While Spain is known to many for its sunshine and beaches, the country has a whopping 44 UNESCO world heritage sites, second only to Italy and China in terms of numbers. Many of Spain’s chosen sites are firmly embedded in the tourist trail – and rightly so, with over 2 million tourists taking in the beautiful Alhambra every year, and another few million heading to Barcelona to marvel at the works of Gaudí.
But what about those world heritage sites that are a little off the beaten track? Here are our picks of must-see Spanish heritage sites for the adventurous traveller.
1. Mérida – The remains of this Roman town dating back to 25 B.C. boasts some of the best-preserved (3-storey!) aqueducts in the world, as well as the stunning remains of an amphitheatre, temples and tombs.
2. Altamira – 19 caves full of some of the world’s best preserved palaeolithic cave art. The caves themselves are now closed to the public in order to protect the delicate artworks, but the on-site museum has a full-scale reproduction of some parts of the cave onsite as well as a wealth of information about the stone age inhabitants of this part of Northern Spain.
3. Historic walled town of Cuenca – This medieval town grew up around a fortress, and was chosen as a world heritage site thanks to its excellent standards of preservation of architecture from the 12th right through to the 18th century. Visitors can enjoy a stroll around the old town and marvel at the immaculate sandstone buildings that cling to the side of the rugged hills at the heart of the town.
4. Las Medulas This area of Léon features mountains with vast, exposed sandstone scars that were left behind when the Romans exploited the area for its rich gold deposits.
5. Monte Perdido (‘Lost Mountain’) – An area of incredible natural beauty high up in the Pyrenees on the French border. As well as its scenery, UNESCO highlights the area’s ‘agricultural way of life that was once widespread in the upland regions of Europe but now survives only in this part of the Pyrénées’.