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THE LOCAL LIST

LIFE IN SPAIN

Life in Spain in 2022: 16 things to add to your bucket list

The Local brings you the ultimate Spanish bucket list.

Life in Spain in 2022: 16 things to add to your bucket list
Spain is just waiting to be explored. Photo: Rvdo. Kaskajales / Flickr

Visit the Alhambra


Photo: Depositphotos

The Moorish fortress in Granada is Spain’s most-visited tourist attraction for a reason; the stunning building has some of the best-preserved examples of Islamic architecture in the world and is, along with the nearby Generalife gardens, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Marvel at Guernica


Photo: AFP

If you had to see only one painting in Spain make it Picasso´s masterpiece in Madrid´s Reina Sofia Museum. The Spanish artist was inspired to paint the black and white depiction of the bombings of the Basque city of Guernica after reading a graphic description of the carnage that followed by British journalist George Steer.

Eat jamón

The undisputed national food of Spain, you have to try some authentic jamón iberico from acorn-fed pigs who have been lovingly raised to make the very finest hams. Marvel as the expert ham-cutters slice wafer thin slices of the melt-in-the-mouth meat.

Visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao


Photo: AFP

The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum is a modern architectural masterpiece. Sitting on the banks of the Nervion River, the museum helped garner the former industrial powerhouse of Bilbao with a new reputation as a centre of art and culture.   

Hike the Camino de Santiago


Photo: AFP

The pilgrimage route leading to the shrine of St. James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain has been popular with walkers for centuries. Nowadays the route is popular with both the faithful and non-religious, attracting over 200,000 walkers in 2014 alone. Look out for the St. James´shells – the symbol of the route – which are located along the way. 

Kill the night in Madrid


Photo: Jose Maria Cuellar/Flickr 

“Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night,” Ernest Hemingway famously said of the Spanish capital, renowned for its hedonistic nightlife. Madrid has some of the most bars per capita of any country in Europe, so you’ll be spoilt for choice as you explore what the city has to offer.

Eat at Spain’s best restaurant 


A dish from El Celler de Can Roca. Photo: Robert Young/Flickr 

If you are lucky enough to get a table then tick off a visit to Spain’s best restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona. The three Michelin star Catalan restaurant, owned by three brothers, is number three on the list of  the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards, but held the top spot in 2015.  

Winter sports in the Sierra Nevada


Photo:  Álvaro Salas Ordóñez / Flickr Creative Commons.

Spain might be famous for its sun. sea and sangria but you could soon be adding snow to that list. Hit the powder at Europe’s most southerly ski resort, the Sierra Nevada, near Granada. The resort is the highest in Spain and the ski season can last from late November until early May. 

Eat pintxos in San Sebastián


Photo: AFP

San Sebastián in the Basque Country is the home of pintxos – tiny morsels of delicious food usually on top of a slice of baguette. The city is world-famous as the culinary capital of Spain and is not to be missed. From hearty traditional pintxos on bar tops to some of the most exciting modern cuisine – you’ll find it all in San Sebastián. 

Wine tasting in La Rioja


Photo: SantiMB.photos/Flickr

Spanish wine is among the most underrated in the world and there’s no better way to learn more about it than to go wine tasting in Spain’s most famous wine-making region: La Rioja. The Ebro valley is scattered with vineyards and is a perfect destination for gourmets and wine buffs. 

Throw tomatoes at La Tomatina


Photo: AFP

One of Spain’s most iconic and messiest festivals, La Tomatina attracts thousands of participants every year to the town of Buñol for nothing more than a giant food fight exclusively featuring tomatoes. Make sure you come prepared – goggles are a must! 

Watch an Easter Parade


Photo: AFP

Spaniards love Easter and every town and city has at least one major Easter Parade, often several throughout Holy Week. Members of religious brotherhoods march through the streets in the traditional robes and conical hoods carrying huge statues of Jesus. Some of the most elaborate and exciting parades to watch take place in southern Spanish cities such as Seville and Malaga. 

Watch authentic flamenco in Andalusia


Photo: AFP

It might be a Spanish cliché but authentic flamenco is an immersive, dramatic and unforgettable experience. You can do no better than watching flamenco in the region where it was born: Andalusia. Be it in Granada or during the Feria de Abril in Seville, experiencing flamenco is a must when visiting Spain. 

Discover Gaudi’s Barcelona


Photo: Juan Salmoral/Flickr 

You can’t visit Barcelona without learning about its most famous son, who left an indelible mark on the city – Antoni Gaudi. Visit the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia (get there early to beat the crowds) and Park Güell, which looks like it has been based on the house made of sweets in Hansel and Gretel. Climb up to the rooftop of the Casa Milà for great views over the city and marvel at the legacy left by the man who designed the city’s most iconic architecture.  

Dream in a piece of history


Parador de Santo Estevo, Ourense. Photo: parador.es

Spain’s state-run Parador hotel chain offers luxury accommodation in some of the most beautiful, unusual and historic buildings across the country. From an old monastery perched in the Galician hills to the fourteenth century Arab fort of Carmona, you are guaranteed an unforgettable stay if you choose a parador.

Cheer on a football team


Photo: IntangibleArts/Flickr 

Spain is football mad and the ultimate experience for any footie fan is to watch one of the big Spanish teams play a home match. Watching Real Madrid at the Bernabeu or Barcelona at Camp Nou is an unforgettable experience – and you’ve really hit the jackpot if you’re in town for El Clásico – when Real Madrid take on Barcelona. The atmosphere is electrifying. 

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UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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