13 hidden gems in Spain waiting to be discovered

Go off the beaten tourist track and discover some of the more unusual sights and experiences in Spain, from forgotten villages to ancient burial mounds.

By Saga team

Published 4 May 2024

Millions of Brits flock on holiday to Spain each year, and most head for the big, well-known coastal resorts or effervescent cities such as Barcelona and Madrid.

But there are many more natural, cultural and historical treasures to discover in Spain. We take a look at some of the best hidden gems Spain has to offer.

Forty miles east of Malaga, this village was thought to be sympathetic to the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. In 1948, the residents paid a heavy price when Franco’s forces ordered everyone to leave.

El Acebuchal remained a ghost town until 50 years later when one of the former residents’ sons returned. Today, all the houses and streets have been returned to how they were, and walking tours are available for visitors to discover this hidden gem.

When you’ve had enough of Andalucia’s sangria and sandy beaches, you can step back in time by visiting the 5,000-year-old dolmens. These incredible prehistoric burial chambers are found in Antequera; named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are some of the most stunning examples of megalithic architecture in the world.

The three sites – Menga Dolmen, Viera Dolmen and El Romeral Dolmen, are well-worth exploring on a guided tour, particularly Menga Dolmen, one of the largest megalithic tombs in Europe. The burial mound (or tumulus) dates back to approximately 3750-3650 BC and is comprised of 32 megaliths, the largest of which weighs in at a whopping 180 tonnes.

However progressive the post-Franco decades have been, Spain remains a country steeped in its Catholic faith, no more so than in Holy Week (Semana Santa), the days leading up to Easter.

From cities to villages, the occasion is celebrated nationwide by costumed processions with huge floats displaying religious tableaux and penitents wearing capirotes (tall, conical masked hats).

The events in Zamora, a 900-year-old former Roman settlement to the northwest, are attuned to tradition, eschewing the more flamboyant commemorations elsewhere in favour of quiet. Thousands of penitents take to the street, often barefoot, holding flaming torches or candles.

The mountain-top Andalusian town of Ronda is perched on a cliffside 740m (2,460ft) above sea level. This historic town, once a destination for Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway, is divided by a 100m (330ft) gorge and the stunning Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) joining the old Moorish town to the newer part. It’s one of Andalusia’s most stunning architectural features and well worth a look if you’re in the region. See it as part of our Spirit of Andalucia tour.

Photo tip:

Make your way down to the Arco del Cristo for a terrific view looking up at the Puente Nueve. Alternatively, head to the opposite side for a wide shot of the bridge and gorge from Jardines De Cuenca gardens.

Forget Real Madrid and Barcelona, and try one of La Liga’s less well-known teams for a ‘proper’ fútbol experience.

Regional teams include Las Palmas (Canary Islands), Mallorca (Balearics), Cadiz and Bilbao, so wherever you are there’s bound to be a stadium within an easy commute.

There’s always an amazing atmosphere (whatever the home team’s performance) at Málaga Club de Fútbol’s La Rosaleda stadium, making it an ideal afternoon or evening for couples and families. Keep an eye out for the enthusiastic British ex-pat Malaga fans affectionately known as the Guiri Army, waving their giant England flag.

If Rioja and chilled sherries eventually lose their allure, head for the Basque Country, where cider-making is as traditional as a black beret. This cider, known as sagardoa, is often served with food, especially cod omelette, steak or nuts and quince jelly.

The town of Astigarraga is the cider ‘hub’, with independently run cider houses dotted around the region.

The drink itself – stored in and poured from vast barrels – is flat, pungent and, if you’re not careful, heady stuff. Be sure to visit in spring before the barrels are emptied and the cider is bottled.

Food tip

Look out for sagardotegis (cider houses) throughout Basque Country to sample some local ciders and traditional food.

The Costa Brava’s vast, sandy beaches have been attracting holidaymakers for decades, but there are still plenty of areas that have escaped the ravages of more popular tourist meccas.

The sleepy enclave of Playa de Pals is well worth a visit. Centrally located, it is home to one of the longest stretches of beach in the Costa Brava. Also worth a look are the nearby resort towns of Calella de Palafrugell and Llafranc. With its sparkling white houses, Calella de Palafrugell is a small and very Spanish resort that drops down to two sandy beaches.

A picturesque 15-minute walk along the headland will bring you to Llafranc, another stunning seaside village. It has a wonderful sandy beach backed by a pine-shaded boulevard with bars, restaurants and cafes.

Alternatively, if you like your beaches a little more dramatic, an hour’s drive west from Gijón (a treat in itself) on the north coast of Spain will take you to Playa de Frejulfe, one of the most unspoilt beaches on a coastline renowned for them.

It’s just over half a mile long, sweeping and wide, with a rocky headland and rock pools, all backed by a forest of eucalyptus. Being on the Atlantic it’s prone to rain, but then there’s always a chiringuito (beach cafe) from which to watch the waves rolling in.

One of the impressive official residences of the King of Spain, The Royal Palace of Aranjuezar is the Spanish equivalent of Hampton Court. Located in the riverside town of Aranjuez, it’s 45 minutes’ drive south of Madrid.

A royal property since 1523, it’s open to the public as one of the Spanish royal sites and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The town is majestic too with shady parks, wide streets and squares ideal for relaxing with wine and tapas.

The series of caves known as Cuevas de Nerja, close to the pretty seaside town of the same name, was discovered by boys bunking off school in the 1950s.

Reaching for almost three miles, they are like giant subterranean cathedrals. Be warned, it can be steep inside.

Back outside, the location is blessed with the best views imaginable across the shimmering sea towards Africa.

Just beyond the sleepy southern town of Aldeaquemada you’ll find the dramatic waterfall Cascada de Cimbarra. Boasting a breathtaking 40m (130ft) drop and flanked by two colossal limestone cliffs, the water plunges into a large green-blue pool.

The drive to the top, in a landscape vast yet quiet, is a joy. You’re likely to encounter only deer, eagles and vultures.

Pico de Europa (‘Peaks of Europe’) in the Cantabrian Mountains is a relatively unknown national park of spectacular mountains, bridges and lakes 15 miles from the north coast. It’s ideal for questing walkers, and also popular with mountaineers and climbers.

The more remote regions are even home to Cantabrian brown bears and wolves, as well as deer and a wide range of birds.

Food tip

Cows, sheep and goats are grazed in the area, so why not try some of the regional cheeses, such as Cabrales or Picón Tresviso Bejes?

La Rioja is a lovely region – it’s very interesting to see all those grapes growing before they’re transformed into wine. Driving from Santander, it's also the region where you first start to reach warmer and rockier Spain – and it’s this change in the landscape that is responsible for the region’s wonderful wine.

La Rioja has been known for its wine for hundreds of years, with harvests dating back to the Phoenicians and Celtiberians. The three sub-regions are Rioja Alta (west), Rioja Alavesa (north) and Rioja Oriental (previously Rioja Baja); each region has its own distinct flavour due to the varied climate and elevation.

Minorca is well known for its gorgeous beaches and blue seas, and one way to explore them is the Cami de Cavalls, an ancient footpath that winds around the island and connects to some of the most inaccessible beaches.

It’s thought that the path was built around the 14th century to connect fortresses and watchtowers, and you can almost picture the bands of soldiers on Menorquin horseback patrolling the perimeter for marauding invaders like the infamous Barbarossa pirates. This could be why it became known as Cami de Cavalls, which roughly translates from Catalan as the ‘path of horses’.

During the French occupation in the 18th century, this extensive path underwent some much-needed restoration, but has since fallen back into ruin in certain places. It is still possible to navigate most of the route but you should be prepared to take the rough with the smooth, as in certain areas the terrain can be rugged and remote, albeit beautiful. A good guidebook will help you find which parts of the Cami de Cavalls are most suitable for you, and especially helpful if your time on the island is limited, or you could choose a walking holiday in Minorca with an experienced local expert on hand.

The views from the well-trodden walkway will definitely be worth your while and you’re sure to see a variety of landscapes that include meadows, woodland and beaches. By tracing the path, you can also uncover more of traditional Minorca, from historic farmland to quaint fishing villages.

Discover more incredible experiences on one of our tours or hotel holidays in Spain.

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