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Spain, along with France and the United States, stands at the forefront of world tourism in terms of numbers of visitors. As such, Spain is constantly on the scene with late-breaking developments. After the long, bleak years of the Franco dictatorship, it has moved deeper into the 21st century. In hotels, restaurants, modern art, whatever -- even same-sex marriages -- once-sleepy Spain is now on the cutting edge, especially in Barcelona and Madrid.

Avila

Dining -- In a restored 15th-century mill, El Molino de la Losa, Bajada de la Losa 12 (tel. 92-021-11-01), has emerged as the favorite for Castilian cooking in this walled city. In a stately building with elegant rustic furnishings, it serves a sublime cuisine using market-fresh ingredients. Lamb is roasted in a wooden oven from the Middle Ages.

Barcelona

Planning Your Trip -- High-speed trains now link Madrid with Barcelona, with some 25 daily connections. The nonstop service takes only 2 hours, 38 minutes. Trains are spacious and comfortable, with reclining seats and individual TVs.

Accommodations -- A new hipster address in the heart of Barcelona is Hotel Murmuri, Rambla de Catalunya 104 (tel. 93-5500-6000; www.murmuri.com), a boutique hotel imbued with urban chic. It's got everything from an efficient black-clad staff to a chic Asian restaurant.

Lying near the landmark Sagrada Família cathedral, Hispanos Siete Suiz, Sicilia 255 (tel. 93-208-20-51; www.hispanos7suiza.com), offers little apartments or junior suites, each with a fully equipped kitchen and such features as a hydromassage shower.

Only a 3-minute walk from the Ramblas, Hotel Advance Design Collection Barcelona, Calle Sepúlveda (tel. 93-289-28-92; www.hoteladvance.com), is a new boutique hotel installed in a restored 19th-century building in the Eixample. Stylish, spacious bedrooms, filled with tasteful furnishings, make this one a winner. The hotel bills itself as gay friendly.

Only 50m (165 ft.) from the beach, Hotel ABH Skipper, Litoral 10 (tel. 93-221-65-65; www.hotelabskipper.com), is trend-setting and contemporary, opening onto a view of a private garden. It lies at Port Olímpic and contains many luxurious touches. Its executive junior suites are designed in the style of modern yacht cabins. If you wish, your bathtub will be filled with flower petals.

Dining -- At Barceloneta, Lluçanes, at Place de la Font, Mercat de la Barceloneta (tel. 93-224-25-25), serves some of the finest and freshest seafood in the city. A Michelin-starred restaurant, it occupies an upstairs corner of the local market and is graced with an open-to-view kitchen. The chef is in love with truffles.

Benidorm

Accommodations -- At the leading resort along the Costa Blanca, Belroy, Av. del Mediterráneo 13 (tel. 96-585-02-03; www.belroy.es), has been a success since the day it opened. Each of its spacious bedrooms is furnished in a minimalist style, and each opens onto a panoramic view of the sea. A good beach is nearby.

Dining -- The above-mentioned Belroy is also the setting for Kataria Gastronómica, Av. del Mediterráneo 13 (tel. 96-683-13-72), which has a deluxe menu, with meals served in a dramatic modern setting with large windows. The Mediterranean cuisine with market-fresh ingredients is divine, and dishes are artfully presented and full of harmonious flavors.

Cordoba

Planning Your Trip -- Getting to this old Moorish city by bus is easier than ever now that Alsina Graells Sur (tel. 95-740-40-40) has taken over many smaller companies and improved service under a new network. Buses now arrive at the city's new bus station behind the train depot on Glorieta de las Tres Culturas. The bus service has been improved to such an extent that many visitors are using it to reach Córdoba from other points within Spain, such as Granada, Madrid, or Seville. See chapter 9.

Girona

Accommodations -- In this leading city of northeast Spain, Ciutat de Girona, Calle Nord 2 (tel. 97-248-30-38; www.hotel-ciutatdegirona.com), is the most modern hotel in town, with all the latest gadgets. The bedrooms are midsize to spacious and furnished in a Japanese minimalist style, appealing to today's modern traveler. Its on-site restaurant, serving a refined cuisine, is decorated with hundreds of multicolored glass bottles.

Dining -- A classically decorated restaurant, Albereda, Albereda 7 (tel. 97-222-60-02), serves the finest and the most expensive food within the city center. Its chef is a specialist in Catalan cuisine, using often forgotten herbs and coming up with surprising -- and pleasing -- taste sensations. Platters appear before you as "works of art."

Granada

Accommodations -- A popular chain has taken over one of the plushest of the boutique hotels of Granada. Today it's called Room Mate Migueletes, at Calle Benelua 11 (tel. 95-821-07-00; www.casamigueletes.com). The hotel is installed within one of the restored medieval houses of the Albaicín. Some of the rooms are baronial with high ceilings and Andalusian accessories.

Jerez de la Frontera

Accommodations -- Even though one of the most elegant hotels has come under new chain management, standards are expected to remain the same, if not improve. Hipotel Sherry Park, Av. Alcade Alvaro Domecq (tel. 05-631-76-14; www.hipotels.com), has kept most of the staff, which made this modern hotel of taste, elegance, and style so great in the first place. Each of its guest rooms was extensively renovated in 2008, and today the property is more comfortable and inviting than ever.

León

Attractions -- The most avant-garde museum of modern art in Castile, MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León), has opened at Av. de Los Reyes Leoneses 24 (tel. 98-709-00-00). It's housed in a complex of structures decorated with stained glass, billing itself as a "Museum of the 21st Century." Changing exhibitions are presented along with a series of films and concerts.

Madrid

Accommodations -- Five antique town houses were combined to form Vincci Soho, Calle Prado 18 (tel. 91-141-41-00; www.vinccihoteles.com), in the Huertas district near the Prado. It has whimsical touches in decor, a spacious courtyard, and many well-furnished rooms with balconies, plus a restaurant with a Mediterranean flair.

One of the finest boutique hotels in Madrid, Hospes Madrid, Plaza de la Independencia 3 (tel. 91-422-29-11; www.hospes.com), has been installed in a restored 19th-century town house facing Puerta de Alcalá. Rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows and marble-clad bathrooms, plus a first-rate restaurant.

Dining -- A posh import from Peru, Astrid y Gaston, Paseo de la Castellana 13 (tel. 91-702-62-62), brings a new taste sensation to Madrid, with its chefs turning out a rainbow of tastes and flavors. Combinations may seem odd -- corn crepes topped with suckling pig skin, for example, and chili-and-honey marmalade -- but serious foodies praise the harmony of flavors and the new sensations to the palate.

In the above-mentioned Hospes Madrid, Senzone Restaurant, Plaza de la Independencia 3 (tel. 91-432-29-11), serves one of the finest international cuisines in Madrid. The culinary statements are made by a young and talented chef, Francisco Morales. Platters are presented as works of art.

In the Barrio de Salamanca, Sula, 33 Calle Jorge Juan (tel. 91-781-61-97), has become a favorite celebrity hangout, attracting the likes of David Beckham and Penelope Cruz. The food isn't ignored in this chic setting -- it's a first-rate international cuisine with a lot of imaginative flavors and a sometimes-surprising "marriage" of ingredients.

Majorca

Dining -- At the deluxe Hotel Arabella Sheraton Golf Hotel Son Vida, Carrer de la Vinagrella (tel. 97-178-71-00), the Plat d'Or Restaurant, with its refined Mediterranean cuisine, has moved to the forefront of island dining. Its award-winning chef, Rafael Sánchez, blends traditional recipes with modern ones to concoct a finely honed cuisine with the best of available ingredients.

Minorca

Accommodations -- On the outskirts of Mahón, Biniarroca Country House Hotel, Cami Vella 57, Sant Lluis (tel. 97-115-12-50; http://biniarroca.com), is the most romantic hotel on the island and it's set in a flower-filled garden. On the grounds are two Roman-style pools. There are both rustic and contemporary touches throughout, including the individually designed bedrooms with private terraces.

Also south of Mahón stands Sant Joan de Binissaida, Cami di Binissaida 108, at Es Castell (tel. 97-135-55-98; http://santjoan.binissaida.com), a beautifully restored antique farmhouse. All the rooms are named after composers in the main house, and the stables out back have been converted into comfortable bedrooms as well. The hotel has a first-rate chef, turning out a savory Mediterranean cuisine.

Ronda

Accommodations -- With a new name, La Rondeña, José Aparicio 3 (tel. 95-287-34-88), is still one of the best value hotels in this stunning mountain town. It has kept its prices more or less in line in spite of its upgrade by the government from a two-star hotel to a three-star choice. The location is next to the famous Plaza de Toros, the bullring so beloved by Ernest Hemingway.

San Sebastian

Dining -- In the sparkling Palacio de Congresos, Kursaal, Zurriola Pasealekua 1, Gros (tel. 93-300-31-62), is a bastion of gourmet Basque cookery, arguably the best type of cuisine in Spain. Dining is on two levels, with the haute cuisine served on the upper floor. Supervision of the menus is under the direction of Martín Berasategui, an acclaimed Michelin-starred local chef.

Seville

Accommodations -- On its 80th birthday, Gran Meliá Colón, Canalejas 1 (tel. 95-450-55-99; www.gran-melia-colon.com), has been restored to its former neo-Baroque glory. The original dome over its lobby, an artistic monument, has been left intact. The hotel is once again plush; even a sensory rejuvenation spa was installed along with a hydromassage swimming pool.

Tarazona

Accommodations -- Deep in the heart of Aragón, in the small city of Tarazona, a top-rated hotel has opened, Condes de Visconti, Calle Visconti 15 (tel. 97-664-00-74; www.condesdevisconti.com), which was installed in a restored 1500s palace. Modern and traditional decor fills the hotel, which offers spacious bedrooms, many decorated in a romantic style with fabric-draped beds.

Valencia

Attractions -- A grand opera house has opened in this city of the Levante, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Autopista del Saler 1 (tel. 96-197-58-00), a futuristic, helmet-shaped structure that is part of the City of Arts and Sciences. Some of the world's most prestigious opera companies perform in this new and dramatic setting.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.