I tried to learn Spanish a few years ago when I was travelling in South America. After an initial shock of confusion, I thought I was going quite well for the first couple of weeks – understanding what the teacher asked, able to answer his questions. I was even starting to conjugate a bunch of verbs without mistakes.
Then I sat in on an intermediate class one afternoon and realised how little I actually knew. I had got beyond the stage of everything seeming like a blur of foreignness… but that had just made things worse. Now, for the first time, I had some perspective of how much there was still to learn!
I’ve got to the same point now with my understanding of Spain. I have been able to do about half a dozen trips to the country in the past few years but each one has been quite short – just a few days in a new region to get a taste.
The problem with this approach is that I’m starting to see the diversity in Spain and understand how much more there is than I had ever previously realised. Rather than viewing the country as some homogenous blob of bull-fighting and tapas, I now understand that each tiny region has its own special characteristics – and it makes me want to see them all, more than I ever have before.
I would love to hear your suggestions for where I should go next in Spain. What is your favourite region? What things have you done that you still remember fondly? Importantly… where is the best food?
If you share your favourite photos of Spain before April 30, you will be in the running to win a brand new camera! Just post the photo to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #SpaininMYheart. One upload is one entry and you can enter as often as you like. The prize is a Canon PowerShot G7 X camera. All the terms and conditions are at the end of this post. Open only to people based in the UK.
To get us started, I wanted to show you some photos of the things I have done in Spain over the past few years.
Barcelona from the air
One way to get away from the summer tourists in Barcelona is to head above them – up into the air. On my first trip to the city I took a helicopter ride one afternoon to fly above the sights, around the suburbs and along the beach.
I had found it hard to get some perspective of how Barcelona was laid out until this point. From the sky, though, I could see most of the main attractions and how they fitted in with the main roads and the beach. Gosh, it’s a beautiful city, isn’t it?
Gonna get to Gaudi
Doing a bit of casual sightseeing in Barcelona (aka walking around aimlessly), I happened upon a few of the famous buildings designed by Gaudi. I get the feeling his work is such an important part of defining the reputation of the city these days.
The Gaudi buildings are also part of a World Heritage Site – one that I haven’t officially ticked off because I don’t think I’ve seen them properly. So next time I’m back there, one of the first things I’ll be doing is going inside some of them.
The valley with no roads
Some of my first impressions of Spain were formed during an early trip through the Pyrenees in the Costa Brava region. What struck me most were the incredible landscapes.
One of the most dramatic spots was in the Nuria Valley, which has no roads leading in or out. You either have to hike in or get the train that cuts through the middle of mountains. I could have spent days there walking through those stunning landscapes.
Don’t lose your head
In the smaller towns throughout country, I’ve noticed that the local culture is particularly strong. The Spanish have told me they are very proud of their regional heritage and they do as much as possible to protect it.
So maybe I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I walked into the central square of a mountain town in the Pyrenees and saw two people dancing with each other… while wearing enormous heads with ugly faces. Afterwards, they took off their heads and came over for a chat.
You may remember me talking previously about the Spanish island of Menorca (the less famous neighbour of Majorca and Ibiza). I’ve been there a couple of times and absolutely love it. And one of my favourite things about it is the dramatic coastline.
This photo is from the northern coast. The southern coast is normally much calmer. But you can see them both if you walk the new trail that goes continuously around the whole island. You can also do the trail by bike or horse (like they did in the old days).
The old island capital
While the capital of Menorca is now in Mahon, a couple of hundred years ago it was on the other side of the island, at the city of Ciutadella. Let me tell you right now – it is a beautiful city that you could spend ages exploring.
The look of Ciutadella comes from the 17th century when much of the town was built in a romantic Italian style. The idea was also that the public buildings would appear to have a historical consistency. I think it has worked.
My favourite bar snack
I’m not sure if it’s fair to called pintxos a ‘bar snack’ but that’s technically what they are. This is the style of eating unique to San Sebastian. At the pintxos bars are trays of snacks – usually a slice of bread with a topping meat or seafood.
You just pick them up and eat as many as you like. But you need to keep the sticks that come with them. At the end, the barman will count up the sticks and charge you for the number you’ve eaten. I loved the experience – delicious and fun!
More than just food
San Sebastian does have a reputation as a food city… but I discovered there’s much more to it than that. There’s also culture all throughout the streets – modern and traditional. And you know what? It’s also really pretty.
There are beaches along one side of the city, there are the small hills near the water that you can walk up for incredible views, and there’s the beautiful harbour filled with small fishing boats (hopefully bringing in a new catch after I ate half the food in town!).
The greatest Spanish novel
I haven’t read much Spanish literature. I don’t really admit that with too much shame (not reading enough English literature recently is much more shameful) but I was inspired after a trip to Spain to read Don Quixote.
If you’ve read it yourself, you’ll know one of the funniest scenes is when the protagonist attacks some enormous windmills, thinking they are giants. Above the small town of Consuegra in the La Mancha region, I found the windmills this scene is based on.
My first Spanish World Heritage Site
Did you know that Spain has the third highest number of World Heritage Sites, with 45? (The only countries with higher counts are Italy and China). But until recently I hadn’t been to a single one of them.
The first World Heritage Site in Spain that I have now officially ticked off the list is the breathtaking city of Toledo. This historic part of the city covers a hill with a fast-flowing river at the bottom. Throughout Toledo are majestic old buildings from different eras of history.
You can see in this photo of Toledo that I was pretty happy to get there. I am thinking that as I continue my exploration of Spain, this will not be the last of the country’s World Heritage Sites that I see.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II digital camera: Terms & Conditions
The promoter of this competition is the Spanish Tourist Office whose registered office is at 64 North Row – 6th Floor London, W1K 7DE. Users will need to post their images of Spain and use the hashtag #SpaininMYheart to enter the competition. Entrants must be 18 or over and be based in the UK to be eligible to win. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition. Closing date for entry is 23:59, 30 April 2017. After this date no further entries to the competition will be permitted. The winner will be chosen by a panel appointed by the Spanish Tourist Office. The winner will be informed via DM on Social Media by the Spanish Tourist Office by Friday 19th May 2017. If a winner does not accept the prize within 14 days of being notified of winning, then the winner’s prize will be forfeited and Spanish Tourist Office shall be entitled to select another winner. By entering this competition, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions. The winner agrees to the use of his/her name and image in any publicity material. Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current [UK] data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant’s prior consent . No cash alternative to the prizes will be offered. The prizes are not transferable. Prizes are subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.