the La Mola lighthouse, described by Jules Verne as “the lighthouse at the end of the world”, where, on a clear day, you can see as far as Africa.
Freedom Treks (01273 224066; freedomtreks.co.uk) has new 2019 departures (contact Freedom Treks to confirm dates), starting from £1,357 half-board including bike hire and daily tours. Excludes flights.
6. Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela
The Way of St James is the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle Saint James – the patron saint of Spain – are purportedly buried. Staying at paradores, characterful hotels located in converted castles or monasteries, you’ll take in Argómaniz, Pamplona, Lerma, León, Vilalba and La Coruña on this 10-day The Way of St James tour from Titan Travel (booking details below). There are wine tastings; cathedral stops, including the Episcopal Palace by Gaudí; and a walking tour through the streets and squares of Santiago.
Titan Travel (0808 163 5770; titantravel.co.uk) has departures between June 2018 and September 2019, from £1,699 half-board including excursions, BA flights and door-to-door travel service.
7. Walking around the coast of Ibiza
Toby Clarke grew up on Ibiza and now organises walking, yoga and activity holidays on the island. Join him on an extraordinary hike right around the coast, a challenging but exhilarating experience. You will cover a distance of 130 miles in a fortnight, climbing up to headlands and scampering down to hidden coves, camping under the stars and staying in small hotels. The experience is all about switching off, getting in touch with nature and gazing at the turquoise sea – while getting fitter and quite possibly even “finding yourself”.
Walking Ibiza (0800 088 5499; walkingibiza.com) is running the round-the-island guided walking tour from April 13 2018 and from October 19 2018 for €1,600 (£1,352), including camping and hotels, most meals and luggage transfers. Book flights separately.
8. In the footsteps of Don Quixote
It is 400 years since the death of Miguel de Cervantes, author of the epic Don Quixote, which is set in the vast region of Castilla-La Mancha. Marvel at the famous windmills featured in the novel, stop at the castle of Belmonte or Consuegra and sample wines at two local producers in La Mancha. Other highlights include a visit to the royal palace of Aranjuez and its gardens and lunch at a restaurant set in an ancient cave, next to the windmills.
Wine Tourism Spain (0034 910145375; winetourismspain.com) offers a 10-hour La Mancha and Don Quixote Mills group tour, with regular departures, from €210 (£180) including hotel pick-up and drop-off, visits, wine tastings and lunch.
9. Scooter road trip
Whizzing around the countryside north of Madrid on a Vespa will definitely put a smile on your face. Don’t worry if you haven’t ridden a scooter before as tuition is provided on this group trip. Head into the hills on a circular route through the Guadarrama and Ayllón mountains and the Duratón nature reserve, stopping off in medieval towns and villages including Sepúlveda, Pedraza and Riaza and staying at small hotels. Although aimed at 30- and 40-somethings, this trip attracts participants of all ages, and singles are particularly welcome.
The Flash Pack (020 3051 1057; theflashpack.co.uk) is running the four-day trip in June, July, August and September 2018 from £1,299 per person, including half-board accommodation. Book flights to Madrid separately.
10. Visiting the gardens of Galicia
Many of the pazos – granite manor houses – in Galicia in north-western Spain are set in elaborately landscaped gardens with superlative displays of camellias and other flowers, plants and trees. Going on an escorted tour gives you access to private properties and often a chance to meet the owners too. Staying in just two places – at the parador in the coastal town of Cambados and in the heart of Santiago de Compostela, makes things more comfortable, and the local food and wine is outstanding too.
Ciceroni (01869 811167; ciceroni.co.uk) has the Camellias and Caminos tour in 2019 (contact Ciceroni to confirm dates), for £1,995 per person, including flights, accommodation and lunch or dinner each day.