Bienvenido a España!
If you close your eyes and think of Spain for one second, we believe that what comes to mind will probably be a colorful country of varied landscapes, good music, fantastic food and a lively lifestyle hard to match by any other country in Europe. That is all quite true! However, Spain is so culturally rich, there are so many nuances and particular things to the nation and to the Spanish that we thought it could be a good idea to compile some basic information for you so that you have it at hand when getting ready for your next adventure in vibrant Spain! Hold on tight, your adventure starts right here: we are about to make you dream!
Data, numbers and practical info
Spain is a big country as per European standards. The total population is this centuries old constitutional monarchy is currently of 47.432.805 inhabitants in a territory that stretches for 505.990 km2 (or 195.363 mi2). Looking at the map of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) we might even be more impressed by the country’s size if we consider that 80% of the map’s area is occupied by Spain leaving Portugal looking very tiny at the western end of the Peninsula. Its borders have variety of landscapes from Andorra and France to the East, as well as with the Atlantic Ocean in the North and South and the Mediterranean Sea to the Southeast providing for many different seascapes all around. And because there are still the two archipelagos of the Balearic and of the Canary islands as well as the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa but also part of Spanish territory, we are spoilt for choice when the time comes to choose the perfect beach location for a holiday! We at Spain Trails will be thrilled to help with this planning when the time comes!
The great news is that any time of the year is a good time to visit Spain as the weather is generally speaking Maritime Temperate. We like to brag about the fact that the country enjoys some 3000 hours of sunshine per year and that we have long Summers and mild Springs. Our Summer goes from the 21st of June to the 23rd of September and our Winter from the 21st of December to the 20th of March. This said, bear in mind that there are weather variations depending on each region so it is also true that the North is colder and rainier whereas the South is hotter and drier. In between the two there are about five types of micro climate that you can experience depending on the region that you are visiting.
Deciding to come is the first step you take into the incredible journey that awaits you in Spain! The next thing to decide is where to fly and there is plenty to choose from in that field as well. The capital city is Madrid with a population of almost 7.000.000 people in its metropolitan area and also considered the main gateway to Spain as it is served with the largest airport in the country. However other main airports can be found in Barcelona, Málaga- Costa del Sol, Bilbao, Palma de Mallorca and in many other region’s capital and secondary cities.
The Euro (€) is the national currency and although cards are accepted for payment almost everywhere you might want to bring some cash along with you just to be safe. You can do this exchange when you are still back home where your bank might offer you a more interesting rate or withdraw some cash from the cash machines widely available in banks everywhere and usually marked with the universal acronym ATM. Avoid other kinds of cash machines as they can be expensive.
You know what else might be a good idea? Buying a SIM card for your cell phone as it makes communications within the country so much easier! SIM Cards are very affordable and they usually come with some internet and calls credit that might come in handy. As you are on the road you might want to call your hotel to say you are arriving a little earlier and ask if they can provide for a luggage drop off, or to confirm some information with your travel agent or even to make a dinner reservation at this fantastic restaurant that comes mentioned in your guide book. If it is your friends and family that are calling you from abroad on your new number let them know that they need to dial +34 the country’s prefix before dialing the number. And while you are at it maybe it is a good idea to let everyone back home be aware of the possible time differences as Spain is on GMT +1 (same as Paris, France) as you will probably want to avoid that kind but not very timely call right when you are about to lay down your head on your comfy pillow at night!
Make sure you have a charger at hand to keep your cell’s battery charged and your camera ready for those wonderful snapshots that you will no doubt be posting on your social media or sending to your friends. The power plugs run at 230V 50Hz and are C or F types so you will need a 230-volt transformer and an adapter if you want to use American-style flat-prong plugs.
Hola! You are here and now…
Spain is an easy country to navigate and with all the preparation that Spain Trails will be making on your behalf for a fantastic holiday this will be surely a very straightforward, easygoing trip.
First of all, remember that Castilian (Spanish) is the official language although English is widely spoken in the country specially in the Tourism related industries. So, if you end up realizing that you need to brush up on your language skills and that you are momentaneously in need of assistance go ahead and ask for it, don’t be shy: Spain takes pride in showing the country’s best and people love honesty and frankness! We will try our best to understand and help you enjoy the most of what we have to offer!
Moving around is also easy so the real question to ask is: Are you into romantic train rides through the country’s most dazzling landscapes or would you rather hit the road and drive at your pace, discovering the small towns in between each main city?
If the first option is what you go for you will be glad to know that Spain has a very good and reliable train and bus network connecting all the main cities and also smaller towns. The best ticket deals can be obtained if you buy them in advance and we will be happy to help you with that. Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Seville, Valencia and Málaga, all have both subway and surface trains as well as buses. Some cities have tram tracks and fully functioning trolleys and you will find international and local car ride services everywhere along with the good old taxis everywhere. In cities and major towns there are usually daily or weekly tickets available which are very cost effective for public transport if you decide to stay based in one place for a few days.
If on the other hand, you decide that what you want to do this time is to drive along the scenic roads and cities, you can count on a very good road system. Some of them featured in international film productions such as Almería and Seville in Lawrence of Arabia (1962); Segovia and Avila in The Kingdom of Heaven (2007); Barcelona in Vicky, Cristina Barcelona (2008) and so many others that it is hard to keep track. Spain Trails arranges for car rentals and car rental agencies are widely available throughout the country. Keep in mind that this is one of those items that it is best to have booked in advance just to be safe specially during the summer months! In Spain we drive on the right side of the road and the road signs comply with the international rules so no difficulties here either!
The roads can be called Autovias or Autopistas which will be the equivalent to highways/motorways connecting the different cities and towns; there are also additional toll free and regional routes in between smaller cities and towns. If you do go for a detour and decide to use country roads remember that even though they are public, sometimes these are secondary roads used only by locals on their daily work-related activities. Consult your Roadbook and your GPS navigator beforehand to make sure you avoid trespassing or bumping into a flock of sheep on your way to that beautiful view that you had been longing to see!
Travel insurance is always a good idea, wherever you go and even if Spain is generally speaking a safe country with a secure road system, it is always better to be safe than sorry! So, while you are working on your travel plans, consider taking a travel insurance with an insurance company from your own country: they are the ones who can advise you best on national rules and regulations but also on your rights as a citizen abroad.
If you need Medical Assistance while you are in Spain you can go to a Hospital, a Clinic or even call a doctor or a nurse for a home visit and for a very reasonable cost you will get a good level of health care service. For emergencies remember you need to dial 112! For medication you usually go to a pharmacy: there’s always one around the corner in every town or city usually easily spotted by the green neon cross by the front of the store. Some supermarkets also sell OTC (Over the Counter) medication which always comes in handy if you just need a quick something for a headache or some dressing for a small cut!
Some friendly advice and insider’s tips
Eating and drinking in Spain is a cultural trait of particular importance! Meals are a fundamental part of family life and there can be as many as six per day although our schedules may be a little different from yours: breakfast around 8 or 9am; a little something mid-morning, a complete lunch around 2pm; a midafternoon snack that may or may not include a coffee cup but that will definitely include a drink and a tapa (small snack or portion of food, usually finger food); dinner around 9pm and eventually a late night snack before going to bed sometimes way past midnight. Food is a common theme of conversation in Spain! The diet is Mediterranean, so with red wine, freshly baked bread and olive oils serving as the base for many meals but each region has their own specialty such as the octopus in Galicia; the seafood in Catalunya; the cheeses of the La Mancha region and so many others. And because they like to try a bit of everything at once the tapas meals concept came to life. A combo of these may include tortilla (a potato omelet), pimientos padrón (small green peppers) and an assortment of cured meats and is very commonly found in bars and even restaurants all over the country. Food is generally affordable, the price for a meal at a regular restaurant varies from €15 to €20 per person excluding wine and depending on what you will choose.
In case you were wondering, yes, Spaniards do go to bed late but that is because they value slow living and a calmer lifestyle! You may find the tradition of a midafternoon siesta (a resting period usually between 2pm and 5 pm) very much to your liking or nothing at all, in which case we recommend that those hours are spent exploring further as they can be quieter times with less people on the streets and in monuments.
It is custom to dress casually during the day and then polish our gear up a little bit for a dinner or a night out to a flamenco show or a concert for example! However, comfort is of the utmost importance when you are visiting the cobbled streets of millennia old cities so do bring along your most comfortable shoes and clothes for the day and maybe one or two more elegant pieces of clothing and footwear in case you want to go along with the local style at night. Remember to pack a warm jacket for all seasons as nights can be a little chilly in some regions even during the Summer and appropriate rain gear if you are traveling during the wetter months.
Tips are welcome and seen as a reward in Spain. The only rule that applies to tips is: the happier you are with the service the higher the tip! In restaurants that can go from 5 to 10% of the bill and in other services like taxis we round up the bill usually up to the next Euro. Tour Guides, drivers and hotel staff are often tipped as well and the same “level of satisfaction with the service” rule applies. In this case tips can also vary depending on the length of time that person spent providing the service for you so it should be something between €5 and €30 but use your better judgment in each case and you can’t go wrong!
To sum it up:
Spain is as beautiful and fun as you heard it was and even more! It is a country of people looking to live life to its fullest and at the same time holding tight to family bonds and traditions as a way of knowing where we stand in order to be prepared for the future. In every region you will find hardworking, authentic but kind folk who believe that a feast of simple yet delicious food shared among friends toasting to the good moments is all that you need to be happy. It has seen tourists coming and going for decades, so Spain is truly an expert in the art of welcoming guests!.