It would be a shame to come to Spain and simply hit the largest centres. As much as the big cities have to offer in Spain, I don’t think you can really appreciate this diverse country without taking in the small towns and villages.
Every region in Spain is unique—from the North to the South and East to West, but what the villages have in common their thread to the past.
Each village keeps its original culture, has a dish that was created generations ago from the local ingredients and its own customs that aren’t known anywhere else in Spain or the world.
In the winter you can wander through the streets of these medieval towns, take in the pungent air of wood smoke coming from the chimneys, see the little old women in their black dresses and bedroom slippers shuffling down the cobblestone streets to buy their daily supplies, pass a farmer walking his donkey back from a day out in his field and see the children playing in the plaza of the village.
In the spring and summer, the fields come to life with an abundance of produce. You will be greeted with wildflowers and planted crops. Villages still tend to revolve around agriculture.
History oozes out of the walls, and every stone is dying to tell you its story of who walked over it.
There are 1000’s of villages worth visiting in Spain, but to give you a taste of the village life but here are a few of my favourite.
Top must-see village in Segovia:
Ayllon: A medieval village is only 1-½ hours from Madrid, but actually in the province of Segovia bordering on the province of Soria. What may seem like a sleepy village now, actually has centuries of fascinating history. Ayllón flourished for centuries and became a stopping point for many of the kings. Alfonso VI, Alfonso VII, Alfonso Viii, Fernando III, Fernando IV, Juan II and the Infanta Isabel all passed through its gates.
Top must-see village in Guadalajara:
Brihuega: Brihuega, in the province of Guadalajara only an hour from Madrid, is another town with a rich history. The first Gothic design used in the Iberian peninsula can be seen in one of the churches. Later, a grateful king built his Royal cloth factory in Brihuega as a thank you to the villagers for helping him in battle. There is a labyrinth of caves winding under the main square and original homes—in times of peace, it was used to house wine and food, in times of danger these caves were used as an escape route.
Top must-see village in La Rioja:
Haro: La Rioja is a small valley, a microclimate tucked at the foot of the Cantabria mountains along the Ebro river. This magical valley gives you the feeling of being immersed in a fairytale. The stunning views, the vineyards dotting the fields and beautifully preserved medieval villages await exploring. I didn’t come across any villages in the Rioja that weren't worth stopping to look around, but one that stood out above and beyond the others was Haro.
Top must-see villages in Extremadura:
Arenas de San Pedro: Arenas of San Pedro is a town chalk full of history and colourful historic figures. Be sure to visit the castle at Arenas de San Pedro and learn the stories of the people who lived there. This castle was built in record time, taking only 20 years and as a result has some fascinating design features.
Guadalupe: Guadalupe is a quaint village perched on top of a mountain in the province of Extremadura. The drive to get to Guadalupe is an adventure in itself. Going up the small winding mountain road you may begin to doubt that there is anything to see at the end of the trail. But trust me, there is. The immense Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site, but there is much more to the town than just the Monastery.
Top must-see village in Huelva:
Niebla: Almost every civilization that touched the Iberian Peninsula left their mark in Niebla. From the remains of a Phoenician port to a Roman bridge to the first gunpowder to be used in Spain, this town will take you on an open-air history lesson.
Top must-see villages in Girona:
I am not able to narrow down my favourite village in Girona, I actually have three favourites—although honestly I am still just scratching the surface. Besalu, Castellfollit de Roca and Peratallada are all completely unique from each other, but each has a special charm. Peratallada is the prettiest village I think I have ever walked through, with each corner being more quaint and picturesque than the last. Besalu has an impressive Roman bridge that crosses the river to get into the city and Castellfollit de Roca is perched on top of a narrow cliff with buildings suspended precariously on the edge.
Beach towns along the Costa Brava: Almost all of the towns along the Costa Brava are worth a visit. But if I had to narrow down my favourites for a holiday destination I would choose either family friendly Blanes, quintessential charm of Tossa de Mar, the glamour waters sport town of Empuriabrava or the green waters of Cadaques.
This list is just scratching the surface of the villages and towns sprinkled throughout Spain. If you have a favourite village that isn’t mentioned on this list, please let me know in the comments below.