Opinion • June 2015
With gastronomic highlights from prosciutto to panettone, iconic fashion brands, and architectural and art gems aplenty, Italy is surely the undisputed capital of European culture, declares Rome-based writer Silvia Marchetti.
Possibly, says Patricia Gosálvez Reyes, reporter on Madrid-based newspaper El Pais, but Spain also has a strong claim to that moniker. We asked these two experts to state their case for why their homeland should claim the crown
The Italian advocate, Silvia Marchetti
I’ve travelled the world and lived abroad, so if I say that Italy rules as far as enjoying life goes, it’s not just because I’m Italian. My mother has a proverb: ‘As it is at home, and as you eat at home, there's no other place’. And it couldn’t be truer.
But Italy is not just spaghetti, the Coliseum and Michelangelo. It’s what you don't see at first that makes it special; hidden treasures and small details - such as its 6,000 ghost towns, and the 380 spas built by the Romans. Or the prison islands packed with history: forget sweaty sunbathers and screaming kids, this is where you’ll feel like a luxury Robinson Crusoe. One island is Ventotene, a diving paradise of yellow-purple dwellings and Roman villas; my first time there I was mesmerised.
The 8th century hillside settlement of Craco is one of Italy’s 6,000 ghost towns
Italy has 50 Unesco World Heritage sites: more than any other country but there's still plenty to discover. Almost every little town hides a Renaissance masterpiece or archaeological wonder.
And then there’s the food and wine. Each of Italy’s 20 regions has a cuisine, ranging from sophisticated to peasant recipes, and wine varieties that would take more than a lifetime to taste. Neighbouring towns battle over who makes the best fish soup - is it Termoli’s brodetto or Vasto’s zuppa? They’re as different as night and day.
And don't forget desserts, a product of Italy's fine patisserie art. The world's best pistachio slushy is made in Caltagirone, in deepest Sicily.
So, have I convinced you?
The case for Spain, by Patricia Gosálvez Reyes
I’ve crossed a desert in Tabernas, Almeria, in the style of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, hiked through cow-crowded fields in Asturias, sunbathed on a Cadiz beach and battled a snow storm in Sierra de Gredos - all less than 500 miles from my home in Madrid.
Spain’s diverse landscape means you can fit several trips into one. From the beach to a magnificent historic town, on to a ski slope, then glide down to a remote village. And if you need something more buzzy, head to a sophisticated urban spot.
A massive tourist industry has sharpened many Spanish stereotypes. There is enough space to avoid them, but enough quality to revel in them if that’s your thing. I won’t frown on those who salute the sunset in Ibiza or survive solely on good tapas and sangria.
‘Castellers’ (human castles) celebrating the final day of the La Merce Festival in Barcelona
Speaking of food, the range is exceptional. From humble huevos rotos (‘broken eggs’) to exquisite deconstructed tortilla and the other delicacies created in Ferran Adria’s wake. There is no excuse to eat badly here.
The epicure satisfied, on to feeding the intellectuals with popular and high culture. Carnivals and opera. Processions and world-class museums. In Andalucia, marvel at the delicate architecture the Arabs left in Granada. In Palencia, the richest Romanesque region of Europe, reflect on the depth and nudity of early medieval Christianity. And yes, you can party until the early hours almost anywhere.
If I didn’t have all of it on my doorstep, I would definitely come to visit.
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