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06 Mar

These are places steeped in Celtic tradition where the local version of the bagpipes provides a soundtrack to festivities, which are further enlivened by the region's potent cider and strong-smelling cheeses. This part of the country is, after all, home to the famous rioja grape variety.Rain in Spain actually falls mainly in the north and this helps produce some of the world's finest grapes – Professor Higgins would no doubt have been delighted.If you head for the Spanish plain in search of rain – for example, the plains in Don Quixote country in La Mancha – you will be sorely disappointed.La Mancha takes its name from the Arabic word for 'arid' – it is as dry as dust.Travel to Spain with a one or two-night cruise on a luxury ferry and enjoy comfortable cabins and plenty of entertainment, including cinemas, swimming pool and quality restaurants.From charismatic cities full of boisterous bars and hip galleries, to sleepy villages dotted with run-down farmhouses and olive groves, Spain never fails to open up travellers’ eyes, minds and hearts.Ones particularly worth seeking out in northern Spain include the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela – the finishing point for those who walk the Pilgrim's Way across northern Spain – and the popular Hostal San Marcos in Leon.In Santander, the seaside has a delightful Edwardian feel.

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They include Altamira, famous for paintings of boars, bison, deer and horses dating from the end of the Ice Age.

Madrid is 2,100ft above sea level (which explains why the Spanish capital is so cold in the winter and roasting-hot in the summer).

But for impressive mountains, northern Spain is the place to go.

This is a Big Country in lots of ways – the coast, which runs from the French border in the east to the frontier with northern Portugal in the west – covers a distance of some 500 miles.

Together they make up what is known as Green Spain – green thanks to the large amounts of year-round rain.