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Spain is considered an exotic country in Europe due to its friendly inhabitants, relaxed lifestyle, its cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and world-famous folklore and festivities. Among many places worth visiting are Spain's thriving capital Madrid, the vibrant coastal city of Barcelona, the famous "Running of the Bulls" at Pamplona, major Andalucian cities with Moorish architecture, like Seville, Granada and Córdoba, the Way of St. James and the idyllic Balearic and Canary Islands.
Spain is a diverse country sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is the country with the second-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spain has a very extensive network of libraries and museums throughout the Spanish territory. Sun, water and fun are guaranteed along the Spanish coast, the perfect place to enjoy water sports. Evenings promise incredible late dinners and a passionate night life. Fashionistas will be in absolute heaven as they shop top international brands and designers.
Madrid Currency : Euro Driver's License : International license required. Must be 21 years old and have a credit card. Electricity : 220 Volts, 50 Hertz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : +1hr Daylight savings time is applied. Government : Parliamentary monarchy Land size : 498,980 sq km Language : Spanish National Airlines : Iberia Population : 47,000,000 approx. Religion : Catholic 94%, other 6% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : April to June and September to November are best, July to September very hot.
Spanish cuisine consists of a variety of dishes, which stem from differences in geography, culture and climate. It is heavily influenced by seafood available from the waters that surround the country, and reflects the country's deep maritime roots. Spain's extensive history with many cultural influences has led to an array of unique cuisines with literally thousands of recipes and flavors. It is also renowned for its health benefits and fresh ingredients. Dinner is served very late, from 20.30 to 23.00 h, although many establishments are open continuously throughout the day, especially bars and cafeterias.
There were two major kinds of diet in the peninsula. One was found in the northwest part of the peninsula, with more animal fats that correspond to the husbandry of the North. The other could be considered the precursor of the Mediterranean diet and was found in the southerly parts of the peninsula. Also Spanish people love to eat pork.
Among the multitude of recipes that make up the varied cuisines of Spain, a few can be considered common to all:potato omelette (tortilla de patata or tortilla española), paella, various stews, migas, sausages (such as embutidos, chorizo, and morcilla), jamón serrano, and cheeses. There are also many dishes based on beans, soups and bread with distinct varieties in each region. Traditional Spanish desserts and cakes inclued flan, custard, rice pudding (arroz con leche), torrijas, churros, and madeleines. Apple groves foster the production of the traditional alcoholic drink, a natural dry cider called Sidra.
Spain has produced exquisite, innovative dishes with the guarantee of internationally prestigious chefs. Recipes combining popular tradition with artistic creation to offer you exciting, new flavours. Spain's culinary revolution, headed by master chefs like Ferrán Adriá, Arzak and Berasategui turns the pleasure of good food into a luxury for the senses that is at its finest when savoured in Spain.
Culture Spanish is the official language in the entire national territory. However, other languages coexist with Spanish in certain regions of Spain. These are: Catalan in Catalonia, Galician in Galicia, Euskera/Basque in the Basque Country, Valencian in the Valencia Region and a particular variety of Catalan spoken on the Balearic Islands.
Spain is, above all, a mosaic of cultures. Heterogeneous. Old and modern. Refined and popular. Holy and secular. Plural and diverse. The variety of its cultures attracts. From literature to painting, music to architecture, the theater to sumptuary arts. Cultural tourism is becoming an alternative to sun and beach tourism, as a result of the wealth and quality of the museums, monuments, fiestas and traditions, not to mention the expositions and various cultural displays. Spanish theatre and cinema is becoming a reference point in Europe, thanks to events such as the Theatre Festivals of Mérida, Sagunto and Almagro and the San Sebastian and Valladolid cinema festivals.
Spanish art constitutes one of the most important cultural heritages of the world. The first artistic samples date back to the Superior Palaeolithic age and feature cave paintings from the Altamira cave and the Mediterranean arch. The Phoenician and Greek influence is evident in the gold work and sculpturing. Early Christian art began in the 3rd century and was followed by Visigoth art from the 5th century onward. The Hispanic-Muslim art period extended from the 8th century through to the 15th. Modernism was particularly triumphant in Catalonia; its most important representative being Gaudí, designer of the Sagrada Familia and Casa Milá, amongst others. Twentieth century Spanish painting reached great levels of international recognition, thanks to painters such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí.
Spanish music is often considered abroad to be synonymous with flamenco, a West Andalusian musical genre, which, contrary to popular belief, is not widespread outside that region. the music of Galicia and Asturias, in the north, which has ancient celtic roots, has more in common with the music of Ireland and France than with Basque music. Other regional styles of folk music abound in Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Castile, Llión and Asturias. Spain has also had an important role within the history of classical music from Renaissance composers. Pop, rock, hip hop and heavy metal are also popular.
Geography The largest part of the territory is located in the Iberian Peninsula; the remainder are islands, -Balearics and the Canary Islands; and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, situated on the coast of Africa.
The situation of the Iberian Peninsula in the extreme south west of Europe and only 14 kilometers away from the African continent, endows Spain with a great strategic value: projecting into the Mediterranean on one side and acting as an intersection on the path to Africa and America on the other. The fact that a large part of Spain is peninsular also explains the length of its coastline, which runs along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The north of Spain is flanked by the Pyrenees Mountains, shared with France. Spain's average altitude is high at 660 meters. Its highest peaks are Teide (3,718 metres), on the island of Tenerife.
The Spanish population now stands at over 47 million, with an average density of just 91.2 inhabitants per square kilometer. The large metropolitan areas include Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Bilbao, etc. Madrid is the capital of Spain.
History The first settlers on the Peninsula were the Celts and the Iberians. From the year 1100 A.D. and until the middle of the 3rd century A.D., commercial and cultural contact with high Mediterranean civilizations was held with the Phoenicians and Greeks. At the end of this era, both civilizations were taken over by the Carthaginians and Romans, respectively. The Roman presence in Hispania lasted for seven centuries, during which time the basic borders of the Peninsula in relation to other European towns were set up. Integration was a rapid process, with the exception of the Northeast of the peninsula, inhabited by Basques, Cantabrians and Asturians, who resisted the infiltration of the Romans, Visigoths and later the Muslims at the beginning of the 8th century.
The Arab presence in Spain would last for almost seven centuries and leave an indelible mark on the Spanish cultural heritage. Following a long period of peaceful coexistence, the small Christian strongholds in the North of the Peninsula took on a leading role in the Reconquest, which ended with the capture of Granada in 1492 under the reign of the Catholic King and Queen, traditionally considered the founders of peninsular unity and the imperial management of the Spanish revival. The Spanish Enlightenment is characterized as being an era of exterior harmony, reformations and interior development. The War of Independence was a war against the French invasion, but also a revolutionary war due to the decisive involvement of the people and the clear formation of a national conscience that would later shape the 1812 Constitution. The Courts of Cadiz thereby enacted one of the first Constitutions of the world which ratified that sovereignty would reside in the nation.
The internal conflict between two different ways of perceiving the establishment of the state, would be one of the longest Spanish conflicts throughout the 19th century. Spain remained neutral during the First World War but crisis returned with the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the Civil War of 1936 to 1939 and then followed by the military victory of General Franco which gave way to a long dictatorial period that would last until his death in 1975. It was an era characterized by an iron control of interior politics and isolation from the international environment.
But with the death of General Franco, the Spanish people peacefully made the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The government continues to battle the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorist organization, but its major focus for the immediate future will be on measures to reverse the severe economic recession that started in mid-2008.
Nature The climatic diversity that prevails in Spain marks a clear difference between two very distinct types of vegetation. On one hand, in the Cantabrian area there is the luxurious vegetation with abundant deciduous forests where the most characteristic species is the common oak, followed by lime trees, chestnut trees, elm trees, ash trees, maple trees and hazelnut trees. This area also has plains covered in dense Atlantic thicket, formed by heather, ferns and gorse. Beech also grows in medium mountains and there are fir trees in the cooler areas of the Pyrenees and the Penibetic system.
The second largest area of vegetation in Spain has been shaped by a dry, summer climate and presents two groups of vegetation: on the one hand, the vegetation of the plateau and the Iberian depression and on the other, the vegetation of Mediterranean Spain. It is characterized by uncultivated land and few forests in which the dominant species is the evergreen oak, invaded by the introduction of the pine at various different stages.
Also, in the plateau we can find evergreen oak and cork oak forests and in drier areas such as the Ebro valley, Extremadura and La Mancha, there are abundant thickets, dotting the landscape with small bushes, each one very different to the next. The Gall Oak, Aleppo Pine and the Stone Pine are other types of trees which are found in abundance in the dry parts of Spain. The steppe is a common feature in the west of Andalusia and Levante.
Spain's climatic diversity can be seen in its fantastic richness, which includes typically European, Mediterranean and African species of animals, as well as alpine fauna in the high mountain massifs. The most emblematic mammals are wolf, fox, wildcat, lynx, deer, Spanish ibex and wild boar, among others.
Spain is also an important stopping-off point for flocks of migratory birds on their journey to and from Europe and Africa. Some of the most notable are duck, flamingo, heron, crane and bustard, as well as numerous species of birds of prey including eagles, bearded vultures, hawks, owls and goshawks. It is also home to a wealth of different varieties of fish, and Spain's rivers and lakes boast an abundance of species such as trout, tench and barbel.
Sports In Spain you'll be able to enjoy the thrills of sport in all its forms. Spain is Europe's second most mountainous country, with a long skiing tradition, and provides all the necessary facilities for you to practice the sport. There are over 35 ski resorts spread all around the country.
If golf is your thing, then Spain is your destination. Spain is the leads European golf tourism. Every year thousands of people choose our country to play the sport. Spain is backing golf in a big way. It has 313 courses, 16 of which are rustic, according to the Royal Spanish Golf Federation. There are courses in major cities, as well as in mountain areas and right on the coast.
A paradise for hikers searching for landscape diversity and calm. Spain offers this and more, a pleasant climate almost all year round. Whether you are looking for the unique and universal Long Distance paths, such as the Way of Saint James or old, small nature filled paths, you will find them either in the Spanish peninsula or its islands.
On the coasts of Andalusia and Catalonia... From the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands to the coasts of Galicia, Asturias, Murcia and the Region of Valencia. Here you’ll experience the excitement of sailing, try your hand at windsurfing, leap in the air on a water bike, have a go at waterskiing, thrill to the adrenaline rush from parasailing, or immerse yourself in the depths of the sea. Sea kayaking, banana boats, snorkelling, cruise trips and deep sea fishing are among the other water activities available at Spain's Marine Resorts.
Sport in Spain has been dominated by football (soccer in N. America) since the early 20th century. Real Madrid C.F. and F.C. Barcelona are two of the most successful football clubs in the world. Basketball, tennis, cycling, handball, motorcycling and, lately, Formula One are also important due to the presence of Spanish champions in all these disciplines. If in Barcelona make sure to visit the Olympic venues from the1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
Banks & Money
The Euro (€) is legal tender in Spain. If you need to exchange foreign currency go to any bank office or at a currency exchange shop found in all major cities, as well as selected hotels and travel agencies.
Payment using recognized international credit cards is also commonly available in Spanish shops. They usually have signs indicating this option at the entrance to the establishment. When you make a payment you should show your passport or ID card.
Traveller’s checks, accompanied by a passport, are also accepted in most hotels, restaurants and shops.
Climate Spain has a predominantly warm Mediterranean climate, with dry summers and winters with balanced temperatures. Here you can enjoy more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. It is no surprise, then, that this is one of the warmest parts of Europe.
Nevertheless, variety is the main characteristic of the climate here, due to Spain’s immense geographical diversity. Generally the interior enjoys clear, hot summers and cloudy, cold winters. Along the coast summers are more moderate and cloudy and partly cloudy, cool winters.
The climate is harsher and it is common to see snow from the beginning of winter to the end of spring in the mountain areas such as the Pyrenees, the mountains of Sierra Nevada, the Central and Iberian ranges, and the Cantabrian Mountains.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The country code for Aruba is 34.
You can send letters from anywhere in Spain. To do so you should buy stamps, available at the licensed tobacco shops known as Estancos. To send the letter or postcard you need to put it in a post box, to be found in the streets, at railway stations and at airports.
If you want to send a package, make a money transfer or send a telegram, then you should go to a branch of the post office (Correos). These offices also offer fax and registered fax services. Faxes can also be sent from most hotels.
If you wish to get online to check your email, or for any other reason, you should go to one of the many establishments that offer this kind of connection: telephone houses, cyber cafés, etc. Internet connections are also available at airports, major railway and bus stations, and at some shopping centers. Generally, these services work with coins.
Health Drinking water supply is guaranteed throughout Spain. We have stringent control systems that guarantee water quality. Nevertheless, in some Mediterranean coastal areas consumption of bottled water is widespread.
In Spain, medications are obtained at pharmacies. They are all marked with a green cross. You will get your prescriptions from your doctor.
You do not need any vaccinations against illness to travel to Spain. As in any part of the world, it is advisable to have your anti-tetanus vaccination up to date if you are going to be in contact with nature and the countryside, as well as any other official vaccination program.
Official Holidays 1 January, New Year’s Day
6 January, Epiphany
March-April, Maundy Thursday (throughout Spain, except in Catalonia)
March-April, Good Friday
15 August, Assumption
12 October, National Holiday in Spain
1 November, All Saints
6 December, Spanish Constitution Day
8 December, Immaculate Conception
Safety In general terms, Spain is one of the safest countries in Europe for visiting tourists.
As in any country, there are basic security measures to bear in mind. Try not to walk around empty streets or poorly-lit areas, and avoid street gambling stalls. Try to carry only the money you need for any one excursion. Take care of your possessions in crowded places such as public transport or department stores. When relaxing in public places, keep valuable objects like mobile phones and cameras out of view.
Shopping Besides well-known mass brands which are known around the world (Zara, Mango, Bershka, Camper, Desigual), Spain has many designer brands which are more hard to find outside Spain--and may be worth looking for if you shop for designer wear while travelling.
Many gourmet food items make great souvenirs to bring to your table at home: Spain offers a great wide variety of regional cheeses like the Queso Manchego, Cabrales,Tetilla and Mahon; the Chorizo, Spain's most popular sausage; : Jamón Serrano is a ham obtained from the salt meat of the back legs of the pig and air dried; and the Spanish saffron spice.
There are several wonderful beverages to purchase: the ciders of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria; the non-alcoholic Horchata; Sangria; Fino Sherry; and wines.
Every region has a specialty too and you may find beautiful arts and crafts, especially jewelery and earthenware.
Taxes & Tips There is no departure tax at the airport.
Tipping, although not obligatory, is very much expected. Bellhops and doorman usually receive $2 per bag and chambermaids should get $2 per day. Taxi drivers usually receive at tip of 10% of the metered charge. Almost all restaurants and bars include a 15% service charge in their prices.
The value-added tax (IVA in Spain) on most goods and services is of 18%. Refunds are made for the tax on certain goods and merchandise if you spend a minimum of 91€ in the same store on the same day, and if you are not a resident of the European Union. You must ask for a tax-free receipt from the store, have customs stamp your form when leaving (have purchases with you) and then mail it in for your refund when back home.
Transportation The majority of Spanish airports offer services from airlines that connect with some of the world's most important cities. The airports are, in turn, linked with an extensive network of transport for you to get to your final destination by train, taxi, bus or metro. The majority are located less than 20 kilometers from the city center. There are excellent air connections between the major Spanish cities. The largest airports are Barajas, in Madrid, and El Prat, in Barcelona, offering the greatest number of daily flights. Spain's extensive network of air services also provides daily flights between the islands and the peninsular.
The international rail network links Spain with Portugal, France, Switzerland and Italy. The Spanish National Railway Network (RENFE) connects all the provincial capitals with Madrid, and is operating more and more high speed (AVE) trains.
There is a range of bus companies offering scheduled services to Spain from different European companies. Bus services in Spain run to more than 170 destinations in a maximum journey time of 12 hours . Furthermore, many bus stations in Spain offer connecting services to major airports.
Spain has scheduled services by sea from the United Kingdom, Italy, Portugal, Morocco and Algeria. Spain offers connections by sea to the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Ceuta and Melilla.
Mos big or medium cities offer car rental services. In major cities it is better to avoid the headache all together. Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to move from one city to another every other day, ideally if you don't plan to park overnight in large cities. There are two types of highway in Spain: autopistas, or motorways, and autovías, which are more akin to expressways. Most autopistas are toll roads while autovías are generally free of charge. Be alert: Spanish drivers can be unpredictable and some of the roads are notoriously dangerous.
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Valencia is the most populous city of the Autonomous Community of Valencia and the third largest city in Spain, with a population of 809,267 in 2010. It is the 15th-most populous municipality in the European Union. It is integrated into an industrial area on the Costa del Azahar. Its historic centre is one of the largest in Spain, with approximately 169 hectares; this heritage of ancient monuments, views and cultural attractions makes Valencia one of the country's most popular tourist destinations!
Madrid, Spain's elegant capital, is beautifully located on the Manzanares River. It is also the political, economic and cultural centre of Spain. Due to its economic output, high standard of living, and market size, Madrid is considered the major financial centre of Southern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula; it hosts the head offices of the vast majority of major Spanish companies, such as Telefónica, Iberia and Repsol. Madrid is considered the 17th most livable city in the world and as one of the world's major global cities.
Barcelona – Spain's enchanting capital, second largest and most populous city. It is a huge city that vibrates with life, and there’s certainly not another city in the country to touch it for its sheer style, looks or energy. It is one of the world's leading tourist, economic, trade fair and cultural centers, and its influence in commerce, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world's major global cities. Barcelona is home to masterpieces of many great architects – the most famous of which is Antoni Gaudí.