Friday, April 27, 2012

Malaga - more than just the gateway to the Costa Del Sol

For years the city of Malaga was famous more for what it was close to than what it is. People arrived in Malaga only to depart immediately for the tourist haven that is the Costa del Sol. But recent years have seen great strides made in Malaga's infrustructure, and people are starting to take more notice of this 2000 year old city. The Roman Amphitheater, the Moorish Alacazaba-Gibralfaro Castle complex on top of the hill, and Pablo Picasso have all done their part to bring the spotlight off the hotels and beaches of its neighbors and onto Malaga itself. The Spaniards themselves are noticing the change as well. No other Spanish city experienced more growth in tourism in the first quarter of 2012 than Malaga. Locals as well as visitors from other countries are discovering the treasures of a city that genuinely reflects its people, a city of almost half a million that can make you feel like you're in small town Spain with the friendliness and relaxed attitude of its people, the sunsoaked streets and plazas and plethora or fantastic restaurants along the beach.

For more information on planning a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Araya's Experience- Day 7 - La Pedrera & Tarragona

On their last full day Victor and Katherine got to see one of the best known sites in Barcelona, eat a delicious paella and visit one of the region's oft-overlooked treasures. It began with a bit of a complication. 24,000 complications actually. The annual Bombers 10K race attracted thousands early on Sunday morning, meaning crossing the Gran Via was slightly more complicated than usual. But having accomplished that, we we off to Gaudi's other masterpiece, La Pedrera. I love this building, and I love showing others the building, because I want to share my passion, from the twisted iron entrance gate to the rooftop's flowing forms of the chimneys, towers and views over the city, the building just sings of Gaudi's love of nature, and his unique style.

Next we jumped in the car and headed on down to the Roman city of Tarraco, now the city of Tarragona. As the first city built outside of Rome, it houses an impressive collection of roman antiquities, from the reconstructed amphitheater by the sea to the Circus and the still standing Roman wall, the discerning visitors can walk the streets of Tarragona's  historic area and find something impressive just by looking around. Like the Cathedral, which was built over a Moorish Mosque, which was built over a Visigothic church, was was built over the Roman Temple. Being a Sunday afternoon, the Archeology Museum was closed, but we spent several hours exploring the town. We stopped for lunch before the restaurants closed for the day, and chose a lovely paella restaurant for one last chance to enjoy the local cuisine. The freshly baked bread with olive oil was also a big hit. We finished the day by walking off lunch, wandering over to the other side of the Roman town and walking through the Roman gate before making our way back to Barcelona.

For more information about private guided tours in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Araya's Experience - Day 6 - Mosaic and Beach

The penultimate day of the Araya's Barcelona vacation brought a different sort of tour. Katherine took advantage of the morning to take a mosaic course with Barcelona Mosaic Workshop. Her three hour course gave her the chance to learn how to recreate some of the impressive mosaic forms she had seen over the past few days at places like Park Guell and Passeig de Gracia. Not only did she learn how to  design, cut and and finish mosaic, but she got to take home the small chest she created as a keepsake of her morning.

After lunch along the Mediterranean we headed up the coast to Tossa De Mar, for an afternoon of exploring the Costa Brava and a bit of shopping! After walking along the 14th century walls and up to the lighthouse for some spectacular views of the Costa Brava's rocky coast. Then back into the center for some shopping before we headed back to Barcelona.

For more information on your own private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Araya's Experience - Day 3 - Girona and Besalu

 One of the great things about a city like Barcelona is the plethora of excursions that are possible within an easy day's drive. For example, Girona and Besalu. Despite the slightly overcast skies, in stark contrast to the brilliant blue skies of the previous day, our drive up through the rolling farmlands of the Catalan countryside was thoroughly enjoyable. Besalu awaited amongst the dormant volcanoes of La Garrotxa, a 10th century walled city and one of the key towns of early Catalonia. Proof of its importance lies in the Romanic Bridge, an 11th century construction which has been carfeully rebuilt through the ages. The 105 meter long bridge was one of the earliest fortified constructions, but the town is a treasure vault of buildings and streets. the Curia Real, the Monastery of Sant Pere, the Jewish quarter and the Hospital of Santa Julia are some of the buildings waiting to be discovered.

Girona was next on our list, and another jewel of architecture, history and legend. After counting the 93 steps up to the Cathedral, a walk through the widest single nave church in Europe was in order, with special emphasis on the newly restored Creation Tapestry, an 11th century tapestry. A walk along the old city walls, with scenic views from the tower over the valley (the sun was making a valiant attempt to break through) and through the steep and narrow steps of the Jewish Quarter, until we final reached the Eiffel ... Bridge. Built by the famous French firm just a couple of years before the Tower was constructed in Paris, it is one of the 4 bridges that spans the Onyar river. Lunch included learning how to peel shrimp and a delightful apple pie before we returned back to Barcelona with cameras full of pictures and a day full of memories.

For more information about planning a private tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Araya's Experience - Day 4 - Undiscovered Barcelona

Katherine in Casa Asia
 On the third day of our tour, we spent the day discovering more of Barcelona. In a city with 2000 years of history, uncovering everything all at once can be a a daunting task. If you have the chance to do it over several days, you can really delve into the various aspects. Today we began with the Passeig de Gracia, a road that originally served to connect Barcelona with the town of Gracia. Home to Barcelona's famous Block of Discord,  everything on the street demonstrates the style of the city, from the Gaudi tiles that line the sidewalks to the intricately designed ironwork lampost to the buildings themselves. We stopped to appreciate the facades of the Casa Batllo, Casa Amatller and Casa Lleo Morera among others. A quick stroll through Vincon (a must for shoppers) and we headed to some of the lesser-known treasures. Casa Asia, with it's amazing ironwork and statues outside, spectacular stairwell and the beautiful views from the rooftop terrace, including the Casa de Puntxes and Sagrada Familia, was definitely a great stop. A walk through the market  area and up to Park Guell ensued. The many modernista buildings that line the streets as you walk can make your neck ache sometimes! 

The Gaudi Cross in Park Guell

And in Park Guell itself, Gaudi expresses his love of nature and his creativity, despite not building the houses. The steps, the benches, the columns and the carefully designed rock walkways bring modernisme to life for the visitor. After a taxi ride down to the Born district, and a quick bite to eat, we continued our exploration. Through the laberinth of narrow streets, we headed over to the Ciutadella Park to see the Arc de Triomf and Gaudi's fountain. From there back to the old city, to see where the Roman coliseum used to be, and what remains of the wall and second aquaduct. A tapas dinner wrapped up the day as a few raindrops began to fall!

For more information on planning your private guided tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Araya's Experience - Day 2 -Snow-capped mountains and Gaudi

The promise of a beautiful day was the perfect setting for our morning trip over to Montserrat Mountain. The sun accompanied us the whole morning served not only to warm up the spring morning but also the brilliant skies with just a couple of wisps of clouds dotting the horizon. As we drove around the mountain, taking in the fantastic panoramic views as we ascended, we talked about the history and legends of the mountain, which has been the cultural and spiritual center of the region for over 1000 years. When we reached the top, the clear day's just reward was as clear as I have ever seen it: the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees!
We sampled some of the local cheeses (my personal favorite was the rosemary goat cheese, Katherine liked the smoked sheep's cheese). Up to the top of the mountain on the funicular (cog rail) we went, to take full advantage of the spectacular vistas. We returned to the monastery and jumped into the short line to visit La Moreneta. 

Afterwards we headed back to Barcelona we went straight over to Sagrada Familia. Gaudi's masterpiece is so unique that one can easily spend a full day just on the outside. Take in all the details, from the celebration of the Nativity Facade to the severe lines of Subirachs figures on the Passion Facade to the flowered tips along the back edge of the church. And then you have the inside, where his true genius lies: in his geometric shapes and the imitation of nature in ways that had previously been unimaginable.

All in all a great day to explore some of the most quintessentially Catalan sites of the region, and get deeper into the culture and in touch with the history of the region.

For more information about private guided tours in Barcelona and Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Araya's Experience - Day 1, A Barcelona Panorama

Upon arrival in Barcelona, we headed into the city to hit the ground running. First stop a coffee and a quick snack to adjust to being back on the ground, then we headed into the city center, cameras at the ready and explore all the streets and buildings of the Ciudad Comtal. The morning passed quickly as we twisted and turned through the gothic streets, stopping to sample some traditional sweets and delving into 2000 years of history.

A quick stop at the hotel to check in and freshen up and we were back on the move. We headed over to Montjuic mountain for a panoramic view of the city, a great way to get an overview of the week that awaits. The wind picked up a little bit but nothing too bad, as we took in the views over the port from the Mirador del Alcade and then up to the castle. A coffee in the castle courtyard and some great conversation is one of moments that sticks in your memory. To end the day we drove down to the beach, to walk in the sand along the Mediterranean.

Next up is a visit to Montserrat!

For more information on planning your private Spanish vacation, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Remembering the Titanic 100 years later in Barcelona

100 years later and the tragedy of the Titanic is still headline news around the world. From the re-release of the blockbuster film to exhibitions around the world. And Barcelona, always a city where you can find what almost anything you are looking for, has its own special way of paying tribute. From now through September at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona is offering an inside look at the Titanic, through more than 200 objects direct from the ship. From letters and boarding passes to sun chairs and the complete passenger list (all of which has been lent to the Museum from survivors, family or other museums), visitors will be given a chance to experience what it might have been like on the ship itself for 12 euros (including an audioguide).

The Maritime Museum itself, located at the end of Las Ramblas and once site of the royal shipyard, has a history that dates back over 700 years, and has been the site of the museum since 1941.

For more information or to plan your private guided tour in Barcelona, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Barcelona Restaurant Week April 2012

Restaurant week is back again in Barcelona! From April 13 through April 22 more than 30 restaurants in Barcelona will be offering a show of their finest dishes for a fraction of the price. For just 25 euros diners can enjoy a full meal at some of the best establishments in the city, for example the Torre de Alta Mar, with view over the Mediterranean, Galaxo (in the Modernista Hotel Casa Fuster) DO2 and more.

For more information or for help designing a private tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Semana Santa in Galicia - Northwestern Spain

This week we've been talking about Semana Santa away from the "typical tourist" sites. And while, for people within Spain would be quick to name Galicia among the best places to go during Semana Santa, the fact remains that the Northwest of Spain remains a very under-appreciated region for visitors. Best known for it's spectacular Albarino wines and rich variety of seafood, Semana Santa represents one of the highlights of the year. This is, after all, the region that hosts Spain's most visited pilgrimage site in Santiago de Coruña - the final destination for the Camino de Santiago.

With that in mind, today we head to Ferrol along the western coast. Declared a National Touristic Interest Site in 1995 for its processions through the centuries-old town. And while you are visiting, take advantage of your time and try some of the local delicacies, including a personal favorite of Pulpo a la Gallega (grilled octopus with paprika)!

For more information or for help with your private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-48-00013.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Dansa de la Mort - a unique celebration

Continuing a theme of smaller celebrations throughout Spain this Semana Santa, today in the small town of Verges close to the Costa Brava. Every year locals come out on Holy Thursday to witness a celebration whose roots go back to the years of the Black Death in Europe, more than 600 years ago. The Dansa de la Mort (Dance of Death) is a depiction of the passing of time and Christianity's belief of victory over it. In Verges it is represented by a group of local actors dressed as skeletons, whose appearance is marked by a loud, somber drum as they enter the streets to the cheers of thousands of people. As with other towns, Verges' own historical center adds to the flavor of the evening. Declared an event of National Historic Significance in 1983, it only happens once a year, and it is yet another reason to love and appreciate the richness of the culture and history of the people who live here.

For more information on planning your own private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-840-0013.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Semana Santa in Baeza, away from the major cities

As I wrote yesterday, Semana Santa goes further than just major cities across Spain. It dives into the roots of the culture. And today I want to talk about one such place: About half way between Sevilla and Madrid, in the olive growing province of Jaen, we find Baeza, a UNESCO world heritage site and a spectacular backdrop for the Semana Santa celebration. Dating back to the 16th century, Good Friday´s Brotherhood of Vera Cruz procession marks one of the highlights, as it walks through the old city, bringing the past into the present as only  a tradition like this one can.

For more information or for help planning your private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Semana Santa - Spain's Easter highlights

Semana Santa. For anyone who's been to Spain during this magical time, those two words conjure images of somber processions, colorful brotherhoods marching slowly under the pressing weight of massive floats, and an experience that can hardly be expressed in just a few words. So why all the hype?

Well, it's among the all of the above and more. It's the sense of community and of oneness (hence the origins of the hooded brotherhoods who carry the cross, symbolizing unity and brotherhood), of an entire town supporting traditions. And for me, therein lies the great secret. Tradition. In a country steeped in tradition, where every small town and big city has its quirks and fairs, in a country as rich in history as Spain, tradition takes the spotlight. And in Semana Santa, it's a tradition that runs throughout the whole peninsula. And for anyone who has the pleasure of visiting, it's a welcoming experience that invites the visitors to share and form a part of the very roots of the culture. It's unique, like Spain itself.

For more informatino or to design your own private guided tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.