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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 29, 2008
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Culture and History Coast to Coast
October 29, 2008 By W.¯.    
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The city of Madrid with masterpieces housed in the Prado Museum; Barcelona with wonders of architecture designed by Antonio Gaudi; thousands of kilometers of coastline and two archipelagos, the Canary and Balearic islands-all these make Spain one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. The whole is made complete by a rich culture, fascinating history, and exquisite cuisine.

According to the strategic guidelines of the Spanish tourism ministry, the major tourist attractions that make Spain a worthwhile destination include sunny beaches, culture and cities, conventions and team-building trips, leisure activities, and sports and vacations in the Spanish countryside.

Spain's tourist infrastructure is expanding year by year, offering accommodation for everybody, from luxury five-star hotels to affordable accommodation for young people, college students and visitors with moderate incomes.

Spain borders the Atlantic Ocean in the north and the Mediterranean Sea in the south. Before the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, who set off from the port in Palos de la Frontera, Europeans regarded the rocks of Gibraltar and Mount Abyla across the strait in African Ceuta (now a Spanish enclave in Morocco) as the boundary of the world known to them. Today the rocks which separate the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean, give relaxation to millions of vacationers. Just a few kilometers from the beach lies a region where the cultures of Europe, Africa and Islamic countries blend. Several centuries of the Moorish dominion in the area left permanent marks in Spain, as symbolized by Cordoba, the city which used to have the largest mosque in this part of Europe, and Granada, the last European stronghold of the Moors that fell in 1492.

Despite somewhat lower air and water temperatures, the northern coast of Spain, stretching from the Galicia region to the Basque Country, has its avid fans as well. Unlike the mostly barren southern part (forests which used to grow in the southern territories disappeared almost completely during the era of great naval expeditions and geographical discoveries, when large quantities of wood went to shipbuilding), the north is covered all the way to the ocean with beech and oak forests and kilometers of lush green meadows. The ocean in the north is also much more stormy than the Mediterranean, which attracts many surfers. A must-see in Galicia is Santiago de Compostela, one of the largest European destinations of Christian pilgrimages. Ever since the tomb of St. James was discovered here in 813, millions of pilgrims come to Santiago de Compostela from across Europe every year, choosing among six different pilgrimage routes. The most popular pilgrimages take place in what are called jubilee years when July 25, the day of St. James, falls on a Sunday. Under the papal bull from 1179, Jubilee Year pilgrims can be absolved from all sins. The next such opportunity is near, in 2010.

There seems to be no end to cultural events held on the Iberian Peninsula. Every year, all galleries and museums open new one-off and cyclical exhibitions, taking advantage of the fact that over the centuries, Spain has been the native country or adopted home of some of the greatest artists in history. Visitors to the Prado Museum in Madrid can see masterpieces such as The Garden of Earthly Delights painted by Hieronymus Bosch; in Majorca you can visit a house where Joan Miro used to paint his works; and in Malaga, the birth place of Pablo Picasso. The Salvador Dali museum in Figueres, Catalonia, is the house where Dali was born.

Every region in Spain does its best to come up with events to outclass all the others as far as tourism is concerned. Many such events have become fixtures in what is worth seeing in Europe and around the world-suffice to mention the International Festival of Music and Dance in Granada, which takes place in the last week of June in the fabulous Alhambra castle complex, or the August beach horse races in Sanlucar de Barramede, Cádiz province.

Nature lovers who come to Spain can enjoy areas still untouched by industrial expansion. Spanish national parks are deservedly regarded as some of the world's finest. The Donana National Park near the town of Huelva, Andalusia, is the largest nature reserve in Europe and a UNESCO world heritage site. Apart from thousands of bird species which inhabit the local marshes, the park is the home of the last living Iberian lynxes, an endemic species that conservationists are trying to save from extinction. One of the chief attractions of the forests of Estremadura are, in turn, some of the largest packs of wolves in southern Europe.

Ever since the ancient Romans started cultivating grapevine in the Iberian Peninsula, Spain has been one of the largest producers of wine in the world. Every wine connoisseur is familiar with the rioja red wine with an intense flavor, the cava light sparkling wine, and jerez, commonly known as sherry, the fortified wine which is especially popular in Britain. Hundreds of wine festivals take place in Spain every year and each Spanish region takes pride in its finest vineyards and signature varietals. The map of Spain is intersected by wine trails that tourists can explore for weeks, tasting local wines with appropriate starters (tapas) and dishes.

In the past decade, Spain has become a highly popular destination with Polish families going on vacations. The numbers are constantly on the rise. Last year Polish citizens accounted for just over 250,000 of 36 million tourists in Spanish hotels. The number may appear insignificant at first, yet it was 113 percent higher than in 2003. Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Tenerife in particular, and Costa del Sol are the favorite Spanish destinations for Polish vacationers. Between 2004 and 2007, the number of Polish tourists in Andalusia rose by 210 percent and by 116 percent in the Canary Islands, while in 2004-2006 the figure broke all records in Costa del Sol, growing by 335 percent. The main contributing factor was a rapidly expanding network of charter flights and connections operated by low-cost airlines.

Another Spanish region to witness a sharp increase in the number of Polish tourists was Majorca, with 66 percent more visits over just two years.
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