Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Legends Festival of Sant Marti de Tous

History, legends and oral traditions are as much a part of Spain's culture and heritage as the lands and monuments that are found throughout it. This year, for the first time, the town of Sant Marti de Tous, in the Penedes wine region just south of Barcelona, is hosting a Legends Festival (Tous es Llegendes), where the visitor is welcome to meander the town discovering the secret nooks and crannies and the incredible stories that are everywhere. The festival is more than just about the town, as the legends incorporate the whole of Catalonia, from the witch of Girona to The White Lady of Andorra. Friday and Saturday July 2-3 will see the town come alive with the generations of history and tradition opened up to the public for the first time.

For more information about this or other festivals in Spain this summer, contact The Spanish Touch and we will be glad to help.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A drive along the Northern Coast

The final day of Arleen and Eva's tour found us driving, finally rain-free along the northern coast of Spain to the Parador of Limpias. First stop: The Chillida Museum, with it's huge park and restored farmhouse museum of San Sebastian's most recognizable 2th century artist, Eduardo Chillida.

After a leisurely stroll through the grounds (and a spectacular photo taken by Eva of the flowers), we mounted once more for the last long trip in the car. This time the weather cooperated, and watching the landscape change as we drove out of the Basque Country and into Cantabria, which is truly one of Spain's most underappreciated regions, filled with historical and cultural heritage, wonderful food and some of the best coastlines.

After checking into the wonderful Parador at Limpias, we skipped off for a tapas lunch at a local restaurant, including some wonderful Callos and Albondigas. It always amazes me that even in these small towns the tapas are unique and delicious!

In the afternoon we drove out to the Cuevas de Altamira, which was a wonderful and relaxing way to finish the tour. The last meal at the Parador was an entertaining and enjoyable affair, and the following morning Eva and Arleen were off to the airport. In all a wonderful time, even if, contrary to the well-known refrain, the rain did not stay mainly on the plain.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An extra day in San Sebastian

Due to the incredible downpours and trecherous driving conditions caused by them (the news has been talking about the flooding that is going on across northern Spain right now), Arleen and Eva decided to not chance the 6 hour trip to Leon and chose instead to spend the day relaxing in Hondarribia. A morning massage session for the ladies and tapas for lunch, and finally the rain broke. We took advantage of the (relatively) nice weather to go shopping in San Sebastian. We did stop in a wonderful tapas bar in San Sebastian, right in front of the neogothic cathedral. For dinner we had a request for Paella, and while the first two restaurants on our list were closed, we did manage to find some decent paella at La Comigo in the old city.

The following morning gave us time to run over to the Chillida Museum. Started in 1984 by Eduardo Chillida to house his sculptures. Opened in 2001, the museum is a spectacular medium to appreciate the art of San Sebastian's most famous 20th century artist.

A drive through the Pyrenees - on flowers, hills and picturesque towns

The drive from Vielha across the northern sections of Catalonia, Aragon, Navarra and Basque Country is one of the most enjoyable drives in Spain. As we left Vielha it was to see the sun peaking through the clouds that draped the majestic mountains. It's amazing how beautiful the Pyrenees really are. Our route took us through some truly eye-popping landscapes of valleys, rivers, rising mountains, wild flowers and some interesting moss formations. Stopping along the way in the towns of Ainsa and Jaca, as well as in several spots along the road (technically a highway, although at one point we drove for 40 minutes without seeing a single car behind or in front of us) to enjoy the scenery and take some pictures like the one above.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

San Sebastian is beautiful - even in the pouring rain

The torrential downpours that started last night as we drove from Pamplona to Hondarribia continued today through most of the day. That did make the morning visit to San Sebastian a very wet, windy affair, but San Sebastian is such a lovely city that even the driving rain cannot ruin its charms. Esther was our wonderful guide this morning, and was exceptionally helpful getting Eva to the pharmacy and helping Arleen get her rain hat. After visiting the old city and taking a (very) quick peak at the Concha beach (the wind really kicks up there!), we stopped for lunch at Kokotza, which was originally planned for dinner. Fantastic food. The scallops and artichoke mix was stunning, as was the pork in a potato cream with fresh beans.

Afterwards we headed over to the Guggenheim, which is always a unique experience. The way the building molds to the art, or is it the other way around? And the expositions by Anish Kapoor and Rousseau were spectacular. The ride back to Hondarribia was a slower through the driving rain, but back in the confines of one of my favorite Paradors in all of Spain and a full day to reflect back on.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vielha and a taste of Aranese

The first day of Arleen and Eva's tour brought us to Vielha. I've talked about it before, but getting there is half the fun. Driving up the national highway around resevoirs, sharply cutting cliffs, waterfalls and traces of snow high up in the peaks and crevasses above,  you really start to feel the Pyrenees well before you even get to the Parador.

Dinner in the Parador was a sumptuous affairs. With a view right out over the clearly marked valley where the town of Vielha sits, we enjoyed some of the best local fair, including a delicious Olla Aranasa (a soup/stew made with local ingredients). Eva's pork shank was enormous! And dessert was simply lovely.

For information on visiting Vielha and the Pyrenees on your next trip to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Spanish Touch goes North

Next week I will be heading north to visit some of the most scenic parts of Spain. Hopefully I will be able to take lots of pics with my guests Arleen and Eva. First stop the Pyrenees and Vielha...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Barcelona's Greek Festival

This weekend in Barcelona marks the start of the annual Festival Grec (Greek Festival). This festival, started in 1976 by a group of theater students hoping to update Barcelona's drama scene, has increased in span and popularity over the years. The festival includes a number of  productions in theaters around the city, most notable among them are the Greek Theater itself on Montjuic, the Teatre Lliure and Polov√≠, both also on Montjuic mountain, as well as the Centre de Cultura Contempor√†nia de Barcelona (CCCB)and even the Library of Catalunya.

The festival runs from June 13 to the beginning of August, allowing all those summer visitors to immerse themselves in the city's vibrant drama scene. One more reason to visit Barcelona this summer!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Churros and a plate of clams in Granada

After a morning tour of the city center, we took the opportunity of being in Granada to go one of the best places I know for Churros con chocolate. Even in the late spring, there is something irresistable about those fried delicacies, and the cup of thick liquid chocolate that comes with. It really hit the spot as we people watched in the plaza, and Jay got a gift of luck (according to the Spanish) courtesy of one of the local birds.

And several successive evenings of tapas,  the Lums decided they were ready to get back to a "regular" meal. So we strolled down Los Navas past the tables outside the tapas bars on both sides of the pedestrian street to the restaurant. Of course, this being Granada, as soon as we had ordered the drinks our waiter brought out an enormous plate of clams in a garlic-butter sauce as a group tapa. Now I've been doing this for years, but I have never seen a plate of clams that large served as your free accompaniment. Never. So much for not eating tapas. And when dinner was ordered, everyone started passing their plates around for others to sample. It's amazing how easy it is to get into the Spanish style of sharing meals. The meals were excellent and the drinks as well, but that plate of clams has set a new standard for the free tapa.  

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Caves of Altamira - A Palaeolithic Paradise

Defined as the "Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art", the original caves of Altamira on the Cantabrian coast will reopen to the public sometime in the near future. The cave's paintings, some 15,000 years old, were discovered in 1879 by a local botanist's daughter. A compromise has been reached between scientists and the local government that will allow a limited number of people to visit the caves under tightly controlled conditions.

The cave first opened to the public in 1917, but was closed 60 years later as the deterioration of the site grew steadily worse. Up until 2002 visits were still available on a very limited basis. Since 2001 visitors have been able to visit a colossal and exact replica of the original cave. This replica was designed by a team of experts to perfectly recreate the caves so that visitors can see without risking irreparable damage to the original cave. While in the area you can also take advantage of the museum and the surrounding area in Santillana del Mar

For more information or to include a visit to the caves of Altamira on your next trip to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Friday, June 04, 2010

Horses and wine in Jerez

One of the best things about touring are the unexpected adventures. The last week with the Lums was a great example. When we arrived in Jerez, we immediately made our way to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art to watch an unforgettable display of "How Andalusian Horses Dance". As a huge horse fan, Vicky was very excited and kept a running commentary.

The show took about an hour and a half, leaving us just enough time to head over to the Sandeman's Sherry winery (with the minor inconvenience that they had decided to close off the street from the time we went into the horse show to the time we came out, making our arrival a bit more complicated).  The Sherry tour was both informative and enjoyable, and we got the chance to sample 3 of the most traditional wines produced: the dry fino, the medium dry Amontillado and the Armada Rich Cream Oloreso sherry. Vicky liked the sweet Oloreso, but Jay and Melissa were more fans of the dry fino.

After the visit, we settled into a small restaurant around the corner from the bodega called las 7 puertas (not to be confused with the more famous 7 portes in Barcelona). More reasons to love Spanish cooking: simply ask the waitress for her recommendations and you can get everything from grilled  peppers to a wonderful carrillo and pork sirloin to a very refreshing salmerojo.  Wonderful food, and a wonderful way to spend a day out on the way to Seville!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Monastery sweets and a Taste of Heaven

For those people who are looking to delve a bit more into the local foods of a region, The Spanish Touch would like to recommend the book “A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns,” by Madeline Scherb. The book offers a view into the intimate gastronomic world which dates back centuries. In Spain, a country with its fair share of monasteries and convents, there are a number of these places just waiting for the knowledgeable visitor to sample. 

For more information or for help arranging a visit to one of these places on your next visit to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Espetos - a Malaga seafood specialty

Malaga is a great town for seafood. That is, of course, to be expected, given its location right on the Mediterranean. But it's the way in which that seafood gets to your plate that makes Malaga so special. All along the promenade you see the wood-burning grills right on the beach in front of each restaurant. And on these grills, just as natural as can be, you will find espetos. An espeto (stake in Spanish) is just that: it's a wooden stake mounted with sardines which are cooked over the fire until they reach perfection. The memory of the smell alone makes me want to eat them. It's a fairly simple practice, really, but I haven't found espetos anywhere outside of the province of Malaga, and the best are along the Malaga promenade in places like Pedregalejo and El Palo.