Information: tourist offices

This looks obvious, tourist info. is tourist info. surely? Not the case actually; an understanding of the somewhat labyrinthine nature of Spanish bureaucracy will really help in getting the information you need, both in advance and especially on the ground – when it’s too late to realise you’ve underestimated the issue!

The staff at the Oficina de Turismo Comarcal at Ainsa, a key location in the Pyrenees, couldn't have been more helpful - including giving me carte-blanche to ride my bike into the castle for a photo-shoot!
The staff at the Oficina de Turismo Comarcal at Ainsa, a key location in the Pyrenees, couldn’t have been more helpful – including giving me carte-blanche to ride my bike into the castle for a photo-shoot!

The apparent duplication is down to the several layers of Spanish national, regional and local government, (see The ‘Autonomous’ Regions) each of which has its own take on the vital importance or tourism to the national economy.

  • National Tourist Board, TURESPAÑA: this has a global responsibility to market Spain as a tourist destination. The Holiday in Spain page has all the high level information about travelling to and around Spain, ranging from visa requirements to details of all the ports, airport, etc. and of course customs regulations – one hopes all of this is kept scrupulously up to date! It even has an on-line hotel reservations – which didn’t work when I tried it!
  • Regional Governments: each Autonomous Region has its own tourist departments. These are to do with developing sectors, setting standards, etc. and don’t provide tourist information as their main priority, some, e.g. Galicia, not at all. But some support quasi-independent institutions whose activities do include very useful information. A superb example of this is The Generalitat de Catalunya’s Palau Robert, which along with a lot of other cultural activities promotes the rural environment by publishing geo-referenced routes for walks, mountain bike trails and – 4×4’s – some of which can be adapted for off-road rides for the taking!
  • Provincial Governments: these have an institution called the diputación which among several functions are also about developing tourism. Their websites and publications have a wealth of information of general interest and practical details. A word of warning, however, quality varies and away from the tourist regions the sites may only be in Spanish, but a little perseverance pays dividends: doing a quick random search I’ve found the Diputación de Caceres in Andalusia and compared it with Lleida in Catalonia, which has a special sub-site, Lleidatur. You can see that Caceres is pretty poor – but has a very useful map of the tourist offices. But Lleida’s diputació (in Catalan here of course) quickly links you to the encyclopedic Lleidatur – so it’s always worth the research effort!
  • Local government: these are in two categories; town halls, called Ajuntamientos, are the lowest level and are subservient to the Comarcas, which are roughly the equivalent to British ‘counties’. Both of these hold detailed information about services, facilities, accommodation, etc. and the physical tourist offices on the ground.
    • Tourist offices run by Comarcas are often found in historic buildings, museums, etc. and often also sponsor quasi-independent visitor centres at sites of special interest, nature reserves, etc. All of these are more likely to be open at hours more useful to the touring public, i.e., mornings and evenings and at weekends, including Sundays and holidays – but note that these, like most museums, art galleries, etc., therefore are closed on Mondays – this is more or less universal in Spain! For advanced planning many comarcas have excellent web sites – all the information you need – and perhaps more! Seeing that their tourist office was so helpful with, my photo-shoot (above) here’s a plug for the Sobrarbe!
    • Ajuntamiento tourist offices are only really concerned with their own areas, so although they will be perhaps the most helpful, suggesting the best restaurants and finding and even booking Casas Rurales for you (see Accommodation/Rural Retreats), their knowledge base is limited to their municipality, plus holding stocks of maps, brochures, etc. produced by the Comarcas and Diputaciónes. These tourist offices are usually located in the town hall itself and will only be open during normal hours of funcionarios, i.e. from 09.00 – 14.00 – and not a second longer! But it’s worth remembering that major cities are also Ajuntamientos, just like tiny village municipalities, and their tourist information can be awesome – here’s all the help you need to plan a trip to Valencia!