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Spain Travel Guide
General Information on Spain TOP

Spain shares the Iberian peninsula with Portugal and is bounded to the north by the Pyrenees, which separate Spain from France. The Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera), 193km (120 miles) southeast of Barcelona, and the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa are part of Spain, as are the tiny enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the north African mainland. With the exception of Switzerland, mainland Spain is the highest and most mountainous country in Europe, with an average height of 610m (2000ft). The Pyrenees stretch roughly 400km (249 miles) from the Basque Country in the west to the Mediterranean Sea; at times the peaks rise to over 1524m (5000ft), the highest point being 3404m (11,169ft). The main physical feature of Spain is the vast central plateau, or Meseta, divided by several chains of sierras. The higher northern area includes Castile and León, the southern section comprises Castile/La Mancha and Extremadura. In the south the plateau drops abruptly at the Sierra Morena, beyond which lies the valley of Guadalquivir. Southeast of Granada is the Sierra Nevada, part of the Betic Cordillera, which runs parallel to the Mediterranean, rising to 3481m (11,420ft) and the highest point on the Spanish peninsula (the Pico del Teide on Tenerife in the Canaries is the highest peak in Spain). The Mediterranean coastal area reaches from the French frontier in the northeast down to the Straits of Gibraltar, the narrow strip of water linking the Mediterranean with the Atlantic and separating Spain from North Africa.

The Climate Of Spain TOP

Spain's climate varies from temperate in the north to dry and hot in the south. The best months are from April to October, although mid-summer (July to August) can be excessively hot throughout the country except the coastal regions. Madrid is best in late spring or autumn. The central plateau can be bitterly cold in winter.

Required clothing: Light- to mediumweights and rainwear, according to the season.

Getting To Spain TOP

AIR: Spain's national airline is IBERIA (IB).

Approximate flight times: From London to Barcelona is 2 hours; to Ibiza is 2 hours 20 minutes; to Madrid is 2 hours and to Málaga is 2 hours 20 minutes. From Los Angeles to Madrid is 13 hours. From New York to Madrid is 7 hours 25 minutes. From Sydney to Madrid is 29 hours 5 minutes.

International airports: Madrid (MAD) (Barajas) is 13km (8 miles) northeast of the city. Coach service departs to the city every 20 minutes (0455-0130). Taxi service is available. Airport facilities include restaurants and bars (0700-2400), bank, several car hire offices, hotel reservation and tourist information desks, and outgoing duty-free shop.

Barcelona (BCN) (del Prat) is 13km (8 miles) southwest of the city. Bus service to the city departs every 15 minutes (0700-2300). Rail service is every 30 minutes (0645-1015). Taxi service to the city is available. Airport facilities include a bank, restaurant, bar, several car hire companies, hotel reservation and tourist information desks and duty-free shops.

Alicante (ALC) (Altet) is 12km (7 miles) southwest of the city. Coach service runs to the city (0700-2335). A taxi service is available to the city. There is a taxi connection between Alicante and Valencia Airport. Airport facilities include a duty-free shop, bank, bureau de change, car hire and restaurant.

Bilbao (BIO) is 9km (6 miles) north of the city. Bus and taxi services to the city are available. Airport facilities include a restaurant, duty-free shop, tourist information desk and car hire.

Málaga (AGP) is 11km (7 miles) southwest of the city. Bus runs every 30 minutes (0700-1030). Train service runs every 30 minutes (0700-1040). Taxi service to the city is available. Airport facilities include duty-free shop, bank, restaurant and car hire.

Santiago de Compostela (SCQ) is 10km (6 miles) northeast of the city. Buses and taxis are available to the city centre.

Seville (SVQ) is 12km (7 miles) from the city. Taxis are available to the city centre.

Valencia (VLC) (Manises) is 10km (6 miles) from the city. Taxis are available to the city centre. Airport facilities include several car hire firms, bank, restaurant, bar and duty-free shop.

SEA: Brittany Ferries (tel: 0990 360 360; web site: http://www.brittany-ferries.com) operates a service to Santander (on the north coast) from Plymouth (journey time – 24 hours). P&O European Ferries (tel: 0870 242 4999; web site: http://www.poef.com) operates a twice-weekly service from Portsmouth to Bilbao.

RAIL: There are direct trains between Madrid–Paris and Madrid–Lisbon, as well as Barcelona–Paris, Barcelona–Zürich–Milan and Barcelona–Geneva. These services are called Talgo, Estrella or Train-Hotel. On other international services to and from Spain, a change of train is necessary. Motorail services run between Paris and Madrid. Travelling from the UK, the quickest way is to travel by Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel to Paris (travel time – 3 hours) and, from there, to Spain. For further information and reservations contact Eurostar Enquiries, Eurostar House, Waterloo Station, London SE1 8SE (tel: (01233) 617 599; (travel agents) or (0990) 186 186 (members of the public); web site: http://www.eurostar.com); or Rail Europe (tel: (0990) 848 848).

ROAD: The main route from the UK is via France. The main motorways to Spain from France are via Bordeaux or Toulouse to Bilbao (northern Spain) and via Marseille or Toulouse to Barcelona (eastern Spain). A number of coach operators offer services to Spain. In the UK, Eurolines, departing from Victoria Coach Station in London, serves more than 20 destinations in Spain. For further information, contact Eurolines, 4 Cardiff Road, Luton LU1 1PP (tel: (01582) 404 511; fax: (01582) 400 694; e-mail: welcome@eurolinesuk.com; web site: http://www.eurolines.com).

Travelling Around Spain TOP

Scheduled flights connect all main towns as well as to the Balearic and Canary Islands and enclaves in North Africa. Air taxis are available at most airports. Reservations should be made well in advance.

SEA: There are regular hydrofoil and car and passenger ferry sailings from Algeciras to Ceuta (North African enclave); Málaga and Almeria to Melilla (North African enclave); Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante to the Balearic Islands; and Cádiz to the Canary Islands. There are also inter-island services. For further information, contact Trasmediterránea (tel: (91) 423 8500; fax: (91) 423 8555; web site: http://www.trasmediterranea.es) or their representative in the UK: Southern Ferries (tel: 020 7491 4968; fax: 020 7491 3502).

RAIL: The state-owned company RENFE (web site: http://www.renfe.es) operates a railway network connecting all the regions on the Iberian peninsula. It is mainly a radial network, with connections between Madrid and all the major cities. There are also some transversal services connecting the northwest coast with the Mediterranean coast, as well as services from the French border down the Mediterranean coast. Principal trains are air-conditioned, and many have restaurant or buffet service. Reservations for passenger services in Spain may be made in the UK through Ultima Travel (tel: (0151) 339 6171; fax: (0151) 339 9199).

Discount Rail Travel: The Spanish rail system is one of the cheapest in Europe and various discounts are available. Travellers can purchase a Spanish Railways Tourist Card which allows unlimited travel from three to ten days within two months and is valid for on all RENFE long-distance trains, with the exception of high-speed ones (the Ave and Talgo 200). No supplements are payable other than sleeping facilities on overnight services. There are no selling points in Europe but travellers may obtain the card at major railways stations in Spain, on presentation of their passport. Travellers can also enjoy savings by using any one of the European passes available, such as the Euro Domino Freedom Pass, which enables holders to make flexible travel arrangements. The pass is available in 19 European countries, but must be bought in the country of residence for which a valid passport or other form of ID has to be shown. In the UK, this pass is available from Rail Europe (tel: (0990) 848 848). The tickets are valid for 3, 5 or 10 days within one month. Also available from Rail Europe, the Inter-Rail Pass allows up to 50% reductions for 2nd class rail travel in 29 countries; the pass is now also available for those aged over 26 (though they pay approximately 40% more than those aged under 26). The Rail Europe Senior (RES) card entitles senior citizens to 25% discount on rail travel into and out of Spain even during peak hours. This discount does not apply when only travelling internally. The card is available from all British Rail stations.

Note: Seat reservations are required on all intercity trains. This ruling applies to the passes and cards mentioned above.

High-Speed Trains: The Ave service connects Madrid and Seville in under three hours, with 12 services each way via Córdoba. Some services also stop at Ciudad Real and Puerto Llano (La Mancha). The Talgo 200 connects Madrid and Malaga thrice-daily in less than five hours. Holders of most of the cards and passes mentioned above qualify for discounts, albeit less substantial than the rates quoted above.

Tourist Trains: The Transcantábrico and Andalus Express offer a pleasant way of discovering their respective regions. There are also a number of privately-run narrow-gauge railways in Spain, located mainly in the north of Spain as well as the Mediterranean coast and the Balearic Islands, which run at a leisurely pace through picturesque scenery. For more information on tourist trains, contact the Spanish National Tourist Office (see address section).

ROAD: There are more than 150,000km (95,000 miles) of roads. Motorways are well-maintained and connect Spain north–south. Tolls are in operation on some sections and have to be paid in Pesetas. Trunk roads between major cities are generally fast and well-maintained. Rural roads are of differing quality. Bus: There are bus lines which are efficient and cheap, operating between cities and towns. Departures are generally from a central terminal at which the operators will have individual booths selling tickets. Most places have a bus link of some kind, even the more remote villages. Car hire: All major car hire companies are represented in major cities. Motorcycles: No person under 18 may hire or ride a vehicle over 75cc. Crash helmets must be worn. Regulations: Traffic drives on the right. Side lights must be used at night in built-up areas. Spare bulbs and red hazard triangles must be kept in all vehicles. Traffic lights: two red lights mean 'No Entry'. The speed limit for motorways is 130kph (80mph) in general, but for buses and lorries the limit is 100kph (60mph); in built-up areas the limit is 50kph (30mph); for other roads it is 90kph (56mph). Documentation: EU pink format licences are accepted. Third Party insurance is also required and a Green Card is strongly recommended.

URBAN: Traffic in Spanish cities is normally heavy, and urban driving takes some time to adjust to. City public transport facilities are generally good. Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao and Madrid have metros as well as buses. Pre-purchase multi-journey tickets are sold. Other towns and resorts are well served by local buses. Metered taxis are available in most major cities and a 2-3% tip is customary.

JOURNEY TIMES: The following chart gives approximate journey times (in hours and minutes) from Madrid to other major cities/towns in Spain.


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