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FEATURE

The 20 maps that will help you understand Spain

Despite its reputation for being the land of sun, siesta and sangría, Spain is a multifaceted country with much more to it than that. These 20 maps help to shed some light on what "España" is really all about.

The 20 maps that will help you understand Spain
Medieval map of Spain at Segovia's Alcazar palace. Photo Deposit Photos

It took 781 years for Spaniards to re-conquer Spain

These four maps show the slow progression of Christian military forces from north to south after the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 711.

The Kingdom of Asturias (which back then included Galicia and Cantabria) was never under Muslim rule.

Photo: Historioseando.com 

Spaniards are a mixed genetic bunch

The following heat map reveals the amount of North African DNA found in regional populations across mainland Spain.

The lighter the colour the bigger the amount of Berber genes, which is surprising considering that Galicians- known for their Celtic roots – are the regional group with the most North African blood.

The biogene map doesn’t show the Canary Islands however, where traces of the Guanche DNA (the original inhabitants of the archipelago) have been found in more than 50 percent of the local population.
 

Map: BioRxViv

Their empire was only second to the British one

The Spanish empire officially lasted from 1492 to 1898.

At its peak it included large swathes of current-day USA, Mexico, much of the Caribbean, most of Central and South America, the Philippines, the Netherlands and parts of Italy.

Map: mundoantiguo.net

It has 17 distinctive autonomous communities

Spain’s 17 regions all hold some degree of self-governance, as do its two autonomous cities in north Africa Ceuta and Melilla.

The most populated region is Andalucia with 8.4 million and the least is La Rioja in the north with 321,000.

Map: Deposit Photos

Spanish isn’t the only language spoken

The following map illustrates how Castilian Spanish is the only language spoken in the vast majority of Spain’s interior and south, but in the north and east of the country distinctive languages such as Galician, Basque and Catalan are also widely spoken.

In the Basque Country for example, 34 percent of the population speaks Euskera (as the language is called in Basque), a linguistic enigma which has nothing to do with Romance languages.

Photo: Wikimedia

Spain is packed full of natural and man-made wonders

A total of 17 Spanish cities have been awarded the UNESCO World Heritage prize, with a total of 45 places across the country being handed the accolade as well.

That means Spain is only behind Italy (51) and China (50) on the global UNESCO rankings.

Map: UNESCO

All roads lead to Santiago

The world-famous pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela doesn’t just start within the borders of the north-western region of Galicia.

As this map illustrates, there are routes starting all the way up in northern France and down southern Spain, many of them centuries old.

Map: Editorial Buen Camino 

Spain isn’t always sunny and hot

The following three maps illustrate how Spain has more than just one climate.

There’s the dry climate of the interior (scorching summers and bitter cold winters), the Mediterranean weather of the east (hot summers and wet but mild winters), the Atlantic climate of the north (always colder and rainier than the rest of Spain) and then there’s the Canary Islands (springtime all year round).

Map: sites.google.com

To get an even better idea of the weather in Spain, the two maps below show average summer and winter temperatures.

Map:Spain’s National Geographical Information Institute

Spain is full of mountains

Spain is Europe’s fourth most mountainous country after Switzerland, Austria and Greece. As this map shows, a large part of its interior is taken up by a huge plateau called “la Meseta Central”, which has an average altitude of 660 metres.

Even though Spain shares the Pyrenees mountain range with France, its highest peak is all the way down in the Canary Islands: Tenerife’s Mount Teide (3,718 metres high).

Map:Spain’s National Geographical Information Institute

Plenty of food for thought

This nifty map of Spanish food by region shows just how dominant cold meats are across much of the country when it comes to staple foods. On paper, Spain is certainly not a country for vegetarians!

Photo: ibericaspanishfood.co.uk

A veritable ‘cheesathon’

As this map of cheeses depicts, Spain has no reason to envy Mediterranean neighbours France and Italy when it comes to its repertoire of “quesos”.

Map: Mercado de La Cebada/Taste Atlas

Crash course in Spanish wine

Next time you’re at a dinner party and somebody brings along a bottle of Spanish wine that’s not Rioja, use this ‘cheat sheet’ map to impress them with your Iberian ‘vino’ knowledge, from Abariños to Verdejos.

Map: winefolly.com 

Spain has plenty of trains but not all of them are fast

Ever since the first train tracks were laid down between Barcelona and Mataróin 1829, Spain’s railway network has expanded enormously.

Unfortunately as this map reflects, not much of the 16,026 kilometres that make up the network are high-speed yet.
 

Map: maps-spain.com

The regional trains in Spain are mainly not on the plain

Spain’s commuter rail systems operate in 12 of the country’s main metropolitan areas but large swathes of Spain’s interior don’t have this useful means of transport at their disposal.

Map: Maximilian Dörrbecker/Wikimedia

Make sure you don’t speed on Spanish motorways

As this map by Spain’s traffic authority the DGT shows, there are speed cameras scattered across much of the highway network, although the spread isn’t always even.
 

Map: DGT

Spaniards keep flocking to the cities

Rural depopulation is a big problem in Spain, with many places that were once lively trading posts turning into ghost towns and villages.

On the following map, the areas in green show Spanish municipalities that have fewer inhabitants than in 2001 (the darker the green the more severe the depopulation has been).

Map: Territorial Administrations Ministry of Spain 

Corruption is a coastal thing

This insightful map put together by citizen support group #Nolesvotes (#Don’tvoteforthem) illustrates where cases of political corruption have emerged in Spain.

The capital isn’t spared but the most eye-opening finding is the sheer number of corruption cases involving Spain’s two main parties PP and PSOE that have emerged along the country’ eastern and southern coast in Valencia, Murcia and Andalucia.

Map: Google Maps/#Nolesvotes

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TRAVEL

What you need to know about Spain’s campervan and motorhome rules

If you're considering a campervan or motorhome holiday in Spain this Easter, there are several rules you need to be aware of, from the difference between parking and camping to the number of nights you can legally stay in one place.

campervan rules in Spain
Photo: Ian Usher / Unsplash

According to Aseicar, the Spanish Association of Caravan Industry and Commerce, campervan and motor home sales rose by 20 percent last summer during the pandemic. This equated to around 1,208 new motorhomes on Spain’s roads. 

Currently in Spain there are approximately 70,000 motorhomes and campervans and 230,000 caravans, but only around 1,000 service areas designed for them. This means that there is a shortage of spaces, and many people choose to park in wild or natural areas instead. 

Where can I camp and where can I park?

As a general rule, wild camping in Spain is not allowed, even in a recreational vehicle, and you must find appropriate campsites to stay the night.

According to Furgoneteate and On Road Magazine however, there are several caveats to this rule, meaning you can spend the night somewhere that is not a campsite. You are allowed to park your campervan anywhere where parking is permitted and sleep in it for the night, providing that you are not showing that you’re camping there.

What does this mean? Essentially that you can park somewhere for the night, cook, eat, sleep and do whatever else you want to do inside your private campervan, but you cannot extend your living area to the outside.

This also means that you cannot set tables and chairs up outside your campervan, you are not allowed to set up your awning or anything else that shows you might be there for some time, and you cannot turn on an electric generator. From the outside, it must look as though you are simply parked and not camping. 

Sometimes you can find specific camping areas in National and Natural Parks, however as a general rule, wild camping is prohibited within these parks.

There are also rules about parking and camping next to the coast. General Traffic Regulations state that they “prohibit parking and circulation, as well as camping and camping sites, 20 meters from the beach in an urban area or 100 meters in a rurual area, counted from the shore of the sea”.

Campervan and motorhome rules in Spain. Photo: Fabian / Unsplash

To make things more confusing however, each region, and sometimes each municipality has slightly different rules when it comes to how long you can park your campervan in one spot. 

The regions mentioned below have specific campervan rules or limits on the number of hours you can park one. If a region is not mentioned, it doesn’t have specific limits on the number of hours you can stay, but wild camping is still prohibited, so make sure you are parked and not camping.

Catalonia

Last summer, Catalonia brought in a new law, limiting the amount of time that a private campervan or motorhome could be parked in one space (other than a campsite) to a maximum of 48 hours.

Valencia region

In January 2021, the Government of Valencia brought about changes to its decree on regulating tourism accommodation. It added the word ‘motorhome’ to the decree that wild camping will be prohibited. It defined ‘wild camping’ as “the installation of tents, caravans, motorhomes or other mobile shelters, intending to stay overnight in places other than the establishments covered by this provision”.

This law came into effect on May 8th 2021, but has already caused much confusion among camping enthusiasts. So much so that a group of them banned together and demanded more clarification from the Valencian government.

The government responded by saying that the decree doesn’t include any reference to motorhome parking with or without the intention of overnight and doesn’t regulate parking in anyway. Therefore, it can be concluded that it is still allowed to park and stay overnight in your private campervan, providing you’re not camping. 

Andalusia

In Andalusia there seems to be even more of a grey area with regards to campervans and motorhomes than in other regions. Like in many other regions, the practice of wild camping is prohibited. The Decree in Andalusia however defines wild camping as “the installation of mobile shelters, caravans, tents or other similar elements easily transportable or removable outside campsites”. Obviously, campervans are mobile and removable, therefore it’s unclear in this region what is allowed and what is not allowed.

To be on the safe side, stick to campsites and designated campervan parking areas, however if you do park for the night outside these areas, make sure it doesn’t look as though you are camping in any way.

Galicia

In Galicia, motorhomes and campervans are considered as vehicles and, as such, they can spend the night in parking areas, as long as they do not display items outside the vehicle and they do not occupy more than one space. There are however different rules on how long you can stay in each place depending on which municipality you are in. For example, in the municipality of Porto do Son, southwest of Santiago de Compostela, you can only spend a maximum of one night.

Navarra

The Navarra Tourism Board state that campervan stays should be “short and limited”, however they don’t define the exact number of nights or hours.

Castilla-La Mancha

This is a 48-hour limit on parking your campervan or motorhome in Castilla-La Mancha.

Murcia

This is a 72-hour limit on parking your campervan or motorhome in Murcia.

Asturias

In Asturias, only vehicles classified as motorhomes may park in areas specially reserved for them, excluding any other type of vehicles such as trucks, caravans and cars. The maximum parking time in these areas is 48 hours.

Where can I camp or park with my campervan or motorhome?

The map below by España Discovery shows where you can camp in Spain. 

To find out where you can park for the night, the website and app Park4Night offers a global map in which people pin their favourite spots to stay overnight. 

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