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If you think Spain’s mostly about tapas, bullfights and Picasso, it’s probably time to take a closer look. Spain has 17 autonomous communities, meaning they have their own executive, legislative and judicial powers, as well as their own cultures, foods and—in some cases—their own languages.


"Ccaa-spain". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

“Ccaa-spain”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

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Regional pride shines brightly in some of the regions, having survived a four-decade, near-death experience under the heavy handed rule of Francisco Franco. Study a map all you want, but you’ll nevertruly know the landscape of Spain until you’ve visited all of its different regions. Here, we’ll hit the highlights, taking you through the four of the six regions of Spain that have official languages other than Spanish.

Petroglyphs—likely Celtic—outside Santiago. Courtesy of Feans.

Petroglyphs—likely Celtic—outside Santiago. Courtesy of Feans.


Official languages: Spanish and Galician, a Romance language closely related to Portuguese. City to visit: Santiago de Compostela

Popular food: La Vieira, or sea scallops. Galicians build their diet off the land, and scallops are abundant along the coast. For this dish, scallops are covered in a mixture of onion, parsley and breadcrumbs and baked in its own shell. This food would be typical along the coast, but inland, typical dishes are built around meat and vegetables grown on the farms.

Pro tip: Galicia has a strong Celtic tradition, with many ties to the Celtic histories of Ireland and Wales. Legends, artifacts and traditions of such origins, like celebrations surrounding the summer solstice, are still honored, having survived from the time of some of the region’s first settlers. Lugo, the name of one of Galicia’s major cities, is derived from the name of a Celtic king. The weather is similar too. When you travel through Galicia, see what similarities you can find.

Courtesy of Katina Rogers.

Courtesy of Katina Rogers.


Official languages: Spanish and Basque

City to visit: San Sabastián

Popular food: Pintxos, or bar food. This is what the rest of Spain calls tapas, and they’re unlike any bar food you’ll find in America. San Sabastían is said to have some of the best food in the world, and tourists come from around the globe to try the different kinds of pintxos. They consist usually of a piece of bread topped with some sort of meat, typically seafood, such as cod or anchovies. And they’re always used as an excuse for socializing.

Pro tip: Less than three out of every 10 Basques actually speak the language, called Euskara. The language is thought to be one of the only surviving pre-Indo-European languages in Europe, and is in fact so obscure that scholars are unsure where it originated. It is unlike any other language spoken today. Take note of how Euskara is still used in the Basque culture as you travel. Is it on signs or menus? Are people speaking it in normal conversation?

Related: 5 unexpected souvenirs to buy on your next Europe trip.

A demonstration for Catalan independence. Courtesy of SBA73.

A demonstration for Catalan independence. Courtesy of SBA73.


Official languages: Spanish and Catalan

City to visit: Barcelona

Popular food: Bocadillos. This is what the Spanish call a sandwich. But they do it all differently here. They smear tomatoes onto the freshly baked baguette they’ve sliced in half—a technique that many Barcelonians will tell you is very Catalan (“Muy Catalan,” they repeat, as they smear the tomato)—and put jamón serrano and manchego cheesebetween the halves of bread. Jamón serrano is cured pork that nearly melts in your mouth. You can find the whole legs of pig hanging from the ceiling and curing in nearly any market, butcher or not. Manchego cheese is hard, sharp, and complements the jamón to perfection.

Pro tip: The push for Catalan independence is reaching a fever pitch and attracting the attention of the world. Last month, Europe’s governing soccer body EUFA fined Barcelona 30,000 euros after fans displayed pro-Catalan independence flags at the Champions League final in Berlin. See if you can notice the difference between the Catalan flags, with five yellow stripes and four red, and the Catalan independence flag, which features a blue triangle with a white star on the right side. That flag, the estelada, it’s called, is flown by the minority Catalan separatists, and can be controversial.

Las Fallas. Courtesy of FeistyTortilla.

Las Fallas. Courtesy of FeistyTortilla.


Official languages: Spanish and Valencian

City to visit: Valencia

Popular food: Paella. This now world-renowned simmered rice concoction was born in Valencia. It was created to be made with whatever the land can provide, and in Valencia, that is fish. Shrimp, mussels, squid—whatever the catch of the day is, throw it in the paella. Inland, you’ll find some paellas made with rabbit (conejo) or chicken (pollo), but in Valencia, the paella ingredients come from the sea.

Pro tip: Valencia is known for its festival held each spring to commemorate Saint Joseph called the Fallas. The gunpowder-fueled celebration draws architects and designers from around the world to help build dozens of fallas, or stories-tall, elaborate statues. For a week the city celebrates, admires the fallas, holds parades, parties, contests and the like. The last night, they set the fallas ablaze and watch as they burn. Time your trip to coincide with the fallas for a richer and more fiery experience.

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Tagged: Europe, Spain

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Ally Marotti

Ally Marotti

Ally is a Chicago-based journalist, recently transplanted from Ohio.

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