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Why Women Travelers Should Say 'Hola' To Spain

And why it's the ‘new Italy’ of popular travel destinations.

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The Girlfriend Staff (Source: eStock (5), Getty Images (3))
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Spain is the “new Italy” of popular travel destinations — and for good reasons.

Its beaches are wider and sandier. The country hosts nine UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Catalan medieval city of Girona delights both historians and Game of Thrones fans. Food and lodging are cheaper than in Italy.

On my trips to Spain, I discovered authentic paella, tapas, olive oil, smoked paprika, local Cava, world-class museums, flamenco and mucho mas.

Founded in 1479, Spain is dotted with breathtaking medieval towns influenced by nearby Portugal, France, and Morocco.

You’ll want to return again and again. Here are some of my favorite adventures.

Start in Madrid

The capital of Spain and an international business hub, Madrid is its largest city, where King Filipe VI has offices and residences. Madrid has emerged as a compelling destination due to its art, nightlife, and traditional and innovative cuisine.


Hotel Villa Real is a 5-star ideal location, where you can walk through the homes of 17th-century writers in Bario de las Letras to three top museums known as “The Golden Triangle of Art.” Swim and dine outdoors at their sister hotel, Urban, a few blocks away.


A cortado (or two) puts caffeine into your step at Umami, Acid Café, and Matilde Café. A tapas lunch at Casa Gonzalez showcases Iberian ham from pigs fed on acorns. Buy Manchego cheese and Marcona almonds by the kilo. Book in advance at Vinoteca Moratin, a chef-owned 10-table restaurant with local wines at 5 euros a glass, creative Spanish seafood and meat dishes.


Buy tickets in advance for the Museo del Prado (El Greco, Velazquez, Goya et al.), Thyssen-Bornemisza (Impressionists) and Reina Sofia (Picasso’s original Guernica). The Prado is free from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every evening except Sunday.

Everyone should have a drink at Plaza Major, which is perfect for people-watching. Parque El Retiro, a 125-acre park with formal gardens, a manmade lake and shady paths, is nature bliss amid a bustling city. I rested my tired museum feet here daily.

Madrid to Barcelona: A 2.5-Hour Train Ride


Boutique hotel Roommate Anna or rent an Airbnb in the Eixample neighborhood.


Spain isn’t known to rival pastries and bread in France, except at Funky Bakers. A few blocks away is Lot Roasters for serious coffee and chocolates roasted in-house. The Grill Room’s three-course 15-euro lunch is so sumptuous that you won’t need dinner. Tapas 24 has two locations (don’t miss the tortilla). The Sopa Boba has the best tuna outside of Japan. Terassa Martinez serves varieties of paella and crema Catalonia, high above the city, with stunning views of the Mediterranean lined by cruise ships.


Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, is the world’s largest unfinished church; construction began in 1882. Advance tickets are a must. In late afternoon, the sun shines through the stunning stained-glass windows. Follow Gaudi’s architectural genius to Park Güell, an art wonderland, then to his Casa Batlló, Casa Mila and Casa Vicens. Explore Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter with medieval streets. Get lost in the L’Eixample and Gràcia neighborhoods. Buy a sombrero at Sombreria Obach, a fourth-generation hatmaker. You can watch espadrilles being hand-made while trying them on in La Manual Alpargatera.


Drive 90 km north on the Costa Brava to Tossa de Mar, a beach town on the turquoise Mediterranean favored by Europeans. Old Town’s castle dates back to the 11th century. Tapas and homemade Cava at Restaurant Portal were the best I’ve ever had; I returned three times in a row for dinner outdoors on a cobblestoned side street. Take a trip by train to Girona, a Catalan medieval city where Game of Thrones was filmed.

Head South to Andalusia & Costa Del Sol



Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Granada, noted for its Islamic architecture. It was built as a magnificent palace and fortress for Moorish monarchs dating back to the 11th century. This is a full-day trip; booking an advance tour is how to avoid long lines. Wear comfortable shoes! Bring your bathing suit because afterward, you can relax at a Hamman, Al-Haram, Arab baths dating back 500 years.


Granada is a tapas capital. Los Diamantes is one of the tiniest if you enjoy eating standing up. Enjoy a tapas crawl, meandering from one place to the next; ordering a drink gets free tapas in return.



The best choice is to rent an Airbnb within walking distance of the beach (although the return trip is all uphill). My affordable house had two terraces and a view of the sea.


Nerja was once a tiny fishing village but is now filled with sunbathers on wide sandy beaches across from Morocco; a lounge chair and a foot massage are less than the price of dinner. All you need is a beach cover-up to stroll the promenade and get all-you-can-eat paella from the largest pan imaginable.


Five kilometers north is Frigiliana, one of Spain’s most beautiful, whitewashed villages, high above the shore. It’s a day trip of old narrow streets, pottery boutiques, and restaurants serving local wine. Each August, there is a celebration of Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures. Once settled by the Moors, today many of the quaint houses are owned by British families. Buy local olive oil and saffron for gifts — unless you can’t resist keeping them for yourself.

Have any of you ever been to Spain? Where did you go? Let us know in the comments below.

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