The town that Picasso painted Top

The town of Guernica is, thanks to the Spanish Civil War and Pablo Picasso, better known as a painting than as a destination. But it has a long and noble history. Perhaps this is why Franco and Hitler chose it as a target for the prototype Blitzkrieg on 26 April 1937; it symbolised an attack on everything that the Basques held dear.

Since the Middle Ages, Guernica (the Basque name is Gernika), has been the seat of local government and it is also the cultural capital of the Basque region. The Arbol de Gernika (Tree of Guernica) still stands in the town; a leaf from it is on display at London's Imperial War Museum. Under the tree, each new Lord of Biscay had to swear to respect the old laws and privileges enshrined in the Ancient Charter of Biscay.

In the gardens of El Ferial, there is a monument to those who died in the bombing. Guernica's rural sports exhibitions (Herri Kirolak) are also a long-standing tradition, in which the strength and dexterity of the aizkolariak (woodcutters), arrijasotzaileak (stone lifters) and segalariak (harvesters) are judged.

Follow the right-hand bank of the Guernica river and you come to Laida beach. Further along the road towards the pretty fishing villages of Elantxobe and Lequeitio, is Laga beach. Both boast fine sand and good bathing.

From the UK, Guernica is within easy reach of the ports of Bilbao and Santander, served by P&O (0870 24 24 999, and Brittany Ferries (08705 360360, respectively.

A gastronomic shrine to communism Top

For the true politico, there are few better places to eat in Spain than Casa Pinet, in the little village of Tárbena, just inland from Benidorm. Jeronimo Pinet is the convivial patron of this unusual restaurant that doubles as a shrine to Communism. No inch of wall has been left uncovered by photos, posters and paraphernalia that tell the story of working-class struggles from the Russian Revolution to the fight against apartheid in South Africa. And next month, Casa Pinet will host a special exhibition to honour the Spanish Civil War. "The Internationale" crackles away on an old gramophone on the bar as Jeronimo regales diners with the tale of how he lost his arm when the fascists bombed the beach in Benidorm. The food is as good as the stories – Keith Floyd called in during his culinary tour of Spain. He was particularly interested in the local paella, fideuá, served with pasta, which the Pinets dole out in hearty portions from a huge pan.

The restaurant is open from 31 October, 9am-5pm. To reach Tárbena take the 3318 north-west from Benidorm for six miles. Casa Pinet is on Playa Mayor.

A tribute to the fallen Top

As memorials go, Franco's Valle de los Caídos – the Valley of the Fallen – is one of Europe's most striking. The enormous cross at the top of the granite rock is visible for miles; below it lies an underground basilica, gouged out of the mountains of Guadarrama. The entrance to the long central nave is by way of a grand plaza, around which is built a semicircular colonnade.

This is not so much a memorial to those who died in the Civil War, as a rather grandiose monument to its most famous general. It was built by survivors of the Republican army, but its main purpose is to provide a final resting place for the Generalissimo, who is buried behind the main altar. Another tomb is marked "José Antonio", and contains the remains of the leader of the Fascist Falangist party, José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Forty thousand soldiers and civilians are also buried here.

A funicular has been installed to take visitors from the basilica to the base of the cross. There are stunning views of the countryside and of Philip II's monastery, El Escorial.

The easiest route to Valle de los Caídos is to take one of the frequent buses run by Herranz from outside the Moncloa metro station in Madrid to the monastery at El Escorial. From there a bus leaves daily, except Mondays, at 3.15pm, returning to the monastery at 5.30pm. Valle de los Caídos is open every day except Monday from 10am-6pm; the funicular closes from 2-4pm.