The Most Underrated Places in Spain
Flamenco, jamón ibérico, sangria, Moorish romance you can’t fake... Spain is overflowing with all the ingredients for an exotic European vacation. After you've explored the beaches of Barcelona and the tapas bars of San Sebastian, it's time to head to these eight destinations—the most underrated spots on the Iberian peninsula.
All the romance of Moorish times can be felt and seen in Cordoba—without contending with the hordes of tourists that crowd into Granada, roughly two hours southeast. Here, instead of the Alhambra, it’s all about the Mezquita, Cordoba’s grand mosque masterpiece whose dramatic interiors marry Roman with Islamic architectural flourishes, from the orange and cypress tree-lined courtyard to the striped archways and minaret. Be sure to carve out some time for a soak in a hammam (the Moroccan-inspired Hotel Madinat has a lovely one) and tuck into as many local food specialties—including Salmorejo, the local twist on gazpacho—as you can. You're in the heart of Andalusia, after all.
Head about an hour south of the crowded streets of Madrid and you'll reach the ancient town of Toledo, Spain’s spiritual center set in the arid plains of Castilla-La Mancha (of Don Quixote fame). The town's well-preserved medieval center is intimate enough to explore on foot and full of atmospheric nosh spots like Adolfo, which is best known for its Toledan specialties such as marzipan sweets and perdiz a la Toledana (partridge stew).
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If you’ve ever relished a glass of rioja, you’ll enjoy making a pilgrimage to its native locale in Logroño, the utterly charming yet underrated capital of Spain’s La Rioja province, located about 90 minutes south of Bilbao. When you’re not touring the nearby wineries, go for a pinchos (tapas) crawl through the many bodegas that line the town’s winding alleyways. Your best bet? Start on Calle del Laurel, the main dining drag known as la zona de pinchos.
Spain hardly wants for whitewashed villages tumbling down hillsides, but Gaucín, just an hour away from the crowded Costa del Sol, stands out for the views of Gibraltar and North Africa you'll find from its headiest perches. The vertiginous vistas you get arriving here from the coast will give you a taste of the hiking opportunities found in this mountainous part of Andalusia, where migratory birds transiting between Europe and Africa are often seen. Take in some wine tasting at Enkvist Wines, owned by a Swede, then tuck into a plate of paella at an outdoor table at Terral Gaucin.
Jerez de la Frontera
Another Andalusian town in southern Spain, Jerez de la Frontera offers much of the vibrant culture you'd find in places like Granada and Seville—flamenco music; endless tapas bars—albeit in a for more relaxed setting. You’re in the Sherry Triangle, so tasting the sweet and strong wine straight from the barrel at local tabancos here is a must. Another highlight: Alcazar de Jerez de la Frontera, a former Moorish palace at the heart of town and home to a spectacular park. Be sure to book in advance for dinner at the Michelin-starred La Carbona, set inside a former sherry bodega, for elevated specialties like sherry-infused grilled meats and red almadraba tuna tartare. As for where to stay, we suggest Los Jandalos for its atmospheric deli café and spa.
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The taupe-colored mountaintop city of Ronda is often overlooked by tourists destined for more whitewashed villages or the popular nearby coastal cities of Marbella and Malaga, but it’s worth heading inland to this spectacular town, which is precariously perched on the edge of a deep gorge. You’ll find incredible views on the Puente Nuevo, the beautiful bridge that sits 400 feet above the Guadalevín River and connects Ronda's old and new towns. Interested in extending the day trip? Bed down at Hotel Enfrente Arte, a sweet 12-room hotel with a fun, bohemian vibe.
Coastal Andalucia feels its most authentic in Almuñécar, a seaside village about an hour-and-a-half east along the coast from Malaga. Even more laid-back and appealing than the coastal town of Nerja, just a half-hour away, Almuñécar’s old town sprawls across a hilltop originally settled by the Phoenicians. The Castillo de San Miguel, flanked by the original city walls, is the town’s most important historical site, but your afternoon would be equally well-spent strolling the nearby barrio of San Miguel, which is full of narrow streets, whitewashed buildings, and cozy bodegas on tucked-away plazas.
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