Break the trend: 7 original alternatives to the classic Spanish destinations

Don’t follow the herd! Go your own way and visit these seven underrated places in Spain.

An aerial street shot of Seville, with one lost traveller in the middle.

A gorgeous Seville side street, from above. © Walter Watzpatzkowski

Category Beach & nature

Date 15th February 2016

All too often it seems like we like to travel the same well-beaten paths, visiting the same places time and time again. So, break the trend and visit these seven alternative Spanish vacation destinations that are every bit as beautiful and brilliant as the old favorites – if not more so!

Valencia – not Barcelona

Designed by Calatrava and Félix Candela, the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències is one of Spain's biggest architectural achievements.
Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences complex.

Barcelona might have its fair share of Gaudi fare, but it’s in the balmy city of Valencia further down the eastern coast where Spanish architecture is alive and kicking.

It’s mostly all thanks to Santiago Calatrava, a local sculptor and engineer who has designed many of the city’s structural wonders. The integrity of his structures has been questioned of late, but you can’t fault him on his sense of style!

Crowds of half-naked guests party in the street and throw tomatoes everywhere.
Buñol’s annual La Tomatina party!

Beyond the buildings and a pretty cool nightclub scene around the El Carmen district, Valencia is a top spot for foodies. Head here to chow-down on Valencia’s home dish, the humble paella, or drive thirty-minutes north to the provincial village of Buñol and the annual La Tomatina festival. It’s held every August and involves a whole lot of messy partying with the locally revered red fruit!

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Formentera – not Ibiza

A woman setting her sights on the Formentera Lighthouse.
The astounding Formentera Lighthouse. © Juan Carlos Flórez

If you’d prefer to swap your club-bangers for beach hammocks, this Balearic Island – measuring just 12.5 miles from the east to the west – is a perfect subtropical getaway.

Unlike its big brothers Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza, Formentera is relatively unscathed by the masses of randy party-hard tourists, and instead offers a pleasingly rugged scenery, with the salt beds, rosemary fields and pine woodlands perfectly matched to the relaxed, bare-all character of the local Catalans.

And we’re not kidding. The 10,700 or so regular residents put the coastline to good use, with almost every lounging strip catering for nude bathing.

So yes, it’s a pretty free-spirited, boho spot (no wonder Bob Dylan used to live here). If you’re searching for sheer escapism, head for Formentera.

Search for cheap flights to Formentera.

Seville – not Santiago de Compostela

An old Sevilliano rests by a lamp-post on a hot summer's day.
A man, a lamppost, a Sunny Seville park. © Walter Watzpatzkowski

There’s something so hopelessly romantic about Seville. The winding cobbled streets of the old town, the evergreen nature, the scurry of the tapas bars, the zesty oranges growing by the roadside… the flamenco! It’s the undisputed gem in the Andalusian crown, and a place where you can lean back and relax, even in the sweltering hot summers.

In many ways, Seville represents the rich tapestry that is modern Spain. Offering lucky visitors the chance to walk through the city’s 2,200 years of history and encounter stunning art and architecture of Islamic, Roman, Islamic, Gothic, baroque and Renaissance varieties.

Santiago de Compostela is the sight of a great ancient pilgrimage, but it’s Seville – arguable the greatest city of the Spanish south – that continues to deliver the classic goods, time after time.

Search for cheap flights to Seville.

Vigo – not San Sebastián

A reddish summer's evening in Vigo, with the shadows of people enjoying themselves on the harbour.
Vigo’s iluminated harbour. © Contando Estrelas

Even though it boasts the largest fishing fleet in Europe, surprisingly few travelers set their sails on Vigo. And what a shame! It’s the largest city in the autonomous community of Galicia and offers an atmosphere and community spirit that is totally unmatched in the rest of the country, not least in the Basque Country’s equally fishy port city, San Sebastián.

A part of the quintessential Vigo vibe is its rich history as an industrial port. Where glimpses of commerce can be a tad drab in most places, here it’s utterly charming, with the thousands of fishermen milling around the freshly stocked quays, and the noisy bartering extending inwards to the old city O Berbés, replete with eateries and tavernas.

If you want to venture outside of the city bustle, Vigo’s real gem lies just 9 miles from the shoreline. The Cíes Islands archipelago is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, a nature reserve offering spectacular treks, great beaches and the opportunity to do some exotic bird-watching. There are just three tiny islands to get around, so make a boat-cruising day of it, or bring your tent along and pitch overnight.

Search for cheap flights to Vigo.

Baqueira-Beret – not Sierra Nevada

A snowy valley peak at the Baqueira-Beret ski resort.
Baqueira-Beret. © Institut für Tourismus in Spanien (TURESPAÑA)

While most international thrill-seekers head for the hills of Granada’s Sierra Nevada, it’s here in the Pyrenees in the most northern part of Spain where the ski slopes are fit for kings. Literally.

King Felipe VI and his family have a chalet alongside the Baqueira-Beret resort, and can often be found zipping through black runs over the luscious Aran Valley during ski season. When the surroundings are this incredible who can blame him?

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Cádiz – not The Canary Islands

Men serenade the crowd at the Cádiz carnival.
A song and dance at the Cádiz Carnival. © Patronato de Turismo Provincia de Cádiz

Chronicling back four millennia, there’s so much known about Spain’s oldest city, Cádiz, and yet it’s still tough to sum up its essence.

Perhaps it’s because this south-western site is always moving forward, even when its time-worn limestone houses and fortifications crumble under the influence of the salty sea air. Even during the politically suffocating Franco years, the city has always maintained its staunch liberalism, which is represented every spring during the Carnival of Cádiz. Welcome to people of all shapes and sizes, it’s one of Spain’s best and most cherished fiestas.

An oddball alternative to the likes of Tenerife and Lanzarote, but with Cádiz you get all the surf, sun and slap-up seafood at a fraction of the price, plus a little bit more heritage thrown-in on the side.

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Toledo – not Madrid

The grounds of the Alcázar fortification stand proud as the tallest point in Toledo.
The looming Alcázar of Toledo fortification. © Niko Kaptur

Another destination means another Spanish region, and a stop-off at Toledo in the wonderfully timeless Castile–La Mancha autonomous community.

Just an hour’s drive from central Madrid, many a wandering traveler makes the mistake of planning just one jam-packed day trip to Toledo. To dig a little deeper beneath the surface of this enigmatic metropolis, you’ll have to stay overnight, whereby Toledo’s old religious buildings – of Christian, Muslim and Jewish persuasions – start glowing under the floodlights, and the locals start to mill around the narrow streets.

There’s a smooth, jazzy feel to the city, the kind of place where Woody Allen could shoot a movie. Unlike some of the other places he’s put to film (ahem, Barcelona), Toledo would actually live up to the hype!

Oh, and did we mention that the whole city is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Something that Madrid could only ever dream of!

Search for cheap flights to Toledo.

Originally published

15th February 2016