Spain remains an integral part of Irish holidaymakers' summer getaways. However, gone are the days when there were only a handful of resorts available from your local travel agent. With so many airports receiving flights from Ireland, the entire coast of Spain is now accessible and awaiting. Here is Ed Leahy's advice.
This stretch of Spanish coastline is renowned for the long beach of golden sand that lies before the skyscrapers of the lively resort of Benidorm, which is thronged with tourists every summer. Elsewhere, Alicante, the 'City of Light', is the capital of the province and offers many cultural and artistic activities including the Explanada promenade, with its thousands of mosaic tiles, while the old town's castle of Santa Bárbara boasts amazing panoramic views. Along the coast, Santa Pola is an old Iberian fort, while further south, the tourist resort of Torrevieja and Pilar de la Horadada are worth visiting. The inland town of Elche boasts the largest palm grove in Europe and is home to Misteri d'Elx, a famous play that is enacted in the Basilica de Santa María in August of each year. The town of Orihuela is full of gothic, renaissance and baroque buildings, while Altea, located in a long bay and surrounded by mountains, is another must-see with its white houses and the blue dome of its church sparkling in the sunlight.
Airports: Alicante, Valencia, Murcia
The coast of Asturias runs for 345 kilometres along the Cantabrian Sea on the north coast of Spain. The Costa Verde (Green Coast) is blessed with an abundance of untouched broad, fine sand beaches, cliffs, small coves, sand dunes and protected nature areas, picturesque fishing villages, quaint harbours and heritage towns. Great places to visit include the city of Santander as well as the coastal towns of Llanes, Ribadesella, Cangas de Onís and Villaviciosa, whose beaches are the ideal setting for water sports such as sailing, rowing, surfing, windsurfing, fishing and scuba diving. The Picos de Europa National Park and the Covadonga Lakes are close by, while the cities of Gijón and Avilés also have excellent beaches, both in their historic centres and the surrounding area. The renowned gastronomy in Asturias, with products such as cider, Cabrales cheese and its most famous dish, fabada (sausage and bean casserole), is yet another reason to visit this northern coast.
Airports: Santiago de Compostela, Santander, Bilbao, Asturias
This stretch of coast runs south from the French border on the west coast. A mix of sandy beaches, hidden coves and rugged coastline makes this region one of Spain's most picturesque areas. The Costa Brava also has an impressive historical-artistic heritage so try to explore the area's villages, where you will find Romanesque churches and monasteries such as Sant Pere de Rodes, in Port de la Selva, the ancient citadel at Roses, the Greco-Roman ruins at Empúries, the medieval towns of Pals or Palamós and the walled town of Tossa de Mar. Or, a little further inland, visit the old town of Girona, with its winding, age-old cobbled streets. Alternatively, in Figueres you can admire the art of surrealist genius Salvador Dalí.
Airports: Girona, Barcelona
Costa del Sol
Traditionally the southern coast of Spain has hosted the majority of Irish holidaymakers and while some resorts have dated, there is still plenty to offer on the sunshine coast. This stretch of coast runs from the vibrant coastal city of Malaga, southwest as far as the rock of Gibraltar. Torremolinos, Benalmadena and Fuengirola remain family favourites with excellent activity-based hotels and lively nightlife. Puerto Banus is another lively resort and attracts a lot of rich and famous visitors, while Marbella offers a much more local feel with a beautiful town to stroll around with excellent restaurants and boutique hotels. Malaga is worth visiting for a day or two; Pablo Picasso was born there and the city has recently opened a new museum dedicated to the world famous artist, while there are many other historic buildings and monuments throughout. Nerja is a scenic resort to the east of Malaga city, which is often overlooked by holidaymakers and tour operators.
Home to very quiet beaches and small resorts, the Costa Cálida is located in the southeast of Spain, close to the city of Murcia. The Costa Cálida boasts one of the best climates in Spain with more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and an average annual temperature of 18ºC, while its white sandy beaches and coves with crystal clear waters make this coastal region ideal for water sports such as kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, scuba diving, water skiing, kitesurfing and rowing. From the fishing village of Águilas to the broad beaches of San Pedro del Pinatar, a visit to the Costa Cálida is unlike your traditional Spanish holiday. Bolnuevo Beach, close to Mazarrón, offers unusual landscapes due to its amazing sandstone formations, while Manga del Mar Menor is a narrow strip of land, 24 kilometres long, resulting in a huge coastal salt water lagoon known as the Mar Menor (small sea), which opens out into the Mediterranean and offers excellent hotels and a bustling nightlife. Golf lovers should visit the world famous La Manga resort on the Costa Cálida.
Airports: Murcia, Alicante
The Costa Vasca runs along the Cantabrian Sea and offers excellent beaches with sensational backdrops of mountains, cliffs and nature reserves. The main cities of the Basque Country, Bilbao and San Sebastian, are located along the coast and make for a great city and seaside break. Bilbao is home to the impressive Guggenheim Museum and enjoys a great tradition in gastronomy with a hectic nightlife, while San Sebastian is also a food-lover's dream as it is home to some of the country's best restaurants. Outside the cities, you should visit the unspoilt beaches between Zumaia and Deba and the remarkable Vizcaya Suspension Bridge, which has UNESCO World Heritage Designation and links the towns of Getxo and Portugalete, just a few kilometres from Bilbao. And as the Basque Coast runs across the border into the southwest of France, you should take a day or two to enjoy the beauty of Biarritz or Bayonne.
Airports: Bilbao, Santander, Biarritz
The Balearic Islands, located off the east coast of Spain in the calm, warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, remain very popular from May to September. Majorca, Ibiza and Minorca cover every possible holiday option including activity-based family holidays, cultural and culinary escapes, wellness breaks and wild non-stop partying adventures. Majorca, the biggest of the islands, offer great family friendly resorts in Santa Ponsa and Magaluf; Minorca is home to some amazing tranquil beaches, which proves popular for couples' breaks, while Ibiza is the party capital of Europe every summer where the world's best DJs entertain in the Super Clubs throughout the island. Ibiza also remains a very spiritual destination with yoga retreats and wellness breaks offering a welcome alternative. Ibiza Town dates back to the seventh century and boasts a picture postcard old town centre, while the harbour is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Airports: Palma Majorca, Ibiza, Menorca
The Costa Dorada is one of the main Mediterranean tourist destinations and with over 200 kilometres of beaches, it makes for the ideal summer break. Salou and Sitges are two of the main beach resorts on the coast of the Tarragona province. Sitges boasts some excellent beaches and a thriving nightlife, and was once the main holiday destination for wealthy Spaniards, while Salou is an ideal family destination with the Port Aventura theme park close by. There are many marinas and water sports facilities along the Costa Dorada offering scuba diving, windsurfing, water skiing and a host of other activities. Golf, cycling holidays and hiking in inland areas are an ideal option for pleasant days out in the countryside. The heritage city of Tarragona is a must-see with its historic Roman centre and you can take an archaeological stroll around the old city walls, which date back to the third century BC, with the sea as backdrop. And a few days in Barcelona would be the perfect way to round off a trip to the Costa Dorada.
Costa de la Luz
Looking for an alternative to the madness of the Costa del Sol at high season? Then move further west along the coast of Andalucía to enjoy the beautiful unspoilt beaches of the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light). La Luz boasts over 25 picturesque, golden sand beaches, some as long as 20 kilometres and as Huelva sits on the Atlantic Ocean, the sea is much more dramatic than the often-uninteresting, flat Mediterranean waters. As a result, Huelva's coastline proves very popular with all types of watersport enthusiasts. The coast is located a short drive from Seville or alternatively fly into Faro, just across the Portuguese border and every motorway exit will lead you down to the welcoming waters of the Huelva coast.
Airports: Seville, Jerez, Faro (Portugal)
For more information on Spain, visit: www.spain.info.
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