Posts

Wes Albinger and Charles Pierce joined us recently, from New York City, for a fantastic 22 day Customized Private Highlights of Spain Tour. We could tell you where they went, what they saw, where they ate etc but we’ll leave that to them.

Travel with Wes and Charles all over Spain as you read their FULL review in their own words, with no censorship from us  – Bon Voyage :-):

After a reflective week or so, we’d like to share a few thoughts about our Gourmand Breaks journey through Spain. Top line: We loved it!  It was a pleasure to meet you on that first day in Barcelona. The printed booklet you presented us with was helpful. We referred to it often and having the blank pages did, in fact, inspire us to keep a journal.

Sagrada familia interior

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Barcelona was a great place to begin. Our guide gave us a real understanding of Catalonia as well as a wonderful tour of the Sagrada Famillia — the first of many marvels we saw on our trip. It was astounding, enhanced by our guide’s intimate knowledge. Thanks for recommending Ten’s, as it was outstanding. Lasarte was an elegant, comfortable restaurant but frankly, we enjoyed Ten’s more! (A waiter knocked a full glass of wine and a full glass of water over Wes during our meal at Lasarte …it was unfortunate and this may have colored our overall impression of the place. They upgraded our wine after the incident, but otherwise charged us the full amount, which was surprising). As you know, on the last day in Barcelona we suffered food poisoning. Luckily, the malaise didn’t last long. When we got to Grenada, we found a place that served chicken soup and it was curative!

Alhambra inside

The Alhambra, Granada

Grenada was delightful. Our expert guide maneuvered us gracefully through the crowds and took us on a memorable and knowledgeable tour of the Alhambra — the second marvel of our trip. Your suggested stop in Ronda was the perfect way to break up the drive. We loved the hotel in Seville. Our room was huge and the hotel manager was very attentive, welcoming us with a bottle of bubbly. Our guide, Paloma, was terrific. Her tour of the cathedral was excellent and we had such a good time with her afterwards. We loved the flamenco show and the manager made us feel welcome when he sought us out at the end of the performance to thank us for coming. And, of course, the scent of orange blossoms lingers in our memory. We tried a restaurant suggested in your booklet, Az-Zait, and it turned out to be a good choice. (The Iberian pork dish was delicious!).

Elena, our guide in Cordoba, was very good and clearly at home. Strolling through the old town with her made us feel like locals, as she knew many folks along the way. Her knowledge of the Mezquita was extraordinary and her commentary greatly enhanced our visit to this magnificent sight — the third marvel of our trip. When we told her afterwards that we’d prefer to have a proper lunch rather hopping around for tapas, she picked just the right place. She worked with the waiters to plan us a delectable meal and we were the only tourists in the place. It was great watching local families enjoying a long, leisurely Saturday lunch.

El Retiro Park, Madrid

And then came Madrid. The many neighborhoods, museums, the vitality, Retiro Park and the oh-so-friendly people won us over. The hotel had a few issues…and perhaps not quite as special as the other hotels you chose for our journey but the location was great and the room was generous, quiet and comfortable. The staff was very helpful. Our guide, Olga, used a map to help us understand Madrid and it’s charms before taking us on an informative and comprehensive tour of the city. The Prado art collection was yet another marvel and Olga’s insight was impressive. We loved tapas-hopping with her afterwards and were particularly pleased with the places she picked. She left us feeling very satisfied at the Mercado de San Miguel. We visited the Royal Palace, saw a few other sights and, as Olga had suggested, had something eat in the food courts at El Cortes Inglés for dinner.

The Museo Thysson-Bornemisza museum was yet another marvel. It’s a beautifully curated art collection where we spent hours and loved every minute of it. It was like taking an art history class!

Our two-star dinner at El Club Allard started out with a bang. The first five courses were good but the service was rushed and the final courses lacked finesse. Just the same, it’s a beautiful place and they made us feel quite comfortable.

Toledo

Toledo

We loved our guide in Toledo. His English was excellent and he knew the city so well. (He even spotted, and helped coordinate, the arrest of two pickpockets by sending their photos instantly to the local police!). After our tour, he took us to a small but terrific local restaurant where we had a lunch menu for twelve euros, including a glass of wine!

Segovia was a great side trip, too. We arrived early enough to have a quick visit of the cathedral and to marvel at the Roman aqueduct. After that, we stopped to sample the ponche Segoviano, loving the sponge cake and marzipan confection. We wandered through the old town, visited the Alcázar and even went through a local history museum. But the highlight was lunch at José Maria where we had the famous “cochinillo.” What a treat! The poor piglet couldn’t have been more than six weeks old, just large enough to fit in a roasting pan, and it was fun to watch the waiters use ordinary serving plates to cut the pig into equal portions for serving. We loved it.

Then came San Sebastián. Wow! The train trip was a bit uncomfortable as we noted but San Sebastián was a perfect ending. We loved the hotel and the view from our room was mesmerizing. Once again, our guide was delightful, helping us appreciate the city’s history and taking us to just the right places—a landmark pastry shop, a “grocery store” with the most amazing produce, the Hotel Maria Cristina and all along the waterfront. Then we had a spectacular “pinchos”- hopping jaunt with her that was a lot of fun.

San Sebastian promenade

San Sebastian

Bilbao was another memorable day trip. A great driver in his very comfortable car took us to the market downtown and drove us around a bit before dropping us off at the museum. The building is fantastic — another marvel! And thanks again for our lunch at Nerua … one of the best meals we had on the trip. The chef greeted us and gave us a few amuse-gueules while he talked about the kitchen. Then we sat down and ate and drank our way though an excellent 9-course menu. It was delicious! The wine pairing was definitely the right thing to do as the sommelier picked some very interesting wines that perfectly matched the food. (We can’t say enough good things about this place. It was better than both the two-star restaurants in Barcelona and Madrid!). The driver took us back to San Sebastián via the coast, stopping for a few minutes to let us have a look at the port in Getaria. It was a beautiful drive.

We had such a good time with our friends Stephanie and Paul, especially sharing two three-star restaurant meals back-to-back! Our dinner at Akelarre was disappointing. The location can’t be beat (lovely sunset!) and while some of the dishes were playful, innovative and very tasty, there were some clunkers along the way. All in all, it didn’t seem to be a three-star experience. We all came away thinking that it wasn’t worth the exorbitant price.

ARZAK dish

Arzak, Michelin 3*, San Sebastian

On the other hand, lunch at Arzak was one of the best culinary experiences we can remember. From start to finish, it was three-star perfection. Juan Marie Arzak couldn’t have been more charming and the entire staff was super-welcoming. (Thanks to our waiter’s guidance, we were able to order multiple half-portions à la carte, creating our own ten course menu). It was superb and, interestingly, the bill was half as much as our bill at Akelarre!

We have to thank you. From beginning to end, our journey was very well-paced, encompassing and exciting on so many levels. In general, we loved traveling by fast train—and getting a feel for the topography of Spain along the way. The car and driver parts of our journey were top-notch and so comfortable. The guides were spot-on. Thank you for all your efforts on our behalf.

Un abrazo!

Wes and Charles

Thank you Wes and Charles for such a comprehensive insight into your experience with Gourmand Breaks. On behalf of us all at Gourmand Breaks – It was our pleasure to welcome you to Spain!

 

If you enjoyed your journey with Wes and Charles and would like to experience some great Food, Wine ad Cultural experiences in Spain, and/or Portugal, we’d be delighted to customize your perfect private itinerary. You’ll find many sample itineraries to give you some ideas on our Gourmand Breaks website .

World Heritage Sites are places of importance to cultural or natural heritage as described in The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, World Heritage Convention, established in 1972. The aim – to protect and preserve National Heritage.

Mosque Cordoba

Spain accepted the convention on May 4, 1982, making its historical sites eligible for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

In 1984 five sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List: the Mosque of Córdoba, the Alhambra and the Generalife of Granada, Burgos Cathedral, the Monastery and Site of the Escorial of Madrid and the collective Gaudi works of Park Güell, Palau Güell and Casa Milà in Barcelona.

There are currently 44 World Heritage Sites in Spain listed by the World Heritage Committee on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Spain is the 3rd country with the most World Heritage Sites behind Italy with 49 and China with 45.

World Heritage Sites in Spain LIST, with their first year of inclusion:

39 Cultural World Heritage Sites in Spain:

• Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada (1984)
• Aranjuez Cultural Landscape (2001)
• Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida (1993)
• Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco (2000)
• Archaeological Site of Atapuerca (2000)
• Burgos Cathedral (1984)
• Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí (2000)
• Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville (1987)
• Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain (1985)
• Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (2011)
• Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija (2012)
• Historic Centre of Cordoba (1984)
• Historic City of Toledo (1986)
• Historic Walled Town of Cuenca (1996)
• La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia (1996)
• Las Médulas (1997)
• Monastery and Site of the Escurial, Madrid (1984)
• Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias (1985)
• Mudejar Architecture of Aragon (1986)
• Old City of Salamanca (1988)
• Old Town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros Churches (1985)
• Old Town of Cáceres (1986)
• Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct (1985)
• Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona (1997)
• Palmeral of Elche (2000)
• Poblet Monastery (1991)
• Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde (1998)
• Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza (2003)
• Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula (1998)
• Roman Walls of Lugo (2000)
• Routes of Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés and Routes of Northern Spain (1993)
• Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe (1993)
• San Cristóbal de La Laguna (1999)
• San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries (1997)
• Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) (1985)
• Tower of Hercules (2009)
• University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares (1998)
• Vizcaya Bridge (2006)
• Works of Antoni Gaudí (1984) Seven properties built by the architect Antoni Gaudí 1852–1926: Parque Güell; Palacio Güell; Casa Mila; Casa Vicens; Gaudí’s work on the Nativity façade and Crypt of La Sagrada Familia; Casa Batlló; Crypt in Colonia Güell.

3 Natural World Heritage Sites in Spain:

• Doñana National Park (1994)
• Garajonay National Park (1986)
• Teide National Park (2007)

2 Mixed World Heritage Sites in Spain:

• Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture (1999)
• Pyrénées – Mont Perdu (1997)

Alhambra

Visit Spain’s World Heritage gems on one of our Private Culture, Food and Wine Tours to see the wonderful historic treasures and fascinating culture of this country and taste fine wine, local foods and much, much more!

 

Summer may be over but ice-cream never goes out of season!! If you are heading to Girona, Spain, then a must stop is Rocambolesc, the Willy-Wonka-esque ice cream shop of the Michelin 3 star Roca Brothers, in particular Jordi Roca. The sweet brother in charge of desserts at El Celler de Can Roca, current World’s Number 1 restaurant, invites you to experience the sweet sensations of El Celler de Can Roca at Rocambalesc – a world much more than just ice-cream!

Rocambolesc Girona

Just a small shop, on Carrer de Santa Clara in Girona, Rocambolesc radiates a vintage feel and as soon as you step inside you will instantly return to your childhood with “oooos” and “wows” as the colors, smells and sights hit, invade and delight your senses.

Rocambolesc ice-cream

Rocambolesc – Enjoy El Celler de Can Roca delicacies at a fraction of the cost  –  just 3.90€ for a large tub (as per the photo) with 3 toppings!

There are six different flavors of ice-cream to choose from, in cones or tubs, including the classics of vanilla or chocolate and the more adventurous green sorbet or baked apple. Your server will recommend the 3 toppings ideal for your ice-cream flavor choice although you can choose your own 3 from over 30 options such as parma violet marshmallow, strawberries, caramelized apple, nut sprinkles, flaked sugar, crunchy caramel, honey rocks, coconut……

Jordi Roca and Rocambolesc

The youngest of the three Roca Brothers, Jordi Roca was proclaimed “The World’s Best Pastry Chef “in 2014 (the current holder of this title for 2015 is Albert Adrià). At El Celler de Can Roca Joan Roca heads the sublime kitchen; Josep Roca is the expert sommelier and Jordi Roca creates the imaginative desserts.

 

Where to find Rocambolesc:

Rocambolesc in Girona:
Carrer de Santa Clara 50, 17001 Girona
Open: Sun -Thurs 12:00 – 21:00, Fri and Sat 12:00 to 23:00

Rocambolesc in Platja d’Aro (Girona):
Avinguda de S’Agaró 59, 17249 Platja d’Aro
Closed in winter

Rocambolesc in Madrid:
Calle Serrano 52, El Corte Inglés- 7th Floor, 28001 Madrid
Open: Sun-Thurs 12:30 – 00:00, Fri and Sat 12:30 to 00:30

 

Experience the ice-cream joys of Rocambolesc on your Gourmand Breaks Private Food, Wine and Cultural Tour.  We can customise any of our Our Sample Spain Portugal Private Tour Itineraries to include a stay in Girona county and among other fascinating visits a private guided visit of the city of Girona.

American TV series “Game of Thrones” has taken the world by storm, and  part of the filming for its new Series 6 is taking place in Girona, Spain.   Ambling around the Old Town of Girona certainly can transport you back in time, or, with the correct props, into the fantasy world of one of the Kingdoms of Game of Thrones.

Set building for Game of Thrones (series 6) taking place in the Old Town of Girona, Spain.

Set building for Game of Thrones (series 6) taking place in the Old Town of Girona, Spain.

The Game of Thrones cast and crew are currently”decorating” and preparing to start filming next week in certain parts of the Old Town, the Medieval Jewish quarter if you will,  of Girona. Maybe not a great time for you to visit right now, as the filming of Game of Thrones continues into mid-September with many areas beng closed, but all year round Girona and it’s old town are a great place to wander. At the heart of the intricate network of cobbled streets, towering above the Medieval Jewish quarter that winds around it, stands Girona Cathedral.

Girona Cathedral is a significant work of Gothic architecture since its construction began in the 11th century. Girona Cathedral’s prominence especially rose in the 15th century when architects added what is still, today,  the largest Gothic nave in the world and the second largest nave overall, behind St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Inside Girona Cathedral there are several relics dating back to the 11th century as well as ancient saint shrines, an ivory throne made for King Charlemagne and the Tapestry of the Creation, a very rare surviving tapestry from the era depicting the creation of the world, months of the year and Biblical characters.

Girona Cathedral

Curiously, Girona has not not only inspired the modern day Game of Thrones, the Cathedral inspired even Antoni Gaudi!  On the Apse façade of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the chapel of the Assumption will be built, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, which is especially popular in Catalonia. This project is inspired by an existing one in Girona cathedral and includes the crown dedicated to the Virgin, the pillars that form the  structure and the curtains hanging from it, as well as the angels that are represented on the Girona model.

 

Explore the beautiful city of Girona on a private Gourmet, Wine and Cultural Tour of Spain like our Romantic Spain Luxury Private Tour which takes you within Girona cathedral’s courtyard and the Roman walls behind it  – a beautifully peaceful journey through the history of Gothic art as well as visits to medieval villages, prestigious wineries and the chance to dine Michelin style.

Girona, The colourful riverside homes, Cathedral and Sant Felix

Read more about Girona on our blog post:  Girona, Spain – Little City, BIG heart

Looking to escape the bustling city for the day while you’re staying in Barcelona ? Then why not get out into the country and include the Penedes Wine Region in your custom-built tour itinerary, where you will Visit Vines, Taste Wines and enjoy an excellent local lunch overlooking the vineyards of the Penedes Wine Region of Spain.

Here’s what you can expect on your exclusively Private Penedes Wine Day :

Our friendly chauffeur will collect you this morning from your Barcelona hotel  and whisk you away in his luxury vehicle to the Penedes wine region of Spain.

You will start your day with an unforgettable visit to an exceptional Vineyard, owned by one family since 1790 and situated in the heart of the Penedés wine region of Spain. A bilingual in-house expert will take you on a private tour of the vineyards, which have been ecologically cultivated for more than 300 years. It is no wonder their wines have been officially certified as “ecological-organic” since 2004. You will be amazed at how the “intervention” of bees, sheep, and lunar phases can help create such outstanding wines. What’s more, the grapes in this vineyard are all hand picked to ensure harvest at the ideal time for each vine.

Back at the cellar, the in-house oenologist will proudly show you the entire wine making process and finally guide you through a complete tasting of an array of ecological and organic varieties of wines and cavas. Additionally, the vineyard owners make their own olive oil, and they will gladly explain to you the process and properties of this “liquid gold” while you enjoy a tasting, accompanied by local bread.

Surely after this intense vineyard morning visit you will be ready to be treated to a fine lunch of delicious local home-made cooking at an elegant, yet cozy restaurant located in a charming typical Penedes village with magnificent views to the Montserrat mountains. Enjoy delicious Catalan cuisine with superior presentation, accompanied with fine wines from the surrounding vineyards.

In the afternoon, your venture will take you to a very well known cava cellar in Spain and one the most important vineyards in the Penedes Wine Region. The owner was born into a dynasty of tailors and musicians but went into the world of cava at a very young age, a world that turned into his profession and his passion. Pioneering, passionate and tireless, he created the first wine analysis laboratory in the industry, managed important wineries in the Penedès region and set up his own cava winery in 1950.

The top-quality sparkling Spanish wines, made by this Penedes winery, use the traditional method of making Champagne but with a blend of the classic Penedes region grape varieties of Macabeo, Xarel·lo, Parellada. They only produce Reserva and Gran Reserva vintage cavas here because it’s the long ageing that creates the complex bouquet and fine bubbles of the cavas. You will have a private visit with an in-house bi-lingual wine specialist and will enjoy the beautiful masia and grounds, as well as the underground stone cellars and several private tastings!

Sit back and relax now, as your chauffeur will return you to Barcelona after your wonderful Penedes Wine day.

 

Explore the Penedes Wine Region of Spain on one of our great Private Wine Tours.  

Our Extensive Grand Wine Tour of Spain and France is an incredible private wine tour covering top wine regions in Spain & France, including Ribera del Duero, La Rioja, Bordeaux, Priorat and Penedes. With time in between to explore the wonders of Madrid, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Carcassonne, Emporda and Barcelona, this truly all encompassing private wine tour also provides a smattering of culture, delightful accommodation and an opportunity to sample the differing foods of the regions.

Park Guell, Gaudi Barcelona

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia in Spain

Barcelona is situated in the North East of Spain, on the Mediterranean coast

Barcelona city has a population of around 1.7 million people

The country dialing code is 0034 and the Barcelona prefix is 91

The official currency is the Euro. Before the Euro was introduced the Peseta was used

The official language of Spain is Spanish although in 1975 the official language of Barcelona was declared Catalan

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, behind Spain’s capital Madrid

The most walked along street in Spain is in Barcelona. Each hour an approximate 3500 pedestrians walk down Portal d’Angel

The most famous street in Barcelona is Las Ramblas – 5 boulevards making up 1 – which starts at Plaça de Cataluya and 2kms later ends at the Columbus monument

Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games in 1992

Before 1992 Barcelona had no beaches for public and local use. The area was purely industrial but after redevelopment 7 beaches are now in use along 4.5kms of coastline

Barcelona Port is the no 4 worldwide and is Europe and the Mediterranean’s leading cruise port.  2.6 million passengers embarked or disembarked in Barcelona in 2013

Surprisingly Barcelona city has no Michelin 3 star restaurants although there are many Michelin 2 and 1 stars.

Barcelona’s world famous Football Club – F.C Barcelona – is nicknamed the ‘Blaugrana’ after the colors they most commonly wear namely blue (blau) and maroon (grana)

F.C Barcelona is also represented in other sports such as Basketball, Handball and Hockey

Antoni Gaudí was Barcelona’s most famous architect and 7 of his works have been declared UNESCO world heritage sites

Gaudí’s most famous Sagrada Familia was started in 1882 and is still being built today long after his death in 1926

The patron saint of Barcelona is the Virgin of Mercy. The day is declared a bank holiday and La Mercè festivities are held on (and during the week of) the 24th of September.

Many of our Private Food, Wine and Cultural tours include stays in Barcelona to discover this fantastic city via private tours and/or giving you free time for your own sightseeing.

The Alhambra – gardens, fortifications and sumptuous palaces – was home to many Arab Sultans who ruled the whole province over the years.  Stretched along the top of the hill known as La Sabika, the Alhambra is the stuff of fairy tales.  From outside, its red fortress towers and walls appear plain, yet imposing, as they rise from cypress and elm woods, with the Sierra Nevada forming a magnificent backdrop.

Alhambra Granada

The Alhambra was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 AD and was then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-11th century by Moorish king Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar who built the current palace and walls.

Later, in 1333, it was converted into a royal palace by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada and in 1527 Charles V, demolished part of the architectural complex to build the palace which bears his name. With each new section that was added the consistent theme of “paradise on earth” was followed. Column arcades, fountains with running water, and reflecting pools were used to add to the aesthetic and functional intricacy. In each case, the exterior was left plain and austere.

After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the Alhambra was rediscovered in the 19th century by European scholars and travelers, with restorations commencing.

Today, the Alhambra is one of Spain’s major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country’s most significant and well known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century, and later Christian, building and garden interventions.

Alhambra

The Generalifepalace and gardens were built during the 14th century. Originally the palace was linked to the Alhambra by a covered walkway across the ravine that now divides them.  The garden areabecame a place of recreation and rest for the Muslim kings when they wanted to flee the tedium of official Palace life and is one of the oldest surviving Moorish gardens.

In 1984, the Alhambra and the Generalife were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In 2007, the Alhambra was a finalist to be included as one the NEW 7 Wonders of the World

Join us on a Private Cultural Tour of Spain like our Majestic Madrid and Authentic Andalucia to fully appreciate the splendor of the Great Granada Alhambra , as well as Madrid, Ronda, Cordoba and Toledo.

 

As temperatures rise out of single numbers, at last,  jackets, scarves and hats can be discarded because the flowers are blossoming, shoots are appearing and the smell of cut grass fills the air.  Cold air is being substituted for an air that has a fresh warm smell – Spring is coming!  Daylight Saving Time is upon us once again and this means longer days.  Spain, Portugal, France and the UK, among others, will be putting their clocks forward on March 30th at 2am!!

Clocks forward 2014

We all love Spring, a chance to shed our layers and open our wings. Our eyes open as we look up rather than down. People are happy, anticipating the Summer, so gardens get tidied and houses get painted.  We feel the need to get out and about under blue skies and discover new places.  Why all the excitement?

Night falls early in Winter, giving the impression that there’s not enough hours in the day and so we crave more daylight. Since the shortest day of the year, back in December,  the days have slowly been getting longer, but it’s not enough, and they need a bit of help!  Don’t forget, day light saving time starts (has started already or ends depending where you are!)  at the end of this month (or not), as most of  Europe anxiously awaits “Summer Time!”  An hour of sleep is lost when the clocks go forward, but daylight saving time arrives with the promise of an extra hour of evening light for months ahead.  On the other side of the World (and in parts of the southern hemisphere) the situation is reserved, as Australia, for example, leaves Summer time and heads into Winter time, thus turning the clocks back.  Something the rest of us will not be doing until well after Summer.

Still confused about if the clocks go forwards or backwards?

Most people use the mnemonic “spring forwards, fall backwards” to know what to do with their clocks.  In Spring they “spring” forward and in Fall (Autumn) they “fall” back.

Clocks in The United States and Canada sprang forward already, on the 9th of March at 02.00h (until the 2nd of November 2014, when they fall back again)

Clocks in Spain and France spring forward on the 30th of March at 02.00h (until the 26th of October 2014, when they fall back again)

Clocks in the UK and Portugal spring forward on the 30th of March at 01.00h  (until the 26th of October 2014,  when they fall back again)

Clocks in Australia will fall back on the 6th of April 2014 at 03.00h (until the 5th of October 2014, when they spring forward again)

Spring is a fantastic time to discover Spain, as well as Portugal and SW France.  Although all year round destinations, Spring is an attractive time offering bearable temperatures, blue skies, flowering gardens, vineyards bursting with new shoots and relaxing bar and restaurant terraces to watch the world go by.  The air is clear and life seems lighter, it’s a great time to be outside! But, if you’re in Spain, don’t forget to put your clocks forward on the 30th of March at 2am to take advantage of those longer afternoons and lighter nights!

Barcelona, Spain

Amble along the streets of bustling Barcelona where the locals will still be hurrying along to work, meetings or lunch.  You, however, can take the time to appreciate the Sagrada Família, La Pedrera or the Plaza Real, people watch on the Rambla, stroll along the Barceloneta or take in the views from Montjuic mountain or Antoni Gaudí’s Parc Güell. Barcelona has something for every taste: Chic Shopping to Artisan Boutiques,  Nouvelle Cuisine to Tasty Tapas, Magnificent Monuments to Arty Meccas.

 

Madrid, Spain

Visit majestic Madrid with its ornate rooftops, regal Palacio Real or sit and watch the world go by in the terrace filled squares of Santa Ana and Plaza Mayor.  Retiro Park is a great place to enjoy the open air as you stroll along the paths, of this once royal garden, passing fountains, statues, the delicate Palacio de Cristal, the boating lake and maybe the odd street entertainer or art exhibition.  Should you experience an infrequent Spring shower there’s plenty to visit indoors, like the Prado Museum (the biggest art gallery in the World), the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums or marvel at the interesting interior of the Palacio Real.  Our Officially Licensed Bi-Lingual Guide is additionally qualified in Spanish History and Art so a private tour of the museums is a must for any art buff to beat the queues and to make sure you miss nothing!

 

San Sebastian promenade

Follow the scallop-shaped seafront of San Sebastian as you stroll along the promenade of La Concha bay to the bustling and colorful port at the end and then continue on the path that almost circles Monte Urgell hill.  For some fantastic views over the bay, and the town, climb to the top of the hill, now a public park,  where at the summit stands a castle, and, it’s not Rio de Janeiro but, there’s also a big statue of Christ.  San Sebastian is also famed for its gastronomy so why not hit the foodie hotspots, as the locals do, for a “pintxo” and a glass of Txacoli wine.

 

Granada, Spain

 

Granada in Spring time offers a fantastic time to visit the great Alhambra and the gardens, which will be bursting with color, all the way to the Generalife – the summer palace of the Kings of Granada.  Walk over to the Albaicin and Sacromonte  for fantastic views of the Alhambra and the surrounding mountains.

 

Orange trees

Saunter around Seville, getting lost in the picturesque narrow streets of the Barrio Santa Cruz, breathe in the scent of the famous Seville oranges (the trees flower in Spring) and visit the grandiose Cathedral to take in the spectacular views from La Giralda.  Join the tapas hopping culture of this great city as foodie hotspots offer their fresh-out-of-the-kitchen plates.  Seville boasts more than 4,000 tapas bars – roughly 1 for every 200 locals so you know they know what they’re talking about!

 

Costa Brava, Spain

Breathe in the Mediterranean air, in Calella de Palafrugell, as you walk along the miles of coast path that line the wild Costa Brava coast.  Enjoy a short walk to discover some hidden coves or maybe a longer route, on the meandering clifftop path, to enjoy the wildness (in less common parts the path is quite wild). Calella de Palafrugell to Llafranc is a delightful, easy walk and a glass of wine on a sea front terrace at the end can be your reward!   What’s for sure is you will be at one with nature and feel as free as the sea air.

 

Spanish Winery

The Wine Regions of Spain will  gradually be getting their grapes and, depending on the time you go, the vines in Spring in Spain will be sprouting or full of leaves.  Join us on a wine tour of Spain to enjoy private winery visits to our hand-selected vineyards and exclusive wine tasting!  Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Penedès, Empordà, La Rioja …… will all be waiting, expectant of your comments on their wines as you taste their best!

 

These are just a few of the many places in Spain that you could be visiting on one of our Food, Wine and Cultural Tours in Springtime, but there’s so very much more! And, not to forget Portugal and South West France that too are eager to welcome you into their hearts and their lives!!

Contact us for a personalized quote of your perfect private tour of Spain, Portugal and/or SW France.

The incredible Sagrada Família Church, if you haven’t heard of it, is a giant Basilica in the center of Barcelona, Spain  It is a work on a grand scale and is not expected to be completed for another 30 to 80 years!  Barcelona’s skyline is accustomed to the somewhat weird mix of old spires and modern cranes that envelope the Sagrada Família.  It will seem strange if one day the invasive, yet accepted, cranes disappear from Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished Barcelona symphony!

Construction on La Sagrada Família,  Barcelona, began in 1882 and at the end of 1883 Antoni Gaudí was commissioned to carry on the works, which subsequently occupied his whole life right up until his death in 1926.   He played an active role in directing the construction of the Sagrada Família and often requested that work be modified and adjusted until it was exactly the way he wanted it, according to the vision he had in his mind.

In 1892 Gaudí began work on the foundations of the East facing Nativity Façade of La Sagrada Família.  After 1914, Gaudí submitted his work exclusively to the Sagrada Família and on November 30th, 1925, the construction of the first bell tower of the Nativity Façade, dedicated to St Barnaby, was finished, rising a 100 meters high.   This is the only one that Gaudí lived to see built.  Antoni Gaudí died on the 10th of June 1926 as a result of a tragic accident in Barcelona, that had occurred three days earlier, when he was run over by a tram.  On the 12th of June Antoni Gaudí was buried in the Carmen Chapel of the crypt of La Sagrada Família, where his remains still lie today.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

 The Nativity Façade of La Sagrada Família celebrates the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.  It is also referred to as the Façade of Life, Joy or Christmas and is elaborately adorned with references to the joy of life, such as flowers and animals, on and around its three entrances:

–  The Portal of Faith is devoted to the theological virtue of faith and to Mary.

– The Portal of Hope is devoted to the theological virtue of hope and to Joseph.

– The Portal of Charity is devoted to the theological virtue of Christian charity or love and to Jesus.

In 1911 Gaudí planned the West facing Passion Façade and in 1923 the definitive solution to the naves and roofs.  The works advanced slowly, though, and Gaudí was recorded as saying:

“There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated”.

The Passion Façade of La Sagrada Família, representing the Passion of Jesus, depicts the pain, sacrifice and death suffered by Jesus, and is expressed in highly dramatic and emotionally intense groups of sculptures.  As the façade faces west it receives the last rays of the day’s sun hence heightening the symbolic effect of the darkness and shadows that haunted Antoni Gaudí.  Like the other façades, it has three entrances, dedicated to charity, hope and faith, and four bell towers.  This façades’ towers are dedicated (from left to right) to the apostles St James the Less, St Bartholomew, St Thomas and St Philip.  The sculptures on the Passion Façade stand out as they contrast against their background being ornament free and composed of simple forms.  In this way Gaudí wanted to symbolize the desolation, the pain and the death of Jesus Christ with a dramatic doorway illustrating the sacrifice made by Jesus for mankind.

Passion Façade, Sagrada Familia

The South facing Glory Façade is still under construction and, when finished, will be the main entrance to the church.  Gaudí included the construction of a great exterior flight of steps, in the project, to provide a solemn access to the Sagrada Família.

Since Gaudí’s death, different architects have continued the work of the Sagrada Família based on Gaudí’s original ideas.  However today, because of the nature of the existing designs, his work is partly open to interpretation and leads to much controversy – be it the new construction materials which, some feel, Gaudí himself would not have used, or the present day architects’ interpretation of the original designs, unacceptable for many Gaudí fans.  Regardless of all the controversy surrounding the Sagrada Família it is a truly magnificent building and an absolute must-see when you visit Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia

With all that is featured on the outside, of this magnificent masterpiece, it is hardly surprising that the inside is as spectacular as you would imagine.  But, we’re not going to give too much away, you need to experience this wonder for yourself while in Barcelona, but the interior looks like a forest of beautifully designed trees.  The ornate trunks, branches and clusters of leaves are all visible in this forest of columns where, as the light seeps through the windows, a sensation of woodland and vegetation appears within the Sagrada Família.

Antoni Gaudí is Barcelona’s most internationally renowned and emblematic architect and throughout his work, you will see much of his architectural inspiration came from his experiences in nature.   His work has become one of the main cultural attractions of Barcelona, and is a legacy that has been declared UNESCO World Heritage.  La Sagrada Família, over the years, has become one of the most universal signs of identity of Barcelona, and indeed Spain. It is visited by millions of people every year and many more study its architectural and religious content.

Special mention should also be made to other famous works of Gaudí in Barcelona, like his famous Casa Batlló and La Pedrera.  Gaudí’s famous La Pedrera was built between 1906 and 1910 for the Milà family and is one of the main Gaudí residential buildings in Barcelona. It is one of the most imaginative houses in the history of architecture and is more a sculpture than a building.  And not forgetting, one of the most beautiful icons of the city of Barcelona, ​​Park Güell,  a work by Antoni Gaudi carried our between 1900 and 1914, with wonderful views of the city where you can enjoy a peaceful stroll surrounded by nature and modernist works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of our Food, Wine and Cultural Tours include a visit to Antoni Gaudí’s amazing unfinished La Sagrada Família in Barcelona (as well as to other masterpieces).  This means that, you not only get to beat the queues into the Church but, one of our Officially Licensed Bi-Lingual Guides will give you your own private tour and show you so much more.

PENTAX Image

As in every city the place to be, and to be seen in is ever changing. New areas are revamped, businesses are created and tourists flock to a place they would never have dreamed of going on a previous visit.  Inevitably, this revamping, remodeling and breathing of new life has occurred  in Barcelona.

In the last few years the Born area of Barcelona has been transforming and is now THE new area to be and be seen in in the dazzling city.  To the east of the ever popular Ramblas and on the other side of Via Laietana lies this maze of old narrow streets interspersed with small squares and merchant palaces from the 15th Century.  Although getting lost in this labyrinth is part of the charm, this fashionable district of Barcelona invites you into its heart with  wine and tapas bars, candlelit restaurants and designer boutiques.

This born again zone of Barcelona neighbors the Gothic Quarter and together they make up the old side of Barcelona. The Port is also neighbor to the area, and the Ciutadella Park ,to the East, provides the ideal place to stop and relax under the shade of a tree.

At the center of this now fashionable zone is the Maria del Mar church which dominates a beautiful square with an abundance of cafés.  A masterpiece  illustrating  14th century Catalan Gothic style, it was built on the ancient chapel of Santa Maria de las Arenas of 998AD.  The Mediterranean was much more inland than today, so being close to the sea it was constructed thanks to donations from the sea farers.

Behind the Santa Maria square is the main street, Paseo del Born, which is where the witches were executed and burned in Medieval times.  This passage today, invites you to dine at various restaurants with a variety of cuisine to choose from, or maybe just take time out to sip a refreshing glass of Cava in one of the many bars.

The Picasso museum is most surely THE museum to visit in Barcelona, for the artist and,  for the building which is made of five palaces joined together to make the museum.  An enjoyable visit here is a must to understand the formation of Pablo Ruiz Picasso.  The permanent collection of the genius’s work, here at the museum,  comprises of more than 3.500 works of art.

The former Born Market, a magnificent wrought iron structure built in the 1870’s, was once the city’s main wholesale market, until it closed in 1971.  Thanks to the market, the area of Born was once the city’s trading area.  After years of being forgotten, in 2001 excavation work uncovered some amazing remains.  Much debate ensued on the fate of  the market, but in September 2013 after extensive work was completed, the building opened again as the Born Cultural Center,  a civic center and covered plaza home to a permanent exhibition of thousands of artifacts discovered here.

Another market, alive and kicking today, is the Santa Caterina Market. A fantastic place to stop for a quick bite at a good price or just to peruse the array of rainbow colors that the stallholders sell. With market stalls spread over 3 floors it is a valid rival to the famous La Boqueria. But, Santa Caterina market is not only colorful on the inside, view it from outside and you will see the magnificent roof is alive with over 300,000 colored ceramic tiles.

Many of our Private Food, Wine and Cultural tours include stays in Barcelona to discover this fantastic city via private tours and/or giving you free time for your own sightseeing.

Join us on the Highlights of Spain Tour to combine some fantastic gourmet, wine and cultural experiences while staying in Barcelona, Girona, Penedes, Seville and Madrid.