Ten days. During a normal work week, that seems like an eternity. In other circumstances, that same length of time can pass in an instant. With that in mind and a partner-in-crime in tow, I set out to make the most of a whirlwind 10-day journey, from the southern reaches of Spain up to the country’s rugged eastern coast. The goal: to see as much of the country as time would allow. The ultimate road trip. Here are 10 of the adventure’s most magical moments.
1. Picasso Museum Málaga
He’s one of the world’s most celebrated artists, so it’s only fitting that Pablo’s birthplace is also home to a notable collection of his work. This villa-like museum is, without exception, a must-see on any visit to Málaga. museopicassomalaga.org
2. La Alhambra
Spain is thought of as a Catholic country, but Granada’s La Alhambra is a symbol of a different nation. Built as a palace, a fortress and a citadel, it was the residence of the Nasrid Sultans, top government officials, and the royal guard from the 13th through 15th centuries, when the Moors ruled Spain. A striking example of Moorish architecture with equally striking views of the city and ample gardens yearning for exploration, La Alhambra could quite easily fill an afternoon with adventure. Be prepared to wait in lines, as the crowds visiting La Alhambra are plentiful and regular. alhambra-patronato.es
3. El Albaicín
Its winding, hillside streets form what’s known as the city’s Moorish quarter. Stroll the maze of streets and stop in at neighborhood bazaars and restaurants; they feel so authentic to Morocco, right down to the wares being sold, you might forget for just a few moments you’re even in Spain.
4. Maspalomas Beach
Situated at the southern tip of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, Maspalomas Beach represents one of many natural treasures located just off the coast of northern Africa. Massive sand dunes surrounding the happening, clothing-optional beach are a marvel to behold (and even more of a marvel to climb). The most dramatic effect is the sight of the beach appearing like an oasis over the dunes’ edge—the stuff that inspires movies. For the full experience, book a camel ride from a nearby vendor. How many times are you presented with the option of camel-riding before enjoying a cocktail-fueled afternoon at the beach?
5. Carnaval Las Palmas
It’s one of the oldest annual festivals held in Gran Canaria (beginning late January), and the unquestionable highlight of the festivities is the annual Drag Queen Gala. The whole island—gay, straight, trans and everything in between—comes out for what’s best described as the Super Bowl of drag. Not only is the event televised, but tickets to this extravaganza of glitter, sequins and show are so coveted that they sell out almost immediately. This show alone is reason to make a detour to paradise. lpacarnaval.com
6. Authentic Valencian paella
Did you know paella originated in Valencia? That’s but one of many facts you’ll take away from a paella cooking class at Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana. Begin with a guided tour of the Mercado Central to purchase all the necessary ingredients from local vendors, and continue on to the school’s kitchen for a step-by-step lesson in the art of paella. The class is at once educational and delicious. And did I mention it’s also fun? escueladearrocesypaellas.com
7. La Roca Village
No holiday is complete without a little (or a lot of) shopping, and La Roca Village—30 minutes from the beaches of Barcelona—is a destination unto itself. One of nine Chic Outlet Shopping Villages operated across Europe, the labels of La Roca commingle upscale brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Moncler with luxe Spanish-born brands like Loewe, Adolfo Dominguez, El Ganso and Lottussee. This is outlet shopping on a different (more luxurious) scale. larocavillage.com
8. Costa Brava
Translated as “Rough Coast,” it’s known for rugged beaches and, depending on where you land, its unspoiled appeal. In the heart of it all is a real gem known as Sant Martí d’Empúries; stumbling upon it is akin to stepping into wonderland. Perched above the beaches, the medieval town is home to a gaggle of restaurants and small boutiques, along with the church of Sant Martí, dating back to the 16th century. Combined with a stay at nearby luxury hotel and spa Hostal Empúries, this charming town offers the ultimate escape.
9. Centre Pompidou Málaga
The only offshoot of Paris’ famed Centre Pompidou opened outside the City of Lights, the Centre Pompidou Málaga is a celebration of contemporary art wrapped in an eye-popping jeweled box, designed by Alain Sebban. Not only is it the perfect complement to Málaga’s already esteemed catalogue of museums, it’s a winning way to add culture to an afternoon spent lolling about the Costa del Sol. centrepompidou-malaga.eu
10. Skydiving in Girona
For the best view of Girona and Costa Brava, nothing beats seeing it from 13,000 feet! Skydive Empuriabrava, located just a short drive from the beach, is where active thrillseekers (or reluctant ones like myself) can book a tandem jump irrespective of any previous training. Nervous? Don’t be. Not only does Empuriabrava have a standout reputation in the world of skydiving, the team regularly participates in worldwide competitions, and the facilities (considered top-notch, for the record) have provided the stage for a number of European and world skydiving titles. skydiveempuriabrava.com