For many parts of Europe, it’s been a long, hot summer – perhaps a bit too hot for some. But, as temperatures begin to cool, the next few weeks are a great time to discover new areas.
Spain has always been a favourite destination for British travellers, who flock to its beaches, yet there’s so much more to the country of rolling vineyards, dramatic mountains and historic hilltop towns.
According to data from the Spanish Tourist Office, more and more of us are beginning to realise what’s on offer.
“We are pleased to see that our latest tourism statistics show an upwards trend towards exploring more areas of Spain, and particularly some of those areas that are lesser-known,” says Manuel Butler, the office’s UK director. “Our data – which illustrates UK arrivals between April and the end of June 2023 – shows 144% growth to La Rioja, 60% growth to Extremadura, 52% growth to Aragon and 19% growth to Cantabria – all compared to the same period in 2022.”
Although remote and off the beaten track, many or these locations are accessible from the UK with budget airlines. Several also have Parador accommodation – historic buildings restored by a government body and made available to the public as hotels.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of Spain’s secret locations to be explored.
Calahorra, La Rioja
The capital city of the Rioja Baja region in northern Spain has a rich history dating back to the Roman times, notable in its Romanesque and Gothic architecture – including a grand 15th century cathedral. Located along the fertile plains of the Ebro River, it’s the gateway to 500 wineries. If you’re planning ahead for next year, the area is especially known for its Calagurritana Easter week celebrations and Roman Mercaforum – an event featuring birds of prey, roman minting workshops, and recreations of roman military camps flood the streets.
Where to stay: Parador de Calahorra, with its Roman pantiles and décor, is built upon the original birthplace of famous writer and speaker Marco Fabio Quintiliano, whose statue is at the entrance to the hotel. From £75 per night B&B. Visit paradores.es/es/parador-de-calahorra.
How to get there: Vueling flies from London Gatwick to Bilbao from £39 one way. Visit vueling.com.
This cobblestone village in the region of Las Villuercas in Cáceres province is famous for its Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1325, a farmer found a statue of the Virgin Mary buried in his field, rumoured to have been carved by St Luke, and now thousands of visitors come each year to see it. Take a tour of the monastery to see numerous illuminated manuscripts and works of art. Extremaduran cuisine, including the iconic Iberian pork, seasoned with paprika, is also an attraction.
Where to stay: Built in the 16th century, Hospederia del Real Monasterio is still a working monastery with part of the property now functioning as a hotel. From £75 per night B&B. Visit hospederiaguadalupe.es.
How to get there: easyJet flies from London Gatwick to Madrid-Barajas from £29.99 one way. Visit easyjet.com.
Costa da Morte, Galicia
Formed by 17 towns and villages in northwest Spain, Costa da Morte (coast of death) was long thought to be the end of the known world. As well as being the final destination for many pilgrims walking on the Camino de Santiago, this coastline in A Coruña has superb clifftop views and charming fishing villages with traditional stone houses.
Where to stay: Built into the green hillside above Praia de Lourido, Parador Costa da Morte is the newest Parador in the historic hotel’s network, with a nature-blending, sustainability-focused design. From £95 per night B&B. Visit paradores.es/en/parador-costa-da-morte.
How to get there: Vueling flies from London Gatwick to A Coruña from £30.32 one way. Visit vueling.com.
In the heart of the Spanish Pyrenees, close to Ordesa Natural Park and Spain’s third-highest peak, Monte Perdido, this is a spot for nature lovers and photography fans. The golden eagle and bearded vulture are regularly spotted in a landscape of deep valleys and steep cliffs.
Where to stay: At the foot of Monte Perdido, the Parador de Vielsa is a modern building, resembling a large mountain shelter with stone and wood making up its exterior. Guests can opt for a 4×4 excursion to the lookout points of Ordesa, which includes a picnic with artisanal products and free entrance to a local nature museum. From £75 per night B&B. Visit paradores.es/en/parador-de-bielsa.
How to get there: Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Zaragoza from £43 one way. Visit ryanair.com.
Oviedo is a stately city in the northern region of Asturias, dominated by several UNESCO World Heritage sites that hail back to the eighth century. One of the few Spanish towns never conquered by the Moors during the Middle Ages, it has a distinct medieval feel.
Where to stay: Located in the heart of Oviedo, next to the Parque San Francisco and just a few minutes from the Campoamor Theatre, Eurostars Hotel de la Reconquista is an 18th century baroque palace, national monument and venue for the annual Princess of Asturias awards, celebrating cultural, scientific, technical and social achievement. From £103 per night B&B. Visit eurostarshotels.co.uk.
How to get there: Vueling flies from London Gatwick to Asturias from £29.95 one way. Visit vueling.com.
Sierra Espuña Regional Park, Murcia
Perfect for cycling and hiking, Murcia’s prime ecotourist destination has a varied landscape, from the Paredes de Leyva cliff faces and ravines of Gebas or la Hoz to the Muela plateau waterfall and surrounding reservoirs. Nicknamed the ‘tree apostle’, philanthropist Ricardo Codorníu campaigned for several reforestation projects in the late 19th century to create the protected space.
Where to stay: The Bajo el Cejo hotel is a renovated farmhouse located in the heart of the Sierra Espuña Regional Park. Fig and pomegranate trees are scattered throughout the gardens, while an infinity pool overlooks vineyards. Almost everything on the menu is homegrown or uses local produce. Rooms from £98 B&B. Visit bajoelcejo.com.
How to get there: easyJet flies from London Luton and Gatwick to Murcia from £50 one way. Visit easyjet.com.