Angela Castano"I think the decision on what attractions are more popular depends on the interest of the individual traveler, not so much the nationality."

Angela Castaño: Director of Spain Tourism Board

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Even at times of adversity, Spain will always be a premier destination and haven. As Spain Tourism Board’s regional director, Angela Castaño is tasked with promoting a country so blessed with natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, great artistry and hospitable people. Even during these bleak times of global economic recession, Spain’s beauty shines through. Angela takes time to reveal to asianTraveler Magazine the many wonders of Spain this holiday season.

What attractions, events, and activities await tourists going to Spain this holiday season?

Spain is a country with some of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals. Of course, the must-see is always the Sagrada Familia, no matter how many times you’ve seen it; you will still be in awe. Just imagine the experience for first-time visitors. Although it is difficult to choose among all the cathedrals, I would recommend not to miss the Cathedral in Leon with the most exquisite stained glass windows, and the one in Santiago de Compostela, getting to the roof top of the cathedral is a breath-taking experience.

Spain is also a great cultural destination and this season, you will find many cultural activities such as the Seville Guitar Festival in Andalucia or something fun like the 17th Annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival in San Sebastian. And of course, New Year’s Eve in Spain is a wonderful event. Many people gather in Puerta del Sol, Madrid and eat grapes as they count down.

Also recently launched is the Gourmet Bus Tour, the first in the world where you can combine an unforgettable dining experience while still viewing the main attractions of Barcelona.

Which of these would you recommend for the following categories: families; religious pilgrims; shoppers; art lovers; gourmets and sommeliers; sports fans; nature lovers, mountaineers and outdoorsmen?

Families: In the main gateway cities, we have a lot of theme parks. In Madrid, we have the biggest Warner Brothers Theme Park in Europe, and in Barcelona, we have the Universal Studios. I would add a visit to Valencia to see the Bio Parc and marvel at the L’ Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium.

Religious Pilgrims: I would highly recommend Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that it is where the remains of Jesus’ apostle Saint James lie. It has been a holy route for almost 1,000 years and it was hailed as one of the three most revered religious pilgrimages (especially for Christians/Catholics) during the medieval period. It is said that by going on this journey, it can liberate a person from the penance of his sins.

Shoppers: They would definitely love Madrid and Barcelona, especially the Chic Outlet Villages. Madrid and Barcelona are Spain’s two largest cities with many amazing local labels (such as Loewe, David Delfin, Victorio y Lucchino) as well as foreign labels. They are also full of small but just as talented local designers in nooks and crannies.

Art Lovers: The Dali Triangle in Cataluña and, of course, the Art Walk in Madrid is made up of The Prado Museum, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza. These three museums made Madrid the art capital of the world.

Gourmet and sommeliers: Foodies would definitely have to pay a visit to the Basque Country where you have San Sebastian, recently deemed as the destination for foodies by a group of food journalists and critics. Those more into wine would find La Rioja most engaging.

Sports fans: Sports fans should join the locals and enjoy soccer in some of the many stadiums all over Spain. Or for example, in Madrid, football fans can live their dream by walking on the turf of a legendary football pitch, visiting the changing rooms, and sitting on the bench as though you were about to manage a game. You can do all this in the stadium of the Real Madrid football club, where other options include witnessing spectacular matches, visiting the trophy rooms and enjoying a meal overlooking the pitch. Madrid’s other team, the Atlético de Madrid, is also a fixture at international competitions and is well-known for its performance in several thrilling matches.

Nature lovers: Spain has some truly exceptional natural resources. It is the third country in the world with the most spaces declared Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and is home to numerous lakes, mountains, volcanoes, marshes, forests, rivers, valleys and cliffs.

Outdoorsmen: Sierra Nevada is a must for nature and ski lovers and Cuenca has amazing natural scenery. Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland. A visit to the regions we collectively call Green Spain (Basque region, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia) showcases Spain’s natural resources.

What tips do you have for travelers to best appreciate Spain this holiday season? What should they bring? What do they need to prepare?

Of course be well-prepared for the cold but otherwise, just remain open-minded and see where your journey and adventure takes you. To travel to Spain is to opt for diversity, to be the central character in what is sure to be a truly unforgettable trip.

Shoppers might want to take note that usual shop opening times are 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM and 4:30 to 8 PM, Monday to Saturday. Major shopping malls, department stores and supermarkets stay open without a break from 10 AM to 10 PM. There are also some Sundays in the year when the large department stores and supermarkets open to public.

What are the changes if any that await travelers now that Spain is in the midst of recession and austerity? Are there travel bargains to be found because of this?

There are no major changes regarding tourism in Spain. The Spanish still welcome foreigners to their country, they are willing to host them and show them the best of Spain despite the problems that it is going through at the moment.

What can conscientious travelers do to help the Spanish people in these challenging times?

Asians should travel to Spain more often at this time to experience all the new products that we have and basically to enjoy. Shopping is still at its best with a variety of brands to choose from. It will be best to spend more in their next visit – that will always contribute in a good way.

What attractions in Spain are most popular among Filipino travelers, Asians, Europeans and Americans?

I think the decision on what attractions are more popular depends on the interest of the individual traveler, not so much the nationality. For example, for some Filipino travelers who prefer the spiritual route, they may visit our cathedrals, while others who prefer fashion may choose to remain in Madrid or Barcelona.

What places in Spain do you love best?

Henry Miller, an American author once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I would say the same of Spain. Each destination gives you a new vision. Some cities in Spain have an older soul; small streets that lead to a quaint little café with groups of old men debating in Spanish, while picking at glistening slices of jamón. Other places in Spain have a younger free spirit with their modern architectures, the most amazing street art and talented street buskers.

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