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5 lesser-known spots for a vacation in Spain

Aug. 16, 2020
10 min read
Arnia Costa Quebrada
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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. And we'll be here to help you prepare, whether it’s next month or next year.

It's clear that travel plans are a little different this year. But that hasn't stopped us from dreaming about our next trip to Spain.

The Mediterranean country has always been a favorite among travelers. It's generally affordable and it has something for everyone: gorgeous beaches, a number of popular islands (here's how to decide which Canary Island is right for a socially distanced vacation when the time comes), National Parks, hiking spots, delicious cuisine, affordable cultural landmarks and more.

In fact, there are parts of Spain that are left largely unexplored by travelers. So instead of visiting popular spots like Benidorm, Barcelona, Mallorca or one of the Canary Islands, consider one of these stunning Spanish destinations instead. And remember -- many of these spots, especially the ones farther south, see warm and summery temperatures well into November and sunshine year-round. So, if you can't hop over during the traditional summer months, you can still enjoy Spain's mild climate into early or even late autumn.

1. La Vera, Extremadura

The Garganta Mayor. (Photo by ARUIZHU/Getty Images)
The Garganta Mayor. (Photo by ARUIZHU/Getty Images)

Vibe: La Vera is a tiny region with a Mediterranean microclimate sandwiched between a few National Parks in the rural region of Extremadura. While Extremadura is generally dry, La Vera is a small, green oasis that gets more rain and is therefore verdant and beautiful. It's the perfect spot for travelers wanting a natural escape to hike, canoe, horse ride and dive into swimming holes -- don't expect major urban hubs or giant hotel brands here. Plan to stay at welcoming village guesthouses or the historic Parador de Jarandilla de la Vera, a hotel inside a former castle.

Start by visiting some of the nearby villages like Garganta de Olla, a red roofed community nestled in a green, fertile valley. You can see the entire town from up above at the La Serrana viewpoint. La Vera isn't near the beach but is full of natural swimming pools. Dive into Garganta Mayor, complete with a number of small waterfalls. Closer to the Gredos National Park, the Garganta de Alardos natural swimming hole sits beneath a Roman bridge. The region's Yuste Monastery is also worth a visit, featuring perfectly landscaped gardens, two cloisters and a church.

South of La Vera, the Parque Nacional de Monfragüe is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are various hiking routes and bird-watching paths (and even a castle) to choose from, but the Salto de Gitano lookout point has breathtaking views of surrounding mountains and the Tajo river below -- and you'll likely spot griffon vultures circling above. Don't leave La Vera without sampling spiced paprika (the famed pimenton de la vera) which is cultivated in the region.

Closest airport: Madrid (MAD) is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. Salamanca (SLM) and Badajoz (BJZ) are alternative airports also a couple of hours away.

2. Menorca, Balearic Islands

Cala Macarella. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)
Cala Macarella. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Vibe: Couples and families wanting that dreamy island experience should head to Menorca. Hidden beach coves, spectacular sunsets and crystal clear waters abound. The least populated of the main Balearic Islands (Ibiza, Menorca, Mallorca), Menorca is often overlooked in favor of Ibiza's hip party scene or Mallorca's accessibility.

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Mahon, the island's capital, is the spot to stay for the most amenities: You'll have a variety of lodging and culinary options to choose from. But hiring a car to explore the island is essential. Menorca's best spots are found by going off-grid, so be ready to take an unknown turn and see where it leads you. Usually, it's a deserted and stunningly beautiful beach.

And with plenty of beaches around the island, it's best to visit a different one each day. The white sands and virgin waters of Calas Macarella and Macarelleta are gorgeous but can get crowded during high season, so those may be best visited in months like September or October. If you're open to hiking to discover a more serene beach, the trek to Cala Escorxada is just under an hour.

While Menorca is the calmer sister compared to Ibiza and Mallorca, it doesn't mean you're entirely out of options when it comes to cocktails, music and fun. Some of the best sunset sessions in the Balearics can be found at the Cueva d'en Xoroi, a bar/club built directly into cliffside rock overlooking the sea.

Closest airport: Menorca (MAH).

Related: 15 of the most beautiful beaches in Spain

3. Asturias

TheBasílica de Santa María la Real in Covadonga. (Photo by Phillipe Saire Photography/Getty Images)
The Basílica de Santa María la Real in Covadonga. (Photo by Phillipe Saire Photography/Getty Images)

Vibe: Travellers who want the complete pack: mountains, beaches, gastronomic experiences, culture, villages, a rural escape and beyond can find it all in the northern Spanish region of Asturias.

Start on the eastern side of the province at the Picos de Europa mountain range, which sits on the border between Asturias and Cantabria (we'll get to that region next). Drive the hair-raising route of switchbacks and precipitous drops up and then down to the lakes of Covadonga, Lake Enol and Lake Ercina. Then, visit the pink monastery with a perfect mountain backdrop, the Basílica de Santa María la Real and the nearby waterfall and holy cave.

Next, you'll want to head up and along the coast. Cultural enthusiasts may want to stick to larger towns like Gijon or Oviedo (further south) to see 16th-century monuments, botanical gardens and museums. Or, for a slower pace, pootle along enjoying the scenery, stopping at small fishing villages like Llanes, Colunga, Cudillero or Ribadesella for sidra (an apple cider drink poured in a very distinct manner) and a traditional fabada (a white bean stew) lunch.

You'll find charming beaches at every turn, but local favorites include Playa del Silencio and Playa de Cuevas del Mar, which has rugged karst rock formations sitting on the sand and in the water. Gulpiyuri is one of the region's unique beaches, a flooded sinkhole formed into an inland beach.

Closest airport: Asturias Oviedo Airport (OVD).

Related: Skip the seaside and visit these European lakes instead

4. Tarifa, Ronda and the White Villages

Mijas, Spain. (Photo by amoklv/Getty)
Mijas, Spain. (Photo by amoklv/Getty Images)

Vibe: Everyone loves Andalusia -- its charming cities, passionate culture and gorgeous beaches hold a deep intrigue for almost any kind of traveler. But there are many alternatives to the intense summer heat of Sevilla or the busy beaches of Marbella and Malaga. Tarifa is a hip, boho-chic beach that gives off an Ibiza vibe mixed with that Andalusian charm. Surfers will love the wind conditions, which also keep beachcombers feeling fresh during the hot summer. The beach town is near to many other popular coastal areas for a variety of sun-and-sand options and the quaint town of Cádiz is also in proximity if you need a bit of action or culture.

For those wanting to head inland, skip the larger, more crowded spots and instead head to a village to enjoy small-town Andalusian living. There's the white village of Arcos de la Frontera, perched upon a hill (this made the TPG list of most beautiful villages in Europe) and Mijas Pueblo, which is one of the Costa del Sol's most enchanting spots. Mojácar is closer to Almeria and is set between the Sierra Cabrera and the Mediterranean Sea.

Ronda is one of the most famous pueblos blancos -- except it's not actually a village, it's much larger. But its old town still emits that same white village charm and it's no surprise that Ronda was a favorite spot of Ernest Hemingway back in the day. The town's massive gorge is Ronda's claim to fame and connects the older part of town with the modern part with a beautiful bridge. Wandering around the old city center and the bridge will take you past a few viewpoints that offer stunning views of the gorge and beyond.

Closest airport: San Pablo Sevilla Airport (SVQ).

5. Cantabria

Playa Oyambre in Cantabria. (Photo by Pawel Tocyznski/Getty Images)
Playa Oyambre in Cantabria. (Photo by Pawel Tocyznski/Getty Images)

Vibe: Known as Cantabria azul y verde (blue and green), Cantabria is aflush with both colors: green thanks to its abundant vegetation and blue thanks to its crashing Cantabrian Sea waves. Those who hate intense heat will love a vacation to Cantabria, where the air and water temperatures are much cooler than many of its nearby Mediterranean neighbors like Valencia or Malaga.

A visit to the Oyambre Natural Park combines both the green and blue hues of the region. Hike the park's cliffs, forests and rivers or roll in the sand dunes. End up at one of the park's incredibly picturesque beaches like Playa del Oyambre, where it seems as if the sand just melts into the tide.

Switch gears with a visit to the village of Comillas, home to a summer palace built by famous architect Antoní Gaudi El Capricho. You'll be able to enjoy the colorful tiled turrets without the crowds that Barcelona's Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell attract. After, you'll want to explore the 7-mile Costa Quebrada, a coastal route of beach and rocks that may date back to the Ice Age. The geological formations intermixed with the green countryside and gorgeous ocean is simply spectacular. The route begins in Santander's La Magdalena beach and ends in Cuchía Beach in Miengo. And no trip to Cantabria is complete without a visit to the Cuevas de Altamira, where you can admire prehistoric cave paintings that date back over 14,000 years.

Closest airport: Santander (SDR).

Bottom line

The Puente Nuevo in Ronda, Spain. (Photo by Zu Sanchez Photography/Getty)
The Puente Nuevo in Ronda, Spain. (Photo by Zu Sanchez Photography/Getty Images)

Spain is a popular vacation spot among travelers -- and with good reason. But there may be more to explore that you might already know about, especially if you're looking to socially distance and have a little more space to roam around. From hidden beach coves in Menorca to Andalusia's white villages to the verdant hills of Asturias, Spain has the perfect vacation destination for you.

Featured image by Getty Images/500px