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Food and Wine
Spanish cuisine consists of a rich variety of dishes that stem from differences in geography, climate and culture. Regional seafood, beans, soups and breads make up a significant part of meals, while Spanish specialties include spicy chorizo sausage, cured jamon Serrano, tomato gazpachos, and paellas mixed with saffron rice, meat and shellfish. Spanish desserts include flan, arroz con leche, churros and torrijas. One of the best ways to sample Spanish food is to try tapas, or snacks, which are served at any time of day in local bars.
In general, the Spanish dining experience is laidback with a focus on enjoying the meal. Many offices and stores close for at least two hours after lunch for a siesta, although this is gradually changing in larger metropolitan areas. Restaurants are usually opened later in the day and some places do not offer dinner service until 9pm. Lunch is the largest and most important meal during the day, while breakfast sometimes will only consist of coffee and toast.
Spain has over 2.9 million acres of vineyards, making it the third largest producer of wine in the world. The country has an abundance of native grape varieties, with over 600 varieties planted throughout Spain. The best reds come from Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Navarra in the north and superior whites come from Rueda and Penedes in Catalonia. Jerez is famous for its brandies and sherry, while Catalonia produces a quality sparkling wine called cava. Another popular Spanish drink is sangria, made up of wine, juices, fruit and club soda.
Many groundbreaking artists have called Spain home, including 16th-and 17th-century painters El Greco and Diego Velazquez, 18th-century master Francisco Goya and 20th-century pioneers Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro who experimented in Cubism and Surrealism.
There are numerous museums sprinkled throughout Spain's cities celebrating the country's devotion to art. The largest museum is El Prado Museum in Madrid, where you can delight in works by El Greco, Velazquez and Goya. The Reina Sofía Art Museum, also in Madrid, houses contemporary and modern Spanish works of art.
In Bilbao, Frank Gehry's modern Guggenheim Museum, inspired by Picasso's cubist work The Accordionist, houses a superb selection of contemporary art. In Picasso's birthplace of Malaga, there is also a popular Picasso Museum. On the northeastern Mediterranean coast there is the Dali Theatre-Museum in Costa Brava.
The Spanish are chic and stylish dressers, generally mixing high-quality classics with trendy catwalk-inspired pieces. Both Madrid and Barcelona host their own Fashion Weeks showcasing the latest styles from contemporary designers. Spain has produced a number of famous fashion designers including Cristobal Balenciaga, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Manolo Blahnik and Paco Rabanne. Popular Spanish high-street chains like Mango and Zara can also be found throughout the world.
Spain's rich history, majestic scenery and abundant amenities make it an ideal choice for romantic trips. From the slow sultry strumming of a Spanish guitar to the passionate steps of a flamenco dance, around every bend you're sure to find something that celebrates the joy of love. Peaceful coves, solitary hills and grand mountains offer couples intimate escapes, while bustling squares and buzzing streets filled with historic buildings and stunning architecture are perfect for exploring hand in hand. Head to the Mediterranean or Andalusian coasts for seaside romances, while inland you can sample wine in Riojas, enjoy tapas in Seville or wander among the spiraling cobblestones of Toledo and Moorish quarters of Granada.
Spaniards are friendly and treat tourists with a good amount of courtesy. Most speak some English in larger metropolitan areas, while English is scarcer in smaller villages and the countryside. Using a few Spanish phrases will win you added favor and smiles.
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