Spain is one of the best destinations in Europe for enjoying the outdoors. Lounging on the beach leads the list of activities for most travelers, but there's a lot more to do. Spain's mountains lure thousands of mountaineers and hikers, and fishing and hunting are longstanding Iberian obsessions. The Pyrenees of Catalonia and Aragón, plus the Guadarramas outside Madrid, attract devoted skiers in the winter. Watersports ranging from sailing to windsurfing are prime summer attractions.
In addition to sports and adventures, we detail some of the best educational and cultural programs below.
Note: The information is presented only as a preview, which you'll want to follow with your own investigation tailored to your own interests.
Academic Trips & Language Classes
The intensive language courses at Spanish Abroad are designed to enable you to speak Spanish as soon as possible. Native Spanish teachers with university degrees are the teachers. For more information about these programs, contact Spanish Abroad, 5112 N. 40th St., Ste. 103, Phoenix, AZ 85018 (tel. 888/722-7623 or 602/778-6791; www.spanishabroad.com).
Operating in such cities as Granada, Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville, Enforex, Alberto Aguilera 26, 28015 Madrid (tel. 91/5943-776; www.enforex.com), offers 20 Spanish language programs. Sessions last for between 1 week and a full year.
With branches in such easterly cities as Barcelona and Valencia, Eurocentres is one of the best language schools in Spain, suitable for beginning or advanced students. The most up-to-date computer learning programs and the best video and audio equipment are used. For additional information, contact them at 56 Eccleston Sq., London SW1V 1PH (tel. 020/7963-8450; www.eurocentres.com).
Adventure & Wellness Trips
The best name in adventure travel in Spain is GoAbroad, which is the source for international education and alternative travel databases. This is the site for learning about special offerings in Spain. It also provides websites so you can make contacts on your own. Programs include home-stays (you're lodged with a typical family in, say, Madrid or Granada). Or else you might study Spanish within the context of a hiking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the most beautiful and historic city in northwestern Spain. For more details, contact GoAbroad at 7800 Point Meadows Dr., Ste. 218, Jacksonville, FL 32256 (tel. 720/570-1702; www.goabroad.com).
Custom tours of Spain that focus on art and architecture can be arranged, especially by Heritage Tours (tel. 800/378-4555 or 212/206-8400; www.heritagetoursonline.com). Founded by an architect, Joel Zack, these tours can be customized and often include guided trips through such art cities as Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Barcelona, and Bilbao. Without airfares, trips begin at around $4,000 for a 10-day jaunt.
Featuring groups ranging in size from 15 to 25 participants, ACE Study Tours (tel. 01223/835055; www.acestudytours.co.uk) in Cambridge, England, offers tours led by an art historian to such cities as Barcelona and Bilbao, and to such highlights of Andalusia as Córdoba, Seville, and Granada. Eight-day trips start at $2,500 and include double occupancy in a hotel, round-trip airfare from London, plus breakfast and dinner daily.
The leading U.S.-based outfitter is Easy Rider Tours, P.O. Box 228, Newburyport, MA 01950 (tel. 800/488-8332 or 978/463-6955; www.easyridertours.com). Their tours average between 48km and 81km (30-50 miles) a day; the most appealing follows the route trod by medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago. The bike tours offered by Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), take you through the verdant countryside of Galicia and into Portugal's Minho region. One company that specializes in bike tours of Camino de Santiago is Saranjan Tours, P.O. Box 292, Kirkland, WA 98083 (tel. 800/858-9594; www.saranjan.com).
Bravo Bike, c/o Montera 25-27, E-28013, Madrid (tel. 91-758-29-45; www.bravobike.com), is a travel agency featuring organized cycling tours around Madrid. They have branched out to include other parts of Spain as well, notably the route between Salamanca to Santiago de Compostela, and the route of the conquerors in Extremadura. One of the most intriguing bike tours is the ruta de vino (the wine route) in La Rioja country.
In England, the Cyclists' Touring Club, Parklands, Railton Road, Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX (tel. 0844/736-8450; www.ctc.org.uk), charges 36€ a year for membership; part of the fee covers information and suggested cycling routes through Spain and dozens of other countries.
Food & Wine Trips
Spain Taste offers the best food and wine tours of Spain, 5-day jaunts for groups with as few as two participants or as many as six. These tours are designed for serious gastronomes. The tours take place in Catalonia, north of Barcelona, and include dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants, wine tastings, and cooking lessons with famous chefs. Tours are conducted from March to June and from September to October. For more information, contact Spain Taste, Can Valls de Moagueroles, Fogars de Montclus, Barcelona 08740 (tel. 93-847-51-15; www.spaintaste.com).
Established in 2002, Catacurian offers 3- to 6-day cooking vacations that include classes in Catalan cuisine. Programs also feature olive-picking sessions and 1-day market visits and cooking classes within Barcelona itself. Catacurian is located in a stone house in a small village, El Masroig, in the Priorat region of Catalonia. For more information, contact Catacurian at 1717 5th St. North, St. Petersburg, FL 33704 (tel. 866/538-3519; www.catacurian.com).
In recent decades, thousands of British retirees have settled in Spain, and their presence has sparked the development of dozens of new golf courses. Although the Costa Blanca has become an increasingly popular setting for golf, more than a third of the country's approximately 160 courses lie within its southern tier, a short drive from the Costa del Sol.
Packages that include guaranteed playing time on some of the country's finest courses, as well as airfare and accommodations, can be arranged through such firms as Golf International (tel. 800/833-1389 or 212/986-9176; www.golfinternational.com) and Comtours (tel. 800/248-1331; www.comtours.com).
What are the two most talked-about golf courses in Spain? The well-established Valderrama on the Costa del Sol, a Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed course carved out of an oak plantation in the 1980s; and Hyatt's La Manga Club, 30385 Los Belones, Cartagena, Murcia (tel. 96-817-50-00; www.golf.lamangaclub.com). It's the site of three golf courses, one of which was recently remodeled by Arnold Palmer. The Ryder Cup between Spain and the United States was held in 1997 at Valderrama, Avenida Los Cortijos, 11310 Sotogrande (tel. 95-679-12-00; www.valderrama.com), on the western tip of the Costa del Sol, near Gibraltar.
Hiking & Walking Tours
If you're drawn to the idea of combining hiking with stopovers at local inns, contact Winetrails, Greenways, Vann Lake, Ockley, Dorking RH5 5NT, U.K. (tel. 01306/712-111; www.winetrails.co.uk). This U.K.-based company conducts 10-day treks through northern Spain's wine districts.
To venture into the more rugged countryside of Catalonia, Andalusia's valley of the Guadalquivir, or the arid and beautiful Extremaduran plains, contact Ramblers Holidays, Lemsford Mill, Welwyn Garden AL8 7TR, U.K. (tel. 01707/331-133; www.ramblersholidays.co.uk).
You can take a tour that winds across France and Galicia on your way to the medieval religious shrine at Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Lodging, the use of a horse, and all necessary equipment are included in the price. For information and reservations, contact Camino a Caballo, Calle Urzáiz 91 no. 5-A, Vigo, Spain (tel. 98-642-59-37; www.caminoacaballo.com).
A well-known equestrian center that conducts tours of the Alpujarras highlands is Cabalgar, Rutas Alternativas, Bubión, Granada (tel. 95-876-31-35; www.ridingandalucia.com). The farm is best known for its weekend treks through the scrub-covered hills of southern and central Spain, although longer tours are available.
Alventus, an agency based in Seville, offers weeklong cruises along the coast of Andalusia and the Algarve. Its three-masted, 13m (43-ft.) sailing yacht departs from the Andalusian port of Huelva. For reservations and information, contact Alventus at Calle Huelva 6, 41004 Sevilla (tel. 95-421-00-62; www.alventus.com).
In northern Spain, consider a journey with Voyages Jules Verne, 21 Dorset Sq., London NW1 6QG, U.K. (tel. 020/7616-1000; www.vjv.co.uk). Its guided vacations take in Galicia and its Portuguese neighbors Trás-os-Montes and the Minho district, as well as Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal. The trips end with a boat ride up the Douro River back into Spain.
Volunteer & Working Trips
If you've been inspired to save the planet for another generation, volunteer work, combined with a vacation experience, might be the way to go. If you want to volunteer for a program, the best contact is Plataforma del Voluntariado de España, Calle Fuentes 10, Madrid 28013 (tel. 90-212-05-12; www.plataformavoluntariado.org). This group compiles a listing, and keeps it up to date, of all the volunteer programs in Spain, giving you a link to the group that most closely reflects your interests.
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.