While Spain may lend itself to images of inert, bronzed bodies on the beach and the quiet lull of an afternoon siesta, don’t let the country’s laidback character fool you. For adventurous travellers looking for an entirely different angle to sunny Spain, there is plenty to do, from kayaking around the bays and snorkelling around the beaches of Menorca, climbing Montjuic in Barcelona, doing a day’s hike in the Sierra de Guadarrama near Madrid, to biking (and drinking in) the La Rioja wine country.
On your first day in Spain, you’ll land in Madrid. The city is filled with art and culture, so put your walking shoes on and take a wander around in the morning. In the afternoon, take the train to the little town of Cercedilla, where many of the spectacular hikes that criss-cross the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama start. Trails are colour coded and maps are easy to follow. Locals recommend Los Miradores, a 9km hike that takes hikers through serene pine forests, and up deserted mountain paths.
Madrid’s Parque de Buen Retiro, or the Park of Pleasant Retreat, is the city’s green lung. Here you’ll find locals jogging, families picnicking and lovers rowing across the lake in the middle of this lush park. Landscaped lawns, marble statues and tidy paths make exploring the park an absolute pleasure on a sunny day.
From Madrid, move onto Logrono, the capital of La Rioja – Spanish wine country. The city offers free bicycles to tourists who sign in and apply for a card from the Logrono Tourist Office. The flat roads, light traffic and world class wineries all within nearby cycling distance make for a fantastic experience on two wheels.
A short 3 hour train ride away from Logrono is Barcelona, the heart of Spanish Catalan country. Montjuic, a major Barcelona landmark, is a hill that towers over the city from the southwest. To climb Montjuic, you can either take the easy option of using the series escalators that run up the hill from Palau Nacional, or you can attempt the hour or so hike up instead. The views are worth it.
Barcelona offers an easy introduction wind surfing for amateurs via the gentle waters of the Base Nautica, located between Mar Bella and Bogatell beaches. If you already know how to windsurf, you can hire equipment by the hour; otherwise try kayaking or taking a sailing class instead. The calm waters of the Mediterranean are a calm respite away from the hustle of the city.
Ferries and short flights run daily from Barcelona to the Balearic island of Menorca, where sun, surf and sand await holiday makers. Kayak, snorkel or dive the turquoise waters off the beaches here. Colourful sea life and coral reefs abound underwater.
For a different view of the island, cycle the Cami de Cavalls, a bridle track that rings the entire island of Menorca along the coast. The track passes along some stunning views and provides access to pristine, isolated beaches that are otherwise unaccessible by other means. From Menorca, catch a short flight back to your starting point, Madrid, before departing for home.