Spanish cities with delicious food and World Heritage sites – but hardly any tourists

Hordes of British holidaymakers flock to Spain’s costas every year – their stretches of sand and family-friendly resorts have long been staples of the holiday calendar.

But beyond sun loungers and jugs of sangria, many might be surprised to learn that Britain’s most beloved destination is actually home to the world’s third-largest number of Unesco World Heritage sites – and only the second after Italy in Europe.

Culture vultures are well acquainted with Gaudi in Barcelona and Seville Cathedral, but beyond those headlines lurks a cast of underrated cities that all have one thing in common: hardly any tourists. They are also home to a rich heritage, whether Roman remains or the oldest university in Spain.

From Murcia with its squares and fountains to the Moorish wonders of Zaragoza and Jaén, read on to explore the essence of Spain’s less-visited cities.

1. Salamanca

The Oxford of Spain

Palaces, convents, towers, not one but two cathedrals… Salamanca is full of historic architecture such as hornazo, its flagship pastry, stuffed with ham and chorizo. Built in granite, serious and narrow, it is a city deeply in tune with its own heritage. The University of Salamanca received a royal charter from King Alfonso IX of León in 1218, making it the oldest in Spain and one of the six oldest in Europe. A visit to the university brings a healthy dose of culture: you cannot miss the Paraninfo hall adorned with tapestries and the glorious Plateresque facade with the famous frog hidden among the stones. But if Salamanca knows how to have fun, it is mainly thanks to the 32,000 students who live and (occasionally) work there. It is also to the student body that the live music scene in particular is ahead of most Spanish cities (Cum Laude, Santa Rita, Milú and Tio Vivo are recommended venues). The University New Year celebration held in mid-December in the Plaza Mayor is a tumultuous party with few equals.

The biggest icon

The Plaza Mayor is Salamanca’s elegant open-air living room – surely a candidate for the most beautiful square in Spain.

Insider’s Secret

Most visitors miss Casa Museo Unamuno, the emotionally maintained former home and library of the brilliant Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno.

The place to stay

The Palacio de San Esteban, a 15th-century convent located practically next door to the cathedral, has been divinely refurbished by the ever-recommendable Hospes Group into a five-star hotel with rooms from around €80.

2. Murcia

A Mediterranean gem (and a vegetarian’s dream)

Nestled snugly in a corner of Spain’s southeastern Mediterranean, Murcia makes friends easily. A weekend stroll will usually take you from the mighty cathedral, a gothic/baroque mix, to delightful squares with fountains and terraced tables like Plaza de las Flores, where on summer nights the Murcianos congregate. to take in the fresh air of the night, a wine and tapas. In a protein-loving country, Murcia stands out for its love of vegetables, sourced from the farmlands surrounding the city, and used in hearty plant-based dishes such as zorongollo (scrambled egg with zucchini and onion) and olla gitana (“gypsy pot”, a chickpea stew with pumpkin and pear).

Murcia is also notable for what lies on its doorstep. The Mar Menor, a saltwater lagoon separated from the sea by a thin strip of land, is a favorite day trip from the city. Also close at hand is one of the last stretches of unspoilt coastline in the Spanish Mediterranean. The secret coves of Calblanque have dunes, dark cliffs and lapis lazuli colored waters.

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