A brief guide to Spain (written under Franco)

In 1965, Spain’s tourism board published a handbook to Spain. It would become a highly collectable item of Franco’s ‘Visit Spain’ campaign – one of the dictator’s lasting legacies, seeding the mass tourism we’re so familiar with today.

Seventy-two pages of musty old book smell, art nouveau kitschiness and the sound of glue cracking with every turn of the page. This booklet has stood the test of time in its artwork, its majestic descriptions of the nation’s way of life, and of Spain’s tenacious grip on its own culture.

But, this is not a guide book per se, as it explains in its introduction…

Spain For You is a friend who comes along to your home, and says, “If you’re off to Spain, let me have a word or two in your ear. I’m from there myself, and I want you to get the utmost out of your trip.”

The advice this Spanish friend gives us is undeniably valuable, but a lot has changed since 1965. For example, we’re no longer under a dictatorship, not everyone respects the church, and a once-optimistic tourism industry is now bursting at its seams. There are some things mentioned in this book that haven’t changed: bullfighting, peculiar details of police uniforms and, as much as some would disagree, the church is still very powerful.

Oh, and expect the odd peppering of pro regime propaganda in here too because this guide was, after all, written under Franco’s dictatorship…


Yep, you read that right. Then it goes on to say…

At present, the Headship of the State is occupied by the winner of the war and the maker of the peace, General Franco, though, in  due course, it will be occupied by the King or Regent.

Little did the person typing this text know that the future King would overturn Franco’s dictatorship and lead the transition to today’s democracy. Or did they?


The bicorne hats of the 1965 Guardia Civil, which look a little bit like bull horns, can still be seen today. Them being prone to turning a blind eye to foreign motorists, however, is hopefully not something we still see today.


Wouldn’t you just love to stay here?

The Spanish state built their own hotels to “supplement the private chains”, they said, and they were broken down into three types:

Paradores are set in beauty spots, albergues are wayside ins with a maximum stay of 48 hours and refugios are high up in the mountains. And hosterías are typical Spanish restaurants where you can enjoy the tastiest of Spanish dishes.

These state hotels can still be found, though the private sector has grown significantly larger in recent years. No, I’m not talking about Airbnb (they are not part of the hotel industry at all, but rather a disruptive trojan horse). I’m talking about the beautiful, no-frills hotels with lit-up signs, which you can find all over towns and cities – many with a hostería attached.


This drawing may be modelled on a hulk-like “Mozo”, but with the invasion of the wheely suitcase, even his job is now extinct. And I wonder, since wheels were invented in 3,500 BC, how did it take us until the 20th century to put them onto luggage?


Spain is technically no longer a Catholic state, though there is widespread criticism about how much power the church still holds here. Following centuries of land grabbing, the church is quite possibly Spain’s wealthiest landlord – a concern which came to light again recently when Parroquia de San Sebastián evicted El Jardín del Ángel, the 130-year-old garden shop on the corner of Calle Huertas.

This church has since rented the space out to a new flower shop but at a much higher price. Many have expressed relief that this space will continue to be a garden shop, but what if the church opened this space up to the public instead, turning it into a rare park for the neighbours, just like it probably was a very long time ago.


Bullfighting looks like a game, and perhaps it is. Certainly, there is nothing sinister about it, and it is normally as gay as the sun glittering off the brilliant “suit of lights” of the bullfighters.

Indeed, there are still people who wholeheartedly agree with this opinion, though fortunately today, much, much fewer.


Divorce was legalised in Spain in 1981 and took off. Maybe it was something to do with those “impious rumours”.


Sixty more pages of half a century-old self-professed stereotypes make for fascinating reading, especially because many of them still ring true today. The stereotype of sharing your husband may have been put to bed, but sharing food, wine and cigarettes, and splitting the bill evenly lives on in the Spanish character – and in this handbook: a delightful little artefact in our ever-growing living museums collection.


  • To buy this book, head to Todocolección, where I bought my copy.
  • You can also find a fully scanned copy here.
  • Thank you to Diego Sanz for sending me an email and telling me about Spain For You. You knew I’d like it, and you were right.

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  • I see that the illustrator is Máximo, a well know guy that passed away last year and was a long time collaborator of el País.

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