Top Food, Wine and Culture Travel Tips in Spain

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Culinary travelers can find a variety of both new and popular experiences throughout Spain, from Madrid to Barcelona and even in lesser known regions.

Specializing in food and wine tours throughout Europe, parts of Asia, Morocco and Greece, The International Kitchen, is a boutique tour travel operator that has focused on culinary travel for the past 23 years. The company recently introduced its “A Capital Culinary Adventure in Madrid” itinerary. The new program was created by company vice president Peg Kern, who spoke with us about why the new program is ideal for a range of travelers with different interests, not just gastronomy.

“Madrid is one of Europe’s great capitals, which means it has a more cosmopolitan feel and international influences than many other cities in Spain,” said Kern. “That being said, it is still quintessentially Spanish in its culture and flavors, making it a real city of paradox and complexity. For example, you can explore not only the urban tradition of the "tapeo" (going bar to bar to taste different tapas dishes) but can venture out into the Madrid countryside to taste such local specialties as Castillian soup and suckling pig. It’s a wonderfully unique way to experience this fascinating city.”

The "Capital Culinary Adventure in Madrid" program begins with a gastronomic tour through the city’s Salamanca neighborhood, with stops at multiple local shops and markets. Later guests will taste tapas at a local Spanish bar before heading to Retiro Park for a visit to a shop that claims it makes the world’s best chocolate cake. The itinerary also includes a morning cooking class and a full day excursion to the outskirts of Madrid for a visit to a family owned winery dating back over 100 years, as well as a stop in the medieval town of Chinchón to taste traditional local dishes such as “monk” sweets and the local “anis.” Guests will also travel to four old mills in the valley of the river Tajunña, one of which dates from the end of the 18th Century, to sample the “cornicabra” variety of olive oil. The trip is priced at $2,100 per person and is available for booking any time for a minimum of two people.

We also spoke with Adrian Hall, senior travel coordinator with The International Kitchen, who suggests two other itineraries that the operator offers elsewhere in Spain. “…We have a program in Bilbao that I think is pretty interesting, as is the Basque region of Spain generally. And a little gem of a program in rural Andalusia in southern Spain where you have the Moorish influence on food and history.”

Spain's Basque Country lies in the northernmost part of Spain, situated between the mountains and the coast, making for diverse culinary offerings with fresh seafood as well as produce, meats and cheeses. The International Kitchen’s new Basque Cuisine In Bilbao From Pintxos To Txakoli program takes travelers on a three night journey through the city’s medieval Old Quarter along its winding streets and gothic Cathedral, to the Abandoibarra Quarter, which was once an industrial corridor.  Guests will also have the opportunity to view sites such as Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, the Ibderdrola Tower, the Calatrava Bridge and the indoor Ribera market.

Cooking classes will be led by Chef Aingeru, a member of the prestigious Euro Toques association of chefs, and Chef Txomin, who studied under such chefs as Ferran Adriá, Pedro Subijana, and Koldo Royo and has worked in a number of Spain's gourmet restaurants. Other gastronomic experiences include a visit to a winery located in the center of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve for a lesson on “Txakoli,” a white wine the Basque region is known for, dinner at a Michelin star restaurant in the center of Bilbao and a Pintxos workshop where guests will learn to replicate the traditional “tapas” snacks of the region. This program can be booked year-round and is priced at $1,650 per person for 4-8 people, or $600 per person for 2-3 people.

For travelers seeking a  more family-oriented getaway to Spain with a mix of food, culture and history, Adventures by Disney offers a nine-day, eight-night Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Marbella trip, with visits to sites such as Gaudí's Sagrada Família and the Park Güell in Barcelona, the Royal Palace and El Prado Museum in Madrid, and the Grand Mosque in Córdoba.

Culinary experiences include a luncheon at Mesόn de Cándido, the only surviving public house alongside Segovia's 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct, known for its roast suckling pig and unique method of carving the meat. Guests will also have the opportunity to try the regional specialty of Cόrdoba, “salmorejo y flamenquín”, at one of the restaurants near La Mezquita. While in Seville, travelers will participate in a private Paella-making class and lunch where guests will learn how to make the saffron rice dish, which melds both Moorish and Spanish culinary traditions. Also, during a stop in Marbella there is an opportunity for adults to learn the art of blending sangria under the direction of an expert mixologist, while younger travelers can participate by creating their own nonalcoholic concoctions. Throughout the trip there are several opportunities for guests to sample tapas and regional dishes at various restaurants depending on the location, and Disney Adventure Guides can offer suggestions for which ever style of dining fits each specific family or group of travelers.

Dates for this itinerary are July 29, 2017 - August 6, 2017, with rates set at $6,489 for children and $6,829 for adults. There is also an adult-only version of the trip with dates from September 9, 2017 - September 17, 2017. The price for this program is $5,569 per person.

For a more intimate food experience, Avanti Destinations is offering its new Barcelona as a Local Walking Food Tour, a three-hour tour ideal for visitors who may not have a full day to spend in the city but would like to explore some of the local gastronomy. Priced at $75 per person, the tour begins at Tours Tapas and Friends, a Gastronomic Centre which focuses on the “slow food philosophy” where visitors will enjoy a glass of cava. After a stop to a local farmers market, guests will head to the historic Raval neighborhood where they can explore multiple authentic restaurants, cafes, bars and taverns. Local English speaking guides will offer insider`s tips and insights for where to eat, drink or take pictures throughout the trek. Travelers will also have a chance to sip Spanish vermouth with tapas in a family-run tavern before heading back to the Tours Tapas and Friends, a Gastronomic Centre for a traditional three-course Catalan lunch with wine. This walking tour has a limit of eight people and runs Monday to Friday except for the month of August.

Also offering several unique cooking tours in Spain is Mimo. Founded in San Sebastián, Spain, in 2009, the company leads both daily and private culinary tours and has gourmet shops in San Sebastián (Mimo San Sebastián), Sevilla (Mimo Sevilla), and Mallorca (Mimo Mallorca), as well as in a luxury cooking school located in the Hotel Maria Cristina located in San Sebastián.

We spoke with Marti Kilpatrick, marketing and brand manager at Mimo, who shared some insight on who might be interested in the company’s diverse variety of tours.

“The truth is the tours at Mimo Sevilla are ideal for anyone who doesn't want to feel like a clueless tourist,” says Kilpatrick. “Our guides are knowledgeable locals and the experiences are subtle, off-the-beaten-path chances to taste the local culture. Families would most enjoy our daytime Tapas Tasting Tour and also the Jamón Ibérico at the Source tour, which includes some quality time with Iberico black-foot pigs. Our Tapas Tasting Tours in the evenings are ideal for couples looking for a fun way to eat and ease into a romantic night and solo travelers looking to meet like-minded people.”

One of Mimo Sevilla’s more unique offerings is the Definitive Ham & Sherry Experience, a two hour tasting where guests will sample Jamón ibérico, often recognized by many as the world’s best ham, as well as sherry, a complex, ancient wine from the south of Spain. An expert sommelier will walk guests through the different types of sherry, filling participants’ glasses with each one and explaining the history of what makes sherry distinct from other wines. The tasting is priced at approximately $65 dollars and is available for booking on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday throughout the year. Note: Guests must be 18 or older to take participate.

Another more unusual day tour from Mimo is the Olive Oil 101 Tasting, a two hour experience designed to educate visitors on the olive oil that Spain’s Andalucía region is known for. An expert will teach guests the proper way to taste a variety of oils and educate them on how olive oil is made, what “extra-virgin” actually means and the difference in colors and flavors. Also included in the tasting are bread, cocktails, olives and a keepsake bottle of the guests’ favorite oil. The Olive Oil 101 Tasting is priced at approximately $49 and runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Guests must be 12 years old or older to take part in the event.