Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Magic of Rocks - El Torcal National Park

Just an hour north of Malaga in Andalusia is El Torcal National Park, Spain's original national nature preserve (1929). This park is a hotbed for nature lovers and outdoor types, offering some of the most spectacular hiking in all of Spain. Walk past the strange natural limestone formations (a unique combination of weather and the natural erosion has left the area marked with rocks that look like they were stacked on top of each other by giants of another age. When you explore the park you will also find well marked paths to caves with traces of prehistoric man and fossils of ancient sea creatures! And during the summer, take advantage of the warm nights to visit the park by moonlight with guided visits! 

For more information about El Torcal or to arrange a private tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 1-888-480-0013.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dali by Night - a summertime tradition

This summer marks the 21st edition of the Dali Theater-Museum's Dali by Night exposition. For those in the area before September, I recommend spending a night out in Figueres. The museum, which closes its doors for the regular exhibits at 8:00 opens again 2 hours later for a special night time visit. From 10pm to 1:00 in the morning, enjoy the genius of Dali in a different light. Capacity is limited to just 500 people, so it's important to get your tickets ahead of time. But be prepared for a unique twist on an already surreal experience! The visit includes a glass of cava and (weather permitting) an audiovisual show on the patio of Dali's most famous museum, a work of art in itself and showcase to some of his most famous works.

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

Friday, August 17, 2012

Festa Major de Sants - Barcelona's "Other" August Festival

The Festa Major de Gracia gets all the headlines, and is (deservingly) one of the highlights of Barcelona's vibrant summer festival scene. But the Festa Major of Sants, which this year celebrates 25 years, is another one that, given it's proximity - both geographically and date - to Gracia, tends to get overlooked. Nonetheless it is another splendid example of culture which is open to the public. In the heat of the summer the festival occupies 15 streets in the Sants district of Barcelona, and features live music, street performers, dancing giants, theater and the traditional correfocs (fire-runners). The local flavor and pride that shows through each of these elements is a distinct and enjoyable way for the discerning visitor to really get a grip on the culture of the people and the city. From the opening dance on August 19 to the closing Castellers competition on august 26, this year's edition promises to be a spectacular tribute to the people of the barrio and a great time for all.

For more information on private guided tours that take you into the heart of Spanish culture, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"La Noche De Vino" - Wine Night in Andalusia

August 15 is the halfway point of August. And what better way to celebrate than with a local festival based on one of Spain's signature products! In the small town of Competa, in the Axarquia region of Andalusia (East of Malaga, on the other side of the Costa Del Sol), today is the "Noche de Vino" celebration. Originally a celebration of the town's patron saint, since 1973 the party has been focused on the regional wine, Malaga (sweet) wine, a relative of Sherry. In the morning and the evening the star of the show is the local grape varietal: muscatel. The In the morning they have the traditional grape pressing in the main square, followed by dancing and a lunch of local specialties, and of course, wine. There is a medieval market that goes on in the streets all day as well. The party continues in the evening with an exposition of the local arts and cultures, live flamenco music, awards for the best wines and a free tasting. what better way to spend a day discovering the roots of the region than participating with the locals in their town fair!

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

The August Fiestas of Barcelona - The Festa Major de Gracia

Gracia and Sants, two of Barcelona's most celebrated barrios celebrate their town fairs this month. The more famous is the Festa Major de Gracia, which begins this week is a week long celebration that brings locals and visitors alike together in the streets and plazas of the charming district. Streets compete for the title of best decorations, and the activities go all day, from storytelling to beer tasting to live music into the wee hours of the night. Naturally, the party would be incomplete without local touches like the correfocs (fire-runners) and Gegants! It's a great way to spend a day (or two, or three) and celebrate with the locals with local foods, and culture on display.

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

Friday, August 10, 2012

More than a tour - an experience with Bob and Carolyn Grosso

Today I met Bob and Carolyn at the Majestic Hotel along Passeig de Gracia bright and early, both of them ready for a full day of wine and culture. It was a particular pleasure to welcome them to Barcelona as Carolyn is my father's cousin, and the Hersey resemblance is definitely there. We set off in almost no traffic, as August in Spain, even in a metropolis like Barcelona, is pretty much a vacation month, making it much easier than usual to get in and out of the city. And so we zipped out of the city and down the highway a short way to Sant Sadurni D'anoia.

First stop: Rimarts and a great guided tour at the hand of the winemaker himself, as he explained the difference between a handcrafted wine and the industrial process. Between the explanation and then getting the chance to watch the degorgement of a bottle by hand, the Martinez brothers' passion for what they do comes through loud and clear. It's not nostalgia that makes them do what they do, simply that technology, for as advanced as it is in terms of production, cannot yet measure up to the original method in terms of quality. And the proof is right there in the glass in front of us. tiny bubbles rising up from a golden glass of enticing cava. 

After saying goodbye and talking briefly about what makes the region so well adapted for making sparkling wine, we were off to a second winery for a different wine experience. At Mas Comtal we took a walk through the vineyards, and as the harvest is almost upon us, we were even able to taste the grapes right off the vine! It is a great visual aid to see the difference between Merlot grapes and Red Moscat, and of course the opportunity to eat a grape or two right off the vine is not one that happens every day!  We followed up the walk with a Merlot tasting, including a Rosé, a "standard" red and a fortified dessert wine made using the solera system.

After a traditional lunch at a local restaurant (the fiduea was excellent, as was dessert!) we headed back to Barcelona. Along the way we talked about the history of Barcelona and Catalonia, and how it led to the Modernista movement, of which Gaudi's Sagrada Familia was our destination. Considered by many to be the pinnacle of the Modernista movement, Gaudi's expiatory temple (now a basilica) is a feast for architecture and history lovers, and one almost feels that an hour and a half is hard to do it justice. The history and progression of this masterpiece of Catalan architecture show through the designs, lights, windows, and internal structures of the building at every turn.

We ended the day back at the hotel, and I sincerely hope that Bob and Carolyn enjoyed their day as much as I enjoyed taking them around. Best of luck on your cruise and I hope to see you again in the not-too-distant future!

For more information regarding your personal Spanish experience contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Early bird special: Barcelona and Catalonia Food lover's Tour - mushrooms, wine and culture

October 27 - Arrival in Barcelona. Welcome dinner. Night in Barcelona.

October 28 - Get an early start and head up to Vall de Nuria, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains. Meet up with an expert guide for a morning of bolet (wild mushroom) hunting. Afterwards enjoy brunch with the guide and other participants before heading up the cremallera train to the mountain area for an afternoon of exploring and enjoying the spectacular scenery. In the evening enjoy a traditional seasonal dinner at a local restaurant before retiring to the luxury apartment.

October 29 - Spend the morning searching for various types of mushrooms, and learning how to distinguish potentially dangerous mushrooms from the prized varieties. Return to the town for an exposition of all the species of mushrooms found in the region and lunch made with the selection from yesterday’s haul. In the evening enjoy a cooking lesson at the apartment with a local chef who will show you the best ways to prepare mushrooms as well as their role in the local gastronomy.

October 30 - This morning head over to the Costa Brava, passing through the charming city of Girona. Spend a few hours touring Girona, and enjoy its old city streets and shops. In the afternoon visit the charming fishing village of Cadaques. Night in Costa Brava.

October 31 - Morning visit to Salvador Dali's Theater-Museum in Figueres. After lunch, return to Barcelona. Night in Barcelona.

November 1 - Full day tour of Barcelona's Old City and the Sagrada Familia. Optional Tapas tour in the evening. Night in Barcelona

November 2 -  Morning visit to Montserrat Mountain, cultural and spiritual home to Catalonia for over 1000 years. From there visit the Penedes wine region south of Barcelona for a wine tour including meeting local winemakers who love to show their products first hand. Night in Barcelona.

November 3 - Transfer to Barcelona airport for your return flight.

Additional Dates available upon request: September 28 through November 10, 2012.

Price per person: From $3,380. Price includes:
Spanish Touch tour leader
Private guided tours
Private cooking class
Entrance fees
Accommodation in 4* hotels

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Wine, Tapas and a Castle - a summertime trifecta

Next Friday, August 10, in the heart of the Priorat region about an hour and a half south of Barcelona, and every Friday for the remainder of the summer, take in wine, tapas and music in a medieval castle!  The Castle of Vi in Falset, in the heart of the region, opens its wine museum all day for people to explore and learn about Priorat and Montsant wines. But it's the evening when the fun really starts. Live music, a selection of tapas from local establishments and, of course a glass or two of Priorat wine to complete the evening. What a wonderful and unique way to spend a Friday night in the summer, basking in the culture, food and hospitality of the region!

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

New Years Eve in August - Only in Spain

Bérchules, a small mountain village in the Alpujarras of Granada, a region popular among hikers and nature lovers, is celebrating New Years Eve tonight. That's right, the end of the year celebration, complete with eating the twelve grapes, the twelve bell tolls, and almost 10000 people gathered in the Main Square to ring in the New Year. In August. The tradition began after a blackout in 1994 forced residents to celebrate by candlelight with no fanfare. The residents of the village decided to re-create the event in August, to do it properly. And it caught on. Last year more than 8000 people joined the celebration, which starts mid afternoon and continues on into the wee hours. Local sweets, street celebrations and even parades turn this town of 900 residents into the place to be on the first Saturday of August. The celebration is proof that some traditions don't necessarily have to be hundreds of years old to make their way into the folklore of a country. Add this to the reasons to visit Spain, where the smallest villages often offer the most interesting stories!

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

Friday, August 03, 2012

August is Fiesta Time in Spain

August has a well-deserved reputation for visitors to Spain: heat, heat and more heat. There's a lot of truth to that. But that doesn't make it any less of a great place to be. In fact, the Spanish take to the heat in true Spanish fashion: with Fiestas and Festivals! All over the country people come out to celebrate life and tradition. Over the next week we'll be talking about some of them, but today, just to get your motor started.

Malaga's massive town fair (a day and night time adventure to be sure!) offers visitors great insight into the allegria (joy) of the Andalusian spirit. On the other side of the country, Aste Nagusia, or Semana Grande, puts the best of the Basque country's culture and heritage on display, with classic Basque games, bullfighting, and an amazing fireworks display in San Sebastian. In between, wherever you go, there's something to see. Why not check out the Festival del Cantir and Ceramics this weekend in Argentona, a town just north of Barcelona where the cantir, a traditional drinking jug, is the star! And lest we forget the wine, the Somantano Wine Festival is in the midst of another spectacular celebration of wine, music and food. And of course, there are the uniquely Spanish customs like the Tomatina, the giant tomato fight!

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

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Grazalema Natural Park - Hidden Beauty of Spain

The Natural Park of Grazalema
, nestled between Cadiz and Malaga, is more often than not an afterthought or an area to pass through on your way to or From one city to another. But the park, and the 13 small villages within, represent one of Spain's most beautiful areas. A clear case of hidden in the great wide open, Among Grazalema's hidden treasures you will find prehistorical cave paintings, Roman ruins, fascinating representations of the battles between Moors and Christians during the 13th and 14th centuries and some of the most lively and unique local festivals. Traditional trades such as leather and wool working are still practiced here as well. And lest we forget, foodies have their chance to sink into some of the rich local dishes, based around the locally produced cured meats and soups.

It is also a nature lover's wonderland, with wildlife (with special mention to the birds of prey) and walking routes that take you past the cliffs, caves, valleys and more on display throughout the region.

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