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Six of the best alternative Spanish city breaks, from Lugo to Logroño

Whether it’s for food or fiestas, Spain’s lesser-known cities are just as beguiling as the big-hitters.

Published 6 May 2021, 06:13 BST, Updated 6 May 2021, 11:36 BST
Sitting astride the River Ebro, the city of Zaragoza is feted for its connections to the master ...

Sitting astride the River Ebro, the city of Zaragoza is feted for its connections to the master painter, Goya. Many of the artist's frescoes can be admired in the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a grand church with a series of ornate domes.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Feasting in Cáceres

This provincial capital is so stuffed full of produce from the surrounding Extremaduran farmlands that it feels as though its medieval walls might burst. Graze on regional essentials like acorn-fed bellota ham and Torta del Casar sheep’s cheese at Old Town taperías La Minerva and La Cacharreria, before taking on the wild boar stew at local institution El Figón de Eustaquio, a local institution that first opened its doors in 1947.  

2. Moorish architecture in Córdoba

Seville and Granada get more attention for their Moorish heritage, but Córdoba was once a greater seat of Islamic power. Trace the hybrid Muslim-Christian artistry of the caliphate in the intricate geometries and ceramics of the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba’s Royal Chapel, or the interlaced archways of San Miguel church.  

3. Albacete by night

Jokingly known to locals as the ‘New York of La Mancha’, the region’s biggest city is a party on the plains after dark. The Feria de Albacete festival spills out over 10 firework- and dancing-filled days in September, but an evening walk between the hectic bar terraces of the La Zona and Los Titis party areas feels lively enough on most nights of the year. Plus, the city’s cathedral and the monumental Iron Gate look their grandest in the moonlight.

Read more: The real city that never sleeps: discovering nightlife in Madrid

Arches dominate the Plaza Corredera in the city of Córdoba, Andalucia. A former Moorish stronghold, the city retains many traces of its Muslim-Christian past, most notably in the art and architecture.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Goya’s Zaragoza

The phantasmagoric works of Zaragoza’s master painter, Francisco Goya, make fitting prisms through which to view the Aragonese capital, a city marked by Christian myths and violent invasions. The Goya Route takes in his frescoes at Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, his court paintings at Zaragoza Museum, his engravings at MICAZ (Museo Ibercaja Camón Aznar) and his oils on the walls at the Charterhouse of Aula Dei.

5. Bodegas of Logroño

A major post on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route, the capital of La Rioja province is also a busy trading centre for the eponymous wine. Many tiny tapas bars are squeezed into the compact city centre, all serving fine varietals made from Tempranillo and other regional grapes. There’s also a walkable cluster of wineries on both sides of the Ebro River, including the popular Bodega Arizcuren Vinos and Bodegas Franco-Españolas.

6. Roman heritage in Lugo

The gothic-baroque old town of this small inland Galician city is surrounded by even older structures, built by Romans in the third and fourth centuries. You can cross their reconstructed six-arch bridge over the Minho river, walk the defensive walls they built around the original settlement and visit the ancient baths they once frequented, now occupied by Hotel Balneario De Lugo. The House of Mosaics, a former Roman mansion, also showcases their craftwork. 

Read more stories and travel guides for Spain

Published in the June 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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