Supplier: Insight Vacations
The capital of Spain since 1562, Madrid is located on the geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula. Because of its central location and high altitude, the climate of Madrid is characterized by warm dry summers and cool winters. Madrid is a city of great monuments. Among its highlights are the medieval center dating back to the Habsburg Empire and the Prado Museum. Madrid is not just a cultural destination. It is also a lively metropolis with many pubs, cafes, discotheques and nightclubs open late into the night.
Barcelona, the self-confident and progressive capital of Spain, is a tremendous place to be. Though it boasts outstanding Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings, and some great museums – most notably those dedicated to Picasso and Catalan art – it is above all a place where there's enjoyment simply in walking the streets, stopping in at bars and cafés, drinking in the atmosphere. A thriving port and the most prosperous commercial centre in Spain, it has a sophistication and cultural dynamism way ahead of the rest of the country. In part this reflects the city's proximity to France, whose influence is apparent in the elegant boulevards and imaginative cooking. But Barcelona has also evolved an individual and eclectic cultural identity, most perfectly and eccentrically expressed in the architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Scattered as Barcelona's main sights may be, the greatest concentration of interest is around the old town (La Ciutat Vella). These cramped streets above the harbor are easily manageable, and far more enjoyable, on foot. Start, as everyone else does, with the Ramblas.
Portugal’s capital is an 18th-century city - elegant, open to the sea and carefully planned. Most places of interest are within easy walking distance. Rossio Square, the heart of Lisbon since medieval times, is an ideal place to start exploring. Many rebuilt houses with original façades provide stores and restaurants with modern interiors. High above Baixa is Bairro Alto - with its teeming nightlife. There are many monuments and museums, such as San Jeronimos Monastery, Royal Coach Museum and Gulbenkian Museum. Two well-known landmarks are the Monument to the Discoveries and the Tower of Belem. A statue of Christ looms above Europe’s longest suspension bridge. Madragoa, Bica and Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s older sections, offer a variety of sights: the Church of Sao Roque, with its beautiful tiles; St. George Castle, which offers a splendid view from its location above the Alfama quarter; the botanical gardens, featuring an unusual, cold greenhouse; and the cathedral, stunning with its Moorish design. Renowned Gulbenkian Museum is the cultural center of Portugal.
Seville is one place most beloved by visitors to Spain. Although today Moorish influence is architectonically most evident - Andalusia was occupied by Moors for about 800 years - it has been a cultural center long before. Seville was home of famous and infamous figures of history, the legendary "Don Juan" started from here to conquer the hearts of women across all Europe, while Columbus started from a port close to Seville to discover a new world. Prosper Merimée's "Carmen", who couldn't make her decision between the officer Don José and the bullfighter Escamillo, can still be watched today in opera houses. Seville is the very heart of Andalusian culture and the center of bullfighting and Flamenco music. Take it easy and interrupt sightseeing from time to time to have a few "tapas", those typical "small spanish dishes", and a glass of Sherry wine in one of the many bars in this city.
Valencia is one of the biggest, liveliest cities in Spain. It is located at the Mediterranean sea with beaches right in its heart that offer every kind of sports. With its active nightlife and various cultural offerings, Valencia is one of the most dynamic cities in Spain. One of the most famous buildings in Valencia is the Cathedral and its tower named, "El Miquelet" (Little Michael) which was built between 1381 and 1424. Try Spain's most famous food right where it was born: "Paella Valenciana". Valencia is the city where "El Cid", Spain's national hero, fought against the Moors, and popular festivals in the city and many villages around still remind of this epoch.
The ancient city of Salamanca, famous for its university founded by Alfonso IX in the early 1200s, is well preserved, with turreted palaces, faded convents, Romanesque churches, and colleges that have attracted scholars from all over Europe. Nearly all the attractions are within walking distance of the Plaza Mayor. In its day, Salamanca was ranked with Oxford, Paris, and Bologna as one of "the four leading lights of the medieval world." The intellectual life continues to this day, and a large invasion of American students brings added life to the town in summer. Still a youthful, spirited place because of the venerable Salamanca University, the city has been named a "World Heritage City" by UNESCO, one of six such cities in Spain.
Porto, Portugal's second largest city, is full of interest, and the district it heads offers the visitor plenty to see. Along the coast, there are resorts like the cosmopolitan beach of Espinho, busy ports like Matosinhos, with splendid seafood, or traditional fishing towns like Póvoa de Varzim, and there is also an animated casino. Charming Amarante has 17th century mansions overlooking the river and is famous for a sweet egg pastries called "papos de anjo" (angel bellies). In Vila Nova de Gaia, there are lodges where Port wine is blended and aged and where tasting are offered, or visitors may take a river cruise along the Douro. The whole district is filled with prosperous towns, but there are also many calm roads with wonderful views over the river and a rugged and still unspoilt coastline.
Costa del Sol
The coast of Malaga is of great touristical importance, thanks to its splendid beaches, outstanding installations and smooth climate. Among the most famous centers are Marbella, Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola, and San Pedro de Alcantara.
Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Andalusia, Spain. Granada has been inhabited by many empires for 2,500 years from the Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and the Moors. Remainder of each reigning era is prominent in Granada’s cultural and architectural influences. Imprints of the past can be found in Albaicin, an old Arabic quarter paved with cobble stoned streets, ogee arches, voussoirs, and decorative tile work. When the sun sets, Alhambra is at its most beautiful and radiant complimenting Byzantine courtyards and muqarna details. Homes also reflect the Mediterranean and Renaissance elegance long past. Present-day Granada attracts visitors by recapturing the past and evoking the co-existence of different cultures.
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