Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world, attracting more than 83 million travelers in 2019, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
In terms of international arrivals, this makes it second only to France.
But Spaniards are also avid travelers within their own country, with nearly 93% choosing to travel within Spain in the first quarter of 2022, according to Spain’s National Institute of Statistics.
From where to eat to new luxury hotels in Madrid and sweets celebrating various saints’ days in Barcelona, Spanish residents told CNBC where they want to go.
Spanish hotelier Pau Guardans got to know his country as a child, when his family spent holidays traveling in a red and white Volkswagen “Kombi” van, a popular bus-style vehicle in the 1970s.
Now, he likes to vacation in the Costa Brava region of Catalonia on Spain’s northeast coast.
“I would recommend visiting any of her beautiful ‘calas.’ [coves] and eating in its ‘chiringuitos’ [beach bars] with good fish and rice meals. In the interior, it is worth discovering the magnificent gastronomy of the area with products from the village”, he said.
Val d’Aran in the Pyrenees mountains, a range that runs along the Franco-Spanish border.
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Guardans, the founder of Unico Hotels, a luxury group that includes the Grand Hotel Central in Barcelona and the Principal Madrid, recommended eating at Can Salo, a restaurant in a 16th-century farmhouse in the village of Palau-Sator.
Next, he suggests Eth Triton, a restaurant in a valley in the Spanish Pyrenees called Val d’Aran, for “good food in a family atmosphere – and a good wine cellar!”
Northern Spain is also home to two of the country’s wine regions. “For fall trips, of course, I like to visit wineries in Ribera del Duero or La Rioja,” Patricia Alonso, a marketer who lives in Madrid, said in an email to CNBC.
The village of Brinas in the La Rioja region of northern Spain. The area has more than 500 wineries, about 80 of which welcome visitors.
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For summer, Alonso said he prefers the Asturias region along the Bay of Biscay, noting the protected beach of Playa de Toro in the town of Llanes as a particular favourite.
Alonso said she also loves the south of Spain, and the province of Cadiz is a favourite, known for its long sandy beaches, whitewashed towns and the bustle of vineyards surrounding the city of Jerez de la Frontera. Cadiz is part of the autonomous community of Andalusia, the region most visited by Spaniards.
Alonso recommended the popular windsurfing beach of Valdevaqueros, near the town of Tarifa, the southernmost point of Europe. She also likes Bologna, a wide bend of pale sand with dunes and the remains of Baelo Claudia, an ancient Roman city by the beach.
Bolonia Beach, near the city of Tarifa, the southernmost point in Europe.
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The province of Cadiz is also a choice for Fabian Gonzalez, founder of the Forward_MAD travel conference, whose parents live near the region’s capital, which is also called Cadiz.
“The province of Cádiz has perhaps the best beaches with white sand and crystal water in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as an incredible gastronomy based on fish. When in the province of Cádiz, a must is the restaurant Casa Bigote, in Sanlucar de Barrameda, where you can try the best shrimp in the world,” Gonzalez told CNBC by email.
Gonzalez also recommended the bluefin tuna at Taberna de el Campero in Zahara de los Atunes, a fishing village about an hour’s drive south of the city of Cadiz.
On the southeast coast, the city of Javea in the province of Alicante is a choice for Marina Valera, a social media manager living in Madrid. “Although it is very crowded in the summer, Javea has a landscape that is worth visiting – it inspired the paintings of the famous Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla, and Cristobal Balenciaga spent his last days there,” she told CNBC.
“It doesn’t have the usual flat landscape you might think of because of Montgo, a mountain that dominates the horizon for miles around,” she added.
Enjoying paella by the sea is a must, said Valera. Chiringuito Montgo di Bongo is right on the beach, and its website boasts daily opening hours from 10:30 a.m. to sunrise. Valera suggested making a reservation well in advance.
The Cala Granadella beach harbor in Alicante is popular with the Spanish. Locals advise going early in the morning or off-season to avoid the crowds.
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“Next to Montgo di Bongo, La Siesta … is the place to see and be seen with beautiful people, beautiful decorations and dance music. If you prefer something more down to earth, my favorite is [Taverna] Octopus, a bar located on El Arenal beach with rock music and good vibes,” she added.
Valera’s tip for avoiding crowds at the beach? “I would recommend going very early! And of course, September is better than July and August … I also prefer to go to Benisero beach: since it is a pebble beach, it is not as comfortable as the sandy beach of El Arenal, but there are fewer people”.
What to do in Madrid
Alonso recommended Matadero Madrid, on the banks of the Manzanares River in the Spanish capital, an art development in a former slaughterhouse and cattle market. She described it as a “typical Spanish atmosphere” in which visitors can enjoy a traditional can – a small glass of beer.
Lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid. The hotel, which is more than 100 years old, reopened after a three-year renovation in April 2021.
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Gonzalez, who lives about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) outside Madrid, likes to stay in the city a few times a year, “as if I were a traveler,” he said, trying hotels such as The Edition and the Four Seasons. – both new to town – or the recently restored Mandarin Oriental Ritz.
“The Del Prado or Thyssen museums, the Gran Via Musicals or an authentic flamenco show at El Corral de la Moreria are my best recommendations to enjoy the lively city like a local,” he said.
The Museo Del Prado houses Spain’s national art collection, while the nearby Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum houses Old Masters as well as modern art. El Corral de la Moreria has nightly flamenco shows with dinner options.
The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is seen in the background in Madrid.
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“Having brunch at the Jardines de Sabatini aparthotel, which has one of the most beautiful views of the city, is a must,” added Gonzalez. The hotel’s roof terrace overlooks the Royal Palace of Madrid and has its own classic car museum.
What to do in Barcelona
Barcelona, where the Guardans Hotel lives, is very popular with overseas visitors. To get your bearings, he recommended seeing it from a high vantage point to see that it’s “a small town surrounded by two mountains and the sea – with its old Roman quarter and its spectacular modernist quarter ‘Ensanche.’ .
The Ensanche, or Eixample, is notable for its octagonal block structure and grid-like appearance with a diagonal street running through it, while Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is home to the remains of the Roman Temple of Augustus.
Residential building in the Eixample district of Barcelona.
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The Palau Nacional, or National Museum of Catalan Art, has a rooftop terrace included in the €2 ($2) entrance fee.
“Barcelona is a city that can be discovered very well on foot. It has a human scale and its architecture is the best open-air museum. I would recommend getting lost in its beautiful streets, full of history,” said Guardians.
Several saints’ days are celebrated in Barcelona and each comes with a commemorative cake.
During the festival of Sant Jordi (Saint George), panadrias – or bakeries – are filled with pastries decorated with the red and yellow of the Catalan flag, for example. Guardians recommended La Colmena in the Gothic Quarter, which was founded around 1849, or the Mauri patisserie, in the Eixample, with its painted ceiling from the 1920s.
The festival of Sant Medir, known as a festival of sweets, is celebrated on March 3. Meanwhile, Revetlla de Sant Joan, celebrated on Midsummer’s Eve (June 23, 2023), is marked with bonfires as well as a loaf-style cake. known as coca de Sant Joan, which is made with candied fruit.
“You’ll have no choice but to come back to town to continue enjoying their great desserts!” The guards said.