The whole country shuts down for four days from Holy Thursday at 1 p.m., a rare example of punctuality.
Day and night, swaying processions of impassioned penitents in tall hoods and flowing robes advance to a hypnotic drumbeat, carrying crucifixes and weighty life-size statues of agonizing Christ figures and weeping virgins on pasos (floats), while flickering torchlight adds to the electric atmosphere.
Andalucian pageants are more animated, with stirring saetas -- spontaneous wails of passion.
In the north, although the pattern of parish brotherhoods is similar, the atmosphere is more solemn.
9. There are many layers of ham
Ham scams have become so widespread in Spain that recent legislation introduced new definitions for ham quality.
Jamon is a gastro-passion throughout Spain, inspiring fierce rivalry between producers.
The most velvety, expensive and sought after variety is jamon Iberico de bellota, from acorn-fed, indigenous black pigs reared in four specific regions: Jabugo, in western Andalucia; Extremadura; Guijuelo, near Salamanca, and Los Pedroches, north of Cordoba.
At the bottom of the table is jamon serrano, produced industrially from white pigs yet still palatable.
10. Catalonia may not be part of Spain much longer
Catalans speak another language, have their own flag, are fanatical about cured sausages, nurtured the showman-chef Ferran Adria (of late el Bulli), build acrobatic people-pyramids and, traditionally, dance rather slowly.
They're gunning for independence from Spain, with a referendum in the cards for 2014.
What they're good at is architecture, art and food -- elements that combine with dazzling grace in Barcelona.
11. You can stay in monasteries -- without taking vows
Back in 1928, the Spanish government decided to rescue its crumbling monuments by converting them into grand hotels, or paradors.
These castles, monasteries or palaces in atmospheric old towns or tranquil rural spots soon acquired conquistador-style interiors and a faithful clientele -- there are now 93 throughout the country.
The pick of the bunch may be the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos, in Santiago de Compostela, said to be the oldest hotel in the world -- it started life in 1499 as a hostel-turned-hospital for exhausted and sick pilgrims after their 500-mile walk from the Pyrenees.
The pilgrims' goal was the spectacular cathedral next door, allegedly home to the relics of St. James.
Beware of loud clanging bells.
Fiona Dunlop is the author of "New Tapas," "Real Tapas" and "National Geographic Spain." She blogs at fionadunlop.com.