Saturday, February 23, 2013

A day trip to southern France - Rich and Rose day 9

One of the reasons people can keep coming back to Barcelona is the seemingly unending possibilities to do something completely different in the space of a single day. Walled medieval cities, spectacular mountains, the beach, architecture, museums, exploring ancient civilizations and abandoned castles...all within an hour or two's drive of the city. And yes, even visiting France. On their last full day in Spain, we decided to cross that border. So up through the Pyrenees we headed and over the border into France. It was the first time in a long time for Rose, and the first time ever for Rich, in France. 

Our destination was the town of Elne, only about 3 miles from the coast and overlooking the Roussillion Plain. While the weather had cooperated with us throughout most of the trip, today was slightly overcast and threatening to rain all day. We parked the car and walked the streets of Elne, enjoying the fact that we had traveled to another country and pointing out the cute houses and interesting signs. 

As we reached the medieval quarter and walked through the winding streets, we spotted a particularly likely restaurant, with views out over the valley. Lunch was spectacular (the eggs hollandaise and salmon were mouthwatering, and the pork looked every bit as delicious). On the way back we stopped at a local winery and spoke with the owner for a few minutes before picking up a couple of nice bottles of wine. 

It's great to have so many options for a day trip from Barcelona, the hardest part is deciding which ones you want to do this time, and which ones you will save for your next visit! 

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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Walking the hills of the Maresme - Rich and Rose day 8

After having visited the beach yesterday, today we headed to the hills for a different kind of relaxation. When    you leave the paved roads of the towns and the last house disappears you know you are getting close to where you want to be. The best part is that we only had to drive about 15  minutes to get there, and yet somehow it felt much more remote. Parking the car close to the picnic area at the base of the walking route, we began our uphill walk, taking in the plants and flowers (an early year for the almond blossoms) as we walked. After learning about the indigenous flora at the Santa Clotilda Gardens yesterday, we spotted a number of varieties of plants and trees that we recognized. It was a highly enjoyable afternoon hike, as we walked up to the statue overlooking the towns of Teia and El Masnou, with Barcelona in the background.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The other side of the Costa Brava - Rich and Rose Day 7

There are places along the Spanish coast that have earned a certain amount of infamy among travelers: The Costa del Sol towns of Torremolinos and Benalmadena, for instance, or the Costa Brava towns of Lloret de Mar and Calella have reputations for attracting hordes of young Europeans enticed by the idea of good weather and cheap alcohol. And these reputations have proven hard to shake. In part because there is still a fair amount of truth to it during certain seasons of the year (spring break, summer holidays, etc), but the rest of the year it's easy to overlook the original reason these towns got gained popularity: they are beautiful towns, with picturesque coastlines and the charm of the old world within driving distance of major international airports. 

So with the forecast calling for rain (despite the crystal blue sky and distinct lack of clouds), we packed an umbrella and headed up to Lloret de Mar for a morning excursion. If you take the alternate to the highway, a slightly more expensive but more picturesque route, you can get to Lloret in just over an hour. Our first stop was the Santa Clotilda Gardens overlooking the town. Established in 1918 on the cliffs overlooking the Costa Brava, and mixing Italian Renaissance and Catalan Noucentisme, the gardens offer a spectacular look into the combination of history and natural beauty which first made the region famous.

The exploration of the garden, with its descriptions of the various flora  (both native and imported) was followed by a walk over to La Dona Marinera (the fisherman's wife), a tribute by sculptor Ernest Maragall to the women of past ages who were responsible for taking care of the whole house and everything else while their husbands went to seek their fortunes at sea. The walk along the cliff to the statue is lovely, and the view over the town center and the beach makes the walk even more special.

For more information about private guided tours along the Costa Brava or in Barcelona, contact The Spanish Touch at 888-480-0013.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Down time in Barcelona - exploring Gracia - Rich and Rose day 5 and 6

One of the most common complaints of overly-ambitious travelers is that they end up trying to do too much. Every day has to be packed with activities both morning and afternoon, always on the go, trying to maximize your time. But for many people, this style ends up actually making the experience less enjoyable, as you don't have the down time to settle down at a local cafe, sip a cafe con leche while nibbling on a local delicacy like melindros or even churros con chocolate, and just reflect and relax, letting the culture and the city wash over you.

Rich and Rose took their down time to visit the Gracia district, one of the more popular, and in my humble opinion, best places to do just that. Filled with plazas and small streets, Gracia feels more like a town than anything else, despite being connected by Passeig de Gracia and just a stone's throw from some of the city's liveliest attractions. Going there with a local, someone who grew up in the area and knows all the back streets and where to find the best egg shop, or the olive oil specialist, or even where to find the best tea - coffee is the  big dog in Spain, so finding a good tea shop can sometimes be more complicated than it might first appear.

So a few hours spent wandering the streets, and the chance to stumble upon something magical, in this case the local town hall was open and the parade figures where on display. Sometimes it's the down time that turns out to provide some of your trips most memorable moments.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Off the Beaten Gaudi Path at Colonia Guell - Rich and Rose day 4

Antoni Gaudi's modernista works in Barcelona have received worldwide acclaim and are one of the primary draws for visitors to the city. The Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo are three of the most head-turning, awe-inspiring and emblematic buildings, standing as a symbol of the city's past and present, the constant combination of history and Avant-Gaurde. But what about his other buildings? Repeat visitors often  choose to return to any of these three buildings, and goodness knows there's certainly more than enough to see and explore for anyone who wants to keep going back for more. However, on this occasion we decided to expand our horizons beyond the city center, and set our sites outside the city in the Baix Llobregat area to the Colonia Guell, a work town largely constructed by Gaudi and his associates on behalf of his main sponsor, Eusebi Guell.

Begun at the end of the 1890s, the Guell Colony's original idea was to create a work town around Guell's textile factory, which up until that time had been based in Sants. Guell's idea was extremely progressive for the time, offering workers improved working conditions and even nurseries and schools for their children. The factory was shut down in the 1970s, but it is still spectacular to walk around the area. It is easy to imagine the people living and working in the town, with modernista houses and community centers like the doctor's office and the library being particularly intriguing works of architecture.

The crown jewel, however, is the church at the center of the town, designed by Guadi and in many respects considered to be a workshop for experiments he would later incorporate into his larger works at the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. It was a full morning, and an excellent way to discover a bit more about one of Catalonia's most famous sons.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Back on top of Barcelona - Rich and Rose - Day 3

Having been to Barcelona already on several occasions, there were a few loose ends to tie up, and one of them was to get back to Tibidabo, the mountain overlooking the city. On their first visit in 2005, they had made it up there, but only very briefly at the end of the day, and so had been waiting for an opportunity to get back and explore. And on Monday that opportunity arose. The four of us headed up the mountain to the foot of the amusement park, which was closed for repairs and which, combined with the relatively chilly wind and off season,  made parking no problem at all. After parking we headed up, walking past the modernista houses which line the entrance, before arriving at the gates of the amusement park. Before us stood the Sagrada Cor Temple, visible from almost anywhere in Barcelona.

The Tibidabo mountain, coming from the Latin words Tibi Dabo (I will give you) comes from the Bible passage about the temptation of Christ, and the stained glass windows reflect that saying with various scenes of saints and from the Bible. The temple is the creation of architect Enric Sagnier, one of the most prolific, if undermentioned, architects of Barcelona's modernista  movement (close to 300 buildings in Barcelona are said to have been built by him). The first hermitage was established on the mountain in 1886, but the temple construction did not begin until 1902. You can still see the original hermitage at the base of the temple.

Aside from the grandeur of the temple itself, the views over the city are unbeatable. We spent several hours walking up and around the temple, and getting a lay of the city below, from Montjuic to Sagrada Familia and the Agbar Tower, the whole city spreads out before you, and it is both inspiring and humbling to realize just how much work has been done, and how much there is to do and see.

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

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Rich and Rose - Day 2 - Local Festivals and a stroll along the beach

On Sunday the sun broke through the clouds and a promising day lay before us. First stop was the local Tres Tombs Festival, a traditional Catalan festival centered around animals. It gets its name from 3 laps (tres tombs in Catalan) which the local animals traditionally did around the church or chapel of the local town before being blessed by the priest. Nowadays the festival features more pets than livestock, but in many ways the traditions remain strong. Locals walk the streets offering neighbors and visitors alike homemade cakes and sweet moscatel wine straight from the porro! 

As the sun soaked streets began to dry out, we headed down to the beach for a stroll along the beach. Several hours, a handful of shells (always a great time to look for shells after a stormy night) and countless pictures later, we headed back for a traditional Catalan lunch of pollaste a l'ast and potatoes. In all a decidely enjoyable way to spend a Sunday and to get into the local culture.

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

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Mataro's hidden treasures - A day out with Rich and Rose

After arriving on Friday morning and spending the first day adapting to the local lifestyle (siesta included), we began our tour on Saturday with a trip up the coast to Mataro, where the first train in Spain connected Barcelona and the industrial region. The town of Mataro, built on the Roman town of Iluro, houses a number of hidden treasures. As one of the most important towns during the 19th century Renaissance of Catalonia, Mataro offers discerning visitors historical and architectural gems including the Roman baths, the 15th century church and modernista buildings. We also stopped in to take a look at Can Manetes, our favorite local art shop, where you can take the opportunity to learn how to make the mosaics seen throughout the region in Modernista works. After lunch we visited the Modernista pastry shop El Miracle, and headed out for a bit of shopping before calling it a day.

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