The trip was fantastic. Although my husband and I have travelled extensively, we have never taken a customized private tour before. Typically we arrange everything ourselves, doing internet research and booking directly. This was somewhat of an experiment for us, to see if we could have a better experience with less effort by using Zicasso and and this Spain travel agency. As far as having a better experience, that definitely happened. We had a total of 6 different planned activities, with 5 different guides, and through them we had very memorable experiences and learned more about Catalonia and Spain than we ever would have on our own. Several of these experiences were things that we wouldn't have thought to ask for on our own (e.g. the Castellers) and that was a huge benefit of using an agency that specialized in the area. The reason I gave a 4 star instead of a 5 star rating had to do with the fact that we had some communication issues with our travel agency, and 1 of our 5 guides wasn't very good.
The communication issues started in the initial planning process. A friend referred me to Zicasso, and my understanding from her was the the initial questionnaire process would be very detailed so that the trip would be customized to our preferences. So I filled out the not-very-detailed survey online, and was surprised when I got detailed itineraries from 2 (not 3) different travel companies that were not very close to what we wanted. For example, our initial itinerary had us changing hotels every day or 2, and traveling fairly long distances to have a quick stay in different parts of the country. We don't like to travel this way, preferring to take a more in-depth look at a smaller number of places, and if we had had been asked more questions before the initial proposal was put together, we would have been much closer to our perfect trip right out of the gate, with less effort. The communication was impeded by language barriers and the time difference. We finally got things worked out by having a phone call. I wish Zicasso gathered more information to aid the travel agents in designing the initial proposal, and/or a conversation happened in the very beginning.
Another issue that became a problem in one instance is that the agency relies on their guides to plan the detailed itineraries. When I asked our agent how we would decide what to do, specifically, she said you will work that out with your guide when you meet him/her. For the most part that was fine because the guides were good and we trusted their opinions, not knowing the city ourselves. But one of our five guides was not good. He was condescending and sarcastic, and we felt like he only showed us what he wanted to show us. If we asked for something else he treated as if we were foolish for asking. (He even told us that the Gaudi houses in Barcelona aren't worth seeing, and believe me, they are fantastic). He did our private tour of Barcelona, and we felt like we spent more time in a taxi, with him checking his phone rather than talking to us, than we did learning about the city. He was also the one to take us on a full day tour to Girona and the Costa Brava area. Because we hadn't worked out the details in advance, what we wanted to do wasn't what he had been told by the agency. He then proceeded to tell us what a hassle it was that we wanted to change the plan, that it wasn't his fault, that it wasn't possible, that he had already made a lunch reservation that we weren't going to be able to get to, etc. In the end he worked it out so that we got to see what we wanted to see, but the confrontation spoiled the mood of the trip, and we felt like we got a very rushed tour of Girona, because, as he told us, it was an 8-hour tour and no more (although we did stay out for 8-1/2). I would not recommend that this travel agency use this guide.
Other than that issue, the trip went very smoothly. All of the guides and drivers were where we were told they would be when we were told they would be. We had 2 very minor email communications with the agency during the trip, and those were handled promptly, even when our main point of contact was on vacation.
Our 2 days in the Priorat/Monsant wine district were the highlight of the trip. I give most of the credit for that to our fantastic guide. She knew everything and everyone in the area. She took us to visit several wineries where we talked with the owners and drove around the vineyards and got an in-depth education of his philosophy and process. We also visited a sausage maker, an olive oil maker, 2 local artists, and had 2 fabulous lunches. We had amazing access to all of these people and their work, talking with them, asking questions, with our guide translating as needed. The person-to-person interaction made it very special. We have visited wineries in California and Italy, but have never learned so much or had such a good experience. The countryside is beautiful and the villages were charming, and it was so nice to see a side of Spain outside of the city.
In Barcelona the highlights were an epicurean tour, and a cooking class with David. Ingo had a great personality. We felt like we were out with an evening with a friend as he showed us shops that sold Catalan specialties, the Bocqueria market, and took us to several different small restaurants were we sampled sausages, pinxtos, and tapas. I am an avid cook and our private cooking class was a great way to learn more about the things were were enjoying in restaurants. We had a teacher and the facility was first-rate. We also enjoyed the 'Castellers' experience. Although we only saw a practice as there were no festivals in the area during our stay, we got a good sense for what they do. It was a truly unique experience, one which we weren't sure we wanted to do, but in the end we were glad we did. Our guide was excellent.
We wish we had had more time. It was a very busy trip, and we ended up feeling exhausted most days. If we had more time I would have taken more side trips from Barcelona or spent a few more days in the countryside, perhaps in Tarragona, the Penedes wine region, or the Costa Brava. I have been to many European cities, and while I always enjoy seeing someplace new, I find that I am becoming more interested in getting outside the cities to see how the rest of the people live. Imagine if a visitor to the US only went to New York City? Exciting, yes, but not a good representation of the rest of the country.
More and better communication on the details of the trip to eliminate the problems described above, (initiated by the tourist agency to make it less work for us) above would have elevated it to a 5.
Travel Company's Comment
As the co-owner of this travel agency, I am delighted that Kristin and her husband, like all our other travelers, enjoyed a wonderful overall trip to Spain, in which she valued the key role we played in setting up their trip and allowing them to enjoy an insiders experience of Barcelona and beyond. It’s good to read the rave reviews she gives to our wine guide in Priorat, the epicurean guide in Barcelona, her glowing comments about the chef and the cooking class experience, the Castellers experience and much more. However, it is with great disappointment that I read the comments about one of our guides in Barcelona. It’s clear that not only did he fail to live up to the high standards set by our other guides and hosts, but there was a real personality clash, which is such a rare and almost unknown occurrence. Our company is known in the travel industry as employing the best guides in Spain and, after 17 years of arranging customized trips for discerning travelers, we are honored to work with some not only outstanding guides but wonderful individuals throughout the country. I encourage all readers here to view other Zicasso travelers’ feedbacks and those on our web site. I have taken Kristin’s comments on board and dealt with them with the appropriate action, which has not been pleasant for the guide in question, especially as so many other travelers over the years have loved their experiences with him.
A final note – our company does not rely on our guides to plan detailed itineraries. Rather, we allow our highly experienced guides to be flexible with our travelers rather than give them a rigid and fixed program which they must follow. Our descriptions for some excursions eg Girona are fairly detailed to enable the traveler to see all the options, and the day program can be arranged in advance or on the day with the guide. We and our guides go the extra mile to provide a fully customized experience of Spain.
Each review is written by a verified traveler who was matched by Zicasso to the reviewed agency. Traveler must have purchased and traveled.
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