Spain, a country on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, includes 17 autonomous regions with diverse geography and cultures. Capital city Madrid is home to the Royal Palace and Prado museum, housing works by European masters. Segovia has a medieval castle (the Alcázar) and an intact Roman aqueduct. Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, is defined by Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical modernist landmarks like the Sagrada Família church.
Spain is a storied country of stone castles, snowcapped mountains, vast monuments, and sophisticated cities, all of which have made it a favoured travel destination. The country is geographically and culturally diverse. Its heartland is the Meseta, a broad central plateau half a mile above sea level. Much of the region is traditionally given over to cattle ranching and grain production; it was in this rural setting that Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote tilted at the tall windmills that still dot the landscape in several places. In the country’s northeast are the broad valley of the Ebro River, the mountainous region of Catalonia, and the hilly coastal plain of Valencia. To the northwest is the Cantabrian Mountains, a rugged range in which heavily forested, rain-swept valleys are interspersed with tall peaks.
To the south is the citrus-orchard-rich and irrigated lands of the valley of the Guadalquivir River, celebrated in the renowned lyrics of Spanish poets Federico García Lorca and Antonio Machado; over this valley rises the snowcapped Sierra Nevada. The southern portion of the country is desert, an extension of the Sahara made familiar to Americans through the “spaghetti western” films of the 1960s and early ’70s. Lined with palm trees, rosemary bushes, and other tropical vegetation, the southeastern Mediterranean coast and the Balearic Islands enjoy a gentle climate, drawing millions of visitors and retirees, especially from northern Europe.