“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook, at the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing ever since.”
~ Salvador Dali
It’s always so hard to choose between Rioja, Catalonia, Ribera and the Basque region so we decided to blend their delicious wines and rich cultures into one mouthwatering tapestry. Capital Public Radio engaged in the centuries-old debate over which of these regions produces the most delectable olive oil, the greatest art, and the most exquisite wine. On this journey, we meandered through colorful markets, charming villages, world-class museums and lush vineyards experiencing (and tasting) first hand the culinary heritage of España!
TRIP AT A GLANCE
3 Nights Madrid (with Toledo & Segovia)
3 Nights Burgos (with Rioja & the Guggenheim Museum)
4 Nights Barcelona (with Picasso, Gaudi, Miro & Great Wine Estates)
WE HAD WONDERFUL INSIDER EXPERIENCES!
Numerous wine tastings with the producers in Rioja. * Privately guided museum visits to the Prado and Reina Sofia museums in Madrid * An insider’s visit to the cutting edge Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao * Historic strolls through the medieval town centers of Toledo, Burgos & Segovia * The Picasso Museum of Barcelona * Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and Gaudi district * Overnight stays in historic charming hotels * King Phillip’s palace of El Escorial * Franco’s Valley of the Fallen * Time to make independent discoveries.
INCLUDED IN THE TRIP WAS:
With Capital Public Radio's Nick Brunner & Amber Leonti
An expert Earthbound Expeditions guide
Ten nights in charming hotels and lodges (superior three and four star)
All breakfasts, five traditional lunches and five multi-course dinners featuring regional specialties
Domestic flight from Bilbao to Barcelona
All entrances as mentioned in your Flavors of Spain itinerary
Transportation by private air-conditioned mini bus
Gratuities for your driver and guide
City and regional maps
A pre-tour gathering at Capital Public Radio
Numerous wine tastings in each region visited
12 Days / 11 Nights (when including air travel)
$ 4,375 Land Price, Double occupancy (with 26-34 guests) See below for Group air option
$675 Single Supplement (waived if you are willing to share & a roommate is found)
Group flight departed San Francisco Intl. at 3:00pm on Sunday, September 21, 2014
Trip officially began at 7:00pm on Monday, September 22, in Madrid
Journey concludes on the morning of October 2, in Barcelona / San Francisco
*Prices based on an exchange rate of .74 Euro = $1 USD
Space is limited
GROUP AIR OPTION: Provided by Lufthansa Airlines
$1,195 roundtrip to Spain via a direct flight to Frankfurt from SF International
Add just $35 for roundtrip shuttle service from Sacramento to the SF airport
DAY 1: Group Flight Departs the USA for Madrid, Spain
DAY 2: Arrive in Spain’s Capital City, Madrid!
Arrived in Madrid and transfered to our centrally located hotel. We met Capital Public Radio Host Nick Brunner, Station support Amber Leonti and our local guide for a walk through the historic center of Madrid. After enjoying a welcome glass of wine at a local bodega, we enjoyed a slow stroll down medieval lanes to the Plaza Mayor and our restaurant, which specializes in regional dishes.
DAY 3: The Prado Museum & Reina Sofia
After breakfast, we walked to the Prado Museum for an in-depth look at the masterpieces of Goya, Velazquez and El Greco. For those who love modern art we visited the impressive Reina Sofia Museum. Reina Sofia houses include masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Miro. In the afternoon we had the opportunity to visit the Royal Palace and stroll through the colorful bistro-lined streets of the Santa Ana neighborhood. This was a free evening to enjoy dinner in one of Madrid’s many excellent restaurants.
DAY 4: An Outing to Towering Medieval Toledo
Perched high above a winding river, Toledo looms from a distance. Toledo’s historic roots run deep. Once a Roman town, it was occupied by the Christian Visigoths in the 6th century. Later, in the 8th century, Muslim armies swept across Spain, and Toledo became a thriving commercial center where Jews, Christians and Muslims peacefully co-existed.
Finally, after several hundred years Catholic forces returned again, turning this city into their Christian capital. Together, we took an in-depth look at Toledo’s historic cathedral, El Greco’s premier masterpiece The Count of Orgaz, and visit one of Spain's oldest & stunning synagogues, Santa Maria Blanca. The afternoon was ours to stroll Toledo’s many cobblestone streets or visit the Alcazar.
DAY 5: Departed Madrid for Burgos (the city of El Cid!)
On this morning we were off to explore the wine region surrounding the city of Burgos. Along the way we’ll stop at a stark and haunting royal residence, El Escorial. This palace was once home to Europe’s most powerful monarch, Philip II. After touring this awe-inspiring place, we’ll break for coffee. Afterwards we made the short drive to the emotionally moving monument created by Spain’s dictator of thirty years, General Franco. Once victorious,General Franco forced thousands to toil in this valley in order to build Spain’s largest memorial, dedicated to the soldiers killed in Spain’s bloody civil war.
Just one hour farther north lies the celebrated town of Segovia. Well known for its castle, cathedral and Roman aqueduct, Segovia is well worth exploring. In Segovia, we feasted on one of the region’s most celebrated dishes …roast suckling pig. We had lunch here and time to discover Segovia’s many charms before heading two hours north to Burgos.
DAY 6: Discover Burgos
The cathedral of Burgos, a Unesco World Heritage site, is a masterpiece that’s worth the trip to Burgos on its own. It had humble origins as a modest Romanesque church, but work began on a grander scale in 1221. Remarkably, within 40 years most of the French Gothic structure that you see today had been completed. The twin towers, which went up later in the 15th century, each represent 84m of richly decorated Gothic fantasy and they’re surrounded by a sea of similarly intricate spires. Probably the most impressive of the portals is the Puerta del Sarmental, the main entrance for visitors, although the honor could also go to the Puerta de la Coronería, on the northwestern side, which shows Christ surrounded by the Evangelists.
And tucked away in the cathedral lies the body of El Cid. Few names resonate through Spanish history quite like El Cid, the 11th-century soldier of fortune and adventurer whose story tells in microcosm the tumultuous years when Spain was divided into Muslim and Christian zones. El Cid has become a romantic, idealized figure of history, known for his unswerving loyalty and superhuman strength; his exploits captured the popular imagination as expressed in an anonymous 12th-century epic poem and the 1961 film starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.
El Cid (from the Arabic sidi for 'chief' or 'lord') was born Rodrígo Diaz in Vivar, a hamlet about 10km north of Burgos, in 1043. After the death of Ferdinand I, he entered into the murky world of royal succession which saw the king's five heirs squabbling over the throne and, ultimately, El Cid's banishment from Castilla in 1076. With few scruples as to whom he served, El Cid offered his services to a host of rulers, both Christian and Muslim. With each battle, he became ever more powerful and wealthy. Today you’ll walk past his coffin as we tour the cathedral.
We enjoyed lunch in Burgos and then took some time to explore this gem at our own relaxing pace.
THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO
DAY 7: A full day of wine tasting and sightseeing in Rioja
Set in the foothills of the Pyrenees close to the French border, La Rioja produces what most people have in mind when they think of Spanish wines. The region was making millions of gallons even during the regime of the ancient Romans, and it boasts quality-control laws promulgated by a local bishop in the 9th century.
Upon our return to Burgos we had time to stroll through the charming medieval
streets, stoping in one of the charming cafés for a glass of vino and some tapas.
DAY 8: Tour Guggenheim Bilbao Museum and Fly South to Barcelona
In Bilbao there is a different way of seeing the city's main museums and monuments: by boat. We were able to see the following things while sailing down the Nervión estuary for an hour: the impressive Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, Euskalduna Palace, Zubizuri bridge, the Town Hall, Izozaki towers, Deusto University... all these are icons in a city that many describe as a laboratory of open-air architecture. Enjoy a private tour of the Guggenheim museum and lunch. In the afternoon we made our way to the Bilbao airport where we’ll boarded 45 minute flight to the capital of Catalonia.
Today, Barcelona is exciting, modern and one of the world’s premier cultural centers. Cutting-edge artists, intellectuals and architects such as Dalí, Picasso and Gaudí have long been attracted to the city’s Mediterranean climate, charm and cuisine.
We made ourselves comfortable here, for this fascinating city was our home for the next three nights. We enjoyed Barcelona’s vibrant Gothic Quarter and the famous pedestrian shopping street La Rambla, of which Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said, “It’s the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” While in Barcelona you’ll enjoy colorful markets and Gaudi’s dreamlike architecture. We dined in Picasso’s old haunts and enjoyed a private tour of the world-renowned Picasso Museum.
BARCELONA: in the footsteps of Pablo Ruiz Picasso
DAY 9: The Gothic Quarter, School of Fine Arts & Miro
This morning we set out to discover Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. In doing so, we also explored the world of Picasso’s youth. He dined here with friends and took evening strolls with family. We’ll see the Cathedral of Barcelona, known as La Seu and go underground to view a well-preserved Roman temple.
After lunch, Miró enthusiasts set out to explore the Joan Miró Foundation which was designed by Josep Lluís Sert. The great architect created a space which offers visitors a moment of calm where light and beauty interact in perfect harmony.
Upon entering the museum one can discover the work of another Picasso contemporary, Joan Miró, who throughout his life took a particular interest in the diversity of materials, forms and colors. It led him to explore and experiment with different art forms such as painting, sculpture, printing techniques, ceramics, theatre and tapestry. For those with a bit of energy, we suggest a visit to the Ceramics Museum of Barcelona where you’ll find 16 ceramic works by Picasso. Or some preferred to visit the National Art Museum of Catalonia and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.
The late afternoon and evening were free for discovering the many charms of Barcelona at our own leisurely pace. Optional concerts this evening were available at the Palau de la Musica.
DAY 10: Great Catalan Wine Estates
Just a short one hour drive from Barcelona, we found two of Catalonia’s greatest wine regions; Montsant and Priorat.
What immediately distinguishes Montsant and Priorat from other grape-growing regions in the world is its soil type. Many believe the secret to Priorat’s success lies in its amazing, granite-like soils, known to the Catalan people as llicorella and to the rest of Spain as pizarra. The llicorella soil resembles slate or shale rock, intermixed with tiny bands of reddish-brown earth. The name llicorella stems from the Catalan word for licorice, chosen to describe the black, somewhat shiny rocky substrate which is high in mineral content. Rather easy to break apart by hand in one direction, but virtually indestructible in another, this magnificent rock forces the roots of vines to dig very deep in search of water, and is credited for the intensity and mineral character of the wines.
Another important aspect of Montsant and Priorat’s unique terroir is its climate. The region is extremely arid and receives hardly any rain during the summer months. Irrigation is rarely used as water is scarce, and is typically saved for the youngest vines and the hottest years. Due to the steep slopes, rocky soil and little water, the annual production per acre is extremely low. A head-pruned, old vine in the region might yield only enough fruit for a half-bottle of wine.
Montsant receives more annual sun exposure than Priorat, but shares its temperate Mediterranean climate with little rainfall. Like Priorat, Montsant boasts many, if not more, of the low-yielding centennial vines that are so prized in both wine producing regions.
This fascinating beautiful outing combined village hopping with wine tasting. We will enjoy lunch in the countryside before returning to Barcelona.
DAY 11: A Day with Picasso and Gaudi
Our day began at La Boqueria, the most famous market in the city, located on the lively Rambla Avenue. Accompanied by our guide, we explored this bustling market, with the freshest fruits and vegetables you can imagine, and quite a unique display of fish and seafood stalls. Next, our walk continued to a nearby neighborhood bursting with early 20th century architecture designed by the world famous architect and Picasso contemporary, Antoni Gaudí. Situated on an asymmetrical corner lot, lies a large apartment building that was immediately dubbed "La Pedrera," or "the quarry," because of its cliff-like walls. This imaginative building was designed by Antoni Gaudí i Cornet and built between 1906 and 1910 for the Milà family. This is one of the main Gaudí residential buildings and one of the most imaginative houses in the history of the architecture.
Then we were off to “La Sagrada Familia,” considered Antoni Gaudí's most impressive work. This enormous church, as yet unfinished, is a summary of everything that Gaudí designed before. The structural difficulties he faced and errors he committed in other projects are revisited and resolved in Sagrada Familia. The architectural style of La Sagrada Familia has been called "warped Gothic," and it's easy to see why. The rippling contours of the stone façade make it look as though La Sagrada Familia is melting in the sun, while the towers are topped with brightly-colored mosaics which look like bowls of fruit. Gaudí believed that color is life, and, knowing that he would not live to see completion of his masterpiece, left colored drawings of his vision for future architects to follow.
We enjoyed a delicious farewell lunch at Els Quatre Gats café. Opened in 1897, the café and restaurant on Carrer de Montsió 3 became a popular hang-out for Picasso and his friends. In fact, one of his first exhibitions was in Els Quatre Gats and Picasso's design for the menu in still in use to this day.
DAY 12: Our wine journey concludes after breakfast Return home with a lifetime of delicious memories!
About Rioja & Catalonia Wine Regions & Dining Out
Meals and Dining Out: In Spain lunch is king. Spaniards enjoy large multi-course lunches and typically enjoy a lighter dinner at 10:00pm. Through the years we have noticed that American travelers, having just dined for 2 hours on a delicious hearty lunch, are in no mood to have a large dinner the same day. Therefore the lion’s share of meals will be beautiful traditional multi-course lunches. And we are guessing that by dinner time a tapa and a glass of wine is all you’ll be looking for.
Rioja: Rioja wines are normally a blend of various grape varieties, and can be either red (tinto), white (blanco) or rosé (rosado). La Rioja has a total of 57,000 hectares cultivated, yielding 250 million litres of wine annually, of which 85% is red. A distinct characteristic of Rioja wine is the effect of oak aging. First introduced in the early 18th century by Bordeaux influenced winemakers, the use of oak and the pronounced vanilla flavors in the wines has been a virtual trademark of the region though some modern winemakers are experimenting with making wines less influenced by oak.
Priorat and Montsant- Catalonia: The exciting Spanish wine regions of Priorat and Montsant are nestled at the base of the Montsant mountain range, just an hour and a half’s drive south of Barcelona. Priorato is known for its somewhat expensive, powerful, rich reds while neighboring Montsant produces value priced, elegant, complex wines. Both regions share many similarities; there are distinct differences in the soils and terroir that set the wines apart.