Discover Spanish charm beyond the coast

Two Selling Travel Connect: Spain events were held in Leeds and Manchester to raise awareness of culture-rich alternatives to Spain's tourist hotspots.

Representatives of four inland regions – Aragón, Castilla la Mancha, Extremadura and Castilla y León -and the Spanish Tourist Office gave presentations about parts of Spain often overlooked by British holidaymakers.

Changing perceptions of Spain

Each supplier was keen to showcase lesser-known regions of Spain and give agents some pointers on how to go beyond the usual tourist route to uncover some traditional Spanish gems.

“What we want to do is change the perceptions of northern agents regarding what Spain has to offer for their clients,” said Esther Rojo Barroso, Head of Trade relations and MICE at the Spanish Tourist Office in London.

“Everybody knows the coast of Spain, which is beautiful and has some attractive holiday destinations, but we also want people to know the lesser-known places in interior Spain. We are introducing it so travel agents can sell it to their clients.”

Spain is easily accessible from airports across the UK and connections on the high-speed train have made it simple to explore more remote regions of the country.

“From Manchester you have flights to Madrid and you can travel to most of these places on the high-speed train. Spain has the second-largest high-speed rail network in the world behind China,” said Rojo Barroso.

“Additionally, there is a flight from Stansted to Zaragoza in Aragaon. The coast and the islands are better served with flights but that should not deter people from going to Madrid and getting a train or hiring a car and visiting these beautiful places,” she continued.

The tourist board is keen to promote Spain as a destination rich in culture and is encouraging visitors to venture beyond the beaches to experience authentic Spanish traditions.

“When it comes to culture, we have just as much to offer as any other European country but many people are unaware of this because they have been visiting our beaches since the 1960s and they have not been incentivised to explore further. We need to change that perception as Spain has so much more to offer British travellers,” explained Rojo Barroso.

“We are redoubling our efforts to get out to the north of England and make presentations that showcase our gastronomy, culture and interior regions so that people can go and experience them for themselves,” she concluded.

Spain is a multifaceted destination

Described as “one of the cradles of Spanish culture” Castilla y León in northwestern Spain is a destination for food and wine and “one of the most important destinations in the world for wine tourism,” explained Alberto Bosque from the Castilla y León Tourism Board.

“The wine complements other reasons to visit Castilla y León, including birdwatching, golf, culture and shopping. You can discover how the culture of the wine has evolved, visit wineries and stay at wineries that have opened their own hotels,” he added.

The famous Camino de Santiago, the St James’ Way pilgrimage route, travels through the region, also. “At more than 1,000 years old it’s the oldest itinerary in the history of tourism,” shared Bosque. “We also have the ‘golden triangle’ of three UNESCO World Heritage Site cities: Segovia, Avila and Salamanca.”

Alternatives to mass tourism destinations

Bordering Portugal in western Spain, Extremadura is a great choice for clients looking to experience the real Spain and avoid mass tourism, agents were told.

“We have lots for travellers interested in culture, nature and gastronomy and good hotels,” said Yadira Chaparro Ballestero of Extremadura Turismo.

“We have created new tourism products combining the public and the private sectors. We have four sustainable gastronomy routes themed around olive oil, cheese, Iberian ham as well as wine and cava. Following them means opportunities to stay at specialised hotels, and get an insight into our local produce,” she added.

Extremadura is also a birding paradise and “is a region that appeals to people who appreciate heritage and culture and don’t want to be in crowded places,” Ballestero concluded.

Adventure in the Pyrenees

Located in northeastern Spain, Aragon is rich in terms of history, art, nature and activities, explained Ignacio Rodriguez Ruiz from the Aragon region.

“Aragon’s Huesca La Magia was named Europe’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination 2023 at the 30th edition of the World Travel Awards and we also have four UNESCO sites,” he added, referencing the region’s Mudejar architecture, Aljafería Palace in Zaragoza, the landscape and wildlife of Monte Perdido in the Pyrenees plus the ancient rock art that is spread across numerous sites.

Authenticity and lots of festivals

Located in Central Spain and easily accessible from Madrid and Valencia, Castillla-La Mancha has a year-round calendar of festivals and music events.

“Castillla-La Mancha is a cultural destination,” said Alberto Alverez Rodriguez representing Castilla-La Mancha. “Toledo and Cuenca are historic UNESCO cities with a lot of activities and festivals every year: Easter – Semana Santa – is very popular in Cuenca and in Toledo Corpus Christi is too. Throughout the year we have lots of musical concerts, activities and popular festivals,” he added.

“Castillla-La Manchais the land of Don Quixote (a Spanish novel published in 1600s). I think it’s a good opportunity if you’re interested in culture, gastronomy and nature – particularly bird life – it’s fantastic for the UK market,” added Rodriguez.

A travel agent’s insight

“These regions of Spain are reasonably unknown to me,” said Personal Travel Consultant Tom Parsley of Hays Travel. “I’m looking to get knowledge. Spain is a number one destination for us, so it’s good to be able to take something else to people. People are always looking for something ‘new’,” Parsley added.

Agents won a fam trip to discover these regions at each event.