10 things I love most about Spain

My love for Spain is deep, lifelong, and very personal. It involves my most formative childhood experiences like going to local stores daily with my grandparents to buy bread, meat, and fresh vegetables, playing in plazas for hours during long summer nights, and growing up in bars and running around on the sidewalks outside.

For this reason, it’s hard to separate out specific things that I love about Spain, since so much is inextricably tied up in who I am.

But, as I think about how to list what I love best and what I most want to share and enable others to experience, I realized that everything can be summed up by this — a deep appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

In my opinion, the best parts of Spain and the Spanish way of life are incredibly simple.  Here are my favorite things about Spain in random order:

The Light

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Sun streaming down a street in the Chueca neighborhood of Madrid

The light in Spain is amazing. While much of Spain receives hundreds of days of sunlight a year, I don’t mean that the weather in Spain is sunny. On the north coast, one of my favorite areas of the country,  cloudy and rainy can be quite typical.

The quality of the light in Spain is unique. It’s nearly impossible to explain in words, but the golden hours as the sunsets during the summer months late in the evening are indescribably beautiful. It probably has to do with the fact that Spain is in the wrong time zone and thus enjoys light in the evenings beyond most other countries. In the summer, it’s still light out well past 10.

The blue of the sky

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Castilla y León, Spain, home to the bluest sky in the world — no filters!

The most intensely blue sky I have ever seen is in Spain, in the region of Castilla y Leon to be exact. Madrid is also famous for its intensely blue skies. There is nothing like stepping outside on a beautiful day and looking up at an almost sapphire blue sky. Maybe it’s the backdrop of medieval, sand colored buildings that contrast with the sky and give the blue its rich, deep tones. Whatever the cause, it’s simply beautiful.

Bar Culture

I love bars in Spain. This might lead you to believe that I love parties and drinking and clubs. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is exactly why I love bars in Spain.

They are laid back, even ones that look fancy and very refined, and welcoming to people of all generations — children, sure, abuelitos, of course.

I love that bars are a social gathering places for people to enjoy a nice drink and a bite to eat, to meet with friends and family, or to enjoy the company of people around them they might not know. It emphasizes what I love best about Spain — simple, but excellent food and drink, and wonderful company. Nothing fancy, but just perfect.

Quality food

Spanish food at its heart is simple. It uses fresh, local ingredients of the highest quality and focuses on dishes with straightforward ingredients and tastes. Traditional Spanish food is varies widely as it reflects the country’s regional diversity in climate, culture, and history.

For instance, the food in the southern region of Andalucia is very much influenced by the extremely hot, dry summers. Cold soups made from fresh tomatoes and cucumbers like gazpacho and salmorejo are so refreshing on a hot summer day and rely on fresh, local produce for their main ingredients.

The region of Extremadura and parts of the region of Andalucia in the south are known for raising the best, acorn-fed Iberian ham in the world. Asturias, one of the northern coastal regions, is famous for cider and cheese. Galicia, the most northwest region, just above Portugal, is known for incredible seafood. The central region of Castilla y Leon is produces some of the country’s best cured meats, called embutidos.

The olives that grow in several regions but most notably in the South are used to make some of the best olive oil in the world.

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An olive tree in Southern Spain

Best of all is that quality, fresh food, including wonderful fruits and vegetables, is affordable and accessible both in local markets, grocery stores, and at bars and restaurants. This means that eating well and valuing fresh food is something cuts across the spectrum of Spanish society.

History, Art, Architecture 

It’s hard to even know where to begin with this one. Spain has an incredibly rich history, from the Phoenicians and the Romans, to the Moors, and the influence of Catholicism. This is reflected in art and architecture throughout the country.

The whimsical architecture of Gaudi is Barcelona is unique, colorful, and known around the world.

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Casa Mila, an example of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona

The south of Spain is filled with stunning architecture built by the Moors.  The Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita, or the Mosque, in Cordoba are among the most famous works of Moorish architecture in Spain.

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An interior courtyard with a typical Moorish pool in the Alambra in Granada

 

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Gardens and fountain at the Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba
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The famous mezquita or mosque in Cordoba

The Roman Aqueduct in Segovia was completed at the end of the first century and used into the 19th century and is very well preserved. It’s a great example of the remains and influences of the Roman Empire in Spain.

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Spain abounds with gothic cathedrals and beautiful, smaller churches.

Spain has some of the top art museums in the world. Madrid is home to three of the best art museums in Europe frequently referred to as the Golden Triangle of Art because of their close proximity to one another —

  • The Prado home to Las Meninas and the black paintings of Goya along with works for many non-Spaniards, including the Garden of the Earthly Deights, by Heronomous Bosch, my all-time favorite work of art;
  • The Reina Sofia houses Picasso’s Guernica, arguably one of the most famous pieces of art in the world, other works by Picasso, and pieces by Joan Miro, Juan Gris,  René Magritte, and Alexander Calder among others;
  • Thyssen-Bornemisza whose collection includes Dutch and English masters like and impressionist and post-impressionist works by artists like Monet, Renoir, Degas all the way to Dali, Chagall, Magritte and Rothko.

Love of children

Spaniards love children and expect that children will be everywhere. What do I mean by this?

There are no spaces where children are off-limits. For instance, it would be unthinkable to have a wedding that children are not invited to. No one minds if a parent has to stand up and walk around a church a bit with a finicky child in the middle of a ceremony. Everyone understands that this is normal for kids and it’s just a part of life. During wedding receptions or other formal events, it is common to see babies napping in their baby carriages over in the corner.

You see children in restaurants of all types, in bars with their parents, running around late at night during the summer, and basically all of the places you see adults.

Everything is inter-generational

Old people, like children, are also everywhere! In bars, on benches, taking the metro, walking around just like everyone else. While there are retirement homes for older people who need special care, most older Spaniards live independently in apartments, at least as long as they are able to.

My abuelos, who are in their late 80s and early 90s, live in a small, but bustling city. This means that they go grocery shopping, walk the dog, go the bar downstairs for breakfast. While they move at a slower pace than they used to, they and lots of older people like them across the country, are an integral part of a city’s life. This is great for them and their social connectivity and it’s great for everyone else who sees every phase of life represented around them.

Family and Friends are Everything

For me, this is perhaps the height of quality through simplicity. For Spaniards, there is nothing more luxious or important than spending time, lots of time, with family and friends.

On weekends, it’s common for extended families who live near each other to gather for hours long meals. For people who don’t live close to family, gathering with friends over meals is common. This happens regularly, not just to celebrate birthdays, holidays, or special occasions.

Physical Geography

Last, but certainly not least, Spain is a physically beautiful country. The geography is also extremely varied and diverse.

Spain is surrounded on every side (except for it’s border with Portugal) by water and has some stunning beaches. The beaches range from turquoise inlets on the Ballearic islands, to rugged beaches on the Atlantic north coast, to the long, stunning beaches of the South.

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A cala, or inlet, on the island of Mallorca

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Picos de Europa, Northern Spain

In between, Spain’s Castilla y León region has the flat open plains, the region of Andalucia in the south has stunning olive groves, and

As you can see, I got carried away describing the 10 things I love best about Spain.

While it’s certainly impossible to see everything on one trip to Spain, with a well planned and customized trip, it is very possible to experience a real slice of Spanish life and to see and appreciate all of these things and to even develop your own list!

 

 

 

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