When I first started driving people around Spain I was often asked questions by first time visitors regarding quite general matters related to Spanish geography, the economy, where people live, what they do, etc. In this article I’ve put together some general information about Spain that’s well worth checking out before you visit. One question which was very frequest was “What’s growing in that field?” … as I rarely had a clue I became quite skilled at accelerating for a moment then apologising for not seeing the field in question 😉 Apologies to anyone who was with me on any of those trips but as I’m sure you soon realised I really wasn’t much of a farmer!
Geography of Spain
Many visitors to Spain are not only surprised at the country’s size but also amazed at its overall geographic diversity. Over the years we’ve had so many enquiries from people who were planning to visit the country and asked us advice on “doing Spain” in three or four days! I’ve been travelling around the Iberian Peninsula for more than twenty years and still reckon I’ve got plenty more to see.
Spain is Europe’s fourth largest country after Russia, Ukraine and France. It consists of the Spanish mainland which occupies most of the Iberian peninsula apart from Portugal, the Balearic islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, Gomera, Fuerteventura and Hierro in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco.
Just to give you some idea of distances within the country travelling by road:
- From the France/Spain border on the Atlantic coast to the Spain Portugal border on the Meditarranean coast is 1067km
- From the France/Spain border on the Mediterranean coast to Cabo Finisterre on the Galician coast in north-west Spain is 1332km
It’s a big place in European terms so allow enough time for your visit. It’s not just a question of visiting Madrid, Seville and Barcelona so that you can say you’ve “done Spain”, there is so much more to see and do than just these big cities.
Spain’s geographical borders are clearly defined. The north coast of Spain is over 700km long, this is often referred toas the the Atlantic coast. The Mediterranean coast is well known for its popular holiday resorts, It runs 1660km along the east and south of the country. By land France lies to the east whilst Portugal lies to the west. The continent of Africa lies a mere 13km off the Rock of Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory in the south of Spain. Beyond the mainland Spain owns the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic as well as the protectorates of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan mainland
Mountains – The main mountain range in is the Pyrenees which separate the country from her French neighbours. These mountains stretch more then 430km from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coasts with Pico de Aneto the highest point at 3404 metres. On the mainland the highest peakis actually in the south of the country where Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada montains near Granada reaches 3477 metres. However, it’s Mount Teide in Tenerife at 3715 metres which has the claim to fame as the nation’s highest peak.
Rivers – Surprisingly there are more than 1800 rivers in Spain but (not surprisingly) most of them are dry for much of the year. The longest river is the Río Tajo (or Tagus) which runs for more than 1000km from its source in central Spain to Lisbon where it enters the sea. You’ll have seen it if you’ve ever visited Toledo. The Río Ebro is 910km in length running all the way from Cantabria to the Ebro Delta near Tarragona where it enters the Mediterranean. The Río Duero is 3rd longest and is key to the fabulous wines which come from the Ribera del Duero region. The Guadalquivir River on which Seville and Cordoba lie is the deepest and most navigable. Other important waterways include the Río Guadiana, Río Miño, Río Júcar, Río Genil and Río Turia.
Climate – Most tourists visiting Spain’s Mediterranean coast or holiday islands seem to assume that all of Spain has fantastic weather all year round. Similarly football commentators assume that any player arriving in the English league will only be used to playing in hot, sunny stadiums. Both are well off the mark. The country experiences a huge range of temperatures and rainfall depending on where you visit. Summers along the ‘Costas’ are fairly reliable for holiday weather whilst the cities of the interior are scorched during the summer months. Rainfall is fairly low for most of the year in the south but is heavy along much of the north coast.
Regions of Spain – Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities. Each of these regions contains a number of provinces. There are 50 provinces in total which make up the political and administrative map of Spain.
Economy of Spain
Tourism – Spain is the world’s fourth most visited country after China, the USA and France. Revenue from the approximately 60 million tourists who visited Spain yearly helps make up for Spain’s considerable trade deficit.
Farming and Agriculture – Raising livestock is a key industry in Spain with sheep, pigs, cattle and goats varying in importance according to region. Agriculture also remains a major part of the Spanish economy with key produce including grapes and olives. Other main products are oranges, almonds, cereal grains and vegetables.
Forestry and Fishing – Spain is one of the main producers of cork-oak which is the country’s main forest resource of Spain. The fishing industry is of enormous importance to the Spanish economy. The catch consists mostly of sardines, mussels, tuna, hake and squid.
Mining – Spain has considerable mineral wealth comprised mainly of coal, iron ore, zinc, copper and lead. There is also some mining of gold and silver as well as petroleum extraction.
Manufacturing – The manufacturing industry has experienced significant decline but still remains economically significant with regard to the production of textiles, iron and steel, motor vehicles, chemicals, clothing, footwear, ships and boats, refined petroleum and cement. Spain is also one of the world’s leading wine producers.
Spain is the third largest producer of wind power in the world with around 21% of its electricity coming from this source. Hydroelectric power accounts for around 17%, nuclear installations about 19%, coal powered about 13% and solar power 2.6%.
Population of Spain
The total population of Spain is around 47 million. The ten biggest cities in order of population are as follows:
More Useful Facts About Spain
Language – The official language is Castilian Spanish (Castellano) which is spoken nationwide. There are also regional languages which are used on a daily basis including Catalan , Valenciano, Gallego and, to a lesser extent, Basque.
Religion – Most of the country is Roman Catholic although it’s estimated that less than 20% of people go to church regularly. Any history of Spain will highlight the former importance of Muslims and Jews in society but few remain today other than in a few areas of the main cities.
Where to Find More Information …
If you do have general queries then maybe the following contact details for the Spanish Tourist Board in the UK will be useful:
Spanish Tourist Office
64 North Row
Information & Brochures: 00800 1010 5050
Regional Tourist Offices – Most of these official tourist board websites have an English translation. If the page opens in Spanish or in a language of one of the autonomous regions just look for an English option on the homepage which is usually available (the quality of the translation is another matter ;-))