The many high mountains and the vast central plain or meseta offer excellent opportunities for hiking, mountaineering and walking. Particularly suitable for trekkers are the mountains in the north of the country. The Pyrenees, which cover an area of 450 sq km, feature breathtaking scenery with rocky walls, lakes and ravines. The Picos de Europa, just west of Santander, are also wild and dramatic, with some peaks rising to over 2600 meters (8528 feet). Spain’s flora and fauna includes the brown bear (found in the Asturias), the cabra hispánica or mountain goat (relatively common in the Pyrenees and the Sierra de Gredos, west of Avila) and the rare capercallie or European grouse (in the forests of northern Spain). There are good opportunities for rock climbing in the mountains. Well known, challenging climbs include the Naranjo de Bulnes in the Picos de Europa and Monte Perdido in Ordesa National Park. Mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular, and paths and tracks are plentiful, making most areas accessible. Spain’s long equestrian tradition means that horse riding can easily be arranged. Mountain trails, river valleys and the wide plains can all be explored on horseback.
Swimming, water-skiing, and windsurfing facilities can be found at nearly all seaside resorts. These can be busy in the summer months. Spain’s premier windsurfing resort is Tarifa, on the Straits of Gibraltar, where the world championships are held. Inland lakes on the meseta in the regions of Castilla and Extremadura also have good facilities for windsurfing. Whitewater rafting and canoeing are practiced on the rapids in northern Spain. Centers are well equipped and have skilled staff. Sailing is very popular, both around the coast and inland. Spain has over 4000km of coastline, and there are many harbors. Over 100 sailing clubs exist, most of which are located near the Mediterranean. Diving is also popular; permits can be acquired from the relevent regional authorities.
Excellent opportunities exist for all types of fishing. The rivers and streams of the Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa offer good freshwater game fishing, while trout is abundant throughout the country. The Asturias contain the best salmon rivers. Other catches include barbel, perch, pike and tench. Permits must be requested from the regional authorities.
This is becoming increasingly popular, with both Costa del Sol and La Manga emerging as two of Spain’s premier golfing destinations. At present, Spain has over 200 golf courses, including courses designed by the likes of Robert Trent Jones, Severiano Ballesteros, Jack Niklaus and Jose María Olazabel. The Valderrama (near Madrid) is particularly well known. Spain’s balmy climate allows for a long golf season. Tuition and equipment hire are widely available.
Spain offers great opportunities for skiing and there are many natural ski-runs and winter resorts, equipped with modern facilities, all blessed with the promise of warm sun and blue skies. There is also a wide range of hotels, inns and refuges from which to choose.
There are five main skiing regions in Spain; these are the Pyrenean Range, the Cantabrian Range, the Iberian Chain, the Central Chain and the Penibetic Chain. These ranges have diverse characteristics and all are attractive for mountaineering in general and for winter sports in particular. For further details, see Madrid and the regions of Cantabria, Catalonia and Navarre & Aragon in the Where to Go section.
A typical and spectacular sport is pelota vasca, or jai-alai. Most major northern Spanish cities have courts where daily matches are played from October to June. In the towns and cities of the Basque regions, the game is played in summer as well. Football is probably the most popular spectator sport, with clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona being among the most famous in the world; first-class matches are usually played on Sunday. International matches are also staged from time to time. There is a magnificent horse racing track in Madrid with meetings in the autumn and spring; there is racing in San Sebastián in the summer and in Seville in winter. Motor racing is a popular spectator sport in Barcelona and Cadiz.