The Spanish cities with wonderful food and World Heritage sites – but hardly any tourists

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Crowds of British holidaymakers flock to the Spanish shores each year – its long stretches of sandy beaches and family-friendly resorts have long been a fixture on the holiday calendar.

But beyond the sun loungers and sangria jars, many may be surprised to learn that Brits’ favorite travel destination is actually home to the third largest number of Unesco World Heritage sites in the world – and only second to Italy in Europe.

Culture buffs will be familiar with Gaudi in Barcelona and Seville Cathedral, but beyond those headlines there are a number of underrated cities that all have one thing in common – hardly any tourists. They are also home to a rich heritage, be it Roman remains or the oldest university in Spain.

From Murcia, with its squares and fountains, to the Moorish wonders of Zaragoza and Jaén, read on to get the essence of Spain’s less-visited cities.

1. Salamanca

The Oxford of Spain

Palaces, convents, towers, not one but two cathedrals… Salamanca is replete with historic architecture, as is the hornazo, its signature pastry, stuffed with ham and chorizo. Built of granite, serious and austere, this is a city deeply in tune with its own heritage. The University of Salamanca was founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX. of León, which makes it the oldest in Spain and one of the six oldest in Europe. A visit to the university adds a good dose of culture: you can’t miss the tapestry-hung Paraninfo Hall and the splendid Plateresque facade with the famous frog hidden between the brickwork. But if Salamanca knows how to have fun, that’s largely thanks to the 32,000 students who live and (occasionally) work here. Thanks also to the student body, the live music scene in particular is miles ahead of most Spanish cities (Cum Laude, Santa Rita, Milú and Tio Vivo are recommended spots). The university’s New Year’s celebration, held in the Plaza Mayor in mid-December, is a boisterous celebration with few equals.

Biggest Icon

The Plaza Mayor is Salamanca’s elegant al fresco salon – certainly a contender for Spain’s prettiest plaza.

The Insider Secret

Most visitors miss the Casa Museo Unamuno, the lovingly maintained former home and library of the brilliant Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno.

The place to stay

Palacio de San Esteban, a 15th-century convent practically next door to the cathedral, has been converted into a five-star hotel by the always-recommended Hospes group, with rooms from around €80.

2.Murcia

A Mediterranean Gem (and a Vegetarian’s Dream)

Conveniently tucked away in a corner of Spain’s Mediterranean south-east, Murcia makes friends easily. A weekend stroll usually takes you from the mighty cathedral, a mix of Gothic and Baroque styles, to delightful plazas with fountains and patio tables like the Plaza de las Flores, where on summer nights Murcianos gather to enjoy the cool night air, a vínico, and tapas. In a protein-loving country, Murcia is notable for its love of vegetables, sourced from the fields surrounding the city and used in hearty plant-based dishes like zorongollo (scrambled eggs with zucchini and onions) and olla gitana (‘gypsy pot’)” , a chickpea stew with pumpkin and pear).

Murcia is also notable for what is on its doorstep. The Mar Menor, a saltwater lagoon separated from the sea by a thin strip of land, is a popular day trip from the city. Also in the immediate vicinity is one of the last untouched stretches of coastline in the Spanish Mediterranean. Calblanque’s secret coves have dunes, dark cliffs and water the color of lapis lazuli.

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