Mediterranean beaches, sangria in the sun and paella by the plateful. Southern Spain has long been a popular place, but tourists are increasingly turning to the fascinations of another Spain, far removed from the high-rise developments lining the Costa del Sol. Spain is a treasure chest of unforgettable scenery. Separating Spain from France, the snow-capped Pyrenees, as well as having breathtaking views, offer resorts like La Molina and Panticosa with plenty of opportunities for skiing. In the north, the winding rivers and lush, green forests of Galicia present a picture not usually associated with Spain, and in complete contrast to the Moorish-influenced south, Galician culture traces its routes to a Celtic origin. Everywhere are reminders of Spain’s rich and varied past, from the Alhambra in Granada to Don Quixote’s windmills in La Mancha. Old mixes with new in cities such as Toledo, Barcelona, Salamanca and the capital, Madrid, as celebrated museums, galleries and Baroque churches rub shoulders with blaring bars and thumping discos. What will never change is the Spaniards’ passion for partying. Snack on tapas as you skip for bar to bar, before heading off to enjoy Spain’s infamous nightlife.
Area: 505,988 sq km (195,363 sq miles)
Geography: Spain shares the Iberian peninsula with Portugal and is bounded to the north by the Pyrénées, which separate Spain from France, the Balearic Islands southeast of Barcelona, and the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa. With the exception of Switzerland, mainland Spain is the highest and most mountainous country in Europe. The Pyrénées run from the Basque Country in the west to the Mediterranean Sea. The main physical feature of Spain is the vast central plateau divided by several chains of sierras. The Mediterranean coastal area reaches from France to the Straits of Gibraltar.
Language: Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque.
Credit Cards: MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club and VISA as well as the Eurocheque cards are all widely accepted.
Travelers Checks: International travelers checks widely accepted.
Banking Hours: 9am-2pm Monday to Friday. Some banks are also open on Saturday from 9am-1pm.
Air: Spain’s national airline is Iberia (IB) (www.iberia.com)
Approximate flight times:
London to Madrid is 2 hours
New York to Madrid is 7 hours 25 minutes
Chicago to Madrid is 9 hours 50 minutes
Los Angeles to Madrid is 13 hours
Spain boasts over 30 international airports (www.aena.es)
Madrid (MAD) (Barajas) is 15km (9 miles) northeast of the city. A bus service departs to the city around every 10 to 30 minutes 7am-12 midnight and underground services run every four to seven minutes 6am-1:30am. Taxi service is available.
Barcelona (BCN) (del Prat) is 12km (7 miles) southwest of the city. Bus service to the city departs Mon-Fri every 15 minutes, Sat every 30 minutes and Sun every 20 minutes 6am-12 mid-night. Rail service is every 30 minutes 6:45am-11:40pm. Taxi service to the city is available, costing about EUR 18 (Travel time-30 minutes).
Social & Business Customs
Eating out in Spain is often cheap and meals are substantial rather than gourmet. One of the best ways to sample Spanish food is to try tapas or snacks, which are served at any time of day in local bars. Many of the specialties of Spanish cuisine are based on seafood, although regional specialties are easier to find inland. In the eastern regions, the paella has a well-deserved reputation. It can be prepared in many ways, based on meat or seafood.
Spain is essentially a wine drinking country with sherry being one the principal export products. There are four main types; fino, amontillado, oloroso and dulce. The principal table wines are the riojas and valdepenas. The majority of Spanish sparkling wines are sweet and fruity. Spanish brandy is as different from French as Scotch whisky is from Irish.
Spaniards often start the evening with el paseo, a leisurely stroll through the main streets, wearing their most fashionable clothes. A café terrace is an excellent vantage point to observe this tradition. The atmosphere is especially vibrant at fiesta time or when the local football team has won with celebrations marked by a cacophony of car horns, firecrackers and a sea of flags and team regalia. Tapas bars offer delicious snacks in a relaxed, enjoyable setting and it is fun to try out several bars in one night. The nightclubs of Ibiza, Barcelona and Madrid have attracted the attention of the international media but the variety on offer caters for most tastes. Things work up to la marcha (good fun) relatively late and it is possible to dance literally until dawn. Flamenco or other dancing displays provides an alternative for those preferring to watch.
In Spain, the shopper can find items of high quality at a fair price. In Madrid, the Rastro Market on Sunday is particularly recommended. Half of the market takes place in the open air and half in more permanent galleries. Catalonian textiles are world famous. Spanish leather goods are prized throughout the world.
10am-1pm and 4-8pm Monday to Saturday. However, most commercial stores and malls stay open from 10am-10pm.
Spanish life has undergone rapid change in recent years and many of the stricter religious customs are giving way to more modern ways. Nonetheless, many old customs, manners and traditions have not faded and hospitality, chivalry and courtesy remain important. Handshaking is the customary form of greeting. Conservative casual wear is acceptable. Outside resorts, scanty beachwear should be confined to beach or poolside. Smoking widely accepted.
Service charges and taxes are usually included in hotel bills. It is also customary to leave a tip for the waiter. Restaurants include service in the bill and a tip is discretionary. Tip taxis 2-3%.
Business people are generally expected to dress smartly. Although English is widely spoken, an interest in Spanish and an effort to speak even a few words will be appreciated. Business cards are exchanged and appointments should be made. Office hours tend to vary.
Spain’s climate varies from temperate in the North to dry and hot in the South. The best months are from April to October. Mid-summer can be excessively hot throughout the country except the coastal regions. Madrid is best in late spring or fall.