The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently reported that it is expecting Spain to overtake the United States as the second top tourism destination worldwide this year. Travel Agent spoke with several operators to gather some insight for those who may be considering a trip to Spain in the coming months.
G Adventures has designed several itineraries to Spain for 2018, including the newly updated “Discover Moorish Spain” tour, part of the operator’s National Geographic Journeys. G Adventures’ chief experience officer, Lalo Garcia, is originally from Spain and has been leading small-group tours throughout Europe and South America for nearly three years. He spoke with us about the latest offerings.
“G Adventures and National Geographic Expeditions have created a special itinerary to discover the Moorish, Jewish and Christian history of Spain that dates back to the seventh century," he said. "During this trip, guests exclusively explore the UNESCO World Heritage city of Toledo with a local historian. They also get the chance to dance in a private flamenco lesson in a cave in Granada; another Journeys trip exclusive. On top of it all, visit the Sevilla Royal Alcazares, an Arab palace where Game of Thrones has been filmed.”
The eight-day itinerary is priced from $1,869 per person and travels through five cities, including Madrid, Córdoba, Granada and Seville.
For travelers looking for a more active trip, G Adventures also has the “Walk the Camino de Santiago” tour.
Walking six days along the Way of Saint James, travelers will see the landscapes of Galicia, meet hikers from all around the world, and enjoy local food and wines "Since the ninth century, millions of people have done this pilgrimage in practice of the Catholic faith, but nowadays, many people hike it for fun, sport, or to discover a new culture,” Garcia said.
Garcia notes that the trek is not too difficult, but suggests travelers on this tour train walking several miles every day in the weeks prior in order to fully enjoy the final journey to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. The eight-day “Walk the Camino de Santiago” itinerary is priced from $1,199 per person.
Guests who might be visiting Spain for the first time and seeking a well-rounded introduction to the region can opt for the “Best of Southern Spain” tour from G Adventures’ Classic line of tours. Also an eight-day trip, this tour covers the major highlights of Andalucia, Córdoba, the Andalucian capital of Seville, Madrid and Barcelona, among others. Guests will also participate in the “G Adventures for Good” experience: the Espai Mescladis Tapas Cooking Class and Dinner. Translated from Catalan, it means "Mixed Space"and serves as a training kitchen and café for migrant youth, who earn their living fusing culture and cuisines for interested guests.
“This is a really complete tour where you will visit six cities in eight days,” Garcia tells Travel Agent. “The highlight is the guided visit to the architectural masterpiece, the Alhambra. Also, you are going to love the stunning Cordoba mosque, the splendor of Sevilla's unique old city, and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.”
Tip: Garcia also suggests that guests not pass on the opportunity to dine on the paella in Valencia.
This itinerary is priced at $1,799 per person.
Also offering up several tours throughout Spain in 2018 is Insight Vacations. Travel Agent spoke with the company’s president, Phil Cappelli, about why the country has become such a hot travel destination.
“Spain is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for Americans to visit because it offers such a diversity of cultural, culinary and historical experiences,” Cappelli says. “Travelers choose companies like Insight because we offer hands-on, behind the scenes experiences that guests wouldn’t get if they were traveling independently, whether it’s watching a master craftsman forge Damascene steel in Toledo, or taking part in a private wine tasting at one of the finest estates in Rioja.”
Insight Vacations’ is offering a new “Highlights of Spain” itinerary scheduled for this summer. The trip will allow guests the opportunity to explore the Alhambra Palace, the modernist architecture of Barcelona, Madrid's Prado Museum, the Andalucian capital of Seville and Cordoba's Mezquita. One of the most notable experiences during the tour is a chance for travelers to meet the local chef of a family-run restaurant in the heart of the Old City and learn how to make paella from a traditional recipe. Guests will than taste their creations, along with a glass of authentic Sangria. Other stops include a visit to the Plaza de España in Maria Luisa Park in Seville, as well as Plaza de España, the Cibeles Fountain, Parliament and the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.
This ten-day tour is available from April through October 2018 and is priced at $2,428 per person.
There is also the “Amazing Spain and Portugal” itinerary by Insight Vacations, designed for guests who want to experiences Spain with additional VIP touches. In the historic city of Toledo guests will visit the workshop of a master craftsman and see how Damascene swords are made. Later, in Jabugo, guests will have the chance to taste the famous jamon Iberico (Iberian ham), as well as learn about its history and production from a local expert. Other highlights include tasting authentic Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon and viewing the ancient Roman arches across the river Tormes in Salamanca. Additional stops include a visit to the Belem Quarter to see the Monument to the Discoveries and the ancient Belém Tower in Lisbon, as well as a special scenic drive along the River Tagus, through the regions of La Mancha and Andalucía, past the River Tormes and through the Castile region.
The “Amazing Spain and Portugal” itinerary is priced from $2,151 per person and also runs between April and October 2018.
Also designing itineraries for travelers to Spain, with a particular focus on the luxury end, is Avanti Destinations.
“A luxury vacation by definition has to be totally customized – it cannot be one-size- fits-all,“ explains Harry Dalgaard, Avanti president and CEO. “Affluent travelers today want their experience to be specially designed just for them. We help travel agents craft one-of- a-kind vacations that will make you look like an expert, even if you’ve never been to the destination yourself.”
Dalgaard went on to say that the company has seen a tremendous rise in requests for 5-star accommodations and private tours and transfers, noting that clients want to make the most of their time on vacation, and a private driver and private guides enable them to do that.
“We offer private walking tours, private cooking classes, private visits to vineyards and, of course, private tapas tours in Spain,” Dalgaard added.
The company’s newest customizable itinerary, aimed at luxury travelers, is the 11-day, 10-night “Splendors of Spain” vacation that takes clients to Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and Seville. Each city has its own distinctive cuisine, art, architecture and cultural traditions. Private transfers, private city tours and a flamenco show are included. In addition, more tours and activities can be added, such as wine tastings, or a horse carriage ride and river cruise (Seville).
During the journey, guests will also have a chance to experience Avanti’s “private wine & tapas tour,” which lets clients sample cured meats and cheeses during a special lunch. Five different wines, including Rioja, Ribera, Priorat will be sampled, as we as Cava, a sparkling wine from Catalonia. Private cooking classes are also offered in both Madrid and Barcelona, during which clients will learn to make traditional paella.
In addition to the experiences offered throughout the tour, Avanti also offers 5-star accommodations throughout Spain. The latest 5-star additions in Barcelona are the Hotel Omm and The One Barcelona, both located in an elegant shopping area with stylish rooftop bars where clients can relax over a glass of cava while enjoying views in the city. There is also the new boutique five-star hotel, the Casa Palacio Castelar, on offer in Seville.
“There are other 5-star and 4-star superior hotels that have been very popular with luxury travelers in recent years,” sys Dalgaard. Among them are the Palau de la Mar in Valencia, which combines the antique elegance of a 19th century palace with modern minimalist design.
“In Madrid, we recommend the Westin Palace, a very upscale historic property with traditional décor and excellent service,” he added.