Spain Feature

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What's New in Spain

In the decades following Franco's dictatorship, Spain became a hot travel destination largely because of its beach resorts. Recent decades have shown that the country has far more to offer, including cutting-edge cuisine and exceptional wines, stunning historical and modern architecture, and fabulous art, film, and fashion. This is some of what's new.

Kicks

Since 2009, when FC Barcelona brought home every trophy a Spanish soccer club could acquire—the domestic Triple Crown (La Liga, King's Cup, and Supercopa), the UEFA European Champions League cup, and the FIFA Club World Championship—Barça has remained the acknowledged best fútbol team in the world. Archrival Real Madrid denied them the King's Cup in 2011 but Barça had its revenge by winning both La Liga and the Champions League. In the 2012 Liga, Madrid won with Barça in second place, a situation that reversed itself in 2013 when Barça won La Liga with a record 100 points.

Flix

Since Woody Allen's 2008 Vicky Cristina Barcelona—and even further back—local Spanish governments have been keenly aware of the rewards of promoting their cities as film locations. The Tom Cruise–Cameron Diaz 2010 action movie Knight and Day was partially shot in Cadiz and Seville; and the 2011 Gina Carano–Antonio Banderas–Michael Douglas spy thriller Haywire takes place mostly in Barcelona. A remake of the Steve McQueen–Dustin Hoffman 1973 escape classic Papillon, to be filmed in the Canary Islands, is said to be in the works.

And speaking of film: plans were announced in 2011 for a Paramount Pictures theme park to open in Murcia, on a site between Mazarrón and Alhama de Murcia, near the beach resort of Puerto de Mazarrón, in 2015. Five hotels will be built on the site, along with shopping malls, bars, clubs, and a 15,000-seat auditorium.

Art: Ups and Downs

There were a variety of ups for the arts in 2012: the Niemeyer Centre in Avilés, Asturias, became fully functional after doubts over its funding; the Patio de los Leones in the Alhambra was restored to its full original marble glory to huge acclaim; and the Prado Museum in Madrid reached the landmark of over three million visitors. On the downside, the government raised the I.V.A. tax from 8% to 21% on all cultural events, resulting in a dramatic drop in cinema- and theatergoing.

Getting Around

There are plenty of regional air connections in Spain these days, but the national railway's high-speed AVE trains are stiff competition: prices are about the same, but with trips like Madrid–Barcelona clocking in at 2 hours and 30 minutes, the AVE is the fastest, most comfortable way to go. Spain now has more high-speed track in service or under construction than any other country in Europe, although construction on several AVE routes (e.g. Madrid–Galicia and Granada–Seville) has slowed down considerably after cutbacks in funding.

No Bull?

In 2010 the Catalan Parliament narrowly approved a bill to ban bullfighting in the region (a similar ban has been in force on the Canary Islands since 1991); the more conservative regions of Madrid, Valencia, and Murcia reacted with proposals to give the "sport" the legal status of a protected cultural heritage. This proposal is due to be presented before the national parliament sometime in 2013 when it’s expected to be passed. Like anything that even remotely touches on the question of Spanish identity, this is a politically hot issue; animal-rights activists have an uphill battle ahead.

Holy Ground

A work in progress since 1882, Gaudí's Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona was formally consecrated in November 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI. Still a long way from a fully functioning house of worship—construction is expected to take at least another 30 years—the church remains a major tourist attraction.

Updated: 03-2014

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