Never the most federally minded of countries, Spain could easily be described as a loose confederation of Iberian regions that share a love of the good life and soccer. The third-largest country in Europe is still slightly smaller than Texas, and Madrid is located squarely in the middle of the peninsula, meaning that flights to Galicia, Andalusia and Catalonia rarely last over an hour. While luxury development on the coasts continues unabated, the government has not forgotten its preservation efforts: A major renovation program to restore the paradors, or medieval convents, has resulted in several “new” luxury accommodations that date to the 15th century!
An awareness of history is balanced by a forward-thinking infrastructure: Spain continues to change at an astonishing pace, and by 2020, the country plans to have the largest network of high-speed trains in Europe. Since 2008, a line has linked Madrid and Barcelona in less than three hours, while historic cities such as Toledo and Salamanca are newly accessible. Andalusia is one of our favorite regions of Europe, and it is always with a sense of high expectation that we board the 190-mph AVE express at Madrid’s Atocha station, knowing that two-and-a-half hours later we will be drawing smoothly into the wonderful city of Seville.
Lodging options are as disparate as the country itself, ranging from the Alpine inns of the Catalan Pyrenees to the Moorish-themed beach resorts of Costa del Sol. The chic Gran Hotel Domine in Bilbao mirrors the adventurous architectural spirit of its neighbor, the Guggenheim Museum, while the 16th-Century monastery-hotel Parador Hostal San Marcos in León is appropriately attired in rare tapestries and period antiques. But for most, Spain means healthy amounts of Mediterranean sunshine -- La Residencia, on the Balearic island of Mallorca, makes a perfect base for exploring the Deià coastline.
CLIMATE: Spain has three main climatic zones: north, central and Mediterranean. Madrid typifies that of the high central plateau; Seville is 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Madrid, with August being unpleasantly hot. The southern Mediterranean region of the Costa del Sol is exemplified by Almeria.
TIME: Six hours ahead of New York (EST).
CURRENCY: Euro (€). Fluctuating rate valued at €1.00 = US$1.30 as of October 2012.
U.S. EMBASSY: Madrid, Tel. (91) 587-2240.
DIRECT DIAL CODES: To phone hotels and restaurants in Spain, dial 011 (international access) + 34 (Spain code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Passport. Visit www.travel.state.gov, and for travelers’ health information, www.cdc.gov
GENERAL INFORMATION: Visit www.spain.info before your trip.