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Each stunning in their own way the Salamanca’ Romanesque Catedral Vieja and the adjoining Gothic Cathedral Nueva are highlights of Salamanca’s city center.

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In Search of Duende

Traveling last summer through the La Mancha region of Spain, I spied a column of stark white windmills clinging to a ridge above the town of Consuegra. The vision prompted me to ponder what I knew and understood about Spain. I’d read Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, marveled at Goya’s penetrating art at the Prado and Picasso’s turbulent Guernica. On a jaunt through as many places as one could comfortably see in two weeks, I searched for what is called duende — the passion and inspiration that shape the country’s identity and the Spanish way of life. 

Spain is so deeply steeped in history, you can sense its sustained power in the precisely laid and locked stones of every Plaza Mayor. When everyone thought the world was flat, Spanish sailors cruised to the ends of the earth. It was a time when the Spanish Armada and Spanish Inquisition were forces people feared. Spain also was home to enlightened mathematicians, craftsmen, poets and major faiths. 

The textures, colors and tastes of Spain are what I savored. The tactile Moorish architecture found in Granada’s Alhambra, Segovia’s massive Roman aqueduct, the flamboyant baroque in Toledo, and the world’s largest Gothic church, located in Seville, overload the senses. 

Whether dining in metropolitan areas, on the Costa del Sol, or at an unpretentious taverna on a medieval side street, you will enjoy meals that make you drop your fork in elation. On a quest of your own, be sure to sample tapas, sangria, and the vibrant art form of flamenco. 

Divide Spain’s several regions into separate trips if you can. Always believe you are coming back. For those reflective end-of-day moments when your tourist body has absorbed the max, there’s a sip of wine, less expensive than water, that goes perfectly with a view of a late-afternoon amber-glazed courtyard, or sun-gold sand against Columbus’s ocean blue. When you find it, duende lingers.




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  • The Moorish Sala de los Abencerrajes in Granada’s Alhambra. Pythagoras’ theorem inspired the intricate design.
  • Seafood cooked in salt is a specialty on the Costa del Sol. The area enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine a year.
  • Near Salamanca, the Hacienda Zorita Wine Hotel and Organic Farm, built in 1366 as a Dominican monastery, once hosted Christopher Columbus.
  • The World Heritage city of Segovia features a Roman aqueduct (112 AD), one of the last Gothic churches built in Europe, and the Alcazar, which inspired Disney’s
  • Each stunning in their own way the Salamanca’ Romanesque Catedral Vieja and the adjoining Gothic Cathedral Nueva are highlights of Salamanca’s city center.
  • The city of Toledo, once the capital of Spain, is famous for its swords.
  • The dramatic tomb of Christopher Columbus is found in Seville Cathedral. It is the fourth largest church in the world, and the largest Gothic church.
  • Flamenco’s origin can be traced back to the Andalusian region of Spain.
  • Segovia Cathedral was one of the last Gothic churches built in Spain.
  • The Casa de Pilatos in Seville is a mixture of Mudejar, Baroque and Renaissance architecture.
  • Sea bass, sea bream and sardines, cooked on spits, are popular dishes at beachside restaurants on the Costa del Sol.
  • Tapas bars serve tasty dishes far into the late evening.
  • This brilliantly colored altarpiece in Salamanca’s old church (Catedral Vieja) was painted in 1445.
  • Guernica, Picasso’s seminal work on the Spanish Civil War, can be viewed at the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid.
  • Seville’s Plaza de España.
  • A courtyard in Granada's Alhambra.
  • Segovia’s Alcázar dates to the 12th Century and was an inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle. Photo: Bill Hermann.
  • Small tiles named azulejos are a striking feature of the Casa de Pilatos.

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