Ultimate Guide To A Classic Spanish Holiday

Devouring ham in gourmet restaurants, sitting transfixed at flamenco performances, feeling the rush and bittersweet emotions of a bullfight, gawking at architectural marvels, chasing the spirits of Gaudi & Dali – A trip to Spain is a never-ending array of surprises. The choice of Spain as our ‘honeymoon’ destination was unanimous as both of us have salivated over the prospect of being in Spain over the years. In the summer of 2016, we brought alive our Spanish dream!

In our sixteen days in Spain, we explored 3 key regions while giving the Basque country in the North a miss as it required a lot more time to complete. 

BARCELONA

We arrived into Barcelona, the ideal hub of entry given the relatively cheaper flights out from India. While the first two days in Barcelona went by in just getting accustomed to the Spanish culture and brushing up on our rudimentary knowledge of Spanish (We used Fluenz and found it useful), we did enjoy a stunning view of the Catalonian capital from the Bunkers. The Bunkers probably offer the best 360 degree views of the city but still remains a well-kept secret making it less crowded. Traversing through the much popular Park Guell, it is an arduous one-hour hike but the magnificent view of the city is well-worth burning those calories.

You’ll be greeted by stunning architecture at every turn in Barcelona

Beyond The Wall Tip:

  • Visit Hospital De Sant Pau, down the road to the left from Sagrada Familia for a taste of Barcelona monuments beyond the obvious!

COSTA BRAVA

From Barcelona, we took a slight detour from the south-ward direction of our itinerary to spend three days in the villages of Costa Brava. Walking into the Catalonian villages feels like you’re getting into a Game Of Thrones set. Set amidst vast paddy fields, horse farms, and charming bell-towers – each village has a handful of people and one-odd bakery where an old granny would have some traditional Catalan fare stocked up. The only way to get around here is to have your own rented car or a bicycle if you’re in good shape.

Empty tables, cobbled alleys, brick walls – Catalonian villages are still in the medieval era

But, it is the sun-kissed Meditteranean beaches that lie within a slingshot away from most of the Catalonian villages that make Costa Brava as special as it is. Think of traversing from horse farms to hidden coves within a few miles of a walk – something only Costa Brava could hand you.

Beyond The Wall Tip:

  • Renting a car is the only feasible way to explore this region as it gives you the freedom to stop by farms and open spaces to indulge in a nice picnic with some wine!
  • We stayed in this fabulous AirBnB in the village of Casavells, about 15 miles away from the coast. Our host Xavier and his daughter were incredibly warm, the village was deserted but for a few horses and a baker, and the apartment was one of the best we’ve stayed in anywhere in the world.

MADRID

While Barcelona (and Costa Brava) is home to a ton of restaurants rated in Michelin’s top restaurants list year on year, it is Madrid which truly steals the show when it comes to food. From the quaint life of Catalonian villages, Madrid was a welcome transition in the journey. It is here that we truly began warming up to Spanish food.

We spent our days walking around the old towns delving into our favourite churros with hot chocolate, crab cakes, seafood paellas, croquettes, grilled langoustinos among much more. Though Madrid doesn’t have the pace of Barcelona, for travellers who prefer the relatively quieter cities – Madrid is an absolute gem!

Beyond The Wall Tip:

  • Enjoy a plate of grilled chicken with Apple Cider at Casa Mingo (A powerhouse in Madrid’s culinary scene) followed by a visit to Goya’s burial church next door adorned with dome/ceiling frescoes drawn by him.

CORDOBA

From Madrid, we moved further south into the Andalucian heart land where our first stop was Cordoba, a charming old-town that is often reduced to a ‘day trip’ by most ‘tour companies’. Mostly popular for its stunning Mezquita, Cordoba is a place to experience the ‘authentic’ Spain, so much that it was incredibly rare to come across an English-speaking local.

In May, Cordoba’s old town transforms into a giant botanical garden

In May, Cordoba’s old-town turns into a nursery of its own where locals open their patio gardens to the public. There are purple flowers popping out of most corners, ladies wearing their flamenco dresses, and a local feria (fair) that reeks of the Spanish culture we’ve all learnt of.

Beyond The Wall Tip:

  • Visit the Mezquita before 9:30 AM to get a free entry, which otherwise costs you 8 Euros.

GRANADA

When it comes to Granada, there really is just one thing that the world will tell you – Alhambra. A castle as majestic as any you’ll ever see, tourists flock the old Moorish capital to witness the beauty as built during the Emirate rule. While there ought to be no arguments on the wonder that Alhambra is, Granada goes much beyond it.

Granada is where the Indian Gypsies landed thousand years ago, eventually settling in the caves around Sacromonte district, a good walk from the intricate lanes of the ‘Albayzin’. It is also home to the traditional tapas culture wherein free food (and generous amounts of it) flows with every drink you order. While the rest of Spain has a very diluted (and mostly over-rated) tapas culture, Granada sticks to its guns and pleases your palate as long as you down a beer.

Beyond The Wall Tip:

  • Instead of visiting Alhambra fully by the day, visit the Nasrid Palace at night to see Alhambra in a different setting. The views of Granada from here at night are fabulous, too. Also, please book your tickets months in advance as it gets booked out quite early.

SEVILLA

Here’s the truth – Seville is a hard sell to those who’re looking for great sights to see. It offers almost close to nothing barring its Cathedral (and Alcazar for the odd GoT fan) yet leaves you feeling deeply attached. Seville is an emotion that can only be experienced. We caught a gobsmacking flamenco performance, took a free walking tour of the city understanding its deep rooted history, cantered around endlessly searching for more churros (with little luck), and just sat by the river watching the boats go by slowly.

Beyond The Wall Tip:

  • Take A Free Walking Tour Offered By Pancho Tours; You only need to tip the guide for this 3-hour jaunt around Seville.

OTHER DESTINATION CHOICES

If you’ve got the liberty of time, here are some destinations we’d have loved to add

1) Toledo/ Segovia – Toledo and Segovia are both excellent choices for a quick day trip from Madrid. Both towns still reek of old-world charm and boast of magnificent views of its castles and buildings.

2) Cadiz – Cadiz is the oldest city in Spain, situated on its Southern coast looking across to Morocco. Its high watchtowers, old ruins, and the slow way of life is reminiscent of an ‘Age Of Empires’ town. To top it all, it also plays host to some of mainland Spain’s best beaches.

While long term travellers should most certainly also visit the Northern Spain, a completely different facet to this incredible country, it is best to be left off if you only have 2-3 weeks in Spain.


VISA FOR INDIANS

Since Spain is a part of the EU, you require a Schengen Visa to visit Spain. However, Spain has changed its visa process recently.

Instead of VFS, the Spanish visa is processed by BLS although the visa stamped lets you go to other countries as well. Since BLS operates only in Mumbai/ Delhi, you’ve to go to one of these places for your appointment. Download the application form here, schedule an appointment, and go with all the supporting documents as mentioned here on the given date.

To understand budgets in Spain and get some insider tips, go here

 

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