Tourism is a double-edged sword for Spain. On the one hand, it’s the driving force of the economy and provides work directly to around three million people, indirectly to plenty more.
On the other hand, the impact 83 million yearly tourists (2019 figures) have on the daily lives of locals in popular towns and cities, as well as what uncontrolled overbuilding, relentless air travel and other practices affecting the environment, have pushed many to question whether the financial benefits of the conventional tourism model are worth it for Spain.
Enter ‘slow travel’, also known as ‘slow tourism’.
The new #SlowTravelSpain campaign launched by Spain’s Tourism Board aims to highlight the importance of forming a connection with local people, while also lessening harmful impacts on communities and the environment.
It will focus on lesser-known destinations in Spain and showcase activities with a low impact on the environment such as hiking and cycling.
Slow travel in Spain can also mean choosing to travel via rail, Spain’s Tourism Board has said, or participating in “responsible activities”, from eating locally-sourced food to staying at a small guesthouse rather than at luxury five-star hotels.
Spain is preparing for a busy summer with travel firmly back this season after the two and half years since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the latest data from Spain’s National Statistic Institute (INE) in the first three months of 2022, the number of tourists visiting Spain skyrocketed by 696 percent, close to 9.7 million. In the same period of 2021, only 1.2 million arrived.
Catalonia for example is expecting a huge influx of tourists this summer. They expect record-breaking figures, with Barcelona city apartments at nearly 100 percent occupancy in for the whole summer.
The main tourist areas across the country’s coastline expect high occupancy rates in July and August not seen since 2006 and 2007, with even inland tourist spots likely to be 80 percent full in August.
Due to these crazy tourism numbers, slow travel and minimising your impact on locals and the environment are more important than ever.
Needless to say, Spain’s national and local governments should be held accountable for implementing effective sustainable tourism models, but if you love Spain and want to be a more responsible traveller, there’s plenty you can do to help also while still having a great time.
Here is some slow travel inspiration for your travels in Spain this summer.
It’s not only Spain’s famous hiking routes such as the Camino de Santiago, which should catch your attention, because the country in fact boasts an array of great itineraries all over the country. A hiking holiday is of course more sustainable, but it can take you to small towns and villages untouched by mass tourism, promoting responsible travel too.
Instead of the classic Camino Francés, across the top of Spain to Santiago de Compostela, why not try one of the alternatives, such as the Vía de la Plata instead? This camino runs from Seville in Andalusia, all the way up through Extremadura and into Galicia.
Or how about walking the Camí de Cavalls, a 360º tour of the Balearic Island of Menorca or the Camí de Ronda, an old smuggler’s route that runs the whole coast of Catalonia? Or perhaps you want something a little more challenging and mountainous – you could try the Sendero GR-142, through the Sierra Nevada, the provinces of Granada and Almería and the delightful Alpujarras and its mountain villages.
Rather than staying in big, popular franchise hotels, why not book a casa rual or rural property? There are a myriad of different types of rural properties to choose from, which can be rented for weeks or months at a time, allowing you to stay in one place and experience a more natural slice of Spain. Many of them are renovated old farmhouses, olive mills, wineries and other historic buildings with plenty of character and charm.
You’ll find rural properties located in all of Spain’s 17 regions, set in some of the most magnificent landscapes such as natural parks, in verdant forests or along wild stretches of coastline. Some great Spanish websites to look for rural houses to rent include: Escapada Rural, Club Rural, and Casas Rurales. Opt for places in the regions not so well known by international tourists such as Asturias, Cantabria, Extremadura, and Aragón.
Spain is an ideal country for cycling in, not least because it’s home to several vías verdes or greenways. These are dedicated cycling routes, dotted all across the country, built along old disused railway lines. Today they have become an environmentally friendly way to explore the country.
Read here to see some of our favourite cycle routes in Spain, from the great TransAndalus trail to the Ruta Don Quijote through Castilla-La Mancha.
While Spain’s coastal resorts and historic cities grab all the attention, its national parks are visited nowhere near as often by international tourists. You could choose mountain climbing in the Picos de Europa in the north; spotting flamingos in Andalusia’s Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s most beautiful and important wetlands; or exploring the Caribbean-like islands in Galicia’s Atlantic Islands National Park.
Or perhaps the lunar-like landscapes of Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park are more your scene or the incredible soaring peaks and deep valleys of the Aragonese Pyrenees in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park.
Spain’s Canary and Balearic Islands are popular getaways, not just for Spaniards but for holidaymakers from all over Europe. They’re so popular in fact, that they are often among the top holiday spots in Spain. But, not all of these islands are equally busy. Head to the Canary Islands of La Graciosa or El Hierro for a quieter side to island life. The first is one of the last places in Europe with no paved roads and few people, while the second is well-known for its incredible underwater landscapes.
In the Balearics, laidback Menorca is quite the opposite of its party island sisters of Mallorca and Ibiza, while the tiny hippie island of Formentera is where most people get around on bikes rather than cars.
Spain in general has an excellent public transport system and its rail network is extensive in some regions, often reaching charming mountain villages, natural parks and wild areas, without the need for a car. There are a few places however where the rail journey can even be your destination.
Catalonia’s Tren dels Llacs links the city of Lleida with La Pobla de Segur, winding its way across bridges, spanning spectacular lakes and gorges. The Transcantábrico runs all the way across what is known as Green Spain in the north from San Sebastián to Santiago de Compostela, while the Tren de Campos de Castilla trundles across the sweeping windmill filled plains of Castilla La-Mancha.
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If you admire Spain’s culture, landscapes and people, give one of these slow travel methods a go. You might just discover a more relaxed and fulfilling way of travelling which gives you a deeper appreciation for Spain.