Spain, which has been in the midst of a stop-start recession for the past 5 years, recently announced that its economy grew by 0.3 % in the final quarter of 2013. According to Luis de Guindos, Spain’s Economy Minister, “the growth rate, albeit modest, was the fastest since the start of the Spanish economic crisis 5 years ago.” Tourism accounted for more than 10% of the country’s economic growth, as Spain collected £59 billion ($81 billion) from foreign tourists. British, German, and Russian visitors boosted spending in Spain by 9.6 %, with Russian tourists spending by the greatest margin.
While widespread reforms, austerity policies, and slashed spending pulled Spain back from the precipice of a full-scale EU bailout, the country’s world-class cities and 5,000 miles of coastline played a role in the modest recovery, too. In 2013, Spain took over the world’s number three spot for international tourism, surpassing China by hosting a record 60.6 million foreign visitors; the country now lags only America’s 61 million international tourist arrivals and France’s 83 million. From the Costa Brava to the Costa del Sol, Spain has some of the most unique and beautiful beaches in Europe, so we hope the 60.6 million tourists who visited the country in 2013 had a chance to spread out a beach towel, sip a sangria, and relax on one of these swaths of sand.
10. Sotavento Beach, Canary Islands
Located on Fuertaventura, the second largest of the Canary Islands, Sotavento Beach features 17-miles of fine, sugary white sand. The shape and nature of Sotavento, however, changes greatly depending on whether the tide is in or out; when it is out, the beach feels particularly expansive, and the 17-miles of sugary white sand seems more like 170-miles, making it an ideal place for couples looking to enjoy some privacy. Sotavento has strong swells and wind currents; the beach is a paradise for surfers and kite flyers. Every August Sotavento hosts the World Kite Surf Championship.
9. Cala Algaiarens, Menorca
Menorca is quieter than its neighboring Balearica Islands, and at the height of summer there are far fewer tourists than on Majorca or Ibiza. Cala Algaiarens, otherwise known as “La Vall,” is a large, wide cove on the western side of Menorca that is split into two golden beaches: Es Tancats and Es Bot. The water is clear and shallow, which is perfect for families with children, or for grabbing the snorkel gear and exploring the underwater caves that dot the craggy coastline. Surrounded by dunes, marshland, pine forest and oak groves, the region forms one of Menorca’s Natural Areas of Special Interest.
8. Barceloneta, Barcelona
When it comes to location, location, location, there is no beach better situated than Barceloneta, which is just a 5-minute walk from the center of Barcelona. The area was originally a fishermen’s village, but since the 1992 Olympics developers have turned it into a mini Fort Lauderdale; with its upscale hotels, high-rise condos and restaurants, it’s now a top vacation destination. What Barceloneta lacks in natural beauty (and there are more striking beaches on Barcelona’s 4.5 mile coastline) it makes up for with beach bars, tapas joints, seafood restaurants, and a vibrant party atmosphere. Compete with beach volleyball, beach tennis, table tennis, a gymnastics area, and kiosks to rent lounge chairs and umbrellas, Barceloneta is a classic city beach.
7. Playa del Monsul, Almeria
Located on the southeast tip of Spain, Cabo de Gata is a coastal nature reserve. The landscape is stark, desert-like, and the historical center of much volcanic activity. Playa del Monsul is the most well known beach in Cabo de Gata. In peak season the road to Playa del Monsul is closed to private traffic, and the only access to the beach is by bus; the limited access to the beach has protected and preserved the areas natural beauty, which includes volcanic rock formations and half-moon bays, dizzying cliffs and hidden coves. One of the most popular landmarks of Playa del Monsul is a massive rock that towers out of the turquoise waters, and which acts as a natural diving board for the more adventurous tourists.
6. Rodas Beach, Galicia
The lllas Cies are a trio of islands in Spain’s northwest region. Locals call the pristine and well-protected isles the “Galician Caribbean.” The only way to access lllas Cies is to take a 50-minute ferry ride from the town of Vigo. The two main islands, llla do Monte Ayuda and llla do Faro, are connected by a slip known as Rodas Beach. With powder white sands overlooking twinkling blue waters, Rodas Beach is one of the prettiest beaches in Spain. Every year scores of tourists descend on Rodas Beach; however, being that the islands are designated nature reserve, the “Galician Caribbean” remains undeveloped, with only a smattering of bars, a restaurant, market, and campground.
5. Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote
Famous for its solidified lava streams and otherworldly rock formations, Lanzarote, the easternmost of the Canary Islands, emerged after the African and American continental plates split. Part ethereal, sci-fi moonscape, part adventurer’s playground, Lanzarote has volcanic, black sand beaches as well as champagne-golden sands. The Playa Papagayo is located in southern Lanzarote, which is where most of the golden sand beaches are found. Papagayo is quiet, remote and separated by high promontories; the closest coastal town is a 5-mile drive. The surrounding terrain is filled with hiking and mountain biking trails, and there is a cliff-top bar with spectacular views of Playa Blanca and Fuerteventura.
4. Nerja, Costa del Sol
Spain has over 5,000 miles of coastline, but many travelers, when they think about Spanish beaches, envision one thing and one thing only: the Costa del Sol. The Costa del Sol has been a de riguer destination since 1950s and 60s, when film icons like Brigitte Bardot made the area her stomping ground, and aristocratic playboys and uber-rich yachtsmen turned it into a happening swinger’s paradise. Today, while the Costa del Sol may be an overhyped, overcrowded, and overpriced concrete jungle, there is no amount of commercialization that can tarnish the beauty of the beaches in the Nerja region. From Playazo and Burriana to Salon and Carabeo, these pristine playas are perfect for living the good life.
3. Catedrales Beach, Galicia
The “Beach of the Cathedrals” is declared a Natural Monument by Galicia’s Ministry of the Environment, and with its cliffs, caves and 30-meter tall arches, the landscape looks like something out of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 film L’Avventura. Located west of Ribadeo, on the Cantabric coast, the beach is celebrated for its unusual rock formations; the cliffs and arches, having been shaped and sculpted by wind and sea erosion, look like flying buttresses. From picturesque sea caves to sand corridors that stretch between rock formations at low tide, the cracks, crevices and geological curiosities along this stretch of coastline are legendary.
2. Cala Tarida, Ibiza
Nicknamed the “Gomorrah of the Med” and located 49 miles off the coast of eastern Spain, Ibiza is globally recognized for its DJ culture and electronic music scene. A-list celebrities and selfie-snapping groups of giddy spring breakers flock to the largest of the Balearic Islands for its bars and nightclubs; hotspots like Pacha, Space, and Privilege have hosted super-star DJs for decades, including Peter Tong, David Geutta, and Fatboy Slim. However, beyond the luxurious cliff-side villas, the gleaming super-yachts moored off of Ibiza Town, and the riotous, dusk-to-dawn pool parties, the island boasts some stunning beaches. Tucked behind sandstone cliffs, Cala Tarida is a remote bay and a perfect place to escape (if only until the next DJ set) Ibiza’s hedonistic crowd of revelers. Stretching over rugged outcrops, the bay’s crystal, gin-clear waters are filled with secret coves and hidden hamlets, which make it a perfect place for snorkeling or a late afternoon swim.
1. Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian
The beauty of San Sebastian’s Playa de la Concha (shell beach) is that it’s technically a city beach, as the sprawling oasis is only a 10-minute walk from the center of San Sebastian’s Old Town. However, Playa de la Concha isn’t an urban beach like Coney Island or the Jersey Shore, dotted with high-rises, kitschy amusements and souvenir shops, but a horseshoe-shaped crescent with an elegant waterfront boulevard that is framed by turn-of-the-century houses. The Playa de la Concha is connected to two adjacent beaches, the Playa de Ondarreta and the Playa de la Zurriola, creating a ribbon of white sand that is one and a half kilometers long. Vibrant and romantic, Playa de La Concha is one of the most photographed beaches Spain.
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