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The eight least touristy cities in Spain (and why you should visit them)

They may not be as popular as Barcelona, Seville or Valencia but it’s worth getting off the beaten track to discover some of the least touristy cities in Spain, and the wonderful things they have to offer.

The eight least touristy cities in Spain (and why you should visit them)
Cuenca is one of the under rated cities of Spain. Photo: acieroDepositphotos

While the regions of Madrid, Catalonia, Andalucia, together with the Canary Islands and the Balearics, attract some 90 percent of all the foreign tourists to Spain tempting them with their world class museums. Unesco heritage sites and of course, the beach, Spain has so much more worth seeing, if you just bother to explore a little.

Data collected by Spain’s Statistics Agency (INE) reveals the provincial capitals in Spain which have the least overnight visitors. But does that mean they have nothing to offer? On the contrary. Stopping off at these places will not only provide a glimpse of the real Spain, without having to battle through crowds of tourists, you will also find prices are cheaper and people are more friendly.

Cuenca

Photo: acciero/Depositphotos

Despite being just one-hour from Madrid and Valencia by high speed train, Cuenca is among the ten cities in Spain which attract the least overnight visitors. But it’s hard to understand why.

The impressive hanging houses cling to the rugged outcrop where the walled city is built overlooking the vast plains of Castilla-La Mancha. There is also a maginificent cathedral in the heart of an old city that remains little changed since Medieval times. The enormous arches of the Plaza Mayor are a sight to behold, plus Cuenca has carved out a reputation as the capital of Spanish abstract art, containing several galleries and museums dedicated to the genre.

Zamora


Photo: phbcz/Depositphotos
 
Perhaps the joke associated with the name of this provincial city in Castile-Leon is to blame for the lack of interest from tourists. But in fact “Zamora se visita en una hora” – Zamora can be seen in an hour – does the city a great disservice.

 
Full of churches and chapels that will excite fans of the Romanesque-style, the old city is dominated by an enormous castle and a cathedral famed for its huge dome.
 
With its picturesque terrazas and river views, you’ll want to spend some time bar-hopping sipping vermut and enjoying the free tapas.
 
Ourense

 
Photo: avarand/Depositphotos

Overshadowed by Santiago de Compostela, the biggest tourist draw in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, the city of Ourense is a jewel just waiting to be discovered.

A small old city filled with winding cobbled streets, ancient plazas with old fountains and pretty churches, the gateway to the cathedral is worth the visit alone.

Plus there is a Roman bridge, a spa dating to medieval times, with hot springs famed across the region for its health benefits.

And of course, this being Galicia, you can dine on amazing seafood washed down with the local Albariño for less than anywhere else in Spain.

Teruel

Photo: Depositphoto

Despite having Mudejar style architecture that won the city Unesco World Heritage status in 1986, Teruel remains one of the least visited cities in Spain.

Out of the way in the abandoned interior of Spain somewhere inland between Valencia and Barcelona, this Aragonese city is famed as the city of lovers and each February holds a romantic festival to commemorate the legendary lovers of Teruel, the Romeo and Juliet of Spain.

But it also has an impressive aquaduct, quaint old squares and is somewhat of a gourmands dream destination. Expect to dine on truffles and Teruel’s famed jamón.

Soria

Photo: karsol/Depositphotos

The province, which alongside Teruel most struggles with the depopulation of the countryside, is home to this city full of architectural beauties dating as far back as the Roman era. Look out for the doorway at the Santo Domingo church and the arches of San Juan de Duero (above)-
Spend an evening grazing in the little bars and restaurants of Calle del Collado and make sure you don’t leave without trying a dish containing wild mushrooms grown nearby.
 
Melilla

Photo: pabkovDepositphotos

More often in the news for the latest attempt by migrants to reach Spain over the fence from Morocco, the largest of Spain’s North African enclaves sees few tourists.

A ginormous and impenetrable wall protects the old city from seaborne invaders, behind which is a collection of neighbourhoods that represent the geographical position and multicultural nature of the place.

Fortifications, synagogues , mosques and churches can all be found in Melilla as well as modern architecture, wide boulevards and seafront prominades and of course, that double razor wire fence that separates Spain from Africa.

Avilés

Photo: AFP

The city of Avilés, capital of one of the eight comarcas that make up the Prinipality of Asturias in northern Spain fails to have the draw of nearby Oviedo and Gijon, even with the creation of the architectural wonder that is the Centro Niemeyer arts and culture complex. While it failed to have the Guggenheim effect that saw Bilbao transform thanks to the museum, Avilés is still worth a visit in its own right.

Lush parks and gardens, ornate palaces and churches are a beautiful back drop to a stroll along the banks of the river that encircles this northern city.

Jaén

Photo: Depositphotos

Forever in the shadow of its Andalucian neighbouring cities of Granada, Málaga, Córdoba and Sevilla, Jáen sees few visitors venture within its walls.

Rising up from the endless olive groves responsible for producing some of the best olive oil in the world. Jaén is a beautiful city with a stunning cathedral, elegant squares and well preserved Arabic baths.

Dine out on Andalusian classics for half the price than you’ll find in the more touristy cities.

READ ALSO: Off the beaten track: 14 best kept travel secrets in Spain

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TRAVEL

Ten of the most amazing bike routes in Spain

Here are some of the greatest and most beautiful cycling routes across Spain for avid cyclists, from Don Quijote territory to the green north. Saddle up everyone!

Ten of the most amazing bike routes in Spain

Spain is a great country for cycling, so great in fact that it even has several dedicated cycling routes across the country called vías verdes or greenways.

These greenways were built along old disused railway lines and have now become an environmentally friendly way to explore the country (here is a map showing all the greenways).

But there are other cycling routes around Spain that are just as impressive and can be completed by avid low to mid-level cyclists.

Here are ten bike routes in Spain that will take your breath away (at times in both senses of the word).

The TransAndalus, Andalusia

The TransAndalus trail is a 2,000km (1,240 miles) long circuit specifically designed for mountain bikes. It goes through the eight provinces of Andalusia and gives experienced riders a chance to pass through incredible natural sites, such as the Sierra Nevada, Doñana and Cabo de Gata national parks. There are a total of 23 stages, meaning that you can pick and choose which one or ones you do, without having to complete the entire trail. Less experienced cyclists can choose a specific shorter section. Stage one starts in Seville and is a mostly downhill ride to Chiclana de la Frontera.

The TransAndalus passing through some of the region’s most spectacular scenery. Photo: jbdodane / Wikimedia Commons (CC 2.0)

Vía Verde de Ojos Negros, Aragon and Valencia

Running from the town of Ojos Negros, in the province of Teruel to Sagunto, on the Valencian coast, this is Spain’s longest greenway at 160km. It has been divided into two sections, so you can just choose to do one or the other if the whole route is too long. The first part follows the line of the Sierra Menera mining railway, in the Palancia river valley, while the second part descends towards the Valencian orange groves, on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Cycling along the Vía Verde de Ojos Negros. Photo: Pacopac / Wikimedia Commons

Ruta Don Quijote, Castilla-La Mancha 

Lovers of literature, Cervantes and Don Quijote will enjoy this route following in the unlikely hero’s footsteps. The whole route covers 2,500km (1553.4 miles) and runs through all five of the region’s provinces, but it’s split up into 10 sections, making it easy to select which one you want to do. Declared a European Cultural Route, it travels through two National Parks, six natural parks and six nature reserves, running along a combination of cattle trails, historic paths, riverbanks and disused railway lines. 

Windmills Castilla-La Mancha

See the famous windmills of Consuegra along this cycle route. Photo: JamesHose / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Val del Zafán, Aragon and Catalonia

This spectacular route travels alongside the azure blue channels which eventually end up joining the grand Ebro River. It passes through the regions of Bajo Martín, Bajo Aragón, Matarraña, Terra Alta and Baix Ebre. Punctuated by viaducts, tunnels and protected natural spaces, it’s a pretty straight and easy greenway to follow, with some final twists and turns when you reach the Catalan coast at Tortosa near the Ebro Delta at the end. 

Ebro Delta

This route follows parts of the grand Ebro River. Photo: Future75 / Wikimedia Commons

READ ALSO: Cycling in Spain -12 fines you need to watch out for

Camino de Santiago 

Pilgrims on foot are not the only ones who can enjoy this world-famous voyage. Cyclists can choose whether to complete the full 800km (500 miles) French Way or do the minimum 200km required to obtain the precious Pilgrimage Certificate.

READ ALSO: Top tips to safely enjoy Spain’s Camino de Santiago on foot or by bike

Camino de Santiago

You can also do the Camino de Santiago by bike. Photo: Burkard Meyendriesch / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Carrilet, Catalonia

This route runs for 57km (35.4 miles), linking the town of Olot and the Garrotxa Volcanic Naural park with the city of Girona. Following the banks of the Ter, Brugent and Fluvià rivers, it winds its way between fields, forests and bridges, with the towering ancient volcanoes as your backdrop. The route is well signposted and is also suitable for hikers. 

Via verde Olot to Girona

This route begins at the otherworldly Garrotxa volcanic natural park. Photo: Peremagria / Wikimedia Commons

Vía Verde Tajuna, Madrid

This spectacular bike path offers city dwellers the chance to escape the hustle and bustle without planning ahead. Simply get off at the last stop on Metro line 9 (Arganda del Rey) and hop on to your bici. The route runs along the river of the same name and runs for a total of 49km (30.4), passing through the quaint towns of Carabaña, Ambite, Oruco, Tielmes or Perales de Tajuna and Morata. This cycle path is also equipped for hiking and for people with disabilities or reduced mobility.

Via Verde Tajuna Madrid

You can see the ruins of the old station of Tajuna along the way. Photo: Malopez 21 / Wikimedia Commons

Vía Verde de la Sierra, Cádiz, Andalusia 

This 37km (22 mile) vía verde runs from the village of Puerto Serrano in the province of Cádiz to Olvera, a small village north-east of Ronda. It passes through no less than 30 tunnels and over four viaducts, as well as valleys and river banks. Free of traffic and a relatively easy ride overall, it’s ideal for a family day trip – and if the little ones are too tired, taxis with bicycle racks are available for the return journey.

Via Verde Cádiz

The Vía Verde de la Sierra is ideal for the whole family. Photo: El Pantera / Wikimedia Commons.

Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote, Canary Islands 

Go for a ride through the land of volcanoes in Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park. Ideal for mountain bikers, there is even an 8km (5 mile) downhill track through the island’s unique landscapes and lava fields. The archipelago’s mild climate makes it a biking paradise throughout the year.

Lanzarote

Ride through the volcanic landscapes of Timanfaya National Park. Photo: Manfred Zajac / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Plazaola, Navarra and the Basque Country

One of the most beautiful greenways is the 66.5km (41.3 miles) Vía Verde del Plazaola, traversing through the regions of Navarra and the Basque Country, passing through an array of forests and meadows. 41.9km of the route passes through Navarra and 24.6km through Gipuzkoa, so you can choose which section to do. The route also takes you through many tunnels, including the longest tunnel you can cycle through in Spain. The trail takes its name from the abandoned Plazaola mines, you’ll pass along the way. 

Plazaola cycle route

The Vía Verde del Plazaola takes you through many tunnels. Photo: Cherubino / Wikimedia Commons

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