The ‘Autonomous Regions’

Spain has seventeen so-called ‘Autonomous Region’. Each its own very distinct character, culture and in the cases of The Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia, their own languages. Quite apart from the importance of these differences for the casual visitor or tourist, which many bikers will consider as secondary importance, the regions have a great deal of autonomy, much more than, say, Scotland and Wales. What does impact bikers, however, is the devolved responsiblity of the regional governments to managing their own economies, including road infrastructure, tourism and its development, i.e what kind of accommodation is on offer and how to find it, and especially for those planning off-road adventures – conserving the environment.

Spain's 'Autonomous Regions' and provinces
Spain’s ‘Autonomous Regions’ and provinces

The road system gets a special section, suffice to say here that in route planning it’s as well to know how this works, and to bear in mind that regional and local governments can and do build roads to serve local economic and social needs, so the local networks, often ignored by cartographers and SatNavs alike, are a rich source of great riding – and apart from local transit, herds of goats, the occasional tractor, these offer hours of bliss!

Likewise the management of natural spaces varies considerably in quality between the various regions, at best due to economic factors, pressure of population, revenue, etc. at worse it can be down the degree of venality in local politics. But on the ground this has a major impact on accessibility, or otherwise, to motors of all stripes. There’s a balance between interests here, obviously, and many of the more red-blooded of the Spanish off-road forums and blogs claim, erroneously as it turns out, that there are not enough off-road trails available. This is patently absurd, as British, Dutch and German riders in particular will notice. The other side of this coin is that ares of spectacular natural beauty, of which there are many, are more accessible to road riders and have a greater level of infrastructure, accommodation, restaurants, and allied activities, than the most areas of the interior, where, even in the Spain of the XXI century, meeting the needs of everyday life can be a challenge in its own right!

As a sweeping generalisation, the northern regions are more ‘European’ in outlook and as one rides from the border in the north-east towards Andalusia, the cliché of the ‘real’ Spain, in the extreme south-west begins to emerge. This is  reflected in the type tourism and who enjoys it. Spanish people from all regions are intensely proud of their regional culture and by far the best tourist experiences are claimed by them – but for the fact that it’s open to all of course! It’s just a matter of finding it.

Two notes: the devolution to local government goes right down to town and even village level. (see More/Information: Tourist Offices). A commonly frustrating experience is that tourist information offices often only pertain to their own, very small, locality, and will know nothing of neighboring areas, even a few kilometres away. So it’s as well to be prepared to be as self-sufficient as possible information-wise. The reverse of this coin, of course, is that it’s possible to discover amazing sights, accommodation, etc., locally – you simply can’t find this stuff by doing a quick search on the internet – enjoy!

Rather than list the regions alphabetically it’s better to group each with Spain’s major physical features – but note that most regions span across these zones so these are duplicated:

  • The North coast and Bay of Biscay: Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and The Basque Country
  • The Mediterranean coast or Levante: Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia, Andalusia
  • The Central highlands or Meseta: Castilla y Leon,  La Rioja, Aragon, Castilla – La Mancha, Extremadura and Andalusia
  • The Pyrenees: ,The Basque Country,  Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia
  • The Archipelagos: The Balearic Islands and The Canary Islands
  • The ‘enclaves’. Ceuta and Melilla