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Adventure / June 18, 2017

The 5 best adventures in Spain

Written by: Molly McCowan

For a country roughly the size of California, Spain sure packs a hell of a punch. And it isn’t all red wine, siestas, and the running of the bulls—Spain is actually a top destination for outdoor lovers.

There are probably thousands of ways to adventure your way across this fun-loving country, but here are my five favorites.

 

1. See Catalonia by bike

The winding roads, alpine villages, and white-sand beaches of Catalonia make the region a dream come true for road cyclists. The area is stacked with challenging terrain, and each hill climb leads to stunning vistas. 

Catalonia’s must-sees include the cities of Barcelona and Girona and the mountaintop Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey (which is surrounded by enough hiking paths to justify a full-day visit).

The region’s Mediterranean coast, La Costa Brava, is idyllic in every sense of the word. It offers some of Catalonia’s mellower cycling and some of Europe’s best seafood. The small fishing town of Sant Feliu de Guíxols is a particularly charming spot for a rest day. 

Our friends at G Adventures hit many of these spots on their eight-day Cycle Northern Spain tour.

Perched on a mountaintop, Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey is surrounded by enough hiking trails to last travelers a whole day. Photo by Alexandra Ene.

Some of the best seafood in Europe can be found in the villages that dot Catalonia's Mediterranean coast.

2. Backpack the Pyrenees

Trekkers in Spain often opt for the highly overrated (and overcrowded) pavement-grinding slog of El Camino de Santiago. But the country’s best hiking can be found on the rugged and scenic GR11.

The GR11 (“GR” stands for “Gran Recorrido”) stretches the entire length of the Spanish Pyrenees, running parallel to the Spain–France border. It takes 45 to 60 days to thru-hike, but it can easily be combined with nearby trails like the Pyrenean Haute Route (HRP) or the GR10 for a shorter itinerary

The GR11 is best hiked from June to early September. A section of the trail is included in Exodus Travel’s eight-day tour of the Spanish Pyrenees.

 

3. Mountain bike the Basque Coast

Basque Country, which straddles the border of France and Spain on the northern Atlantic coast, has a culture all its own. The region’s native language, Euskara, has no ties to any other European languages (don’t worry, Spanish is also spoken there).

Mountain biking the Jaizkibel mountain range near San Sebastián is a great way to get a feel for the Basque countryside, and even though the main peak only clocks in at 1,476 feet tall, it offers grandiose views and beautiful landscapes.

Rent a mountain bike in San Sebastián and follow the road signs toward “Francia” (quite literally, “France”—you’re very close to the border) until you spot signs for the trailhead. Then get ready for some steep climbs and rewarding views as you head to the summit.

The GR11 trail offers a true wilderness experience in the Spanish Pyrenees. Photo by Steve Cadman.

The Jaizkibel mountain range abuts Spain's northern coast. Photo by Joxemai.

4. CathedRal/castle-hop central & Southern Spain

Spain has been a melting pot of different cultures, religions, and architectural styles for centuries. A deeply sought-after territory, the country was invaded by the Romans, then the Visigoths, and then the Moors.

Spain’s best examples of Moorish architecture are found in the southern Andalusia region, particularly in the cities of Granada and Córdoba. Granada is best known for La Alhambra, a gigantic Moorish palace, and Córdoba for the awe-inspiring La Mezquita. 

Roman and Visigothic influences dominate around Madrid, especially in the towns of Toledo, Ávila, and Segovia. Toledo’s highlights are the Toledo Cathedral and the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes (but be warned—the city’s labyrinthine streets seem designed to trap tourists). Ávila is famous for the fully intact medieval wall that surrounds the city, and Segovia hosts a castle straight out of a fairy tale: the Alcázar of Segovia.

All of these sites are included in Peregrine Adventure’s 13-day Essence of Spain tour.

La Mezquita, in Córdoba, was first built as a mosque in the year 785 BCE. Photo by Nicolas Vollmer.

First built as a Roman fortress in 1120, the Alcázar of Segovia has seen countless additions and renovations over the centuries. Photo by Richard Mortel.

5. Do pretty much anything in Mallorca

The Balearic island of Mallorca (sometimes spelled “Majorca”) off Spain’s eastern coast is a treasure trove of outdoor activities. The island is home to some of the world’s best caving, rock climbing, mountain biking, and kite surfing.

Experienced canyoneers will want to check out the Torrente Gorg Blau Sa Fosca, which boasts a highly technical four-mile descent, a quarter-mile of which takes place in total darkness.

For an unforgettable experience that’s a bit less of an adrenaline overload, don a wetsuit and bring a flashlight to explore the many caves that dot the Mallorcan coastline. The Cova de Coloms sea caves are the best known, and are definitely worth a visit.

To see the island on foot, sign up for the seven-day self-guided Mallorca walking tour from our friends at Explore!

Mallorca is paradise, plain and simple. The island has something to offer outdoor adventurers of all stripes... and plenty for the beach and cocktail crowd, too. Photo by Christian Bortes.

Coastal caves like the Cova de Colomso are must-sees in Mallorca. But to reach them, you'll have to swim. Photo by Vila Picina.

Do you have any questions or comments about this piece? Email them to [email protected]

Featured photo by Michael Button.

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about the author

Molly McCowan

Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her love for travel sees her globe-trotting whenever she can, and she seeks out experiences that are off the beaten path so she can immerse herself in new cultures. She speaks fluent Spanish, so she’s almost always planning a trip to somewhere in Latin America. She also lived in Spain for a while, and backpacked across Europe on a shoestring budget. She hikes, camps, goes four-wheeling in her old Jeep Wrangler, and fly fishes in the mountains of Colorado regularly.

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