Offbeat summer destinations

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© Jaime Gonzalez/Flickr
A PIECE OF HEAVEN: The Cies Islands.

SUMMER is upon us, and while tourists flock to Spain to soak up the sun and rub their reddened shoulders against one another on crowded beaches, or provoke endless noise complaints in sweltering city centres, permanent residents may prefer to escape the madding crowds. Here are our top 10 places to get away from it all:

1.   Cies Islands, Galicia

Known to locals as the ‘Galician Caribbean,’ thanks to its sparkling white-sand beaches, Cies is an archipelago of three islands. Part of the Galician Atlantic Islands National Park, the land and surrounding sea are protected, with visitors limited to 2,200 a day. There are no hotels, and just a couple of basic restaurants, while the mainland city of Vigo is also a treat.

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2.   Val d’Aran, Cataluña

Most famous for its winter skiing, this spectacular valley, surrounded by 3,000 metre peaks contains more than 200 lakes and is an off-piste summer escape, offering horse riding, trekking and mountain biking on extensive forest trails. Many of its inhabitants speak Aranese, a standardised form of the Gascon variety of the Occitan language.

3.   Poo Beach, Asturias

This is a fantastic child-friendly beach, while its name is sure to put children into fits of giggles before you even arrive. The sandy strip is enhanced by caves, a shelved area with great waves, a shallow stretch for paddling, plus headlands and streams to explore.

4.  Sierra de Aracena, Huelva

One of Spain’s most beautiful and unspoilt mountain regions, a land of glorious woodland, rolling hillsides and crystal-clear streams where the combination of altitude and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean imparts a fresh and sunny feel. It is a dream location for nature-lovers and walkers, while also being the home of the prized Iberian black-footed pig, the pata negra.

5.  Rio Frio, Granada

A tiny hamlet with cottages and a gushing stream flowing through it, Rio Frio is a fishing village specialising in trout and caviar. Spend the morning exploring the tiny streets of the village, then head to one of the local restaurants, where you can choose from dozens of reasonably-priced trout-based delicacies. 

6.  Matarraña, Aragon

With its sun-baked hills, olive groves and terraced vineyards, Matarraña invites comparisons with Tuscany. Unlike its Italian counterpart, however, this remote comarca is blissfully off the tourist trail. Ibex roam the rocky hillsides, birds of prey plummet into limestone canyons, and the medieval villages seem to be frozen in time, while the stunning Rio Matarraña and its tributaries mean the lack of beach is no issue. 

7.  Garganta la Olla, Extremadura

This magical village, nestled up in the Tormantos Mountains near Caceres, is so off the beaten path that it has remained much the same for several hundred years, with the exterior of many of the buildings unchanged since ancient times. It is surrounded by gorgeous rivers and hills and offers a real sense of tranquility in an area where time appears to have stopped.

8.  Sierra de Tramuntana, Mallorca

Although the Tramuntana’s charms are no longer particularly secret, it is possible to give the crowds the slip in its less-explored reaches, even in August. One of Mallorca’s most breathtaking drives is the MA-10 coastal road between Andratx and Valldemosa, which takes in captivating little villages such as Estellencs and Banyalbufar.

9.  Ciudad Encantada, Castile-La Mancha

Ciudad Encantada is Spanish for ‘Enchanted City,’ a spectacular selection of peculiar rock formations, which have been fashioned into their present shapes over millions of years by the weather and nearby Júcar River. It is only 28 kilometres from the city of Cuenca, itself an off-centre delight. 

10. Pueblo de Sanabria, Castilla y Leon

Lying just below the high passes into Galicia, this characterful town is dominated by a handsome cliff-top castle and fortress-like 12th century church, all located 12 kilometres from the magnificent Lake Sanabria, the largest glacial lake in Spain.

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