SPAIN

Timeless Tradition

Fire up the senses in Spain's key cities

WORDS GWEN LUSCOMBE

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Few travel experiences rival Spain with its eclectic art and architecture, colorful fiestas, the plethora of traditional cuisine from paella to tapas, and stunning coastline. It's little wonder most travelers end up following another tradition - joining the daily siesta. Regardless of where you go, the Spanish seem to have mastered the mix of delectable cuisine and vibrant cultural experiences so we've found the best places in some of Spain's key cities to ensure you supercharge your senses while you're on vacation here.

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Madrid

Stroll the extravagant palaces, parks, and museums (where you'll see masterpieces like Pablo Picasso's La Guernica) by day, and after dark watch Spain's capital and largest city transform into a magical, culinary mecca. Tapas bars line streets, markets burst with fresh food, music floats down the street, and nights will simply slip away.

Explore the sights, sounds and tastes of Madrid

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You can try foods from every region of Spain at the Mercado de San Miguel market

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To the market

Bring your appetite and a sense of culinary curiosity to experience the broad variety of authentic fare at the century-old Mercado de San Miguel, often referred to as one of the world’s best gastronomic markets. Visit any time from the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning. Sip cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and graze as you go among the lively atmosphere. If you plan ahead, you can also visit Casa Botin, said to be the oldest restaurant in the world. Founded in 1725, traditional Spanish suckling pig and Castilian roasted lamb are its specialities. Over the centuries, the restaurant has made its way into several works of literature including Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

The Museo Nacional del Prado is almost 200 years old with the largest holdings of Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya

A walk of art

Paseo del Arte, known as the art walk, is little more than a half-mile stretch where you can casually stroll and soak up the incredible art scene of Spain’s past and present. Book a guided walk, or spend your day exploring solo. Whatever you do, don't miss the world-leading Museo Nacional del Prado, a Spanish institution featuring works by Goya and Titian; Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum that features Van Gogh and Gauguin, and the Reina Sofía Museum that has one of the finest collections of contemporary art in the world with more than 20,000 pieces in every medium from paintings to video installations.

The Cathedral of Saint Mary (known as the Seville Cathedral) is the largest Gothic church in the world

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Seville

If you're after a quintessential romantic European city, then this is it, and there are plenty of reasons for it: the smell of the orange blossoms in springtime from the thousands of orange trees you'll find across the city, the fairy-tale architecture, the soothing sound of guitar music as you walk along the streets, and the secluded tapas bars that dot the city, where you can sip Spanish wine by candlelight.

There are literally hundreds of places to find tapas in Seville

Talking tapas

Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of places to indulge in tapas in Seville. Head to the old town to Alameda, Macarena, Nervión, Los Remedios or Triana, where you’ll find everything from snails and marinated fish to sweet Spanish wines. Another perfect spot to heighten the senses is the Lonja del Barranco market. At the foot of Isabel II Bridge, overlooking the Guadalquivir River, you’ll find everything from pizza and pies to cocktails.

Cristina Heeren's flamenco school aims to conserve and promote the cultural art form of flamenco

For the love of flamenco

The art of flamenco is a cherished tradition to the Spanish. It formed from a variety of ethnic and folkloric trends throughout history, and at the end of the 18th century became crystalized as the art form we see today.

There’s no better place to learn flamenco than the Cristina Heeren Foundation of Flamenco Art, a not-for-profit organization created to preserve this cultural art form. Here you can learn basic flamenco steps and experience the passion of the performance. Founder, Cristina Heeren, has been producing flamenco shows since 1992 and established the school incorporating all three aspects of flamenco – dance, singing, and guitar – in 1996. Her school is located in the Triana district of Seville, a neighborhood where flamenco has existed for two centuries.

The interior of the Sagrada Família, one of Gaudí's most famous works in Barcelona that remains unfinished to this day

Barcelona

A visit to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without spending time wandering along Las Rambla, the close to one-mile tree-lined pedestrian boulevard in the heart of the city. However, it’s also a place of beautiful beaches and incredible architecture, including works by the genius modernist Antoni Gaudi. But, it’s here you’ll also learn why Spain leads the world in olive oil production.

Discover the secrets of producing a premium olive oil with a tasting at Hola Olive

Image: Barcelona Tourism

All about the olives

If culinary travel is your thing then Barcelona won't disappoint with its 22 Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s also one of the best cities in the world for olive oils. Here, extra virgin olive oil is treated much like a fine wine. The Catalonia region (of which Barcelona is the capital) has five protected designated origins of extra virgin olive oils. Each one has a flavour and aroma reflective of the growing climate and soil. Join Olive Oil Sommelier Carolina Lima at her property Hola Olive where you can have a guided tasting of three Spanish extra virgin olive oils. Guests learn about how the oil is made and visit the ancient olive trees.

Have some fun while exploring Gaudi's architectural genius at Park Guell

An ode to Gaudi

Walking around Barcelona you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the set of a fantasy film, such are the wondrous creations of architect and designer Antoni Gaudi. Using multi-coloured stone, ceramics, glass and bricks, architect and designer Gaudi was inspired by nature in his designs, proclaiming: "There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature." His style is so distinctive it’s now intrinsically tied to the city’s identity. Don’t miss the Palau Guell mansion, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in the Raval neighborhood that is one of his earliest works. The space has to be seen to be believed. It includes a dome in the central hall that was the venue for music auditions and readings by illustrious guests. The roof has 20 chimneys and a central spire that is nearly 50-foot. Park Guell (not to be confused with Palau Guell) is also a must-see. It’s a public park and one of the largest green spaces in Barcelona. It’s filled with multi-coloured mosaic-tiled seating and structures and includes a small house where Gaudi once lived that has now been converted to a museum.

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