Choose from five fantastic Spanish destinations, easily accessible from the UK, plus our pick of boutique hotels
Spain remains a popular overseas holiday destination for British holidaymakers, and the spring and autumn weather makes it attractive all year round.
1. Super Sevilla
The capital of Andalucia, Sevilla is a romantic sensual city of orange blossom and jasmine where the sound of flamenco is never far away. The centre boasts historical highlights such as the Gothic cathedral and the Real Alcázar palace. With its exquisitely decorated tiled rooms and courtyards, fountains and landscape gardens, it's said to be the oldest inhabited palace in the world. For the best views of the city, it's worth making the climb to the top of the nearby bell tower, La Giralda.
The city is also famous for its tapas bars – one of the oldest and best is the wonderful El Rinconcillo – and, of course, its flamenco music, which is taken very seriously. Tablao el Arenal is one of the longest-standing venues to see live flamenco and, while it may be a bit touristy, the standard is high. It's also worth crossing the river Guadalquivir and exploring the old working class area of Triana, famous for its traditional pottery and tile industry.
Where to stay in Sevilla
The Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza brings together the best elements of Arabic and European design that have influenced the city for centuries. Bright, whitewashed walls blend with the ochres and reds of southern Spain's landscape. Help yourself to one of the city's famous oranges from baskets found all around hotel. The rooms are modern and comfortable and the hotel also has a patio garden, library, sitting room and – best of all – a rooftop pool where you can cool off and enjoy fantastic views of the city.
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2. Beautiful Barcelona
A stroll around central Barcelona reveals a city of architectural wonders. Its Gothic treasures include the city's Cathedral, La Seu, while the nearby and very pretty Plaça del Pi, is said to have the greatest concentration of historical buildings in the city.
But it is the work of the great modernist architect, Antoni Gaudí, that really defines the place. His fantastical designs with their wildly exuberant lines and organic forms include the apartment block La Pedrera, and his unfinished masterpiece La Sagrada Familia.
Where to stay in Barcelona
The Claris: Behind its 1892 facade is a modern luxury hotel containing one of the largest private collections of Egyptian art in Spain. The 119 rooms at the Claris are cool and contemporary in copper, cement and glass, while the rooftop pool combines traditional tiling with a modern deck, and offers great views of one of Barcelona's most elegant neighbourhoods, the Eixample.
3. Magical Mallorca
Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic islands, hasn't always enjoyed the best of reputations – either seen as a bit too bling and beloved by the yacht set, or criticised for its overly developed resorts. But the fact is that old Spain, steeped in tradition, is never really that far away. The capital Palma de Mallorca has a vibrant city centre and is dominated by its impressive Gothic cathedral. The nearby main thoroughfare, Passeig des Born, offers the best opportunities for shopping, while the smaller streets either side are packed with lively bars and local restaurants.
If you want a break from city life, it's easy to escape to the countryside where you'll find hilltop villages and olive groves all within easy reach of the sparkling Mediterranean. The island has long been an inspiration to writers and artists, too. George Sand and her lover Frederic Chopin took refuge in the monastery at nearby Valldemossa, while Robert Graves wrote two of his most famous works, I, Claudius, and Claudius the God, in the appealing artists' village of Deia, situated near Teix Mountain, on the west coast of the island.
Where to stay in Mallorca
Hotel Cort is situated right in the middle of Palma de Mallorca near the central plaza with its Baroque-era town hall and centuries-old olive tree. Rooms feature framed maps and cool splashes of colour, reflecting the hotel's proximity to the sea. Guests wanting to have a more authentic experience of the island can join in with local life at the hotel's Mallorquin restaurant, which spills onto the sun-drenched cobbles of Plaça de Cort.
4. Beguiling Bilbao
Once the most important port in Spain, Bilbao, the capital of Spain's Basque country, is now perhaps best known for Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum. The sculptural metal building has become a symbol of the city's reinvention, as urban renewal has seen huge tracts of land reclaimed and areas gentrified. At the heart of the old town is Plaza Nueva, still an important meeting place for locals, especially at the weekend where people get together to enjoy some pintxos (the local version of tapas) and a glass of wine.
Other highlights include the Abando railway station with its large stained glass windows, said to illustrate the life and customs of the city. Built in 1511, the Gothic cathedral is another must-see and, for a perspective on the city's enduring relationship with the sea, it's worth visiting the Maritime museum. Other landmarks include the Neoclassical opera house and the city hall, both designed by Joaquín Rucoba.
Where to stay in Bilbao
Hotel Miró: Inspired by the Guggenheim museum, the 10-storey Hotel Miró is stylish and simple with cleanly designed rooms. It also doubles up a showcase for an in-house art collection. Rooms boast wall-sized windows with views of the city.
5. Marvellous Madrid
With its world-class museums, parks, cafés and buzzy atmosphere, Madrid makes a great weekend getaway. Right at the heart of the action in the old medieval centre is Plaza Mayor. Previously the site of bullfights and executions, it's now all about relaxing with a cold drink and watching the world go by.
Madrid is also a city to forget the diet for a few days: it's famous for its food and there are endless places to eat, though this doesn't mean that you won't find yourself fighting for a table. The winding, ancient street known as Calle Cava Baja is famous for its many tapas bars and you can take your pick from traditional places like the lavishly tiled La Chata or the more contemporary la Peonza. If markets are your thing take a look at the recently modernized food market, the Mercado de San Miguel or the centuries-old flea market El Rastro.
But it's the city's 'golden triangle' of museums which really pack in the crowds, particularly the Prado, considered by some as the finest art gallery in the world. Nothing can quite prepare you for the roll call of great masters from Velazquez to Goya and Hieronymus Bosch. When you have had your share of culture, if the sun is shining, join the locals in one of Madrid's best-loved green spaces, the Parque del Retiro.
Where to stay in Madrid
Originally an affluent apartment house designed in 1883 by architect José María de Aguilar, the red-brick Hospes Puerta de Alcalá is considered a prime example of the Bourbon Restoration period architecture. During its recent renovation, the original mouldings, columns, wrought iron, and woodwork were left intact and today guests are welcomed by an air of tranquility. There is also a spa and restaurant offering formal dining.
All hotels are part of the Design Hotels group, which includes 270 hotels from 50 countries and are chosen for their originality, authenticity, design and architecture and hospitality.
Photos © Shutterstock, Design Hotels.