By Graham Cruise, ISA Site Specialist
As soon as the overbearingly warm summer weather begins to hit Spain, urban dwellers across the country seek refuge away from the hustle-and-bustle of city life to spend the next few months relaxing on the beach. These lesser-discovered locations will certainly not be “cerrado por vacaciones” (closed for vacation) as Spaniards flock to hit up these prime summer locales. Escaping the parade of American tourists that ravage more popular beaches, these smaller cities are perfect places to get a true Spanish experience right on the coast.
1.) Valencia: Cutting Edge. Easygoing. Mediterranean.
- Gandia Shore! Students in the Valencia summer program will take the excursion to Gandia, where they can windsurf or paddle board. (Did you know this was the destination for the Spanish-version of “Jersey Shore”, Gandia Shore?)
- Get your nature on! Also included on this trip is a visit to La Albufera, one of Spain’s most stunning natural parks. It encompasses about 50,000 acres and has nearly 250 species of birds. It is one of Spain’s most significant reserves for wildlife and vegetation.
- Get lost in the Ciutat Vella (Old City)! There are several narrow streets and alleys that lead to new discoveries – a new patio, restaurant or interesting graffiti art. Make sure to relax and try some Horchata or some fresh orange juice! (Did you know Valencia is famous for its oranges?)
- Visit Valencia’s Grand Neighbor! Students in this program will take an excursion to Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city, where they will take a panoramic tour of the city and learn about Antonio Gaudi’s awe-inspiring architectural masterpieces, like Parc Guell, La Pedrera, and Casa Batlló.
- Peddle to the Metal! Enjoy discovering Valencia through the Valenbisi bike share system. There are several stations located throughout the city, including a few on the beach. Pick a bike up close to school, and ride to the coast – it’s just a short ride away from the ISA office!
2.) Santander: Natural. Infinite. Alive.
- Beachside adventures! When you grow weary of swimming and sunbathing at El Sardinero beach, take a boat ride around the bay to see Santander’s sprawling green countryside.Be sure to save some energy to witness the San Juan Bonfires, where boats adorned with lanterns settle in the shallow waters to light bonfires on the beach. Try some of the classic grilled sardines (a traditional snack at the festival) that are roasted seaside, and enjoy the display of fireworks that reflect in the water.
As a throwback to the early 19th Century, Santander locals celebrate the Baños de Ola by dressing up in fine swimming garb, traditional of the European upper classes of the era, and jumping into the bay. (Did you know that in the early 1900s, Santander residents built the Palacio de la Magdalena as the Spanish King’s summer retreat, which converted the town into a summer resort-city for the European elite?)
- Summertime is for celebration! Several festivals take place, like the Festival de la Virgen del Mar, where you can chow down on some free cocido (traditional stew). Also, as its name suggests, Semana Grande De Santander (http://www.semanagrandesantander.com/) is a huge festival with something exciting going on every day.
- Surf’s up, dude! Students will receive a discount to enroll at the Cantabra Escuela de Surf for surfing lessons, as Santander is recognized as one of the best locations to go surfing in Spain!
- Land ho! If you enjoy hiking, the Picos de Europa are an included excursion in this program, where you can, in addition to hiking, take a cable car down the side of the mountain to enjoy the cascade’s spectacular views. (Did you know this mountain range got its name, “The Peaks of Europe,” for being the first sight of the continent for Spanish ships returning from the Americas?)Also, you will have close access to the Camino de Santiago, which is a world-famous series of ancient trails that stretch across the north of Spain. Feel free to join the hike and discover Spain’s historic past for yourself.
- “Sol” is in the name! Málaga is the capital of the Costa del Sol and has some of Spain’s most enjoyable beaches. Did I mention campus sits right off the beach?
- Spanish art reigns supreme! In city-led initiatives to increase Málaga’s cultural influence, this year several new art centers are set to open their doors, including the Russian Museum of Art, which is St Petersburg’s first branch in Europe, and the Centre Pompidou, which will be the first extension of the original outside of France.In addition to these openings, Málaga is a hotbed for art, as it is the birthplace of artist Pablo Picasso (you can even tour his home!) and is host to several art museums, including: El Museo de Picasso, Casa Natal de Picasso, El Museo Carmen Thyssen, El Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, and El Museo de Málaga.
- History for the ages! Málaga is one of the oldest still-inhabited cities in Europe and many ancient civilizations have possessed the city throughout its long history: Phoenicians, Byzantines, Romans, Christians, and Muslims. Because of these influences, Malaga is a multi-cultural city, which is evident in several of its monuments and architecture. (Did you know the nickname for the Catedral de Málaga is “La Manquita” (one-armed woman) since half of the edifice was never completed?)
- Fly away! Málaga’s airport is the third largest in Spain, after the airports in Madrid and Barcelona, so students have easy access to other major destinations across Spain and Europe. (Did you know you can fly direct as far reaching as Beijing?)