The Alternative Guide to Spain: Don’t Go There, Try Here

Spain is a buzzing tourist destination, but all too often travellers stick to the tried-and-tested locations rather than branching out and exploring somewhere else. If you fancy avoiding the usual tourist hotspots and trying something a little different, here are some options:

Not Barcelona – Girona

Long overshadowed by its big sister, Girona offers an authentic slice of Spanish life. While Barcelona can be daunting and over-hyped, this beautiful little city is relaxed, stylish and compact with a lovely old town – the Casco Viejo. Wander around the narrow streets of El Call, the old Jewish ghetto, marvel at the splendid gothic cathedral, and explore Girona’s own La Rambla – a pedestrian street where locals shop, stroll and chat over drinks in the shady cafes.


Not Valencia – Malaga

Located on the sun-drenched Costa del Sol, Malaga is often overlooked in favour of Valencia, Spain’s third city a few hours up the coast. But anybody with a passing interest in history would love it here. Malaga has been occupied by various civilisations for over 2,000 years, leaving behind some eye-catching monuments, such as the Alcazaba, a Roman fort dating to the 8th century, and Castillo de Gibralfaro. Culture vultures will love the Picasso Museum.


Not Madrid – Toledo

Located 70 kilometres south of Madrid, many tourists make a day trip here, but rarely give it the attention it deserves. Known as the ‘City of Three Cultures’ thanks to its status as a base for the invading Romans, Moors and Christian Reconquista, the entire city is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend a few days here to enjoy the Alcázar and Cathedral of Toledo, along with numerous other mosques, synagogues and churches. There’s also a museum dedicated to the Renaissance master, El Greco, who lived and worked here.


Not Palma de Mallorca – Cádiz

Spain’s oldest city, Cadiz is a laid-back Andalucian port that juts out over the Atlantic. Its crumbling houses and fortifications form part of its charm – a little world-weary perhaps, but well loved. The stunning beaches of the Costa de la Luz are on its doorstep, and its location makes it a favourite for seafood-lovers with fritura, fried fish, its speciality. Perhaps the best time to visit is during the riotous February carnival. It has all the attractions of the Mallorcan capital, but a lot more charm.


Not Seville – Salamanca

Although delightful, Seville’s charms are know to many and this wonderful city can get crowded, especially during the Feria. Instead head to Salamanca. This landlocked city is home to one of the oldest universities in the world, hence has a young, vibrant atmosphere. A medieval town with its fair share of sandstone buildings, it offers a relaxed pace of life, although the student crowd ensure there are plenty of bars and nightclubs to keep you entertained. Perhaps the best time to visit is in September, for the Virgen de la Vega festival celebrating the city’s patron saint.


Spain is a treasure trove for travellers – next time you visit head off the beaten track and try some of these lesser-known gems.

Cadiz Cathedral

Historic Streets, Top Tapas and Sandy Beaches: Cadiz, Spain

Cadiz is a city absolutely drenched in history. And this year 2012 – is a particularly important anniversary. 200 years ago in Cadiz the first ever Spanish Constitution was drawn up. This pivotal document devolved significant powers from the King to regular people and it formed the basis for constitutions in countries as far afield as Mexico and Norway. Huge celebrations are planned throughout the year and many of the city’s major historic sites have been renovated for the occasion.

Cobbled Streets & Beautiful Squares

The historic core of the city juts out on a peninsula and is surrounded by an ancient fortified wall. It’s a fascinating warren of narrow cobbled streets and unexpected squares, full of atmosphere and hustle and bustle. You can easily spend a good couple of days exploring on foot, getting lost a little and finding yourself again. The only time you might want to hop on the bus is to get to the beach – the town beach Playa de la Caleta is fine for a quick dip, but it gets crowded and the beaches just outside the old town are worth the trip to get to.

Accommodation Options

Much of the up-market accommodation is outside the old town, but for budget travellers, basing yourself in the old town is easy. There are several good quality hostels to choose from and a couple of really excellent value hotels if you’re feeling a little more flush. It goes without saying that during bicentenary year places will be at a premium, so you’re well advised to book ahead.

So what’s there to see and do in Cadiz? Here are a few suggestions:

5 things not to miss in Cadiz:

The busy market

The guidebooks will tell you this is the ‘oldest covered market in Spain’. Maybe so, but it’s been renovated extensively so it doesn’t exactly feel old. Regardless of that it offers a fascinating view of daily Gaditano life. It’s great for people watching or buying a few bits and pieces for a picnic lunch.

Cadiz Market

The vast cathedral

This vast Baroque building dominates Plaza de la Catedral. Inside you’ll find a genuinely awe-inspiring series of towering vaulted arches and an altar-piece of outrageous extravagance; the sheer scale of it all is what really hits you. It’s worth checking out the nearby Cathedral Museum down a small alley to the left of the entrance, in Casa de la Contaduria too. It’s a trove of gem –encrusted treasures, many plundered from Spain’s New World colonies in the Americas.

Cadiz Cathedral

Historic museums

Cadiz museum is located on one of its most attractive squares – Plaza de Mina – which in itself is worth a wander. There’s an eclectic collection of relics and paintings from pre-history to the present day here. It’s particularly good for the strikingly lifelike paintings of 17th century local artist Zurbaran – 21 in total. The other place to head for if you want the full low down on the city’s history, is the Museo de Las Cortes de Cadiz which focusses on that famous Constitution and has had a makeover for the 2012 celebrations.

Sandy, fun-filled beaches

If it’s beach you’re after, head for Playa Victoria. A long stretch of golden sand just outside the old town, it’s flanked by many of the more upmarket hotels. . If you’re feeling energetic you could walk it, but quicker to hop on a bus. It’s a huge expanse of sand and rolling surf, with a long promenade, lots of bars and cafes, and beach bars serving seafood too – known as chiringuitos.

Cadiz Beach

Tapas on Calle Virgen de la Palma

This street is famous for its string of neighbourhood tapas bars that dish up some of the best local seafood. It’s definitely on the tourist map these days, so prices aren’t as cheap as they used to be, but it remains pretty unspoilt otherwise. Take a phrasebook if you don’t speak Spanish. Try a mixed plate of deep-fried fish – surtido – and an ice cold beer. It’s the perfect way to spend an evening.

Getting there:

Flights: The nearest airports are Jerez and Seville from where you can get direct trains to Cadiz.

Bus: There are regular buses from Madrid with a journey time of around 8 hours.

Boat: Many of the big cruise lines dock at Cadiz port. Visit the P&O Cruises website for the latest cruise deals from P&O Cruises

The bus and train stations and the cruise liner port are all within walking distance of the old town.

Check out other stunning destinations from around Europe  now this has whet your whistle…


This is a guest post by Jeremy Head on behalf of P&O Cruises