“I may take a holiday in Spain
Leave my wings behind me
Drink my worries down the drain
And fly away to somewhere new”
The second of my 6-month sabbatical travels is now in the books. I spent 29 days in Costa Rica in January and February (with a pit stop in between) and I’m in the last 24 hours of 36 days in Spain, in which I split time between Valencia and Madrid. It’s been an amazing month-plus and, to be completely honest, I don’t really want to leave! Here’s why I’ll always love to take a holiday in Spain:
Spain is quite famous for its laid-back lifestyle and it helps to make it a great place to visit. Even in the financial and political center of Madrid, there’s never a feeling that life is too stressful. While this makes it a great place to visit, it’s also among the top complaints about the people who live here. At times, locals seem to wish there was more urgency and attribute many of Spain’s economic difficulties on this culture. Further, in my conversation with one lovely expat, the hashtag “Spainintheass” has become fairly widely used on social media, referring to how extremely slow and inefficient things can be here.
However, as a tourist, it’s endearing! You never feel pressure and you never feel rushed, which is exactly what most people want out of a holiday in Spain.
Green Spaces and Walkable Cities
I wrote earlier about how Europeans and especially the Spanish love to be outside. Both Valencia and Madrid have no shortage of outdoor cafes to sit and enjoy the nice weather. However, beyond eating and drinking outside, both cities also have loads of greenspace!
Valencia has a 5-mile stretch of land approximately 600-feet wide (that used to be a river) surrounding the main city center that is essentially a huge playground for kids and adults. It’s filled with actual playgrounds for kids, soccer fields, running and biking paths, rugby fields, a few cafes, and even baseball fields and a miniature golf course! (Check out this article for how the city completely changed the city by diverting a river and creating this park… very cool! This link also has a ton of great pictures of the park.)
Madrid has the famous Retiro Park right in the middle of the city but also has dozens of other parks scattered throughout the city. The emphasis on parks and greenspace makes both cities very walkable and appears to encourage physical activity among the residents who are constantly walking, running, scootering, and biking all over the place.
Art and Architecture
Madrid is the artistic center of Spain with several famous museums that are all worth seeing. During my trip, I skipped the Prado as I’d seen it once before and instead visited the Reina-Sofia Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Both were spectacular with a wide variety of artistic styles throughout. For my academic friends, teachers are offered admission into both museums for free!
However, while Barcelona gets a lot of attention for its architecture, Madrid also has no shortage of beautiful buildings to see as you walk around. I’m no architect but I can certainly appreciate the beautiful style of many of the older buildings in the city. In Valencia, the main city center area has preserved the architectural style of many of the older buildings throughout the area. The beach is much more modern but also has some interesting sculptures along the boardwalk. And of course, the artistry of the Las Fallas Festival was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Most of what I did each day was just try to walk around new neighborhoods and get to know both cities inside and out. The emphasis on art and architecture with the aforementioned infusion of greenspace made my daily ritual new and exciting each day.
I picked Spain purposefully as the European countries further north are still enduring the end of their winter (which was especially cold this year). I found the spring in Valencia and Madrid to be an absolutely perfect time for a holiday in Spain. Daytime temperatures were typically in the high-60s which is the ideal temperature for walking around and exploring. Madrid gets intolerably hot in the summertime so I highly recommend March and April as times to visit before the heat and the tourists roll in.
Food and Wine
Though it seems that beer is still the preferred drink in Spain (which is understandable given the hot summers), restaurants serve great house wine. I don’t think I ever paid more than €3 for a glass of wine and had great wine at almost every stop!
I love the idea of tapas and generally am happy to graze throughout the day. I also appreciate that many bars will give you a small tapa with each drink that you order. However, most places still don’t place a high emphasis on nutrition which can be frustrating when you have to eat your meals out every day. It’s almost an impossible country for vegans and even vegetarians will have a tough time as almost everything seems to come with jamon. I wonder if there’s a market for a bar that serves healthier tapas…?
Looking Forward to My Next Holiday in Spain!
In the last 7 years, I’ve made four separate trips to Spain and I’ll most certainly be back! I still haven’t visited the northern parts of the country like Galicia, Bilbao, and San Sebastian. Needless to say, those places are on my very short list of places to go!