Spain Bicycle toursTo say that Spain’s history carries epic undertones doesn’t say quite enough. Here, eight centuries of Moorish rule were brought to an end by the swords of Christians. Isabella and Ferdinand – besides financing the expeditions of Columbus to the New World – created political, religious, and military reforms that gave rise to the world’s first superpower. Spain’s reach eventually extended as far as today’s California and Indonesia. It was said the sun never set on the expanding Spanish empire. But waves of conflict over centuries to come brought a dramatic dusk. Though the empire’s territorial reach has dwindled, hallowed landmarks to its age of conquest proudly remain.

It’s a land of imposing alcazars and breathtaking mosque-cathedrals. Cosmopolitan cities retain blessed echoes of Moorish splendor – the sprawling Mezquita in Cordoba, the rose-red Alhambra overlooking Granada, and resplendent hammams, where visitors “take the waters,” Arab-style. For more invigorating pleasures, explore the Andalusian countryside, among glimmering white villages that straddle hillsides … olive groves that blanket endless plains … and vineyards and bodegas that yield one of the world’s best, if underappreciated, wines.

Don’t be fooled by the afternoon’s ritual siesta. Today’s Spaniards embrace it all, living life to its most fervent. The proof lies in some of its most revered traditions: from the pageantry of bullfights to the free-for-all Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina, a village-wide tomato fight. More cultivated pursuits are yours for the taking when you duck into cozy tapas bars, where the appetite to sample every little thing is fulfilled with lots of tiny, tasty dishes … and where locals slake their unquenchable thirst for local wine with fruit-infused sangria. Who can blame them for wanting to linger over their country’s bounty? One visit to Spain, and you’ll want to take in as much as you can.

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