Imagine if you happened to find yourself in conversation with an overseas visitor of any nationality who was a regular visitor to Ireland but who always came to the same place. What do you think your reaction would be? You’d most likely say that Dublin (or Cork or Kilkenny etc.) whilst beautiful and well worth the visit was nonetheless not completely representative of all that Ireland has to offer. You’d most likely recommend that they also experience the beautiful landscapes of the Ring of Kerry or Connemara or Sligo/Donegal. It’s obvious, when you think of it. No one single destination in Ireland captures the essence of what Ireland as a whole is all about. And so it is with everywhere else. New York is not the USA nor Sydney Australia. But perhaps the most frustrating example of all is one of our closer neighbours — Spain!
Spain dominates overseas visits by Irish people. Yes, it is because of the relative guarantee of sunshine and its proximity to us. It’s also popular because it’s safe and continues to represent excellent value for money. Up to one point last month, over one million of us had already visited there — that’s almost 25% of our entire population — impressive numbers indeed! Sadly, what’s not so impressive is our insistence on visiting the same places over and over again and believing that we’re experiencing the best that Spain has to offer. Don’t get me wrong: destinations like Lanzarote and Malaga and Majorca are justly popular for many reasons, in the same way that Cork, Kilkenny and Galway are but they represent just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What about Bilbao or Murcia; Seville or Granada; Leon or Segovia — all amazing destinations in their own rights which I know that Irish tourists would fall in love with just as much as their higher profile cousins.
Spain is an amazing country with an unbelievably rich history and culture and yet much of it — despite its relative proximity to our shores — still remains largely undiscovered. Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in the cities of Jerez and Cadiz in the extreme southwest of the country close to the Spanish border with Portugal and I got the opportunity to explore some of the beautiful villages and resorts that dot the coastline down there, including places like Conil de la Frontera and Tarifa, a town so close to the coast of Africa, you can almost reach out and touch it. Ferries from Tarifa take just 35 minutes to cross the 14 kilometres that separate the continents of Europe and Africa from each other.
Direct flights into Seville with Ryanair mean that you are just 90 minutes drive from this coastline and what a coastline it is. Because we’re talking Atlantic rather than Mediterranean waters here, the temperatures are admittedly cooler but the gain is in the breakers that surfers experience along the miles and miles of pristine coastline. Not unexpectedly, this being Spain, the seafood is also superb with some amazing catches such as Bonito and Corvina to be found gracing the menus of many of the local beachfront restaurants.
In short, you need to step outside of your comfort zone and get a sense of what the ‘real’ Spain has to offer. You won’t be disappointed!