Information on Spain
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.
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
Required clothing: Light- to mediumweights and rainwear,
according to the season.
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site:
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
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.