When friends or colleagues are planning a trip to Spain, they often come to me for recommendations. Not just because I work at Travelzoo, but because I’ve been there almost 10 times visiting family in Madrid, Bilbao, Zaragoza and Galicia, as well as touring around the rest of the country with my husband and sometimes the kids.
Here are the first five of my favorite cities to visit -- places I feel reveal the true essence of the country. These cities are all close the center of the country.
Toledo: Toledo is a fantastic old city with narrow streets and a rich history of artisanal sword making. The Alcazar (to pronounce it properly, put the emphasis on the ca) is one of the important fortresses to see here.
Avila: A walled city, Avila is incredibly beautiful. If you go, you must see The Four Posts, known locally as Los Quatro Postes. It’s a shrine just outside the city. A cross covered by a four-posted canopy marks the spot where St. Teresa is said to have shaken the dust from her sandals as she left the city.
Madrid: Forget taxis -- take the subway to get around Madrid. Things you must do in Madrid include going to a bar to see Flamenco music and dancing, indulging in a chocolate con churros, visiting the Prado museum and relaxing at Retiro Park (but watch for pickpockets).
Cuenca: This is another beautiful town, set on a cliff. It’s not too far from Madrid, to which it is connected by rail. A must-see in Cuenca is the casas colgadas or hanging houses -- homes carved out of the side of the cliff.
Segovia: Small and very pretty, Segovia is about an hour northwest of Madrid. Roman aqueducts still feed water to the city. If you can stay at the Parador de Segovia hotel, do. It’s a beautiful place and boasts a stunning view.
In Part Two on Monday, I’ll list five others that are closer to the water. (Note: Not included here are the great beaches in Spain, of which there are many.)