Costa del Sol, Spain
Costa del Sol, Spain

Talk to me about Spain in the late summer!

Talk to me about Spain in the late summer! I'm planning my trip now and want to have a hell of a time!—LisaBoulder, CO

Costa del Sol, Spain

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That's quite a broad question, isn't it, Lisa? But, if you want Spain, I'll give you Spain. First we'll start with the basics. As you know, the kingdom of Spain lies on the Iberian Peninsula, bordered by the Mediterranean on the south and east, those crazy French and the Atlantic to the north, and Portugal to the west. The people in the very south can even see Morocco from their house (almost). So its cultural influences are as rich and varied as anywhere. The climate is incredibly diverse, from the verdant, mountainous north to the dry, beach-fringed southeast (which is quickly getting drier from global warming, but I won't even get started with that). Most important for you, Spain is fun central for the rest of Europe. This is where the Germans, French, Brits, and the other continental types go when they want to cut loose (which can be a good and bad thing, because those Liechtensteiners, for one, can get really out of control). So if you're making your plans now for a summer trip, be ready for company. And because of Spain's extreme heat during the heart of the season, even the natives flee from the cities—which is why the focus here will be on giving a three-point rundown of things to do outside of Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and the other major urban areas, divided into three, easy-to-use experiences.

Costa del Sol, Spain

Costa del Sol, Spain Costa del Sol, Spain


For hiking and rock climbing in summer weather, head north. The Pyrenees are popular, but I'd like to suggest the quieter mountains of the Basque country. The area's most epic day climb is Antobo, a jagged fin of limestone jutting into the sky within the Urkiola Natural Park, which is sometimes called Little Switzerland, about a half-hour from Bilbao (home to Frank Gehry's astounding Guggenheim Bilbao Museum). The park's vertical stone walls in the Atxarte Pass also make for some of the country's best rock climbing.

Everyone heads to the beach here in the summer months because the heat is that oppressive. Thankfully, there's more than 5,000 miles of coastline, so your choices are pretty much endless—and it's hard to go wrong. The popular area among other Europeans is Costa del Sol, on the Mediterranean in the southeast, from Gibraltar to Malaga. For a grown-up kind of resorty Florida spring break experience (spiced with Liechtensteiners) head here. The bleached sands of Costa Blanca, on the country's east-central shore around Alicante are just as lively. Serenity-seeking Spaniards head to the Atlantic coast at this time of year, to the beaches of Galicia. The white sands of Las Islas Cies, in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, are considered the most beautiful in the world—particularly at Rodas Beach, on the Cies Islands, which is only accessible by a 40-minute passenger ferry from Baiona.

There are two can't miss cultural events held each summer: the August Fair in Malaga (on the southern Costa del Sol), and La Tomatina food fight festival in Bunol (just inland from Valencia and two hours north of Alicante on Costa Blanca). The August Fair is a weeklong street bash held late in the month, celebrating Isabella and Ferdinand's recapture of the city in 1487. Paper lanterns hang everywhere, flamenco blasts on the streets throughout the day as people dance in traditional outfits, and much, much merriment is made. The highlight of La Tomatina, which runs for a week and begins on the last Wednesday of August, is the final event: a massive tomato fight. In the course of one hour, about 20,000 people throw nearly 100,000 pounds of overripe tomatoes at each other in a massive food batalla. The rest of the festival is simply an excuse to drink Spanish wine, watch fireworks, and be silly.
–Greg Melville