Even though Spain has had some economic difficulties in the last few years, it is still a hot-spot for European vacationers. Its climate, rich culture and friendly people make it a holiday destination for Europeans, but still somewhat of a not fully explored vacation spot for Americans. At the center of this wonderful area of the world is Madrid, and I found it to be a place everyone should consider when making vacation plans to Europe.
1. Geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula. From Madrid a person can get to a number of amazing places on the Iberian Peninsula in a surprisingly short period of time. For instance, if you are going from Madrid to Barcelona, you are traveling about as far as you can from Madrid and still stay on the peninsula. By high-speed rail you can make the journey in less than three hours, plus have several departure options.
There are many places in Spain and Portugal that are totally unique. Places such as Alicante, Seville and Granada, where the amazing Alhambra is located, are only a few places you should look to explore. These places plus many others are easy to get to by train.
2. Great food. The food is quite hearty, and you will certainly want to sample the tapas, which are basically snack-sized portions that are shared. Much like Italy where food is a very social event, a number of varieties of tapas are shared by everyone at the table. The afternoon meal is normally the main meal of the day, and supper is by American standards very late: 10 to 11 PM.
3. Spanish wine. Although beer is gaining in popularity with Spanish people, Spanish wines are some of the best in Europe. Vineyards are now sprouting up around the country due to irrigation, technology, improved grape varieties and a lot of investment. The two leading wine varieties are Rioja and Navarra.
4. Parks and green space. Madrid is recognized as one of the greenest cities in the world. It has the second most trees of any city in the world, second only to Tokyo, Japan, and they are growing green space every year. It is estimated that in the last 12 years green areas in the city have grown by about 16%, and today over 8% of the city of Madrid is green.
5. Art. The world-famous Museo del Prado is the list of great collections of art, but Madrid, and for that matter Spain make art a part of their everyday life. You will see art everywhere you go; I think even more in Spain that anyplace else in Europe. It really is a pleasure to walk in most parts of the city.
This European capital is a truly wonderful place to just “be”, and the people are wonderful as well. Put Madrid on your short list of places in Europe to visit.