Thursday, 2 October 2014

Visiting Spain in Autumn: Where to go, what to do

Spain in Autumn 

It's undeniably Autumn (or fall, if you're from across the pond). The leaves have started to turn, there's a chill in the air in the mornings and evenings. Most commonly associated with sun and sand beach holidays, Spain isn't just a summer holiday destination: with such a diverse landscape and many more hours of sunshine than the UK, it's worth visiting in every season.

Where to go in autumn

Now the bulk of the tourists have packed their suitcases and headed home, Autumn can actually be a good time to hit the coast. Prices drop in September and October, and while the weather isn't guaranteed to provide suntanning opportunities, it's still likely to be bright and warm. Hedge your bets weather-wise by opting for a city with a beach, like Barcelona, Málaga or Valencia: that way there'll still be plenty to do if the sun doesn't shine.

Let's face it, the Valencian coast is beautiful year-round

As Autumn rolls on, it's a good time to head inland and visit cities that are just too damn hot in summer, such as Madrid, Seville and Córdoba. If you aren't looking for a city break, the colder weather is ideal for cosying up in Spain's heartland of the Comunidad de Madrid, Castilla la Mancha and Castilla-León. Towns (and yes, small cities) like CuencaLeón, Salamanca and Segovia are easily walkable, with cute cascos antiguos (old quarters), enough beautiful buildings and monuments to keep you entertained – but not so many as to put under pressure to frantically sight-see. Even better, the cuisine in these regions seems designed with Autumn in mind: Castille specializes in hearty fare such as Segovia's suckling pig (cochinillo asado), roast lamb and Burgos's famous morcilla (blood sausage).

Autumn fiestas

September is pretty big on the Spanish festival calendar, with the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, the Feria de Pedro Romero in Ronda, the grape harvests in La Rioja and La Mercè in Barcelona. The biggest harvest celebration is the San Mateo fiestas in Logroño which run for the last two weeks in September, peaking on the penultimate weekend. Expect lively street celebrations, grape-crushing the old-fashioned way (ie with your feet), bull fights and revelry aplenty. There's also revelry at the same time in Barcelona: the city's biggest festa La Mercè sees the centre fill with castellers (acrobats who build a human pyramid in a matter of minutes), parades, correfocs (fire runs) and even more atmosphere than usual.

Zaragoza's Fiestas del Pilar

If you're interested in Spanish fiestas, you'll want to make sure 4–13 October is in your diary: that's when the Aragonese city of Zaragoza celebrates its Fiestas del Pilar. A lively city year-round thanks to a big student population, Zaragoza is easily accessible thanks to its airport, plus its bus and train links (including an AVE connection to Madrid and Barcelona). Every year, the good folk of Zaragoza get together to celebrate their patron saint, Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar, said pillar being a column upon which the Virgin Mary is reputed to have appeared, located in the central Basilica of the same name). But this isn't a staid religious affair (we are in Spain after all): during the lead up to the main day, 12 October, Zaragoza is alive with concerts, cultural events, groups dancing jotas (the traditional Aragonese dance)  and as you may expect, mucha fiesta. Concerts are held in the Plaza del Pilar itself, but much of the partying goes on just out of town at the recinto ferial, where you'll find a fairground and plenty of marquees with music, both live and recorded. The final weekend of the festivities is particularly fun, culminating in a mass offering of flowers to the Virgin on 12 October.

Looking very youthful at the Fiestas del Pilar in 2009

October is clearly a big month for patron saints: Ávila also pays homage to its patrona, Santa Teresa. On 15 October, this normally staid city celebrates with parades of giant fallas-style sculptures, an offering of flowers to the saint – and fireworks. The week surrounding the 15th offers a full calendar of bullfights, concerts and other events.

What to do in Autumn

Autumn in the Sierra de Guadarrama

Now the temperature has dropped and the countryside's looking a little less parched, Autumn's a good time to make for the sierra. Although Spain's more commonly associated with mar than montaña, there's actually plenty of mountainous territory too, so wherever you are, you won't be too far from some sierra. Whether you're a keen hiker or an idle wanderer who prefers mountain villages, there will be something to satisfy you. Good escapes include the Sierra de Grazalema in Cádiz province and the Sierra de Guadarrama outside Madrid. Both have plenty of good-value accommodation including little hotels, apartments and casas rurales (country cottages).

Cosy up at a casa rural in autumn

If you're staying in the city, Autumn's a busy time on the old events calendar. The vuelta al cole (back to school) spirit in Spain extends much further than studying, with all the cultural events on hold over summer starting up again. In addition to festivals such as Seville's Bienal de Flamenco (held in even years), you'll find a full calendar of theatre, opera and dance performances in Spanish cities. It's also the time of year when markets (both of the clothing and farmers' varieties) get going again after their summer holidays, so make sure to check out Madrid's Mercado de Motores. You can find details of other cities' flea markets here. Autumn's a good time for live music too, with festivals such as Monkey Week in El Puerto de Santa Maria and Bilboloop in Bilbao. And if food's more your thing, in October there are street food markets in both Madrid and Barcelona.

So, after all that, do you still think of Spain as a summer destination? Where are your favourite places in Spain to visit in Autumn?

You may also be interested in:
Visiting Spain in Winter
Visiting Spain in Spring


  1. Great post! So many people have the misconception that Spain is best in the summer. Although I miss the strong contrasts between the seasons in the UK, it's true that there is plenty to do in autumn. Maybe I should head north to get my fix of autumn colours (the trees just seem to go brown and then bare here in Seville!)

    1. Thanks Kim! I know, there's so much more to offer. I agree re the seasons - Madrid seems to skim over autumn & spring and have much longer summers & winters. But still, the leaves are definitely changing here! I think autumn is actually one of the best times to visit as it's still warm & bright (mostly) but less busy and also cheaper.


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