Sitting in Sol or Sombra at the Bullfights
With origins as old as pagan Spain, the art of bullfighting is the expression of Iberian temperament and passions. Detractors object to the sport as cruel, bloody, and savage. Fans, however, view bullfighting as a microcosm of death, catharsis, and rebirth. If you strive to understand the bullfight, it can be one of the most evocative and memorable events in Spain. Head for the plaza de toros (bullring) in any major city, but particularly in Madrid, Seville, or Granada. Tickets are either sol (sunny side) or sombra (pricier, but in the shade).
Feasting on Tapas in the Tascas
Tapas, those bite-size portions washed down with wine, beer, or sherry, are reason enough to go to Spain! Tapas bars, called tascas, are a quintessential Spanish experience. Originally tapas were cured ham or chorizo (spicy sausage). Today they are likely to be anything -- gambas (deep-fried shrimp); anchovies marinated in vinegar; stuffed peppers; a cool, spicy gazpacho; or hake salad.
Getting Caught Up in the Passions of Flamenco
It's best heard and watched in an old tavern, in a neighborhood like Barrio de Triana in Seville. From the lowliest taberna to the poshest nightclub, you can hear the staccato foot stomping, castanet rattling, hand clapping, and sultry guitar chords. Some say its origins lie deep in Asia, but the Spanish Gypsy has given the art an original style dramatizing inner conflict and pain. Performed by a great artist, flamenco can tear your heart out with its soulful, throaty singing.
Seeing the Masterpieces at the Prado
One of the world's premier art museums, the Prado is home to some 4,000 masterpieces, many of them acquired by Spanish kings. The wealth of Spanish art is staggering -- everything from Goya's Naked Maja to the celebrated Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) by Velázquez (our favorite). Masterpiece after masterpiece unfolds before your eyes, including works by Hieronymus Bosch, Goya, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, and Botticelli.
Sipping Sherry in Jerez de la Frontera
In Spain, sherry is called jerez, and it's a major industry and subculture in its own right. Hispanophiles compare the complexities of sherry to those of the finest wines produced in France and make pilgrimages to the bodegas in Andalusia that ferment this amber-colored liquid. More than 100 bodegas are available for visits, tours, and tastings, opening their gates to visitors interested in a process that dates from the country's Roman occupation.
Wandering the Crooked Streets of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter
Long before Madrid was founded, the kingdom of Catalonia was a bastion of art and architecture. Whether the Barri Gòtic, as it's called in Catalan, is truly Gothic is the subject of endless debate, but the Ciutat Vella (Old City) of Barcelona is one of the most evocative neighborhoods in Spain. Its richly textured streets, with their gurgling fountains, vintage stores, and ancient fortifications, inspired such artists as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró (who was born in this neighborhood).
Going Gaga over Gaudí
No architect in Europe was as fantastical as Antoni Gaudí y Cornet, the foremost proponent of Catalan modernisme (or, in Spanish, modernismo). Barcelona is studded with the works of this extraordinary artist, all of which UNESCO now lists as World Trust Properties. A recluse and a celibate bachelor as well as a fervent Catalan nationalist, he lived out his fantasies in his work. Nothing is more stunning than La Sagrada Família, Barcelona's best-known landmark, a cathedral on which Gaudí labored for the last 43 years of his life. The landmark cathedral was never completed, but work on it still proceeds. If it's ever finished, "The Sacred Family" will be Europe's largest cathedral.
Running with the Bulls in Pamplona
Okay, maybe it's smarter to watch the bulls, rather than run with them. The Fiesta de San Fermín in July is the most dangerous ritual in Spain, made even more so by copious amounts of wine consumed by participants and observers. Broadcast live on TV throughout Spain and the rest of Europe, the festival features herds of furious bulls that charge down medieval streets, at times trampling and goring some of the hundreds of people who run beside them. Few other rituals in Spain are as breathtaking or as foolhardy. And few others as memorable.
Following the Ancient Pilgrimage Route to Santiago de Compostela
Tourism as we know it began during the Middle Ages, when thousands of European pilgrims journeyed to the shrine of Santiago (St. James), in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. Even if you're not motivated by faith, you should see some of Spain's most dramatic landscapes and grandest scenery by crossing the northern tier of the country -- all the way from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Some of the country's most stunning architecture can be viewed along the way, including gems in Roncesvalles, Burgos, and León.
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