Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dog Days of Summer - or how to beat the heat in Spain

As we settle into the depths of the dogs days of summer, a lot of us are starting to dream of a little less heat and a little more action. The Spanish Touch has the solution!

Why not combine the beaches of the Costa Brava with a little bit of mountain air? The Costa Brava, that stretch of sand north of Barcelona along the Mediterranean, offers a great variety of beaches, from long golden stretches to pristine, tiny coves away from the crowds that are perfect for a getaway with some friends or family. And of course, while there you have great activities like the Dali Museum in Figueres, or Girona just a short drive inland. And perhaps best of all for those of us anxious to leave the heat behind for a few hours, the Pyrenees mountains are right there as well! Take a trip up to the Val D'Aran or the Vall de Boi to see the thousand-year-old Romanesque churches in Taull, or theAiguastortes National Park. Go up to the Vall de Nuria for a couple of days of mountain exploration, with the right touch of local cuisine and culture. For the more adventurous, take a quad ride through the mountain trails, or simply hike through the cool forests and enjoy the beautiful natural landscapes. There's something for everyone this summer, so why not come and check it out!

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Las Havaneras - Fishermen's songs along the coast

I have to admit that I'm not a huge beach guy. I love the water, swimming, sailing, and running in the early hours along the beach as the sun comes up over the Mediterranean is one of those great pleasures that even the most avid anti-beach goer can appreciate. But there are things that draw me towards the beach in the summertime that have nothing to do with the crowds, sunbathing or in fact even happens during the day time. One of these things is the tradition of Las Habaneras - traditional fishermen's songs sung in the evenings in fishing villages all along the coast. The music is very traditional, the songs are well-known, and the ron cremat drinks loosen the vocal chords of everyone. I love these festivals because they are so rooted in the roots of the village that everyone from the lifelong locals to visitors passing through can feel connected.

If you get the chance, a town such as Calella de Palafrugell, an hour north of Barcelona, with it's plethora of fishing boats and lively atmosphere, is one of the best  places to see it in all its splendor.

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

La Jota - Traditional Dance of Spain

Flamenco. That's the first (and often only) answer that many people think of when they hear the words traditional dance and Spanish together. But in a country so diverse and so rooted in tradition, did you really think there would be only one answer? Of course not! Flamenco is, not without reason, the most popular and famous of the traditional dances, but there are many more to choose from. And as this weekend celebrates the II annual Festival de la Jotas Españolas in the small town of Rincon de Soto, in La Rioja. Singers from around Spain will be on hand to show off the various styles. From Valencia to local artists, to the Jota Aragonesa - considered the most traditional of the regional styles.

So if you are in La Rioja region this weekend take the day(s) to explore the culture of the town and while you´re there contemplate the dances over a glass of the regional speciality, Rioja!

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Another happening summer weekend around Catalonia

Summer nights in and around Barcelona are never short on things to do. Check out the Greek Festival in the city or down to a local town festival or head over to the local microbrew festival in Antoni Gaudi's hometown, Reus. And if you are looking for something a little more relaxed, why not head up into the hills for a relaxing hike and picnic lunch in Montseny or the Vall de Nuria? Or get out of the sun for a bit in the mines of Cardona .

Drink in the sun and the summer, so much more than just the sun and beach!

For more information or for help planning your private tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-840-0013.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Pinheiro's Tour - Days 7&8 - Back to Barcelona and Horseback riding in Barcelona

Sunday morning Lisa and Scott were back on the train heading to Barcelona. The downside to the train is that you cannot always control the other people in the car, but at least you can stand up, stretch your legs and visit the snack car on the ride back. They arrived into an overcast Barcelona around 2 in the afternoon, having missed the scattered showers that had plagued the city over the past 18 hours. With the rest of the day at leisure to meet up with their friends and watch the Spain-Italy Eurocup final (4-0 to the Spanish!!), they were all set for the remainder of the day.

Monday morning was for catching up on sleep. After lunch I picked them up at the hotel and we drove up the coast to Santa Susanna on the Maresme. It was horseback riding time. They had advised me that they wanted to go riding, and wanted to do it at the end of the tour. Now they gave me the reasons. The chance to ride in the foothills of Barcelona is a really fun opportunity. When I came back to pick them up they were enjoying a quiet beer at the masia that houses the horse ranch. It is a lovely 17th century farmhouse which has been converted to its current state while remaining faithful to it's roots.

On the way home we stopped in Mataro to visit Can Manetes and a chance to check out the local artists' work for a unique souvenir. We made a reservation for a paella dinner at Tapas Locas (one of those things you don't want to come to Spain and not try) before saying goodnight.

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

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Chupinazo - Let San Fermines Begin!

San Fermin, perhaps the most famous party in all of Spain, has officially begun! The "Chupinazo" took place this morning in the Plaza Mayor in Pamplona, in the northern region of Navarra. The traditional start to a week long celebration which includes the Running of the bulls brings thousands of people into the town's main square to see the first fireworks set off, the "official" start to the party. Viva San Fermin!

And whether people come to run alongside the bulls every morning or to watch the show from a balcony, the celebration is a unique and unforgettable experience for all.

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

The Pinheiros - Days 5 and 6 - San Sebastian, The Guggenheim and more wine please!

San Sebastian is great town. Lisa and Scott had the whole day to explore, and weather allowing, hit the beach for a few hours. The start of the day was less beach weather, but we headed down to San Sebastian city center anyway. As I was returning to Barcelona, I left them on their own in the city center for the day, to eat some tapas, drink some wine, do some shopping, and maybe even visit the old city. Originally there was a wine tasting in the evening, but the host had to go tot he hospital in the morning and we decided it might be better to let the effects of the anesthesia completely wear off, so the tasting was moved back a day. The following day  they already had a visit to the Guggenheim scheduled with our local guide, so it was simply a matter of combining the two things. 

Carol picked them up on Saturday morning with their luggage (moving to a hotel in San Sebastian for the night) and they were off to their token museum visit on the trip. If you are going to visit just one museum in all of Spain, it's hard to argue with the Guggenheim in Bilbao as your top choice. Even non-lovers of modern art (like myself) are left speechless and amazed at it. Lisa was particularly glad she went, and said it was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip. The evening wine tasting was another highlight, with Gabrielle  providing a great array and a wonderful tasting. 

Next up a return train trip to Barcelona and 2 more days in the Catalan capital. 

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

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy 4th of July from The Spanish Touch

As we celebrate the 236th anniversary of the United States' independence, I want to wish everyone a very happy and safe holiday, and enjoy the fireworks!!

The Spanish Touch

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Pinheiro's tour - Day 4 - A trip through Spain as it should be

This morning began somewhat dubiously for me, revisiting the snail stew from the day before. But not to be deterred, we checked out of our charming Bed and Breakfast and headed over to Alquezar, a town of just 100 permanent residence, but thanks to rural tourism over the last decades one that can grow to over 15 times that amount at certain times. This is impressive, since most people still couldn't find it on a map of Spain. Alquezar is, nonetheless, one of those towns that's filled with more legends and folklore than you could possibly take in, especially in just one morning.

 Unfortunately one morning is all we had, as our schedule called for us to be in Basque Country by evening. We met our guide at the tourist office for a walking tour of the history and legends of the town. It was fascinating to learn about the town, and particularly to see how the details can really bring the legends to life. Details like the chimneys (the "Witch-scarers"), or the overpasses that at one point connected the entire town, which without a guide would have passed unnoticed.  After an hour and a half exploring the town, we decided to head up and take the scenic route to Hondarribia.  The road that leads there passes through some spectacular scenery, along mountains, winding roads along the lake with picturesque little villages dotting the green hillsides.

Taking advantage of our leisurely pace, we decided to stop at the Castle of Loarre, an 11th century gem nestled into the foothills of Huesca. We arrived just in time, and were allowed to head in to the castle to explore even though they were about to close. One of the more completed and restored castles in Spain, it's no wonder that it was chosen as background for a number of films like Kingdom of Heaven. Lisa even got the chance to close the castle doors!

Next up was a quick stop for lunch in the lovely village of Ayerbe, then on to Hondarribia and a couple of days in Basque Country. We arrived in the evening, and the Parador of Hondarribia awaiting on the top of the hill with a commanding view over the harbor and the town, greeted us. An evening of relaxation and tomorrow a day off to explore and enjoy one of my favorite cities in all of Spain: San Sebastian.

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

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Pinheiro's tour - day 3 (II) - A unique wine and birthday dinner

As we drove through the plains of Lleida and into the mountainous areas of wine country, outside was very sunny and hot (there was a thermometer reading on the side of the road that read 47.5C or about 117F , but I think that might have been sitting out in the sun too long). But at 6 o'clock, when we got to the winery for our wine tasting, the temperatures had come down a bit more and we were ready for a tasting. I have often said I would rather visit smaller wineries to get a feel for the region, it gives you a more personal touch. Sergio from Alodia certainly falls into that category. He works a one-man show, and is dedicated to recovering the local varietals such as Alcañon, Parraleta and Moristel. He explained how the work with these lesser-known grapes can often be much harder, as they lack the training and evolution of some of the bigger names of the region such as Chardonnay, Cabernet or Merlot. We sampled the range of his local varietals, including the only wine made from Alcañon in the region, and - since it only grows in the region - by extension in the world! The other advantage is that you can ask the winemaker questions, and Scott and Lisa were free to ask questions which Sergio was more than happy to answer about everything from which oaks, why and what difference it makes to where he found the grape varietals to start his project.

After the visit we drove around the corner and into the tiny village of Adahuesca where we were spending the night at a Bed and Breakfast. As it was Lisa's birthday Scott requested the lamb dinner, and we all enjoyed a quiet evening eating locally produced products and enjoying the wine of the region (Alodia also makes the only sparkling wine with the DO Somontano). Then it was off to bed to get ready for tomorrow's drive through the country and up to Basque country. 

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

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Pinheiro's Tour - Day 3 (I) - Montserrat and lunch

Day three of the tour found Lisa, Scott and I leaving Barcelona for a few days. First stop: Montserrat mountain. Technically it was our second stop, as we stopped for a minute on the way out of the city so they could drop off a couple of postcards at the post office. At over 700 meters up, the temperatures at the monastery were much more bearable than along the coast. It was a great day to do some walking, and so we did. We sampled some cheese, explored the monastery and then took the walk down to the Sagrada Cova. Well okay, we didn't walk all the way, but we did get a good sample of the walk, complete with the numerous Moderniste statues dedicated to the Mysteries of the Rosary, where the peculiar Catalan blend of national pride and religion is clearly visible.

We bypassed lunch with the tourists to continue on our way inland. We stopped along the plains of Lleida for a quick lunch at a local diner. The rabbit and pork were fine. I tried the local snail and meat stew, which was surprisingly tasty. After lunch we continued up to the Somontano region where we would be spending the night.

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