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