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Travel within Spain: the least touristy cities to visit this spring or summer

Whether you’re wary about being exposed to Covid-19 more easily in the popular spots, or you’re just looking for some peace and quiet now that the state of alarm is over, here are six beautiful cities in Spain that are overlooked by most tourists.

Travel within Spain: the least touristy cities to visit this spring or summer
Cuenca is one of Spain's least visited cities despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Massimo Frasson/ Flickr

In 2019 Spain received almost 84 million visitors, not far off double the country’s population (47 million). 

The vast majority of these tourists chose coastal locations, understandably given the country’s fantastic beaches and abundance of good weather.

But popularity often means crowds, and with the current zeitgeist of social distancing and fear of a resurgence of infections in Spain and Europe before the vaccine rollout is complete, many could be willing to sacrifice sea and sand this spring/summer for solitude and safety.

If that’s the case for you – full disclosure – this list of Spain’s least visited cities in 2019 doesn’t contain anywhere on the coast, many in fact are deep in the interior.

Our suggestion is to look for accommodation with a swimming pool or a natural swimming spot nearby, which will help to keep cool during the heat of the day in summer and late spring.

Palencia

This 11th city in Spain’s Castille and León region boasts a huge Gothic cathedral, some pretty squares and a lively main street, despite being one of Spain’s more tranquil cities overall. There are also some natural attractions in Palencia province, such as the Pozo de las Lomas glacier lake and Casca de Mazobres waterfall.

Photo: Santiago Lopez-Pastor/Flickr

Soria

Soria is also one of Castille and León’s small provincial capitals but it packs a lot into its historic centre. It’s also on the banks of the Duero river and surrounded by countryside. All in all, a fantastic place to escape the tourist crowds.

Photo: Miguel Angel García/Flickr

Cuenca

Cuenca is one of Spain’s most beautiful cities as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it doesn’t receive many tourists. Located in Castille and La Mancha region to the east of Madrid, its historic old quarter has stunning and colourful medieval buildings atop steep cliffs and two river gorges, known as “las casas colgantes” (hanging houses).

Photo: The Spanish Traveller/Flickr

Ourense

In the lush region of Galicia in Spain’s northwest lies the hidden gem that is Ouresense. The city has an appealingly labyrinthine-like historic centre, plenty of great tapas bars and the river Miño to the east. If you’re looking for nature, there are national parks, river beaches and natural pools close by.

Photo: Feliciano Guimaraes/Flickr

Vitoria-Gasteiz

The Basque Country’s capital often goes unnoticed due to the popularity of San Sebastián and Bilbao, but it boasts art galleries, a charming historic quarter and dozens of fantastic pintxo bars and restaurants.

Photo: Santiago Lopez-Pastor/Flickr

Ávila

Spain fans may have heard of Ávila’s majestic city walls but not many tourists have visited the ancient town in Castille and León. It’s one of the most wonderfully preserved old cities in Spain and the province of Ávila also has plenty going for it with the Candeleda and Navaluenga natural pools, caves, rivers and forests.  

Photo: Sergio/Flickr

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TOURISM

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
 
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.

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