Europe’s Garden Of Light

SPAIN ON THE IBERIAN PENINSULA IS A COUNTRY BURSTING WITH ART, CULTURE AND, MORE THAN THAT, LIFE ITSELF.

So vibrant and rich are these lands that they magnanimously invite everyone to imagine his own Spain. Here, for example, is the Spain of the great artists. The Malaga-born Picasso’s Spain is Guernica. And the Spain of Dali, Catalan genius whose love of luxury, ostentation and eastern costumes has been attributed to his Arab lineage, is perhaps his work, Galacidalacidesoxirobonucleicacid (aka Homage to Crick and Watson). Similarly the architect Antonio Gaudi is another of Catalonia’s gifts to Spain and to the world. As much as La Sagrada Familia, the basilica he designed, Gaudi’s Spain is the Casa Battlo and the Park and Palau Güell. In a word, Spain is truly Europe’s garden of light, whose rays inspire art and culture.

Spain is one of the world’s great cultures. With the exception of Brazil, the entire Latin American continent is Spanish-speaking. So what is the secret of Spain, which has produced so many great painters, poets, writers and architects? Does it lie perhaps in the stone-paved streets permeated with the scent of orange blossoms? Vestiges of Al Andalusia’s glorious 800-year history are in its evening meals eaten in the Mediterranean’s soul-soothing breezes, in the arcades, each opening onto another world, in the flamenco, the festivals, the football mania, and in the deep dark eyes - a legacy of her Maghreb ancestry - of a child peeking through a doorway. This is Spain! For most of us, Spain is the Al Andalusian region stretching from the south coast to the center of the country. And surely the Cordoba Mosque, the Alhambra Palace and the great cathedrals are among the sights you must not miss. Toledo, Seville, Malaga, Granada, Cordoba, Almeria and Cadiz are the landmarks of Andalusian Spain. Wherever you are in Spain, the museums and art galleries are never to be taken lightly, and visiting them is the best and quickest way to get to know the country. As you approach Madrid in the center of the country, the architecture begins to deviate somewhat from that of Andalusia, the buildings to become a little taller, a little more eclectic. If you happen to go to Madrid, your obligatory first stop will be the Puerta del Sol. This central point is a good place to start to familiarize yourself with the city. Setting aside a few hours for the Museo del Prado, one of Europe’s largest collections with its over 700 works of art, is also de rigueur. For awaiting you here are the works not only of the Spaniards Velazquez, El Greco and Goya but also of Mantegna, Rubens, Titian, Caravaggio and Botticelli. Before I forget, the museum is closed on Mondays. When you arrive in Barcelona you’ll find tall buildings with more of a whiff of Europe about them. As you stroll towards the statue of Christopher Columbus gazing into the distance from La Rambla, the claustrophobic effect of the highrises will dissipate and the climate become Mediterranean once again, bringing a smile to faces. Another major city, Valencia is not only a center of trade and industry but also a perfect Mediterranean town with a history going back to the Romans. But there is one kind of enthusiasm that is shared all over Spain, from Barcelona in the east to Extremadura in the west, from Galicia in the north right through Madrid and all the way to the south: Football! Fan love for FC Barcelona and Real Madrid goes beyond Spain to embrace the whole world. A country that combines traditional values with those of today, Spain is also a quintessential land of festivals. Interest is keen and people come from all over the world for Spain’s festivals, celebrated in each region at a different time of year. Festivals, biennales and cinema days may accelerate the pace of life, but the siesta is also a Spanish sine qua non. Eating is definitely a form of entertainment, and Mediterranean fruits de mer, paella, olive oil and the little snacks known as tapas are the gastronomical delights that go with pleasant conversation here. Land of flamenco, cultural richness, warm friendship and a love of eating, Spain is a country where life itself is an art, and definitely worth living.

Visitors are literally spellbound by the fine architectural details as they leave behind the reddish walls and enter the Alhambra Palace at Granada. But most striking of all is the water flowing in the magnificent gardens. Extremely advanced engineering for its time was used to bring water to the palace.

Albaicin, Granada’s oldest Maghreb quarter, preserves its original texture. Colorful geraniums grace the window sills of whitewashed houses shaded by palms and cypresses.  The coat-of-arms of the Bani Ahmar State, inscribed ‘God is the sole victor’,  still stands out on the walls of the Alhambra.

The corner of the Gran Via and the Calle de Alcala in downtown Madrid is a hotel terrace. In front of it rises the domed roof of the Banco de Espana building, and diagonally across from it the Palacio de Cibeles. The streets of the capital harbor countless surprises for art lovers, of which street artists are just one. And the restaurant windows in Madrid’s famous San Miguel Market are mouth-watering indeed.

SPAIN

The cold tomato soup called gazpacho, seafood paella and the snacks known as tapas are the foundation of Spanish cuisine. Vegetables are usually served as a garnish, and desserts include variations on creme caramel.

Barcelona’s Passeig de Garcia and Avenida Diagonal streets attract fashionistas with their brightly lit shop windows and creative designs.

Every region is proud of having its own cuisine in Spain. Almost all the towns in the country have their traditional marketplace. These markets are particularly rich in fresh fruit.

Turkish Airlines has flights in both directions from Istanbul to various points in Spain. For information: www.turkishairlines.com

The metropolises like Madrid and Barcelona offer accommodation alternatives ranging from hostels to five-star hotels. Old Maghreb houses converted into boutique hotels are a hot item in Andalusia.

Popular with famous matadors in Madrid, the city’s century-old cake shops offer tasty local pastries accompanied by coffee.

BIRD’S-EYE BARCELONA

Leather masks, flamenco castanets, local costumes and handmade fans pop up all over the place in Andalusia, and you should leave room in your suitcase.

Land of beautiful beaches, Spain offers numerous alternatives for sea and sun. The tourism authorities emphasize Mallorca, Ibiza and the Canary Islands.

An evening meal to the accompaniment of flamenco melodies in one of the restaurants in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor district can turn into a virtual festival. In its time the district was a popular stop with greats like Ernest Hemingway.

Perched on a hill surrounded by valleys on three sides, the city of Toledo on the banks of the Tagus River brings to mind Don Quixote with its historic windmills.

İRENE MOLİNA

Photographer

“Despite living for many years in Madrid, I like Andalusia even more, because Andalusia offers a synthesis of Islamic and Mediterranean cultures. But Spain promises much more than that. To see it you have to go to Catalonia and the Basque country. You can’t understand Spain without reading Lorca and listening to Radio Tarifa.”

Montjuic is one of the best places to view Barcelona spread out below your feet. A short, pleasant cablecar ride takes passengers up this 210-meter-high hill southwest of the city. At the top are museums and art galleries as well as the sports areas built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

THREE MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

GOLFING Andalusia boasts more than 50 courses, starting with Malaga.
SURFING Wind and wave levels are ideal all year round at Tarifa on the Costa de la Luz.
SKIING Sol y Nieve near Granada has the sunniest pistes in Europe.