Our list of five steers away from the most renowned cities and attractions, such as Granada, Toledo and Avila, and prefers places which are not on the most visited rosters. Our first is Cadiz, on the west Atlantic coast near the southern tip. It's not a tourist lure and is awkward to get to (we flew to Malaga and hired a car for the three-hour trip) and so is a city that comes across as authentic, rich in history and culture, with great bars and restaurants full of Spanish. We followed Rick Stein and ate at the Taberna el Tio de la Tiza; he had grilled mackerel but we splashed out on a whole sole that was so fresh and succulent that we were in a swoon. We were there on a Sunday lunch but had commandeered our table early, so were able to watch the bustle and chatter from a cosy vantage point. Cadiz has a great covered market, fabulous ocean walkways, and an impressively large old town where pedestrians rule. Our stay was all too brief and we could be back!
The second is Ronda, two hours drive from Cadiz. It may seem like a strange recommendation, since it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain. The trick is to stay overnight and see the town transformed once the coach parties have departed. The streets are easy to navigate, the plazas are quiet, and you can get into the cafes and restaurants. Our photograph shows the classic 18th-century bridge that the tourists flock to (I would use the adjective iconic, were it not banned in the Gillman household), but there is far more to the town than that. As well as walking along the ramparts, we walked through parks and narrow streets and spied tranquil courtyards. We ate in the shadow of the giant cathedral and had another delightful full-on Spanish meal, with a lovely local red wine.
Next up is Getaria, a village on the Basque Atlantic coast west of San Sebastian. It is notable for being the birth-place of the first man to complete a voyage around the world. His name is Sebastian Elcano, who took over command of the tiny fleet led by Ferdinand Magellan after he was killed in the Pacific in April 1521. The remainder of the voyage took another 18 months and Elcano had to deal with diminishing supplies, illnesses and threatened mutiny before he finally reached the sanctuary of Spain. Although he is the true hero of the story, his name is far less-known that Magellan's. In Getaria at least there are two monuments to his monumental feat, although even now they attract few tourists. Let me encourage you to make up that deficit! Getaria is compact and delightful, with welcoming restaurants and cafes, especially around its diminutive harbour, and a friendly bathing beach alongside - both shown in the photo below.
Fourth in our list is Salamanca, in north-west Spain 50 miles from the Portugal border. It is steeped in history, from pre-Roman times, and has rich architecture that reflects all the subsequent phases of Spanish rule. It has one of the oldest universities in Europe, dating from the 12th century - which is earlier than Oxford or Cambridge - and one of the largest public squares in Europe, the fabulous Plaza Mayor, a marvel of Baroque design constructed in the first half of the Eighteenth Century. All Spanish cities have their gathering and walking places, typified by the Ramblas in Barcelona, but this is one of the most splendid of all. We ate there of course, at one of the myriad pavement cafes that line the square, watching the passing parade under a balmy night sky - and took the photo below.
And the fifth is Caceres, in Extremadura, one of the least fashionable Spanish provinces, mid-way between Madrid and Portugal. We found it almost bereft of tourists, even though it has a history and a character as rich as anywhere in Spain. Its origins are pre-historic and the town itself was founded by the Romans around 25BC. Its inner city is remarkably intact, with narrow alleys, cobbled squares and asymmetric walls. Our photo shows the Palacio de los Golfines de Abajo - a former residence of Fernando and Isabella, no less. Its most prosperous period came at the time of the Conquistadors, when many Extremadura families grew rich on the plunder from the Americas. Today it is friendly and intimate - and can also boast one of the best restaurants in Spain, the Atrio, where we had what we reckon to be the finest meal of our lives. Yet more rich memories from this wonderful country!