What’s Spain really like?

I’ve been to Italy five times and love it. Why should I go to Spain?
We think the question answers itself. We love Italy – who doesn’t – but Europe is rich, and we are often surprised by how many Americans visit Italy time and time again. Spain, we think is even richer due to the Moorish influence, the food scene, and the diversity of landscapes and culture from the Basque region to Andalucia to Barcelona. Thankfully, we’re not completely out on a limb and many clients agree with us.

I was in Spain in 1974. Has it changed much?
It is a completely different country. Everything that was there in 1974 is still there, but clean and restored and beautiful. The infrastructure is great. On top of that, Spain is one of the hottest countries in Europe, especially for food. And there is new generation of luxury hotels.

Is Spain as inexpensive as it once was?
It still offers better value than some other parts of Europe, but since it has been on the euro, Spain is no longer the dirt-cheap place it once was. Sorry.

Where to?

I keep hearing about the Camino. How long does it take?
How much time you want to spend is up to you, and how you mix traveling by foot, bicycle or car is up to you as well. Someone walking from the French border could take six weeks to cross northern Spain. Most of our clients only ask us to select a series of the best stretches for them to hike or bike, and they are driven the rest. The last 100 km (about 60 miles) of the Camino are considered the most important and they might take three or four days on a supported hike.

Can I combine Spain and Portugal?
Many clients do, especially on a second trip focused more on Northern Spain and ending up in Santiago. It is quite easy, but be sure as to whether you are giving yourself adequate time in each country to enjoy both destinations fully.

How about Spain and Morocco?
Everything above holds true. Although there is a ferry between Southern Spain and Tangier, we normally suggest clients fly. Some clients envision a romantic ferry crossing between two continents, but the reality is often chaotic, hassle-laden, and time consuming.

Should I take a day trip to Gibraltar? And Tangier?
We’re not big fans and we’ll tell you why. Spain is such a rich and diverse country that you will never get bored. Spending a day in Gibraltar, which is not the most exciting place, is robbing yourself of a day you could be doing something else. At times, the border crossings can be quite slow. Tangier is great in the context of a Moroccan trip but for the day tripper from Spain it is often overwhelming and full of hassles. People might think if they have been to Tangier, they have seen Morocco, but a good analogy might be a day in Tijuana. We would hate for you to be turned off to returning to a country as amazing as Morocco because of bad day in Tangier. If you want to see Morocco, we suggest a minimum of three or four days.

What is the difference between Mallorca, Menorca, and Ibiza?
They are all great, but in different ways. They all offer beautiful countryside and coastline. Mallorca is the largest, and offers the most in terms of cities and towns. Palma, its main city, can be very crowded in the summer, but is a great little city. Ibiza has a well-earned reputation for a party place. While it quieted down for a while, it is back on the circuit. Menorca is, by far, the smallest, the quaintest, and the most laid-back of the three. One comes here really to relax and to enjoy nature.

My cruise starts/ends in Barcelona; can you help me?
Give us a few days and we can show you a side of Spain’s most popular city that you won’t see on your own.

Spain’s Specialties

Where is the best food in Spain?
We know people that might get in a screaming match over this question. Cuisine varies a lot from region to region. We will give you a list of some of our favorite restaurants before you travel. But in general, Southern Spain is the origin of many of the iconic dishes such as tapas and gazpacho. The most creative food in Spain is coming out of two areas: Barcelona and the surrounding region of Catalonia, as well as San Sebastian and Bilbao in the Basque Country. But, if you stay away from the places that seem full of tourists at lunchtime, it is hard to have a bad meal in Spain, really.

Where are the best wineries in Spain?
There are wine regions all over Spain, many producing interesting wines. The most famous regions are La Rioja in the north and Ribera del Duero in Central Spain. Newer, but considered by many to be the finest, is Priorat outside of Barcelona. Cava (Spanish Bubbly) comes from Penedes in a region outside Barcelona. Sherry is produced in a small region near Seville, in the south. Wines of the Albarino grape are produced in the northwestern part of the country near Portugal. And the Basque Country is famous for its cider.

My sons want to attend a soccer (futbol) match…Can you get us tickets?
Absolutely. Futbol season usually runs from late August through May. We can also arrange special seats and access, as well as tours of the stadiums of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

And flamenco?
Well, the heart of flamenco is in Seville. We can certainly arrange for you to attend a performance at a traditional tablao. If you want, it might be fun to have your own private lesson in one of Seville’s top academies or a very informal private evening with some gypsy flamenco musicians.

I don’t know if I want to see a bullfight.
It is not for everyone, but if you are interested, we are happy to talk to you about it. We recommend seeing it with an expert to help explain to you what it’s all about and why it is so important to many Spaniards. Not being Spanish, it is hard for many of us to understand. We can also arrange for you to meet matadors or to visit fincas, rural estates where bulls are raised, to see important (non-lethal) demonstrations of how a breeding bull is tested for character.

Nuts and Bolts

What is the best time to visit Spain?
It depends on where you want to go. Southern Spain is sunny and temperate year round. The Basque Country’s weather is excellent in the summer and can be gray the rest of the year. But in general, spring or fall tends to be ideal.

Should we avoid Spain in August?
Traditionally, stores and restaurants close and everyone heads to the beach. That is still true to a certain extent, but not as much as before. Parts of Spain can be hot in August, but we have a lot of families traveling to Spain in August.

Should I stay in a parador?
Paradors are government owned and managed hotels all over Spain, mostly in historic monuments. Facilities, as well as service, can be hit or miss. Many years ago, they were quite popular. Now, with so many excellent private hotels also in restored monuments, the paradors are often not the best option. There are a few that are quite famous, most notably in Granada and, our favorite, which is in Santiago de Compostela.

How do I get around Spain? Can I drive myself?
The answer depends a bit on where you go. High-speed trains are excellent and comfortable. On routes without the high speed trains, trains are slower and not as nice. Flights are easy and often reasonable in price. In some regions self-driving can be fun (same side of the road as in U.S.), and in others we recommend having a car and driver.

Is a visa required?
No visas are required for Americans. If you are from another country, please ask.