Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from The Spanish Touch

Merry Christmas from The Spanish Touch!!
Bon Nadal des de The Spanish Touch!!
Feliz Navidad desde The Spanish Touch!!!

Wishing you and yours the very best this holiday season, and remember to enjoy responsibly!!

Hasta Pronto
The Spanish Touch

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Visiting Spain - so much more than sun and beach

Recently I came across this quote:

“They want to live like the Spanish, go out for tapas and get to see all the possibilities that the big cities offer. It is not a tourism that is focused on sun and beach but rather on culture, the cities, and with a heavy interest in the food and wine”...

It was in reference to Brazilian travelers, but i think it fits in perfectly with what The Spanish Touch has been saying for the last eight years: Spain is so much more than what it was presented as for much of the twentieth century. We are still fighting the image of a country where everything is about sun, cheap wine, Flamenco and lying on the beach. But little by little people are beginning to realize just how much Spain has to offer. 

I feel privileged to be able to help people discover a part of that. The idea of seeing Spain like the Spanish do, going out for tapas, and really getting into the heart of the culture is what first brought us to create this company. And it is encouraging to see how the Spanish government is getting behind the idea as well. It won't happen overnight. There are stigmas that will take time to get past, and not all of them are bad (Personally, a night out in Seville for tapas and then a Flamenco show is right up there for a great way to spend a night!!), but just as Spanish cuisine has been brought to the world's forefront by a few creative geniuses, let's hope that the culture and heritage of the Iberian Peninsula will get their due. 

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

MAY 2013 Tour - Patios of Cordoba Festival

Come join The Spanish Touch for a truly Andalusian experience! Flowers, dancing, culture and just a little bit of Sherry to help you along your way as you join in the celebration of Cordoba's internationally recognized Patio competition, and The Spanish Touch wants to be your personal guide to make your experience a once-in-a-lifetime event!!

May 11: Arrival in Madrid. Transfer to hotel. Afternoon walking tour of Madrid city center. Evening welcome meal.

May 12: Breakfast at hotel. Transfer via AVE high-speed train to Cordoba. After leaving our luggage at the hotel, head over to the old city to wander the narrow streets and engage with the locals during the Patios of Cordoba Festival!

May 13: Breakfast at hotel. In the morning, take a private tour of the city of Cordoba, including the magnificent Mezquita-Cathedral, the old Jewish Quarter and the Roman bridge. After lunch spend the afternoon discovering the beauty of the Patios of Cordoba, which will be in full bloom and brightest display as more than 20 patios vie for the title of best patio of the year.

May 14: Transfer to Sevilla. Afternoon private tour of Seville city center, including the Alcazar and the old tobacco Factory, scene of Bizet's Opera Carmen. In the evening why not take a walk along the river to see the Torre de Oro, the Bullring and the Maria Luisa Park.  Optional Tapas dinner in the evening.

May 15: Breakfast at hotel. Morning private tour of Seville Cathedral, central point of Seville's historic center and final resting place of Christopher Columbus as well as the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Afternoon at leisure. Optional Flamenco show in the evening.

May 16: Breakfast at hotel. Morning drive to Jerez de la Frontera to witness the Royal Equestrian Horse Show before stopping at one of the best wineries for a chance to sample the classic of all Spanish wines: Sherry!

May 17: Breakfast at hotel. Transfer back to Madrid for last evening in Madrid and a farewell dinner at one of Madrid’s classic restaurants.

May 18: Breakfast at hotel. Transfer to airport for return flight.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Medieval Fair of Vic - Medieval fairs in Medieval cities

This weekend is the annual Fira Medieval de Vic, (Medieval Fair of Vic), about an hour and a half north of Barcelona. Along with the fair in Montblanc, this is one of my favorite medieval fairs. Dating back more than 2500 years, the city of Vic enjoyed its zenith during the Middle ages, and this fair brings that heritage to life. From the local stalls and displays of trades that can be traced back through generations, the Vic fair is an extremely popular early December tradition for locals and inquisitive visitors. One of the highlights is the Medieval Market, a remarkable, detailed reproduction of a 15th century market in the heart of the old city.

The fair runs from 10 in the morning through 8 in the evening, December 6 through December 9.

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

El Puente de la Purisima - The Start of the Christmas season

In the US we have Black Friday to mark the beginning of the holiday season. In Spain they have the "Puente de la Purisima", or the long weekend of December 6 (Dia de la Constitucion) and 8 (Immaculate Conception), both national holidays. The two days mark the last holiday in Spain before Christmas itself, and as such the real start of the Christmas season. The lights have been up for a couple of weeks now, but this weekend, holiday or no, stores throughout Spain will be open as residents and visitors alike jump into full Christmas Spirit. the Christmas Markets are open and everything is ready for the season to hit full stride. If you are in Spain during the month of December take a moment to catch some of the best of wherever you are. It's usually fairly easy to find something unique, from the local town hall celebrations to the lights to the sweets and traditional Christmas cuisine, indulge yourself a little bit!

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oysters and Wine - A Catalan take on a classic

Ostres, Xarel•lo Paenedès! That's the slogan of a new campaign that has just begun in the Barcelona area to create a greater awareness of the culinary treasures available locally. The Penedes region, just south of the city has teamed up with the Delta Ebre region to offer locals and visitors alike the opportunity to sample oysters from the region with Xarel.lo wine, a white wine traditionally used in cava making, but of late making great strides on its own as unique white wine. The campaign is being carried out in restaurants throughout the region between November 2012 and April 2013. A mouthwateringly tempting proposal that is sure to present a unique and refreshing take on a classic food and wine pairing. 

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

La Pedrera turns 100 - a centennial celebration

La Pedrera, Gaudi's last, and arguably greatest, civic work turned 100 this year. One hundred years inspiring rave reviews and withering criticism, it's perseverance is one of the Casa Mila's greatest attributes. A tribute to Gaudi's idea that "in nature there are no straight lines", La Pedrera ("The Quarry" in Catalan) has been turning heads on Barcelona's most fashionable street since its completion on October 311912. Nowadays considered a masterpiece of Modernista architecture, for the month of November the building is offering visitors a spectacular passage through the heart of Barcelona's Renaissance.

This weekend a twist on the traditional Gegants, at 5:00 Saturday afternoon will find the Rei Gaudi (King Gaudi) and Reina Pedrera (Queen Pedrera) hosting a meeting of the Modernista gegants in front of the building.  On Sunday there will be a Casteller (human tower) festival.

For more information on Modernisme or full help planning your custom tour in Barcelona, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Monday, November 12, 2012

November in Spain, a reflection on my favorite month

November is my favorite month. It starts with Halloween, continues through my birthday and finishes with Thanksgiving. Really, it is hard to find something about November I don't like. And have spent a significant amount of time living on the Mediterranean coast, I sometimes forget that it can be a cold, cruel month in the great Northeast where I was raised. These days I wear my fall jacket over my shirt and am pretty much comfortable, even in the evening hours it´s not unusual to see people sitting out on the terrace of the local bars and restaurants enjoying a tapa and a drink.

When I was younger November meant pick up football games and fires in the evening. These days I think of the changing produce in the local markets, and the sun-splashed barrios of the old city center where locals and visitors alike can drink in the culture and bask in the fresh autumn days and crisp (but not too cool) evenings that almost call you to the terrace for a glass of wine and a steaming plate of patatas bravas. All along the coast, your options may vary from a glass of sweet Malaga dulce while you enjoy a plate of berejenas con miel in Malaga to a sparkling glass of cava and a selection of local cheeses along the Barcelona coast

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

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Best accommodation for families in Barcelona

The biggest step to planning any vacation is the accommodation. Many people will instantly book a hotel without thinking much of the other options, but if you're a family, then there's one other option, especially in Barcelona, that may benefit you more than staying in a hotel. Instead of staying in a hotel, why not consider choosing an apartment as you Find cheap accommodation in Barcelona.

Save money

So why is an apartment ideal? There are a number of reasons, first and foremost is that you can save money. Staying in an apartment is usually cheaper than a hotel, because not only are the prices lower, you can save money on food because apartments come equipped with kitchens. There are extra charges for adding breakfast to the board at hotels, and they're usually unfair charges at that. For what you pay in a day for breakfast at a hotel, you can pay for a week of breakfast when staying in an apartment. That doesn't even include lunch and dinner; you can really end up saving a fortune.

Live as a family

In other forms of accommodation, everyone lives under the same roof, if you want to watch TV until late, you can't because the children are tired from a long day out and want to sleep. In an apartment, everyone has their own bedrooms. You can tuck the kids in and sit up with your partner and watch TV, you even get time to yourselves, it can be just like a honeymoon.

You also don't have to pack as many clothes as you'll usually find a washing machine. Maybe you can bring some toys for your kids to keep them entertained at the home? With more floor space, they can certainly play on the living room floor, or in their rooms, whilst you sit with your laptop taking advantage of the free wi-fi that most apartments bring.

Yet more advantages

The experience of staying in an apartment means you feel as cozy as you do at home when you return to base after a day out, and as mentioned before, you usually get free wi-fi. There are so many Barcelona apartments to choose from that you can almost always find the perfect location to stay in. Maybe you want an apartment between La Sagrada Familia and a metro station, or maybe between the beach and a great restaurant, then you can be sure there's one.

So the next time you plan your holiday, don't dive straight in to book a hotel, instead, think about how an apartment may benefit you. Check out these Vacation rentals in Barcelona. If you're going to Madrid instead, then consider Madrid apartments. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll do my utmost to get back to you.

Author Bio: Harriet Freeman

"Having been an expat in Barcelona for over 5 years and eventually entering the tourism industry; I made it my priority to become somewhat of a guru on all things Barcelona. As a frequent blogger on the city; I aim to keep all of my readers in the know about the Catalan Capital."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Barcelona and Catalonia Food lover's Tour - mushrooms, wine and culture

 Day  1 - Arrival in Barcelona. Welcome dinner. Night in Barcelona.

Day 2 - 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.

Day 3 - 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.

Day 4 - 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.

Day 5 - Morning visit to Salvador Dali's Theater-Museum in Figueres. After lunch, return to Barcelona. Night in Barcelona.

Day 6 - Full day tour of Barcelona's Old City and the Sagrada Familia. Optional Tapas tour in the evening. Night in Barcelona

Day 7 -  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.

Day 8 - Transfer to Barcelona airport for your return flight.

Available in November and December 2012.

Price per person: From $3,380, including:
Spanish Touch tour leader with 24 hour availability
Private guided tours
Mushroom picking excursion
Private cooking class
Entrance fees as per itinerary
Accommodation in 4* hotels
All transportation as per itinerary

Saint Narcis - Girona's Patron Saint's Fantastic Festival

Girona's reputation as one of Spain's most beautiful cities is a well-deserved one. It ranks among the top cities to live in every year, and the history, legends and culture that imbue the winding streets and stone walls make it a treasure for any inquisitive traveler. But every year at this time, the city rolls out the fireworks, giants, street stalls selling everything from roasted chestnuts to regional wines to books and locally produced crafts. Today marks Saint Narcis, the patron saint of the city whose church is easily recognizable to anyone familiar with Girona as the "other" church in the city (the Cathedral sits high above everything else). The saint's history and  legend intertwine throughout the 2000 year history of the city.  While October 29 is the official date, the festival lasts for a week, combining its proximity to the celebration of All Saints and ending on the following Sunday.

In addition to the stalls and traditional dances (Sardanas and Haveneres), there are a number of open house visits that are free and include some of the most remarkable buildings in the city. Throughout the day and week the city is one large celebration of history, culture and the vibrant daily life that make Girona such a special city.

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

A Different sort of Sunday Afternoon in Barcelona - time for a ride

On Sunday I picked up a happy couple for a different sort of Barcelona experience. They had been travelling around Spain, had visited Madrid, taken a Mediterranean cruise and had just arrived in Barcelona the previous day. And now they were headed up to take a horseback ride through the Collserola hills just behind Barcelona. A romantic outing and a unique way to get a different view of the Catalan capital. Their arrival coincided with the coldest weather Barcelona has had in months. Not particularly cold, mind you, just colder than it had been. But Sunday morning broke with a crystal blue sky, and the winds that had whipped the region Saturday had settled down. By midday they had all but blown themselves out. As we headed out to the we talked about the history of the city and Picasso.

The horse ranch was almost completely empty, as Sunday afternoon is not a very popular time for locals to go out. And the route chosen would take them on the hills where the clear skies would allow for some great panoramas over the city. First they had to get to know the horses, brushing them and learning how to fit the bridle. Naomi even borrowed some riding shoes from the instructor. Two and a half hours later we headed back to the city, and both of them were extremely happy with their experience, having thoroughly enjoyed their romantic, personalized adventure.

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

Friday, September 28, 2012

1st edition of Madrid Exquisito - Great food in a great city

Madrid is more than just a capital city. It's a cultural hub, a dynamic fusion of grandeur and local tradition. One of the only places I have ever found where a fried calamari ring sandwich is considered not only normal, but downright local. It is a city that offers a great array of entertainment, and it´s culinary offer is worthy of its reputation. From September 27 - October 7, the city of Madrid has teamed up with some of the best restaurants to offer the first ever Madrid Exquisito, a similar idea to Restaurant week. For the next ten days,   30 euros will get you a tasting menu at Palacio de Cibeles, El Chiscon, Cafe de Oriente, and more!

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fall Special -our new Autumn Discovery Northern Spain tour

From November 10 - November 18, 2012: Late Harvest and Autumn Colors: The best Food, Wine, History and Landscapes of northern Spain on Display and at your fingertips with The Spanish Touch on our exclusive Late Harvest and Autumn Colors Tour this year.

Starting from $3,075 per person, join us as we take you right into the heart of the culture and the region, a journey which features the some of the best foods, wines, historical and cultural sites all as we take you through the Pyrenees in full fall splendor!

Check out The Spanish Touch website for more information on this unique opportunity to discover just how magical Spain can be!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Staying in Barcelona around Eixample or the Gothic Quarter

Staying in Barcelona around Eixample or the Gothic Quarter

Barcelona is a city full of places that you cannot miss out on visiting and one of the best ways to enjoy these places and the essence of the Catalan capital is by staying in Barcelona Accommodation directly in the city centre. But in what area should you rent your apartment?  Well, although it's usually the most expensive, by far the best place to stay is in L'Eixample. If you're not looking to spend money though, on the other end of the price spectrum is the Gothic Quarter of the city. A lot of people talk about how you should stay in the Gothic Quarter of the city, so you can imagine it's a great place to stay, but be warned: it's not for everyone and I'll tell you why later. For now, let's take a look at what each location has to offer.

L'Eixample: The heart of Barcelona with the Guadí's most famous works

Without doubt, L'Eixample is one of the most prime areas in which you can rent a place to stay and at the same time be only a short walk away from monuments such as La Pedrera and Casa Batlló from Gaudí, Casa Amatller and Casa de les Punxes from Puig i Cadafalch, and Casa Lleó Morera from Domènech i Montaner. amongst other attractions! L'Eixample is roughly divided five areas, Eixample Dret (Right) and Eixample Esquerra (Left), Sant Atoni, Sagrada Familia, and Fort Pienc. Of these divisions, the best place to stay is around the Sagrada Familia area, Passeig de Gràcia,  or Rambla de Catalunya.

The right side of Eixample stretches from Calle Balmes until Passeig de Sant Joan, and includes Passeig de Gràcia mentioned before (probably the best road for high street shopping in the city). The right side is also home to Plaza Catalunya, the very centre of the city. Rambla de Catalunya is a very nice street lined with bars that have terraces which are very nice to chill out around in the summer. Take a look through this list and you'll see that it's easy to find a Barcelona apartment in these areas.
In the left side of Eixample you will find the Modelo Prison - a building featured in the movie Salvador and which represents the repression of Franco, el Matadero - Joan Miró's park (a park built on a former slaughterhouse) which features a work of art by the Spanish Artist a year before he died, the former bullfighting arena called Las Arenas which is now a shopping mall that allows visitor to wander around the roof for full 360º views of the city, and Casa Golferichs, a modernist house built in 1901 by Joan Rubió i Bellver that is now a Civic Centre. Although it's not as prestigious as staying in the right side, it won't cost as much and it's very well connected with the rest of the city.

Gothic Quarter of Barcelona: The historic centre of Barcelona

The Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of the city whose great historical significance with remnants of the Roman era is still present. It is also home to some of the greatest Gothic monuments like the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia (aka Barcelona Cathedral), and Santa María del Mar, as well as great places to relax with your friends with a drink like Plaza Real. You can also see the remains of a temple dedicated to Augustus and parts of a roman wall if you follow the "Roman Route" of the city. You will also be able to easily find a Metro station with Jaume I (Line 4), Liceu (Line 3), and Drassanes (Line 3) all within this area.

So why did I mention earlier that the Gothic Quarter isn't for everyone? Well, as well as being the historical core of the city, it's also the centre of nightlife. If you're the type of person who loves to party, or consider yourself a nighttime person, then this district is the place for you to stay. Otherwise you will probably want to bring earplugs as you might find that you end up staying on a relatively active street during the late hours of the night. Nightclubs here are usually open from late in the evening until the early morning the next day.

How can we apply this information to those wishing to stay in the city then? Well, if you're a young traveller, someone looking for great nights out, or group of friends looking for a great value place to stay in Barcelona, make sure you stay in the Gothic Quarter. If you're a family visiting Barcelona for the first time, or a couple looking for a great holiday, then make your stay in Eixample instead. And if you can't afford to stay in the right side of Eixample? Consider moving over to the left side.

Author Bio: Harriet Freeman

"Having been an expat in Barcelona for over 5 years and eventually entering the tourism industry; I made it my priority to become somewhat of a guru on all things Barcelona. As a frequent blogger on the city; I aim to keep all of my readers in the know about the Catalan Capital."

Barcelona's Patron Saint Party

I've been to a number of cities during their major celebtraions. And one of the things that I have found to be universal is that the locals all get very excited about their specific traditions and the unique aspects of this or that. It's a great source of pride for the locals. And justifiably so, I might add. This weekend is the La Merce Festival. As La Merce (Barcelona's patron saint) falls on a Monday, the city will be celebrating a three day weekend in authentic Barcelona style. Classical music, jazz and rock concerts, family parades and wine and food tastings. From the heights of the Castle at Montjuic to the Barceloneta beach, circus performers, fireworks, and everything in between promise to make this weekend a wonderful way to meet and greet the city, it's buildings and streets, people, traditions and offers!

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

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A day or two with The Freedmans - A Tour in and around Barcelona

Louise and Fred Freedman arrived in Barcelona having spent the previous couple of weeks exploring ports and cities around Europe. The end of the cruise left them ready to settle for a couple of days and enjoy their surroundings. Our plan called for a half day walking around the city center, discovering the quiet and not-so-quiet corners of the Gothic Quarter, strolling Las Ramblas and taking in the sights of the capital of Catalonia. But having spent so many days hitting the cities on cruise excursions, truth be told they were ready for something a little different. So off we went to provide them with a bit of a panorama, and an insider's guide to the city tour. We did a (shorter) route through the old city and then headed off to explore some of the other regions. As they had a few days of relaxation and city living after living on the cruise ship, today was really about getting them settled and situated, showing them where to go and what sort of things they should see and the best time/where to go.

And having enjoyed their time so much, we decided to meet again the following afternoon. As it is harvest season, what better chance to visit the vineyards and learn a bit about the wine and the culture. The highlight was sampling an ageing chardonnay right from the cask while our guide showed us the log of the daily fermentation process. Moments such as that are one of the great advantages of doing what we do, where small groups and personal contact really let our guests experience the culture, not just see it. After a walk through the vineyard and a great tasting of some of the various wines of the region, we headed back to Barcelona, where we had arranged for the Freedmans to enjoy dinner at Vell Sarria, one of the best paella restaurants in the city, away from the tourist crowds.

for more information of for help planning your private day tours in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Harvest Wine Festival Season

September finds us in full harvest time around Spain. At The Spanish Touch we've been lucky enough to take some of our visitors to the vineyards over the last few weeks to see the grapes ripening, and to taste them as they are just about perfect for picking. The activities for oenophiles include tasting events, getting hands on harvesting experience and charming local village festivals where the first press is blessed in the town's main square. From the Rioja Alavesa region's to the coast of Barcelona to the Sherry region of Jerez de la Frontera, Europe's largest vine-growing country is preparing for celebrations.

My personal experience this weekend will be focused around the Barcelona area, with the Alella Festival starting Friday night and the Phylloxera Festival on Saturday night in the Cava capital, San Sadurni and a walk through the vineyards again on Sunday morning as we learn about the history of wine in the region. Wherever you are in Spain this is a great opportunity for the inquisitive traveler, whether a wine connoisseur or just want to learn a little more about Spanish culture, these festivals are a window into the heart of the regions, where wine growing goes back thousands of years, deep into the roots of the land and the people. 

For more information contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013. 

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.

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.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Pinheiro's Tour - Day 2 - Trapsing around Barcelona

The first full day of Scott and Lisa's tour began in Barcelona city center. Having already wandered around some of the old city yesterday, we headed right across town first thing in the morning to visit Sagrada Familia. Early in the morning has it's advantages as a time to visit. First of all, with the sweltering heat wave that has descended upon most of Spain (temperatures in southern Spain got up over 40C or 104F) it was easier to do the explaining of the exterior without feeling like you might melt into the sidewalk. Secondly, most people seemed to have gotten off to a later than usual start, so even on the inside we had a fair bit of room to wander and take some pictures. 

Once we finished with Sagrada Familia we headed back into the old city. Going back in time from Modernisme to Roman civilization is much easier when the city in question is one where history is built on top of itself, layers of civilizations in such a compact area, it really is a treat. Starting at the old Roman walls (of the fully named Colonia Iula Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino, or Barcino for short) we traced the route of the various groups who have passed through the gates of the city. Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Franks, Jews, Christians, and more have all left their mark on the city. 

From the legend of tortures of Saint Eulalia to the horrific bombings of the Italians during the Spanish Civil War to the original location of the Jewish drinking fountain, there is so much to see in Barcelona that to compress it all into one short day is impossible. So we focused on the highlights and pointed out the things that might be of interest during free time. Coming complete circle and ending up once again at the Cathedral we headed back to drop them off for a spot of lunch before hitting the gym and heading off to the Flamenco show, where they were able to catch 1 and a half shows!

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