regions, or autonomous communities, of Spain
much of its recent history, Spain has been a country of conflicting
identities; on the one hand a national identity hingeing on the concept
of Spain as a single country; on the other hand a network of regional
identities, many regions of Spain displaying distinct regional
characteristics, and even using their own distinct languages.
In the time of General Franco, the vision of Spain as a
united country prevailed, and was even enforced; in the modern
post-Franco era, Spain has taken the path of devolution, with the
creation of "autonomous communities" with their own parliaments,
institutions, cultural identities and even languages. Though "Spanish",
often reffered to as "Castilian", remains the main language spoken in
modern Spain, it is by no means the only language. In Catalonia, the
most prosperous region of Spain, the official language is Catalan; and
in the Basque country, Basque exists alongside Spanish. But even in
some provinces where Castilian Spanish is widely spoken, it exists
alongside regional dialects or languages. This is the case in Valencia
Santiago de Compostella.
Biggest city: Vigo
lies at the northwest tip of Spain. An Atlantic coastal region, it
benefits from a temperate climate and adequate rainfall, making it the
greenest region in Spain. The population of Galicia is concentrated
along the coast, and in the cities of Vigo and A Coruña
port cities. Vigo is the largest fishing port in Europe, and an
industrial hub, with shipbuilding and car manufacturing.
Away from the urban areas, Galicia has a dramtic rocky
deeply indented on the western side by fijord-like inlets, rock but
less indented along the northern coast.
Inland from the
coast, Galicia remains a relatively poor agricultural region, with a
lot of small farmers. The terrain is hilly and rocky, and in many parts
Galicia and Asturias, like Brittany or Wales or Ireland, belong to
Europe's Celtic fringe and share certain cultural traditions such as
capital Oviedo. Cantabria: capital Santander.
For most of its length, the coastline of northern Spain is hilly or
even mountainous. Behind a narrow and fertile coastal plain, the
terrain rises steeply into the mountains of Cantabria and Asturias,
known collectively as the Cantabrian Mountains, culminating in the the
Picos de Europa, dramatic and rocky mountains with deep valleys and
soaring peaks. The area has been nicknamed "Switzerland on the sea", on
account of the proximity of high mountain peaks, green valleys, and the
Tourism was slow to
develop here, and the north coast of Spain has not seen to much of the
urbanization that has blighted long stretches of Spain's Mediterranean
coast. Nevertheless, around the ports of Santander and Gijon, the
coastline has seen a fair amount of tourist development in recent
decades. Away from this, there are long stretches of relatively
unblemished coastline, with fields and meadows coming right down to the
water's edge - or in most cases, the clifftops.
Like Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias are parts of what is
as "Green Spain" (España Verde) on account of their oceanic
They are small regions, just including the coastal areas and the
northern slopes of the Cantabrian mountains.
More on Asturias
Country / Pais Vasco /
renowned through Spain and beyond on account of its violent separatist
movement ETA, the Basque country is actually the most propserous region
in Spain in terms of GDP per inhabitant, thanks to its industrial
sector, its tourism and its agricultural activity. There are two
official languages in the Basque Country, Basque (Euskara) and Spanish
(Castilian): having totally different origins, the Basque language is
completely different from Spanish, which explains why many places in
the Basque area have two quite different sounding names.
The region has two big industrial and commercial
the ports of Bilbao and San Sebastian (Donostia). Between them, the
rocky Atlantic coastline offers a number of small resorts that have
seen development in recent decades, though not on the scale of the
The northern half of the Basque
country is hilly - the Basque hills being the westward extension of the
Pyrenees. But unlike the Spanish Pyrenees, the Basque hill country
benefits from more rainfall, making it a green and wooded area. The
hills and valleys are dotted with small villages and isolated
farmsteads, and are popular with ramblers and hikers. The southern part
of the Basque Country, the province of Avala, south of the
coastal mountains, enjoys a much more continental climate. Most of the
population of Avala is concentrated in the Vitoria conglomeration.
Beyond the capital city, the area is largely agricultural, particularly
on the flat expanses of the upper Ebro valley.
Landlocked Aragon, where the people speak Spanish, is a
sparsely-populated province which is mainly rural - with agriculture
wherever it is possible. However, on its dry hilly areas, little
economic activity is possible beyond grazing and in places, and where
the land is accessible, forestry.
The northern parts of Aragon is made up of the
Pyrenees mountains which, on this southern side, are fairly dry and
arid. Narrow valleys with rocky gorges are characteristic of this
region. South of the Pyrenees, the wide Ebro valley around Zaragoza or
a fertile agricultural region. In the south east, between the fertile
agricultural plains and the coast, lies a dry hilly area of
Mediterranean pine forest and olive groves.
This part of
Spain is, like most regions, rich in history and culture, particularly
visible in the Moorish and Mozarab heritage of
Zaragoza , the Mudejar heritage of Teruel, and ancient castles such as
the Romanesque fortress at Loarre.
y Leon / Castile and Leon:
Segovia, Castilla y Leon
is the heart of Spain. The historic region of Castile was the
round the capital Madrid, and the historic heart of
Spain. Old Castile is now split into three regions,
with Castile & Leon the largest of the three in terms
surface area, though not in terms of population. Madrid itself,
historically the capital of Castile, is now an independent autonomous
In the past, Castile was a wild
desolate area, where people lived together in fortified cities or
castles; many of these survive to this day, including some of the
jewels in the Spainsh crown, the cities of Avila, Salamanca or Segovia,
all classed as UNESCO world heritage sites - not forgetting the great
cultural heritage of other cities such as Leon, Valladolid or Burgos,
or the amazing romanesque cloisters of the monastery at Santo Domingo
The great open expanses of Castile are largely given over to
agriculture, particularly cereals; but most of this region lies at an
altitude of 800m or
more, and the climate is dry and cold in winter, dry and hot in summer.
Though the mountains in around the Castilian mesa support pine forests,
there are large expanses in the middle of the region where it is only
alongside water courses that trees grow naturally, and irrigated
farming can be practised.
More on Castile y Leon
part of Castile, Madrid today is its own autonomous region, and the
most densely populated area in Spain. The Spanish metropolitan area is
home to about 6 million people, and is a bustling and prosperous area,
with a strong serviced-based economy. The area has seen massive
development in the past decades.
Old Madrid is
famous for its urban architecture, its ornate churches and its
world-famous museum and art-gallery the Prado. Like the rest of central
Spain, Madrid enjoys a continental climate, hot and dry in summer, cold
and largely dry in winter. The city lies at an altitude of almost 650
metres above sea level, making it the highest capital city among
European union member states.
Northern Costa Brava
Catalonia is the richest and, with almost seven million inhabitants,
most heavily populated region of Spain.
first thing that surprises many visitors when they first visit
Catalonia is that people in this region don't speak Spanish. Freed from
the constraints of the Franco era, when Castilian Spanish was imposed
throughout Spain, Castilian autonomous governments have reinstated
Catalan as the regional language, to the point where it is now usually
the only language used. For example, in museums, items are sometimes
labeled in Catalan and
English, but not in Castilian Spanish - to the annoyance of visitors
from other parts of Spain. That being said, Catalan and Castilian are
sufficiently close for most Spanish-speakers to be able to understand
road-signs and other information.
Evening in Barcelona
round Barcelona, Spain's second city, a thriving business city and one
of the major ports on the
Mediterranean, is fairly densely built-up. The densely populated areas
extend along the coast, and into the valleys northwest of Barcelona,
where there is still a fair amount of heavy industry.
is linked to Madrid by the AVE, Spain's high-speed rail network, and
work will soon be completed to the French border, allowing direct
high-speed train services between Barcelona and Paris.
Catalonia, bordering on France, is the most easily accessible of
Spain's regions, and the Costa Brava was the first part of Spain to
rush headlong into mass tourism development. North and south of
Barcelona, the coast is a string of suburban and holiday developments,
crowding in on the small seaside towns. Today there are nevertheless
few unspoilt places along the coastline, particularly in the north of
the region; but it is the region's hinterland that offers the wide
spaces and the natural areas that attract visitors in search of an
escape from the crowds. The Catalonian Pyrenees, popular with
hikers and outdoor enthuiasts, offer some magnificent rocky mountain
scenery, dramatic gorges, peaks and magnificent vistas, but also a rich
collection of historic sites, such as the UNESCO World Heritage listed
mediaeval churches in the area of Tahull.
Bardenas Reales, Navarra
Navarra is a region
foothills and central western section of the Pyrenees, bordering on
France and the Basque country. But like Castile it is a region that is
very dry in parts, even barren and inhospitable, and the Bardenas
Reales natural park offers some spectacular semi-desert landscapes
reminiscent of America's Wild West .
is the leading region of Europe in terms of renewable energy, with a
target of 100% renewable energy use by 2050. Almost half the
region's electricity is produced by the area's 28 wind farms, with
hydroelectricity being the second source. With its dry sunny climate,
Navarra also has potential for the development of solar power.
To the south of Aragon , Rioja
, along the
upper Ebro valley, is the smallest region in Spain, and notably famous
for its wines.
Windmill in Castilla la Mancha
Castilla la Mancha is another sparsely
populated region, but one
where agriculture is more extensive. Between the cities of Albacete and
Ciudad Real vast wheat fields stretch as far as the eye can see, and
there are also important vineyards and other crops. Where there are
hills, they are dry and barren, but windy too; this is the country
where the legendary Don Quixote wanted to fight the windmills.
The cultural heritage of Castila la Mancha has remained remarkably
intact, notably with the dramatic city of Toledo, the former home of
the great Spanish painter El Greco. The area around Todedo is famous
for its olives.
Plans by an American company
to build a massive Las Vegas style casino
close to Ciudad Real have been shelved, much to the relief of many
More information on Castile
la Mancha region
Extremadura, bordering to its west on Portugal, is, and has long been,
the poorest region in Spain; in the past, its poverty led to
of its population fleeing elswhere in search of better fortune, often
to South America. Two of the greatest "Conquistadores", Pizarro and
Cortés, were from this region, and they and others like them
back from South America great wealth which they spent on large country
estates and prestigious palaces in towns such as Caceres and Trujillo.
Further south, the regional capital Merida was once an important Roman
boasts the finest Roman remains in Spain, including an amazing long
Roman bridge and a large Roman theatre - as well as the Spanish
national museum of Antiquity.
Today the region remains sparsely populated; large parts are too poor
to cultivate, and are given over to subsitance farming. Elsewhere the
landscape is of olive groves or scrub oak and in more fertile parts
rolling fields of wheat. But the granite bedrock is never far below the
surface, and indeed often breaks through in rocky tors.
The mountain areas of Extremadura are very wild,
popular with bird-watchers and hikers. Though for hikers, the
infrastructure remains relatively limited. More information: Guide
regions of Valencia and Murcia look steadfastly out to sea. In this dry
central eastern part of Spain, it is on the coastal strip that the
large majority of the population is concentrated; and it is a
population that has vastly expanded in recent decades with the
over-development of mile after mile of coastal resorts,
"urbanizaciones" and their associated infrasructure. Yet the coastline
is long, and there are still some relatively unspoiled sections of
beach, or rocky coves, for those who want to get away from the crowds.
Apart from tourism, the main activity in this region is agriculture,
particularly in the fertile valleys of Murcia, where large surfaces are
given over to the production of fruit and vegetables. Valencia is the
capital of the Spanish orange and citrus industry. The Moors introduced
the cultivation of palm trees into this area, and the city of Elche,
near Alicante, boasts Europe's only extensive palm groves.
Generally speaking this is a dry region, and the hills inland from the
coast are arid and rocky, like much of Spain. Small
villages and towns cling to hillsides, or stand beside rivers
streams; but this inland area is sparsely populated, and a world apart
from the thronging crowds of Benidorm or La Manga.
Culturally, the region has plenty to offer, from the historic centres
of Valencia and Murcia, to the palm groves of Elche and the moorish
remains at Lorca and elsewhere.
More information on the Region
In the Alpujarras
is the southernmost region of continental Europe; it is tha largest
region in Spain, and has the largest population, most of it
concentrated along the coast and in the Guadalquivir valley. While its
once-beautiful coastline has been largely massacred by often
uncontrolled property speculation and intensive agriculture (la
"plasticultura"), inland, and often still quite close to the coast,
Andalucia remains a magnificent region of hills and plains, with some
of the richest cultural heritage in Spain.
was the last European fief of the Moors, and "Al Andalus" boasts some
of the finest historic vestiges of Moorish culture. The Moors were not
driven out of Andalucia until 1492, the year in which Christopher
Columbus first set foot in the Americas. The great Moorish heritage of
Andalucia survives to this day in many Alcazars and other buildings,
but most famously in the Mesquita at Cordoba and the Alhambra at
Granada, among the most visited historic monuments in Europe.
The mosque at Cordoba
Mostly dry and hot, Andalucia is one of the poorest regions
Spain, particularly away from the intensely tourist areas of the
Mediterranean coast between Malaga and Marbella. Behind the
coast, much of the region is very hilly and mountainous, culminating in
the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Between the Sierra Nevada and the
coast lie the Alpujarras, where the last Moors in Spain were sent to
live. To this day, the area, with its white villages clinging to
hillsides, is very similar to parts of Morrocco., The high Alpujarras
and the Sierra Nevada offer great opportunities for hiking and other
outdoor activities, specially in Spring and Autumn when the rest of
Europe feels distinctly cooler.
Northern and eastern
Andalucia is sparsely populated, many parts being characterised today
by endless olive groves, largely a result of EU subsidies, not of any
great historic tradition. Other parts, however, are dry and virtual
semi-desert. Just inland from the port of Almeria lies the Desierto de
Tabernas, the only area in Europe officially designated as a desert.
The most fertile part of Andalucia is the central valley of
river Guadalquivir which, flowing through Sevilla, reaches the Atlantic
coast west of the port city of Cadiz. Though the flow of the river is
very seasonal, the Guadalquivir and its tributaries sustain
agricultural activity throughout the area, including the production of
Sherry, which comes from the area aroung Jerez de la Frontera..
More information: Guide to