Continuing my countdown having already covered numbers ten to twelve (Palma, Denia & Malaga).
Number Ten – Vitoria-Gasteiz
The lovely Basque city is an hour’s bus journey from Big Brother Bilbao, to which we ventured as a side trip from the biggest city in the Basque region.
A modern tram whisked us the few stops into the centre and we were soon exploring the impressive Gothic Santa Maria katedrala as it is named in the Basque language.
We spent a very pleasant half hour exploring the decorative crypt and the slightly less impressive main building.
As we wandered outside again, we noticed a few people wearing a blue and white football shirt. We figured the local team must have been playing that day. I had never heard of a team called Vitoria, so assumed they must play in the lower Spanish leagues.
As we sat for an early afternoon beer in the main squares (Plaza de la Virgen Blanca) the number of football shirts grew. We were intrigued so asked a local.
First up the Vitoria team are called Alaves, a team that have flitted between the top two leagues in Spain. They had been promoted the previous season and that day they were only up against the giants of Real Madrid.
Before long, droves of noisy flare wielding fans marched past us on the way to the small stadium, whose capacity is less than twenty thousand. It would be full to bursting that day for the visit of one of Spain’s big two.
We toyed with the unlikely idea of getting tickets, but of course it had been sold out weeks in advance, so we ventured uphill into the old town.
We passed a multitude of bars en route to the old town centre, each of them thronging with excited fans eagerly anticipating how their low profile heroes would cope with the likes of world stars such as Ronaldo, Bale, Modric and Benzema.
We squeezed past them through the narrow streets, before finding ourselves in the spacious courtyard of the San Miguel church.
Sadly it was clad in scaffolding and was also shut so we satisfied ourselves with the splendid view of the town and surrounding countryside rather than what was described as a marvellous Baroque altar designed by Gregorio Fernández.
The walk down again via ancient steps and cobbled streets was very pleasant. We soon found ourselves directly above the square where we had sat earlier, now a whole lot quieter now the match had commenced.
The only thing to do was to have another glass and appetising pintxos and watch some of the match on TV.
Real had an early scare when Alaves took the lead, but soon took control, running out 4-1 winners including a treble from Cristiano Ronaldo.
All in all a lovely side trip from Bilbao – we had toyed with the idea of San Sebastian Instead, but were happy with our choice.
Number Nine – Cadiz
Ever since I saw a picture of Cadiz’s golden domed cathedral in a magazine, I wanted to go and visit. I was not to be disappointed.
The clamber to the top of the aforementioned dome and the spectacular view of the city surrounded by the sparkling blue sea was indeed a highlight.
So too however was the authentically sweaty & earthy flamenco viewed in a dingy club situated on one of the narrow streets of the ancient barrio, an area that appeared to have stood still since the times of press gangs & pirates.
Cadiz is also home to some very fine sandy beaches and an unfussy retail centre with very acceptable bars and restaurants.
Add to that the fact that Cadiz is the perfect city base to explore the sherry bodegas (distilleries) of Jerez & Santa Maria, as well as the picture perfect Pueblos Blancos (white villages) and you won’t be wanting for something to do if you choose one of Europe’s southernmost cities for a short break.
Number Ten – Toledo
The former capital of Spain is a European mediaeval delight. The walled birthplace of El Greco is stuffed full of ancient monuments, including an absolutely stunning Gothic cathedral.
Surrounded by the River Tagus, Toledo enjoys a spectacular position with great views from just about every point. Scramble amongst the many man-made fortifications and imagine yourself with bow in hand, defending the ancient city from invaders.
It is only about one hour by train from Madrid and a perfect antidote to the non-stop party of Spain’s modern capital.
Coming next nine to seven