• Spain’s land area is around half a million square kilometres – about twice the size of the UK or Oregon. The population is around 46 million – some eighty percent of whom declare themselves nominally Catholic, though religious observance is patchy.

Politically, Spain is a parliamentary monarchy; democracy was restored in 1977, after the death of General Franco, the dictator who seized power in the Civil War of 1936–39.

• Spaniards read fewer newspapers than almost any other Europeans – tellingly, the best-selling daily is Marca, devoted purely to football.

Spanish (Castilian) is the main official language, but sizeable percentages also speak variants of Catalan (in Catalunya, parts of Valencia and Alicante provinces, and on the Balearic Islands), Galician and Basque, all of which are also officially recognised languages.

• A minority of Spaniards attend bullfights; it doesn’t rain much on the plains; and they only dance flamenco in the southern region of Andalucía.

The highest mountain on the Spanish peninsula is Mulhacén (3483m), the longest river is the Rio Tajo (716km).

• Spain has 43 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list – more than twice as many as the USA.

Between them Real Madrid and Barcelona have won the Spanish league title over fifty times and the European Cup (Champions League) thirteen times and counting.

Essentials

Everything you need to know before you set off.

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