Because of its geographical location, Spain acts as a bridge between two continents – Europe and Africa. The country has myriad natural attractions, ranging from long sandy beaches, sheltered coves and steep cliffs to breathtaking mountain landscapes characterised by high peaks and enclosed valleys. By contrast, the centre of Spain, known as the Meseta, is marked by seemingly endless expanses of flat terrain.
Relief – The average altitude in Spain is 650m/2 100ft above sea level and one sixth of the terrain rises to more than 1 000m/3 300ft. The highest peak on the Spanish mainland is Mulhacén (3 422m/11 427ft) in the Sierra Nevada. The highest point in Spain, however, is Mount Teide on the Canary Islands, rising to a height of 3 718m/12 195ft.
The dominant feature of the peninsula is the immense plateau at its centre. This is the Meseta: a Hercynian platform between 600m/1 968.5ft and 1 000m/3 281ft high, which tilts slightly westwards. The Meseta is surrounded by long mountain ranges which form barriers between the central plateau and the coastal regions. All these ranges, the Cordillera Cantábrica in the northwest (an extension of the Pyrenees), the Cordillera Ibérica in the northeast and the Sierra Morena in the south, were caused by Alpine folding. Other mountains rising here and there from the Meseta are folds of the original, ancient massif. They include the Sierras de Somosierra, Guadarrama and Gredos, the Peña de Francia and the Montes de Toledo.
The highest massifs in Spain, the Pyrenees (Pirineos) in the north and the Sierras Béticas, including the Sierra Nevada, in the south, are on the country’s periphery, as are Spain’s greatest depressions, those of the Ebro and Guadalquivir rivers.
Although most of Spain enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, the great diversity of its landscapes is partly due to the country’s wide variety of climates.
The Meseta accounts for 40 per cent of the surface area of Iberia and includes Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Madrid and Extremadura. It has a continental climate with extremes of temperature ranging from scorching hot in summer to freezing cold in winter. These excesses are combined with modest and irregular rainfall to form an arid landscape, that complements the seemingly infinite horizons in this part of Spain. The masiff of the adjoining Pyrenees has a colder, alpine climate. This is also prevalent in the Sierra Nevada (Snowy Range) in Andalucía.
The northern coast, which runs from Galicia to the País Vasco, is nicknamed España verde (Green Spain) due to its mild and very humid climate, with rainfall being much higher than in the heartlands of northern Europe. This is in stark contrast to the perceived image of Spain as being one of an entirely dry country.
The Levante has a Mediterranean climate with rainfall being restricted mainly to autumn and spring and warm temperatures in the winter giving way to high temperatures between July and August. This humidity is tempered by the Levante, the cool wind by which this eastern coast, from Almería in the south to Catalunya in the east, is named.
A semi-arid or desert climate affects Almería, in southeastern Andalucía, with low rainfall to an extent that the Cabo de Gata near Almería is known as the driest region in Europe. The remaining coastline of Andalucía shares traits of a Mediterranean and subtropical region lending it a mild and sunny climate.
The climate of the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera) in the Mediterranean Sea is characterised by mild and tempestuous winters, in between hot and bright summers.
The Canary Islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, are characterised by a subtropical climate, due to its latitude in the Atlantic Ocean. It is well known for its year-round pleasant temperatures and low rainfall, making it a haven for winter sun-seekers.