Cantabria’s most exquisite (and most popular) villages are strung like pearls across the green-cloaked coastline west of Santander. First comes medieval beauty Santillana del Mar, with the prehistoric wonders of the Cueva de Altamira closeby; then Comillas and its unexpected Modernista architecture; and, finally, handsome San Vicente de la Barquera, with its pretty port.
Puerto del Carmen
With sunshades four lanes deep, this is the island’s most popular beach and its oldest purpose-built resort. If you are seeking an iota of Canarian atmosphere, head for the El Varadero harbour, at the far west of the beachfront, which still has a faint fishing-village feel, with its bobbing boats and uninterrupted ocean views.
Just 35km along the coast southwest of Barcelona, Sitges sizzles with beach life, nightclubs and an enviable clutch of festivals. Sitges has been a resort town since the 19th century, and was a key location for the Modernisme movement, which paved the way for the likes of Picasso. These days it’s Spain’s most famous gay holiday destination.
Brash Benidorm is an infamous focus for mass tourism along its two wide sandy beaches and the high-rise development that backs them. Bingo, karaoke, fish 'n' chips, all-day fry-ups: it's here, and the profusion of expat bars where not a word of Spanish is spoken give it an atmosphere of its own. Benidorm's nice side is the old town, set on a hill between the two beaches.
Torremolinos & Benalmádena
Torremolinos was developed in the 1950s and, while many of the not-so-modern blocks are Stalin-era in their grimness, there remain attractive quarters, such as the La Carihuela. Torremolinos has been known as the Costa del Sol’s gay capital since its first gay bar opened in 1962. The highest concentration of gay bars and clubs lies just west of Plaza La Nogalera in the centre.
Torrevieja, set on a wide coastal plain between two lagoons, one pink, one emerald, is a through-and-through resort town with a large, mainly British and Russian, expat population. The beaches are good and in summer the nightlife fairly busy, but the town itself lacks a little soul. Salt production remains an important element of its economy.