Spain is known for being a vacation destination for those who want to relax; it’s food, wine, and sun abound around here. But luxuriating on beaches and sampling tapas isn’t the only thing you can do in Spain. It’s also a great destination for sporty people.
Everyone knows the Pyrenees are a great place to ski and the Basque Coast a great place to surf, but there are other affordable and out of the way places with a lot to offer a sporty and independent traveler. Here are our 5 favorites.
In the 1500s during the rise of Spanish and Portuguese exploration, the area around Cadiz and Tarifa was either a blessing or a curse – going south was as easy as unfurling a sail, while going north meant fighting quite a jet stream. The area is known for its high winds, which makes wind sports like kite surfing and wind surfing extremely popular, and extremely fun.
Add to it that Tarifa has some of the best beaches in the country, the region’s gastronomy, and the fact that nearby Cadiz was once the seat of a pre-Roman age civilization, and you’ve got yourself quite a package. Plus, Tarifa’s weather is nice year round – gorgeous in the summer, and mild in the winter.
- Granada/Las Alpujarras/Sierra Nevada
Granada is best known for its gastronomy and being the home of tapas. But it’s also right next to the zone of Las Alpujarras which is right in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the winter, the Sierra Nevadas are a great destination for skiing, which is surprising as they’re relatively close to the Mediterranean coast. But high altitudes make for good snow and the ski life there is prominent every winter.
In the summer the area is just as active. It’s easy to hike for miles along the foothills and find plenty of places to go mountain climbing as well. And, though the area is not as often frequented as more popular destinations it is well prepared to support sporty vacationers who want long and challenging hikes across beautiful landscapes. There are also natural mountain spring spas and ecofriendly hotels and restaurants dotted throughout the area, for after a long day of trekking it.
Navia is the little known Asturian cousin to Gijón and Ribadesella, located on the other side of the province from them near the Galician border. It’s a small town but with some fabulous country homes you can rent for cheap, even in high season. Aside from the fact that Navia and its surrounding area is a hiker’s paradise, boasting miles of trails by the coast and inland where the paths go winding through the waterfalls and the hillsides, it’s also a fantastic spot for water sport.
Lately surfing and paddle surfing have grown by leaps and bounds in popularity. With its many rivers and ample beaches, it makes a perfect place to learn to get on a board and ride. And when you’re done that for the day, there are always the local cider houses, music festivals, and ruins of ancient Celtic settlements to visit that are all a stone’s throw from the beach.
Soria is a surprise that shows up on almost all of our lists. It’s inland and tucked away between Madrid and Logroño, so it’s often overlooked for either the capital or the wine country. Besides the perk that it’s close to both aforementioned zones, it’s a mountain paradise for sportspeople.
Mountain biking, climbing, and paragliding have all taken the area by storm in recent years. The high peaks make it a great place for all three, though only during the summer. It’s the coldest place in Spain during the winter, with temperatures often subzero, but in the milder months it’s not too hot and a welcoming outdoor arena.
Horseback riding is also an easy option to find. Soria has some incredible heritage, between the Monastery of Saint Bartholomew hidden in the canyons, or the Celtiberian ruins of Numancia, once the site of a famous Roman siege, and all of these incredible visits can be done by walking or by horse.
5. La Pedriza/Madrid
La Pedriza is just outside of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama. It has over 1,500 trails for hiking and for mountain biking, and the incredible rock formations make for an unforgettable climbing experience. Most of the locals in the central plains go there for their sporty weekends, so you’ll be in good company.
Plus, it’s only a few hours drive from Madrid, and even closer to the sierra towns like Rascafria, which are surviving testaments of Middle Ages architecture.