Magnificent culture and art,
Mediterranean flavours and cuisine,
quality wellness experiences and
sustainable tourism attract people to
this sunny land again and again
From the lush mountains and green fields of the north to the sunny beaches of the south-east, to the artistic and historical treasures of the inland and the ancient towns and villages scattering here and there, Spain is a country of diversity and each region has its own unique charm. The enthusiastic people, the relaxed lifestyle and a variety of delicious food are also reasons why many travellers flock to Spain. The country has a well-developed railway network, so the major cities can be easily reached by taking comfortable high-speed trains.
The National Prado Museum in Madrid, one of the four largest museums in the world, is the most comprehensive collection of Spanish paintings. And when you walk on the streets of this capital city, the country’s diversity is so evident as all the cultures meet here. Madrid is more of a city of variety than Barcelona, with its many historical sites and places of natural refreshment, such as the city’s central park, the Retiro, and its rose garden. Madrid is also a cosmopolitan gastronomic city, with a mix of different culinary styles from the Iberian Peninsula and many Asian restaurants due to the increase in Asian immigration. Cocido Madrileno, Callos, Sopa de ajo and Caracoles are all famous dishes here. The Michelin-starred Restaurante Sobrino de Botin has been open since 1725 and Ernest Hemingway was a regular customer of it.
Known as the City of Gaudi, Barcelona is not only home to the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, but also to the amazing works of the architect Antonio Gaudi. Park Guell is a naturalistic interpretation of Gaudi’s philosophy, with two colourful three-dimensional fountains made of mosaic porcelain tiles at the entrance. Casa Mila, with its undulating waves and dynamic roofs, has a variety of chimneys on the roof. Casa Batllo, with its swirling sea-like interior rooms topped with anemone shaped ceiling lights and walls covered in blue and green ceramic decorations. And even if it is just a stroll down the street, you may encounter a pavilion designed by Gaudi when he was a young boy. La Rambla, one of Europe’s most famous boulevards, is lined with plane trees, where wandering artists showcase their talents, and where newsagents, florists and restaurants line the streets. And when the football season comes, the Camp Nou, home of Barcelona football club, becomes the hottest spot in the city.
In addition to these two famous cities seemingly familiar to all, Spain boasts many unique destinations to explore as well.
Wake up to the scent of orange blossom, as the warm sea breeze on your face, walk through the city and admire a classical Gothic building. The port city of Valencia on the south-east coast of Spain is known as the jewel of the Mediterranean.
Apart from its geographical advantages, Valencia is also an active advocate of sustainable tourism, for example by measuring the carbon footprint of travellers’ activities and encouraging the use of public transport instead of private cars to reduce carbon emissions. To this end, Valencia has introduced the ‘Traveller’s Transport Card’, which allows unlimited travel on buses, metros and trams. So whether you want to visit the city, go to the beach or go to the airport, public transport is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to get around. Cycling is also a popular way to travel in Valencia, thanks to the pleasant climate and flat roads. The government has built over 160 kilometres of cycling paths in the city, many of which are specially designed for city tours, such as one that runs from west to east through the Turia Garden, which have been converted from a dried riverbed. In Valencia, there are many companies that rent bicycles.
Shopping can also be an act of support for sustainability in Valencia. For example, shopping at local shops that make and sell eco-friendly products will support local craftspeople. There are also numerous markets to visit. The Central Market, as well as markets such as Ruzafa, Mossen Sorell, Cabanyal and Colon, will offer a wide range of seasonal and local produce, such as oranges, artichokes, peppers, eels and other seafood to tantalise your taste buds. Local organic gardens and the endless Mediterranean Sea are the direct suppliers of these products.
Valencia is known as the “green city” not only because of the many sustainable initiatives, but also because it is really “green”, with pines, poplars, orange trees and more than 500 old trees that are more than 400 years old decorating the city. There are parks and gardens all over the area, so there is no worry about finding a place to go for a picnic or a sport. Some of the more famous ones include the Turia Garden, the Central Park, the Cabecera Park, the Botanical Garden, the Viveros Garden and others.
Las Fallas, Valencia’s annual festival, has just come to an end. With the theme of environmental protection, the Falla this year was made from renewable materials in order to raise awareness of people for the environment. Valencia’s eco-zoo and marine aquarium are dedicated to the protection of endangered species.
The most beautiful island in the Mediterranean
If the Mediterranean Sea is considered to be the most beautiful sea in the world, Mallorca, known as the ‘Mediterranean paradise’, should be the biggest contributor. Mallorca has been named by the Sunday Times as one of the top 50 best places to live in the world. As the largest of the Balearic Islands in eastern Spain, Mallorca boasts charming bays, picturesque old towns and slow paced life. Throughout history, writers, musicians and painters have come here to seek inspirations for their work.
Start your island tour in the capital city of Palma, a vibrant and relaxed place with a lot of street cafes, upmarket shopping outlets and beautiful Spanish-style buildings dotting the city. Palma has a mild climate all year round and wherever you go, you can smell the romantic and cosy Mediterranean air. As a popular destination, crowds are inevitable, and early in the morning or late in the evening is relatively a better time to stroll the city. As night falls, the main plaza becomes the most active place, with outdoor restaurants, craft stalls and the lively sound of music flowing the streets.
Nestled between two mountains, Soller is a picturesque and charming town with a long history. The narrow streets are lined with characterful houses, ice cream shops and cafés, which lead to the main square, Plaza Constitucion, where you can meet many street performers and enjoy delicious tapas.
To the north-west of the island lies Sa Calobra, a scenic mountain road for self-driving. Every time you turn a corner, a new view awaits. You may encounter walking animals, get a good view of the beach from different angles, and become breathless at the sight of mountains, cliffs and glistening lakes.
Mallorca has 43 “Blue Flag beaches”, namely the high quality beaches that have passed the 27 criteria of the Foundation for Environmental Education of Europe. Calo des Moro and Torre de Cala Pi beaches are famous for their blue waters and rugged cliffs, and Muro beach has been voted one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in Europe many times. Cala Mesquida beach has over 300 metres of coastline and crystal clear shallow waters, while Cala Torta is popular with families because of its wide beach, which is ideal for beach volleyball, picnics and so on.
For a beach hike, the route from Puerto de Sóller to Cala Deià will not disappoint you. The Tramuntana offer a unique experience of the mountainous landscape. Although not quite as imposing, it is considered by the locals to be their mother mountain because of the rich natural gifts it offers. Walk along ancient trails, with cliffs and the sea on one side and the mountain road on the other, as nature’s masterpieces are shown in front of you.
There are four Michelin restaurants on the island where international flavours come together, but none are as appealing as the authentic Mediterranean cuisine. Chef Andreu Genestra ‘s eponymous Michelin restaurant takes diners on a journey through Mediterranean flavors. The menu includes a wide variety of products from the Mediterranean sea, cooked in innovative ways to create delicious dishes. The restaurant’s wine cellar houses a collection of over 700 varieties of wine.
The social culture
While the traditional neighbourhood culture is being eroded by a highly developed material society, the Spanish are still keen to maintain their warm social traditions.
Chatting with friends, relatives and even strangers in open-air bistros is an integral part of their daily life. Not long ago, the small town of Algar in the Andalusian region even filed an application for intangible cultural heritage for its unique summer “charlas al fresco” (open-air chatting), as they say “We don’t want our traditional way of spending time with our neighbours to disappear”. The town’s residents responded positively by bringing their own tables and chairs out into the street, where people put down their mobile phones, get out of their homes and start chatting face-to-face.
Almost every street and square in Spain is lined with alfresco restaurants, cafés and bistros, providing a convenient place for people to socialise. A group of people laughing and chatting with a glass of wine on the hand under an open-air awning is the most common scene in the summer evening. Another popular social spot is the rooftop terrace. One of them is the terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Just buy a cocktail, enjoy the view of the city and have a nice chat with friends and locals. Several hotels and restaurants near the Gran Vía and Calle Alcalá also have modern rooftop terraces.
The Calleja de las Flores in Córdoba was voted the most beautiful street in Spain by Tredencias magazine. True to its name, the lime walls on both sides of the street are decorated all year round with beautiful flowers in season, making it an iconic image of Córdoba.
For the first fifteen days of May, the Fiesta de los Patios (Córdoba Courtyard Festival) begins, when local residents decorate their gardens and open them to the public for free. You can enter the enchanting world of flowers and plants and have a chat with the hosts. Some of them even go to a bistro for a drink together.
Art is also a superb medium for bringing like-minded people together. The small town of Fanzara in the province of Castellón in the Valencian region was once a sparsely populated area before an art lover invited 15 street artists to create murals there. The locals followed suit and the town was transformed into a mobile gallery, which now has 160 works of art and is constantly being updated. So art lovers have come to visit, including many art masters, and they meet their soulmates on the unfamiliar streets. The social relations among the Spanish are so simple and it is easy to get to know each other with food, scenery and interests.
Spa and wellness
Spain boasts a large number of luxury wellness resorts, most of which have reopened after the pandemic, offering intimate and personalised wellness experience in a soothing Mediterranean atmosphere.
SHA Wellness Clinic
Situated on the beautiful Mediterranean coast, close to Benidorm and the charming village of Altea, the world-renowned SHA Wellness Resort is set in a vast green space. SHA offers 12 main packages based on holistic wellness, medical innovations and natural therapies, combining regenerative medicine, preventive medicine, anti-ageing technology, genetics, beauty programs, spa treatments, mindfulness practice, fitness, dietary programs and more, allowing guests to transform their body and mind in a holistic way, such as developing good lifestyle habits, gaining inner peace, ageing healthily, enhancing cognition, reducing weight, improving sleep and more. Almost all of the programs require a minimum stay of 7 days at the resort, although 14 days is the recommended length. SHA has also created an exclusive ‘Wellness Academy’ which includes daily wellness talks, relaxation instruction, fitness guidance, exercise support and wellness sessions on the latest wellness trends and techniques, which guests can attend to gain in-depth knowledge of wellness.
Quality nutritious meals are also an important part of SHA’s wellness offerings. Restaurant Shamadi prepares high-end healthy dishes for guests to restore balance and activate the body’s self-healing powers. Guests can choose from three diet plans upon arrival at the resort: “Sha”, an introductory healthy diet tailored for those who want to try something new; “Biolight”, an intermediate healthy diet designed for guests with clear health goals; and “Kushi”, a strict healthy diet aimed at detoxification and weight loss. All meals are a blend of international flavours, including soups, fresh fish, seaweed salads, whole grain pasta, herbal teas, natural juices, vitamin health drinks and more.
The resort’s rooms are stylishly designed with white furnishings. For guests who want both effective wellness management and the luxury of a five-star hotel, SHA is the place to be. https://shawellnessclinic.com/en
Just 10 minutes’ drive from Marbella, this exquisite 14-room resort offers guests daily yoga sessions and personalised detox diet created by nutritionists. The resort’s restaurant, Amrita, combines Asian flavours with Mediterranean cuisine to create healthy and delicious meals. The Spa offers a variety of treatments such as Ayurveda, Thai massage, deep tissue massage, aromatic facials and oriental pedicures. The resort also offers outdoor hiking trails and daily fitness and Pilates classes for guests. E-Detox is also a feature of Shanti Som and Wifi is only available in the rooms throughout the resort. https://www.shantisom.com/en/
The Ultimate Retreat
The Ultimate Retreat offers guests three types of wellness programs: Luxury Boot Camp; Detox & Wellness; and Yoga & Wellness, each of which helps guests achieve their health goals through carefully designed meal plans, yoga and fitness programs, as well as extensive spa treatments to rejuvenate the body and mind. The resort is located on the Costa Blanca near Alicante. https://theultimateretreatcompany.com/
The Body Camp
While Ibiza is known for its lively beach nightlife, The Body Camp Resort offers a completely different kind of tranquil experience in the Balearic Islands. Set in 25 acres of rustic countryside and decorated with a mix of Spanish and Scandinavian tones, The Body Camp offers a holistic wellness experience through healthy dining, regular exercise, meditation and a range of relaxing activities. Of course, for those wishing to take part in Ibiza’s various recreational activities, they are also within easy reach. https://thebodycamp.com/
The Olive Retreat
Detoxify your mind and body with daily meditation, exercise and a healthy vegetarian diet at The Olive Retreat. Located in the southern region of Andalusia, the resort is immersed in lush natural beauty. In addition to yoga, fitness and outdoor activities, there are a variety of spiritual wellness programs to help guests deal with stress, anxiety and other mental issues. Dining at the resort is all-vegetarian and free from refined ingredients, sugar, gluten and yeast, truly helping to cleanse and restore your body. https://theoliveretreat.com/ The richness of Spain can only be truly appreciated by those who have visited. The amazing islands, the ancient architecture, the profound culture and art, this shining jewel of south-western Europe keeps shining brightly.