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We set the stage, You enjoy the moments....   starting in Madrid, Seville or Barcelona.
• Access to ”insider-only” experiences
• Custom trips based on your lifestyle
• Foodie, cultural, luxury & active options
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  Start in Madrid, Barcelona or Seville.   


USA's Iberia Insiders... Siesta-free since 1998

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Magical Spain Custom Tours that are tailored to fit your interests, schedule and your unique personal style & pace. This means you exrience Authentic Spain, Experience Spain's Culture, Return Revitalized! Unforgettable Private Spain Tours and Gourmet Spain Tours.

MagicalSpain crafts luxury travel, private escorted tours, custom affinity tours and independent travel packages in Spain and Portugal including Bilbao, Mallorca, Andalucia, Madrid, Lisbon and Barcelona. For private escorted tours, upon arrival, you will be met by your private English speaking tour manager, who will accompany you throughout your driving tour. Custom driving tours of Spain and Morocco includes flights, accommodations and sight seeing. Customized packages may include car rental, private guides, train vouchers, local experts, hotels, or apartment rentals.


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More info on popular guided luxury Spain travel tours.


Best of Andalucia a shorter version of our Best of Spain luxury trip and you benefit from our vast experiences here with our cultural walking Spain trip in Andalucia  +  Spain  Active Luxury Family Adventure Vacation  or  Small Group Spain Tours

Southern Spain's Andalucia: along with being a beautiful Mediterranean region of southern Spain, festive Andalucia offer very  unique blend of Roman, Moorish and Renaissance heritage  +  medieval villages and castles + great food & wine  + it is Spain's most popular region.

Discover World Heritage sites in places like Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Ronda and More like Tapas and Flamenco guitar & dance shows.

From our Spain HQ, we can customize your trip by adding more days there or perhaps discover the castle-filled Extremadura region + You can meet a local family to enjoy an authentic paella cooking demo and meal in the countryside in + sleep in a deluxe medieval castle. Then explore Roman remains and cultural in Merida with our guide. 

Here is one of our BEST of SPAIN luxury tour itineraries


day 1 - 3  Arrival  transfer into Madrid - 3n     
guided tours of Madrid,  +  Toledo  &  Segovia  - both on UNESCO World Heritage List

day 4 -  high speed train to exotic Granada  - 2n

day 5 - Discover the incredible Alhambra citadel including fine gardens, fortress with views over Granada and the one-of-a-kind Moorish palace.

day 6 -  transfer to Seville 3n with stop in ancient walled city of Cordoba - once conquered by Julius Caesar. overnight Seville 3n

day 7 -  Best of Seville walking tour

day 8 -  Seville tapas tour midday & afternoon free before flamenco 

day 9 -   Castles & Paella excursion: Enjoy southern Spain’s medieval villages & enjoy a paella cooking demo and meal in countryside

day 10 - Flight to Bilbao   -    transfer to hotel near Guggenheim museum

day 11 -  Train to San Sebastian 2n  (so beautiful!)

day 12 -  Enjoy San Sebastian food, wines, old town, beach, parks & coastal walks

day 13  - transfer to Bilbao airport = > Barclona - transfer to your select central hotel for 2n

day 14  -  Enjoy busting Barcelona   + private old town walking tour
as we attempt to avoid the cruise ship crowds and tourist traps :-) 

day 15 -  Our driver will collect you for your departure flight, whisking you off to the Barcelona Pratt airport

Your exclusive private Spain luxury tour package makes best use of your time & includes:

*  Peace of mind of our 24/7 customer tour hotline
*  Spain transport by plane, train and our drivers 
*  Select 4 star hotels in best areas of town so you enjoy more sans to many taxis
*  Insider "black book" of top places to eat .....
*  Cultural & historic fun of private walking tours 
*  Private excursions to Toledo, Segovia and Carmona 
*  Welcome meal at our fav place in Madrid  + tapas tour in Seville
*  All breakfast  
*  2 Spain flights
*  Chauffeured VIP transfers on arrival and departure 
 * No tourist traps :-) 

Here is another Luxury guided tour of Spain for 2014:


Seville, Ronda, Granada, Malaga

This tour focuses on southern Spain and Andalusia's most atmospheric places, from charming whitewashed villages and beautiful ancient cities to magnificent Moorish monuments. This hassle-free tour includes fun guided walking tours at each destination, ground transport, with accommodation is at select upscale hotels in ideal locations in or near the historic parts of each stop.

Begin in Seville, the capital of Andalusia and a city flavored as much by the sounds of flamenco and the smell of orange blossoms as by its 500-year domination by the Moors. Take an insider’s tour of this beautiful city. Explore the charming Santa Cruz neighborhood, tour the gardens and mosaic tile-covered rooms of the Reales Alcazares—a spectacular Moorish palace. Later you can enjoy some free time for your own adventures which could include, the world's largest Gothic cathedral (which contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus), climbing the 300-foot Giralda minaret tower. the famous bullring, or browsing specialty boutiques and markets, and other cultural highlights. One evening, you may wish to attend a local flamenco performance.

Departing Seville, with our driver and guide, explore the famous Pueblos Blancos, the charming white-washed hilltowns, olive groves and enjoy a private excursion to Ronda, the most dramatic of Andalusia's famed whitewashed villages and a favorite of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles.

Next, travel west through cork oak forest, farm land and the world famous gigantic olive groves to Granada, one of the richest and most populated cities in Europe during Moorish rule and still one of Spain's most breathtaking cities. With your expert guide, tour the extraordinary Alhambra—one of the highlights of Spain—a stunning Moorish castle, palace and garden complex on a hillside overlooking the town. Visit the Generalife, the summer palace and gardens of Moorish royalty. Also tour the labyrinthine hilly streets of the Albaicin—the old Arab Quarter—and discover a world full of winding, hilly streets, Moorish fountains, and teterías (Arabic tearooms).

End your tour in Malaga, the jewel of the sun-drenched Mediterranean Costa del Sol and birthplace of the top artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso.

Food and wine are also a favorite part of our tours and we will suggest a mix of top local tapas bars, cafes and restaurants including one headed by a Michelin-starred chef. There are possible option to book additional private touring, a day of guided hiking or biking in beautiful national parks, a private cooking class, visiting the Picasso Museum and other cultural highlights in Malaga.


Secrets of Andalucia Itinerary Overview

Day 1
- Transfer from Madrid Barajas airport to central Atocha Train station
- Preferente Class tickets on AVE bullet train ( train car 2, seats 2c 2b (express mailed 4-1-2013)
- Arrive Seville via AVE train from Madrid (boarding 1:30pm)
- Private arrival transfer to Seville hotel for 3 nights
- Welcome to Spain tapas dinner with your guide

Day 2
- Seville
- Half-day private old town walking tour + optional Flamenco dance show

Day 3
- Seville
- Half-day private touring of Triana historic district, artisans quarter and Plaza de España of Seville

Day 4
- Seville - Ronda
- Private touring of Pueblos Blancos and overnight in beautiful clifftop Ronda.

Day 5
- Ronda - Granada
- Regional train with guide to exotic Granada for 2 nights
- Orientation walking tour Granada

Day 6
- Granada - Afternoon private tour of Alhambra and Albaizin quarter

Day 7
- Granada - Malaga Private midday transfer to Malaga + local wine tasting this evening in Malaga

+ Michelin starred gourmet dinner option

Day 8
- Private morning old town Malaga walking tour  or cooking class

- Afternoon at leisure, for packing or R&R - Farewell tapas dinner

Day 9
- Depart Malaga
- Private airport transfer

Deluxe Spanish Luxury Hotels

Seville (3n) Hotel Melia Sevilla or Alfonso XIII

Ronda (1n) Parador or  Hotel Acinipo

Granada (2n) - Parador, Palacio de los Patos or Hotel NH - Victoria

Malaga (2n) - Hotel Molino  or AC Malaga Palacio

optional luxury tour add on Marbella:  Hotel Puente Romano  or Hotel Marbella Club


Spain cultural notes:  the crazy schedule & siesta in Spain


Your Custom Spain Travel Adventure typically includes:

Privileged access: insider experiences & people that others can’t offer.


More quality time to enjoy & reconnect, as we do the logistics


Real cultural fun: wine, food, language, dance, art or history


Peace of mind & insight of our experience in Spain since 1998 Select accommodation in select central 4* or 5* hotels


Experience authentic Spain: Medieval castles, live flamenco guitar & dance, olive oils, tapas, wine, art, & cultural insight


Insider Savvy of our expert guide to smooth the way Revitalize with a personalized blend of tours, activities & leisure


Meet & connect with our Spanish amigos with your bilingual guide Confidence of 24/7 care with a dedicated caring guide.


Comfort of private chauffeured transfers as per itinerary. Reward yourself with memorable tastings, tapas + fine wines.


Give back: we support top local merchants & artisans when possible


Personalized Spain adventure designed to your style & dates.

“ Experience your Reward... Siesta-free since 1998”


Experience More Insider Cultural Fun, Comfort & Confidence


Spain Custom Touring Idea:  Spanish Wine and Food Pairings 101

Pairing foods with wines is very much like discovering wonderful new Spanish Mediterranean recipes. Just as the right combination of ingredients complements and highlights each other to create a gourmet dish, pairing the right wine with a meal in Spain creates a combination that celebrates and enhances the experience of both Spanish food and wine. And, just as a recipe doesn’t have to be complex to be mouth-wateringly good, you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur or gourmet cook to enjoy the benefits of the right wine pairing. A basic understanding of the food, the wine and how the components and flavors in each interact can make it easy to find a successful pairing on a daily basis, and can greatly increase the chances of finding an exciting synergy between wine and food.

Start with the Wine

When you’re first trying your hand at pairing, we recommend starting with a wine and then selecting and creating the food around it. The simple reason for this is that it’s much easier to tweak a food recipe to make it more compatible with the wine, than it is to start blending your own wines. Pick a wine you know a love already. This way, you’ll have a sense of its flavors already, which you can use as a starting point to experiment with food pairings. Plus, if the recipe doesn’t work, at the very least you’ll be able to enjoy a nice bottle of wine!

Be ‘Prepared’ With The Food

Forget the white wine with white meat and red with red meats. The best place to begin your food selection is with an understanding of how the food is being prepared – the components and flavors in the dish that are integral to pairing it with wine. This is why food and wine pairing in restaurants can be challenging. You think that everything will be fine and then discover that the dish has a different flavor (Why did the chef add olives, they didn’t mention them on the menu?), texture (Wow, I didn’t know that the sea scallops and bay scallops are so different!) or cooking method (I expected the chicken to be grilled, but it is poached.).

The three key points to keep in mind when selecting the food are

  • The food item being paired;
  • The cooking method of that item; and
  • The additional flavors or sauces
The fundamental rule is to begin by pairing delicate wines with delicate flavors, medium-bodied wines with medium-weight or intensity flavors, and strongly flavored foods with wines that will stand up to their pungency. To help keep things simple as you get started, we’ve put together the following guide. Like anything, these are not absolute rules, but good guidelines to follow to help create the most successful and interesting pairings.

Mourvedre ( Monastrell in Spain)

FLAVORS Crisp - Tangy Earthy - Hearty Intense - Spicy
WINE TYPE Albariño Verdejo
Sauvignon Blanc
Tempranillo joven
Pinot Noir
Tinto del Toro
Tempranillo reserva
FOODS Salads/Vegetables Fish Poultry, Game Birds, Pork, Veal Beef, Offal
SAUCES Lemon based Butter; Cream Meat
Wine Demiglace
PREPARATION Poached/Steamed Sautéed Baked Roasted Grilled Braised

To make it more compaitible...... use the sauce or food to try to stimulate flavors in the wine.

  • Roasted Lamb with a Rioja reserve
  • Albariño with citrus sea food sauce
  • mushrooms work well with Pinot Noir,
  • Pitarra with torta de casar in Extremadura
  • herbs and mint with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon,
  • dark berries with Ribera del Duero.


...with complementary Spanish wines, many people like to create a contrast between various components in the dish and the wine in much the same way that you would balance sweet dessert recipe with a tangy sauce. This is as simple as enjoying a crisp acidic wine like a Sauvignon Blanc to cut through a very buttery sauce, or possibly a more oaky Chardonnay with a very tart or sweet dish.

The result is different, but the approach remains the same – consider the flavor of both the wind and food to create a specific taste experience.

 Spanish Cheese, Wine and Fruit

Any simple gathering can become a tasting event with the classic combination of wine, cheese, and fruit.

   Everyone knows about the plethora of French cheeses but most Americans would be shocked to know that Spanish cheeses make Spain a world cheese powerhouse with some 100+ types of unique Spanish cheeses. These range from the uber famous Manchego to others that many consider more impresive like the Torta de Casar or Torta de La Serena de Extremadura

These are very similar cheeses:..... creamy yet  rich, a soft cheese from Extremadura with a surprising character due to the Merino sheep and thistle rennet used in making it. This spanish cheese has a bold style so needs a big red wine or a tart white to stand up to it.  

For example some enjoy a big red like Condado de Haza from the Ribera del Duero (made from 100% Tempranillo grapes--- it's dark berries, licorice, and chocolate wraps around the cheese like some yet-to-be-invented bon-bon).


Jose loved the creamy mild cheese called Tetilla--- It is amazing soft, creamy, mild cow's milk cheese from NW Spain;...... in Spain, these are less common than those made from sheep or goat's milk, but Galicia's green hills make it the Spanish leader in cow's milk production - cows being pickier eaters than sheep or goats. The cheese's name, which means "nipple," comes from the fact that the cheese is molded into a shape that is said resemble a breast.

Like sparkling wine kept under pressure and then released, Spanish food and wine is suddenly exploding past the country's borders. In addition to several big-name chefs, the wines and cheeses of the country are becoming popular, and not just in Spanish restaurants. Among cheeses, Manchego has spearheaded the attack into American restaurants, and there are several others trailing in its wake - with many more waiting to be discovered, for that matter. Similarly Spanish wine isn't limited to Rioja anymore; Priorat and Rias Baixas and Penedés and many other quality wines with distinctive personalities are being brought over by enthusiastic and informed importers.

As with France's vinous and dairy products, Spanish wine and cheese make great companions, so I set out to play matchmaker. I was fortunate to visit Spain recently and try a number of wines - inevitably accompanied by cheese - and decided to supplement my education with some research here in New York City. Murray's Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village generously provided me with several great cheeses from their immense selection, and I took them over to see my friends at Union Square Wines to pull some bottles from their shelves that seemed like promising partners.

Its risque shape aside, this cheese followed a classic rule of wine and cheese pairing: pair a cheese with a wine from the same region. Galicia is home to the Rias Baixas appellation which makes white wines from indigenous grapes: Albariño primarily, but also Treixadura and Loureira; these are the wines that brought me to visit Galicia. On this occasion I tried the tetilla with the Nora 2002 Albariño, which shows an aromatic nose of peach, apple, and melon with a minerally finish. Paired, it passed its fruity qualities over to the cheese, lightening it, and took on a more Chablis-like character itself. San Simón is Tetilla's alter-ego, a smoked version that's a bit meatier. It also works with Albariño, but preferably something with a brioche edge that will blend well with the smokiness like the Condes de Albarei 2002. If you like cheese croissants it's the match for you.

Cabrales has already made waves in the U.S. among lovers of blue cheeses, but for a blue that's a little tamer (i.e. one that non-blue fans might forgive you for serving) but still creamy, piquant, and flavorful, try Valdeon. It's also the only other cheese we tried that is made with cow's milk, albeit usually mixed with goat's milk depending on seasonal availability. Traditionally it is wrapped in leaves and aged in caves for two or three months, where it develops its blue veins.

Like many blues, Valdeon calls for a sweet wine. Alvear's 2000 Pedro Ximenez Añada worked well, adding a fullness and roundness to the cheese. In this case the wine may be the real winner; the Pedro Ximenez can be a bit too syrupy, and the cheese toned this down and allowed me to concentrate on the figs, dates, and caramel of the wine without being overwhelmed by its texture and mouthfeel. A 2001 Altos de Luzon Jumilla from Finca Luzon also profited from being paired with the Valdeon. The wine's tannins cut through the fat in the cheese, while the slate and other earthy notes emerged from the wine, toning down the fruit.

The seriously intense Monte Enebro is a cheese that benefits from aging and mold without developing blue veins. A coat of ash and mold forms on the outside of this creamy, spreadable goat's milk cheese, and its tanginess is buttressed by a walnutty base. A Cava like the Marques de Gelida NV Brut brings forth a wonderful smokiness from the cheese, whose nuttiness, in turn, brings out yeasty, bready notes to accompany the sparkling wine's citrus and green apple aromas. Both wine and cheese gain smoothness from the pairing as well. If you've been overindulging in sparkling wines and would like something still, try a sherry like the Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla; there's enough acidity in this wine to keep the cheese's tang in control, and they both possess a complementary nutty element.


.However, the Jumilla's best match was an Idiazabal, made from sheep's milk in the Pyrenees. Traditionally this cheese was smoked; my sample represented a growing trend away from that treatment, allowing it's buttery and nutty flavors to stand on their own. Together with the cheese, the wine retained all its aromas of blackberry, plum, and slate, and its tannins once more addressed the fat of the cheese to clear the palate. The cheese seemed creamier and smoother in the company of this wine, and they both share an up-and-coming status. The Jumilla DO in Murcia, near Alicante, allows the use of Garnacha, Tempranillo, and Mourvedre (called Monastrell in Spain); it has long been an area of great potential, and the winemakers here have begun applying modern craft to creating more dynamic wines than they have in the past.

Customized Spain Trip Ideas: Spanish Wines and Cheeses Together

Cheese: Wines:
Tetilla Nora 2002 Albariño, Rias Baixas
San Simón Condes de Albarei 2002 Albariño, Rias
Valdeon Alvear 2000 Pedro Ximenez Añada
Finca Luzon 2001 Altos de Luzon, Jumilla
Idiazabal Finca Luzon 2001 Altos de Luzon, Jumilla
Monte Enebro Marques de Gelida NV Brut Cava
Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla
Garrotxa Naia 2002, Rueda
Torta de la Serena Condado de Haza 2001, Ribera del Duero
Blecua 2000, Somontano  - An earthier wine also does great things with this cheese; the 2000 Blecua from the Somontano DO is an international blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot together with Spanish natives Garnacha and Tempranillo. Earth, slate and forest floor aromas are layered with black fruits and a clear balsam note from oak-aging; it smooths the more aggressive aromas in the cheese and readies the palate for another bite.





Albariño, Spain’s signature white wine, is named for a grape grown in Galicia. It is to Spain what sauvignon blanc is to New Zealand and pinot grigio is to Italy, even more so in that almost nowhere else in the world is this grape grown. Almost exclusively bottled as a varietal (that is, with 100 percent albariño and no other grapes blended in), it is as unique as it is food-friendly. It unquestionably ranks as one of the world’s finest, albeit underappreciated, white wine varieties. It literally has no equal, although if asked to name one I would suggest New Zealand’s ripe yet racy sauvignon blanc. Or course albariño does not show the same herbal/grassy aromas and flavors, but in terms of being relatively light in body and displaying forward fruit as well as assertive, palate-cleansing acidity, New Zealand sauvignon blanc is probably albariño’s closest stylistic cousin

These qualities — light body, searing acidity, and intense minerality — make you think of bottling an ocean breeze. They allow albariño to pair brilliantly with a plate of seafood, shellfish, or, more specifically, paella. Spain’s take on a rice dish, paella is typically studded with scallops, mussels, shrimp, chorizo, and/or chicken. It is finished with sherry and traditionally served in enormous pans designed to serve a dozen or even more at a time. Personally, I wouldn’t dream of eating paella without some albariño on hand. In my mind it certainly ranks as one of the greatest and most natural of food-and-wine pairings around. Albariño will also pair well with any seafood rich in mineral or slate qualities (think oysters), though a lobster drenched in butter would be better served alongside your favorite chardonnay, be it Californian or French white Burgundy.

Albariño’s home is in Galicia, just north of Portugal, and clearly it enjoys its dominating maritime influence. Galicia is lush and verdant, the landscape more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. Given the grape’s undeniable success here, it’s hard to fathom why no one has tried to grow it elsewhere. I can’t recall having tried an albariño from any other country. While some experimentation with oak barrel fermentation has yielded modest success, it is the grape’s primary qualities that set it apart. For the most part, I don’t see how barrel fermentation (versus the normal stainless-steel tank) or any degree of aging can improve upon something that is so unique and so good as it is.

Albariño’s Portuguese genetic cousin, alvarinho, is used to make vinho verde. The latter cannot match the former’s exotic nature and in general pales, not only in color, but also in depth and intensity. Vinho verde on the whole is far more neutral in flavor despite its genetic similarity and geographic proximity to albariño.

There is also less variation vintage-to-vintage in the overall quality of albariños than there is with, for instance, wines from Burgundy or Bordeaux in France, where the whims of Mother Nature can wreak havoc on the grapes and resultant wines. Another consequence of this is price fluctuations, as demand for a “good vintage’s” wines inflate its cost to the consumer. Albariño’s prices remain consistent year to year. And its relative obscurity in this country also helps keep down the price tag. A few albariño producers to look for include Martin Codax, Pazo de Señorans, Burgans, and Fillaboa. Some friends and I recently enjoyed a bottle of this last one with tapas at Café Iberico on the near north side of Chicago.

Viura and Verdejo

Viura is the most important white grape of the Rioja area in north-central Spain. Rioja is an area far more renowned for its tempranillo-based reds than its whites; some people even think the Spanish word Rioja means red, but it is actually a contraction of “Rio Oja,” a tributary to the Ebro River that runs through the region. Viura makes a far more neutral wine than the aforementioned albariño, lacking the latter’s exotic aromas, flavors, and overall complexity. It has its place, however; if you consider the scorchingly high temperatures typical of the Iberian inland during the summer months, you can readily appreciate its uses. A lighter-bodied, lower-alcohol wine is much easier to drink in unbearable heat – a big, buttery, 14 percent alcohol chardonnay doesn’t quite quench the thirst as well.

I’ve heard some suggest that the full potential of viura has yet to be realized. While I’m not wholly convinced of this, I’d be thrilled to someday learn that there is more to this pleasant little white. Spain is still breaking out of the isolation that gripped the country during the long rule of Francisco Franco, who only passed away 30 years ago. The modernization of the country’s winemaking, investment in new equipment, and total commitment to cleanliness are relatively recent phenomena. For literally centuries, much of Spain “crafted” and drank an oxidized white of little character. So it’s not far-fetched to think there might be uncharted waters even for a grape they’ve grown for hundreds of years.

There has been some experimentation with oak barrel fermentation with mixed results. The Rioja bodega (winery) Conde de Valdemar offers a decent, well-made white, in addition to a stainless-steel tank fermented one. The unoaked white is a great warm-weather quaffer and pairs well with lighter (white) fish and perhaps a simple herb accent – nothing too heavy. An oaky one would seem more suited for scallops with garlic pan-fried in butter.

Verdejo is another indigenous Spanish grape not really cultivated elsewhere. It is grown in Rueda, northwest of Madrid and near the world-class red wine region of Ribera del Duero. Verdejo reminds me most of sauvignon blanc. In fact, sauvignon blanc is also grown in Rueda, and you can find varietal bottlings of both grapes as well as blends of the two together. Light in body and crisply refreshing (noticing a pattern yet?), verdejo can be called upon to quench your summer thirst and complement a salad or herb-seasoned fish or chicken dish.

Even more so than viura-based wines, you’ll rarely if ever encounter much oak influence with Verdejo. One benefit of this is the price – utilizing oak barrels for fermenting or aging wine inherently increases the price of the finished product. While viura and verdejo-based wines may not be the best white wines you’ll ever have, the flip side is that they won’t bleed your wallet dry either. Even $8-15 a pop will get you a good, genuine example of these wines, and that’s really not much to ask for something distinct, food-friendly, clean and easy. Really good albariños cost more along the lines of $13-20 a bottle, which is still relatively inexpensive. A high-quality chardonnay, be it from California or France, could easily cost twice that and more.

Other Spanish Whites

Some other Spanish whites that don’t fit into the above categories warrant mentioning. The Huguet family, longtime makers of the Spanish sparkling wine cava, make a “still” (nonsparkling) white called can feixes. It is blended mostly from grapes used for cava: xarello, parellada, and macabeo (the regional clone of viura), with a splash of chardonnay. Xarello has various “correct” spellings, so if you see any word close to this, it’s probably the same grape. This blend displays restrained flavors of lemon and unabashed minerality; this would serve as a good intro to Spanish whites for Pinot grigio fans. It’s available in Chicago, where I live; and I recently found it being poured at a small wine store in Leesburg, Virginia, when I was there for a wedding. The friendly and knowledgeable saleswoman and I agreed that it is definitely different, consistently good, and begging for a plate of oysters or shellfish.

Marqués de Cáceres, a Rioja winery, makes a white rioja called satinela. It is made mostly from late-harvest viura, with some malvasia filling out the blend. It is fairly sweet, hinting at apricots, white peaches, and even white flowers. Unlike some dessert wines, though, this finishes with good palate-cleansing acidity. The winery’s data sheet calls this “a very original wine in Rioja” and recommends having it with “foie gras, curry dishes, [and] sweet and sour dishes,” but I tend to think peach cobbler or poached pears. To offer both the forward fruit flavors and a crisp finish is no small feat in winemaking, especially considering its $10 price tag. In comparison, the world’s most esteemed dessert wines can cost $40 to $100 for a half bottle and much, much more.

Marqués de Alella, in the tiny area of Alella, makes a spritzy white called clasico that is another pleasant pairing with seafood. The area itself is near Barcelona and the Mediterranean so this is far from surprising. It is made from the local grape pansa blanca, which is their variety of the xarello grown nearby for the production of cava.

The winery Gramona makes a blend called gessami from muscat and sauvignon blanc that drinks like an Alsatian gewurztraminer. It is even sold in a tall, thin bottle like the wines from Alsace, France. It is fragrant, fruity, and even a tiny bit sweet. The muscat grape gives it an apricot/ripe peach quality, and the sauvignon blanc lends a floral note to it.

An important rule of thumb when buying Spanish white wines is that they are almost without exception meant to be drunk young. Stick with recent vintages, and if you can, hold up the bottle (if it’s clear glass) to any light: a young, acidic white wine should show a greenish tinge, and anything brownish should be shunned. If it doesn’t look fresh, it’s not likely to taste that way. This holds true for most less-expensive whites, not just Spanish white wines. I’ve heard some talk that albariño’s acidity is intense enough to merit some aging, but I’m unconvinced. I don’t understand why you would try. Exploit its intrinsic qualities: buy and drink them young, young, young. If five or 10 years from now we learn that they do age well, then all the better. For now I’ll stick with what I do know. On that note my thoughts are turning towards how to work some paella into my dinner plans sometime soon.

Sample Spain Customized itinerary travel tour plan:


 The MagicalSpain Advantage:  As Americans we respect that your hard-earned vacation time is valuable. This is why we believe that our exclusive Spain guided tours of insider experiences, rich insights and memories are worth it. The result...since 1998, we’ve helped thousands of upscale American travelers enjoy Spain with peace of mind. Yes quality & exclusive luxury travel cost more than mass market so MagicalSpain trips are not for everybody.

Bienvenidos a Madrid, Europeʼs most Festive Capital!

Your MagicalSpain personable expert bilingual guide & driver await as you arrive to Madridʼs Barajas airport and transfer to Hotel, ideally located near the 16th century old quarter including the Royal Palace, the Art Triangle, the scenic Retiro park and the Salamanca district, Madrid'd fashionista haven similar to the Upper East Side of NYC for some. Calle Goya and Calle Serrano two major upscale shopping streets in this most representative areas for bourgeois madrileños. Those arriving early can take the remainder of the afternoon to relax and adjust to European time zones.We will meet for dinner this evening at 8pm.


A  Perfect Madrid Day

After breakfast meet your private guide to go on a 3-hour orientation tour of Madrid to familiarize yourself with what is where and the surroundings of the hotel. Afterwards go shopping or pursue your own interests in the afternoon. For art lovers we suggest an visit to the Prado museum to see a world class collection of 16th century masters or for modern art including Piccasso's La Gurnika and works of Salvador Dalí the Reina Sofia museum is a short walk past the Prado. Both are better in the afternoon since many tour groups arrive at ten in morning. In the evening we will meet for cocktails before dinner at a typical Madrid restaurante near the hotel.

South to Córdoba, Spain

Leave Madrid early in the morning, taking the 419km (260-mile) train ride (AVE or TALGO) to Córdoba in the south, reached in 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Córdoba was once the capital of the Islamic nation in the West. Take 2 hours to visit its Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, the greatest Islamic masterpiece remaining in the Western world. Its stunning labyrinth of columns and red-and-white striped arches alone is worth the visit. With remaining time you can visit Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a stellar example of military architecture where Ferdinand and Isabella once governed.

After lunch, take one of the frequent trains running between Córdoba and Seville. The fastest train, the AVE, takes only 45 minutes to reach Seville, where you can spend the night

Rioja Spain Wine Country Excursion

Midmorning departure for a delicious day trip to to Spainʼs most famous wine region La Rioja including a unique experience....a visit to an underground wine cellar in a medieval hill town. Laguardia is perched on a hill overlooking the vineyards and craggy mountains of Rioja Alavesa. Surrounded by a 15th century defensive wall, inside shops with hundreds of local bottlings, a lively cafe scene, and a old world tradition. Hundreds of years ago tunnels were dug into the hillside, under the city's structures, to keep the inhabitants safe from harm during battles. Over time, these tunnels were converted into wine cellars and wineries. Later we visit a top winery for lunch before a late afternoon return to San Sebastian. We are happy to make reservations for a gourmet dinner or the tapas / pintxos scene a few blocks from your hotel is world class.

Bilbao to Mallorca: Europeʼs most diverse Mediterranean Island

Depart San Sebastian to transfer to the pretty river city of Bilbao, we suggest a walk around the charming center before lunch or a visit to the famous Guggenheim Museum that celebrity architect Frank Gehry created some 10 years ago leading to a revitalization and transformation of this area. There is a good restaurant at the museum which is on the river front just beyond a famous work of American artist Jeff Koontz. Relax on our late afternoon flight of 1.5h to the Med island of Mallorca! There one of the Mediterranean's loveliest hotels awaits you near the village of Deiá. We'll meet at 8pm (for drinks?) and Mediteranean dinner :>

Seaside San Sebastian: World Foodie Mecca

This morning it is time to say hasta lluego to Madrid and transfer north with a fun historic stop for lunch in a medieval style restaurant in the river city of Burgos which is surrounded by various wine regions like the Ribera del Duero. Then on to the seaside resort and foodie mecca of San Sebastian on the Bay of Biscay. In San Sebastian check into the classic 5* Hotel Maria Cristina, a renowned hotel and a favorite of Hollywood types during the famous fall film festival. After arrival there is time to relax until we enjoy a relaxing orientation stroll en route to a invitation-only dinner in a private menʼs cooking club.

Experience Savory San Sebastian

The day is on your own to enjoy the beauty of the San Sebastianʼs old town, harbour, La Concha beach, go shopping or pursue other interests. Some may enjoy taking a boat to a nearby harbour island, head to the beach front spa, climb up to the old hilltop fortress once used fighting Napoleon! Others may enjoy exploring the old town foodie scene full of small gourmet tapas taverns and restaurantes Later how about a digestif walk along pretty coastal walking paths. In the evening we meet for a dinner of Basque specialties a traditional Basque Cider houses. These are lively, rustic, hidden away farmhouses in the countryside where you will experience a very memorable evening of classic Basque dishes, mellow cider and plenty of local character.

Mediterranean Mallorca

Today enjoy the balance of the day at your leisure to persue your interest. Perhaps enjoy fabulous hotel terraces pool, spa, gym or head down to the Deiá to explore the harbour or grab a coffee or beer (or both :-) in this quaint village. Options for horseback or ballooning over the island's orange and olive groves, or hike or bike one of the many trails near the hotel. Meet your guide mid afternoon to explore ancient villages followed by a tasty dinner at a local family owned restorante with surprising local wines and olive oils.

Jose tried a another cheese pairing withwhat may be the two Spanish products most well-known in the U.S.: Rioja and Manchego. This wine still shows all the character of the tempranillo grape set among the aromas of extended aging: red fruits like cherries and dried cranberries floating over earth, smoke, and barnyard aromas.There was just enough tannin left in the wine to balance with the fat of the cheese, and the smoke of the wine blended well with the cheese's nutty touch. Manchego comes from La Mancha, the land of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; literature's classic pair meets its match on the Spanish table with wine and cheese pairings that ride together just as well. Meanwhile Manchego is a rich sheep's milk cheese with a mild nutty character and sometimes a pepperiness that increases with aging. In this case my semi-aged Manchego brought new life to the wine, filling out the fruitiness.

Mallorca 5 Star Hotel - Mallorca & Mediterranean Sea Excursion

After breakfast we transfer in deluxe coach to the port to meet Captain Jaume who will be in charge of our Mediterranean cruise along the coast of Mallorca. The many different aspects of Majorca with a coastline of 555km and more than 300 days of sunshine providethe best conditions for a perfect sailing trip. We'll see tiny coves and caves that just can only be reached by sea. Jagged cliffs and old Spanish watch towers, are places in which to take in breathtaking views of evocative beaches and perhaps swim crystal clear torquoise waters, enjoying the most beautiful anchoring places. On return weʼll meet at 8pm fora Mallorcan fusion dinner in the village.

Barcelona: Spainʼs Creative Capitol

Transfer to Palma de Mallorca airport for a short flight over the Mediterranean to Barcelona's Prat airport where a panoramic transfer tour awaits us en route to the classic 5* Palace Hotel located near the old town, the Plaza Catalunya and the Ramblas. Enjoy the balance of the afternoon at your leisure. In the evening we meet at 8pm for another fun dinner of local Catalan specialties.

Barcelona 5 Star Hotel

Barcelona Old Town Tour & Cooking

This morning is your to enjoy the hotel or designer shopping on the nearby Pasieg de Gracia, After lunch meet you guide as Roman & medieval spirits await us in the old town! Experience a fun private guided walking tour of old Barcelona, stroll through the Gothic quarter and Las Ramblas, parts of Jewish and Roman remains. Next we have arranged to meet our amigo a local chef and learn some insider cooking secrets. This exclusive 3 course Spanish cooking class welcomes participation....Enjoy 3 course meal with wine & recipes. You may want to repeat at home for a Spain dinner party perhaps!

Barcelona: Creative Architecture

The morning is at leisure for shopping or a market visit. After lunch meet our guided for an excursion to discover the one-of-a-kind architecture of Antoní Gaudi via deluxe coach and on foot. We ́ll see his most famous masterpieces: the unfinished master work La Sagrada Familia Church + designer Parque Güell which has fantastic vistas from the hills above the city and sea. From there we have prepared a special farewell to Spain meal in memorable restaurante with a selection of regional champagnes and wines.



Private Transfer to the airport for your homeward flight to USA  from to Barcelona Pratt airport Buen Viaje Amigos / Happy Travels!

What about that bullfight in Spain????? 

'Yes Hemingway gathered a lot of attention on Spain and her fierce bulls...... BUT nowdays most Spaniards follow futbol (soccer) and only about 1 in 3 said they are interested in bullfights. ----This compared with 60 percent who follow soccer, a poll by Gallup in 2004 found. It was more fashionable at the time, actors like John Wayne would go down to Mexico to watch bullfights," Feiner said. The latest U.S. production on the subject, "Blood and Sand" in 1989, which starred Sharon Stone, was a flop. Oscar-winner Brody will play the bullfighter and Cruz, who won critical acclaim in "Blow," will have the role of Sino. The film will be directed by Menno Meyjes, a Dutchman who co-wrote the screenplay of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "The Color Purple." No-one from Madrid-based production company Lola Films SA was available for comment. To combat this trend, a movie may help to demonstrate "the fear and excitement" of bullfights, said Puerto, who fought at more than 700 shows since 1991. "Manolete" may become the best-known movie about the tradition since "The Sun Also Rises", a 1957 film based on another Hemingway book, said Muriel Feiner, author of "Torero! Los Toros en El Cine," a 2005 book about bullfight movies. The film starred Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn and was popular in the U.S., Feiner said."

Eight-Inch Gash

"It's a powerful story," said the 60-year-old Miura, whose father bred the bull that killed Manolete. Famous for bravely waving his red cape with his back to the bull, 30-year-old Manolete died after a bull opened an eight- inch gash in his leg in a bullring in Linares, near Jaen.  Efforts to save him with a blood transfusion failed. His actress girlfriend Lupe Sino, who was disliked by some of his family and friends, was prevented from rushing to his side on concern the couple might try to marry. Manolete's bloodied cream-colored embroidered breeches, pink socks and petite brown leather shoes are on display in Madrid's bullfighting museum

Spain -- Outside Toledo's City Walls

Our walk, which will take about an hour and a quarter, begins along the left bank of the Tagus (Tajo) River. Along the way you can clearly see the characteristic earthy color of the buildings in Toledo's Historical Quarter. You will also appreciate the majesty of the old city walls that tell of medieval battles, monarchs and legends across the centuries.

Let's begin by crossing the river across the beautiful San Martín Bridge. From here, you can see San Juan de los Reyes Monastery, proudly reaching up to the sky. After crossing the bridge, turn left and go down the steps leading to the river. They will lead under an ancient arch to the mythical Baño de la Cava tower. Retracing our steps, we go back up the steps, turn left and walk uphill to admire the magnificent Puerta del Cambrón gateway, the impressive entrance to Toledo. Continuing in the same direction, with the city wall to the right, we walk along the tree-lined Paseo de Recadero and reach the Puerta de Alfonso VI gate, just after the Hostal del Cardenal. With its touch of Becquerian romanticism it is very inviting, but we will resist the temptation to enter and continue instead along the outside of the wall to reach the massive and imperial Puerta de Bisagra (Hinged Gate), which we will go through. As soon as we do so, we find ourselves in front of the Iglesia de Santiago el Mayor church.

 Around the Rio Tajo -Tagus.

If you would like to take a break from the busy narrow streets of the Historical Quarter, we recommend a visit around the Tagus River area, along the Carretera del Valle road. You can reach this by car via the Carretera de la Cornisa road. From this same road, there are lovely views along the banks of the Tagus, where you can see the remains of old windmills like those of Daicán.

The Carretera del Valle takes us to the Ermita de la Virgen del Valle (Shrine of the Virgin of the Valley), a place revered by Toledo citizens and visited on the first of May during the celebrations of the romería in her honor. Above the shrine, between the crags that mark the hillside, is a great rock known as the Piedra del Rey Moro (Stone of the Moorish King) because of its strange shape. A little lower down, on the left-hand side of the road, there is a little pathway leading to a small boat that serves as transportation across the river, due to a lack of bridges here. Down here is the Cerro del Bú (Bú Hill), the site of archaeological digs where you can see the remains of fortifications.

The Carretera del Valle descends towards the Valle de la Degollada, a spot you can access via a bridge built in the 1930s. Before reaching the Roman Puente de Alcántara (Alcántara Bridge), you can see the remains of the Acueducto Romano (Roman Aqueduct). At the end of the bridge is the Castillo de San Servando (San Servando Castle), and immediately after that the Academia de Infantería (Infantry Academy), built in the Cerros de San Blas. After the Puente de Alcántara, the Paseo de la Rosa begins. It is one of the most important entrances into Toledo. You can see the Fuente de Cabrahigos (Cabrahigos Fountain) opposite the Estación de Ferrocarril (Railway Station).

Opposite the church is the street, San Juan de Dios, once inhabited by rich Jewish families during the Middle Ages. About half-way along, on the left, is Samuel Leví street that leads to El Greco's House and Museum. Samuel Leví will also take you to the popular Paseo del Tránsito, one of the few parts of the Old Quarter with gardens. From here, you have pleasant views of the Tajo River and Toledo country houses. You will also find the Tránsito Synagogue in this street. On the right is Reyes Católicos street, the nerve center of the Jewish Quarter in ancient times. Continuing along Reyes Católicos you will come to the Santa María la Blanca Synagogue, and then San Juan de los Reyes square that contains a Monastery of the same name. Just before the Monastery, is Angel street, the main access between the Jewish Quarter and the rest of the city. This street leads to Santo Tomé street, and then to Plaza de El Salvador, Trinidad street, and Taller del Moro street, and finally back to our starting point, the Paseo de San Cristóbal.

Leaving the station, and taking the road back towards the city, you reach Palacio de Galiana (Galiana Palace). To finish off our tour, drive through the Puerta de Bisagra, and on foot cross the Puente de Alcántara and from there go on up to the Plaza de Zocodover (Zocodover Square), the city's nerve center.

The Jewish Quarter

Though it may be a bit of a cliché these days, the Jewish Quarter is an integral part of Toledo's Historical Quarter. The Jewish Quarter, which disappeared as such in 1492 as a result of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, is a window into the past. The Jewish people left their mark on Spain, and especially on this city.

Without a doubt, it is the eastern part of the Jewish Quarter that attracts most tourists. It starts in the Paseo de San Cristóbal boulevard, from where you can see unique buildings like the Tránsito Synagogue, El Greco's House and Museum, and other Mudejar-style buildings. Taking the Travesía de los Descalzos, you reach the Plaza del Conde where the Fuensalida Palace is located. Built by the first Fuensalida Count, Don Pedro López de Ayala, it is today the seat of the Regional Government. In the square you can also visit the Iglesia de Santo Tomé church, where one of El Greco's most famous paintings resides, El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz).

Leaving it to our right, we continue uphill along the road to the grandiose Puerta del Sol gateway. If we had felt like it, we could have taken some steps on the right-hand side of the road leading to the Puerta de Valmardón a few metres before this. But we will go to the Puerta del Sol, cross under it, and continue up the street. Reaching the Plaza de Zocodover, we pass under the Arco de la Sangre (Arch of Blood) to go down once more towards the river. Going down Cervantes Street we pass the beautiful Santa Cruz Museum. A little further down we turn and find ourselves by the Concepción Convent. Turning to the right, we go to the end of the square then turn left and go down some steps. A few meters more and there are some more steps to go down. They lead to the Puerta de Doce Caños gate that takes us back to past eras with Ommiad Caliphs and 11th century kingdoms. Going through it leads to the majestic Alcántara Bridge from where we can see the solid structure of San Servando Castle.

San Sebastián, Spain: Tour & Travel Guide info

Ongi etorri Donostiara! Welcome to San Sebastian, a city that blends perfectly the beauty of its landscape, its fantastic film festival, cultural offerings and varied cuisine. Come, explore and discover

Tour 1 — The Coast

A popular trip for donostiarras (residents of San Sebastián) is to follow the coast between the Peine de los Vientos (The Winds' Comb) and the district of Sagüés. It is a trip of about seven kilometers that lasts two or three hours, and takes in the sea, the beach and the magnificent buildings along the way. Look out for the sculptures of Chillida in the Peine de los Vientos, and you can decide about whether or not it is a comb. If you are lucky, you will be able to hear the sounds of the waves. Continue along the beach of Ondarreta, and go into Miramar Palace. You will understand why Queen María Cristina spent her summers here. Return to enjoy a walk along the beach, listening to the breaking waves. Observe the typical buildings that stand along the bay, including Miramar Palace, Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra, the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), Sagrado Corazón and Club Naútico (Harbour Club). If you are overcome by hunger, thirst, fatigue or the heat, take a seat on the terrace of La Perla, or in the Café Biarritz, and watch time go by. After resting a while, carry on along the attractive piers. The leisure pier is crammed with small motorboats and yachts, and the fishing pier has a dozen or so fishing boats. If you are in luck, you will see some of them unloading. At the end of the pier is the Aquarium. The Paseo Nuevo (New Promenade) offers an unadulterated view of the sea. Waves splash over the railings when it is rough. On your left is Mount Urgull, scene of historic Anglo-French battles. Continue along and you will find yourself opposite the outlet of the Urumea River, nestled between the Hotel María Cristina, the Teatro Victoria Eugenia and the Palacio Kursaal, designed by the renowned architect Rafael Moneo. Walk along Gros Beach to the Sagüés district. If you feel like continuing your walk along the beach, you can go as far as Mompás, jumping from rock to rock. You will see things that not many tourists see. You could also climb Mount Ulía and enjoy the view while drinking a bottle of cider.

Tour 2 — The Old Quarter (Parte Vieja)

What we now suggest is a gastronomic-cultural tour. The Parte Vieja (old quarter) of Donostia is a district of narrow, cobbled streets, containing the oldest buildings in the city. It is also the most important area for dining, drinking and entertainment. The old quarter is not very old; the great fire of 31 August, 1813, marked the beginning of the rebuilding of the city as it is today. Start your tour in the old quarter by heading towards the port on 31 De Agosto Street. Half way along you will see the side door of the Museo San Telmo, a former convent now converted into a museum with a Basque ethnographic section. At the end of this street is the imposing Iglesia de Santa María la Real. Go up the steps to Calle Mayor, looking towards the Buen Pastor Cathedral in the background. If you feel like a climb, behind the Iglesia de Santa María there is a path leading up to Mount Urgull. The path is cobbled, and the climb takes about 30 minutes. You have lovely views of Donostia from the top, and, fear not, there is a bar-café at the top!

From the Iglesia de Santa María la Real you can continue on up some steps to the port. You will pass by two gastronomical societies; only men are admitted, and by member invitation only. When you reach the port you will find yourself standing on a part of the city wall, and you will see the door leading from the wharves to the old quarter. It is where people go to lay bets in the Regatas de Traineras.

Are you hungry now? Go to Puerto Street where you will find pintxo bars (these are small morsels to accompany your drink; in the Basque Country people tend to say pintxo rather than tapa) on the way to plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square). Plaza de la Constitución is one of the prettiest parts of the city. The Biblioteca Municipal (City Library), the arches around the square and the many balconies and terraces make it a tranquil place. Crossing the square, you will go through some arches leading out onto several little streets that in turn lead into Mercado de la Bretxa (Bretxa Marketplace). Go and have a look at all the stalls with their great selection of tasty foods. Come out onto the Boulevard and take a look at the Kiosko de Música (Bandstand) in Belle Epoque style.

Going back into the old quarter it is pleasant to lose yourself in the streets and discover appealing pintxo bars, buildings such as Iglesia de San Vicente, Palacio Goika and plaza de la Trinidad (Trinidad Square), and the interesting tamborrilero (drummer) of Sarriegi.

Tour 3 — The Central City

This next tour is a cultural-shopping one. The central city is the area between the Parte Vieja (old quarter), the beginning of the District of Amara, the Urumea River and the La Concha Beach. It is known as the Cortázar development. Donostia was once a walled city and you can still see part of the City Walls. The expansion of the central city was the responsibility of Cortázar, who designed the center on a grid of streets. This is the best shopping area in the city. The architecture and street lamps remind some of Paris, and for this reason it is known as Área Romántica (Romantic Area).

Start your tour from the Boulevard and head towards plaza de Gipuzkoa (Gipuzkoa Square) along Churruca Street. Observe the architecture of the square with its arches, and the magnificent Council building. Here you will see the busts of famous Guipúzcoa personalities. Plaza de Gipuzkoa has a small pond with ducks and swans, which delights children. Continue from here towards Plaza de Okendo, located between the Hotel María Cristina and the Teatro Victoria Eugenia, underneath which stands the tourist office. By now you will have reached the river, and you will be asking yourself a very "donostiarra" question: What do I like better, the classical building of the Teatro Victoria Eugenia, or the modern Cubo de Moneo? Continue along the river towards Avenida de la Libertad. This is the financial heart of the city, containing many banks as well as old-established shops such as Derby. If you go past the Banco Guipuzcoano on the hour, you will hear the carillon (bells) of its clock strike. Go down Loyola Street, crammed with designer clothing shops. You can also have breakfast, or enjoy a quiet vermouth, on the terrace of Dover. Opposite here you can see Buen Pastor Cathedral surrounded by a garden. At the rear of this is Centro Cultural Koldo Mitxelena (Koldo Mitxelena Cultural Center). Go in and browse among the books, read the newspaper or visit the art gallery. Now head towards the north train station, designed by Eiffel, through plaza de Bilbao (Bilbao Square), then walk to the Cubos de Moneo (the official name is Palacio Kursaal) along Paseo de Francia, observing the architecture of the buildings and bridges along the way

A Basic Itinerary for visiting Spain

There is no way you can see Spain in 1 week. But you can have a memorable vacation time in Madrid and see some of the highlights of Old Castile if you budget your time carefully. You can use the following itinerary to make the most out of a week in Spain, but feel free to drop a place or two to give yourself a day to relax. One week provides enough time, although barely, to introduce yourself to such attractions of Madrid as the Prado Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. After 2 days, you can head for the once-royal city of Toledo, the most historic and evocative of all Spanish cities. You'll have time to take in Segovia with its Alcázar "in the sky" and the austere monastery-fortress of El Escorial, burial place of Spanish kings.

Historical Background: San Sebastián, Spain

Before you get confused, it is a good idea to explain that Donostia is Basque for San Sebastian. Euskara (Basque) is a language whose origins are unknown. It is spoken by 35% of donostiarras (San Sebastian's residents), and is one of the two official languages of Euskadi (the Basque Country). The other is castellano (Castilian Spanish). For this reason, nearly all posted and road signs in the Basque Country are in both languages.

Although the Basque language is ancient, Donostia is less so. Sancho el Mayor (called Sancho el Fuerte—Sancho the Strong) founded the city of San Sebastian around 1180 in what is today the Parte Vieja (historical quarter). The city's unique geographical situation, an isthmus joining the city center with Monte Urgull, the bahía de la Concha and the outlet of the Río Urumea (Urumea River), made it ideal as a military stronghold with a port. The city is surrounded by a wall for this very reason. The city has seen several wars, and experienced many sieges during the 15th and 16th centuries. One of the most notable wars took place in the 18th century between the English and the French. From 1719 to 1721, San Sebastian was occupied by the French, who finally withdrew after the signing of the Paz de la Haya (The Hague peace treaty).

From that time until 1808, Donostia enjoyed relative peace until the occupation by Napoleonic troops. August 31st, 1813, was a key date. With the French occupying the walled city, Anglo-Portuguese troops with their intense barrage against the city caused a huge explosion and a great fire to sweep through it, reducing it to ashes. The citizens took refuge in Zubieta and made the decision to rebuild the city, complete with its walls. The population at this time was around 2,500.

In the 19th century the city was again the scene of war, this time the Carlist wars. Even as these bellicose activities were occurring, the city prospered. In 1863 Donostia was named permanent capital of the province of Gipuzkoa. This brought about a change in the city's role, and was the cause of the walls eventually being demolished. Controversy, ever present in this area, centered around the questions of whether to demolish the walls, or construct a broad main road linking the historical quarter and the new city center. New development began with the Ensanche Cortázar, demolishing the walls and extending the city towards the centre and Gros district.

Towards the end of the 19th century, with the royal court of Madrid taking up summer residence in Donostia at the Palacio de Miramar (Miramar Palace), the city became a popular tourist destination and spa resort. A casino was built in 1887 in what is now the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), attracting Europes upper classes. The city reached its peak during the First World War, known as the Belle Époque. While the rest of Europe was at war, Donostia became the most cosmopolitan city in Europe. Examples of the splendor of the era are the Ayuntamiento (City Hall) and the Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra.

The Belle Époque came to an end with the arrival of the dictatorship of the Spanish general Primero de Rivera who outlawed gambling. The Spanish Civil War, intense in the Basque Country, nevertheless did not cause great damage to Donostia. In an attempt to stress the Spanishness of the city, General Franco spent every summer in Donostia in the Palacio de Aiete (Aiete Palace) until his death. During this time, nationalist feelings grew in Basque society.

The arrival of democracy in Spain radically changed society. The transition from dictatorship to democracy, and the first years of democracy, were intensely felt in Donostia. Even today you feel the impact of political conflict on everyday life. Nevertheless, Donostia is generally a peaceful city.

The physical nature of the city has changed from the days when it was a walled military stronghold. The Ensanche extended the city towards the center, and reclaimed land from the sea (districts of Gros and El Antiguo) and the river (Amara). In recent years, the city has further expanded in the Antiguo, Intxaurrondo and Aiete districts. There are no exceedingly old buildings because of sacking and fires that the city has suffered through the ages. Nowadays the population is around 180,000.

Arrival to Barajas airport in Madrid, Spain

Take a flight that arrives in Madrid as early as possible. Our driver awaits you as you arrive to your hotel. He will can invite you to the nearest cafe for a pick-me-up café au lait and croissant before sightseeing or if you have requested early check in then rooms are availible to take a break. We suggest to begin your tour at the Madrid old town at the Plaza Mayor or the Museo del Prado, allowing at least 2 hours for a brief visit. Since you can't see it all, concentrate on the splendid array of works by Velázquez and take in some of the works of Francisco de Goya, including his Clothed Maja and Naked Maja.

Break for lunch in and around Plaza de Santa Ana, known for its outdoor terrazas. This was the center of an old neighborhood for literati, attracting such Golden Age authors as Lope de Vega and Cervantes. Hemingway drank here in the 1920s.

After lunch, walk west to Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid. This is the Times Square of Madrid. Northwest of the square you can visit Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid's art-filled convent from the mid-16th century and a true treasure trove.

After perhaps a siesta at your hotel, head for Plaza Mayor, Madrid's most beautiful square and liveliest hub in the early evening. For dinner, patronize Hemingway's favorite restaurant, Sobrino de Botín.

Madrid, Spain

visit to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, whose main attraction is Picasso's masterpiece, Guernica. Once here, you can also view one of the greatest collections of modern art in Spain, taking at least 2 hours. In the afternoon, view Madrid's third great art museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, absorbing its many treasures. A visit will easily absorb at least 2 hours of your time.

In the early evening, join in that ritual of tasca hopping, going from one bar or tavern to another and sampling hot and cold tapas or small plates of Spanish appetizers, ranging from fresh anchovies to the tail of a bull. You can discover plenty on your own, virtually on every street corner. After all that food and drink, you'll hardly need to order dinner. Stagger back to your hotel or else attend a flamenco show. Refer to "Madrid After Dark" for the best flamenco showcases.

Day Trip to Toledo, Spain

Having survived 2 days in the capital of Spain, bid adios and take a RENFE train to Toledo. These depart frequently from Madrid's Chamartín station (trip time: 1 1/2 hr.).

Much of Spain's history took place behind Toledo's old walls. There is so much to see here that you need 2 days, but on a hurried visit you can visit the fortified palace, the Alcázar, with its Army Museum; and the crowning glory of the city, the Catedral de Toledo. The masterpiece of El Greco, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, rests in Iglesia de Santo Tomé. If time remains, see Casa y Museo de El Greco, or the House and Museum of El Greco, although the artist didn't actually live here. Toledo is known for its damascene work, so you may want to return to Madrid by train that night with a souvenir.

Side Trip to Segovia, Spain

While still based in Madrid, begin Day 4 by taking an excursion to Segovia, leaving from Madrid's Chamartín station and arriving 2 hours later. The thrill of visiting the most spectacularly sited city in Spain is to view its Alcázar, rising starkly above the plain like a fairy-tale castle created by Disney. You can also view the Cabildo Catedral de Segovia and the town's architectural marvel, Acueducto Romano. After lunch in Segovia, head 11km (7 miles) southeast to view the Palacio Real de La Granja, the summer palace of the Bourbon kings. Return to Segovia and take the train back to Madrid.

Side Trip to El Escorial, Spain

Vying with Toledo as the most popular day trip from Madrid, the half monastery/half royal mausoleum of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is reached from Madrid's Atocha station in about an hour. Felipe II constructed this mammoth complex for "God and myself," with its splendid library, palaces, and some of the world's greatest art.

You can spend a full day here, breaking only for lunch, as you wander the art galleries and state apartments, including the throne room.

If you have time, make a side trip to El Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), a moving and evocative monument dedicated to the caídos or "fallen" who died in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Return to Madrid in the evening.

Seville, Capital of Andalusia, Spain

For a more extensive tour of Andalusia, refer to "Andalusia in 1 Week" . The next morning, get set to experience the glories of Seville. We like to acclimate ourselves by wandering the narrow streets of Barrio de Santa Cruz, the most evocative district, with its medieval streets, pocket-sized plazas, and flower-filled wrought-iron balconies or tiled courtyards.

After that, head for the Catedral de Sevilla and Giralda Tower. The cathedral is the largest Gothic building in the world and the third largest church in Europe. After spending 1 1/2 hours here, climb La Giralda, an adjacent Moorish tower erected by Islamic architects in the 12th century.

After lunch, head for the Alcázar, the other great architectural monument of Seville, which lies north of the cathedral. This is the oldest royal residence in Europe still in use, dating from the 14th century. Allow 1 1/2 hours for a hurried visit. With time remaining, visit Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, a converted convent housing some of Andalusia's greatest artwork, including masterpieces by El Greco and Murillo. A standard visit takes 1 1/2 hours.

As the afternoon fades, go for a stroll through Parque María Luisa, which runs south along the Guandalquivir River. In summer you can rent a boat and go for a refreshing sail. After dinner in the old town, head for a flamenco show if you still have energy.

The next morning you can take a fast train back to Madrid for your flight home, saving the further wonders of Andalusia for another day.

Spain Custom Family Travel & Tours : A Basic Itinerary That Can Be Customized To Include Your Interests!

Spain offers many attractions that kids will enjoy. Perhaps your main concern about bringing children along is pacing yourself with museum time. After all, would you really want to go to Madrid and miss the Prado? We suggest that you explore Madrid for 2 days with the brood in tow, then spend a day wandering through the old city of Toledo, which kids may think was created by Disney. After that, fly from Madrid to Barcelona for 2 days in a city filled with amusements for kids. Finally, fly from Barcelona to Seville for your final 2 days in Andalusia. In Seville, you can link up with either a flight or a fast train back to Madrid.

Day 1 : Madrid, Spain

Arrive early in Madrid to get a running start. Museo del Prado opens at 9am, but you can get an early jump on sightseeing by heading for the adjoining Parque de Retiro (Metro: Retiro). With its fountains and statues, plus a large lake, this is a virtual amusement park for kids. Although your child may not be a museum buff, there are many works in the Prado that will sometimes fascinate kids long after their parents' attention has strayed -- take The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch as an example. After 2 hours spent traipsing through the Prado, head for Parque de Atracciones in the Casa de Campo for Disney-like fun, including a carousel, pony rides, and even an adventure into "outer space." There are places for lunch here. In the afternoon, take in the Zoo Aquarium de la Casa de Campo, with its tropical auditorium and some 3,000 animals on parade. Finally, a thrilling ride on the Teleférico is a fit ending for a busy day.

Day 2: Madrid, Spain

We will escort your family to Palacio Real (Royal Palace), with its 2,000 rooms. Your kids may have never seen a royal palace before, and this one is of particular interest, with its changing-of-the-guard ceremony, its gardens, and its collection of weaponry and armor. Allow 2 hours for a visit. If you arrived by 9 or 9:30am, you'll still have time to see Museo de Cera de Madrid, the wax museum. You can easily spend an hour here and may have to drag your kids away for lunch.

For your midday meal, head for one of the restaurants at Plaza Mayor or on one of the side streets branching from this landmark square. This is the heart of Old Madrid, and you can easily spend 2 or 3 hours wandering its ancient streets. Sobrino de Botín is our favorite place to dine in the area. It was also beloved by Ernest Hemingway, who featured it in the final pages of his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

To cap your experience, head for Warner Brothers Movie World (tel. 91-821-12-34,, a Hollywood theme park. It's not very Spanish but is fun for all ages. You'll find it 22km (14 miles) outside Madrid on A-4 in San Martín de la Vega. You can reach it by bus no. 416, which leaves from Madrid's Estación Sur de Autobuses. Movie World charges 32€ ($42) for ages 12 to 59; 24€ ($31) for ages 5 to 11 or 60 and over. Children under 5 are admitted free. There are all sorts of restaurants here (the best pizza is at Valentino's), plus a vast array of amusements ranging from a Tom & Jerry roller-coaster ride to a Río Bravo La Aventura.

Day 3: Day Trip to Toledo, Spain

Departing from Madrid's Charmartín station (trip time: 1 1/2 hr.), a RENFE train heads south to the monumental city of Toledo, ancient capital of Spain. A tour of Toledo is like taking your kid into a living-history book.

Head first for the Catedral de Toledo, one of the world's greatest Gothic structures and a jaw-dropping piece of architecture that will enthrall even the children.

After a visit, wander around the historic old town, with its narrow, twisting streets. It's a maze that's fun to get lost in. Eventually you reach Plaza Zocodover, the heart of the old town.

To avoid claustrophobia after all those labyrinthine streets, walk out of the ghetto through the San Martín sector and over to Puente San Martín, a bridge dating from 1203. As you and your brood cross the bridge, take a look back at Toledo rising on a hill before you, evoking an El Greco painting.

Now head back into the maze of Toledo for a final assault on the old city, famous for its bakeries selling marzipan, a delicacy exported all over the world. Our favorite stop, Pastelerías Santo Tomé, Calle Santo Tomé 5 (tel.92-522-37-63), was founded in 1856. Buy your child -- and yourself -- some of this sweet almond paste, but only if you've skipped dessert at lunch.

In the afternoon, visit Casa y Museo de El Greco, which should last 30 minutes. Then go on a walking tour of the military fortress, the Alcázar, inspecting all the military weaponry. Allow a final hour for this tour before taking one of the frequent trains back to Madrid.

Days 4 & 5: Barcelona, Capital of Catalonia, Spain

On Day 4, transfer to Barcelona in the east, either by train or plane. If you arrive early, you can take a 2-hour stroll through the history-rich Barri Gòtic or Gothic Quarter. Children love to wander through this maze of narrow, cobbled streets, some dark and spooky like those in a horror movie. Drop in to visit the Catedral de Barcelona. Take your kids on the elevator leading to the roof for one of the most panoramic views of the old city. If it's noon on a Sunday, the whole family can delight in the sardana, the most typical of Catalonian folk dances, performed in front of the church.

Southeast of the Barri Gòtic lies the second most colorful district of Barcelona, La Ribera, home to Museu Picasso. Allow at least an hour for a visit and don't worry about boring the kids. Children always seem fascinated by the works of this controversial artist, even when they exclaim, "Mom, I can paint better than that."

At one of the delis in La Ribera, secure the makings of a picnic lunch and head directly southeast to Parc de la Ciutadella. Here the whole family can enjoy the lakes, promenades, flower gardens, and wacky Cascada fountains. The highlight is Parc Zoològic, the top zoo in Spain, spread over 13 hectares (32 acres), with some 7,500 animals, many of which are endangered.

After leaving the park, head west along the port of Barcelona, where you'll find the liveliest and most beautiful walk along Moll de la Fusta. This leads to the Plaça Portal de la Pau at the foot of Las Ramblas (the main street of Barcelona). At the Mirador de Colón, a monument to Columbus, take the elevator to the top for the most panoramic view of Barcelona's harbor.

Next, head north along Las Ramblas. This pedestrian-only strip extends north to Plaça Catalunya. A stroll along this bustling avenue with its flower vendors is the highlight of a visit to Barcelona. Kids scream in delight as a man in an ostrich suit jumps out to frighten them. You can pay a visit to the Museu de Cera or wax museum, Las Ramblas 4 (tel.93-317-26-49), with some 300 wax figures ranging from Chewbacca from Star Wars to historical personages. It is open July to September daily 10am to 8pm; October to June Monday to Friday 10am to 2:30pm and 4 to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 2:30pm and 4:30 to 9pm. Admission is 6.70€ ($8.70), 3.80€ ($4.95) for ages 5 to 11 and seniors.

To cap a very busy day, visit the mountain park of Montjuïc, with its fountains, outdoor restaurants, gardens, and amusements, including an illuminated fountain display. Kids enjoy wandering through the 1929 Poble Espanyol, a re-created Spanish village. There are plenty of places to dine -- many quite affordable -- in this sprawling park south of Barcelona.


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  As custom Spain tours experts since 1998, smart travelers enjoy our fun foodie, and active Spain trips. Saving time & worry, we help you experience the best of Spain with custom trips or guided small group Andalucia tours + top guides, walks, food, wine & fun.

On our private tours, get privileged access to our ”insider-only” Spanish cultural experiences. Personalized Spain itineraries + 24/7 service in clear English await. Next ?... browse our site & Spain travel videos, or Contact Us to get your Spain Top 20 Travel Guide or consult, free today.

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 Spain touring  - Day 5, visit La Sagrada Família

The uncompleted masterpiece of the incomparable Gaudí. Take your brood up 400 steep stone steps to the towers and upper galleries (or else go up in the elevator) for a majestic view.

Still in a Gaudí frame of mind, head northwest to Parc Güell, which has been likened to a surrealist Disneyland. Children take delight in the architecture, including two Hansel and Gretel-style gatehouses on Carrer d'Olot. Pathways split through the park, which still has much woodland ideal for a picnic.

After lunch, pay a visit to L'Aquarium de Barcelona, the largest aquarium in Europe, with 21 glass tanks, each depicting a different marine habitat. Take your kids through the 75m (246-ft.) glass tunnel filled with sharks, stingrays, and other denizens of the deep.

Cap the day by heading for the Parc d'Atraccions, a vast fun fair. The park atop Tibidabo mountain is reached by funicular. First opened in 1908, the park has since modernized the rides. Automated toys are just some of the amusements at the on-site Museu d'Automates.

Spain Touring - days 6 & 7: Seville, Capital of Andalusia,

To save precious time, we recommend that you fly from Barcelona to Seville on Iberia. A train would take 11 to 12 hours to reach Seville.

After checking into a hotel for 2 nights, head for the Alcázar for a 2-hour visit. This is one of the oldest royal residences in Europe. Kids delight in its construction and layout, which range from a Dolls' patio to Moorish gardens with lush terraces and fountains.

Emerge in time for lunch in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the former Jewish ghetto from the Middle Ages. The most colorful place for a walk in Seville, it is filled with tiny squares, whitewashed houses, and flower-filled patios as you explore a maze of narrow alleyways. There are many taverns in the area serving lunch. The center of the old ghetto is Plaza de Santa Cruz. South of the square are the Murillo Gardens, where you can go for a stroll after eating.

Before the afternoon fades, head for Catedral de Sevilla, the largest Gothic building in the world and the third-largest church in Europe. Allow an hour for the cathedral, followed by a climb up La Giralda, the ancient Moorish tower adjacent to the cathedral.

For Day 7, your final look at Seville, head for Parque María Luisa in the morning. Pavilions constructed for the Spanish American Exhibition of 1929 still stand here. You can spend at least 2 pleasure-filled hours in the park, going on boat rides along the Guadalquivir River and walking along flower-bordered paths. If you can afford it, treat your brood to a horse-and-buggy ride.

Afterwards, head for the landmark square, Plaza de América, where you can stroll through rose gardens past water ponds and splashing fountains. Take time out to visit the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares, a kid-pleaser with all sorts of weaponry, folklore costumes, horse saddles, and musical instruments.

For lunch, head for Bar Giralda, Mateos Gago 1, Barrio de Santa Cruz (tel.95-422-74-35), a tavern converted from an old Muslim bathhouse across from Giralda Tower. Try to get an outdoor seat on the terrace, with its panoramic view of the cathedral. Since 1934 it's been serving that kiddie favorite: patatas a la importancia (fried potatoes stuffed with ham and cheese). Grownups like them, too.

After lunch, take a bus to Itálica, 9km (5 1/2 miles) northwest of Seville. These ruins represent what was once a Roman city founded in 206 B.C. The infamous emperors, Trajan and Hardian, were both born here. The chief ruin is an elliptically shaped amphitheater that once held 25,000 spectators. Spend at least 1 1/2 hours wandering through this city from yesterday.

Return to Seville in time for a summer night's visit to La Cartuja (open until midnight). Now converted into Isla Mágica (Magic Island), it was the site of the 1992 World Expo. Turned into a theme park, it offers rides and shows such as El Dorado or Amazon, Gateway to the Americas. Its motion-picture theater

The Phoenicians

In the year 800 BC, Phoenician merchants settled in the valley of the Guadalquivir River, in a city that may have been Seville: the city's name, Tartessus, was given to the river and a kingdom. Biblical quotations and Greek historians confirm the existence of treasures such as that of El Carambolo. The Tartessians must have lived on the cornice of the Aljarafe, and their descendants established a city called Hispalis, or present-day Seville. In 206 BC the Second Punic War began, and Scipio reached these lands, defeated Asdrúbal and established the city of Itálica, the birthplace of the Roman emperors Hadrian and Trajan.

The Romans: Hispalis

Italica fell in favour of Hispalis (Roman Seville). The city experienced a period of expansion and growth. A walled acropolis with several access doors was built, though nowadays all that remain are the Arco de la Macarena (Macarena Arch) and the Postigo del Aceite (Oil Gate).

Hispalis later moved between Cesar and Pompeyo who engaged in the battle of Munda in 43 BC (between Osuna and Estepa) in which Osuna emerged victor. After this, Hispalis became a Roman colony with the right of Roman citizenship. Vestiges of Roman civilisation remain in the city's Museo Arqueológico (Archaeological Museum).

Hispalis was the true political, economic and administrative centre of the southern Iberian Peninsula. In the 4th century Christianity was legalised, and in the 5th and 6th centuries the Suevo and Visigothic invasions occurred.

Muslim Seville: Isibilya

The arrival of the Muslims in 711 caused a radical transformation in the whole Peninsula, though especially in the south which they inhabited longest. Isbilia (the Arabic name for Seville) blossomed with its Arabic-Andalusian culture mix. Jews, Christians, Mozarabs (Christians living under Arab rule) and various Arab ethnic groups lived together in harmony. Isbilia was an important city, although Cordoba's status as capital of Andalusia rankled her citizens and caused several uprisings against Cordoba. Seville flourished culturally under the rule of al-Mutadid (11th century). In 1085 al-Mutadid was forced to call on the aid of the Almoravids and was subsequently exiled. Once again Seville bloomed culturally under the Almoravids and their successors the Almohads. The 12th century saw a flourishing economy, population growth, and extensive building projects. The Giralda, the minaret of the mosque, is a splendid example.

The Reconquest

In 1248, Ferdinand III reconquered Isbilia and expelled the Muslims, and the city was renamed Seville. It was repopulated by Christians, and a significant Jewish quarter emerged. The Alcázar became the residence of the Christian monarchs. Seville blossomed, especially under Alfonso X the Wise, son of Ferdinand III, and Pedro I The Cruel.

You can see the Arabic influence in the religious buildings of the era, for example in churches such as
Santa Marina, Iglesia de San Marcos o la torre de la iglesia de (or the tower of the church of) Iglesia de Santa Catalina.

Gateway to America

In the 15th century under the Catholic monarchs Seville became great, despite events such as the establishment of the Inquisition. The city became the gateway to the New World with its discovery by Christopher Columbus.

The 18th And 19th Centuries

Seville's brilliance declined in the 18th century, though she retained memories of having been the most important city in Spain. The Napoleonic invasion occurred in the 19th century (1808-1812), and part of Seville's artistic wealth was transported to France. After the departure of the French, Seville became immersed in the ups and downs of political life that were a feature of Spain for most of the century. At the end of the century of Romanticism, the renowned Spanish Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer emerged. He is commemorated in a beautiful monument in the Parque de María Luisa.

Republic and Spanish Civil War

The Iberoamerican Exposition of 1929 in Seville was the first significant event in the 20th century that began a new renaissance. Witness to this event are beautiful monuments such as Plaza de España.

Later came the brief period of the Second Republic (the first was in the 1870s), and the Franco regime. Queipo de Llano took La Plaza de Sevilla the day after the uprising of 18 July 1936, and the city scarcely felt the effects of the war, unlike many other parts of Spain, such as Barcelona and Madrid. The nation-wide famine of the 1940s hit the country hard. In the 1950s and 1960s, during the dictatorship, the country began to recover somewhat.

Spain and the Transition to Democracy

With the arrival of democracy at the end of the 1970s, and the establishment of the Statute of Autonomies, Seville became the provincial capital and headquarters of its principal autonomous bodies. It retains the status of one of the most important capitals of Spain, and among its most beautiful. The staging of the International Exposition of 1992 in Seville endowed the city with an impressive infrastructure, including communications, accommodation and restaurants, ensuring many prospects for progress throughout the 21st century. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art) now administers some of the Expo pavilions.

Spain is Don Quixote country—visitors passing through La Mancha between Granada and Madrid may indeed find, as they gaze at the row of windmills near the town of Consuegra, that the windmills do resemble giants. Related Destination Guides

Visitors to Spain are likely to have their idealized fantasies of the country become realities. Almost all of Spain's villages and towns host fiestas, which visitors can easily locate and join spontaneously. Walks through cities in Spain may take travelers by medieval Arab fortresses or to bars for wine and tapas. Or visitors might discover a guitarist practicing in a park. Young lovers can be seen embracing in Spain's ancient streets, and visitors can see flamenco dancers moving with a rehearsed yet passionate fury. Spain is pleasingly down-to-earth yet fascinatingly theatrical all at once. Spain is Europe's second most mountainous country (only Switzerland has a higher terrain), and the climate varies dramatically according to altitude as well as latitude. In the province of Granada, it is possible to ski in the mountains and lounge on a beach, both in the same day. True alpine conditions prevail in many of Spain's mountains, from the Pyrenees along the border with France to the Sierra Nevada above Granada in the south, and the central two-fifths of the country is primarily high plains crossed by mountain ranges and rivers. Besides the mainland peninsula, Spanish possessions include the Mediterranean Balearic Islands, the Canary Archipelago (in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa) and the Moroccan coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Mainland Spain can be divided into three climatic zones: the Oceanic in the north (the rainiest and greenest part along the Bay of Biscay); the Mediterranean Zone (sunny and semiarid); and central Spain (hot in summer, cold in winter, relatively dry). Spain is also divided into distinctive, politically autonomous regions, each with its own culture and history, and several with their own languages (including Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque region). Hot, arid Andalusia, to the south, is the home of flamenco, bullfighting and spectacular Moorish architecture Spain's history was shaped by many forces—the Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Germanic tribes (Visigoths, Vandals) all had a strong hand in influencing the people of the Iberian Peninsula, of which Spain is a part. Perhaps the greatest artistic and intellectual ferment in Spain, though, was under the Islamic conquerors, the Moors (Arabs and Berbers), who ruled parts of the peninsula from 711 to 1492. This period of history in al-Andalus was characterized by a diffusion of culture among Jews, Christians and Muslims, and Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Periods of peace and cooperation were interspersed with spells of fierce fighting. Universities, unique architecture and an age of religious toleration were all fostered by many of the Islamic rulers, most notably those of the Caliphate of Cordoba in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. After a protracted struggle with Christian forces, the Moors were finally defeated in 1492. That same year, all Jews were expelled from Spain, and Columbus crossed the Atlantic under the Spanish flag to reveal the New World to Europe.

The next century saw the apogee of Spain's power and influence throughout the world: Theirs was the first worldwide empire. In addition to their adventures far afield, Spanish kings controlled all or parts of what are now Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy and France. By the early 1600s, most Muslims had been forced to convert or were expelled from the peninsula. Imperial ambitions brought on imperial excess, however, and adventurism finally sapped the strength of Spain. The country went into a decline that saw it lose nearly all of its colonial possessions by the late 1800s.

In the early part of the 20th century, Spain was in turmoil as its traditional culture and economy clashed w
ith modern political and social forces. The breaking point was reached in 1936 with the first shots of the horrific Spanish Civil War. Fascist dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, with the help of Hitler and Mussolini, emerged victorious from the civil war and ruled until his death in 1975. He left Spain in the care of King Juan Carlos I, who helped transform Spain into a modern democracy. With its new freedoms, the country enjoyed a cultural renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s, and joined the European Union in 1986. The country held the world's attention in 1992 as host of the Summer Olympics (in Barcelona) and Expo '92 (in Seville). In the new millennium, Spain continues to integrate itself into the EU.

Spain's main attractions are historical sites, lively cities, some of the finest art in the world, castles, cathedrals, the Alhambra, shopping, the White Villages, cultural events, beaches, museums, caves, hiking, watersports and great food. Anyone who likes to travel will enjoy Spain. From its art museums and its tapas bars to its beaches, Spain's appeal is so broad that it's truly a country with something for everyon Menorca's port city of Mahon was the birthplace of mayonnaise.

At 2,133 ft/650 m, Madrid is the highest capital city in Europe. It became the capital in 1561 when Philip II moved his court from Toledo to be closer to his beloved palace, El Escorial. Point Tarifa is the southernmost spot in Europe. It is considered the best spot in Europe for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Morocco is only 8 mi/13 km from Spain's southern shore across the Strait of Gibraltar. There are ferries and excursions from Algeciras and Tarifa. Spain has the second-highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after Italy.

The Torre de Hercules in La Coruna on the Galician coast is claimed as the oldest lighthouse in the world, dating to 20 BC.
Christopher Columbus brought the first cocoa beans to Spain on his return from his last voyage to the Caribbean in 1502. The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes drank a bitter chocolate drink with Aztecs in 1519. He added cane sugar and spices to make it more palatable. Back home, the Spanish served it piping hot and created the world's first hot chocolate.

Spain news: Toledo, Spain Guided Private Tours

Spain Travel Trip Guide: Spain History Tour Travel Guide Info

A great place to experience real Spain among the historic small cities is Toledo, city of three cultures, where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together for centuries. Come visit this magic city, the country's capital during the prime of the Spanish Empire and now world famous for its damascene and metalwork.

Toledo Historical Background

Toledo, declared Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, has a long and prodigious history. It was a fortified urban zone even in the era of the Iberians, before the arrival of the Romans who conquered it in the year 192 BCE. Later, the Barbarians would invade the by-now decadent empire. Among these were the Alanis and the Visigoths. In the year 411, the Alanis captured the town, but their victory was short-lived; seven years later the Visigoths would conquer Toledo. By the 7th century, the Visigoths completely dominated the Peninsula, making Toledo the capital of Spain. This situation lasted for 124 years, until the arrival of the Moors in 711.

During the first three-and-a-half centuries of Moslem rule in Al Andalus, Islam dominated Toledo, called 'Tolati-Tola' by the Moors. This period saw the three major religious communities - Moslems, 'Mozarabes' (Christians living under Moslem rule in medieval Spain) and a significant Hebrew minority - all living peaceably together.

In 1035, Alfonso VI of Castilla captured the city and made it his capital. The Jewish community continued to have a significant presence, and became one of the most flourishing in the world. The heritage they left includes two ancient synagogues in the Jewish quarter. Along with the Jews and the Christians were the Mudejars, the Muslims living under Christian rule. They gave birth to a unique artistic style, the Mudejar, a synthesis of Christian and Muslim aesthetics and possibly the most characteristic of Spanish artistic trends that survived well after the Muslim presence quit the Iberian Peninsula.

Toledo in the 13th century saw a tremendous cultural revival under King Alfonso X El Sabio (The Wise), and the School of Translators was established. The sages working there translated works from Arabic or Hebrew into Latin. They thus brought to Europe the knowledge of the erudite Muslims, far superior to Christian learning of the time. But even more importantly, these translations were the means through which Europe rediscovered classical learning, as the works of all the great Greek philosophers and other learned men had first been translated into Arabic.

Despite the fact that later Monarchs had itinerant courts and no longer established them in Toledo, the city retained its significance until the end of the Christian "Reconquest" of Spain in 1492. It was then that the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Jews from their kingdoms. The expulsion of the Jews, and with them their cultural and socio-economic importance, had a serious impact on the city.

In the 16th century, when the Spanish Empire was in full bloom, Carlos I of Spain and V of Austria settled his court in Toledo. Unfortunately, the Empire itself led to the decline of Toledo. The city was too small for administering the Empire's vast resources, and in 1561, Felipe II moved the court to Madrid. Ironically, Madrid had gained importance only as a military outpost for the defense of Toledo. The once-imperial city fell into decline, and never again regained its past importance.

In the 20th century, the last of the Spanish civil wars swept the country between 1936 and 1939. At the beginning of the struggle, Toledo acquired crucial psychological and propagandist importance as the city was entirely in Republican hands, except for the besieged Alcázar (castle). Nevertheless, the city languished again during the four decades of Franco's dictatorship. This changed with the arrival of democracy at the end of the 1970s. Spain was structured into 17 autonomous communities (similar to federal states) and Toledo became the capital of one of them, Castilla La Mancha. As a regional capital, it has successfully recovered some of its dynamic past.


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