We agree with the sentiment apocryphally attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “If you visit only one foreign country in your lifetime, make it Spain,” Don Ernesto supposedly said. He might have added that after your first visit, you might not be tempted to go anywhere else. No other country is quite as flamboyantly romantic as Spain.
Even before Hemingway first visited in 1922 to write about trout and tuna fishing, 19th-century European writers and painters had mythologized Spain as the quintessential romantic country. It was the land of Moors and Gypsies, of swirling flamenco skirts and narrow-hipped matadors. It was the land of such legendary heroes as El Cid, such wise fools as Don Quijote, and of kings with such names as Pedro the Cruel and Alfonso the Wise. Hemingway’s contribution was to give that romance both a macho gloss and an air of tragic loss.
The funny thing is that it’s all still true—it’s just not the whole truth. In fact, flamenco is enjoying a renaissance, and if some parts of the country have turned thumbs-down on bullfighting, many Spaniards are still obsessed with matadors. As the old Saturday Night Live routine goes, Franco is still dead. But Spain is very much alive. Having exported its talent during Franco’s dictatorship, Spain jumped straight from the 19th century to the 21st. A flamenco beat still drives it, but Spain is now a country of high-speed trains and cutting-edge Web technology, of a radical avant-garde in food and art alike, of vibrant modern metropolises like Barcelona, Bilbao, and Madrid that can hold their own on the world stage.
So Hemingway didn’t get the last word. The country continues to evolve and its allures continue to multiply. Ultimately, your own experiences are the last word on Spain. Or, as a friend once said, “The sun not only rises. The moon comes out and the night is young.” Here are some of what we think are highlights of Spain. Try them and see if you agree.