Monday, December 16, 2013

Balearic Islands: A guide to fiestas and folk traditions of Mallorca (January-February)


8/9 Fiesta on St Julia's Eve. The dance in honour of St Julia is held and the first bonfires (foguerons) of the winter fiestas are lit in Campos.

Per sant Antoni, tota Mallorca fa festa.
St Antoni Abat's Eve
16 Fiesta on St Honorat's Eve. St Honorat is the patron saint of Algaida. The most characteristic part of the fiesta is the performance of the cossiers, six men and one woman, accompanied by a demon, who dance and whose origins are related to invocations to ancient divinities.

16 Fiesta on St Antoni Abat's Eve. Sant Antoni lived at some time around the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The eve of his saint's day is one of the magical nights in Mallorca's calendar, and is linked to ancient fertility rites. Not in vain is St Antoni the guardian of crops and livestock. The night of St Antoni is a night of bonfires (foguerons). There are two places that really should be visited: Artà and Sa Pobla.

17 St Antoni Abat's Day. The fiesta of the traditional blessing of animals is held in Palma and in practically all the towns and villages of Mallorca. In Pollença, after the traditional "colcada" and the appropriate blessings, everyone goes from l'Almoina to "get the pine" from the Ternelles estate, where, after hearty refreshments of bread and olive oil, salt herring and wine, a pine tree with a long straight is felled and taken to the Plaça Vella in Pollença. In Sa Pobla, the blessing tends to take place in the evening with a great parade of decorated floats and then folk dancing. In Calvià, next to the church the alimara is lit to celebrate the fiesta and there is a huge bonfire on which to burn the devil, according to the tradition. In Palma, the most traditional blessing is that of Sant Antoniet, with music by the xeremies (pipe, drums and bagpipes), a parade, a Mass and the awarding of prizes.

Ball de bot or traditional folk dancing
19/20 Fiesta on St Sebastia's Eve. Although on the eve of St Sebastia's Day dances and fiestas are held in many villages in Mallorca, such as Ariany, Búger, Calvià, Capdellà, Costitx, Deià, Muro and Sa Pobla, with the indispensable bonfires, the main fiesta is in Palma. Ever since St Sebastià delivered the city from plague, he has been its patron saint. The great fiesta takes place on the 19th from early on in the evening, with live music in the city center. On the following day, the fiesta reaches its height with a Mass held in the Cathedral in the morning.

20 Parade of "Los Cavallets" in Pollença. As part of the fiestas of St Sebastià, Pollença relives a secular tradition on the feast day itself. The Saint is taken on a parade with the town standard and the "cavallets", two youths from the village who dance in a horse costume.


Fiesta of The Siurell. Llubí celebrates the Fiesta of the Siurell on the Saturday before carnival.

27 Sister Francinaina Cirer's Birthday. A floral offering is made to the figure of the Blessed Sister Francinaina Cirer in Sencelles.

Sencelles sale a la calle para celebrar la tradicional fiesta de Sor Francinaina Cirer
Floral offering on Sister Francinaina Day
Carnival: Els darrers dies. The countdown to Carnival starts on Lardy Thursday. This period is known in Mallorca as "els darrers dies" (the last days) which refers to the fact that they are the last possible days to have fun before Lent begins. Typical foods include the ensaimada de tallades.

Check March, April and May Fiestas in Mallorca
Check June, July and August Fiestas in Mallorca
Check September, October, November and December Fiestas in Mallorca

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cantabria: The water route

Cantabria conserves a number of maritime buildings such as lighthouses, mills, foundries and fulling mills, which can provide a fantastic base to explore the relationship between man and water.

El Caballo lighthouse
Lighthouses. A visit to a lighthouse represents an encounter with an spectacular marine location. There are nine in Cantabria, which are from east to west those of Castro Urdiales, Santoña (the lighhthouses of El Caballo and El Pescador), Ajo, Santander (the lighthouses of Mouro, La Cerda and Cabo Mayor), Suances and Sant Vicente de la Barquera.

Tide mills. Taking advantage of the force of the tides to move mills has been documented in Cantabria since 1047. There were mills of this kind on almost all estuaries and marshes, some of which have been restored and can now be visited. For example, you can visit (book in advance) Santa Olaja Mill (located in Amuero) or Mareas de Ancillo Mill (located in Argoños).

Molino de Ancillo
Mareas de Ancillo Mill
Seamen and fishermen. The Cantabria Maritime Museum offers a complete panoramic vision of this untamed sea. Its discourse illustrates the relationship that men have had with it through the ages.

Foundries. Cantabria has a deep-rooted tradition of the obtaining of iron; foundries abound in the proximity of river beds. The most important is that located in the town of Cades, where visitors can get to know the process of the moving of iron and its working by means of forging or casting.

Fulling mills. Fulling mills are appliances that take advantge of hydraulic energy, mainly for textile work. Two examples have been preserved, both in the Liébana area, in the towns of Ledantes and Aniezo.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Andalusian cuisine: cooking with "miel de caña" (sugar-cane syrup)

Eggplant with miel de caña

Miel de Caña, sugar-cane syrup, is a rarity in Europe. In fact, there's only one factory in Europe which produces it: El Ingenio in Frigiliana, a tiny white village of Andalusia just north of Malaga. It's unique flavor is great for cooking, and if you can get your hands on some, it's a great way to add an Andalusian touch to your cooking.

Here are some recipes to use the spectacular "miel de caña", starting with my personal favorite!

Eggplant with sugar-cane syrup. Cut the eggplant into thin slices and place them in a bowl with salted water for half an hour. Make a mixture with egg, 1 cup of milk and flour (as required) and dip the drained eggplant in the batter before frying. Once cold, place on a dish and sprinkle with molasses just before serving. 

Other interesting recipes:

Torrijas. Slice the bread to a finge's thickness. Soak in sweet wine and dip in beaten egg. Then fry them in hot oil and remove from the pan when golden brown. Dip in miel de cañathat is on the verge of boiling, remove from the pan and drain well.

Sponge Cakes. Add 2 1/2 cups of bread wheat flour to 1 1/2 cups of miel de caña. Mix well and then gradually add 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or almonds) and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder (or bicarbonate). Bake in a moderate oven.

Flan. For 1 kg of bread dough, use 1 cup of cold vegetable oil, 1 cup miel de caña and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Mix to a spongy consistency and then place in a greased flan dish. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and decorate with almonds. Moderate oven.

Toll free (US): 1-888-480-0013
Spanish office phone: (+34) 616-103-536

Monday, December 09, 2013

Basque Country: Delika Canyon and Gujuli

Delika Canyon
Among beech woods and lands of wolves, a riverbed tries to make its way. It gets it and gives birth to a unique spectacle in the Basque Country.

As with most rivers, the Nervion has an austere and low ending in the waters of the Bay of Biscay. Hardly anybody notices since the water artery already enjoys a long route from its source, high in Mount Santiago. In the border between Alava and Burgos, the river falls in a 270-meter high waterfall, one of the most spectacular and thunderous natural phenomenon in Spain. Dangerously leaning over the Delika Canyon, the waterfall reaches its zenith in wet seasons.

Gujuli waterfall
A few kilometers away, another waterfall called Gujuli sings a siren call difficult to resist. It is more modest in dimensions - a mere hundred meters-, but its true beauty lies in its unique setting, which includes a beautiful concession to the Romanesque - the Church of Santiago Apóstol-, a gentle brook -the Oiardo-, although it becomes rougher later, and a small village, Gujuli, with small masonry houses and a green valley.

Other things to visit in the area:
  • Ayala Palace (Quejana)
  • Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Oro (Valle de Zuia)
  • Orduña

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Montserrat and Barcelona Day Tour with Friends - Part II

Our visit to the Sagrada Familia was scheduled for 1:00, but as we were running a bit late we arrived closer to 1:30. Not to worry, however. A quick word with the gate personnel and we were in, exploring on our own the greatest exposition of Catalan modernisme: the Sagrada Familia. As I mentioned, several of the members of the group had already seen this breathtaking temple previously, but the changes wrought in the last 3 years have made it a mandatory visit for everyone who comes to Barcelona. From the majestic and celebratory nativity Facade to the somber, sinister Passion Facade to the forest-like feel of the central nave, the church lives as a testament to its architect's ideals. And for an added bonus, the neighborhood town fair was taking place, meaning we got to see the Castellers anyway, from the unique vantage point of the Sagrada Familia! 

A quick tapas lunch followed before we headed up to the final stop of the day: Park Guell. Having seen his take on a church, Park Guell provides visitors with the chance to see Gaudi's version of a housing community. The buildings are secondary in his scheme to the meshing of man-made with nature. The paths, the steps, the columns and yes, even Drac all melt together to form a park  that is a totally different experience from your standard city park. As we sat on Gaudi's ergonomically-designed benches we were even offered a glass of cava from some locals, who were only too happy to help us feel even more at home. 

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

Montserrat and Barcelona Day Tour with friends - part I

When Ken contacted me about visiting Barcelona, there were lots of possibilities open to him. Several of the guys in the group had been to Barcelona before, and as they were arriving before the cruise and staying in the city afterwards as well, the question was what/how was the best way to get the most out of their experience. The decision was made to explore the city on their own initially, and when they got back we would take them around. 

One of the byproducts of Barcelona's explosion as a cruise destination has been the increase in traffic on a Sunday morning in getting to the port. But Jose - our driver - and I made our way slowly but surely to the port to meet Ken and the guys on Sunday morning. The first thing is to make sure you've got the right group leader, as I felt bad for some poor soul who approached me as I arrived to ask if I was his contact, or if I was able to help him and his group of friends who apparently were having some difficulties tracking down their guide. But the group was there and our car was waiting, so we piled the luggage into the back of the van and headed out of the city. First stop: Montserrat. Late October is a great time to visit the area that many consider the heart and soul of Catalonia. The sun and mild temperatures made it comfortable without being overbearing, and since the walk to the Holy Cave is an hour-long trek along the up-and-down mountain, it's always nice when the weather cooperates. The 1,300-year history of the monastery, drawing on everything from the earliest counts through the Franco regime's exploits, make the area a unique reference point. The path of the Rosary highlights one of Catalonia's most expressive and cultural relevant times: Modernsisme. Sculptures and mosaics from artists including Gaudi, Puig i Cadalafach and Martorell line the path and provide us a story of the region that might otherwise go untold. 

Upon returning from our hike (albeit a bit sweaty from that last bit of uphill hiking), we chanced a peek to see if the Castellers were building the human castles so typical of Catalonia. But alas, at the time they were just milling around biding their time, and as we were on a tight schedule, we had to leave, which we did once we found all the members of the group.

Up next, a visit to the Modernisme temple and Gaudi's urban fantasy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rioja Custom Tours for 2014

The Spanish Touch has been working on a series of new tour featuring the world-famous Rioja region, as well as a chance to eat at some of Spain's best restaurants! Starting in 2014 we will be offering 7 and 10 day tours from Madrid and Barcelona to Rioja and the Basque Region for those people who are looking for that little something special that separates a good vacation from an unforgettable experience. Watch for the news in this space in the coming weeks!

For more information about private and custom tours throughout Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888 480 0013.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Returning from the cruise - from the Port to Barcelona to the top of the city

The Rasanky 5 returned from the cruise and we picked them up at the port to take them to their hotel. We took advantage of the day to visit a few key spots in Barcelona we hadn't seen yet. First was the Born district: we wandered the narrow streets of one of Barcelona's most interesting areas, and found several great shops where Deb found a couple of great things to take back to the States. The walk through the streets led us to the Palau de la Musica Catalana. Tucked into the Born District where the Barcelona Choir met, the Palau is a majestic spectacle: a clear Modernista  tribute to both the Catalan culture and the musicians that were held in such high esteem.

From the Born district we stopped for a quick coffee and a milkshake before heading up to Montjuic. The "Mountain of the Jews" is most famous as the site of the 1992 Olympics, as well as for the castle-fortress which sits perched atop the hill overlooking the entire city. We decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and take the cable car up to the top. The panoramas are beautiful as you float over the myriad gardens which make up the park, and as it was a weekend there was a fair amount of activity as locals and visitors alike use the park as a relaxing day out. We visited the castle where the canons were a highlight, and went up to the observation deck of the castle for a view over the city and the port. Then we headed back to the hotel, this time at the end of the Diagonal in the developing new Diagonal Mar area, where we finished for the day in time to have lunch and take a siesta before one last night in Barcelona.

For more information on private tours in Barcelona, contact The Spanish Touch at 888 480 0013.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A morning out from Barcelona before a cruise

The cruise ship was set to depart around 5. So the Rasansky 5 took the opportunity for a morning excursion. Picking them up at the hotel we headed up the coast for a trip outside the city. Before we left, however, we decided to swing by the old city to check out the artists we had seen the day before. Stopping at the weekly market outside the cathedral for a bit of shopping we made our way through the bustling streets in a different route to get to the Santa Maria del Pi and the artists all set up along the San Josep Oriol Plaza. It was a lovely summer morning, but not so hot as to be uncomfortable. Just the right temperature to peruse and check out the various offers and speak with the artists. 

After finishing up our morning Barcelona shopping experience, we headed up the coast to Mataro, to visit Can Manetes for a taste of the local artists wares. By that time it was closing in on departure, so we stopped at a local restaurant for a quick roast chicken sandwich (delicious!!) and an ice-cream before heading to the port for a week's adventures on the sea. Hasta Pronto!!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Rasansky 5 - Exploring Barcelona

Afegeix la llegenda
Given a full day to catch up on their sleep and get their European land legs under them, we met up with Deb, Howie and the crew to discover the wonders of Barcelona. Visiting the old city, we started with a walk through the old city, enjoying the Cathedral gargoyles, and stopping to see the old measuring standards chipped into the side of the cloister street. As we reached the old Jewish Quarter, we were met by the guide at the Jewish Synagogue who asked if we could come back in a few minutes so they could finish setting up. So we took a stroll around the block, stopping so the ladies could step into a shop for a spot of shopping while the guys popped into a bakery for a quick drink (hello, peach juice!) After our brief excursion, we slipped through the narrow streets back to the Synagogue where the guide explained about Jewish life in old Barcelona (for over 600 years there was a sizable Jewish population in the center of the city). Then off we went exploring the streets of the old city once more. 

One of the stops was in the Plaza de Sant Josep Oriol, just outside of the Santa Maria del Pi church, were we paused for a few minutes to take a closer look at the paintings on display from the various artists (and Mark picked up a Catalan Independence flag). Another quick stop for some hot chocolate and a coffee (Eric managed to sit under the leaking air conditioner unit) and then off to Sagrada Familia. As a group that loved to take pictures, we went to some of the best spots to get a picture of the building, as its size and the crowds make getting a good shot tough to do sometimes. The final stop for the day was Park Guell (with a K). It's hard not to be impressed by the mountains of trencadis mosaic lining the walls and the steps, or the rock walls built in the form of palm trees. But all this visiting worked up an appetite, so we stopped for lunch at Browns, one of the best pasta places along Passeig de Gracia. After lunch, while the delicious lunch was making everyone sluggish, we took the long way back to the hotel in the car to get a better overview of the city. 

Next up is a trip up the coast before they head off on a cruise.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Breakfast in Raval - Welcome to the Rasansky 5

Travelling as a family can be a complicated endeavor. So when Deb first contact me about spending a few days in Barcelona before their cruise, she emphasized the importance of making it fun for everyone. A vacation should be about having fun, relaxing, and soaking in the culture. Sometimes i think a guide can get caught up in the history and cultural relevance of what he or she is doing, at the expense of those who are visiting the city. When that happens you can feel like you are less on a vacation and more studying for an exam. Or in a worst case scenario, it can feel like you are listening to Professor Binns drone on History of Magic.

When Deb, Howie, Seth, Mark and Sherry got off the plane in Barcelona, our first order of business was to get some food. It had been a long flight, and a hungry, tired person is never one who is going to particularly enjoy wandering around the streets of any city, even one as enchanting as the Ciutat Comtal. As the hotel was fully booked the night before, early check in was not available, so we dropped off the bags and headed around the corner for a bite to eat. Breakfast in Barcelona is not traditionally a big thing. A cup of coffee, a croissant or pastry, and water. Sometimes you can add some toast with olive oil and tomato, or even order a sandwich on a fresh roll for a "full" breakfast. But in the Raval district, a traditionally immigrant-heavy region, the local culture has blended with imports. We took a seat at a local restaurant just off the Rambla del Raval and ordered breakfast. Coffee, egg and bacon sandwiches, tea, water, and one glass of peach juice for Seth (which started something like an addiction).

Over the breakfast table we went over the map of Barcelona, where they were and what they could take in the first day, while waiting for their land legs to come back. Then we returned to the hotel, where they could take an early siesta and recover so that tomorrow they'd be ready to go.

Next up: Exploring Barcelona's corners, shops and so much more!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Somontano and beyond - The Teja Family vacation

When we began planning their trip, one of the things that was made clear to me was that the Tejas were not looking for your standard tour: they wanted an intimate visit with the people, the land, the culture of Spain. Oh, and they wanted to visit wine country. Given Spain's vast quantity of quality wine regions, and the character of its people (especially in small towns), the question was not how, but where they should stop. So on the day they left Barcelona, first stop was the Somontano region. We picked up the rental cars and, GPS in hand, headed out. About 3 and a half hours later, they arrived in Somontano. It was a local festival in the town of Barbastro, so they went straight to Otto Bestue, a local winery specializing in high quality wines. The visit and ensuing lunch were so nice that Joe called me to double check their second visit, as they didn't want to be late, but they were having such a good time... The second visit, to the museum of wine, allowed the group the chance to sample wines from around the region, as well as having a personal guide who was able to answer all their questions. 

The day ended with the group heading up to the little hamlet of Bellestar (population approximately 30 people) for a night in a B&B with dinner made straight from the owner's fields.

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Picnic in the Vineyard -The Tejas' Spain Vacation - Day 3

After spending most of the morning galavanting about the countryside learning about the land, the grapes, the natural flora and fauna, and tasting some truly delicious wines, we were running a little behind because we had spent a fair bit of time examining the wines and Silvia had been answering all the questions we shot at her, and with one thing and another picnic lunch at Mas Comtal was a little delayed. But we arrived  and  Marta  gave us a brief history of the winery and then directed us to the newly installed picnic area, with amazing views over the Penedes, with vineyards stretching into the distance and into the monolith of Montserrats' jagged peaks. First up was our lunch, a traditional Catalan spread of delicious meats, a chickpea salad, some absolutely lovely tomatoes and a huge bowl of fresh cherries. The wines that accompanied were, naturally, excellent and selected for the food. 

When we had all been sufficiently fed, Assun led the group through the vineyards, explaining which grapes were being grown, and why here, and how the company maintains its organic label. The tasting was with Albert Mila, the owner and an absolutely fantastic host. His passion for his wines is obvious, as is his knowledge. After sampling some of the more unique wines available, we said adeu and headed to our final destination: Rimarts Cava. 

Unlike Mas Comtal and Pares Balta, Rimarts focuses exclusively on cavas, creating their top tier cavas with all the passion, dedication and tradition one could hope for. In fact, even the members of the group who were not fans of cava before visiting were overwhelmed by their obvious passion for what they do. Not to mention that the wines are, for the unsuspecting casual cava drinker often a complete surprise, as they mirror reflection of that passion and dedication in delicate aromas, full bodied flavors and none of the negative side effects many have come to expect from the "cheaper" cavas. 

We finally returned to Barcelona with time the evening still free, and the lovely early summer temperatures were just what was in order for a lovely finish to a busy but truly special day. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A unique wine tour part I - A Family Affair- The Tejas' Spain Vacation - Day 3

The first wine tour of the Teja's vacation was to the Penedes, and while only 3 wineries were on the agenda, it promised to be a full day. When we arrived at the bodega we were met by Silvia and led to our cars for a 2 hour off-road excursion. The Penedes region has 3 different sub-regions, and today we got the chance to explore the land in more depth. Our first stop was along the lower level of the hills, where we saw how the white wine vineyards are growing, on roads that made me glad I wasn't driving. In addition to the grapes we were introduced to some of the other natural flora of the region, including the flor de Sant. Joan (pictured), which has been used by locals for centuries (in the middle ages it was burned in houses to drive away evil spirits). 

We continued our exploration of the countryside to the next level of vineyards, learning more about the care and attention that is paid to the wines, although I am suspicious that what will stand out in the memory of our group today was the cherry tree, where we were treated to fresh-off-the-tree wild cherries which were absolutely delicious!  But for me, I think the highlight was our encounter with a herd of sheep (!), who were coming up the single lane road we were driving down, and passed by our cars so closely I could have reached out and touch them (I was warned not to do so). Our final stop on the off-road excursion was at the top of the mountain, where we had a great panorama of the Penedes valley. 

Oh yes, let's not forget the wine. Upon returning to the winery, the tasting began, accompanied by some fresh baked bread and the wineries' own olive oil. We sampled a series of wines, although I have to admit that the Parellada monovarietal Honeywell, delicate and delicious!

Next stop a picnic lunch and more wineries!

For more information about private wine tours in Barcelona contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Barcelona's Modernista Heritage - A Family Affair- The Tejas' Spain Vacation

After a full day and a lovely evening meal at the 5 Jotas the  previous day, the Tejas were set for further exploration of the Ciudad Condal. Today was an adventure into the world of Antoni Gaudi with Dolors. Getting picked up at the Apartment and whisked off to Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, obligatory visits made all the more intriguing when you hear about the history, roots and links that the building, and indeed the man himself, have with the city of Barcelona during one of its most influential periods. 

It's hard to underestimate the importance of the Modernista movement and, in fact,  the Renaixença in the history of Barcelona and Catalonia as a region. The half day tour ended along Passeig de Gracia, with plenty of time for them to return to the old city and explore some of the winding back streets that we had visited the day before. 

For more information on private tours in Barcelona contact The Spanish Touch at  888-480-0013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

September Northern Spain Parador Tour - Barcelona / Somontano / San Sebastian

From September 15 - 23, 2013, join us as we travel through northern Spain, visiting some of the most beautiful regions and cities in Spain and staying in the famous Parador hotels as we enjoy a gourmet tour with wineries and Michelin-Starred restaurants. 

September 15: Arrival in Barcelona. Afternoon walking tour of old city Evening welcome dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Barcelona. Night in Barcelona.

September 16: Breakfast at hotel. Morning visit to Montserrat. Continue to Parador of Cardona. Night in Cardona.

September 17: Breakfast at hotel. Drive from Cardona to Barbastro. Winery tour in Somantano and lunch. Continue to Parador of Bielsa in Monte Perdido National Park. Night in Bielsa

September 18: Breakfast at hotel. Monte Perdido excursion (with a local guide for a nature walk and picnic lunch in park). Night in Bielsa.

September 19: Breakfast at hotel. Morning visit to Ainsa, a walled Medieval city. Continue to Parador of Olite. Night in Olite.

September 20: Breakfast at hotel. Continue to Parador of Hondarribia (San Sebastian). Evening gourmet tapas tour in San Sebastian. Night in Hondarribia.

September 21: Breakfast at hotel. Morning at leisure in San Sebastian. Afternoon visit to Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Evening dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Sebastian. Night in Hondarribia.

September 22: Transfer to Bilbao Airport for return flight to Barcelona. Last night in Barcelona.

September 23: Transfer to Barcelona International Airport.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Concerts in Seville's Real Alcazar Gardens

Every year for the past 14 years the Real Alcazares (Royal Palaces) - one of Seville's most popular and awe-inspiring attractions has opened its garden doors for a series of summer concerts. The Gardens are a unique testimony to the city's history, and with the setting of the sun the romance and charm of old Andalusia comes through in so many ways. The Gardens open to concert-goers at 9:00, with the concerts beginning at 10:30 and lasting for one hour. While that may sound a bit late, remember that if you want to eat dinner beforehand, 8:00 is considered an early dinner! 

You have a variety of styles to choose from as well, from classical and flamenco to jazz to Baroque/Renaissance and medieval dance. The concerts take place every night, and tickets are only 5 euros at the door for that day's show and depending on availability (for a mere 6 euros you can get them online for the show you want with guaranteed entrance).  Given the heat that can afflict Seville in the summer, this is a great alternative for those who want to enjoy the chance to explore the gardens and enjoy authentic Andalusian culture during the cooler hours of nighttime. 

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

Castles, Caves and Canyons - Off the beaten path from Valencia

Given the amount of time dedicated to the beaches of Spain, it's hardly surprising that the rivers and lakes receive so little attention from visitors. But that doesn't mean that they should be overlooked. Just over an inland from Valencia we find the town of Cofrentes, and the canyons of the Jucar River. There you will find pre-Roman Iberian settlements, the Don Juan and Hermosa Caves, the Castle of Chirel, and last but not least, a 14km river cruise that takes you through the canyons themselves.

So whether you want to take a hike over to the spa or up to the castle, go spelunking in the caves or simply sit back and relax on the river cruise, this area is one of those special places that will make your visit all the more unforgettable!

For more information or to include a visit to the Canyons of Jucar on your private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Family Affair- The Tejas' Spain Vacation - Welcome to Barcelona - Day 1

After months of phone calls, emails and planning, the day finally arrived for the Tejas to come to Spain. For the past four months we had been putting it together, and now it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. The family of 7 arrived early and we met them at the airport and we were off. With a group of seven it's always a bit complicated, so we had decided to book an apartment right in the center of Barcelona with a great view of the Cathedral. After dropping off the bags and freshening up a bit, we were off for a bit of Barcelona exploration. As we strolled the narrow streets that led to the Cathedral and the old city, we talked about the history of the city, about the walls and buildings, but also about the culture. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the history of these places (after all, with 2000+ years rolled into one city it's easy enough to do), but when you do that you risk missing out on the culture and so many other things that make the places you visit so special. The familiarization tour took us through to a cursory view of the "highlights" of the old city, and when we finally stopped for some a light lunch and people watching at the Plaza Reial it was with a better understanding of where they had arrived. 

After an afternoon at leisure to get their legs under them, we headed out for a welcome meal. The tapas, wine and sangria flowed and everyone seemed to agree that the trip was off to an excellent start. Up next: A visit to the Sagrada Familia and further exploration of Barcelona. 

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Padillas' last day in Barcelona - Montjuic and Tapas

 The last stop on the Padillas' Barcelona adventure was the panoramic views from Montjuic, site of the Castle and the Olympic games, and some of the most breathtaking views over the city. Our first stop was the Mirador Del Alcalde (Mayor's Lookout), from which you have a nice vantage point over the port and Mediterranean. From there we took the cable car over the parks and gardens of Montjuic, and learning the history of the mountain, from the 16th century through to the present.

 We got off the cable car at the Castle on the top of the hill, a castle that has for centuries overlooked the city below. In recent years the castle has undergone a renovation in its offerings: for years it housed the military museum, but now holds an interesting collection of art expos and historical data. And the views from the top are outstanding! 

To conclude the day and their time in Barcelona, we decided to visit one of Barcelona's most well-known tapas bars: The Ciudad Comtal, where we enjoyed an early dinner of local tapas and some lovely wine.

The next stop for the Padillas: Andalusia, where Sevilla, Granada and Malaga await their visitors with that southern Spanish hospitality that has become as much a part of their fame as the white-washed villages and bullrings. 

a parting view of the Thinking Bull

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Padillas' Barcelona Experience - Park Guell (with a K)

On their last full day in Barcelona, Anne, Raul and Brea spent the morning wandering the city, making their way up to the Gracia district. We met in the Plaza del Sol in the heart of Gracia and headed over to Antoni Gaudi's urban playground, Park Guell. On the way over we had a discussion about the origin of the name, which is almost always spelled one of two ways: Parc Guell (in Catalan) or Parque Guell (in Spanish). Both, however, are wrong. The proper spelling, as written by Gaudi himself, is Park Guell, with a K, in tribute to the English garden communities that Gaudi based his design on. 

These days the Park is a magnet for tourists for good reason. The sheer beauty and size of the mosaic patterns and intricate designs of the park benches and guard houses, as well as the detailed method Gaudi laid out for making his development as integrated as possible with the natural contours and landscape of the hill, make for a enjoyable day of exploration for even the most seasoned traveler. 

We got a great picture of a street performer

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Padilla Catalan Experience - Girona and Besalu

Barcelona is an amazing city. It really is. There's so much to do and see that you feel like you could spend your entire vacation right there and not discover everything. And of course, that's true. But that doesn't mean that there aren't things outside the city worth visiting. Lots of things. And so, Saturday morning found us driving up the highway and away from Barcelona for the day. The drive through the Catalan countryside was an enjoyable one, even with the heavens opening up as we arrived. 

Our first stop was the medieval town of Besalu. A Catalan original, Besalu was once one of the region's most influential cities. Nowadays it's more well known for its beautiful gated bridge and the city center, which retains its medieval character and charm, despite what can sometimes be large crowds. Luckily for us, the weather kept most of the crowds away. We were very clear: It's allowed to rain while we are in the car, or while we are in a building. And by and large, the weather cooperated. But as we crossed the bridge, the rain started coming down a bit harder, so we decided it was the perfect time to stop and have a cup of hot chocolate. The cafe, tucked into the lower floor of one of the houses that dates back centuries, had enough magic in it to match the town, and more than cancel out the rain. And the hot chocolate was delicious! When we left the rain had eased to a stop, and we continued our visit to the town. When it started to rain harder, we ducked into a bakery, or under the protection of the 12th century church. We even made it down to the riverside path for a view of the bridge from the Jewish Quarter. 

The drive to Girona from Besalu is not a long one.  Which was convenient, as there was a certain amount of hunger building for lunch. When we reached Girona we headed straight toward the Plaza de Independencia for lunch. The food was good (even the "thing of lamb", which I was brave enough to try), and by the time we left the restaurant, well fed and watered, the sun was making an heroic attempt to break through. Girona is always ranked among the best places to live in Spain, and it's not difficult to imagine why. The old city is a vibrant, living tribute to the history and culture, with legends and narrow walkways, high walls, and the Cathedral perched atop. 

We actually counted the steps down this time as well (90). The highlight of the day, though, was convincing Anne to climb up to the top of the tower overlooking the city. She showed a lot of bravery going up the spiral staircase, but much more so in coming down. 

As we drove back it was with a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment. For as beautiful and exciting as Barcelona is, it's good to get out and discover other elements of the region too.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Further exploration with the Padillas - Barcelona and the Costa Brava

Meeting up on Friday morning at the steps to the Cathedral, Raul, Anne Brea and I once more took to the streets of Barcelona. This morning's meanderings took us through the old city of Barcelona, a labyrinth of streets and buildings that encompass more than 2,000 years. we took in the Roman Walls and Temple, the medieval palaces and the high Gothic architecture of the Cathedral, the winding streets with imposing facades from the 18th and 19th centuries, saw the house where Joan Miro was born and in all spent a few hours laughing, talking and learning about the more fascinating aspects of the Catalan capital. 

After a lunch break and a cup of coffee we hit the road and drove out of the city up to Tossa De Mar. This is one of those towns that almost defies you to not love it: the semicircle beach, the pedestrian streets filled with shops (some rather more touristy) wrapped around a centuries old town all kept neatly together by the remains of the walls that once protected the city. Walking through the old city gate and seeing the cross that marked the entrance to a safe place, it is a place where everywhere you look presents another photo op. We made it all the way up to the lighthouse and some spectacular views over the coast, where it's easy to see the Costa Brava's rugged beauty in all its splendor. 

On the drive back we stopped in the town of Mataro to visit Can Manetes, for a chance to look around the shop and see what local artists are making before we headed back into the city to make sure we were well rested for the full day that awaited us the following morning.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Padillas' (long awaited) return to Spain - Part II, welcome (back) to Barcelona

For the better part of the last decade, Anne and Raul Padilla had been trying to get back to Spain, a country they had last visited in the mid 1980s. Finally this year was the year. together with their granddaughter Brea the plan was set in motion in February. Their first stop was Madrid and the surrounding areas. A few days in the country's capital, and they were ready for the next stage: Barcelona here we come! 

Staying in an apartment on one of Barcelona's most fabled and quintessential streets, Carrer Montcada, the three of them were ready for a few days of touring with The Spanish Touch. Our first day was a morning excursion over to Sagrada Familia. There's something magical about Sagrada Familia, the way it draws you to its every nook and cranny. For Anne and Raul, the last time they saw Gaudi's temple it was an outer shell, so the sight of its 8 completed towers and the rising facades, sculptures, designs, mosaic was something they had been looking forward to. The exploration of the Basilica was a great way to get into the city's history and culture. And it was the perfect start to a few days of enjoyable company and discovery. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Northern Spain Parador Route - July 2013

Northern Spain Parador Route - Explore the beauty of the Pyrenees and some of Spain's most spectacular cities, July 15 - 22, 2013*
July 15: Arrival in Barcelona. Afternoon walking tour of old city (Ramblas, Plaza del Rei, et al) Night in Barcelona
 July 16: Breakfast at hotel. Morning visit to Montserrat (monastery and cave + l’escolania). Continue to Parador of Cardona (approximately 1.5 hours total driving time). Night in Cardona
July 17: Breakfast at hotel. Drive from Cardona to Barbastro (approx 2½ hours). Winery tour in Somantano and lunch. Continue to Parador of Bielsa in Monte Perdido National Park (approx 1½ hours). Night in Bielsa 
July 18: Breakfast at hotel. Monte Perdido excursion (with a local guide for a nature walk and picnic lunch in park). Night in Bielsa. 
July 19: Breakfast at hotel. Morning visit to Ainsa, a walled Medieval city. (approx. 35 minutes) Continue to Parador of Olite. (Approx 3¼ hours). Night in Olite. 
July 20: Breakfast at hotel. Morning visit to Pamplona. (approx. 30 minutes) Continue to Parador of Hondarribia (San Sebastian) (approx. 1½ hours). Evening Tapas meal in San Sebastian. Night in Hondarribia. 
July 21: Breakfast at hotel. Morning at leisure in San Sebastian. Afternoon visit to Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Evening Farewell dinner. Night in Hondarribia. 
July 22: Transfer to Bilbao Airport for return flight to Barcelona.
Price: $3,018.00 per person.
An optional 10-day tour is also available, with one extra day in both Barcelona and Bilbao. 

This tour includes:
Your personal, billingual Spanish Touch guide with 24 hour availability
All accommodation as per itinerary
All transportation as per itinerary
Guided visits as per itinerary
All winery visits and tastings
Meals as per itinerary