Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ruta de Modernisme - Much more than 3 buildings

Visiting Barcelona has become synonymous with the opportunity to visit the masterpieces of the Modernistas, such as The Sagrada Familia, or the Block of Discord on Passeig de Gracia. Did you know that there are more than 115 Modernista buildings in Barcelona? The Ruta del Modernisme is a great way for the inquisitive visitor to learn more about these buildings, the men who built them and the times they were living in. No doubt that many people, while wandering the tree-lined streets of Barcelona have stumbled across some of these jewels. While many of them are not open to visitors, they are a  lasting memoir of one of the most important epochs in the long and rich history of Barcelona. It's one of the reasons that the city is so easy to love, to explore and continually be discovered. 

For more information or to arrange a private tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

At Can Joanet

A slice of small town old europe right in the heart of Barcelona
BlackBerry de movistar, allí donde estés está tu oficin@

Friday, January 28, 2011

Via Verde - Hiking the old railway lines

Throughout Spain there is a collection of routes called the Vias Verdes (Green Ways, or Green Paths). These are remnants of old train tracks that have been recycled into some of the most popular and scenic areas for hikers, bikers and nature lovers in general. With more than 1800 km (1100 miles) of paths throughout the entire country, you are never far away from the chance to spend a wonderful day getting in touch with Spain through its  hills, valleys, mountains and forests. So why not take a day on your next trip and go green!

For more information or to plan your private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Merida - Two Thousands years of Spanish history

Tucked into the region of Extremadura on the western frontier of Spain is one of Spain's hidden treasures: Merida. Host to dozens of national monuments, the city of Merida is a showcase for Spanish history. A true treasure of the city is the Roman remains: Visit the Roman amphitheater, the Circus, the Temple of Diana and the Roman bridge, among other sites. Move forward in history and visit the Alcazaba, the Moorish fortress built in the 9th century. The reconquest brought us the Basilica of Santa Eulalia, and the convents and churches that sprang up during Spain's golden age dot the city. In all, Merida offers you a wonderful chance to visit a classic Spanish city and see how more than two thousand years of history are melded into one rich and wonderful culture.

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cultural Tourism in Spain - lost or found?

In an article published in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia a few months ago, the subject of Spain's cultural  tourism, or lack thereof, was shown in an alarming light. Despite Spain's massive collection of cultural patrimony sites (it is second in the world to Italy for number of UNESCO cultural heritage sites) , it still trails a number of countries - like France and the UK - in showing these marvels to visitors.

We at The Spanish Touch have always tried to take our guests to the places and people that make Spain such a marvelous place, because we know that Spain is so much more than the "Sol y Playa" resort that was marketed for so long. We also know that the best way to get the most out of your visit is to get in touch with Spain, to really experience it, and get to know the sites, sounds and vibrant cultural heritage that is Spain.

For more information or to plan your private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Barcino - the Roman route in Barcelona

Just in front of the Cathedral of Barcelona, in the Plaza Nova, is the word "Barcino". Barcino was the Roman name of the port town that would one day become the most important tourist port on the Mediterranean. This year The Spanish Touch is pleased to announce a new tour service around Barcelona: Barcino -  A Roman Heritage Tour of Barcelona. The tour includes:
A visit to the Roman Temple
A walk along the original walls of the town
A visit to the Roman necropolis
A tour of the Roman ruins underneath the city

For more information or to arrange your own private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter wine wonderland Tours in Spain - February 2011

Come join The Spanish Touch for an 8-day excursion through the regions of Catalonia and Aragon, and warm up the winter with some great wine, food and a healthy dose of authentic Spanish Culture with our Winter Wine Wonderland Tour. The big news is that we are now offering up a third opportunity to take the tour, from February 19-27, 2011.

Check out our website or send us an email for more information on how you can form a part of this great opportunity for a private guided tour through the history, culture and of course the wines of Spain!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Spanish Touch at the Philadelphia Travel Show

The day started early as we went into Philadelphia, PA for the Travel Show. Arriving in center city by 8AM allowed time for breakfast in the Reading Terminal Market located across the street from the Convention Center where the show was being held. Entering this huge market the aroma of fresh baked cinnamon rolls filled the air. Walking past the fresh sticky buns (a local favorite), we stop for a “Home Cooked” breakfast which proved to be delicious and was accompanied by an endless and equally good cup of coffee.

Walking through the show and visiting the vendor booths, we spoke to our fellow professionals in the exciting field of travel. After hours of learning what others are doing around the world, we were pleased to sit back in the train and rest our tired feet in the warmth of the car. As the scenes rushed by in the cold 13 degrees outside we reflected on the confirmation that The Spanish Touch is unique in offering personalized small group tours in Spain. We did find that there are similar services being offered in a number of cities and countries outside of Spain. This is not surprising as we have found the discriminating traveler wants to experience the smells and taste that are part of the local culture.

A number of companies we spoke with continue with the mass market approach that is reflected in the movie If its Tuesday this must be Belgium. Last fall we took such a one day canned tour with its fifteen and thirty minute stops at preplanned tourist shops in Scotland and while it was cheap and covered a lot of distance, seeing the highlights “coming up on the right side” at 50MPH is just not the way I want to experience other cultures. I for one plan to continue meeting the local people on the less traveled paths.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January's springtime weather continues - a visit to Calella

Today is supposed to be the last of the unusually nice weather that we've been enjoying in Barcelona. Starting tomorrow we are back to Barcelona's "winter" weather (for someone who grew up in the northeast, it's still hard to think of mid 40s are a particularly wintery day). But we took the chance to head up the coast again to the town of Calella. Calella is a relatively "new" town  - only 650 years old! While in the summer it is home to huge crowds of tourists, the rest of the year it is a quiet, relaxed and laid back seaside town. The town incorporates elements from throughout its history from the 16th century chapels to the turn-of-the-century Llobet-Guri factory (in the photo), a classic example of the architecture and the importance of industry in Catalonia's revival.

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

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sant Teresa's School - A unique opportunity

Yesterday we had a unique opportunity to visit one of Barcelona's most emblematic schools: The Santa Teresa School designed by Modernista maestro Antoni Gaudi. Built during the late 1880s, the building is a masterpiece of frugality meets genius. The arched hallways, the amazing exterior (All in true Gaudi style in both form and symbolism) and even the gardens present an absolutely amazing setting. As it is a fully functioning school, visiting is very restricted, and I would personally like to thank Gemma for getting us this one-time chance.

After years of visiting monuments around Spain, I am still in awe of his creativity and genius, even when making do with a very limited budget (he began the project with 1 peseta).

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

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Towers over the sea - a daytrip to Tossa de Mar

Another gorgeous day along the Mediterranean (really rather unusual for temperatures to be in the mid 60s in January, but we will not be complaining). Today we took the hour long drive up the highway to the Costa Brava. Specifically, the charming (former) fishing village of Tossa del Mar, population just a shade under 6,000.
For anyone who was ever been to the Costa Brava in the heat of the summer, and to Tossa in particular, it's difficult to imagine this town with so few inhabitants. But in the depths of winter it's quite easy that these lovely towns can remind you what first attracted vacationers to come 100 years ago. The walls around the old city (dating from the 13th century) offer a winding path up with spectacular view after spectacular view until you reach the lighthouse at the top (and a pretty museum which is housed inside). Of old there was a castle there, but it disappeared a few hundred years ago. Still, the walls remain the best and most complete example of a walled seaside town in the Mediterranean, and the quaint life and beauty of the Costa Brava are well worth the ride up. And if that wasn't enough, the paella along the beach with a jug of local white wine and a homemade flan for dessert made sure that the experience was delightfully memorable.

For more information or to plan your next private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Calcots and vistas of Barcelona

Today we took the group to a 16th century Masia in one of the outlying towns of Barcelona for a taste of authentic Catalan cooking: Calcots are back and we can't miss the chance to take our visitors for a treat. After a morning of shopping in the Gracia district, we headed over to the restaurant. Three and a half hours later we left, having been very well fed on calcots, local meats and a delicious creme catalana, we headed up the road back to Barcelona.

We chose the route home that led over the Tibidabo mountain, and stopped along the way for a few panoramic pictures of sunset over the city, stopping by Norman Foster's Tower of Collserola before driving down the mountain back into the city. A wonderful meal and wonderful company on a gorgeous winter's day in Barcelona!

For more information on how we can help plan your private guided tour to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Truffle Days are everywhere!

Another great thing about being in Spain at this time of year is that it seems that every year more and more regions and cities are getting into the habit of hosting events that make the culture history and gastronomy more vivid and accessible. This year the Spanish Touch is heading again to Truffle country in the Aragon region, but for those who would prefer to stick closer to Barcelona, from now until the end of January you can take advantage of the "Jornada Gastronomica de la Trufa" (Truffle Gastronomy Days) which are being held throughout the region of Girona just an hour north of the city. These are a great way for people to discover the wonders of the truffle and how it can be mixed with local cuisine to produce some gastronomic delights!

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cuenca and the Hanging Houses

Halfway between Madrid and Valencia, in the heart of Castille-La Mancha, is the province and city of Cuenca. This  unique medieval city of just over 50,000 is a perfect place to discover a new dimension of Spanish history and culture. Like many cities in Spain, the city dates to pre-Roman times, and has been inhabited by Romans, Moors and Christians throughout the centuries. The rich cultural and natural heritage of the region offers discerning visitors the chance to discover some truly fascinating treasures: From the 12th century Cathedral and the old city to the famous Casas Colgadas "Hanging Houses". The houses are perched on the edge of the cliff on which the city rests, and have been a part of the landscape for centuries (they did get a renovation in the 20th century). Mix the majestic scenery, the rich cuisine and a fabulous Parador hotel together and you get the recipe for a great way to spend a day and a night getting in touch with the authentic Spain.

For more information or to for help designing your own private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Friday, January 07, 2011

One season over, let the rebajas begin!

The Three kings have come and gone. All around Spain the kings arrived to delighted crowds of children on January 5, arriving in traditional boats, on exotic animals and even via airplane! And now that the celebration is over, we enter into the last weekend of Spain's traditional holiday break. This means several things for people traveling around the Iberian peninsula this weekend:
1) Be very careful as there will be a lot of traffic as people return from their holidays.
2) It's time for the sales to begin! All over Spain people will be flocking to the malls and city center in search of great values and hidden treasures. It is estimated that the average person in Barcelona will spend between 200 and 250 euros during the next few frenetic weeks of discount shopping. So if you are in the city, or will be coming shortly, make sure you leave some extra space in your luggage, and plan a few hours of shopping into your itinerary!

For more information on how to reserve your own private guided tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

3 Kings Day Recipe - Tortell de Reis or Kings Cake

As with all proper holidays, January 6th has its own special treat: the Tortell de Reis is the traditional dessert cake served after dinner. It comes complete with a plastic figurine of a king baked into the crust somewhere, and tradition dictates that whoever gets the piece of cake with the king gets to be the "king" for the day. Of course, the other side of that is the bean, which, just like the king, has been baked into the cake. The "winner" of the bean is the one who gets to pay for the cake and do the washing up. At least everyone gets to eat a delicious dessert, though!

Here's our recipe for making your own Tortell de Reis for this Thursday's celebration:

1st dough mix
3/4 cup milk
1/8 cup Bread yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 cups wheat flour

2nd dough mix
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
2 eggs

1 oz baking yeast
2 1/2 cups flour

Optional Marzipan Filling
1 cup ground almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon water
a pinch of salt
1 cup powdered sugar, mixed with grated skin of half an orange and half a lemon

1 egg (beaten)
Sugar (moistened with a drop of water)
Candied fruits

1st dough:
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with lukewarm water. Form mixture into ball. Cover and let rise for 2-3 hours.

2nd dough mix:
Mix yeast with lukewarm milk
Add flour in a bowl.
Add eggs, butter, salt, water and powdered sugar.
Add the yeast/milk mix and the 1st dough ball.
Mix until uniform.
Put the dough on a greased surface and spread.
Let sit for approximately 4 hours, until it doubles in volume.
Divide the dough in 2 parts.
Using a ring shaped cake mold form the cake and let sit 2 more hours.
Brush with beaten egg and garnish with sugar and candied fruits.
Heat the oven to 400 and cook for 10 minutes, then bring temperature to 350 , cover with aluminum foil and cook 10 minutes. Check to see if it is done with a toothpick.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Last Chance for the Truffle Tour - January 2011

We're closing in our our annual winter trip into truffle country with our Black Gold and Red Wine tour. On January 27th we will be heading into the heartland of Spanish truffle country to see if we can find some truffle sin the wild, and to talk with the locals at the 3rd annual truffle market. It promises to be a great time with fantastic menus, great wine and unforgettable experiences (like drinking from a porron, as demonstrated by our host Joaquin). 

For more information or to set up your own private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Closing of Chillida House Museum

For the last 17 years the House Museum of Eduardo Chillida has been open to the public to enjoy the Basque Sculpture's works in the setting that he personally chose and created. Unfortunately, due to the present economic situation, the Museum has had to close to the public. The directors of the Organization and the Spanish government are currently working on a deal that would allow for the museum to be reopened sometime in the near future.

At The Spanish Touch we have had the pleasure of taking clients to the museum, and we all hope that the museum is open again soon. For more information or for help planning your next private guided visit to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.