Spanish Regions. A brief guide to four of Spain's most famous and distinctive regions: Andalusia, Galicia, Basque Country and Catalonia.
Flamboyant fiestas, noisy tapas bars, flamenco dancing, blue skies and a glistening blue sea are just some of the images traditionally conjured up at the mention of Spain. There is no wonder that some 400,000 foreign nationals have taken up residence in the south and some 55 million tourists flock to the country each year. However, while these sunny notions of Spain are accurate, there is a whole lot more to be discovered! There is not enough space here to justify Spain's enormous diversity, but this is a brief guide to some of its most famous and distinctive regions.
Mainland Spain is divided into 17 regions each with directly elected authorities. The level of autonomy varies dramatically from region to region with Cataluña, El País Vasco and Galicia being the most independent. Significantly, they have their own language and bill of rights. Every region boasts its own customs and fiestas. Of course it goes without saying that each is extremely proud of its heritage and traditions. Here is an insight into what some of the regions have to offer…
Andalucía is perhaps Spain's most well-known region. It is the largest region (bigger than Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and Denmark individually) with a population of 7 million. Offering fine beaches as well as a mountain range, La Sierra Nevada, Andalucía is one of Europe's most popular tourist hot spots. Andalusians are known for their peaceful, easy-going and happy attitude. Open and relaxed, these Spaniards are always ready for a fiesta and during Semana Santa (Holy Week, the last week of Lent), glamorous celebrations flood the region. Flamenco is hugely popular in this area and bull fights still take place regularly between April and October. Andalusians are passionate people and they love to talk; unfortunately their accent is quite difficult for foreigners to understand as they drop the "s" and the final letter from most of their words. They have a rich Moorish heritage which can be identified in much of the region's Islamic architecture, most notably the Alhambra, a magnificent Muslim palace in Granada built in the 13th century.
Unlike anywhere else in Spain, and in total contrast to Andalucía, Galicia has been compared to Cornwall and even Ireland (but with sunshine). Galicia is a unique region largely due to the fact that its people consider themselves to be Celtic rather that Latino or Hispanic. You will find no flamenco dancing or hand-clapping here! Galicia is increasingly popular for Spaniards who want to avoid the heat but who still want to enjoy spectacular scenery and delicious food. Fish is considered by many to be the staple diet of Galicians. All of its major cities are located on or close to the sea ensuring everything is fresh. It is the most Western part of Europe and arguably has the most spectacular coastline on the Peninsula! It is a relatively small region with a population of 3 million, and has its own language which 80% of the population speaks. Galicians are superstitious people; hushed fairytales of goblins are dragons are told to children in the region.
For the most part many Basque customs and arts were originally borrowed from their French or Spanish neighbors (many Basques do not consider themselves to be Spanish) then stamped with the Basque personality and treasured and preserved. It is here that Spanish royals take their holidays to enjoy the region's enormous vitality and its picturesque coastline. El País Vasco (Basque Country) is Spain's most autonomous region: it enjoys its own parliament, police force, education system and collects its own taxes. Despite this, some of the region's hard-line nationalists, including ETA, have remained determined to push for full independence. During the summer, the Basque region is peppered with weekend-long village fêtes making it the perfect time to discover regional crafts and traditions. Basques are considered practical, objective and laconic, even more so in their own language as these two examples of Basque proverbs demonstrate: "A fish and a guest go bad on the third day and must be thrown out" or "Gold, women and linen should only be chosen in daylight"
Often referred to as Europe's playground, Cataluña has plenty to offer its estimated 12 million visitors a year. Cataluña has a population of approximately 7 million, of which 12.3% are immigrants. The sun-kissed Mediterranean beaches of the Costa Brava are an obvious attraction, but Cataluña also offers the Pyrenees in the north. Elsewhere, Barcelona and Tarragona in particular have fascinating sierra to offer anyone in search of Spanish history and culture. Gaudí's spectacular architecture in Barcelona and the amphitheatre and Augustus' palace in Tarragona are not to be missed! Cataluña has a marked culture of its own within Spain largely thanks to the Catalán language, which almost 95% of the population speaks. The region's wine is world famous while one of its other specialties - crema catalana (catalonian cream), a crisp, caramelized crème brûlée- is more of a local treasure.
Having barely touched the surface of some of Spain's most famous regions there can be no doubt that it is a highly diverse country. Beautiful scenery, delicious food, colorful fiestas and a unique history make each of Spain's regions different. To have such a place quite literally on our doorstep is a gift…what are you waiting for?