MADRID, Spain, June 2, 2006 – This year Spain is commemorating its most famous 20th century artist, the founder of the Jesuits and a noted 14th century Muslim scholar.

Preliminary regattas for next year’s America’s Cup will sail along the coast of Valencia in June and July and November will see the start of the Five Oceans Race in Bilbao. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, waterfronts around Spain are being revitalized. Architects are designing museums commemorating flamenco, wine and seafaring traditions, while the venerable Prado is getting its first extensive renovation ever. All over Spain, new spas, new wineries, a major casino and golf courses (313 to date) are cropping up in cities, towns and in the countryside.

Spain has declared 2006 the Year of Picasso.  Marking the 125th anniversary of the birth of Pablo Picasso, Málaga’s most famous native son, the Museo Picasso Málaga will present three exhibitions: “The Picassos of Antibes” and “Exhibition of Photographs by Michel Sima” (both through June 11) and “Picasso: The Female Figure“ (October 2006 to February 2007). Under the title “Picasso 2006 BCN,” Barcelona will host two exhibitions, three ballets and several concerts to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the artist’s return to that city. On July 4, the Museu Picasso in Barcelona will host: “The Picassos from Antibes” which will move from Málaga and run through October 15 and “Picasso and the Circus” (November 15-February 18, 2007). Two of Madrid’s leading museums, the Museo del Prado and the Museo Reina Sofía, will mark the 25th anniversary of the return of “Guernica” to Spain with “Picasso: Tradition and Avant-garde” running from June 5 through September 3.

Madrid
Since January more visitors have been entering Spain through the sleek new $7 million Barajas Airport Terminal Four designed by Richard Rogers Partnership and Estudio Lamela. Doubling the airport’s capacity to 70 million passengers, Terminal 4 makes Barajas now the second largest airport in Europe and the world’s 10th largest. Travelers can cure their aches and pains at the new spa which features a Turkish bath “cabin.”  In October the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid will celebrate its 150th anniversary. The origins of zarzuela, a genre of Spanish musical comedy, can be found in the 16th century works of Calderón that were later set to music and performed in 18th century Spain. The long awaited $62 million renovation of the Museo del Prado – the most extensive in its history – will be completed by the end of 2006. Rafael Moneo devised a sensitive means of linking the original 1785 building with a new structure incorporating the cloister of the Jerónimos church. The newly-expanded, 142,000-square-foot space – including a large underground area concealed beneath a garden –will house temporary galleries, a café restaurant, a lecture theatre and conservation studio. Madrid’s hotel scene was enhanced last year by the Hotel Urban, Puerta America and De Las Letras Hotel and 37 new hotels are set to open this year. The first Hard Rock Hotel in Europe debuts this month in the former Gran Hotel Reina Victoria in the city’s historic center. 

Andalusia
The birthplace of flamenco is going all out to preserve and promote its unique dance form. The region recently introduced five flamenco routes running from March through December in which visitors can attend five flamenco performances, guitar concerts and dancing demonstrations on week-long itineraries – completely free of charge. In April, a new Museum of Flamenco Dancing, the brainchild of acclaimed dancer/choreographer Cristina Hoyos opened in Seville. Malaga is expanding its flamenco offerings with more than 100 performances, concerts and recitals through December. Festivals upcoming this year are: Granada’s International Festival of Music and Dance (June 23-July 9), Cordoba’s International Guitar Festival (July 1-14), Cádiz Flamenco Summer Festival (July-August) and the 14th Biennial de Flamenco in Seville (September 13-October 15).  Dramatic new architecture is rising in the region including MA, the Museum of Memory of Andalucia in Granada by Campo Baeza, the City of Flamenco by Herzog and de Meuron incorporating a dance school, museum, auditorium and research center in Jerez de la Frontera and a new congress center in Córdoba designed by Rem Koolhaas– all set to open in 2008. Now through September 30 at the Real Alcázar in Seville visitors can learn more about the tumultuous 14th century at a fascinating exhibition commemorating the 600th anniversary of the death of Ibn Khaldun, history’s most important, but little known, Muslim intellectual.

Asturias
This region renowned for its prehistoric caves and Jurassic museum is turning its attention toward more sybaritic pleasures with a state-of-the-art thalassotherapy complex complete with luxury spa and five-star hotel that will open next spring in the seaside city of Gijón. Designed by two young Spanish architects, Francisco Leiva Ivorra and Marta García, the complex which will also include a fitness complex, physiotherapy clinic and restaurants, resembles a huge salamander curled up in the sun.

Basque Country
Along with the Maritime Museum in Bilbao that debuted two years ago, this seafaring region on the Atlantic welcomes a fishing museum opening this month in Bermeo in an authentically recreated 17th century sailing ship called the Aita Guria. From June 30 to September 3, the region is commemorating the 450th anniversary of the death of Saint Ignatius of Loyola with an extensive program of exhibitions, concerts and religious ceremonies – and a new tourism initiative, tierra ignaciana. Newly designed routes allow visitors to follow in the footsteps of the founder of the Jesuits, the religious order that played such an influential role in the creation of modern Europe. On November 5, the seventh edition of the Five Oceans Race will set sail from Bilbao. The world’s premier round-the-world, single-handed yacht race is the longest (28,000 nautical miles) and most difficult sailing contest for individuals.

Canary Islands
The debut of Santiago Calatrava’s dramatic $70 million opera house in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 2003 set off a flurry of new architectural projects in the Canary Islands. The Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron is designing New Link Quay, an esplanade which will join the Plaza de España with the Santa Cruz seafront and a contemporary art center and museum dedicated to native son artist Óscar Domínguez. Officials on Gran Canaria are in the process of refashioning the Las Palmas waterfront. Two years ago Spanish architects Ábalos & Herrerios designed Woermann Tower, a colorful mosaic-like glass skyscraper that houses apartments, offices and soon, a hotel. The Canary Islands’ reputation as a golfer’s paradise is being enhanced by the 313-room Gran Canaria Sheraton Salobre Golf Resort & Spa (mid-July) and the 265-room Sheraton Fuerteventura Beach, Golf & Spa Resort (opening this month). Last year on Tenerife the luxurious 420-room Abama with a 3-star Michelin restaurant, 18-hole golf course and spa and the 284-room Sheraton La Caleta Resort & Spa were inaugurated.

Castile-La Mancha
Construction will begin later this year in Ciudad Real on a huge $670 million casino resort complex with an 850-room luxury Caesars hotel and 50,000-square-foot casino, 3,000-seat theatre, conference center, 30,000 square-foot spa and a number of restaurants, bars and clubs. Set to open in 2008, the complex is part of a larger development with three golf courses, other hotels, spas, entertainment facilities, stores and residences.

Castile & Leon
The owners of Bodegas Protos, the first winemaking firm in Ribera del Duero, commissioned Richard Rodgers and Alonso Balaguer to design an emblematic new facility using the neighboring Peñafiel castle as a departure point. Set to open this year, the $15 million winery will have wine-tasting rooms and an auditorium. Nearby in Gumiel de Izán the Faustino group invited Norman Foster to design their new $25.6 million winery complex, Bodegas Portia which will be inaugurated later this year with a hotel and restaurant.

Catalonia
Barcelona is celebrating Picasso with art exhibitions, ballets, concerts and lectures that will continue through February 2007. The festivities of its year-long Gastronomic Year have ended but the city has declared 2006 the Year of Shopping with special events, exhibitions and other activities planned. Re-opened last year and getting rave reviews is the neo-classical Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona with its undulating 60,000-square-foot tile roof covered with 325,000 bright pink, green and blue ceramic tiles. The city is bursting with striking new design hotels. Last year 15 new properties came on the scene including the Hotel Omm, Casa Camper, Duquesa de Cardona, Hotel Hilton Diagonal Mar and Hotel Grand Central and this year another 22 will be unveiled. The newest addition to Barcelona’s skyline, is the glittering 344-foot Hesperia Tower. Designed by Richard Rogers, the complex has the 280-room five-star Hesperia Hotel, a panoramic restaurant with Michelin-starred chef and conference facilities. In March two four-star properties opened: Granados 83, blending a Modernist exterior with a minimalist interior and the Hotel Condes de Barcelona – actually two elegant 18th century palaces – was inaugurated along with its Lasarte restaurant and Michelin-starred chef.  Debuting later this year, the new Hotel Habitat will literally glow in the dark, courtesy of a web of 5,000 LEDs powered by solar cells that drapes over the building like a fishnet.

La Rioja
Already one of the wine capitals of Spain, La Rioja is also transforming itself into a wine tourism destination. Two years ago the Museum of the Culture of Wine Dinastía Vivanco Foundation opened in Briones showcasing an extensive collection of wine-related art and antiquities. Last year Santiago Calatrava designed an undulating low-rise building surrounded by reflecting pools that fits into the Rioja landscape for Bodega Ysios and Zaha Hadid created a tasting room at the Lopez family’s López de Heredia in Haro. Set to open in September in Elciego is the $70 million Marqués de Riscal’s City of Wine. Frank Gehry’s swirl of pink, gold and silver titanium ribbons will house a 43-suite Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel, a vinothérapy spa,  two restaurants, tasting and meeting rooms and a cooking school. 

Valencia
This sunny city on Spain’s Mediterranean is polishing itself up for the America’s Cup in 2007 – the first time Europe has hosted the sailing race in 152 years. But sailing aficionados don’t have to wait another year since America’s Cup Louis Vuitton Acts, or regattas will run June 22 to July 3. Plans call for Valencia’s waterfront to be revitalized with major improvements to the dock area, a 9,800 foot “balcony” overlooking the sea and America’s Cup Park where sailing enthusiasts can follow the competition on giant TV screens. New parks, a five-acre lake and pedestrian walkways will beautify the city. The new Central Station will accommodate the AVE, the high-speed train connecting Valencia to all the country’s major cities. Improvements at the airport include: a runway extension, a new metro station and new access roads. Calatrava’s spectacular $307 million Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (Queen Sophia Palace of the Arts) opened last October with venues for opera, theatre and dance. Zubin Mehta, the president of the ”Festival of the Mediterranean” and the Palau’s music director Lorin Maazel have completed auditions for the Palau’s orchestra and its official season will kick off in October. Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA are designing the expansion for IVAM, enclosing Valencia’s contemporary art museum in a large white shell. To meet increased demand, new hotels have been opening since 2004 including the 48-room South Beach-style Hotel Neptuno on Malvarrosa Beach; the eye-catching 157-room Puerta Valencia by native son, Javier Mariscal near the City of Arts & Sciences; the 66-room boutique property Palau de la Mar that joined two 19th century palaces in the city center and a new luxury hotel, the five-star 254-room Hotel Balneario Las Arenas set to become the centrepiece of Valencia’s increasingly sophisticated seafront. Coming up are three more five-star properties: a Hilton, Barceló and the Sorolla Palace along with two four-star hotels: the Confortel and Vincci.

In the beach town of Torrevieja in Alicante, a province in the Valencia region, architect Toyo Ito is creating a Relaxation Park with walking and biking paths, an open-air pool, a restaurant and information center.  Three conch shell-shaped structures are set into sloping sand that mimics the nearby dunes. Close by are the town’s lagoon, salt marshes – a haven for birds – and a nature park. 

      For information about Spain, contact your travel agent or the Tourist Office of Spain in New York (212-265-8822); Miami (305-358-1992); Chicago (312-642-1992) or Los Angeles (323-658-7188) or go to www.spain.info