A luxury travel guide to Spain
With opulent hotels, decadent Michelin-starred meals and exclusive experiences, Spain is heaven for those who like the finer things in life.
For many travellers, the world’s real luxuries lie not only in opulent accommodations – although these are nice, too – but also in indulging in exclusive experiences that few others have access to, or would even imagine are possible.
Think one-off tours minus the crowds, opportunities to sleep in a castle built for royalty, meals that excite all the senses, purchasing a pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettoes from the source, teeing off on Europe’s greatest golf courses or cruising the coastline in a private yacht. Spain offers all these things, and so much more.
Here are just a few of the luxury offerings you can look forward to on your next Spanish holiday.
In 2006, Frank Gehry travelled to Spain’s Rioja wine region and built an architectural masterpiece masterpiece that still excites global architectural aficionados. In the midst of the 1859 grapevines, he crafted Hotel Marqués de Riscal, topping the building with shimmering ribbons of crimson, gold and titanium. The ribbons were Gehry’s nod to grapes and and the distinctive mesh-like bottles sold at the vineyard.
The design drama continues inside, from the tilted walls and zigzag windows to the cathedral-height ceilings and bespoke artworks. Days spent here unfold in a flurry of indulgent vinotherapy, treatments in the spa, meals in the Michelin-starred restaurant; and private tastings of the estate’s Gran Reserva.
While eye-poppingly modern, the Marqués de Riscal has a distinct sense of place.
So too do properties in The Paradores collection, a portfolio of unique Spanish stays that unite culture and history, fine food and wine. Think luxury lodgings inside fortresses, convents and other historic buildings.
At Parador de Chinchón, in the charming hilltop village of Chinchón, near Madrid, you can check in to rooms in a former Augustinian monastery. Each day guests gather in the peaceful manicured courtyard to sip local wine and dine on Madrid-style chickpea stew.
The brand has hotels built inside medieval castles (Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo in Salamanca), palaces (the Parador de Úbeda in Jaén) and World Heritage cities (Cordoba or Santiago de Compostela).
Boutique accommodation options also abound across the country.
In San Sebastián, the divine Gran Hotel Maria Christina has long been a favoured hotel of aristocrats, celebrities and royalty. Its suites come complete with marble fireplaces, glass lamps, velvet arm chairs and windows with sweeping views over the sea.
Palacio Pinello in Seville is the epitome of small luxury hotel. It has just 23 rooms in a building that was once a 15th-century palace. The individually designed suites overlook the lush Andalusian-style courtyard, crowned with a glass roof.
For added exclusivity, check in to one of the country’s private villas, where you have chefs at your disposal and a concierge team to organise some of your exclusive travel experiences.
Most visitors to Madrid take in the unrivalled art collection of the Prado gallery with hundreds of other people around them. Forget the queues and crowds – you can also tour the capital’s most famous museum before the doors officially open. Join an art historian and soak up the silence of this enormous museum, gazing in wonder at works by the likes of Goya, El Bosco, Velázquez and Rubens.
This is among the many one-off luxury tours and experiences on offer across the country. In Barcelona, you can also sign up to be escorted behind the curtain and into the dressing rooms at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, flute of cava in hand. This legendary performance venue has hosted some of Spain’s most wonderous operas in the decades since it opened in 1846, with the architecture and design almost as dramatic as the shows performed on stage. Before ticketholders arrive, you can also visit the orchestral pit to see where the musical magic unfolds.
These ‘pinch-me’ moments are available from east to west, north to south, including in the warm waters off the Spanish coast, where you can cruise around the country’s islands (Ibiza, Canary, Balearic) in a private yacht. Gather friends and family to drift at a leisurely pace, pausing to dive into the gin-clear water or order a cocktail at one of the many beach clubs that these dreamy destinations are known for.
Alternatively, enjoy a bird’s-eye perspective of the islands. Every dawn, the coast of Mallorca (the largest island in the Balearic archipelago) is transformed with the rainbow hues of hot-air balloons. From this height, the beauty of this rugged coastline comes into full focus: the jagged peaks, the pyramid-like islets, the intense colours of the ocean. Making the sunrise flight even more special is the fact that your sky-high chariot is a distinctive montgolfière, an exact replica of the first balloon to fly in France, in 1783.
Then over in the Canary Islands, there’s the chance to discover another magical sight – with your head below the waves. Lanzarote is the most northerly landfall in the Canaries, dominated by dramatic landscapes carved by volcanic eruptions hundreds of years ago, and dotted with whitewashed villas that tier toward seaside villages. One such village is Playa Blanca, the departure point for dive expeditions (or submarine tours) to witness the Lanzarote Underwater Museum. Not many people have the chance to flipper between the hundreds of human sculptures anchored in these waters, the gallery going into record books as first of its kind in Europe, thanks to British artist Jason DeCairnes.
While there’s plenty of pleasure to be had discovering local tapas bars around the country, no visit is replete without a meal in one of Spain’s Michelin-starred restaurants – there are more than 200 to choose from, 11 with three stars, and seven on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Still in the islands, Ibiza is home to what’s billed as the most expensive restaurant on the planet: welcome to Sublimotion, a multisensory dining ‘experience’ that is at once surreal and futuristic, yet thought provoking and fun. It’s not easy to get a reservation here (there’s only one table and 12 seats), but when you’re savouring chef Paco Roncero’s Michelin-starred menu – which might include dessert in balloons or drinks that mix themselves – while being entertained by laser shows, DJs and illusionists, you’ll be glad you made the effort.
Roncero is also one of the many top chefs around the country that has been known to host private cooking classes – imagine learning how to make those cocktails, or soaking up the secrets of Catalan cuisine with Jordi Roca (the brains behind El Celler de Can Roca in Girona), or discovering the flavours of Al-Ándalus on the Iberian Peninsula with Paco Morales, who heads up Cordoba’s applauded Noor.
Trendsetting chef Ferran Adria also believes that cooking is not just art – it’s also culture, and one that he’s reinterpreted and reimagined in many kitchens over the years. His current project, Tickets in Barcelona, is owned in partnership with his brother, Albert. It’s another multisensory experience, the menu of playful tapas matched with plenty of theatrical moments. Online bookings open two months in advance, and are snapped up fast. Talk to the concierge at your hotel – top establishments may be able to get last-minute reservations for luxury travellers.
Next, gourmands will want to travel north for days of restaurant-hopping through San Sebastián in Basque Country. This is the city that invented pintxos (a type of tapas), which is dished up in casual bars throughout the old town; it also has more Michelin stars per square metre than any other place on the planet, Arzak, Akelarre and Martin Berasategui among them.
A more leisurely way to sample the Spanish flavours awaits in the north’s Ribera del Duero wine region. This historic pocket is home to dozens of poignant medieval fortresses, many of which you can take in along the Castles Route – and some of which you can sleep in. The Iberian Peninsula’s jaw-dropping beauty is best revealed on horseback or in a horse-drawn buggy, your personalised route taking you through vines that have been producing some of the world’s tastiest wines for centuries; come during harvest in autumn to appreciate what goes into making these vintages, with behind-the-scenes tours offered at many cellar doors.
When the journey matters just as much as the destination, enjoy the countryside from the comfort of one of Spain’s luxury trains. From San Sebastián in the northeast, the Transcantabrian Grande Luxe click-clacks all the way to Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) in the northwest – in supreme style, of course, from its wood-panelled cabins to its opulent dining room and observation carriage, with windows that wrap to the roof for maximum views. Along your leisurely travels you’ll pass through Bilbao, Oviedo and Gijón, among other historic and culture-rich destinations.
The belle époque Al-Andalus, meanwhile, travels across the south of the country – this palace on wheels was originally used by the British royal family to journey from Calais to the Cote d’Azur. Every day in these polished carriages take you to a new destination, from Seville to the Moorish kingdoms in the spectacular Alhambra in Granada. Fabled sights aside, this ride is also a tantalising culinary journey, revealing the produce specific to the stations you pull in to.
Health and Wellness
Spain’s beautiful people regularly check in to Alicante’s Sha Wellness Clinic – then linger for weeks on end. It’s easy to see why. Luxury and exclusivity are a given at this facility, one of the most advanced centres of its kind. Many come here for state-of-the-art medical rejuvenation procedures, but there are also natural and physical therapies and spa treatments aplenty, all complemented by a drop-dead-gorgeous setting and healthful, nutritionally balanced meals.
As blissful as this bay of Altea setting is, overlooking the Mediterranean, you can still indulge in a little pampering in Spain’s big cities. In Madrid, The Organic Spa is like a gilded slice of Asia, in Europe. From the four-hour ‘Royal Thai’ experience to the two-hour ‘Detox Body & Soul’, this serene space is a reminder why it’s so important to be nurtured every now and then. At Tacha, the menu lists facials infused with 24-karat gold alongside body treatments for deep hydration; at Massi Massumeh, rituals are based on those used for centuries in ancient Persia (right down to the caviar infused into products); and at Carmen Navarro you can join the who’s who of Madrid for skin brightening therapies and reset massages, with a side of aesthetic medicine, if you’re so inclined.
On average, Spain has 300 days of sun every year – able to be soaked up on more than 345 golf courses. Which means that if teeing off on one of Europe’s top courses is on your wish list, it’s achievable here. The golf season is long, particularly in the south, where regions like Andalusia enjoy more than 3,000 hours of annual sunshine, and Mediterranean destinations (Catalonia, Valencia) enjoy balmy temperatures, day in, day out.
Aside from being designed by some of golfing’s greats – the Real Club Sotogrande on the Costa de la Luz was crafted Robert Trent Jones and is rated the best course in Spain; Cabell Robinson designed the Finca El Cortesín Golf Club in Costa del Sol; and Neil Coles is behind the PGA Catalunya Resort, a destination-course with a five-star hotel – perhaps the biggest draw of playing a round in Spain is the diversity of settings. Think in cities, along oceanside clifftops, in the mountains, backdropped by historic villages, on islands.
Golf here is made all the more alluring by its long history, with sporting fanatics teeing off since the first course was built in 1891. In the years since, the country’s burgeoning scene has attracted fans and professionals alike, with many of the world’s top tournaments now held here.
Whether a covetable pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettos (the legendary shoe designer was born in Santa Cruz de La Palma) or a luxe LOEWE handbag, Spain’s homegrown fashion brands unite to create one of Europe’s most exclusive shopping scenes.
There are plenty of other upscale designers to look out for – Adolfo Dominguez, Joyería Suárez, and DELPOZO among them. Many of which you’ll discover in bijou boutiques across Madrid’s Golden Mile in Salamanca (Valencia also has a Golden Mile with luxury stores), or along Barcelona’s elegant avenues like the Paseo de Gràcia and the Diagonal.
Head to the old town of Seville and you’ll discover these creations as well as traditional Spanish artefacts made by hand for centuries, from delicate shawls and fans to modern takes on Flamenco outfits.
For more information about travelling to Spain, visit https://www.spain.info/en/
For details on the diversity of luxury tavel options at your disposal across Spain, visit https://www.spain.info/export/sites/segtur/.content/Folletos/folletos/Espana-Premium-EN.pdf