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Selected departures up to October 2016 and March to November, 2017
It seems incredible that although Spain is one of the most visited countries on earth, vast swathes of it are hardly known at all. But during the past few years its more historic and scenic aspects have been brought to the attention of the discerning traveller. For many centuries Spain did not really exist as a nation state, being more a collection of countries such as Aragon, Castille, Cantabria and of course, Catalonia. Often separated by high mountain ranges, they evolved independently, becoming strikingly different with even their own languages.
For many centuries Spain did not really exist as a nation state, being more a collection of countries such as Aragon, Castile, Cantabria and of course, Catalonia. Often separated by high mountain ranges, they evolved independently, becoming strikingly different with even their own languages.
These differences were ruthlessly suppressed during the Franco years but have since blossomed and today Catalonia retains a distinct regional identity borrowing little from the rest of Spain.
Set on a plain rising from the clear blue Mediterranean through a range of wooded hills then to a superb backdrop of high mountains, the scenery is astonishing. It is as diverse as any area can be, from tiny medieval villages to one of the world’s most vibrant cities –and from classical Renaissance art to Salvador Dali’s avant garde; the list is endless and on this tour we see the best it can offer.
In Roman times Tarragona was one of the Empire’s largest cities with a population of 250,000 and a wealth of buildings to match, many of which are still in evidence today. The delightful city of Girona has been fought by Romans, Charlemagne, the Moors and the French all having left their mark, but is now famous as having Europe’s most outstanding Jewish Quarter. Ancient monasteries abound and include some of the most sophisticated ever constructed with many still in use.
Barcelona, the self-confident and progressive capital is a tremendous place to visit. Spain’s most prosperous city, it oozes sophistication and a cultural dynamism which is so strong you can feel it just walking around. Barcelona has also evolved a highly individual cultural identity, most perfectly and eccentrically expressed by the architecture of Antoni Gaudí.
Catalonia also boasts the best food in Spain, but that is what the Catalans themselves tell you and to be fair they perhaps have a point, but the only real test is to come with us and see for yourself.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at supplement of £149 per person (£165 per person for 2017 dates). The price includes six nights’ accommodation as mentioned, daily breakfasts, three dinners, guided tours in Tarragona, timed and guided visit of Sagrada Familia with panoramic guided tour of Barcelona, guided tour of Poblet Monastery, all tours as mentioned, airport departure taxes, return flights to Barcelona and the services of a Riviera tour manager.
Not included: Entrance to Picasso museum €11 approximate costs, payable locally.
Fly to Barcelona then transfer to delightful Tarragona, an ideal base for our visits during the next few days. The hotel, four-star rated, is the Ciutat de Tarragona, centrally located and near the old town where we dine this evening.
Set in beautiful rolling countryside and surrounded by rich vineyards is Poblet’s amazing monastery which we tour next, and is contracted on a massive scale. It is today one of Spain’s finest and most stunningly preserved medieval buildings, with amazing cloisters and crenelated walls, and is the final resting place of the Aragonese royal family. Then we drive inland to the superb medieval town of Montblanc which is surprisingly beautiful and yet, outside the local area, very undiscovered. We have time to explore its centre and its very attractive main square.
Tarragona is majestically sited on a rocky hill above the sea and it was used as the base for the Roman conquest of Spain and wars against Hannibal. It then became an imperial resort and the most cultured city of Roman Spain. The heart of the city today is the medieval old town, with its intricate streets and its focal point, the cathedral. Today on our tour we see the delightful principal points which has an atmosphere so typical of Spain. Tarragona is untouched by the excesses of modern tourism and nothing could be better than watching the locals go about their everyday business.
This evening we dine in a local restaurant highlighting some of the best traditional dishes for which Catalonia is justifiably noted.
This morning we visit the famous Monastery of Montserrat – with a location which can only be described as some of Spain’s most spectacular scenery! Montserrat means ‘serrated mountain’ and describes the site perfectly, perched on a mountain top with sheer drops below. Montserrat has been one of the most famous pilgrimages in Spain for over 1,000 years as its Black Madonna is said to have been given by St. Peter. Spain is well noted for producing wine and Cava, so this afternoon we visit a producer for a guided tour of the cellars. The setting is particularly attractive in rolling vinecovered countryside, and we learn the ins and outs of the making of Cava, which incidentally is the same process as that used for Champagne in France, and then have a tasting of the finished product. This evening you can explore the many different restaurants in the centre of Tarragona.
After breakfast we leave Tarragona for the small town of Girona, serene and bisected by the River Onyar, giving an appearance rather similar to Florence, the banks being lined with tall biscuit and ochre coloured buildings. A real pleasure of this lovely old town is simply to wander among the narrow shady streets, old stone buildings, stairways and fine old plazas. There is a superb cathedral with Europe’s widest nave and intricate stained glass. The old Jewish Quarter, Europe’s largest, has now been restored and is a delight to explore. We then take the short drive to Barcelona. Our hotel for the next three nights is the four-star Hotel Catalonia, centrally located and near a metro (underground station) allowing you to explore the city with ease.
After breakfast we will have a guided tour of this fascinating city which more than most, can genuinely be called unique. We will see the old town, or gothic quarter which contains the cathedral – one of Spain’s most outstanding buildings, the district of Ribera – a remarkable concentration of 14th century mansions some of which house the Picasso museum, plus much more. But Barcelona is more famous for its monuments and style unique to the city.
Without doubt, the highlight of the tour, and for many probably of your entire year is our timed and guided tour of Sagrada Familia, the finest example of Gaudi’s genius and one of the world’s great buildings. Without exaggeration – it really is that good despite the fact it is not due to be finally finished until 2026!
During the evening there is only one place to head for, Las Ramblas the most famous and happening street in Barcelona and indeed, probably in Spain too! Lively beyond belief at all hours of the day and night, lined with bars and restaurants with newsstands, flower stalls, tarot readers, musicians and mime artists thronging the central tree-lined walkway. If you do nothing else all holiday, you must not miss this.
Today is a free day to explore as you wish but there is hardly enough time to see it all. There are the musts, or you could do something simple and relaxing such as explore the Ciutadella Park, complete with orange trees and native parrots to see the locals spending their free time – real Spain at its best. Make time for lunch at one of the street restaurants here – superb, traditional food at its best, but do not try to rush things – eating is a serious business in Spain.This evening we enjoy our final meal together in an excellent local restaurant which offers creative cuisine with a Mediterranean flavour.
Today the coach will take us to Barcelona airport, at the appropriate time, to take your flight home, after a really memorable tour.
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