The northern coastline of Spain
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Summer in Spain: where to go to escape the crowds

Summer in Spain is often associated with sandy beaches, crowded resort towns and package holidays. Spain is an extremely popular summer destination, however, there are many parts of the country where you can have a quieter trip and see a different side to the country.

From small towns in southern Spain to the wilderness in Aragon, there's a lot to see in Spain that goes beyond resorts and beaches. Here are a few trip ideas for a summer in Spain, including a couple of tourist favourites and a few more offbeat destinations.

Houses in Peratallada, Spain

1. Empordà, Catalonia

The relatively unknown Catalan region of Empordà stretches from the north of Girona, all the way to the French border. It's a lovely, peaceful region and its sweeping countryside is reminiscent of Tuscany.

Worn, narrow roads meander through a green, abundant region, strewn with vines, olives, fields and trees. It's the perfect place for a leisurely drive, dotted with small and charming, medieval villages including La Pera, Monells and Peratallada. If you're after an even quieter place to spot to base yourself for a few days, try Madremanya, a lovely village with distinctive stone buildings.

If you like surrealism, be sure to visit the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, then venture further to Púbol, a hamlet where Dalí (a local) built a fairytale castle for his wife.

Food in Empordà is delicious with rich flavours that hint at their medieval roots. Roast goose with pears is a traditional favourite in the region and is well worth trying while you're there.

Stay at Mas Vila in your own country cottage with mountain views - perfect for families or groups.

The Sanxenxo coastline in Galicia, Spain

2. Rías Baixas, Galicia

If you want a beach holiday that will make you feel like a local, head to Rías Baixas, the five estuaries (rias) that cut into the Galician coastline. Galicia is a lot cooler than southern Spain, however the Rías Baixas are sheltered by a strip of islands – Cíes, Ons, Sálvora, Rúa. The Atlantic coast are surprisingly calm and rias have some of the best beaches in the country, although the water can be a bit colder than you first expect.

Be sure to stop at Sanxenxo, the tourist capital of the Rías Baixas. The port is touristy, however the outskirts of town and fisherman's village have a local flavour and the neighbouring town of Portonovo has a charming harbour. Both are popular with Galicians and will get busy.

If you have the time, a day trip or overnight stay to one of the nearby islands will be the highlight of your stay. Visitor numbers on most are now regulated so apply for a permit in advance. Ferries usually leave from Vigo, Cangas or Baiona, and the Playa del Rodas on the Cies islands has been described as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Stay at Hotel Portonovo near the water and the shops and take a day trip to the Cies Islands - or spend a night if you can.

Frigiliana, a white Andalusia Village with view of the Costa del Sol Spain

3. Malaga and the Costa del Sol

Malaga is one of Spain's well-worn summer haunts, famous for its sandy beaches and charming restaurant terraces where you can relax with tapas and sangria. But in order to really take advantage of Malaga in summer, you have to know how to go off the beaten path. There's much more to Malaga than its coastline, and while you'll want to enjoy a few beach days during your trip, try heading inland to get a better sense of the region's culture and history.

From Malaga, it’s easy to explore some of the coast. Frigiliana is one of the prettiest villages in Spain and is only a 45-minute drive from Málaga, making it an easy day trip from the city. Another option is Archidona, which isn’t far away from and makes a lovely base for a few days – just pick a hotel with a pool. It’s also an easy drive to Grenada for a day trip to see the famous Alhambra palace complex.

You could also consider spending a few days in Ronda, also in the Malaga province. Built on a deep gorge, this town has remarkable architecture and a dramatic history. There are also some good walking trails in the nearby national park.

Stay at Casa Palacio VillaZambra in Ronda's old town, with views of the taja from some rooms.

An old city street in Jerez, Spain

4. Jerez de la Frontera

Escape sweltering Seville and head to Jerez in summer for cool sea breezes and nearby beaches. Jerez is inland but still catches the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean, making it a cooler destination than Seville. And, it's an easy base for exploring nearby beaches, with many easily accessible from the city.

Take the train to Valdelagrana in El Puerto de Santa María or Cádiz city beaches. The journey takes under 30 minutes, so you can spend all day on the beach if you wish. Or, if you'd prefer to get off the beaten path, consider heading to the sandy shores of Conil de la Frontera or Los Caños de Meca instead. For a bit of history to round off your day, visit the Roman Ruins at Baelo Claudia.

There are also many reasons to spend time in Jerez. Sample the local food, and make an effort to taste the local sherry - Jerez is the oldest wine-making region in Spain. Visit the Gonzalez Byass, home to the famous Tio Pepe and an annual live music festival in August. While you're in Jerez, also take the opportunity to see Andalusian horses in action.

Jerez also has its own flamenco tradition, a dancing and singing style known as bulería. During the summer, there are many opportunities to enjoy captivating flamenco performances alongside locals. On Friday nights in July and August, you can watch a live show at the Moorish fortress, known as the Alcázar de Jerez. Jerez is also home to the International Bulería Music Festival, where singers, dancers and guitar players will all pay tribute to this special style of flamenco.

Stay at Casa Palacio María Luisa, an elegant hotel in the centre of town

The northern coastline of Spain

5. Basque Country

Euskadi, most commonly known as the Basque Country, is a peaceful and beautiful region in Northern Spain to visit in the summer. The coastline is rugged, yet lovely, and there are 45 beaches tucked into the coastline, some little more than tiny coves.

San Sebastián (also called Donostia) is the most popular destination, filled with visitors throughout the summer. Along with excellent food and a charming city centre, the main beach, the Playa de la Concha on the Bay of La Concha has shallow, calm waters and is protected from the winds.

For something a bit more off the beaten track, explore some of the Basque countryside. Head to Zumaia, with its Blue-Flag Playa de Itzurun surrounded by the rugged cliffs and known for the distinctive ridges that emerge from the water. Just 20 minutes east of Itzurun lies the Playa de Zarautz, with a long stretch of sand, good surfing and a beachfront lined with restaurants and bars.

Stay at Hotel Talasoterapia Zelai in Zumai or splurge at the luxurious Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian.

Parrizal de Beceite, Teruel. Aragón. España

6. Matarraña, Aragon

When you first arrive in Matarraña, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd come across an untouched region, far away from the modern world. Olive groves line green valleys and pine trees stretch up the mountains, just in the shadows of the tallest peaks. Only three hours' drive from Barcelona, Matarraña is known for the Parrizal Gorge - hike through the gorge alongside all cliffs and aqua pools. Further down the river are also opportunities for kayaking and swimming.

This is a region which lends itself to leisurely drives through the countryside. For a memorable day out, follow the single-track road out of La Portellada towards the village of Ráfales. This part of the area is scarcely populated and spotting wildlife is surprisingly easy. See if you can spot the rare ibex goats and, if you have time, see wild, black vultures feeding at Mas de Bunyol, a local bird observatory.

Stay at Rusticae Consolación, a rustic yet comfortable boutique hotel with stunning views.

Want to spend longer travelling through Spain? Explore some of these regions on a Northern Spain road trip.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 16 June 2022

Frigiliana, a white Andalusia Village with view of the Costa del Sol Spain

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