My vacation in Spain was amazing. I absolutely loved the country and it was the most enjoyable vacation I have taken in many years.
In all, everything I wanted to see in Spain lived up to expectations and then some. What a beautiful, wonderful, hospitable, and vibrant country. I highly recommend a visit.
This Spain travel company was an excellent partner for arranging my vacation in Spain. I am a very experienced traveler in Europe, having lived and worked in Italy as a tour guide for many years, but I had somehow never gotten around to visiting Spain. I was traveling for the first time with a partner who has never been abroad so I was looking for an agent who could help me arrange private transfers between cities, and make things feel easier for my partner, and less stressful for me so I didn't feel like I was working, but rather actually on vacation.
My travel comapny was able put together an itinerary that got me from Barcelona through Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, and Nerja in just two weeks. It was a lot of logistical effort which they handled expertly, and this was the primary reason I wanted to work with an agent as opposed to planning it myself, since I am unfamiliar with Spain. They also were able to get me tickets I had asked for to see a soccer match in Madrid that I was unable to obtain on my own through my own best efforts. (And they purchased me great seats). We had several tours arranged, and the Gaudi tour in Barcelona was exceptional. The guides were knowledgable and passionate. The tour of the Mezquita in Cordoba was quite good as well.
After receiving the itinerary from this company, I priced out an identical itinerary using all the same hotels, transportation, and tours, and I found the price this company quoted me was hundreds less that I would have paid if I had done the arrangements myself. So not only did they save me a lot of hassle, I saved a lot of money as well working with them.
My only issue with this company is that we had pre-selected the hotels we would stay at, and when I received my vouchers from the agency two of the hotels were not the ones we had selected. I understand if the original choices were booked or unavailable, but I would have preferred the agency notify us of these changes, and have given us the opportunity to select the new hotels ourselves. I did not make a fuss, as it really wasn't that big of a deal and I wanted to maintain our relationship in case I needed them. (which I did for the soccer tickets)
There were some issues with the third party vendors they had selected for us as well, but I can't say I would consider that entirely the fault of this company. Two times during our trip our pre-arranged private car transfers were not there to pick us up. Calling the car service and the travel agency did not get us timely assistance and I was forced to hire a taxi at the last minute both times. Fortunately street taxis are easily available throughout Spain, and very cheap. Our travel company did reimburse me for the taxi fare, but surely the pre-paid private cars cost more than a taxi on the street. And it was quite inconvenient.
The tour we received to Toledo was terrible, but I understand that my expectations might be different since I was a tour guide for many years myself. It was a full day tour, but we spent only about 3 hours touring the historic and beautiful city which warranted a bit more exploration than we were given time for. The rest of the tour included a long lunch which was the worst meal we ate in Spain. (And this was universally agreed upon by the entire group.) It was also at a restaurant on the outskirts of the town and reachable only by the tour bus, so we couldn't simply leave and explore the town or even find something else that was actually edible. The smarter people opted out of the lunch, but our travel company included it in the tour for us, so we went since it was paid for already, and I thought it might be decent, since when I was a guide I only arranged decent if mostly unspectacular meals. Then they took a long detour at a tourist trap souvenir shop. We would have been better off with a private tour or even just transport to and from the city. Even if you do enjoy this kind of slow paced tour and take it, do not take either of the meal options. The only good thing was that they returned us to Madrid two hours earlier than they said they would, and that gave us more free time in Madrid.
We were also provided an audio guide for the Alhambra in Granada from a third party agency in the city, and we were dismayed when the battery died in one of our units about 15 minutes after we arrived at the Alhambra. The agent had showed us how we could re-charge the unit via USB at their kiosk in the city, but where exactly where we supposed to find a USB port to charge it at the Alhambra? That was ridiculous.
In all, I do want to say I enjoyed my vacation in Spain immensely and I would partner with this company again, and recommend them to others. I did speak to my agent there about my concern about tours in the beginning and she was a little nervous about booking me on them, so I cannot fault her at all. It was my choice to take a chance on them, and I don't regret those choices considering how beneficial the guides were in Barcelona and Cordoba. I think I would be willing to spend a little more money next time to ensure those things were customized more to my satisfaction, but your average tourist, not withstanding the episodes with the taxis, would have probably thought they had just been on the trip of a lifetime. Our travel company did everything they could to provide everything I asked for.
Two of the hotels we stayed at were truly exceptional. Everything about the the hotel in Seville was great for a budget hotel. The service, room, and location. The service was quite bad at the hotel in Nerja, but the view of the sea from our balcony and the lift to the beach made up for it. In fact, I feel sorry for the rude staff at the hotel in Nerja because I truly loved it there, and they haven't seen the last of me. I already can't wait to go back there. I suspect that being the only tattooed, long-haired person under 50 in the resort, they were not giving me the same respect that they gave the rest of the clientele which was mostly older, affluent British, Spanish and French. I have been to the beach resorts all over the world, including the Turkish, Italian, and French Riveras, and the Amalfi Coast and Sicily... Nerja may beat them all because of it's humble charm and beautiful scenery, combined with top notch food and amenities. And you cannot beat the this hotel's location. I REALLY liked it there. We ate a restaurant called Oliva in the city center which was the best meal we had in all of Spain, and for only 70 Euros! That meal would have cost me as much as 300 dollars in NYC where I live and work.
The Prado museum in Madrid is truly world class. I have been to all the comparable museums of its class in the world and I would put it only behind the Louvre in terms of the depth and quality of it's collection. A few times in my life a museum has actually surpassed my expectations when I was already excited to go, and that was the case with the Prado. In particular the room with Goya's black paintings. I had always kind of overlooked Goya in my studies, but surely not anymore.
The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the Mezquita in Cordoba also surpassed my already high expectations. As an art historian who has seen many of the greatest buildings in Europe both of those locations easily make my top 10 must-see buildings list now. Truly remarkable spaces, and with the right guides as we had, just a wonderful experience to see.
The Alhambra in Grenada was also amazing, but I was frustrated with my dead audio guide and the fact that many tourists were actually touching and climbing on the building itself and jostling other visitors. The docents could not keep up with the sheer volume of tourist disrespecting the location and their fellow visitors in their attempts to take selfies. Never have I seen a place subjected to more abuse during the course of my visit, and I felt truly sad about the whole thing. They need to either find a way to further limit the number of visitors, or have more attendants there to keep people from touching and climbing on the stucco work and ruining other visitor's experience.
A walk through the Albayzin in Granada was also a highlight. In most cities we preferred the modern sections to the historic Jewish areas or Gothic quarters, but the Albayzin was an exception where we much preferred it to the modern bustle of Granada.
We ate remarkably well all throughout Spain. Steer clear of the tourist traps with the outdoor seating near the monuments and museums (which is a rule I would recommend following in Italy and France as well) and head to where the locals eat for amazing tapas, exciting restaurants, and many great experiences. We used the Foursquare app to choose our meal destinations for the day as my girlfriend is a foodie, and it really never led us wrong when we selected highly rated restaurants, bars, and clubs. Thanks to that app I ate better in Spain over the course of the trip than any other country I have visited prior in Europe.
Lastly we saw several Flamenco shows, both impromptu performances in small bars and more staged shows for tourists. Each type was truly amazing in their own way. I highly recommend it. Even if you only go to a tourist show you must see Flamenco in Spain!
I would have paid more for private tours in a few instances, or opted for no tour at all and done more research on my own in advance so I would not need a guide. Toledo in particular was extremely frustrating and disappointing.
Otherwise, there is nothing I would do differently! This is probably the best trip I have been on in the last 10 years, and I try to travel abroad at least once a year.
TRAVEL COMPANY COMMENTS:
John, thank you very much for your feedback. After following up with you, I am happy to hear that you don’t really blame us for the bad things of your trip, as many of them were due to other factors not related to us, and that you would come back to Spain with us in the future.
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