It’s coming around to that time of year again, when grapes will be harvested and some excellent Spanish wines will be made! Harvest season in Ribera del Duero lasts anywhere between mid-September and end of October depending on the terroir and grape varietal.

Have you ever thought about visiting the iconic Ribera del Duero wine region of Spain? Just over two hours’ drive from Madrid; a visit to historic Ribera del Duero is well-worth a short trip if you are coming to Spain’s capital. If among discovering Spanish history and culture, you would also like to include some fantastic wine tastings; the Ribera del Duero Golden Mile has some prestigious wineries to visit! Read our personal Ribera del Duero wine region travel tips on the best Ribera del Duero wineries to visit. If you prefer to enjoy the comfort of having it all organized for you, just drop us a line and we will happily assist! Or have a look at our sample Ribera del Duero wine tours to get inspired!

 

The famous Ribera del Duero Golden Mile

The heart of this Spanish wine region, between Tudela de Duero and Peñafiel is known to wine lovers as the Golden Mile; due to the number of prestigious Ribera del Duero wineries to be found beside the river Duero. Despite being known as the Ribera del Duero Golden Mile, the road is in fact 40 kilometres long, but along this route you can find the truly stand-out Ribera del Duero wineries; also some of the best wineries in Spain.

Ribera del Duero was the first to open up the red wine-making potential of the Duero Valley, and has grown to rival Rioja in terms of prestige and reputation; providing a welcome diversity at the top end of the Spanish wine spectrum.  The success of Ribera del Duero wine is due to the Tempranillo grape, which is used almost exclusively by Ribera del Duero wineries; producing reds with various ageing credentials and rosés. The main focus in Ribera del Duero wine region is oak aged red wines of a very high calibre which are capable of ageing well, for many years to come.

 

Ribera del Duero wineries well-worth a visit

When it comes to visiting Ribera del Duero wine region, there are many options for some incredible wine tastings. Read our list below as to which are the best Ribera del Duero wineries to visit (and of course, have a tasting!)

A Ribera del Duero winery well-worth visiting: Abadia Retuerta

The Abadía Retuerta Ribera del Duero winery is located at the center of this privileged winegrowing area, The Golden Mile, where Spain’s most prestigious brands of wine are created. Abadía Retuerta owns over 200 hectares of vineyard and is one of Spain’s most modern and cutting edge wineries. The winery is presided over by a spectacular XII Century abbey that houses one of the world’s most exclusive hotels. Abadía Retuerta’s exceptional wines are the fruit of the excellent maturity obtained along the unique terroir created by the Duero River and the valley’s extreme climatic conditions.

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero winery is a family-owned cellar which has been making wine for over 120 years. The family owns 144 acres of vines in Pesquera de Duero, looking over the Duero River from an elevation of 700 metres. The 3rd generation Moro; Emilio, started working in the winery with his father at the age of 14. In the 1980’s Emilio had a meeting with his four children and they decided to increase the commercial end of Emilio Moro winery, by planting new vines and grafting the centenarian grapes onto the young ones.  Thus, in 1989 when Emilio Moro winery was finally a reality, they launched their first wine. Nowadays Emilio Moro winery owns 173 acres where they grow their indigenous grapes, Tempranillo or Tinto Fino, and have also extended their cellar.

Emilio Moro winery offers fantastic Ribera del Duero wine tastings!

Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero winery came  into being nearly 20 years ago, when José Moro and siblings; the third generation of the family wine cellar of Emilio Moro, started up an ambitious project that would set up the basis of modern winemaking in Ribera del Duero. Cepa 21’s original objective was to produce, using Tempranillo grapes as the main ingredient; wines that were based on winemaking tradition but according to modern trends. The building of Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero winery is worth a look-at in itself, for its avant-garde and sustainably-leaning architecture.

Vega Sicilia is a Ribera del Duero winery that has a story which goes back to 1864, when a Basque entrepreneur named Eloy Lecanda moved to Valbuena de Duero in Valladolid province and set up a winery. Today, Vega Sicilia’s vineyards cover around 985 hectares. Eloy Lecanda was a pioneer, deciding to plant new types of grape, such as cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and pinot noir. In 1982 the Vega Sicilia winery was bought by the Alvarez family, who have strengthened the myth surrounding the terroir of this Ribera del Duero winery, by producing some of the best wines not only in Spain, but the world.

Alión is a Ribera del Duero winery which is a spin-off of Vega Sicilia winery, a mere 15 kilometres away from its parent company; born in 1989. The idea behind Alión was to create modern Ribera del Duero wines with less extended ageing times, and to produce a single, widely available red. Production stands around 300,000 bottles per annum and Alión wines are 100% Tempranillo aged in new French oak. The Alion winery owns 100 acres of vineyards, but also sources grapes from 120 acres grown by Vega Sicilia and several other local growers.

Dominio de Pingus is a Ribera del Duero winery by Dane Peter Sisseck who arrived in Castilla-León in the 1980s to become technical director at Hacienda Monasterio. As he settled there he decided to launch his own project so he scouted the Ribera del Duero region and surrounds for vines. Today, the Ribera del Duero winery of Domino de Pingus produces 5,000 bottles annually, from a total of only 12 acres. Situated in the town of Quintanilla de Onésimo, Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero winery is a modest but well-equipped cellar, and controls wine production via its own laboratory. 

Vineyards of the Ribera del Duero wine region

Hacienda Monasterio  is a Ribera del Duero winery located between Pesquera and Valbuena del Duero along the Golden Mile. At the helm of the winery are Peter Sisseck and Carlos de la Fuente. The winery focuses on organic viticulture primarily to encourage the connection with the environment, respecting the laws of nature. Committed agricultural practices are carried out, without the use of herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers, taking care of the environment and its landscape. Hacienda Monasterio is set in an estate of 160 hectares, of which 78 are planted with vineyards. The current Hacienda Monasterio wine cellar was designed by the french architect Philippe Maziéres, who had previously worked for other prestigious wine cellars.

The Ribera del Duero winery of Pago de Carraovejas, was an idea born in 1973, when founder José María Ruiz, represented Spain in the ‘First World Sommelier Contest’. His dream was to own his own winery and restaurant, so he studied and trained in winemaking. By 1987 he could finally create a winery, together with a group of wine lovers from Segovia. The place they decided on was the slopes of Carraovejas, in Peñafiel, ideal for making Ribera del Duero wines. The first vintage of Pago de Carraovejas was made from 70,000 kilos of grapes grown on the first 62 acres under production. Today Pago de Carraovejas winery owns vineyards covering 570 acres.

If reading about these fantastic wineries has made you want to visit the Ribera del Duero wine region, why not take a look at some of the food and wine tours we offer? We can include Ribera del Duero wine tastings and winery visits; whether you are looking for a Wine Connoisseur Tour or a weekend away from the charms of Madrid. With over 25 years’ working in Spain, Gourmand Breaks creates private and high-end wine, culinary and cultural experiences – with emphasis on the personal touch. We understand that everyone’s idea of the ‘perfect’ package is unique, which is why we work with you to customize your own unforgettable experience!

June 7th was a special day for all of us in the travel business here in Spain – we officially re-opened our borders to fully vaccinated travelers, no matter where you come from in the world! In our case specifically, we’re happy to welcome our Canadian and American visitors again. :-)

If you are thinking about a trip to Spain this year, we have included the most up-to-date and necessary information below. 

 

The latest update on Spain’s travel restrictions. Who can travel to Spain now?

Travellers from anywhere in the world can enter Spain, as long as they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 14 days before their arrival. The only exceptions to this rule are India, Brazil and South Africa, who still need to undergo quarantine and Covid tests in varying degrees. For north American visitors to Spain, a negative Covid test isn’t necessary, as long as you can prove you’ve been fully vaccinated by having your certificate with all the necessary information. 

At the airport, health assessments also take place, including a temperature check and visual examination as standard.

 

What’s the Covid situation in Spain? What percentage of the population has been vaccinated in Spain?

The goal of the Spanish government is to immunize 70% of the population by the end of summer 2021, so assuming everything continues on the same trajectory as it has been recently, from September onwards Spain will be a very Covid-safe place to travel to. As of today August 23rd, 66% of Spain’s population has currently been fully vaccinated.

 

What can visitors to Spain expect now? What restrictions are in place?

Despite Spain being open for tourism, you will notice once you arrive at the airport that absolutely everyone is wearing a mask. Though certain states in the US have decreed a mask isn’t necessary if you’ve been vaccinated, in Spain it is still mandatory to wear a mask whenever you are within 2 metres of someone. Indoors you will still be required to wear a mask (unless eating or drinking). 

As of the 26th of June, mask-wearing will no longer be compulsory outdoors in Spain, so if you wish you can walk the streets mask-free.

There are also limitations on seating capacity at restaurants (around 50% depending on airflow capability) and on the beaches, because the 1.5m distance rule still applies in most of the regions.

 

What is open in Spain now? Has life returned to normal? 

The upside to less visitors is that normally rammed places are much more civilized to visit! 

All cultural attractions such as museums and galleries are open across the country, but timed tickets for the busiest venues are in place, to ensure safe visiting. For example, Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia is only open Friday-Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and tickets must be purchased online. It is closed on weekdays at least until the end of August. 

Though there are less visitors to Spain, due to the hefty lockdowns within the country over the past year, Spaniards are eager to get outside and meet with friends and family when possible. This means that many of the best and most interesting restaurants are booked a few weeks in advance by locals. Due to Covid protocols, restaurant seating areas mean that tables are spread out, so seats are fewer than before – so if you have your heart set on trying a particular venue when you visit, don’t forget to book!

Beaches throughout the country are being monitored for crowd conditions and beachgoers are required to keep 1.5 metres apart, to allow for a relaxed atmosphere. 

 

What to expect when returning to Canada and the US from a trip to Spain in 2021

All international arrivals into both Canada and the United States must provide proof of a laboratory-generated negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure. The test must be a PCR test. There is currently no exception for those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

In Spain it is simple to get a COVID test,you just need to book your appointment online the day before.  Results are generally guaranteed in 24 to 36 hours. You can find a variety of private testing sites throughout Spain on the U.S. Embassy in Madrid’s COVID testing locations list. It’s best to bring your passport to the appointment and the cost is usually 80-100 Euros.

 

Useful links for travellers to Spain:

travelsafe.spain.info/en

Americans

https://es.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/

Canadians

https://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/spain-espagne

France is one of the most visited countries in the world due to its exceptional food and wine, beautiful sites and rich cultural heritage. Having endured a difficult winter due to the Coronavirus, the summer of 2021 brings lots of hope for movement in the country, as more of the population gets vaccinated and the cases of the virus drop. If you are keen to visit France within the next six months, please read below to understand what your visit will include, as well as how to get home to Canada and the US as simply as possible.

 

The latest update travel restrictions in France. Who can travel to France now?

As of summer 2021, vaccinated travelers from the USA and Canada are allowed to enter France without a PCR test. To be classified as fully vaccinated you need to have had two doses of one of the four EU-approved vaccines: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. The second dose has to have been administered at least two weeks prior to leaving your country of origin. You will also need to carry your vaccination card with you as proof.

Travellers from Canada and the US can also enter France not having been vaccinated, but will need to present a negative PCR test within the 72 hours prior to departure.

At the airport, health assessments also take place, including a temperature check and visual examination as standard.

Before entering France, from any country of origin and for any travel reason, you will need to sign a sworn declaration that you do not have Covid-19, nor contact with someone recently who has had it and are not presenting any symptoms.

 

What’s the Covid situation in France? What percentage of the population has been vaccinated in France?

As of today (August 23rd) 55% of France’s population has been fully vaccinated.

 

What can visitors to France expect now? What restrictions are in place?

Due to France’s high numbers of Coronavirus in February and March, the country was under a fairly strict lockdown.  As numbers decreased, at the close of April President Emmanuel Macron announced that France would have a slow steady easing of deconfinement from May 3rd to June 30th. Happily, due to falling case rates, the end of curfew officially took place yesterday, June 20th.

Masks must be worn in enclosed public places, especially public transport where social distancing is not always possible. This includes taxis and rideshares. Each department of France is allowed to decree its own terms according to the local health situation, so be sure to check the guidelines of the region you are visiting to see what is and isn’t necessary.

In the event that you have been found not wearing a mask when it was necessary, you will be charged 135 Euros.

Social distancing of 1 metre should still be in place when people are not co-habiting.

 

What is open in France now? Has life returned to normal? 

From summer, the curfew was lifted and all bars and restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor seating.

Shops and indoor markets are open, though the rule of thumb is one client per 4m2, and of course a mask is mandatory in crowded spaces.

Museums and cultural institutions are open to 65% capacity, which means one visitor per 4m2.

On beaches, 1.5 metre distancing between groups should be observed.

 

What to expect when returning to Canada and the US from a trip to France in 2021

All international arrivals into both Canada and the United States must provide proof of a laboratory-generated negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure. The test must be a PCR test. There is currently no exception for those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

In France getting a COVID test is straightforward and the best way is to enquire at your hotel for your nearest pharmacy which offers the service. Results are generally guaranteed in 24 to 36 hours and prices range from 30-70 Euros. It’s best to bring your passport to the appointment.

 

 

Useful links for travellers to France:

https://www.gouvernement.fr/en/coronavirus-covid-19

Americans

https://fr.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/

Canadians

https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/france

 

 

One cannot hear the word ‘Italy’ without thinking of delicious food, beautiful villages and jovial people who are always ready to engage with you. Despite a difficult lockdown which last all the way through winter, now that Europe has opened its borders, Italy too is ready to breathe again and welcome visitors. If visiting Italy is on your radar for this year, read the information we’ve gathered below, which explains how you can travel as a Canadian or American resident, and what to expect when back in Il Bel Paese.

 

The latest update travel restrictions in Italy. Who can travel to Italy now?

As of today, August 23rd, fully-vaccinated American and Canadian citizens will be able to enter Italy as long as they have proof of vaccination, proof of recovery from Covid-19 within the past 6 months, or a negative Covid-19 swab test. All persons travelling to Italy from any foreign location are required to fill out the EU Digital Passenger Locator Form.

No quarantine is imposed on travellers arriving from EU Member States who are able to provide a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test, or a certificate of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19.

If arriving on a Covid-tested flight, you will still require proof of a negative PCR test 48 hours before boarding, then again at the airport and a third time on arrival in Italy.

At the airport, health assessments also take place, including a temperature check and visual examination as standard.

Before entering Italy, from any country of origin and for any travel reason, the digital European Passenger Locator Form (dPLF) must be compiled.

 

What’s the Covid situation in Italy? What percentage of the population has been vaccinated in Italy?

The Italian government plans to vaccinate 80% of the population by the end of September 2021, so assuming everything continues as it has been recently, from October onwards Italy will be an incredibly Covid-safe place to travel to. As of today (August 23rd), 60% of Italy’s population has currently been fully vaccinated.

 

What can visitors to Italy expect now? What restrictions are in place?

Due to Italy’s state of emergency, deciding rules and restrictions are given over to regional governments. The country is currently divided into colored zones of red, orange, yellow and white, depending on infection rates, with red being high-risk to white being very low.

As of writing this article, all of Italy is considered a white zone (under 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) which means everything is open and life has more or less returned to normal.

Mask-wearing is still mandatory in public spaces (both indoor and outdoor) though the government is currently debating the likelihood of lifting the obligation to wear a mask when being outdoors: a decision should be made next week, hoping to allow outdoors to become fully mask-free as of July.

Social distancing of 1 metre should still be in place when people are not co-habiting.

 

What is open in Italy now? Has life returned to normal? 

All bars and restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor seating, though no more than 4 people may sit at a table, unless they co-habit.

Shops are all open, though there are still limitations as to how many people may enter at any given time.

Museums and cultural institutions are open, but for weekend visits booking must be made one-two days in advance to prevent over-crowding.

On beaches, 1.5 metre distancing between groups must be upheld and mass continue to be enforced in common areas.

 

What to expect when returning to Canada and the US from a trip to Italy in 2021

All international arrivals into both Canada and the United States must provide proof of a laboratory-generated negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure. The test must be a PCR test. There is currently no exception for those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

In Italy getting a COVID test is straightforward and the best way is to enquire at your hotel for your nearest pharmacy which offers the service.  Results are generally guaranteed in 24 to 36 hours. It’s best to bring your passport to the appointment.

 

Useful links for travellers to Italy:

Americans

https://it.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/

Canadians

https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/italy

 

 

Portugal is a country which punches well above its weight culturally for its very small size! This country of pristine beaches, quaint villages and fantastic wineries is once again ready to welcome American and Canadian vistors through its doors! If you have been dreaming of visiting Portugal soon, read the information we’ve gathered below, which explains how you can travel as a Canadian or American resident, and what to expect when travelling to Portugal in 2021.

 

WINE LOVERS TUR OF SPAIN & PORTUGAL

The latest update travel restrictions in Portugal. Who can travel to Portugal now?

As of June 15th, non-essential travel is permitted to mainland Portugal for Canadian and US residents, as long as you have proof of a negative Covid-19 test performed in the 72 hours prior to boarding. This doesn’t change if you are fully vaccinated. You must have your test certificate with you. 

Failure to present a COVID-19 test at the airport upon arrival in Portugal is a violation resulting in fines from 300€ to 800€.

Visitors must also fill in a form from the Health Authorities – Passenger Locator Card – available at https://portugalcleanandsafe.pt/en/passenger-locator-card.

At the airport, health assessments also take place, including a temperature check and visual examination as standard.

 

What’s the Covid situation in Portugal? What percentage of the population has been vaccinated in Portugal?

As of today (June 21st) 25% of Portugal’s population has been fully vaccinated. The country is thus getting closer to reaching the defined goal of having 70% of the population vaccinated with at least one dose by the month of August. 

At the time of writing this article Lisbon has just had a 3-day travel ban imposed on its borders due to a growing number of the Coronavirus Delta variant taking place. 

 

What can visitors to Portugal expect now? What restrictions are in place?

Like much of Europe, Portugal struggled with case number over the winter and spring, resulting in a Situation of Calamity, which will be in force until June 27th. 

Mask wearing is mandatory in enclosed public spaces and anywhere where social distancing of 1.5-2 metres cannot be maintained. 

Social distancing of 2 metres should still be in place when people are not co-habiting. 

 

What is open in Portugal now? Has life returned to normal? 

Life has almost returned to normal in Portugal, with very few restrictions on public gatherings still in place.

Cafes and restaurants are limited to groups of 6 inside and 10 outside and curfew is until midnight. Alcoholic beverages can only be sold until 8pm in all establishments. 

Masks must be worn in enclosed public spaces such as public transport, shops or museums. Shops and indoor markets are open, though the rule of thumb is one client per 4m2, and of course a mask is mandatory in crowded spaces.

Museums and cultural institutions are opened with normal hours, but a 50% restriction on visitor numbers.

On beaches, a 2 metre distancing between groups should be observed.

 

What to expect when returning to Canada and the US from a trip to Portugal in 2021

All international arrivals into both Canada and the United States must provide proof of a laboratory-generated negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure. The test must be a PCR test. There is currently no exception for those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

In Portugal the best way to get a Covid-19 test is in one of the hospitals and clinics included in the Portugal Health Passport, all of which provide you personalized support in your language. The results for the tests may be obtained in 72 hours or less. More information is available at test.co[email protected]. Results are generally guaranteed in 24 to 36 hours. It’s best to bring your passport to the appointment. 

 

Useful links for travellers to Portugal:

Americans

https://pt.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/

Canadians

https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/portugal

It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has been a difficult year – for many of us, it has probably been one of the most frustrating, confounding and anxious years of our lives; but now that we are learning more about the Coronavirus, and  there are many vaccinnes around, we can finally start to move forward and start making travel plans! Read more to understand how your 2021 travel to Southern Europe will be. 

For those of you who are thinking about a trip to Spain, Portugal, France or Italy, now that Covid is more under control, we are happy to  confirm that Europe is re-opening its borders to welcome American and Canadian visitors this June! The European Union has officially declared that it will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from June 9th, 2021. Visitors from outside Europe who have received E.U and WHO – approved vaccines, will be allowed to enter European Union countries, though protocols depend on where you enter, whether you have to have a PCR test or quarantine upon arrival.

 

Below we have included the necessary info about how Spain, France, Italy & Portugal will open for tourism this June.  Read on to learn how you can finally safely visit these Southern European destinations for your Post-Covid travel this year, and what precautions to take at airports, etc.

 

SPAIN

Spain will officially open its borders to anyone in the world who has been vaccinated against Covid-19, in a bid to increase tourism; the sector of the economy most affected by the Coronavirus. A post-Covid trip to Spain allows entry to vaccinated travellers regardless of their country of origin, and notably from the United States, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez recently announced. Everyone, vaccinated or not, will still have to submit proof of a negative Covid-19 test result upon arrival–children can travel with vaccinated parents but still need to present a negative test result.

Following the announcement, both United and American airlines announced plans to increase the number of direct flights to Spain from the U.S. from June onwards.

In Spain, only 20% of the population have currently been completely vaccinated, so wearing masks when within 2 metres of people is still mandatory, as well as social distancing indoors, which means limited capacity at museums, restaurants, stores, etc, but this still means that if vaccinated, you can enjoy a post-Covid trip to Spain.

 

FRANCE

President Emmanuel Macron has announced that, beginning June 9, visitors from outside Europe will once again be allowed entry into France, provided that they carry a pass sanitaire (basically your information which states your negative PCR test as well as the fact that you have been vaccinated). France’s health minister also stated that free PCR tests will be available to all visitors this summer, should you need to be checked once in the country. 

 

France has undergone a tough spring with lockdowns and curfews in place. The next easing of nationwide restrictions will come on June 9, when France’s curfew will be rolled back to 11 p.m., and limited indoor dining will be permitted. The aim is that the last of the major restrictions will be lifted on June 30, when the curfew will be abolished and larger gatherings will be allowed, opening the door for the summer festival season. But even after all of the lockdown measures have been eased, your post-Covid trip to France should expect to encounter mask requirements and social distancing measures, including limited capacity at museums, restaurants, stores and other establishments.

 

ITALY

Coming out of its third wave, Italy is keen to have visitors enjoying a post-Covid trip to Europe, but does make distinctions between tourists and those traveling for purpose; such as businesspeople or students. All persons traveling to Italy from any foreign location are required to provide their airline or Italian law enforcement officials with a self-declaration form prior to travel.

Visitors from the United States and other non-European countries that are considered low risk (Japan, Canada, Australia and Singapore) can also come regardless of their motivation, but need both a coronavirus test and a 10-day-quarantine. Americans avoid quarantine if they take special “Covid-tested flights” that require taking a test both before and after the flight, and submitting an E.U. digital passenger locator form. These Covid-tested flights are already available from New York and Atlanta to Milan and Rome, and will soon be offered to Venice and Naples.

Italy, like all of Europe, has had a curfew in place which will be rolled back to midnight from June 7th, and if case numbers continue to drop, as of June 21st, the curfew will be lifted. This will allow you to take a post-Covid trip to Italy without too much concern and be able to enjoy the local culture as more venues open. The same protocols of social distancing, hand-sanitiser and wearing masks within 2m of others will continue to be in place.

 

PORTUGAL

Like many European countries over the spring, Portugal imposed a lockdown to tackle a devastating COVID-19 surge in January, but has recently reopened restaurants and shops with capacity limitations still in place, as well as restaurant curfews. (10:30 p.m) Measures will still be in place until June 13, when restrictions will be lifted. The policy will be reviewed on 13th June, to see whether non-essential travel will be available for US citizens to travel to Portugal, as well as visitors from other countries where vaccination rates are high.

To enter Portugal you must have a negative PCR test, taken 72 hours prior to departure. A post-Covid trip to Portugal means that masks must be worn while in public places and 2m social distancing rules apply. Like other southern European nations, there is limited capacity in museums, public transport, restaurants and cinemas. Nightclubs and indoor bars selling only alcohol remain closed.

As of today (June 2nd), flights to and from other countries (which are not members of the European Union) are for “essential travel” only, so visitors from outside the EU are not allowed to enter for tourism reasons.

 

Despite the many travel restrictions and protocols still in place in Europe for visitors from the US and Canada, we hope to welcome you to Europe soon. As more of us are vaccinated, case numbers are likely to drop and travel restrictions will gradually lift, so that you can enjoy a post-Covid trip to Spain, France, Italy or Portugal soon!

Are you a food obsessive? One of those people who are interested in new restaurants, trying new and different foods or even creating innovative dishes in your own kitchen? If you are, then you have probably heard of molecular gastronomy and how it has shaped the dishes at many Michelin starred restaurants in Spain. But what do you know of Spanish homestyle cooking? This often underrated Spanish cuisine is making a comeback in many of Spain’s hottest restaurants. Which trend do you prefer? On a gourmet food & culinary tour with us, you will be able to experience both Spanish molecular gastronomy restaurants, as well those which are bringing back Spanish homestyle cooking.

 

What is Spanish molecular gastronomy?

The idea behind molecular gastronomy is further workings on nouvelle cuisine. In Spain, due to the creative forces in kitchens both in Catalonia and the Basque Country, nouvelle cuisine was a culinary movement which gained momentum during the 1970s; moving away from ‘Spanish home style cooking‘ to something more sophisticated and curated when presented on the plate. Molecular gastronomy takes this even further. Molecular gastronomy uses precise science when cooking so that cooking is done with minute scientific precision. Methods used are: focussing on precise temperatures to bring out the best flavour of a food, using liquid nitrogen and enzymes to play with the texture of a food, as well as the sous-vide method; that of sealing food in a plastic-vacuumed bag to ensure perfectly even cooking. As the birth of this style of cooking happened in Spain, it is often known as Spanish molecular gastronomy.

Ferran Adriá in the early days…

 

Where did Spanish molecular gastronomy begin?

We cannot discuss molecular gastronomy without talking about the Father of Spanish Molecular Gastronomy; Ferran Adrià. Having started work experience at Catalan restaurant elBulli in the 1980s, Adrià became enamored with restaurant life, and was taken on as a chef de partie. Through hard graft, experiences at other fine-dining restaurants and the desire of the staff at elBulli to push their own creativity; six years after Adrià joined the restaurant, elBulli earned its second Michelin star in 1990. Forging ahead with a desire to be creative and inspired, Adrià’s team at elBulli did away with recipe books of any sort, and focussed on creating their own methods and style of cooking. So Spanish molecular gastronomy was born.

 

 

The resurgence of Spanish Homestyle cooking

Before the tidal wave of Spanish molecular restaurants began, there was always Spanish homestyle cooking, known to Spaniards as cocina castiza. This way of cooking has always looked at feeding people broadly, seasonally and generally cheaply, as it is more how grandmothers cook. Spanish homestyle cooking tends to focus on local products, prepared in a hearty and simple flavorful way – think of tripe stew, or battered fish, patatas bravas with a special salsa – those sorts of dishes. It is only fair that after more than twenty years of perfecting molecular cuisine, that Spanish chefs are now looking to include aspects of Spanish homestyle cooking aspects back into their kitchens. Michelin-starred chef Dani Garcia is recently quoted to have said that “It’s time to feed people by the thousands, instead of by the hundreds”. Now we are seeing a resurgence of Spanish homestyle cooking with a modern Spanish gastronomy spin.

 

In which restaurant kitchens can one find Spanish Molecular Gastronomy?

Though elBulli was the first restaurant to showcase molecular gastronomy, other Spanish molecular cuisine chefs include Basque Juan Mari Arzak (of the eponymous Spanish contemporary cuisine restaurant now run by himself and his daughter, Elena), Martín Berasategui, also of Basque origin, and the three Roca brothers behind El Cellar de Can Roca, in Catalonia. Incredibly, when Martín Berasategui began working in his parents’ restaurant in 1976, the Basque Country held no Michelin stars. Eight years later, his parents’ restaurant received the first Michelin star; and today Spanish contemporary cuisine chef Martin Berasategui holds 12 Michelin stars among his seven restaurants.

A dish at Spanish molecular gastronomy restaurant, Arzak

Interestingly, all of the Spanish molecular gastronomy chefs above, were born into families who owned restaurants. It is worth noting that from cocina castiza, Spanish molecular gastronomy was born. Like Martin Berasategui, Juan Mari Arzak took over his parents’ restaurant in 1966 and reinvented the generations of family recipes, turning Spanish homestyle cooking gems into the contemporary cuisine for which he and his daughter are celebrated today.

The Roca brothers too, started in their parents’ traditional neighbourhood eatery before having their restaurant become the best in the world in 2013.

 

 

Top restaurants which are bringing Spanish homestyle cooking back into the limelight

It is almost always the Basque Country which leads the way with updating Spanish cuisine, and chef at Mugaritz, Andoni Luis Aduriz, has opened Topa Sukalderia in San Sebastian, which meshes Basque cuisine with Mexican; bringing traditional cooking (albeit with a modern twist) back to the table.

In Valencia Quique Dacosta has opened Llisa Negra which celebrates Spanish homestyle cooking by using an open hearth to create his delicious dishes, bringing a more relaxed and familial atmosphere to this new venture.

Modern Spanish homestyle cooking at Llisa Negra

 

 

 

No matter in which direction your stomach pulls you, whether it’s intrigued at what Spanish molecular gastronomy tastes and looks like, or wanting to experience the hearty and simple flavours of Spanish homestyle cooking; do not hesitate to get in touch and see what kind of Spanish Gastronomy Tour we can create for you! Otherwise we could help you create a gourmet tour of contrasts – glamorous dining at one of the best restaurants in the world one day, and a casual local fare lunch at one of our best hidden spots the next? If you’d prefer a more hands-on food vacation experience, you might like to include a local cooking class, or visit artisan producers of cheese or olive oil, tasting directly on the farm. Whatever type of food tour you are after, we have got it covered for your next customized Spain, Portugal, Italy or France vacation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

For any wine lover, once we are all able to travel again, there is much to be discovered in the small but beautiful Valpolicella wine region of Italy. As regular travellers to the area, we miss all those wonderful visits and wine tastings in lovely company, and cannot wait to return to Valpolicella! What better place to relax in your own bubble and enjoy scenic landscapes, cute rural villages, and of course exceptional wines! Aside from the classic Tuscan retreats, the iconic Valpolicella wine region of Italy, is also a small haven of peace and just over two hours’ drive from Venice. The wine alone is worth the journey (more about the wines of Valpolicella later), but I would be remiss to not state the scenic splendour of this mountainous area of northern Italy. Along with Northern Italy’s amazing food, its proximity to Piedmont and Venice, Valpolicella makes a perfect post-pandemic travel destination. Read on for our personal Valpolicella wine region travel tips on the best Valpolicella wineries to visit. If you prefer to enjoy the comfort of having it all organized for you, ensuring also that all the Covid measures are in place just drop us a line and we will happily assist! Or have a look at our sample Italian wine tours to get inspired!

Where is the Valpolicella wine region?

The Valpolicella wine region is found between three regions of northern Italy; Veneto, Trentino and Lombardy. It sits on the eastern side of Lake Garda, sheltered between the Alps and the Lessini mountains, creating an ideal microclimate. It is presumed that winemaking has occurred in this part of the world for millennia. When you come to the Valpolicella wine region, you will enjoy not only mouth-dropping scenery, but also an area full of history and some of the very best Italian wines! The main Valpolicella grapes are Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara.

Wine tasting in the Valpolicella wine region is mandatory if passing through the area – the Valpolicella Amarone. Recioto and Ripasso wines are too good to be missed !

Valpolicella wineries not to be missed

Possessioni Serego Alighieri Masi is a Valpolicella winery located in the heart of the Classica district, surrounded by green hills only a few kilometres from the historic city centre of Verona and the beauty of Lake Garda. In 1353, the charming Tenuta (estate), already famous for the quality of its vineyards, was bought by Pietro Alighieri, son of Dante the Poet. For twenty-one generations, descendants of the Supreme Poet have lived at Serego Alighieri winery, a landmark site for viticulture in the Valpolicella wine region. Chief wine-maker Sandro Boscaini has said that while “It’s impossible to bring Juliet’s Balcony in Verona to New York, we can bring a bottle of Amarone. Through the juice of the grapes we can encapsulate in a bottle the romance, the culture, the story of a people.” We couldn’t agree more!  Serego Alighieri winery cellars are the oldest in Valpolicella, and their winery visits are truly outstanding.  The Valpolicella wines produced here are assisted by 600-litre cherry wood barrels, which helps to create a well-rounded red with a velvety mouth-feel. Our clients always rave about the Dantesque Experience touring the stunning estate, finishing with a tasting of four wines, paired with delicious local cheeses in the company of charming Davide, one of our favourite winery guides.

Ca La Bionda Valpolicella winery is a firm favourite of ours, found a mere 7 km from Serego Alighieri winery, also situated in what is historically the “classic” zone of the Valpolicella wine region. Founded in 1902 by Pietro Castellani, who was both a passionate and dedicated grape grower and wine-maker, all phases of the wine-making process at Ca la Bionda winery are still a family-done tradition. The varietals found at Ca La Bionda are the traditional Valpolicella wine region grapes;  Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone – all giving rise to the famous wines of Amarone and Recioto. This Valpolicella winery favours organic viticultural practices, and our private tours at Ca La Bionda include a tasting of all their wines, including their mind-blowing Valpolicella Classico and Amarone wines.

Quintarelli Giuseppe is probably the most mythical winemaker of the Valpolicella wine region, and if you can get yourself there; do! Giuseppe Quintarelli took over the estate which his father had created between the wars, in 1950. Today, the name Quintarelli is synonymous with excellence, but also tradition, patience (the maturation process is long) and authenticity. This humble domain (there is no grand château to be seen at Quintarelli Giuseppe winery, just a family home and a cellar), produces Amaroni that are unrivalled. Bottle labels are a modest affair and marketing is quasi-inexistent which all contributes to the charm. The vineyard spans 12 hectares and produces just a mere 60,000 bottles per year. At Quintarelli Giuseppe winery yields are purposefully kept small through methods such as green harvesting so as to privilege quality not quantity. It is not easy to secure a visit to this family-run Valpolicella winery, but we are here to help you ann be assured that once you are there, the hospitality is unrivalled! You will surely leave with a feeling of warmth from the charming owners and the taste of their wines…

The iconic Dal Forno Romano is a Valpolicella winery born in 1983, when Romano dal Forno and his family bought vineyards in Ilasi, just outside of what is the Classic Zone for the Valpolicella wine region, but within the Valpolicella DOC. Every time someone says ‘Amarone’ we are pretty sure most wine lovers immediately think about ‘Dal Forno Romano Amarone’ in the first 10 seconds!  Although Forno Romano Valpolicella winery has a mere 8 hectares of vineyard, Romano and his family make some truly exceptional Amarone and Valpolicella wine! You can taste the love and care in your glass! Dal Forno Romano is open to experimentation, and they are at the forefront of the new wave in Verona’s winemaking scene. The family provides fabulous and very personal guided visits; we can assure your visit to their heralded ‘Monte Lodoletta’ is an experience you will never forget!

We could not talk about our favorite Valpolicella wineries without mentioning the tiny family run Rubinelli Vajol! Founded in the 1920s by Gaetano Rubinelli, an engineer who helped build the Chievo Dam, a hydroelectric plant on the Adige River, this Valpolicella winery has been in famiglia for generations! Affable Alberto will show you around his family’s vineyards and through the winery; closing with a simple and delicious wine-tasting. The current generation of Rubinelli Vajol makes just five traditional wines from 10 hectares of vineyards: the sweet, dried-grape Recioto della Valpolicella; its dry, dried-grape sibling, Amarone; Valpolicella Ripasso; and two classic Valpolicellas. All the grapes come exclusively from the fields around Corte Sant’Anna, which gives the Valpolicella wines of Rubinelli Vajol a unique flavor.

Wine appellations of Valpolicella: what is the difference?

Valpolicella DOC is a Valpolicella wine whose grapes can be grown in either the Valpolicella Classica (area north-west of Verona until the Adige river) or the Valpolicella Allargata (area north of Verona, in an easterly direction).

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG is a Valpolicella wine who many consider to be the Queen of the Valpolicella wines. Amarone literally means “The Great Bitter” and is made by using a traditional method called appassimento, which consists of drying the grapes for a few months until they have a raisin like appearance, before pressing them. The result is a wine with a great concentration of flavour, sugar and alcohol. The grapes are laid out on bamboo racks in drying lofts for up to 120 days – if you are lucky to visit during this time, the sweet aroma of drying grapes is so enticing!

Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG is a dessert wine made in the same method as Amarone della Valpolicella wine, from dried grapes.  For Recioto, the wine-making process focusses on keeping a higher sugar content, so during the fermentation process as the sugars turn to alcohol; the process is stopped while the sugar content is peaking. 

Valpolicella Ripasso DOCG is a Valpolicella wine is made by combining the finished wine of Valpolicella DOC with the drained but unpressed skins left over after Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG or Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG.

For an insider’s experience of the Valpolicella wine region and its wine varietals, join us on a custom made Italian wine tour to include Valpolicella and other relevant Italian wine regions, all contained within your own private bubble, made to your preferences and budget. Our excellent local guides and chauffeurs will take good care of you! You might prefer to experience the Valpolicella wine region on a self-drive basis – in both cases, our personalized Italian wine tour itineraries will allow you to explore not only Valpolicella wineries, but many other aspects of northern Italy; including its prettiest villages and finest restaurants.

calçots

It’s February, which means calçot season here in northern Spain! Eating these delicacies is a messy affair, so best enjoyed outside in the open air – a typical Catalan Calçotada is perfect for Covid times!

 

What is a calçot?

The glorious calçot, one of Catalonia’s unique foods and highly regarded as a local delicacy, is a native onion similar to a leek or spring onion & very tasty when barbecued, oftentimes accompanied with Romesco sauce. Calçots have become such a beloved staple of local Catalan cuisine that they’ve earned a Protected Geographic Indication label from the European Union!

 

How to best cook calçots

When in Catalonia you will buy calçots in a large bundle. No need to clean them, they will be well cleaned by the heat of the barbecue flames – because flames are essential when cooking calçots properly. Place them in a row on the grill and turn your calçots every few minutes until they are blackened all over apart from the green stalk.  You will know when your calçots are ready, when a little of their juice starts to bubble from their blackened roots. Whip them off the barbecue and wrap them in several layers of newspaper. The newspaper allows calçots to steam a little as they cool, so that the outer leaves come off easily for eating. Now you can enjoy them! 

How to eat calçots

Peel off the blackened outer layer, by  then dip the inner part of your calçot in Romesco sauce. Romesco sauce is a spicy tomato-based garlicky sauce; which is perfect when matched with the subtle taste of calçots. Lift the calçot above your head so it hangs down vertically, tip your head back and lower the calçot into your mouth. Be warned that this can be messy business!

If you are interested in learning more about traditional Catalan foods, we offer private cooking classes with charming Catalan chefs, as well as genuine Catalan local experiences, like open air calçotadas, when in season. Our gourmet culinary vacations, be it in Catalonia, other parts of Spain, Portugal,France or Italy, will allow you to to indulge in all kinds of authentic local flavours, in the safety of your own private bubble. 

Travelling to Spain in Covid times you will get a warm welcome from everyone in the travel industry :-)

 

As you can imagine, all of us in the travel industry are waiting expectantly for the European borders to open again now in 2021, so we are able to welcome you, our dear guests from the USA, Australia and Canada :-)

As everywhere, in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy the anti-Covid travel rules update constantly, so we have included links to your countries embassies in the countries of our tours at the bottom, for your future reference.

What will your Post-Pandemic Gourmand Breaks tour look like?

The customs and immigration lines at the airports in times of Covid travel may take longer than usual. To prevent new possible infections from entering the country, in addition to checking your documents, immigration officials may check your temperatures, conduct swab testing, etc.

The current Covid regulations in Spain, Italy, Portugal and many areas of France state that you have to wear masks at all times except when you are in your room/house or private car, when eating or drinking, swimming or sunbathing. At all other times when in public, you need to wear a mask. No ifs or buts. Hygienic sanitizer gel is available and recommended at entering any establishment and usually everybody abides the 2 m social distance rule.

As for the tours themselves, we are very lucky that the type of tours we have offered for 25 years – small private groups where our guests are attended to personally, allow you to travel in your own private bubble to tranquil locations – prove to be the safest way to travel in Covid times.

Our itineraries usually take you to vineyards, lovely medieval villages in the countryside, and authentic local spots away from the crowds. Now more than ever, we carefully check all the venues we take you to, but the quaint rural locations themselves remove some of the risks when travelling during Covid.

How will we ensure your safety when you travel with us in Covid times?

Accommodation wise, we work with boutique hotels and private residences, with personalized anti-Covid social distancing protocols and many of these places can be booked for you alone. You might wish to include a stop in a city, in which case we carefully choose the best tour options, to enhance anti-Covid travel safety.

Transportation – our tours have always included private transportation only. Our chauffeurs and guides throughout your tour will look out for your safety, whilst following strict anti-covid travel safety protocols themselves. Occasionally, in the past we have used the excellent European network of high speed trains. Of course, like planes, trains are more frequently cleaned and masks are compulsory, but now we will normally substitute them with services of our excellent chauffeurs or provide you with a luxury rental car, should you prefer.

Oh, wine! In our post-pandemic world, would you agree that a glass of a really good wine should be classified as part of your essential survival kit? :-)  We are lucky to have worked for over 25 years with fantastic boutique wineries, many of them family owned, where you will be able to have a tour and tasting in absolute privacy and of course, anti-covid measures in place. The winery owners will wear their masks, but their charisma and smile will always sparkle in their eyes!

Food is also intrinsic to what we do and we have worked hard to ensure your tastings are only at small venues that will exclusively serve your private “travel bubble”. We still offer our fantastic cooking classes, but also for private “travel bubbles” only. We will only recommend the restaurants that offer ample space between tables and preferably have a nice outdoor eating area. We are lucky that the Mediterranean climate enhances terrace culture in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal and there are many lovely outdoor eateries to enjoy in safety. Of course, the top Michelin starred restaurants also observe very strict anti-Covid measures.

Scenery is a big part of our tours as well. Many include scenic drives in historic rural areas and along breathtaking coastline. Walking the hidden coves and coastal paths (maybe even taking a dip!) proves to be so therapeutic :-)  At the height of summer, the access to the beach is controlled to comply with anti-Covid health protocols.

Cultural visits with our fantastic licensed guides have always been a highlight of our tours as well. Now, if you wish, we can still take you inside the museums, but there is so much fascinating history and culture to admire outdoors, while listening to our guide’s engaging tale! Almost all museums are open, except for tiny ones, where safety distance could be compromised. Most limit the amount of visitors and spaces which are too small, are not visitable.

We hope that you stay safe and healthy and we look forward to welcoming you on one of our private relaxing tours, when possible!

 

Current  Travel Situation

At the time of writing in early 2021, there are restrictions in place for American, Canadian and Australian citizens traveling to Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. An update can be accessed from the following websites:

Americans

FRANCE: https://fr.usembassy.gov/
ITALY: https://it.usembassy.gov/
PORTUGAL: https://pt.usembassy.gov/
SPAIN: https://es.usembassy.gov/

Australians

FRANCE: https://france.embassy.gov.au/pari/home.html

ITALY: https://italy.embassy.gov.au/rome/home.html

PORTUGAL: https://portugal.embassy.gov.au/
SPAIN: https://spain.embassy.gov.au/

Canadians

FRANCE: https://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/france/index.aspx?lang=eng
ITALY: https://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/italy-italie/index.aspx?lang=eng
PORTUGAL: https://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/portugal/index.aspx?lang=eng
SPAIN: https://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/spain-espagne/