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.

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

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.