Sunday, November 28, 2010

On a clear day at Montserrat

On Friday I took Payal and Sunitra up to montserrat mountain to discover the spiritual heart of Catalonia.  My first thought as we approached the mountain: what a spectacularly clear day! I have rarely seen the mountain so clear, and skies so blue. We arrived with no problems, and more importantly no crowds. Although a large bus pulled in behind us, so we hurried a bit over to the monastery to get in line for la Moreneta. We only had to wait a few minutes, and once inside there was virtually no line, again something rarely seen at the mountain. I was also pleased to see the new brochures explaining each of the chapels you walk through on your way to the statue. As both Payal and Sunitra brought their super-cameras, we took a bit longer and let some of the people behind us go through as we stopped to enjoy the art and the moment.

Having beaten the crowd which was already stretching a fair bit out the doors by the time we got out of the Cami de Ave Maria, we stopped outside for a few more pictures and some history of the area. The blue skies even allowed for distant view of the Collserrola Tower above Barcelona. Our walk to the Holy Cave was enjoyable, if a bit nippy (the temps were hovering in the mid-30s). We even had time for some yoga and stretching exercises (and for a bit of rosemary picking) as we waited for the Cremallera back up to the monastery.

After a bite of mel i mato, we headed back to Barcelona to finish their visit at the Sagrada Familia. Every time I go I see something new, and of late this is more true than ever.  For those of you who haven't been there in the last few months, the inside has come along so far that it is mesmerizing just to wander around and see the details. What a great way to end a visit to Barcelona!

For more information or for your own private guided tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankgiving Day Wine Tour

Thanksgiving, as I mentioned yesterday, is one of my favorite holidays. But since it is not a Spanish holiday, we will be celebrating over here on Saturday. But I did have the good fortune to spend the holiday this year with a couple of Americans: Payal and Sunitra joined me for a tour of the Penedes and cava wine region. At our first stop, our tour visited Mas Comtal, where we were given a wonderful 2 and a half hour visit through the vineyards and even had the chance to taste wine grapes and some figs from the fig tree! After tasting 4 of the different wines we stopped for a quick bite at a local restaurant, where we ate our fill before heading out one more time.

After lunch it was cava time, and Ernest was, as always, an obliging host at Rimarts. His explanations of the differences between the hand-crafted and industrialized cava systems highlighted just how unique their artisinal cavas are.

For more information about a private guided tour in Spain contact The Spanish Touch.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An anticipated arrival - Snow season begins in Spain

If you've ever been here, you know that Spain is much more than Sol y Playa. And as we approach the winter time, it's time to put away the bathing suits and reach for the ski poles. Spain, as one of the most mountainous countries in Europe (!!) is replete with ski possibilities. Last weekend (November 20-21) the ski season officially opened at Grandvalira in the Pyrenees mountains, where in and around Andorra they got more than 40 cm of fewsh powder. But if you are not in the North, fear not! Madrid's got mountains, too. And for those of you in Andalusia, head over to Sierra Nevada towering over Granada, the highest mountain in southern Europe!

For more information or for help planning your next private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paris to Spain on the High-Speed Train - at last!!

Finally. After years of work, the connection between France and Spain will be completed on December 19. The TGV in Paris will start selling tickets from Paris to Figueres (Girona) tomorrow. The final leg of the journey between Figueres and Barcelona is currently scheduled to be finished in 2012. In the meantime, the journey from Figueres to Paris (or vice versa) will cost riders between 54 and 110 euros for the 5 and a half hour ride.

The high-speed train from Figueres also goes to Perpignan and Montpellier. For those who wish to travel from Barcelona to Paris on the train, the connection is simple: take the train to Figueres and then make the connection. In approximately 7 hours get off the train in Paris!

For more information or for help planning a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Valencia - a Lonely Planet top 10 destination for 2011

The Lonely Planet's list of the top 10 cities to visit in 2011 includes one of Spain's often passed-over cities: Valencia. Spain's third largest city (behind Madrid and Barcelona) has long suffered the ignominy of being overlooked as a tourist site, due to the plethora of other sites. But in recent years the city has made great strides in catching up with its more famous neighbors. From Paella to Formula 1 racing, sprawling parks and gardens to the ultra-modern Ciutat de Arts i Ciencies, it has something for you. And with the AVE connection from Madrid (starting in December 2010) it's less than 2 hours away!

For more information of to include a private guided tour to Valencia on your next vacation to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Friday, November 19, 2010

Black Gold and Red Wine - The 2011 Truffle and Wine tour is ready!

From January 23 - 31, 2011, we are offering a small group tour into the heart of one of Spain’s most interesting wine regions, Somontano. But we're not just going for the wines. It's truffle time, and we're aiming to take full advantage of the trip to get the most out of this highly prized treat. Go with a local farmer in search for truffles, visit a truffle fair in Graus (with events like cooking classes and a truffle market) and sample a variety of “Truffle”menus, all while enjoying Spanish hospitality. 

For more information visit on this or any private guided tour in Spain contact The Spanish Touch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Plaza Real - Pure Barcelona

Barcelona is filled with emblematic places and tourist reference points. And sometimes these places get lost in the shuffle. So today I want to take a moment to highlight one that is easily overlooked among the hustle and bustle and the sights and sounds: The Plaza Real. Bordering on Las Ramblas and the Calle Ferran, it gained fame in the late 20th century for its nonstop activity and pulsating nightlife. Dating from 1848, it's rectangular form and arcade are unique in the city. Built on the site of an old convent, its most famous for the fountain "Les Tres Gracies" and for the street lamps designed by a young architect named Antoni Gaudi. 

The plaza is a great place to sit back and take a well-deserved mid-morning coffee and do some people watching any day, and there is always something going on the evening for locals and visitors alike!

For more information or for a private guided tour in Barcelona or Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Flamenco, Castellers, and the chant of the Sybil - 2010 UNESCO Intangible Heritage

Flamenco, Castellers and the Chant of th Sybil heard in the churches and cathedrals of Mallorca have all been named as 2010 inductees to the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list!

What a great way to show the diversity and depth of the peninsula! Congratulations to all three regions for their inclusion, and know this recognition is a demonstration of the deep respect and love for this wonderful cultural heritage.

For more information on these or other traditions, or for a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.


The Emporda - Statues, Temples, Monasteries and Birds

Up the coast from Barcelona, along the Costa Brava itself, is one of the most beautiful and overlooked nature preserves in Spain: The Empordoa Wetlands draws birdwatchers and nature lovers from all over Spain. With over 300 bird species and countless animals such as turtles, ferrets and lizards (and if you're really lucky, you might catch an otter), the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de L'Emporda offers an incredible selection of activities for the discerning visitors, from lovely nature hikes to water sports like kayaking and scube diving at the nearby Medes Islands. If you need any more incentive, in the immediate region you can also find:
The Greek and Roman ruins at Empuries
Charming fishing villages like Sant Pere Pescador and Cadaques
The 10-12th century monastery at Sant Pere de Rodes

For more information on visiting the Emporda wetlands or for a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Castellers - Intangible Cultural World Heritage by UNESCO

This Tuesday the international body of UNESCO votes on whether or not the "castellers" of Catalonia should be included among world patrimony.A delegation from Catalonia is currently at the UNESCO annual meeting in Kenya to see if this uniquely Catalan tradition, which has gained international recognition in recent years as more and more people travel to Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia, will be classified as Intangible Cultural World Heritage. The idea began in the Catalan Parliament in 2008 with the hope that the new exposure will bring more focus on the cultural and historical roots of events such as the "Castells".

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lanzarote - The Island of Manrique

On Lanzarote, the easternmost of the Canary Islands, you will find some of the most surprising and fantastic landscapes of the archipelago. The island combines nature’s best with man’s works, creating areas of breathtaking beauty. César Manrique, the island’s most famous artist, left his unmistakable mark throughout the island, converting lava deserts into oasis springing out of the rocks, water and tropical vegetation. Some of the most impressive are the Jameos del Agua, a labyrinth of caves and volcanic passages, and the Cactus Garden, bringing together the various vegetation and hundreds of species of cacti.  

While you are there, take a trip through the volcanoes of Timanfaya National Park, discovering new terrains and the volcanic beauty on foot, by bike, or even by camel!

For more information about private guided tours in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back in Barcelona - the dust settles from a wild month

Wow. Between the tours and the Papal visits over the weekend, I have been slowly recovering and trying to catch up on all the excitement that is going on in Spain. For a country that is so often associated with a laid-back and relaxing place, there's always something going on! It really is not much of problem to find something new at every turn, even for someone who lives here. And so we turn our attention to the end of the year.

The holiday decorations have begun to go up around Spain (and with no Thanksgiving, it really is the next big holiday), and it's always great to see how each city gets decked out for the winter months. But for The Spanish Touch, we are concentrating on finding new and fresh ways to bring the best of Spanish culture to you.

We also want to hear from you - give us your best experiences, your dream for the next visit, or if you are simply looking for a place to start, we are here to make your Spanish vacation a truly interactive and personal encounter!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Day at leisure in Madrid - the Bhatia/Heinrich's Tour - day 11

The last day of the tour always comes to soon. Over the last couple of weeks we have seen a great deal together, we've sampled some wonderful food, visited some of the most impressive monuments and drank some truly wonderful wine. Today is a day to take it easy, to visit the city of Madrid, take in a museum (or two) and just let the Spanish hospitality wash over you. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, the group was off to visit the famous museum area, and to take their pick of one of Madrid's three most famous museums. In the end, they decided on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum as the sole museum, not wanting to overdo it on their last day. An afternoon at leisure with a bit of a siesta was in store, and we met up at 7:45 for our last dinner. After a quick glass of wine at the hotel bar, we headed to the Restaurante Chic for a bit of modern Spanish fare to provide the offer the opportunity to see how Spanish cuisine has been growing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and we talked about the highlights and how it was so difficult to choose just one. I hope that Rita, Ranbir and Ila enjoyed themselves, and I hope that rather than a visit to the sites in Spain they discovered a bit of Spain itself in the old streets, monuments, food and people that they met along the way.

Monday, November 08, 2010

El Escorial and Segovia - Spanish Splendor - The Bhatia/Heinrich tour - Day 10

On the last touring day of the trip, we headed up north to two of the Madrid area's inimitable sites: The Monastery of El Escorial and the city of Segovia. The monastery, built by Phillip II in the mid-16th century, is a tribute to the Spanish golden age, and the greatest legacy of master architect Juan de Herrera (the style was actually named after him, Herrerian). The Monastery/Basilica/Palace/Fortress/Royal Pantheon is an incredible assault on the visual senses, from the symbolism of the directions to the unparalleled collection of masterpiece religious art (perhaps it can be even a bit too much sometimes, as Rita mentioned).

After a quick lunch of (humongous) Iberian pork loin sandwiches we were off again to Segovia, original home of Isabella the Catholic Queen. Rightfully famous for it's gigantic Roman aqueduct, perhaps the most impressive sight was the castle, seen from below alongside the forest. It could have been the season, or the lack of tourists, but the fall colors and the tranquility of the area just took my breathe away. Once more Richard guided us through the cobblestone streets, showing us the numerous palaces and churches, leading us to the castle and finally to a spectacular panoramic right next to the aqueduct at dusk. Segovia really has nothing to envy from any of its more famous neighbors, and it was a great way to end the city tours.

Tomorrow is a day at leisure in Madrid, and our farewell dinner for one last opportunity to enjoy the richness and variety of Spanish cuisine.

So much more than a Cathedral - Toledo - The Bhatia/Heinrich tour Day 9

This morning we got a bit of a later start because first we had to visit the embassy to get Ila's replacement documentation. So Richard agreed to meet us a bit later and then we headed off to Toledo. With Richard's expert guiding we stopped first for a panorama over the Tajo River into the walled city. After a quick stop at the awe-inspiring Puerta de Bisagra, the tour began in earnest. Visits to the Jewish Quarter, the Church of Sant Juan de los Reyes and the synagogues. After a refreshing lunch the tour continued to the Cathedral and the Plaza de Zocodovar.

Richard led the group through the maze of streets with ease and by the time we got to the car it was very clear that Toledo was a definite hit. A relaxing night at the hotel and tomorrow we are off to Segovia!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Madrid - a royal city - The Bhatia/Heinrichs Tour Day 8

A sunny bright awaited us upon meeting Richard at the Royal Palaces, one of Europe's truly spectacular palaces. The day was promising and the visit continued from the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, not everything can be accounted for, and Ila's purse was stolen before the tour really got started. So we met back at the hotel and sorted everything out. By 3:00 we had cancelled all the cards and filed the police report, and made arrangements to get to the embassy first thing in the morning. As the day was still sunny, they decided to continue the tour. After a quick bite at the Museo del Jamon we met up with Richard again at the Plaza Mayor and he took them through Madrid's winding and wonderful history. By the time they arrived back at the hotel, they had done their fair share of walking, and with Toledo on the horizon we had a quick dinner and off to bed!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

From south to north - through olive groves and plains - Bhatia/Heinrichs day 7

On the morning of leaving Granada, having survived an interesting night of halloween festivities (or that's what I hear, I personally slept right through it), I took a look at the weather forecast and saw bad news for our morning plans: 94% chance of heavy rains in Ronda, which was our first destination. Having braved the rains yesterday, the group was in no mood to test mother nature again, so we decided to head straight up to Madrid. That meant a four hour drive through Andalusia and Castille-la Mancha (New Castille). And driving through Andalusia means driving through olive groves. Lots of olive groves. I mean, a lot. Imagine looking at the panorama and seeing rolling hills lined with trees, and knowing that every tree is an olive tree. Lots of olives. And as we drove over the Sierras, we left the rain clouds pushing south and west (right towards Ronda) behind us, and our day was brightened by the blue skies and fleeting clouds.

Upon sneaking through the pass and into Castilla- La Mancha, we entered the flatter, reddish plains of Quixote. Fighting the urge to start singing "Man of La Mancha" we made it up past Valdepeñas wine region, finally stopping for a quick bite at a restaurant along the highway, where we all ordered something unique to the region My migas were good, but Rita may have scored the success of the day with her Tiznao de Madridejos. Arriving in Madrid in the early evening we had time to check into the hotel and check out a bit of Madrid´s city center. A stroll down the Alcala Street led us to the Sant Miguel Mercado, where we had time for a drink before we headed over for dinner on Calle de Cucherillos and an early evening.

Tomorrow we explore Madrid with Richard!  

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sometimes a little rain becomes a downpour, but the Alhambra is always the Alhambra

Not every day in Spain is a sunny one. And late October is prime rainy season. So as Rita, Ila and Ranbir prepared for a day at the Alhambra we watched curiously as the clouds swirled. In the end, they got out (just a few minutes late) and unfortunately, they got the rain. But not before they got to witness the splendor of the palaces. At the end of the visit, just as the group began to separate to visit the different areas and head off in different directions, the skies opened up. In the ensuing scramble to get to cover, the group split up and the three of them made their way back to the city center, stopping for a bite and some excellent sopa de ajo. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and drying out a bit at the hotel. In the evening we hit  Chikito's for a last evening meal in Granada, where we had a delicious Sevilla Soup (a white bouillibaisse-like soup which really hit the spot) and tomorrow we are off once more.