If folks were to assess what would be the hottest spots in Spain to visit, chances are the returning polls would have it as a dead heat between Madrid and Barcelona, with an edge most likely towards the former. And little wonder. with more than five million residents, Madrid's the country's largest city with Barcelona, trailing by about a million citizens, coming in second.

Even if most people were oblivious to that stat, Spain conjures up notions of conquistadors and Flamenco, but little more. That's too bad since Spain is far more diverse with 17 political regions making up the country, each with their own identities, including at least one with a language distinct from the Spanish spoken elsewhere. It's also home to Europe's only desert, which made it ideal for Hollywood to use the scenery for a few Westerns.


For those who want to get off the beaten path of what makes Spain popular, a venture to some of these less familiar territories is worth the experience. Here's a look at five of them.

Basque Country Is A Nation Unto Itself

One thing about hitting Basque Country is that there's hardly an inkling that you're still in Spain. For openers, most of its residents speak Basque, which doesn't even remotely sound like Spanish. And to add to the confusion part of the territory extends into France.

But like much of Spain's coast, it has plenty of beaches and a pristine shoreline. It's also got waves high enough for surfers to test the waters, so to speak. And similar to the rest of Spain it not only has a huge visual arts scene, but the region is also big on cuisine. Just don't ask for tapas at a restaurant. In Basque Country, the official food is pintxos, which is similar to tapas, but on smaller pieces of bread.

The Canary Islands Are Like A Lunar Landscape

Depending on the terrain of the Canary Islands, it's hard to tell whether to wear a swimsuit or a spacesuit. Given the volcanic origins of the archipelagos some parts look like you're on another planet with the lava-formed soil and the jagged landforms almost everywhere further inland. That volcanic activity contributed to the formation of El Tiede, the highest mountain in Spain.

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But if it's beaches you want, the islands have them in spades and are famous enough to rival the shorelines on the mainland, especially with the water nicely heated by the Gulf Stream. And by all means take advantage of the parks, including Timanfaya National Park, which offers a guided tour involving camels.

Castilla-La Mancha Is Don Quixote Territory

What's bewildering about Castilla-La Mancha is that despite boasting a historical legend, it's one of the least-visited territories in Spain. Which is too bad, because there's a spiritual vibe in the area that recalls Don Quixote, the famed and fictitious Man of La Macha documented in a 17th century novel by Miguel de Cervantes.

To that end, you'll find Quixotic references everywhere in the region from the windmills in Campo de Criptana to houses that teeter on the edge of the giant walled city of Cuenca and the Alcázar fortress in the hills above Toledo, Spain's spiritual capital.

Finally, what better way can you get in touch with your own spirituality than via the wines that come from the rich soil that nourishes the massive vineyards in the area?

Go For Baroque In Murcia

For culture buffs, the Murcia region is just the ticket, where the setting consists of lush vegetation and mountains with an assortment of communities that seem to take its historical contributions to the art world rather seriously. Much of that has to do with the creative legacy of Santiago de Murcia, a 17th-century guitarist and composer who championed a movement that defined the image of Spanish guitar music still heard today.

One of the biggest reminders of that Baroque period is Cardenal Belluga Cathedral, a gigantic ivory-colored architectural wonder in the city of Murcia. At one point, this headquarters for faith-based followers had three facades. Only one remains today.

And to keep those Baroque legacies alive, you'll find no shortage of museums and music festivals in the region.

The Tabernas Desert Reminds Folks Of The U.S. Wild West

Besides being home to Europe's only desert, the Tabernas Desert region may not remind anyone of the Sahara. If anything, it's closer in appearance to the more arid areas of the U.S. Small wonder why director Sergio Leone decided to shoot his epic 1968 epic gunslinger drama Once Upon A Time In the West in this region. The movie set still remains where touring groups entertain visitors with mock shoot-outs and other outlaw attractions.

Elsewhere, it's the land that's the draw, with additional junkets taking place to explore the desert ravines. Other tours include a 110-square-mile natural reserve accessible only on foot or horseback.

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