Highlights of Spain Tour 2018: Cultural Legacies to Food & Wine

A 15 day trip to Spain 
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Culinary capitals, cultural contrasts, charming cities, Spain’s 2018 highlights mean a journey through the ages, mixing the fiery vibrancy of today with the harmony of centuries past. Spanning 15 days and 15 distinctive destinations, this private journey celebrates everything that makes Spain such an evocative destination. You will revel in the art, architecture, beaches, food, flamenco, contemporary design, walled cities, whitewashed villages, and the beauty of discovery. 

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, San Sebastian, Madrid, Prado Museum, El Escorial, Avila, Segovia, Palace of Aranjuez, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Arcos de la Frontera, Gibraltar, Nerja, Granada, Barcelona, Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia 

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures. 

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Bilbao – A World Culinary Capital for 2018

Land in Bilbao, the mystical capital of the Basque region and a very apt place to start a tour through 2018’s highlights. There is the old city, where church bells chime out, and small plazas are traditionally adorned by cafe terraces. Across the river, you will find the neoclassical architecture of the late 19th century, broad lanes and elaborate decoration a different insight into the past. Then there is the Guggenheim, Frank Gehry’s magnificent structure was the start of Bilbao’s contemporary, forward-thinking design. Like much of Spain, these three distinctive areas have their own ambience, yet all seem to create an idea of harmony.

Touch down at Bilbao International Airport, and you will be transferred to a hotel in the pedestrianized old city, where an al fresco terrace makes for a welcome lunch with your guide. Spend the afternoon on a walking tour, connecting the paradigms, including a 16th-century cathedral, grand townhouses, and the inquisitive interior of the Guggenheim. During the evening, you celebrate another side to 2018. Bilbao hosts the World’s Best 50 Restaurants this year and has recently been awarded as a national culinary capital. While you will not be at the awards, you have a night at Azurmendi (number 38 in 2017), a purveyor of traditional Basque cooking delivering on a fine dining scale. Azurmendi also took first place in Elite Traveler’s 2017 list of the top 100 restaurants in the world.

What’s Included: airport transfer, accommodation, tour

Day 2: Bilbao – More Fine Dining with a Day in San Sebastian, Recent European City of Culture

Take a  journey along the coast this morning, stopping at small fishing villages that hint at Basque’s earliest origins. San Sebastian is less than an hour away, and you spend a relaxed day here, starting in the mazy lanes of the old city, where the plazas reveal a decadence that goes far beyond that seen Bilbao. The promenade takes you past golden beaches to cliffs adorned with postmodernist sculptures, then further upwards to a monastery from a forgotten time. It is a relaxed city, and through the afternoon you have a chance to relax on cafe terraces, either in the city or on the beach. This is all the warm-up for a very special dinner at Mugaritz, the main hope for a Basque restaurant being crowned as the world’s premier restaurant. Over three hours, you eat through at least 20 individual dishes that combine the best of the surrounding mountains and the sea, all the ideas of Spain’s most pioneering modern chef, Andoni Luis Aduriz. Return to Bilbao after your meal.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 3: Madrid – Spain by Train: The Beauty of the Rural Northern Plateaus

After two busy days, a first-class train to Madrid provides four hours to rest and relax. Watch the country roll by the window, the train ascending across the mountains of La Rioja, then across the mysteriously empty northern plateaus. This recently renovated line makes it easy to connect the north with the country’s capital. Lunch is served at a popular city restaurant, a hearty affair that connects gastronomy from regions all across Spain. After lunch, your time is free. Madrid is a beautiful city to explore at leisure, with its compact center full of alleyways and easy pleasures, such as the scents drifting from a famous chocolate and churros shop that celebrates its centenary in 2018.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 4: Madrid – Highlights of Madrid 2018, Including Art and Tapas

Madrid’s highlights mix the old and the new. Venture into the Prado Museum, where the delights of the old royal collection hang above polished marble floors. Smile at the statue of Don Quixote, surrealist adventurer who gave rise to the term quixotic. Explore the royal palace, and the local guide reveals its hidden rooms, like a pharmacy of bottled potions from the 18th century. Today is in three parts, with a morning visiting these iconic sights, followed by a free afternoon. In the evening, you explore local street culture, taking a private tapas tour through the heart of the city, trying distinct dishes from the corners of the country.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, dinner

Day 5: El Escorial to Avila to Segovia – The Astonishing Legacy of the Ancient Centuries

Remarkable monuments are found on the plains northwest of Madrid. First El Escorial, a king’s residence turned monastic retreat, a masterpiece of religious and regal extravagance fused together. Shimmering with gold and laden with irrepressible frescoes, this palace is a Catholic king’s elaborate attempt to quash the rise of Protestantism. Next, you will visit Avila, where hundreds of gothic and Romanesque churches hide behind medieval city walls. Avila is an epithet to the medieval era, frozen in time and perfect for a leisurely afternoon listening to the sound of your shoes on the cobbles. You arrive in Segovia for the evening, with the sunset bouncing off the world-renowned Roman aqueduct. This is a city for getting lost, using the cathedral spires as compass points and discovering what hides down the tapered alleys. And when dusk falls, there are few more atmospheric places to be than Segovia’s central plaza.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 6: Aranjuez to Toledo – Royal Brilliance and the Harmony of Religion

Continuing the medieval theme, today takes in the fabulous sights south of Madrid, starting with the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, the residence of the Spanish king. Like each of the stops yesterday, it is a World Heritage Site that continues to define an era. A glimpse at the entrance hall is just the start of the neoclassical royal excess. Toledo is a very different attraction, a city that could play an important role in 2018. Religion is harmonious here, mosque minarets and church spires juxtaposed along with Europe’s oldest synagogue, contrasting religions peacefully coming together in the city for more than a millennium. Spending the afternoon and evening here is an insight into how many of the world’s current challenges can be solved by promoting an atmosphere of respect and religious tolerance. After a guided tour of the main sites, the rest of the afternoon and evening are free, with much to find in the pedestrianized center.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 7: Cordoba – Dramatic Plains of the South and Moorish Wonder of Andalusia

Toledo to Cordoba only takes two and a half hours on Spain’s high-speed AVE service, the train racing across plains of patchwork colors. Your hotel commands dazzling views over Cordoba’s Mezquita, one of the world’s greatest buildings, a masterpiece of Islamic design and arches that has survived more than 1,400 years. Sophisticated and sublime, the building is both church and mosque, a legacy of harmony that continues yesterday’s worldly theme. Beneath the structure, you find elegant rows of cafes and restaurants, great places for a typically late Andalusian lunch. This is your first stop in Andalusia, and you will immediately notice the change in tempo, how the middle of the day is very slow, but the evenings are infused with a vibrancy that is easy to float upon.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 8: Seville – Relaxed Day in One of Europe’s Greatest Old Cities, Vibrant Evening of Local Flamenco

A short hop to Andalusia’s capital, the city where Columbus is buried, and the wealth of Spain’s Golden Age is unashamedly presented. There are few old European cities as large or as grand as Seville’s, where cathedrals and churches jut out along streets of stately townhouses. The aroma of coffee and wine floats across the terraces, statues point to discoverers of the New World, and you can feel the fire of a city that has always stayed true to its traditions. While some cities absorb modern influence, Seville in 2018 is much like Seville in 1518.

The city is a fierce defender of culture, but you can uncover a subtle changing of the guard, with modern styles coming through in its art forms. Flamenco is an elaborate portrayal of this, and the Andalusian performance is alive in many atmospheric Seville bars. Tonight, you are guided to two performances, first hearing the traditional at a more tourist-orientated bar in the heart of the old city. This is an introduction to the voices and the guitar strings. Later in the evening, you dine at a celebrated modern flamenco bar, where the improvised songs have a contemporary twist, and the dancing is much faster than what came before.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast, dinner

Day 9: Arcos – Andalusia’s Remarkable White Villages

Head out to the very south of Spain, a private driver leading you down weaving roads to rugged cliffs and the remarkable white villages of Andalusia. Framed by the red rocks of nature, challenging the pull of gravity, these villages start a very relaxed three days in the far south of the country. There is a change of pace, a roll-call of attractions replaced by the soft and subtle pleasures of villages that need to be visited now. You will stop at two villages before reaching Arcos in time for lunch and a siesta. These are villages opened to tourism but in danger of becoming dominated by the rising footfall of tourists. They are at their peak right now, enhanced by English-speaking services yet maintaining the ambience of their historical state.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, breakfast

Day 10: Gibraltar to Nerja – The Famous Rock and the Independent State

Driving across the south, you hop into Gibraltar. In contrast to Arcos, Gibraltar is a place that embraces change, after vociferously rejecting a proposal to be jointly ruled by Spain and the UK. Fascinating and fueled by a desire for independence, this tiny slither of land is a sharp contrast to everything that has come before on your trip. See the famous Rock of Gibraltar, then spend the afternoon exploring the cuisine, a real mishmash of Spanish, Italian, British and Moroccan, the influences creating something absolutely distinct. Late in the afternoon, you drive further along the coast to the laid-back beach town of Nerja, a little jewel on the southern coast.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 11: Nerja – Free Day on the Southern Beaches

A tour of Spain’s highlights has to include a day on the beach. While Barcelona and San Sebastian have sandy options, it is the hidden coves and rugged coastline of the south that is more fitting of the tag highlight. Today is deliberately left free, and your whitewashed villa is perched on a small golden beach. Rest, relax, recount the experience so far, and indulge in this unmissable piece of the Spanish jigsaw. Nerja, like Arcos, is one of those destinations that needs to visited in the next five years, before its status transforms from hidden gem to must-see destination.

What’s Included: accommodation, breakfast

Day 12: Granada – The Lavish Final Stronghold of the Moors

The year 1492 was a defining time in world history. As Columbus reached the New World and Spain pressed for wealth, the final stronghold of the Moors was captured. Religion took center stage, as Catholicism was used to extend into new lands and transform existing ones. Granada should be celebrated though, because centuries after the expulsion of all Muslims, the Islamic architecture was painstakingly restored to its original grandeur. The result is a city of remarkable beauty, where the remains of Islam now stand peacefully with the Catholic extravagance it was once replaced with. After the drive from Nerja, a local guide takes you on a detailed tour, exploring the nooks and crannies of a city that holds many secrets and narratives.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 13: Barcelona – Catalonian Pleasures Including Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia

Strange mosaics illuminate a park above the city. Goblins and ghouls gaze down from a cathedral that is over a century in construction. Street artists ply their trade next to a quarter from the Roman era. Tapas terraces are alive all day, and most of the night, while grand coastal townhouses look out onto super-yachts. It can only be Barcelona, the most unmissable of Spain’s destinations, and a fitting final stop on this tour of highlights. Fly here direct from Granada, and spend the afternoon on a guided tour of its major icons, including La Sagrada Familia, before finishing at Park Guell, the perfect place for watching the sunset over this mesmerizing city. Your guide can recommend a number of excellent restaurants close to your hotel, which is in the heart of Barcelona’s oldest quarter.

What’s Included: accommodation, domestic flight, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 14: Barcelona – Highlights of Barcelona 2018, Including Fine Dining and the Modernist Movement

Barcelona is the city made internationally famous by Gaudi and the Modernist movement, yet it is a city that has been around since the height of the Roman Empire. Such contrast, such diversity, such charm to uncover as you explore the lanes and neighborhoods. You have a private guide for the day, and there is potential for the tour to move in multiple directions, depending on your interests and mood. Bringing this 2-week tour full circle is an evening of dining at Tickets, another of the Spanish entrants on the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list. The menu is tailored to the season, and the restaurant provides an elegant place to celebrate your two weeks in Spain.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 15: Barcelona – Departure

After breakfast, you are transferred to the airport for your international departure, leaving the 15th destination on this luxury Spain tour.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast 

Price

Price 

Please inquire for a custom quote. The price is customized based on final accommodation choices, travel dates, and other custom preferences.