Cellar Tours Blog

Archive for the ‘spanish hotel’ Category

Ten Best Spa Hotels in Spain

Posted by gen On January - 13 - 2014

Enjoy this selection of some of our favorite Spa Hotels in Spain, the perfect plan to beat the winter blues! Combine the spa trip with wine tasting and you have the perfect vacation!

Spain boasts a formidable selection of luxury spa hotels that can easily compete with Europe’s best. These hotels are an oasis of calm, relaxation not excitement is most definitely the number one aim for visitors. The top spa hotels in Spain now literally offer everything:  a dramatic setting, luxury accommodation, top notch facilities and gourmet cuisine on tap. In fact, discerning visitors are now spoiled for choice as Spain runs the whole spa gambit from historic buildings converted into salubrious hotels to modern beach front establishments where the emphasis is on chic!

1

So whether you want an oasis of calm nestled in a vibrant urban environment or a dramatic cliff-top setting in the Mediterranean, the following luxury spa hotels will be perfect for you:

Hacienda Na Xamena, Urbanización Na Xamena, s/n, 07815 San Miguel, Ibiza

Set among some of Ibiza’s most spectacular scenery, the Hacienda Na Xamenda is situated high on a sea-facing cliff-top affording visitors the best views on the island. A luxury hotel in every sense of the word, rooms are lavishly decorated with Indian and Indonesian furniture throughout, a den of tranquility a mere 20 minutes away from Ibiza town. Both guests and visitors can enjoy the superb spa, an unmissable highlight is surely to have a relaxing message outdoors on the sea-facing Bamboo terrace. Several steams rooms and a sauna, infinity pools and jacuzzi all add to the enjoyment.

spa 2 biza

Mandarin Oriental  Barcelona, Passeig de Gracia, 38-40 08007, Barcelona

Undoubtedly Barcelona’s finest hotel, the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona cocoons you in decadent luxury that seems a million miles away from the realities of the office desk. It is also perfectly situated for just about everything: the shopping of Passeig De Gracia is a few minutes’ walk away, as is the metro stations and place de Catalunya and beyond. And if that wasn’t enough, the hotel has a state of the art spa with all the expected bells and whistles: various steam and sauna rooms, a infinity pool and a seemingly endless selection of treatments – the perfect way to spend a Sunday in Barcelona.

spa 2 barcelona
Hotel Palacio de Sober, Camino del Palacio S/N, 27460 Sober

A true retreat, this magical hotel occupies a very grand space in an historical palace, once belonging to the Counts of Lemos in Galicia. The Palacio de Sober is ideal if you’re looking for nothing but peace and tranquility and has the finest spa in northern Spain – Aqua Ardens. In the summer months guests can swim in an enormous pool and enjoy the views over the mountains of Leon, there are also indoor heated pools and thermal baths, with a number of specialist body and facial treatments. The restaurant is also one of the best in Spain, and serves haute Galician cuisine.

SONY DSC

Abama Golf and Spa Resort, Carretera General, TF-47, km 9, Guía de Isora, Tenerife

Spectacularly situated along Tenerife’s coastline with views over to the neighbouring island of La Gomera, the Abama hotel boasts one of Spain’s plushest and most modern spa facilities. Take your pick from seven outdoor pools or head indoors to the luxurious spa complex and choose from a range of treatments based on the hotel’s five principles of well being: rejuvenation, relaxation, revitalization, balance and beauty. There is also a wonderfully inviting heated hydrotherapy pool, a cool plunge pool, several sauna/steam rooms and a Turkish Bath to boot. You can also purchase many of the oils and other specialist products used in the treatments at a well-stocked Spa shop. And if you’re trip has a romantic leaning then couples can used the private treatment cabins for total seclusion and luxury relaxation – heaven!

spa abama

Marbella Club Thalasso Spa, Bulevar Principe Alfonso von Hohenlohe, 29600 Marbella

A sophisticated cut above most hotels in Andalucia, the boutique Marbella Club has an effortless chic about it. Everything is just right at this hotel, from the professional, slick service to the beautiful pool area and superb restaurants. Not to mention one of Spain’s finest spas, a stones throw away from Marbella’s best beach. The facilities are astounding: indoor sea-water pool, jacuzzi, saunas, Turkish baths, relaxations rooms and 12 treatment rooms. The hotel prides itself on the range and quality of treatments available and offers Anti-Stress, weight loss and rejuvenation programmes and specialises in Shi-tao messages, and mineral infused facial treatments. Bliss.

spa marb

Balneario de Panticosa, Crta Balneario, KM 10, 22650, Panticosa, Huesca

It was hotels like Balneario that redefined the meaning of a country spa hotel, establishing a new breed of modern, contemporary, sophisticated rural accommodation with all the spa facilities you could want. Located near the city of Huesca in the spectacular Aragonese Pyrenees, the hotel is perfect for hikers in the summer and skiing families in the winter. The spa attached is enormously peaceful, with hydro-therapy being the central emphasis of the resort. It boasts: a central indoor pool, an outdoor heated pool, Turkish bath, and solarium with mountain views to name but a few amenities.  The ideal place to unwind this winter.

spa panti 1spa panti 2

La Residencia, Finca Son Canals, 07179, Deia, Mallorca

Two magnificently restored, 16th century manors on the outskirts of the absolutely gorgeous hamlet of Deia have been made into a elegant, luxury hotel with no equal in Mallorca. It is unashamedly traditional and welcoming with four poster beds and traditional Spanish furniture. The views across from the pool terrace toward the mountains are worth the price of admission alone. The spa complex, however, is thoroughly modern and equipped with open-air terraces allowing guest so enjoy treatments with views of the Tramuntana mountains. All this is complimented by top-notch indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms and all the facilities you’d expect at such a prestigious address. But we’d happily settle for the view alone!

spa resi 1

Hotel Marques de Riscal, Calle Torrea, 1, 01340, Elciego, Alava

Since the 1860s, Marques de Riscal has been one of Rioja’s leading wineries and now boasts a deluxe hotel and spa to compliment its range of superlative wines. In addition to luxury vineyard facing accommodation and a Michelin starred restaurant, the hotel offers guests the chance to unwind in the luxury spa. It has been showered with awards over the past seven years: Best Spa 2007 by Wallpaper magazine, and in 2009 Conde Nast Traveller voted it most popular overseas Spa. The treatments offered are totally unique to the winery, and make full use of the nearby vineyards. Enjoy a signature Cabernet scrub, before relaxing in the heated indoor pool, hydro-bath, steam room and fantastic jacuzzi.

spa risc

Villa de Laguardia, San Raimundo Hiribidea, 15, 01300 Laguardia, Álava

Another of the Rioja region’s top spa hotels, Villa de Laguardia is a fantastic choice for couples looking to relax in opulent style and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Situated in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region in the dreamy medieval hamlet of Laguardia, the hotel offers great views of the Riojan landscape and a state of the art wine oil Spa, for all your relaxation needs. In addition to the prerequisite pools, Turkish Baths, saunas and stream rooms, the hotel specialises in treatments using local wine and oil from Rioja Alavesa. 15 Cabins allow guests to choose from a multitude of wellness treatments, with a emphasis on using natural, locally found products. spa laguarspa lagua 2

Burgo de Osma Thermal Hotel, Calle Universidad 5, 42300 El Burgo de Osma, Soria.

Situated at the heart of the Castilla y Leon province, the Burgo de Osma hotel and spa is one of Spain’s newest and brightest stars, having opened its doors as recently as 2010. It is housed in an incredible building, the Renaissance University of Santa Catalina founded in the 16th century by Bishop Pedro Alvarez de Acosta. Here, history and modernity collide as the luxurious spa caters for every need with its pools, thermal circuit and treatment cabins. Split into two parts, the thermal cloister consists of a thermal swimming pool, mineral-water spa tubs with various beds, a Turkish bath and a relaxation room. Then, move onto the treatment area and enjoy a massage, or perhaps some geothermal therapy, reflexology, or facial treatments – a blissful heaven of relaxation!

spa termal 2spa termal

Dining Highlights Barcelona- Foodie Weekend

Posted by gen On November - 8 - 2010

Restaurants in Barcelona- Notes from a Foodie Weekend

Dining Highlights Barcelona

We were in Barcelona last weekend checking out new suppliers, taking in some meetings and visiting some of our favorite foodie partners, here are some notes from our trip and tips for your next visit to Barcelona.

FRIDAY- CASA CALVET- We arrived to town after 9PM but managed to get freshened up before our late dinner at Casa Calvet. What a beautiful place! Located in a Catalan mansion designed by none other than Gaudi for a textile mogul at the turn of the last century, the whimsical dining room is all stained glass, “Modernista” design, mirrors, polished wood and brass. A “brindis” (toast) with cava was in order as we admired the setting and ordered the food. We shared wild mushrooms with chestnuts and Jamón Ibérico, perhaps not the most adventurous, but delish.  Other interesting starters included Bomba rice with conger eel and seasonal veg & Apple and foie gras ravioli with truffle cream. Alvaro Palacio´s “Terrasses” from Priorat was good value here and just gorgeous.  The mains selected were a delicate cod steak confit with porcini mushrooms and arbequina olives, artichoke chips and a rich duck liver with chickpeas and Iberian pancetta, aromatized with cumin. Gluttony, not hunger, made us finish with Apple tart tatin, made fresh to order. The other patrons dining this late were a mix of elegant Catalan couples and tourists. The food was not ground breaking or unique enough to be featured in a Bourdain episode, but was still very good and the setting beautiful, recommend for a special occasion.

Dining in Barcelona

SATURDAY- EMBAT AND FONDA GAIG- While we normally breakfast at the Boqueria market when in town (cava and Joan´s garbanzos with Morcilla at Pinotxo in the market are a MUST), we had a meeting so had a quickie breakfast at “any old bar” of simple pan amb tomaquet (country bread drizzled with olive oil and sea salt and rubbed with tomatoes) and freshly squeezed orange juice as you do when in Spain…

Breakfast in Spain

Lunch was with our friend, writer Tara Stevens who is launching a new cookbook as we speak (more on that later…) at the quite fantabulous “Embat“.  We had heard good things about this swish little eatery, and it was the perfect lunch venue- light, airy, friendly, and not so crowded (dinner is more “sceney” apparently). Dinner was supposed to be the highlight today but lunch stole the show.  The wine list is very, very good, we selected a bottle of the current vintage of Vallegarcía Viognier (one of our favorite Spanish white wines), and it was peachy, fresh and creamy, love that wine.  An amuse bouche of Cauliflower pannacotta with caviar set the tone (mmmmms and ooooohs) and we continued with STUNNING cannelones stuffed with duck (a flagship dish,  Canelons d’ànec amb rossinyols de pi”), seared scallops with apple and pancetta, and followed with heavenly slow cooked beef, lobster rice and pigeon three ways. Simply yum, yum and more yum. I think dessert was actually a favorite dish, a refreshing “Sopa de romaní amb meló i llimona” ( a kind of soupy sorbet of melon, lemon and rosemary). Too delicious to describe in words… We were stuffed at this stage so decided to walk it off and do some gourmet shopping while in town. Visits to Escribà, Cacao Sampaka, the Corte Inglés supermarket were in order!

Dining in Barcelona

Dinner then was at Fonda Gaig, an old time favorite, relaxed, understated and  chic, with traditional Catalan cuisine served in a brasserie setting by mythical Michelin starred chef Carles Gaig (Fonda Gaig is his nostalgic eatery, known for its trad cuisine while “Restaurante Gaig“, located at the stylish Hotel Cram is the trendy, creative Michelin starred eatery.) Don´t ask us where we found room (the more you eat the hungrier you get!), but we managed to have a full dinner and dessert (!):  Salteado de setas de temporada (sautéed wild mushrooms) and Senyor Gaig’s biblical croquettes. For mains Pato con peras  (duck with pears) , Vieiras con salteado de alcachofas  (scallops with artichokes) and Albondigas con sepia  (meatballs with cuttlefish). To finish, nothing else would do but Crema Catalana, sublime. We were dying for a bottle of Artadi Rioja, but they just sold the last bottle so we had a very good bottle of Muga. We waddled back to our hotel, luckily a good 20 minute walk so we were able to digest… a bit….

Dining in Barcelona

SUNDAY- CASA DELFÍN- Our friend Kate who owns the truly wonderful Taller de Tapas chain (in our view the freshest and absolute best tapas in Barcelona!) invited us down to her newest venue in Barcelona, the Casa Delfín, a historic and well loved neighborhood restaurant that Kate recently took over.  Respecting the clientele and traditional Catalan cuisine, Casa Delfín has all the classic dishes on offer, as well as traditional tapas (Padrón peppers, anchovies, Jamón, calamares, you name it). While the inside of the restaurant is darling, kind of Parisian bistro a la Catalana, it was a sunny day and sitting inside on such a beautiful afternoon was not an option! We tasted our way through their tapas menu (major highlights were the savory garbanzos, and the nearly sweet, utterly buenísimo sautéed artichokes) and for mains had absolutely delicious seafood rice and a Sunday staple, liver and onions. They serve zippy Alella by the glass and, unusual for Spain, have some nice half bottles on offer. The crowd inside was all local, many older, elegant Catalan couples, while outside on the “terraza” was a mix of funky, younger locals and tourists like us :) Recommended, especially for Sunday lunch.

Dining in Barcelona

Casa Delfin, Barcelona

For our digestif, we took a long walk from the Borne quarter into the Eixample and sat down for a Campari at  the lovely Casa Fuster, our main hotel partner in Barcelona. They have a beautiful bar which is a stylish, relaxed place to have an afternoon drink or coffee and read the newspaper, listen to jazz. Casa Fuster is the coolest place to stay in Barcelona in our opinion, for location, rooms and setting. And alas, late afternoon called for packing, weighing suitcases exploding with our gourmet shopping, and heading to the airport.  A reveure, Barcelona!

Other spots we love in Barcelona: Cinc Sentits (for an elegant but unpretentious Michelin starred dinner delivered in perfect English as the owners are Canadian-Catalan), Abac (for a special “date night” Michelin dinner in glam setting), the old fashioned and pretty “La Dama” restaurant (romantic), Katherine´s Formageria de  la Seu cheese shop (where onsite cheese tastings can be organized), Sergi Arola`s trendy tapas bar at the Hotel Arts, and the tremendous wine selection at the Vila Viniteca enoteca (we organize  Spanish cheese and wine masterclasses here in their cellar). On our next visit to Barcelona we plan to dine again (it´s been a while) at Alkimia and will check out Carles Abellan´s newish Tapaç 24.

Shots around town…

Barcelona foodie weekend

Barcelona Foodie Weekend

Barcelona foodie weekend

Barcelona foodie weekend

Barcelona foodie weekend

Barcelona Foodie Weekend

Barcelona Foodie Weekend

Barcelona Foodie weekend

Barcelona Foodie weekend

Barcelona Foodie weekend

Best Luxury Beach Resorts in Europe this Summer

Posted by gen On July - 16 - 2010

It´s sizzling this summer in Europe and a few days on the coast are definitely in order! Some suggestions for luxury coastal hotels  by country:

FRANCE

chateau_eza 1

Château Eza- Eze: The ultimate French Riviera hideaway. Think lifestyles of the rich and famous, this charming medieval hamlet spills over a clifftop overlooking the Med. The small luxury hotel has a Michelin starred restaurant and Birdseye views over the sparkling sea.

best beach resorts in Europe

Hôtel du Cap Eden Roc – Antibes:  this hotels attracts the most beautiful, chic and rich jetsetters in Europe. Gorgeous setting.

best beach resorts in Europe

Le Mas de Langoustier – Porquerolles: Less bling bling than the Riviera, Porquerolles island in a natural paradise and has sublime views and a stay here is about the setting and the sea.

luxury sea side resorts Europe

Hotel du Palais- Biarritz:  The ultimate aristocrats playground. The Duchess of Alba is said to take a suite here for a month every year, and Russian aristocrats have been so enamored of this resort they built a Russian orthodox church across the street! Biarritz is located in the beautiful French Pays Basque, a hop skip and a jump from Spain´s gourmet Basquelands.  A stay here could pair well with some time in the Bordeaux wine county, or indeed in San Sebastian across the border.

GREECE

Best beach hotels Europe

Elounda Beach Hotel- Crete: wow, this is an amazing place located on Crete´s northeastern coastline. Highlights include the dramatic location, Chenot spa, and those sea view rooms..

ITALY

best beach resorts in Europe

Il San Pietro – Positano, Amalfi Coast: Few hotels can compete with San Pietro in Italy in terms of location and luxury. Located in the dreamy village of Positano, this hotel is a great base for exploring Campania. Must sees and dos include Ravello, Furore, a meal at Don Alfonso 1890, wine tasting in Irpinia, pizza in Naples, Pompeii…featured in our luxury tours of Amalfi Coast.

best beach resorts in Europe

La Plage resort – Sicily: Spectacular location in Sicily´s prettiest corner, Taormina. Really a collection of villas, tastefully tucked into lush gardens, this is a terrific choice for a few days by the sea. While in Taormina, don´t miss the Ancient Greek theatre and wine tasting near Mount Etna.

Best luxury beach resorts Europe

Il Pellicano – Maremma, Tuscany: stylish resort in southern Tuscany, attracting a real “it” crowd.   If you can peel yourself away from the pool scene, why not enjoy a luxury wine tour of the local Super Tuscans?

best beach resorts in Europe

Fortino Napoleonico – Marche: beautiful setting in undiscovered Marche, coined the “new Tuscany” by the New York Times. Unspoiled, amazing food here and dreamy scenery.

PORTUGAL

Best luxury beach resorts Europe

Vila Vita- Algarve: Moorish inspired design and resort is spread over 50 hectares of gardens and with inviting sea views. The kind of resort where if you want to stay in a cocoon, you have everything you need on site- various restaurants, spa, pools, etc. Tips in fine dining in the area here.

SPAIN

Luxury beach resorts Europe

La Gavina- north of Barcelona, you´ll find this graceful resort in an unspoiled section of the Costa Brava. White and airy, it has a 1920′s feel. Romantic outdoor restaurant with candlelight and piano… while in the Costa Brava, explore the Emporda wine country.

luxury beach resorts Europe

Marbella Club Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa – Marbella:  a resort for those looking for golf and sun y basta. It does golf and sun, and does them well :) If you have a craving for culture and a bit of real Spain, drive up to Ronda, a beautiful village with a terrific restaurant, Tragabuches.

Mandarin Oriental Barcelona

Tara Stevens, Barcelona based travel writer,  shares her experience with us on a recent stay at the hot new Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona:

Didn’t get to sample the Spa unfortunately, had a peak around it though and looks pretty fab. Very dark and sultry. Did have a swim in the pool – good size for a downtown hotel and the steam room thick with jasmin was divine. Carme Ruscallada’s new restaurant Moments is being headed by her son Raül. I was there on a Monday so it was shut, but they do a lunch special for €49, which struck me as a good way of getting a taste of greatness without the price tag. Design is sleek, elegant and understated in the rooms and bit more jazzy in the common areas such as Blanc – a restaurant and lounge (the heart of the place) situated on the trading floor (MO was a bank before) – with its contemporary Emmanuel chairs, leather sofas and zellij inspired hanging space divider. Ate there: modern Asian food came with a twist like tuna sashimi topped with green curry ice-cream, and the Bankers Bar, complete with renovated safety boxes does a mean bankers martini with vodka, cardomom, lemon juice and ginger. Classy stuff, had three over the course of the night with wine in between and not a trace of a hangover.

Mandarin Oriental BarcelonaMandarin Oriental Barcelona

Wine Tasting Site Inspection in La Rioja

Posted by gen On April - 18 - 2009

Wine Tasting Site Inspection in La Rioja

We spent another couple days after the conference visiting wineries, some like Finca Valpiedra with whom we have been working for years, and other new ones like the spectacular Baigorri. We had a GREAT time! Here are the notes on our visits:

Marqués de Vargas

Marques de Vargas wine estate Marques de Vargas wine estate

Located just outside Logroño next to the ultra prestigious Marqués de Murrieta, Eva is the polite host at this regal estate. The winery is uniquely a “Chateau” style and the owner is an aristocrat who also has a beautiful family residence on the estate. The winery is set up to receive VIP guests and they indeed cater to guests looking for exclusive tours. We tasted their flagship Rioja Reserva (not a tough way to start the day!) and other wines you can enjoy on private tours here include their white Pazo San Mauro albariño (made in their sister estate in Galicia) and rich Conde de San Cristóbal, made in the Ribera del Duero wine region. In spring and summer, the white wine can be taken as an aperitif overlooking their picturesque vineyards and then reds will follow in the professional tasting room. Delicious wine and an elegant place, loved it.

Marques de Vargas wine estate Marques de Vargas wine estate

More info on the Marqués de Vargas wine estate here.

******

Baigorri

Baigorri wine estate Rioja Baigorri wine estate Rioja

One of Rioja´s newest and most innovative wineries, Baigorri is located just outside of the darling medieval hamlet of Samaniego (where cult winery Remirez de Ganuza´s estate is). The winery´s main attraction (apart from the wines of course) is its giant glass “box” which is perched on a platform and offers dramatic panoramic views over the vineyard-covered valleys on all sides.This estate offers a nice contemporary contrast to the older, historic cellars. The staff are young, competent and friendly and the wines were quite good. Geni gave us a great tour!

We dined at their beautiful restaurant overlooking the vineyards (other views in the restaurant look over the hundreds of oak barriques below). We tried the tasting menu pared with the entire line of wines (we were not driving!) and had the following outstanding lunch:

Amuse Bouches: Paté a la trufa natural (pate made with truffle) and Anchoa con pimiento del cristal (sauteed anchovy accompanied by “crystallized” red piquillo pepper), Croquetas caseras (homemade croquettes which were UNBELIEVABLE) and Salmón cruijiente al limón (crunch salmon a la lemon)- these were paired with the Baigorri fermentado en barrica (French barrel fermented Viura)

Appetizer/Starter: Alubias del pais con morcilla (in the photo below, this is a simple and delicious country dish made with local beans, blood pudding and tangy Guindilla peppers), paired with the Baigorri Crianza (juicy red, loved it)

Entre/ Main Course: Carillera de Ibérico al maceración Carbónica con hongos (slow cooked Iberian pork jowl cooked in young wine and mushrooms- paired with the Baigorri Garaje (Garage wine, their top wine, very good) and we also tasted their Reserva wine (actually preferred the Crianza to the reserva, but Garaje was favorite of them all).

Dessert- Cremoso de yema con yogurt, frutos rojos y helado crujiente- too many calories to describe, lovely :)

Baigorri restaurantBaigorri restaurant

More info on the Baigorri wine estate here.

******

Finca Valpiedra

Finca Valpiedra Wine Estate Finca Valpiedra Wine Estate

The Finca Valpiedra has long been one of our favorite partners in La Rioja. This estate has it all- fabulous wines, stunning location overlooking the river and unspoiled vineyards in all directions, professional tasting room with million dollar views- and now they have Arancha. One of the most dynamic wine tourism professionals we have met in a long time in Spain, she is passionate about her job and about the estate´s wines. This is always fantastic for us to see, and we spent the late afternoon tasting Finca Valpiedrás finest wines including a vertical tasting of different Valpiedra vintages, 2 vintages of their 2nd brand (which we are crazy about) Cantos and various wines from their sister winery Finca Antigua (located in La Mancha) such as the simple but aromatic 100% blanco (made with Viura that spends 5 months on its lees), a delicious Moscatel and their cult (pricey) Clavis wine. We have some new, fun ideas for our tours here that will be very, very special….

Finca Valpiedra Wine Estate Finca Valpiedra Wine Estate

More info on the Finca Valpiedra wine estate here.

******

Ontañon

Ontañon winery, LogroñoOntañon winery, Logroño

Don´t let the industrial location of this FABULOUS winery put you off. When you first arrive to Ontañon, you are not sure if you are arriving to a winery or a car dealership as indeed the previous life of this winery was a factory and the unattractive area outside completely hides the gem inside. Once you enter you literally enter another world. The infectious enthusiasm and charm of guide Jesus will win you over immediately and the interior is an alluring combination of medieval museum/ antiquities gallery adorned with wine barrels and bottles. We have worked with Ontañon for a few years and the quality of their tours has gone from strength to strength. On this particular morning, after a stroll through the cellar we tasted the Gran Reserva with Jesus, as well as their dessert wine and some high end olive oils they are now making. The winery (uniquely for the region) has a great shop with plenty of wine paraphenelia on offer, such as their own made wine chocolates, and wine spa products from the Nueva Antigua product line, made in Logroño. We love Ontañon and have some new ideas for this year such as Jazz and Wine….

Ontañon winery, LogroñoOntañon winery, Logroño

More info on the Ontañon wine estate here.

******

Castillo de Cuzcurrita

Castillo Cuzcurrita wine estate in la Rioja Castillo Cuzcurrita wine estate in la Rioja

Not many wineries can boast they have an actual castle, and the tiny medieval nucleus of this wine estate and hamlet is quite special. The estate is precious with manicured vineyards, gardens, a historic castle and views over a tiny, flowing stream. And the wines are something else! We were hosted by the sales director and wine tourism manager and spent Sunday morning sipping their Rioja Reserva in a stone room of the castle. In nice weather, tastings can be organized outside in their pretty patio or even within the vineyard under a giant oak tree. This estate is in the very early stages of opening up for exclusive tours and we are excited to be working with them this year, adding them to our portfolio of partners. Fun fact- their wine maker is the super famous flying winemaker Ana Martin (of Itsas Mendi in Basque Country, Guitian in Valdeorras and Traslanzas in Cigales).

Castillo Cuzcurrita Estate Castillo Cuzcurrita Estate

More info on the Castillo de Cuzcurrita wine estate here.

******

Want to visit La Rioja? Here is some information on the Rioja wine region as well as a list of wineries, some of which open to the general public.  You can either sign up for a private and VIP chauffeured tour or you can have your hotel help you organize visits and local taxis. Don´t risk driving your own car if you will be tasting, as the wines here are strong (14 degrees +) and pourings generous!

Stay at the dramatic 5* Luxury Hotel designed by Frank Gehry at the Marqués de Riscal wine estate, the comfortable 4* Villa de Laguardia, or the rustic but adorable Villa de Abalos. If you speak Spanish then one of the many little country inns in Rioja could be an inexpensive and cozy choice.

While in Rioja, why not add a few days on to your vacation in the nearby Basque Country where you can eat at a number of Michelin starred restaurants, visit beautiful San Sebastian, check out the one and only Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, etc.

Rioja is simply one of our favorite wine regions in Europe and for wine lovers, we cannot suggest a trip here highly enough!

Wine Touring in la Rioja Wine Touring in la Rioja

Any time of the year is a good time to visit the wine country when it comes to drinking nice wines! But winter can be the most challenging season to visit as vineyards are dormant and bare (not lush and verdant, as in other times of the year), and many of Europe´s wine regions are covered in overcast and bleak skies. There are a few regions however that are just fabulous to visit in winter, and here are some nice ideas for wine lovers looking for that unforgettable winter wine tasting escape:

Winter wine tastings

Alentejo, Portugal

The Alentejo is without a doubt one of our favorite wine regions in Europe. This unspoiled and breathtaking region features soft, rolling hills studded with cork trees and Moorish castles and is spotted with colonial style wine “quintas”. The scenery in Alentejo is reminiscent of the romantic savannas of “Out of Africa” and in winter, you can expect bright blue skies and invigorating cold weather. For a winter wine tasting break we suggest you use the Unesco heritage town of Évora as a base, visit a few wineries and enjoy some long leisurely wine lunches in cozy restaurants with open fireplaces.

Wineries to visit: Esporão, Monte Seis Reis, Herdade da Malhadinha are all favorites and can provide (paying) tours and tastings if you contact them beforehand to set up the appointments.

Alentejo winery consortium:Vinhos do Alentejo feature all kinds of wine region info on their website for self-drive trips (in Portuguese).

Where to stay: Our favorite hotel is definitely the romantic and luxurious Convento do Espinheiro, just outside Évora.

More Info on the Alentejo wine region

Luxury chauffeured wine weekends in Alentejo

Alentejo wine region in winterAlentejo wine region in winterAlentejo wine region in winter

Sherry Country, Spain

Jerez de la Frontera, the main wine town in the “Sherry lands” is a truly delightful little provincial capital. The benefit here is that the wineries are right in the historic center so you don´t need to drive and you can taste as many wines as you like! Most are in walking distance of each other through the pleasant center. Sherry wines are varied (finos, amontillados, palo cortados, and more) and quite strong, perfect on a sunny and cold winter´s day. The ideal winter wine weekend in Jerez would include winery tours, an excursion to beautiful Seville (one hour by train), and a lunch at La Mesa Redonda.

Wineries to visit: Sandeman (our favorite for private VIP tours), Pedro Domecq, Bodegas Tradición, Emilio Lustau, González Byass (Tio Pepe)

Sherry winery consortium: Consejo Regulador Denominacion De Origen Jerez Xerez Sherry

Where to stay: Our favorite hotel in Jerez is the Palacio de Garvey (which made it to our top ten wine hotels in Spain hotlist). The Villa Jerez is another refined little hotel, out of the center in a more residential neighborhood.

More Info on the Sherry wine region

Info on luxurious wine weekends in Seville and Jerez

Winter wine tastings

Valtellina, Italy

The ultimate winter wine escape, Valtellina offers sunny blue skies, fluffy snowy mountains in winter and phenomenal red wines made with the Chiavennasca grape (cousin of Barolo´s Nebbiolo grape). The region is alpine, near the Swiss border and the perfect winter wine weekend could include winery visits and tastings, an excursion to pretty St Moritz (on the Swiss side) and an excursion by horse-drawn sled through the snow. The cuisine is FABULOUS, real mountain food and it perfectly accompanies the rich, velvety “Sforzato” wines.

Wineries to visit: None of the wineries have regular scheduled tours, so you will need to contact them individually to request a (paying) visit and tasting. We particularly love Nino Negri, Triacca, Rainoldi and Conti Sertoli Salis.

Valtellina winery consortium: Consorzio Vini Valtellini have information on the region, wineries and travel tips.

Where to stay: There are some wonderful spa hotels, perfect in winter. We love the Bagni di Bormio, a real destination hotel with wonderful soothing spa treatments and natural springs.

More Info on the Valtellina wine region

We organize luxurious chauffeured wine tasting weekends in Valtellina, more info here.

Valtellina wine region for winter escapes Valtellina wine region for winter escapes

Galicia Wine Country Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Early this summer we did an extensive road trip to check out wineries, restaurants and hotels in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, nestled just above Portugal on the Atlantic. Galicia is really unique in Spain and about as “un-Spanish” as you could imagine. The climate resembles Ireland or Scotland, the bagpipes are the main instrument used in the regional music and Celtic dolmens can be found here! The atmosphere is misty and mystical, just wonderful. We highly encourage you to visit this special and fairly undiscovered Spanish region.

Galicia

Here are some of our notes from the trip, and some of our new suppliers…

We began our tour in gorgeous Santiago de Compostela (have always loved this charming medieval city with its ancient cathedral that attracts millions of pilgrims each year following the Saint James Way (called the Camino de Santiago). We revisited the striking Parador, located in a one of the oldest hotels in the world and where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel stayed in the 15th century (!!), to do a follow up inspection. The Hostal dos Reis Catolicos has been used as a Royal hospital (for pilgrims) and an inn since the late 1400′s and today is a 5 star hotel. There is a new manager and a fresh breath of new life flowing through this historic hotel and despite the fact that the rooms are a bit dated, there is simply no better place to stay in Santiago de Compostela.

We received the grand tour of the property and were entertained by legends and anecdotes. One of the main event halls, for example, is where the old maternity ward of the ancient hospital was; one of the bedrooms was used for plague victims; one staircase is called suicide stairwell…this place is just oozing with atmosphere and history. It is THE place to stay while in Santiago.  On the other hand, we didn’t like the location or decor at the other five star hotel in Santiago, AC Palacio del Carmen, and it lacked character. Another hotel we did love love love, however, was the Parador Monasterio de Santo Estevo, read a review here on our Ten Best Wine Hotels in Spain post. It can be used as a base, as we did, for Ribeira Sacra, the most stunning and pristine wine region in Galicia.

Santiago de Compostela Parador Hotel Santiago de Compostela Parador

STAR WINERIES: we visited many estates in Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra and Ribeiro and tasted an array of Albariño, Loureira, Godello, and Treixadura based zippy white wines and a few Mencia based reds (Mencia is the grape used in neighboring Bierzo, one of Spain’s most stylish red wine regions). The climate in Galicia´s wine country is starkly different to other regions in Spain. Here in Galicia, you are right on the Atlantic. The cool and wet misty climate directly affects the viticulture and most of the vines are on pergolas to avoid the moist earth. Wineries range in size, from large estates like the prestigious Martin Codax to ultra tiny cellars like the high-end Santiago Ruiz winery.

Here is a pick of some of our favorite estates, wines and personalities:

PAZO DE SEÑORÁNS, RIAS BAIXAS-

Pazo de Señoráns Wine estate Galicia SpainPazo de Señoráns Wine estate Galicia SpainPazo de Señoráns Wine estate Galicia Spain

This elegant wine estate known for their Albariños is GORGEOUS. While the winery itself is small, new and nothing interesting, the estate itself is stunning. Lush trellised vines pan out in all directions, punctuated by manicured flowerbeds flowing over with pink, purple and blue “Hortensias” (hydrangeas), a beautiful flower so commonly seen around Galicia. The property features a 17th century Pazo (manor house) and a spectacular Hórreo (a traditional granary you find in Green Spain) as well as a historic chapel (that up until this year has still been functioning and many couples have come to be married here at the winery). The owner, Señora Marisol Bueno is one of the most famous personalities in the Rias Baixas appellation and has long been a pioneering force for quality in the region. Their Selección de Añada (specially selected vintage wine), only made in superb years made with 100% old vine Albariño and uniquely aged on its lees for over 2 years before release, is the best wine we tasted on our research trip and one of the best great white wines of Spain at the moment. Marisol´s friendly and knowledgeable daughter gave us the tour, and this estate is absolutely equipped to welcome our VIP clients

Pazo Barrantes Wine Estate Rias Baixas Galicia Pazo Barrantes Wine Estate Rias Baixas Galicia

More info on Pazo de Señoráns

AGRO DE BAZÁN, RIAS BAIXAS-

Agro de Bazan Wine Estate Galicia Agro de Bazan Wine Estate Galicia

This dynamic and lovely winery (founded in the 80´s) are well known for their Granbazán Albariño and their rich dry red wines made in the sister estate Mas de Bazán in the Utiel-Requena appellation in the southeast of Spain. Located in Vilanova de Arousa, the area changes evrey few minutes from industrial parks to picture perfect forest, from pockets of both lovely and built up coastline. Once you arrive to the estate, however, you forget all about its surroundings. The vineyards are beautiful and the traditional manor style house seems somehow funkier with the motorbike parked right out front. Agro de Bazán boasts a young, international and enthusiastic team making excellent Albariño wines that respect tradition.  Fabulous place and fabulous people, completely professional and ready to welcome you to their estate.

Agro de Bazan wine estate Rias Baixas Galicia Agro de Bazan wine estate Rias Baixas Galicia

More info on Agro de Bazan

PALACIO DE FEFIŇANES, RIAS BAIXAS-

We didn´t actually have a good visit here as the woman who was supposed to receive us did not show up for our appointment, a bad start ! But we were soon won over by the wine itself and the beauty of their very own wine castle and tiny, historic cellar. It is located in the prettiest part of the historic town of Cambados (also referred to as the Albariño capital, and a great place to buy wine as there are various wine shops with an extensive selection of local wines you won´t be able to find at home). The square is named after the palace and stand gracefully across the street from the attractive stone church. Palacio de Fefiñanes is the oldest winery (callled “Adega” in the Galician language) in the Rias Baixas appellation, founded in 1904. The estate features a 17th century palace cum castle and a very small vineyard. They make one wine only, with its own grapes as well as other grapes bought in from small local viticultors. As the winery flaked on us for our inspection visit, we won´t be including them in our tours but we do believe it is worth a visit If you find yourself in the area, so if you will be near Cambados, just have your hotel call ahead of time to see if anyone will be able to receive you.

Palacio de Fefinanes wine estate Rias Baixas GaliciaPalacio de Fefinanes wine estate Rias Baixas GaliciaPalacio de Fefinanes wine estate Rias Baixas Galicia

More info on Palacio de Fefiñanes

PAZO CASANOVA, RIBEIRO-

Pazo Casanova wine estate GaliciaPazo Casanova wine estate GaliciaPazo Casanova wine estate Galicia

What a gem!!!!!!!!!!!! Loved the estate (actually there are two estates, both with ancient pazo houses and lush vineyards). We stomped in the vines with the charismatic owner, Carlos de la Peña. Read a full review of the estate here in our autumn newsletter as we selected their Casanova wine as our recommended wine of the season.

More info on Pazo Casanova

Pazo Casanova wine estate Galicia Pazo Casanova wine estate Galicia

ADEGA ALGUEIRA, RIBEIRA SACRA

Another darling little spec of a winery with a passionate and charming owner (Fernando González) is Adega Algueira, located in an ancient stone house near the majestic terraced wine valley of the Ribeira Sacra (translated as sacred hillside). While over 15 grape varietals are allowed in the appellation, the main red grape used is Mencia (and important to note that this region, along with Valdeorras, is where Galicia´s red wines are made).  Apart from wine grape production, Ribeira Sacra is also a natural park and home to much wildlife such as Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles, wild boar and badgers. So, how surprised were we to find out that this tiny winery, in a practically unknown hidden corner of Galicia, got 95 Parker points this year for their aged mencia?!! We tasted Fernando´s wines at lunch on his rustic terrace overlooking the grounds, sublime! Again- amazing people, amazing wines, true and bonified wine discovery gem. Fernando and his wife have lovely ideas for wine harvest experiences on the dizzyingly steep and beautiful vineyard terraces overlooking the Rio Miño and Rio Sil, and we will be creating some excellent trips here.

Adega Algueira Wine estate Galicia Spain Adega Algueira Wine estate Galicia Spain

More info on Adega Algueira

BEST OF WHAT WE SAW:  the Parador Santo Estevo;  Santiago de Compostela, with its romantic ambiance in the quaint old town at night and many excellent restaurants like the Michelin starred Toñi Vicente and the whimsical Casa Marcelo; the above mentioned wines and estates; the Northeastern Galician coast (unspoiled and dramatic).

WHAT TO AVOID: Virtually the entire coast south of Santiago de Compostela, barring some lovely coves and the picturesque town of Baiona, is given over to mass development and sloppy building. The cities of Pontevedra and Ourense were not nice, you can definitely skip them. Southern Galicia in general is quite densely populated. The regions of Ribeiro (especially Pazo Casanova!!) and Rias Baixas are definitely worth touring, but don’t expect pristine wine country as there is a bit of industry and half built houses (the building boom has gone bust). Ribeira Sacra on the other hand is in a protected park and is ABSOLUTELY breathtaking, resembling Portugal´s Douro Valley.

Galicia wine country Galicia wine country

Ten Best Wine Hotels in Spain

Posted by gen On October - 28 - 2008

Hacienda Zorita Wine Hotel Spain

Spain is home to some of the most fabulous wine regions in Europe (including La Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Penedès, Priorat, Sherry, Toro, Navarra, Somontano, Rias Baixas, Ribera Sacra, Rueda and many other appellations)  and more and more the concept of a wine hotel (either a working winery with accommodation or  a hotel set amid the vineyards) is taking off.  A list of some of the best wine hotels in Spain to help you plan your next wine tasting vacation in Spain-

Hacienda Zorita, Salamanca

The Hacienda Zorita is a romantic and relaxing estate (part of the Haciendas de España wine hotel chain, leaders in wine tourism in Spain) to enjoy a weekend break near the beautiful city of Salamanca. Read a full review of the hotel here. More info on hotel here.

More info on Salamanca

Hacienda Zorita Wine Hotel Spain Hacienda Zorita Wine Hotel Spain

Hacienda Abascal – Ribera del Duero

Also belonging to Haciendas de España, the Abascal estate is located right on the “Golden Mile” in Ribera del Duero, home to such famed wine estates as Vega Sicilia, Arzuaga and Viña Mayor. The stunning Abadia Retuerta estate is around the corner, too, so this is a great based to explore some wineries for a few days. the Abascal has stylish rooms, a new and exciting restaurant called The Durius Café, run by mythical Spanish chef Sergi Arola. The views from nearly every point in this hotel are of vineyards and in autumn, it is simply gorgeous with the flaming red and orange leaves blanketing the plains. More info on the hotel here.

Hacienda Abascal Wine Hotel Spain Hacienda Abascal Wine Hotel Spain

Hacienda Unamuno, Arribes del Duero

 Hacienda Unamuno Wine Hotel Spain

The smallest of the Haciendas de España group, and most intimate located in the dramatic Arribes del Duero wine country near the Portuguese border. This area is a protected nature reserve and pristine, and for a romantic and revitalizing weekend or even week long stay, this could be a fantastic base to explore the nearby wine country (Toro and Ribera del Duero are not far, and you can easily do day trips into Portugal as well as the historic city of Zamora). The “hotelito” is located inside a beautiful historic farmhouse, and is named after the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. The vibe is very artsy and plenty of stressed out professionals from big cities come here to relax. Apart from winetasting onsite you can also do cheese tastings and olive oil tastings from their collection of properties. The hotel can arrange romantic picnics and private dinners for two as well. More info on the Haciendas de España website.

Hacienda Unamuno Wine Hotel Spain Hacienda Unamuno Wine Hotel Spain

Can Bonastre in Penedès, close to Barcelona

Can Bonastre Wine Resort Spain

This luxurious wine resort has extensive manicured grounds, views of the Montserrat mountains, an in-house beautiful winery, fashionable bedrooms, and a gourmet hotspot restaurant (called Tribia, this is the best restaurant in the region at present and you can expect goodies like exquisite Arbequina olive oil, and Rosé Cava from the Can Bonastre estate). What more could you ask for? Oh, and they have helipads for VIPs as well! The perfect base to use while exploring the Penedès wine country taking in visits to big names like Torres and Codorniu and boutique cellars like Albet i Noia and Jean Leon. Highly highly recommended hotel!  More info on Can Bonastre here.

More info on Penedès wine region

More info on wineries in the Penedès

Profile of Barcelona

Can Bonastre Wine Hotel Spain Can Bonastre Wine Hotel Spain

Marqués de Riscal, El Ciego, La Rioja

The “ultimate” luxury wine hotel in Spain, here is our newsletter review of this stunning property designed by Frank Gehry (who also designed the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, among numerous other high profile projects around the world).

More info on La Rioja wine region

City profile of Laguardia, located about 5 minutes from the hotel

Marques de Riscal Wine Hotel Spain Marques de Riscal Wine Hotel Spain

Parador Monasterio de Santo Estevo, close to Ribera Sacra, Galicia

This newly inaugurated Parador hotel is FABULOUS and we used it as a base to discover the wine country of Ribera Sacra, Galicia´s most beautiful and undiscovered wine region.  The hotel is located in a historic Benedictine monastery that has been revamped with elegant and innovative decoration and the views from our room over the lush grounds are stunning. More info on hotel here.

Info on Santiago de Compostela, Galicia´s most beautiful town

Info on Rias Baixas, the most prominent Galician wine region

Parador Monasterio de Santo Estevo Wine Hotel Spain Parador Monasterio de Santo Estevo Wine Hotel Spain

Pago de Cirsus, Navarra

Navarra is one of the least explored wine regions in Spain and yet one of the most interesting. You have stunning medieval towns like Olite with its spectacular castle, and miles upon miles of unspoiled wine country. The exclusive Pago de Cirsus hotel is for lovers of the “buena vida”. There is a 16th century fortress, a high-end winery and an excellent restaurant (with a gastronomic focus on the best products of Navarra, especially vegetables). Expect beautiful grounds, luxurious rooms and a lovely garden. More info here.

Pago Cirsus Wine Hotel Spain Pago Cirsus Wine Hotel Spain

Palacio de Garvey, Jerez (Sherry Country)

Palacio Garvey in Jerez Wine Hotel Spain

Jerez is unique in Spain in that the bodegas (wineries) are located right in the historic center, whereas the vineyards are spread out throughout various provinces. So you can go wine tasting right downtown, by foot! We love the Palacio Garvey hotel as it is in a prime, central location and it merges its palatial architecture with contemporary and ultra stylish decor. The restaurant is EXCELLENT with good wine service. Apart from Sherry wines you can also taste an array of superb red wines from beautiful Ronda, also in Andalusia. The Palacio Garvey has many special touches from complimentary wine upon arrival, clawfoot romantic bathtubs, and four poster beds with sublime sheets. Highly recommended if you are visiting Jerez.

Info on Jerez

Info on Sherry

List of wine producers to visit

Palacio Garvey in Jerez Wine Hotel Spain Palacio Garvey in Jerez Wine Hotel Spain Palacio Garvey in Jerez Wine Hotel Spain

Pago del Vicario, La Mancha

In the vast plains of La Mancha, land of Don Quixote, a vinous Renaissance is taking place with countless new winery projects (many whose investments are in the multi-millions of euros) and things are-a- shaking regards to wine tourism. One of the most interesting winery cum hotels is Paco del Vicario, whose rosé is one of the most exciting rosés in Spain. The hotel is decorated extremely tastefully with rich colors (burgundy, cream, eggplant, beige, gold, so forth) and modern flourishes (there are a few zebra stripes here). You can visit the winery of course while staying here, dine in the excellent restaurant and visit other wineries in the area. The beautiful town of Almagro, known for its wonderful classical theatre festival, is only 30 km from here and an easy half day excursion.

Pago del Vicario Wine Hotel Spain Pago del Vicario Wine Hotel Spain

More info on Pago Vicario wine hotel

Palacio Canedo, Prada a tope Winery, Bierzo

Bierzo is the new “it” region in Spain, extremely exciting for wine lovers. It is also an unspoiled and very picturesque region located southeast of Galicia. The Prada a Tope winery is one of the oldest and most famous and they have an entire working farm making everything from wines to candied chestnuts to marinated peppers and much more. Whereas the other hotels in this list are quite luxurious and contemporary, the Palacio Canedo (the name of this winery´s rustic inn) is romantically rustic. The ideal time to come would be autumn, after harvest when the vineyards are at their most beautiful and when it is cold enough to light the onsite fireplaces.

Palacio Canedo Wine Hotel Spain Palacio Canedo Wine Hotel Spain

More info on Palacio Canedo

More info on the Bierzo wine region

More info on Leon, a nearby Spanish city on the Saint James pilgrimage route

General information on Spanish Wine Regions

Coming next year- Abadia Retuerta Luxury Wine Hotel in Ribera del Duero, this will be fantastic! More info here.

Spanish Town of Caceres in Extremadura

The Spanish southwestern region of Extremadura is one of our most cherished, and we love going back often to enjoy the historic villages, breathtaking Jerte Valley (famous for its Cherry Blossoms) and for eating well. This region is off the beaten tracks for many foreigners and is refreshingly free of the tourist crowds. There are some truly fantastic small historic towns, our favorites being Trujillo and Cáceres. Extremadura produces a wide range of gourmet products from cheeses (Torta del Casar, Queso Ibores, Queso de la Serena, etc) to smoked paprika (Pimentón) to the famed Jerte cherries and yes, even wines (the up and coming appellation is Ribera del Guadiana).

Pimentón-This essential ingredient in any Spanish kitchen, paprika, is made with smoked peppers and can be dulce (sweet) or picante (spicy). The texture is like a velvety powder and the color is blood red. It is used in a variety of stews, can be used to spice up chorizo, is a delicious addition to soupy potatoes (like patatas a la riojana) and of course is doused in many local recipes in Extremadura like the Caldereta de Extremadura (slow cooked and stewed lamb). Pimentón is produced in a variety of villages such as Jarandilla de la Vera (with its beautiful Parador). Here is a list of Pimentón de la Vera producers.

Spanish Paprika Pimenton

Torta del Casar- This heavenly cheese is made with organic sheep´s milk and is one of the most tantalizing gourmet goodies in the WORLD. The cheese is circular and the inside is soft, semi liquid and has an almost melted texture. It is usually served with crackers or bread, and can be topped with caramelized onions, chutney or relish or as a sauce on solomillo steak. Production of Torta del Casar in Extremadura is thankfully still on a small and artisan basis and the quality is ultra high.

Spanish Cheese Torta del Casar from Extremadura

WHAT TO DO IN EXTREMADURA- The beautiful towns of Trujillo and Cáceres are a must and would be the best bases. The town of Merida is not particularly nice at all, but the Roman theater and Archaeological museum are fantastic for history buffs.

Merida Spain

WHEN TO GO- Trujillo holds the big cheese festival- Feria Nacional del Queso- in early May, fun for gourmets. Spring is the best time to see the spectacular cherry blossoms in the Jerte Valley. Check out the Theatre Festival at the outdoor Ancient Roman amphitheater of Merida from June to August Autumn and winter are romantic in the historic castle towns, with cozy restaurants, chilly nights and bright sunny days.

WHERE TO STAY- We love the beautiful recently restored palace in Trujillo NH Palacio de Santa Marta, an absolutely stylish gem in a dramatic historic setting. In the countryside of southern Extremadura, the luxury Rocamador is a destination hotel that attracts an eclectic mix of Spanish celebrities, socialites and artists.

WHERE TO EAT- For atmosphere (medieval tower) and great food, the Torre de Sande in Caceres is a must. Also in Caceres the Atrio restaurant, located in a weird modern part of this medieval city, won the best wine list in Spain by Wine Spectator. While we had a mixed experience regarding wine service due to an inexperienced and unfortunately rude waiter, the food is really amazing and the owners are very attentive and come out to greet clients after the dinner. The restaurant in Monasterio Rocamador is highly recommended, as is Altair in Merida.

Medieval Village of Trujillo in Spain

Asturias- Cider and Cabrales Cheese in Green Spain

Posted by gen On June - 21 - 2008

Asturias Green Spain Gourmet Cheese and Cider Asturias Green Spain Gourmet Cheese and Cider

Asturias is one of the least explored and most beautiful regions in Spain.  Located in the glorious north on the Costa Verde (Green Coast), Asturias is situated to the east of Galicia and west of Cantabria and Basque Country. This is about as different a Spain as you could imagine.  Far from flamenco, paella, sherry and bull fighting, Asturias is a lush and misty region that quite resembles Ireland. The rugged coast is achingly beautiful, punctuated with coves and cliffs between its charming and colorful fishing villages such as Tazones, Cudillero, Luarca, and Llanes.  The bagpipes are regularly practiced by college students in the region´s city squares.  And whereas olive oil is de rigeur throughout the rest of Spain, butter is the norm here (you will see cows everywhere!).  Asturias is a treasure trove for artisan cheeses.   The Picos de Europa mountains, straddling Asturias and Cantabria, are a magnificent area to discover some of Spain´s best scenery and hiking. Not to mention fabulous country cuisine like heavenly fabada, a butter bean slow-cooked stew.  Asturias is also home to some of the most captivating pre-Romanesque churches in Europe such as the sublime Santa Maria del Naranco. While in Asturias, there are two things you cannot miss under any circumstances- cabrales and cider!

Cabrales is a delicious blue cow´s milk based cheese (blended with goat and sheep milk), similar in production to Roquefort, and made in Asturias.  Cabrales is considered to be one of the best blue cheeses in the world, alongside Gorgonzola and the aforementioned Roquefort. The artisan producers are governed by the Consejo Regulador board, established in 1981 with the appellation as a quality control. The cheeses are matured in caves with an approximate humidity of 90% and natural ventilation aided by the “soplaos” (currents of air that naturally circulate the cuevas, translates as “breaths”).  This cheese pairs magically with late harvest wines, Muscats/ Moscatos and sweeties like PX  (Pedro Ximenez sherry). Another common way of using it is in sauces to top savory steaks (like chuletón).  You can visit a cheese cave as part of a gourmet walking tour in the hills in Arenas del Cabrales (we set this up for guests). In this same village, located right in the Picos de Europa Mountains, the Cabrales Cheese Fiesta and Competition, called the Feria del Cabrales”, takes place on the last Sunday in August (so this summer it falls on August 31). You´ll be able to see the ancient cheese-making process, check out folkloric  tournaments, and parades, and of course enjoy tastings of Cabrales.

Great cheese/gourmet shops in Asturias- La Casa del Quesu in Cabrales and the outstanding La Barata in Cangas de Onis, a charming town located on the Rio Sella that is a hub for mountain hikers.

Asturias Cabrales Cheese Asturias Cabrales Cheese

Cider, called Sidra in Spanish, is produced all over the north. In Asturias the main centers of production and apple orchards are around the towns of Nava and Villaviciosa, and also close to the city of Gijòn. After pressing the apples, they ferment naturally and then mature for about 5 months until bottling.  The alcohol content varies but is usually about 5-6 %, similar to some beers. “Sidra” is also effervescent due to the natural yeasts present, but except for a few cases of cheap cider imitations, Spanish cider is not carbonated. .  Cider bars in Asturias are called  a “Chigre”, whereas in the rest of Spain they are called a “Sidreria”. The cider houses where this delicious drink is produced are called “llagars” and a few of them can be visited. The funnest part of cider tasting in Asturias is being served your drink. A trained “escanciador”, or cider server, takes the bottle with the right hand and lifts the arm above the head. With  a straight back and a serious expression on the face, the escanciador pours the cider from about 2 feet up in the air into the special glass, without missing and hitting the floor (which is what will happen when you try to do this!). The objective is to “break” the cider in the glass, giving it a quick injection of air bubbles, and you should drink the cider immediately after pouring. Good brands of Sidra include Gaitero and Fanjul.

There is a Cider Museum in Nava, and this is where the cider festival is held (see web in Spanish) every year in July.

Asturian Cider Sidra from Asturias Spain Asturian Cider Sidra from Asturias Spain

WHAT TO DO AND SEE- The coastal villages of Llanes and Cudillero are a must.  There are countless, splendid beaches along the Asturian coastline, including Playa de La Ballota, Playa de la Vega, Playa de Rodiles, and the la Playa del Silencio. Oviedo, the cultural capital, is a delightful small city whose biggest fan is Woody Allen. The pleasant seaside city of Gijón holds an annual international film festival. While quite touristy, history buffs should head to Covadonga, nicknamed “Cradle of the Reconquest”. 2008 is also a jubilee holy year for the Sanctuary of Covadonga and thousands of Catholic pilgrims will be visiting this year.  Of course for nature lovers and hikers,  Asturias is a natural paradise.

WHERE TO STAY- Asturias has many quaint hotels and some of our favorite little boutique gems for special stays in Asturias include: The “El Habana” in Llanes,  “Casona de la Paca” in Cudillero, “El Babu” in Caravia and the newly inaugurated beautiful 5* Palacio de Luces near the pretty fishing village of Lastres.

WHERE TO EAT- for hearty country cooking, it´s impossible to get a bad fabada in Asturias. For more refined meals, check out the gourmet hub of Arriondas at Casa Marcial and El Corral del Indianu. A few miles from Oviedo you have L´Alezna with star chef Pedro Martino and Casa Gerardo in Prendes near Gijón is great for high end dining. In case you haven´t heard of the gregarious Asturian celebrity TV chef and restaurateur (in the USA) José Andrés, check out his great website, full of interesting info on him, on Spain, on cuisine, Asturias and much more.

INTERESTING- Read about Asturian migration to the USA

Puxa Asturies, Viva Asturias!

Asturias Green Spain Asturias Green Spain

Chinchón- Anis and Limoncillo

Posted by gen On June - 18 - 2008

Chinchon Charming Village near Madrid

This past weekend we enjoyed a lovely research trip at the Parador of Chinchón, a tiny little historic village, located about an hour south of Madrid, on the way to the Royal gardens of Aranjuez. The spec of a village is comprised of an arcaded medieval main square (lined with 235 wooden and brightly painted balconies), a castle in ruins, a few narrow little streets lined with old mansions, and an abundance of excellent restaurants. The Plaza Mayor (main square) has been used for the centuries for royal galas, juegos de cañas (jousts), executions under the Inquisition, Military parades and bullfights. Bullfights and a running of the bulls, in fact, still take place. This is the classic place to go for a Sunday lunch out of town, for Madrileños. Chinchón is famous for its Liquors- Anis (made from aniseed,  a clear liquor taken as a digestif, similar to grappa)  and Limoncillo (similar to Limoncello, made with lemons, also taken as a digestif). You can visit the distillery, “Alcoholera” if you want to see the process (about 11 km outside of Chinchón). If you will be visiting Madrid, then Chinchón is a fun little detour for the afternoon or for a nice dinner and overnight stay.

Chinchon Anis and Limoncillo

WHEN TO GO- why not time it to coincide with local festivities? You have the Anis and Wine festivals at the end of March and the garlic festival in October. Religious events include Semana Santa (Holy Week) the fiestas of Chinchón´s patron saints Nuestra Señora de Gracia y San Roque is on 12-18 August (although it is very warm in summer!).  Winter is also a nice time to enjoy the atmospheric restaurants and meat heavy dishes.

WHERE TO STAY- the Parador Hotel, located in the converted 17th century Augustine convent. Dating back to 1626, the convent hosted many VIPs including the Archduke of Austria (during the war of Spanish succcession). It´s small and very pretty with a beautiful rose garden and excellent restaurant, serving historic recipes (such as the traditional “Cocido” whose recipe dates back to the 1700´s.

WHERE TO DINE- We love the Cuevas del Murcielago (Bat Caves) for its rustic dishes and old wine vats (called “Tinajas”) and the more elegant Casa Pregonero, right in the Plaza Mayor.

WHAT TO SEE- If you come to the village for the day only, then pop into the rose garden at the Parador. The Plaza Mayor will be your first visit and you can visit the Teatro Lope de Vega and the main church with its Assumption of the Virgin painted by Goya.

Chinchon Plaza Mayor