“History lies underground. On the surface is the bustling life of Spain with its smell, noise, burning sun, decay, street life, mountain shrines, fiestas, markets, dark wine, acrid dust… hard mountains, rushing ravines, hopefulness and resignation, openness, tragedy and song” – Christopher Howse, ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’
In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try to help me to understand something the country that I was visiting.
With an area of just over five hundred thousand square kilometres Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and with an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres it is second highest country in Europe after Switzerland.
Spain is also a country of different people and the description ‘Spaniard’ it seems is just a convenient way of bundling them all together. Richard Ford was a nineteenth century English traveller and in his ‘Handbook for Travellers in Spain’, published in 1845 acknowledged now as one of the very first travel guides, was one of the first to identify that ‘Spain is a bundle of local units tied together by a rope of sand’, and oh, what a wonderful strap-line that is.
Gerald Brenan in ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ similarly observed ‘In what we may call its normal condition Spain is a collection of small, mutually hostile or indifferent republics held together in a loose federation’.
Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.
Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. As a highly decentralised state Spain has possibly the most modern political and territorial arrangements in Western European. Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are designated historic nationalities and Andalusia, although not a nationality, also has preferential status, the remaining are regional Provinces without nationality.
Spain is placed twenty-sixth in the Human Development Index which means that it is categorised as having high human development in an index that ranks countries by data composed from life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. It is twenty-first in the OECD Better Life Index and sixty-second in the Happy Planet Index which is twenty-one places behind the United Kingdom, fourteen ahead of Australia and three ahead of Canada and way in front of the United States which is as low down as one hundred and fifth. Donald Trump will no doubt sort that out!
Spain has forty-seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Second highest to Italy at forty-nine) but the chances of visiting more than one or two in a single visit is very remote because they are spread evenly right across the country. Prior to this trip I had visited twenty-two (follow this link for the full list) and this time I was going to add the Alhambra at Granada.
Spain is one of only two countries (the other is Morocco) with both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic coast-line and has more Blue Flag Beaches than any other participating country with four hundred and ninety-nine along almost five thousand kilometres of coast. the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and forty-four in nearly twelve thousand five hundred kilometres. Greece has the second most blue flags at four hundred and thirty and the most in the Mediterranean Sea and France is third with two hundred and thirty-eight.
On this visit we planned to visit some of the beaches on the famous Costa del Sol.
The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality. Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty-four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.
Spain has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest fifty-five times since making its debut in 1961, where they finished ninth. Since 1999, Spain is one of the ‘Big Five’, along with France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, who are automatically allowed to participate in the final because they are the five biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union. It has won the contest twice, first in 1968 with the unimaginatively titled song “La, la, la” and again in 1969, when “Vivo Cantando” was involved in a four-way tie. The country finished last with “Nul points” in 1962, 1965 and 1983, and then finished last for a fourth time in 1999.
We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.