My first ever experience of Spain was in 1983, a budget trip to Benidorm for a fortnight of late nights and lazy days. Hardly the authentic Spain, but since then I have travelled a fair bit in the fabulous country with Mrs Wilbur.
Here is the lowdown on our favourite Spanish destinations.
Number Twelve – Málaga
The Andalusian birthplace of Picasso, is often overlooked as a destination in its own right. More commonly used as a gateway to Marbella or Granada, the city is worth lingering at for a day or two.
Fans of the works of Malaga’s most famous son will not be disappointed by the museum and gallery dedicated to the cubist genius. Much of his best known work is in Madrid or Paris, but here you will be rewarded with a lot of his early work and his pencil sketches of what were to become well known works.
For an excellent perspective of the city, you can walk up the hill to the ancient fortifications, the early 11th century Alcazaba of Málaga.
The view is magnificent with the sparkling Mediterranean as a stunning backdrop. You can see for miles on a clear day, including the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains that are popular with skiers in winter.
The fort is now home to some beautifully manicured gardens, including a splendid Italianate walled version. Just below the main building are the remains of a Roman theatre built in the 1st century BC.
Back down at sea-level, you can visit the bullring. Now I do not condone what goes on inside them, but I have to admit to an admiration of the architectural aesthetics of the circular arenas. Malaga’s is up there with the best.
My favourite thing to do in Malaga however is to visit the many bodegas that are dotted around the centre. The wine cellars have an atmosphere all of their own. Dark interiors punctuated with dimly glowing lamps, black wine barrels scattered about acting as various furniture, blackboards displaying a dizzying array of wines and sherries that are sold from bottles, barrels and on tap.
Our favourite one stood opposite the main cathedral (I forget the name!) and close to the Picasso Museum. The place was particularly atmospheric with pictures displayed erratically all over the place showing the famous people that had enjoyed a tipple or two there – Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Andreas Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Tony Blair, King Juan Carlos to name a few.
All in all, well worth a stop off.
Number Eleven – Denia
Denia, situated in the Alicante region, started life as a fishing village, but has expanded to become a thriving tourist destination, bustling port and very pleasant small city.
We visited Denia in early summer as part of a tour also taking in Valencia (a two hour bus ride away) and the Alicante region (reached by a fabulous coast hugging train).
So what to do in Denia itself? First of all it has an excellent sandy beach right in the centre, a busy harbour where you can spend hours watching fishermen off loading a plethora of fish and setting themselves up as highly vocal salesmen plus a fine hilltop 11th Century castle, again with excellent views of the city and the surrounding blue waters.
As you would expect, Denia has a good choice of seafood eateries dotted along the harbourside. You really are spoiled for choice and of course you know that the food is as fresh as it could possibly be.
The town centre is also very pleasant. Tree lined streets, pretty flowers everywhere and some lovely (apparently) boutiques to keep Mrs Wilbur happy!
It all made for a relaxing and enjoyable if unremarkable time.
Number Ten – Palma
The city of the island of Mallorca is another laid back affair that is remarkable for its stunning Gothic cathedral.
It appears to belong to a city far bigger than Palma, a testament to the wealth of the Balearic island, when it was built in the middle ages. The central nave is 25% bigger than Notre Dame in Paris to give you an idea of the scale of it.
Elsewhere the city is compact with some very good seafood restaurants and a large number of jewellery shops selling reasonably priced pearls farmed locally.
If you go, you should not miss taking the one hour journey on the historic train to the small port of Soller. The rails cut right through the mountains and you see a lot of rural Mallorca on the way. The train actually pulls up into the small town station and from there you can take a one-car electric tram down to the port itself. All very touristic, but great fun all the same.
Apart from that, Palma and the whole island is geared up for relaxation with excellent beaches, villas for rent and country retreats situated high up in the hills.
Unless you are a raver, just make sure you steer clear of Magaluf!