Official Name: Kingdom of Spain
System of Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Area: 504,782 Sq Km (194,897 Sq Mi)
Estimated Population: 41.200.000
Spain has four major ethnic groups that are divided by language: Castilian, Basque, Catalan and Galician, which combined account for almost the entire population.The official language is Castilian Spanish. 17% of the population speaks Catalan while 7% speak Galician, 2% speak Basque and the remainder speak Castilian.
Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula in South West Europe and includes the Balearic and Canary Islands as well as the Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. It is bound by France and Andorra to the northeast, Spain and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast and east, the Strait of Gibraltar and Morocco to the south and the Bay of Biscay to the northwest. Continental Spain consists of the Meseta or Central Plateau which is surrounded by the Baetic, Andalusian and Iberian Mountains to the south and southeast, the Pyrenees to the north, and the Cordillera Cantabrica to the northwest.
Spain is one of the warmest countries in Europe. Spain’s predominant climate is Mediterranean-temperate, with dry summers, and constant temperatures during the winter. In Spain, you will enjoy more than three thousand hours of sunlight per annum. Because of their particular location, in front of the African coastline, the Canary islands enjoy a very mild climate, with a pleasant average annual temperature of 22ºC. The Balearic Islands are also blessed with a Mediterranean climate: summers are generally warm and the winters are mild.
Eating is in Spain one of the most pleasant rituals of daily life. Thanks to the quality, variety and richness of its gastronomy, it is one of the world’s best. The Mediterranean, multicultural, and avant-garde atmosphere of Spain is reflected in its dishes. The dishes are gastronomic creations born out of the fusion of different cultures, made of local ingredients, and with centuries of tradition behind them. When enjoying the Spanish custom known as tapeo – going from bar to bar eating tapas, you will discover that the locals have a weakness for seafood. Prawns, mussels, fresh anchovies in vinegar, croquettes, and mini rolls are some of the most popular tapas dishes.
The Wine and Fino Sherry
The wine is a very important element in all the regional cuisines of Spain. The Romans bequeathed the art of grape growing that has turned Spain into one of the greatest old world wine producers, famed for its quality. The Rioja wines, for example, have obtained an international reputation for their outstanding aroma, flavor and body. Other famous denominations are those of the Ribera del Duero, Penedés and La Mancha. The Spanish cava, or sparkling wine, has its main centre of production in the Penedés Catalan region. The bars and taverns of Andalusia, with their special charm and convivial atmosphere, are the perfect place to enjoy the famous fino sherry – good cheer and friendly chatter abound between glasses of sherry and tapas of the region’s best dishes.
The currency in Spain is the euro (€).
VAT and Tax Refunds
If you country of residence is outside of the European Union, you may request a sales-tax refund for your purchases. There are several companies in Spain that are authorized to process sales-tax (IVA) refunds. You need to request a form for your sales-tax refund at the shop. Spanish law sets €90.15 as the minimum purchase needed for you to be able to get a sales-tax refund. This amount needs to be spent at the same shop, and on the same day, for it to be eligible for a tax free cheque. The paperwork is simple: to obtain the refund, you must ask for a tax-free receipt of purchase, for which you need to show a valid proof of foreign residency (passport). Show your purchases, and seal the tax-free goods in customs (you have three months from the time of purchase to seal your goods). Ask for the refund at the authorized refund-processing company. These companies have IVA refund offices at all major airports in Spain. You can get your refund in cash, or credit it back to your credit card.
Shops are generally open Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 9.00pm, with late-night shopping until 10.00pm at many of the larger shopping malls. Many of the smaller stores will have a siesta (break) from 2.00pm to 4.00 or 5.00 pm. Many smaller supermarkets in towns and villages also open on Sundays.
The electrical current in Spain is 200 volts, 50 cycles AC. Plugs are of the continental type, with two round prongs. American appliances require a transformer and a plug adapter for use in Spain.