Daily Archives: 10 July 2007

A Word About Spain (or Two)



What a beautiful country Spain is.

I travelled a bit in northern Spain just recently, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, mainly. And the Basque country. I did the ‘Camino de Santiago’, as you might already have discovered yourself, given my recent musings.

The Atlantic coast in the North and in the West of Spain are so markedly different from the Mediterranean shores where I normally live. The Atlantic side of Spain feels as if in a different country. It seems appropriate that one speaks a different language there as well, in some parts anyway, or so it would appear.

The food is different too. No Sobrassada, no Frito, no Butifarron. No Ensaïmada, either. Suckling Pig, yes, sometimes, and the omnipresent Paella. And the good quality Vino Tinto is also ever present. At 60 cent a copa, sometimes even at 40 cent.

What you will find along this Camino, or – in my opinion – on any walk and any journey really, is the amazing beauty and diversity of this vast country. This is a country contrary to the image that Spain has from the outside in.

Spain is often seen as a hot, blistering country. Go to the North of Spain, however, such as the Atlantic coast, and you will find the opposite: rain, quite a bit of snow, much more so than in Britain which is much further to the North, and a soothing lushness of green, wherever you look. Or in the South, in the Sierra Nevada, in Andalucía: snow on mountain tops, virtually all year round.

Go to the Picos de Europa, and you might feel as if in Norwegian mountain ranges, or in the Alps, rather than the heartland of Spain.

The variety of people is as unexpected as the multifaceted diversity of Spain’s landscape. You may have come across the difference between Madrileños and Barcelonian Cataláns already, noticing the elegant and businesslike attitude in the nation’s capital versus the sparkling creativity in Barcelona, but go to places like Extramadura, Cantabria, Galicia, Santander or Bilbao, and you will understand that there are different people living here with different backgrounds, different historical events and different tribal characteristics.

Yes, now it appears easier to see why in some parts of Spain different languages are spoken. Autonomous idioms, not variations of dialects.

The friendliness of some of the people in the regions, of which I had first hand experience, can be touching, even overwhelming. It may have to do with the fact that, deep down, Spain is a conservative country where close family ties have not been lost and where social patterns and peer influence appear in place, that other European nations seem to have phased out some 20 or 30 years ago.


It comes as no surprise to me then, that so many Mallorcans seem so adamant that they have little in common with the rest of Spain.

On the outside, the country seems united and unified, probably thanks to the iron hand of El Caudillo, but deep down there are differences and peculiarities that to me seem greater than perhaps in France or Britain or Germany. It may well be that the integration of Spain into the European Union has done more to Spanish unity and national appeasement than has the force and often brutality that ruled the country for forty years under the dictatorship, now history since thirty years.

If ever you have a chance to travel in mainland Spain, may I suggest that you grab the opportunity. It will be worth your while, believe me.