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Spain, one of the remotest countries in Europe?

I came across this fascinating American produced video about empty Spain aka "deep Spain". I think it does a great job explaining the unique phenomenon of empty Spain, which I think many foreign tourists are totally unaware of when they visit the county.

Heres' the link: Why 70% of Spain is Empty - RealLifeLore

The basics are 90% of the population of Spain live in 30% of the country (mainly along the coast), the other 70% is inhabited by only 10% of the population!

That 70% of Spain has the same population density as Norway. One can go even further as there are wide swaths of Spain, like the Serranía Celtibérica (about the size of Ireland), that has about the same population density as Lapland! The video goes on to explain the history and socio-economics behind phenomenon empty Spain.

I think this is potentially a great opportunity for those foreign visitors to Spain (who have been 1-2 times already) to broaden their horizons as there is a lot of Spain left undiscovered. One example in the video is of the ancient town of Teruel in southern Aragon, which is known in Spain for its preserved Moorish/Mudéjar architecture, even being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is virtually unknown outside of the country.

Posted by
21281 posts

Carlos, if you and I keep mentioning Teruel, one of these days it's going to show up in Rick's book, and then where will we be?

Posted by
2675 posts

That's right haha! But a few more tourists heading towards Teruel might not be a bad thing. As the slogan goes "Teruel exists!".

Empty Spain has even created their own political party nationally representing those underpopulated interior provinces of Spain - https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Empty_Spain

A list of other political movements for representation of the underpopulated and underappreciated interior of Spain (my favorite is León Roars):

Teruel Exists (Teruel Existe)
Soria Now! (Soria ¡Ya!)
Burgos Roots (Burgos Enraíza)
Clean Plateau (Meseta Limpia)
Aprodespa (Aprodespa)
León Roars (León Ruge)
Ávila Resists (Ávila Resiste)
The Other Guadalajara (La Otra Guadalajara)
Aragon Exists (Aragón Existe)
SOS Talavera (SOS Talavera)
Cuenca Now (Cuenca Ahora)
Empty Extremadura (Extremadura Vaciada)
Cáceres Is Moving (Cáceres Se Mueve)
Milana Bonita (Milana Bonita)
Jaén Deserves More (Jaén Merece Más)
Granada for the Train (Granada por el Tren)

Posted by
4138 posts

A plug for Teruel. We just spent two nights there. The historic center is relatively small and easy to navigate. The mudejar towers are in close proximity of each other. If driving, there is a large free parking lot by the train station and staircase/escalinata. If you don’t want to climb the stairs, there’s also an elevator. During our time there we also visited Albarracín and took the Paseo Fluvial walk around the town. Closer to Teruel is another nature walk, Camino Natural del Guadalaviar with some impressive scenery. Stopped at Belchite and Daroca on the way to Zaragoza, which is terribly hot. It was 94 yesterday. Back to Carlos’ initial topic, while driving around to countryside there are plenty of small towns that appear half empty, with no stores, gas stations, or restaurants.

Posted by
216 posts

First time travelers to a country normally visit the "must-sees" or more relevant places, like in Spain would be Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Seville, Toledo, San Sebastian...It´s for the second+ visits that these places are really worth visiting. I live in the Basque Country and most visitors come to Donostia-San Sebastian, Bilbao and Laguardia...but of course there are so many places in between that it makes it very complicated to visit it all!! There are so many great places to visit in each country that it´s complicated to get to all of them, but some of your suggestions are just great.

Posted by
3336 posts

Thanks for the link! It certainly shows that for even countries that sees a lot of tourists they all tend to flock to the same areas.

But, about the same population density as Lapland? If wikipedia is to be trusted, Serranía Celtibérica has about 10 times the population density of Swedish Lapland.

Posted by
2764 posts

This is kind of what makes it so difficult to plan a trip beyond the usual places in Spain. In Italy, I feel like I can safely pick a village to stay in, and though it may be too small for most people, the village will be full of life--restaurants, young and old enjoying the square, etc.--and I can do day trips to remote places but still have a lively place in the evening. In Spain, I have felt a little more trepidation about choosing "bases." But I'll let you know how it goes next month--I'm off to Cuenca and Caceres soon. I do feel like those small towns will have plenty going on. I have in the past chosen some small places to stay that were just too quiet. Sometime I'll tell you about staying in Elanxtobe and being the only people in the hotel--the only living people at least! I was sure we'd see a ghost that night.

Posted by
21281 posts

You shouldn't have a problem in either of those places. Cuenca is about 15 times the size of Elantxobe, and Caceres is a lot larger than Cuenca.

Posted by
2675 posts

@Badger

I watched the video again with subtitles this time and they said the population density was 8 people per km2 for the Serranía Celtibérica, which is the second least populated region in Europe, after Lapland (they're combing Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish parts) which is 3-5 people per km2. A close second though :)

Posted by
2675 posts

@valadelphia

I think why the majority of Spain has such low population density is a few factors, I think it's recent depopulation of smaller villages due to 2008 economic crisis, rapid industrialisation under Franco in the 50s and 60s, and historic depopulation tactic stretching back 1000 years to Reconquista times when local rulers would create no-man-lands as barriers to invasion.

However, I think the trends are changing now, with the covid pandemic and remote work many younger people seem to be moving back to the villages of the interior for a more quiet life while still working good jobs. Also now many of these remote interior provinces are organizing politically to demand more investment from the government.

Here's a good English article from El Pais about the sparsely populated areas of Aragón, Castilla y León, and Extremadura that are simultaneously home to many natural wonders and cultural sites that are well worth a visit! - https://english.elpais.com/el_viajero/2020-02-21/five-gems-for-travelers-in-undiscovered-spain.html

Some highlights are Caracena (Soria), Valderrobres (Teruel), San Andrés de Arroyo (Palencia), Valencia de Alcántara (Cáceres), and Prádena de la Sierra (Segovia)

Posted by
2764 posts

Thanks all--yes I'm feeling good about Cuenca and Caceres, it is just that this phenomena makes choosing smaller places challenging sometimes. It is encouraging that some of these beautiful areas may be having a resurgence.
My only concern now is managing to not get covid while still having a relaxing vacation--our first since covid. We have a quiet life and have managed to not get it so far, but we intend to go to restaurants on the trip of course. Otherwise we do mostly outdoor activities.
Since my partner and I are young(ish) and anticipate no health problems, my plan is to just roll with it. I understand Spain has no official isolation policy, so if it happens, we'll try to tack on a ten-day stay somewhere (United airlines requires a ten-day pause before rebooking unless you test negative within that time I suppose.) I have picked out a couple places in Andalucia we'd like to go.
Can anyone comment on the general vibe around covid? Will some places recoil if I try to book with them having covid (I would not feel comfortable hiding the fact)? I would keep to myself, decline housekeeping, and be generally respectful of course. I need a rough backup plan for just-in-case. I am hearing masks are rare and everyone is just going about their lives, so I don't think anyone would refuse my money for a week rental, but who knows?

Posted by
510 posts

Gracias, Carlos. Very interesting information.

Posted by
78 posts

An interesting comment, but it doesn't surprise me -- I learned this several years ago. Over the years I've made several trips to Spain, usually focused on quaint, historic towns off the tourist trail (and, I admit, always during the off-season months of November or December), and the gratifying result is that in this very heavily touristed country, I have often felt that I might have been the first tourist to discover the place! In fact, I visited Teruel, which you mentioned, in 2009, and upon first gazing on its beautiful central square, and wandering its narrow medieval streets, I wondered how tourists could overlook this fine historic town. But of course I knew why -- they were all on popular beach resorts, gaping at Celebrity Architect constructions in Barcelona, or following the crowds through the Alhambra. Yes, as you said, Teruel is "virtually unknown outside the country" -- one of the reasons I chose it! And I could say the same about Caceres, Zamora, Zafra, and other fine historic Spanish towns I have enjoyed visiting.

(Out of old-fashioned courtesy, I'm not going to challenge Rick Steves' belief that he's visiting Europe "through the Back Door" -- but I may be the one who is really doling it!)

Posted by
8166 posts

Just finished walking 40 days through Spain on my Camino and saw so many villages that were basically deserted. No people, Se Vende signs on most of the windows. It was sad to see. I kept thinking about the generations of families that had lived in those houses, their joys and fears, their celebrations. Then there is that huge golf course community near Santa Domingo and I often thought it was the perfect place to house hundreds if not 1000s of Ukrainian refugees. I think 90-95% of the homes and apts. have never been lived in.

Posted by
800 posts

My experience with Spain is there's a serious lack of infrastructure. Rail and driving off the few major routes is poor, somewhat due to the geology, but I think mostly because of the tradition of keeping the populace in place. They made travel difficult for hundreds of years, and Franco did nothing to improve that. It would take 30 years of concerted effort (as if that would ever happen) to bring Spain's roads up to American standards. Frankly the country can't afford it even if they wanted it.

Posted by
2675 posts

It would take 30 years of concerted effort (as if that would ever happen) to bring Spain's roads up to American standards. Frankly the country can't afford it even if they wanted it.

@KGC thank you for your perspective, but I actually think infrastructure is one of Spain's main strengths, we have the second most high speed rail in the world (after China) and our road quality is ranked 10th in the world (USA is 17th). I've lived in both Spain and the US and the quality of roads in the States is really quite poor, cracks and pot holes everywhere. In Spain we have 2000 year old Roman roads that are in better shape than the roads in California lol!

Source for road quality: https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/roads_quality/

Posted by
4138 posts

@KGC - I have to disagree. Other than a few 4-digit roads (e.g., A-1601) the roads in Spain are in very good repair and one can get anywhere. Because they are not interstates it may take longer and they may only be 2-lanes wides, but in all my trips to Spain, I’ve never had a problem getting to where I wanted. Back in the late 1970s when I lived in Spain and there were no highways I would have mostly agreed with your statement, but not now. When Spain wanted to join the European Union it had to upgrade its infrastructure. If I remember correctly, it began doing that in the early 1990s.

Posted by
8166 posts

KGC, the roads and highways in Spain are wonderful and in far better condition than the ones in the US. I saw construction everywhere, while walking the Camino, or riding the buses. The infrastructure seems to be outstanding. The streets were cleaned by early morning, the trash was being picked up in small villages, recycling containers were in every town, no matter how small. Spain seems to be doing a really, really good job at everything. I was impressed.

Posted by
344 posts

I agree with Carlos, Ms Jo, and Jaime.

If you go looking for bad roads you will find them, but overall, there are many new or upgraded road all over the country. For example from Logroño to Santo Domingo there is a nice 4 lane freeway that used to be a country road about twenty years ago.

As is true everywhere politics has a lot to do with it. There is a road in Valderredible that serpintines back and forth through Burgos/Castilla y Leon and Cantabria. I don't remember which, but in on part it was a new asphalted road, and the other was the old pavement.

It's kind of funny you said 30years, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association bridge report,

1 in 3 U.S. Bridges Needs Repair or Replacement...At the current rate, it would take 30 years to fix all the nation's structurally deficient bridges.

Posted by
472 posts

Wholeheartedly agree with Carlos. Going back a few years before the Pandemic I had to drive between Truro, Cape Cod, to Hoboken, New Jersey via Newport, Rhode Island, and then from Hoboken to Putney, Vermont via Springfield, Mass. then back to Boston. It was a great trip overall — but I was shocked at the poor state of the roads in comparison with those in Spain. Hadn't given it a thought before undertaking the trip, I just assumed that the roads would be…well…roads. At first I thought, 'this is just a patch, it'll get better,' but no, the reverse proved true — the patches in the journey were well surfaced highways. My memory of the trip was shake, rattle and roll punctuated by ten to twenty minute patches of relative, smooth calm.
My grandfather was a road builder all his working life — apart from a couple of years in the 1920s when he worked as a chauffeur — and he would say, 'You can always tell a well laid road by the sound it makes…it shouldn't make any.'

Posted by
668 posts

from the NT Times yesterday:
A 17th-Century Stone House Outside Teruel, Spain
$105,000 (99,000 EUROS)

Tucked into the remote hills of Aragón, an autonomous community in northeastern Spain, this converted 17th-century flour mill is now a quaint country residence.
...
This two-bedroom, one-bath, 2,475-square-foot stone house sits about an hour northeast of the high-altitude town of Teruel, 90 miles northwest of Valencia. The house, on a 4,300-square-foot lot, was fully restored in 2000 with an eye on preserving its authenticity ...
The home is enveloped by the mountains of Aragón, along with rivers, orchards, medieval villages and an abundance of black truffles. Torre de Las Arcas, the village nearest to the house, is tiny, with a population of 35, while Montalbán, with about 1,200 residents, is 10 miles southwest. The provincial capital, also called Teruel, is known for its Mudéjar architecture, a style combining Gothic and Islamic aesthetics.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/25/realestate/spain-house-hunting.html

Posted by
472 posts

Regarding my grandfather — among many other road building adventures, he re-laid The Mall in the 1960s, yep, the avenue leading to Buckingham Palace. When most everyone thought the job finished, and feeling pleased with themselves, he walked the length of the Mall cracking eggs on the crown of the road; and at every stage — if the eggs ran too much to the left, or too much to the right, he would motivate his crew to infill, or plane the road as necessary. "We were asked to lay a road fit for the Queen, and we're not finished until we do."