Sun, sea, sand, plus a dazzling display of unusual things to do. That’s Spain for you: ski slopes, Picasso, and Barcelona’s ceramic lizard mixed in with paella, flamenco and convivial, tasty tapas.
Every country is misunderstood to one degree or another. But I still remember my surprise on arrival at how vast and culturally rich the country was – and how the beaches were the least of it.
Well, this is but one effort to share the secret that is Spain.
Without further ado, let me introduce 7 unusual things to do in Spain…
San Sebastian, if it is known at all, generally picks up fame for its tasty tapas scene and proximity to Bilbao and the silver curls and swirls of the Guggenheim Museum. Yet it’s the beating cultural heart of the Basque country, a land that spills over the border into France, with its own ultra-distinct language (don’t let the “X” trip you up,) peppery culture and cuisine.
San Seb’s had some trouble in recent years, seeing bloody times with ETA and their fight for independence. But 2016 celebrates the peace that now breathes through the cobbled lanes and blustery coasts. Basque culture appears front and centre as San Seb (Basque name Donostia) becomes a European Capital of Culture in 2016.
Discover the success of local boy Balenciaga, pit your wits against the froth-topped surf along the sand-and-stone coast and stroll through the Old Town on a Sunday afternoon to see Basque berets and banter in full and friendly style.
I’ve heard rumours about the goat-throwing but I’ve been there for the tomato pelting. Tomatina is but one festival in this country that has more public holidays than there are days of the year – but, to be honest, the Tomatina is for the young and masochistic.
Far more dignified (and fun!) is the papier mache festival held each year in Barcelona. Residents from the edgy Gracia district build colourful characters that stand two storeys high and float music and sweet treats through the narrow streets of summer.
Or, if papier mache’s not your thing, check out the flower festival instead in nearby Girona.
Tenerife, indeed perhaps all the Canary Islands, are almost criminally underrated. True, some resorts serve up the standard stereotype of awful Brits abroad, but that’s not the whole story. Flung off the coast of Africa, these volcanic islands give out an intoxicating Caribbean-African vibe, with quiet black sand beaches, mountains, mysterious pyramids and more.
Head to Los Gigantes and hop on a whale-watching boat and whip along the waves.
Ready to test out your hand-eye coordination, throwing a dash of alcohol into the mix
to complicate matters further help you relax? Travel to northern Asturias where the cider houses (sidrerias) give lessons in how to respect this appley beverage.
Yes, I’ll stop you right there. Pizza hails from Italy. Chaotic Naples in fact.
But travel to the tiny village of Llívia in Cerdanya in northern Spain to find the man who makes pizza cocktails, pizza sushi and, well, just plain pizza.
Not only does the life story of this former boxer add a taste of unusual into the mix, but the village of Llívia itself is a part of Spain entirely surrounded by France.
If only other parts of the world could resolve such border disputes so elegantly.
Well, OK, so it isn’t really gold it just looks like gold. But don’t let the chemistry bog you down: the fuente agria shimmers as it flows amid scented almond trees and snow-tipped peaks. A trip to the Alpujarras mountains fits nicely on to any itinerary that takes you to the nearby Alhambra: the most famous site in Andalucia.
Yes, it surprised me too, but Menorca has a history with gin. Apparently, the drink arrived here during some sailor-type British occupation and the locals took the parts they liked and improved on the rest. The Xoriguer gin distillery overlooks the harbour in Mahon and offers a dash of history amid the baskets of juniper berries, bulbous bronzed equipment and connoisseur’s collection of gin.
Disclosure – For some of these things to do I had assistance from the local tourist boards, for others I organised them myself. My latest (but not first) trip to San Sebastian and the Balearics formed part of a project with iAmbassador. Regardless of the nuts and bolts and who did what where when and why, I always keep the right to write what I like. So, this list of unusual things to do in Spain comes fresh from my delectable memory and experience and nothing more. Enjoy and viva Espana!
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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