Spain’s massive size means that it’s thankfully not as hard as you might expect to wander off the well-beaten tourist track. Whether it’s quiet coves, tucked away old villages or eerie landscapes you’re after, here are seven places that you’ve probably never heard of but really should visit in Spain.
1. Las Alpujarras, Andalucía
South of Granada, the hills and valleys of Las Alpujarras provide some of the country’s lushest scenery. This isn’t an area for novice drivers – hairpin bend after hairpin bend lead up to many of the region’s lovely white-washed villages – but it’s worth the effort to enjoy the serenity of the countryside.
In the settlements here you can really get a sense of a truly local way of life – one that revolves around shady central plazas, welcome siestas from the midday sun and sherry in the local bar after dark.
2. Beget, Girona
Beget is tucked so deeply into a valley that you won’t see it before you’re almost in it. This tiny village in northern Catalunya is definitely worth stumbling over, however – little has changed here for centuries, creating a quiet charm that’s hard to beat.
Explore the narrow cobbled streets to find old stone houses and pretty little bridges that cross the river. For dinner, sit down to a plate of seasonal Catalan food at one of the family-run restaurants.
The centrepiece of the village is the stately, beautiful twelfth-century church, which boasts a carved wooden Christ figure dressed in a tunic, with arms outstretched.
Image by azama8 on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
3. El Burgo de Osma, Soria
The Río Duero cuts across central Castilla and some of its loveliest scenery can be found in and around the graceful old town of El Burgo de Osma.
Though its buildings pay homage to the fact that this was once a very grand place – it is home to both a cathedral and a university – El Burgo today is quaint and gorgeous, with little in the way of attractions, but a joy to experience nonetheless.
The town is particularly lovely on summer nights, when locals congregate on the main square to use it as a social club, playground and exercise yard. El Burgo also makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding area, which boasts both a dramatic canyon park and a mighty fortress.
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4. Zahara de la Sierra, Andalucía
The beautiful southern region of Andalucía is particularly known for its beautiful white towns, and one of the best examples of which can be found at Zahara de la Sierra, reached via a very scenic drive through the countryside from the lovely old town of Ronda.
An obvious landmark for miles around, it is the castle that you notice first, sitting dramatically on top of a stark rocky outcrop; below which huddle bright white houses (with their equally picturesque red-tiled roofs).
5. Cadaqués, Girona
It’s easy to shun the idea of the Costa Brava, with its rather old-fashioned image of sun-and-sea holidays, but the region is home to some very pretty beaches, and with a bit of knowledge it’s not too hard to find more interesting towns and quieter sands.
The most pleasant place to stay on the northern Costa Brava is undoubtedly the picturesque seaside town of Cadaqués, its narrow, hilly streets filled with bougainvillea-covered houses and with craggy headlands on either side of its still-working fishing port.
The beaches here are small and pebbly, but there’s plenty else to the town to keep you occupied, not least its art galleries and studios – Dalí settling nearby after World War II saw the town attract a rather bohemian artistic community – and smart restaurants.
6. Las Médulas, Castille y León
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the other-worldly landscape of Las Médulas had been ravaged over hundreds – even thousands – of years by the weather, but you’d be wrong. The strange, jagged red rocks here are the result of Roman strip-mining, when five tonnes of gold were taken from the hillsides via canals constructed for the purpose.
Looking more like Arizona than northern Spain, this eerie landscape of red-rock needles and caves is best viewed from the Mirador de Orellán, which offers a spectacular panorama over the area; undoubtedly the best way to experience it is on foot, via the Las Valiñas trail from pretty Las Médulas village.
7. The Costa da Morte, Galicia
Don’t be put off by its name – the “Coast of Death” – this relatively undeveloped region is well worth a visit. Though at times it has a rather desolate beauty, and though it can be as wet and windy as the shipwrecks that litter its seabed suggest, the quiet, beautiful coves, snug fishing villages and mountain slopes make this costa surprisingly enchanting.
This isn’t the place to go for resort facilities – and all the better for it; instead, head for the charming little seaside towns like Malpica de Bergantiños and Laxe, the latter of which offers some of the area’s safest swimming.
For really wonderful scenery, head to Ezaro; here, the mineral-rich rocks of the escarpments are multi-coloured, and appear to glisten underneath countless little waterfalls.
Image by Asier Ríos Molina on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)