Ready for a winter escape? Southern Spain has it all

December 29, 2009
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

If you are like most of the rest of us and already fed-up with winter, it's time to do something about it. We may not be able to make winter go away, but we can take ourselves away from winter, at least for a while, and find someplace in the sun to re-charge our batteries, enjoying those things that bring us pleasure and getting our minds away from winter's gloom. What we need is a rejuvenator trip, a much needed break to bring some sanity back into our daily lives. If you don't think you're far enough gone to need that break today, remember the old adage -- anticipation and planning are half the fun!

1Costa Brava's Spectacular Beaches are among Europe's most enticing.jpg
Costa Brava's spectacular beaches are among Europe's most enticing.
1Don't miss Old Marbella a fascinating place to explore, dine or shop.jpg
Don't miss Old Marbella, a fascinating place to explore, dine or shop.
1Marbella's fashionable Puerto Banus district - center of all the action and within striking distance of 40 courses.jpg
Marbella's fashionable Puerto Banus district -- center of all the action and within striking distance of 40 courses.
1Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences - an architectural tribute to the future.jpg
Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences -- an architectural tribute to the future.
1Girona's 14th century Catedral de Santa Maria is a Spanish National Treasure.jpg
Girona's 14th-century Catedral de Santa Maria is a Spanish national treasure.
Ronda, one of Andalucia's historic Pueblos Blancos, was a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
1You can't visit Valencia without eating paella - just take a healthy appetite along.jpg
You can't visit Valencia without eating paella -- just take a healthy appetite along.
1Valencia's 15th century Silk Exchange is an architectural wonder, both inside and out.jpg
Valencia's 15th century Silk Exchange is an architectural wonder, both inside and out.
1The Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres is remarkable and not to be missed.jpg
The Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres is remarkable and not to be missed.
For other ideas on golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, British Open, Spain & Portugal, click here or call Golf International at 1.212.447.5003.

Never are these words of worldly wisdom truer than when it comes to vacations. Vacations may only last for a week or two, but planning a holiday escape, two months, six months or even further ahead of the event, gives us all something to look forward to and the psychological benefits are extended over a much longer period.

Everyone wants their vacation to be special and a winter escape should be no different, so why not make it extra special and choose some place a little different? Avoid the temptation to fly south, following the sun-seeking masses to the crowded beaches and resorts of the over-priced sun-belt states, Mexico or the Caribbean islands. Instead, head east to southern Europe, where the attractions extend far beyond warm weather and pretty beaches and all without the crowds and exorbitant, high season prices.

Spain's Mediterranean coastline stands out as the shining example of where an ordinary winter break can be turned into a truly extraordinary, international vacation experience. Southern Spain has something to please everyone, no matter how difficult they may normally be to please, including year round perfect weather and gorgeous beaches, but that's only the beginning.

More than 2,000 years of fascinating history, a resulting, rich cultural background and some of the world's most beloved ancient towns and cities, makes this Mediterranean coast irresistible for most. Wonderful food, superb wines and for golfers, an impressive collection of Europe's very best golf courses, this sun blessed coast is filled to over-flowing with all of the pleasures a vacation should bring.

Only making a good thing even better (unlike those winter destinations to our south) the Mediterranean coast's high season is during the traditional months of European summer vacations -- July and August -- making any other time of the year an "off-season value" when our US dollar delivers excellent value for money.

From the region of Andalucia in the west, extending all the way to Barcelona and the border with France in the northeast, the options of where along Spain's Mediterranean shoreline to base yourself for a week or so can be mind-boggling. Put your faith in the expertise of a reputable, experienced golf travel company, such as Golf International and they can help make the decision much easier. This company is very familiar with Spain and its multitude of attractions, both on and off the golf courses.

To help get started, here's a thumbnail sketch of three of the most appealing parts of Spain's sunny Mediterranean coast, where beaches, golf, sightseeing and a true Spanish experience can be enjoyed to the fullest. None of the three will disappoint and all are guaranteed to only whet any first time visitor's appetite to experience more of what is without a doubt, one of Europe's most intriguing countries.

There maybe no region of the country that epitomizes Spain quite as emphatically as Andalucia. This is the birthplace of flamenco, bull-fighting, those delectable culinary delights called tapas, sherry wine and most other things Spanish. Seville, the regional capital, is a fascinating, historic city that never fails to capture the hearts of every visitor.

Nearby, Jerez de la Frontera, center of the Sherry industry, has its own historic story to tell, as do the surrounding Pueblos Blancos (fortressed, white villages) that have stood here for centuries. There are the ancient cities of Granada and Cordoba to be discovered, each with its own a treasure trove of Spain's rich heritage and all of this, so easily accessed from the coast where golf thrives like no place else in Spain.

Base yourself in or near the chic resort town of Marbella and the surrounding assembly of world-class golf courses can only impress even the most jaded golf traveler. There's good reason why this coastline, officially named the Costa del Sol, has been dubbed, The Costa del Golf, with some 40 excellent golf courses set out within a 50 mile radius of Marbella. Each course is worthy of any visiting golfers attention, including 1997 Ryder Cup host, world-renowned Valderrama, Europe's top ranked course for almost two decades. But there are so many other distractions that will inevitably tempt even the most avid golf devotee, away from golf. The oddity that is the British outpost of Gibraltar is only 30 minutes away and the amazing ancient mountain town of Ronda, a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, is less than an hour's drive.

Marbella's old town shouldn't be missed and neither should Picasso's birthplace, the city of Malaga and if you have the time, the beaches that are the usual main attraction of any winter escape, are still here to tempt their share of attention.

Valencia, Spain's third largest city and the place that gave the world Spain's most widely recognized culinary dish, paella, while simultaneously bringing untold fame to the humble orange, might well be Spain's least heralded gem. No city with this much charisma, unbelievably handsome architecture and enviable collection of historic monuments and buildings, should ever be missed.

Valencia is a city of contrasts -- from the enchanting Old Town, to the truly astounding and ultra modern, City of Arts and Sciences, no other city in all of Spain may have the same, wide ranging level of appeal. This is a city of festivals that virtually run year round, culminating with the fabled, Las Fallas, a pyromaniac's dream and undoubtedly one of Spain's most dramatic festivals that takes place during the third week in March. But Valencia is no stranger to excitement and nowhere is this as evident as in the city's vibrant night-life; the envy of European capital's ten times the size. Only making this charmer even more appealing to any visitor is its compact and very manageable size -- this is a walking city, best discovered on foot and there is a lot to discover.

Golfers will be especially attracted to the surrounding golf opportunities, where the headliner is definitely, Campo de Golf El Saler, a superb seaside layout, ranked among Europe's very best and number 2 in all of Spain. This is simply a must play course that once tasted, demands to be played again and sitting less than a 20 minute drive from the heart of Valencia's Old Town, there's no reason not to. Only a little further from the city is El Bosque Golf Club, an excellent, though hilly, Robert Trent Jones design that deserves attention and don't overlook La Sella Golf, an imaginative layout from Jose Maria Olazabal, considered by many to be his best.

Completing this trio of Spain's Mediterranean crowd pleasers is Barcelona and the Costa Brava, located at the northeastern end, tucked alongside Spain's border with France.

Barcelona needs no introduction to most and has been a firm favorite with visitors for so long and for so many different reasons, the capital of Catalonia just refuses to be summarized in any thumbnail sketch. Whether it's the wonderfully whimsical, art deco architecture that abounds throughout the city, or the effervescence, insatiable energy and joie de vivre of Barcelonans, the city refuses to be pigeon-holed.

Perhaps it's Barcelona's sophistication and the abundance of art, culture, great museums and galleries, amazing shopping and arguably, Europe's most highly acclaimed gastronomy, or more likely, it's a combination of all the above. Barcelona is a magical city of superlatives possessing a unique character entirely of its own that captivates every visitor. Even the most avid golfer can be excused for forgetting the game for a few days, while becoming totally absorbed by one of the world's great cities. But there is excellent golf in the area and it's not too far from Barcelona's city walls.

Head north of Barcelona and within 45 minutes you could be playing either of PGA Catalunya's two championship layouts, where the Stadium Course is ranked as one of Europe's top layouts. This is the Costa Brava, a dramatically handsome region of spectacular coastline, ancient medieval towns and villages, fascinating sightseeing and a surprisingly impressive collection of world class golf courses.

Stay in an historic old castle hotel, a contemporary beach or golf resort or in the Costa Brava's capital, Girona, and the best of the regions courses and much of the most interesting sightseeing will be within a half hour's drive.

Not to be missed is the small town of Figueres, birthplace of Salvador Dali, surrealist extraordinaire and home to his astounding museum. Of no less importance is the city of Girona, one of the most captivating historic cities in the country. Among the many monuments and centuries old buildings is the beautiful old Jewish Quarter and the 14th century Catedral de Santa Maria, which dominates this small city. And when you tire of playing golf and sightseeing, there is a wealth of tempting Costa Brava beaches, always ready to provide a resting place under the sun to relax and prepare for whatever tomorrow might bring.

Spain's Mediterranean coastline just might be one of the most alluring parts of the globe for a winter sunshine escape and no other place is better equipped to satisfy the vacation needs of everyone, whether golf comes into the picture or not. And always with that special Spanish flair that makes for a truly different and thoroughly memorable vacation experience.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your Spanish vacation, click here.

©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.