On Site: Castilla y Leon, The Spanish Wine Country

RUEDA, Spain -- Talk about a change of pace. So, not only is the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America editor in Spain, but he is also in a part of Spain that most Europe travelers have never heard of.

I'm currently on day two of a press trip to one of Spain's most famous wine regions, Castilla y Leon, which I learned in English means Castilla and Leon. Ok, that was a joke. But this region is anything but a joke, but rather something to marvel over. There is basically nothing but beautiful landscapes and wineries with some of the best whites and reds I've ever sipped and I've been everywhere from Chile and Argentina to Napa Valley, California.

Now, for a first time traveler to Spain, it's essential to start out in one of the country's more well-known cities, so the good folks at the tourist board had me fly in from New York to Madrid for the first day. I digested some of Madrid's top attractions from the Prado Museum, where you can see original works of Rembrandt, Borricelli and Fra Angelico and a host of other paintings by legendary artists for a mere €8, which is roughly $12, to the historic Retiro Park, where you can take in some true European scenes from the movies whether it be a sleek, elegant woman puffing on a cigarette or a young couple kissing on the grass.

I feel like my day in Madrid was the perfect primer for my adventure into the off-the-beaten path of Spain. I got great footnotes on one of the country's biggest cities before being ushered into one of its lesser-known regions. And this is something all agents should recommend to first-time Spain visitors. Do one or two days in Madrid and when they get what it's all about, recommend the two-hour bus drive north west to Castilla y Leon.

My first stop in this wine district brought me to the small village of Rueda, which is known for its white wines, although we sampled pretty much nothing but red wines during lunch.

Lunch was held at the Grupo Yllera (www.grupoyllera.com) winery, which is actually two wineries, the newer Group Yllera and the older, El Hilo de Ariadna winery. We had lunch at the older one, which dates back to the 14th century and has a greek mythology theme. It is based on the legend of Ariadna, which is basically a folk lore about the origins of wine in Spain and makes the tour very fantasy-like.

And although my preconceived notions of Spain, and Europe in general, were how expensive it was, this place is just €7 for a tour. The entrance fee includes a tour of both the new and the old wineries and samples of roughly 2-3 glasses of wine. For €40, your clients get the two tours, 2-3 glasses of wine, an authentic Spanish lunch and a bottle of wine to take home. I highly recommend the full tour.

Yllera wine is absolutely delicious and goes perfectly with the cuisine served, which was traditional Spanish meats - Iberian ham, Lomo, which is close to ham, but is basically the back of the pig and Salchichon, which is a salty, Spanish sausage. Yllera is exported to only a few U.S. destinations - New York, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and California.

I recommend the Bracamonte 2009 red wine and the sparking white wine, Cantosan, which you can purchase for just €8-€10 each.

Agents should note that when booking a tour for the weekend, they should book at least one month in advance since the weekends are incredibly busy here. In fact, the whole year is pretty much busy with 12,000 visitors coming here annually. It offers a 10-percent discount for groups of 20 or more, something popular at this place since it hosts many corporate meetings and local bachelor and bachelorette parties.

Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more updates from my trip to Spain's wine region.


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