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Carnival in Europe – Five great Carnival Vacation ideas for wine lovers in 2014

Although most of us when mentioning the world carnival might instantly think of Sydney, Rio or New Orleans, Europe can still lay claim to the oldest and proudest Mardi Gras tradition. The historical importance of the religious celebrations preceding the start of Lent is marked by the diverse and colorful local festivals celebrated throughout European cities each year. From the famous masked balls in Venice, to the riotous and vibrant carnival in Tenerife, these occasions are a must see for wine lovers who enjoy glamor, excitement and the decadence of lavish celebrations.

veniceThe following five cities represent the best of Europe’s carnival tradition and welcome the spring season in impeccable style:

Venice Carnival 2014

Venice Carnival or Carnevale is the very epitome of extravagance, a masked ball that traditionally ended on Shrove Tuesday and began on December 26th, which is celebrated as St Stephen’s Day in Venice, as in Ireland. Today, however, the festivities continue into the middle of February, as visitors flock from far and wide to enjoy the most decadent fancy-dress party on earth. The carnival has a history that dates back many hundreds of years; Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since the 15th century. The popularity of masked balls and carnivals rocketed during this period in Europe and became an integral part of any cultural event in Venice. The mask, as well as serving a decorative function could nicely conceal the identity of the wearer, which became highly popular in political circles, as well as for celebrations.

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Other European cities started to copy the Venice formula and order their own masks from the Venetian workshops. In Venice, private clubs would organize masked balls and street entertainment – the elite simply had to be seen at these events! Carnevale reached its heyday in the 18th century, as the Venetian Republic collapsed and social conventions and rules were relaxed. The event became increasingly hedonistic, with lavish displays of wealth, processions and festivals held in St Marks Square. Sadly, after Napoleon invaded in 1797 the carnival tradition fell into decline, the Italian ruler Mussolini subsequently banned the wearing of masks and so carnival was no more. That was until 1979, when the first event in several decades exploded into the Venetian scene and the city has not looked back since. Today, the undisputed highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations across Venice, usually in a grand palace or residence.

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The costumes, masks and general extravagance on display is unrivaled. Prior the the Grand Masked Ball, the celebration begins with a masked procession through Piazza San Marco and around. The following weekend sees a multitude of wonderful musical and theatre performances in San Marco and other locations, with Sunday reserved for a stunning procession of gondolas carrying masked passengers down the Grand Canal. Of course, plenty of other events take place and are open to anyone who is prepared to pay. This year, visitors can enjoy the masked “Enchanted Palace” Ball, which takes place in an ancient palace on the Grand Canal. Expect cocktails, lavish costume, fine dining and partying aplenty. There is also the “Feast of the Gods Event”, which takes place in a sixteenth century palace under frescoes painted by Giovanni Bellini. Join in the celebrations as Bacchus, the god of wine and Mercury invite you to join their feasting, drinking and merry making. For more information on these and other events, go to www.venicecarnival-italy.com   Finally, don’t forget to secure your mask well in advance of the party! Book an appointment to have a mask made.

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Venice Wine Country- While in Venice, why not go exploring the Prosecco wine roads, the delicious sparkling wine made in the gentle hills around Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Great Prosecco houses include Bisol and Bortolomiol, two faves.

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Tenerife Carnaval 2014

Each year Tenerife holds one of Europe’s largest and most riotous carnivals, a three week extravaganza that attracts hundreds of thousand of visitors and culminates in a 24 hour party on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It has been celebrated on the island for centuries and visitors to Tenerife such as Lope Antonio de la Guerra Pena in the 18th century spoke of dancing and conga music in the capital Santa Cruz. However, when Franco came to power he banned the festivities, which got back into their full swing after his death in 1975 upon his death. The carnival was subsequently a vehicle with which to lambast the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Fascists – today people often dress up to lampoon religious figures, naughty nuns being a popular costume!

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Tenerife is now twinned with Rio de Janeiro, and shares some of the vigor and debauchery of that world famous carnival in Brazil. Next year it runs from 26th February to 9th March, carnival season is officially opened with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen and ends with the ceremonial burning of the sardine festival, an event totally unique to the island of Tenerife.The ‘sardine’ is in fact a collection of rags and cloths, paraded around Santa Cruz de Tenerife followed by hysterical mourners! It is quite a sight to behold! But the main attraction is most definitely the gala parade, a spectacular affair with stunning examples of fancy dress on display, elaborate floats, fireworks and much drinking and parting centered around the beautiful Plaza de España in Santa Cruz.

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That said, the carnival involves far more than just one central parade and loads of stalls and events are set up in areas across the city. There are also competitions galore: murgas, rondallas, comparsas, all essentially dance competitions and a fancy dress competition for good measure. Make sure you don’t miss the grand gala for the election of 2014′s Carnival Queen, the day after there is a delightful musical concert in the Guimera theater. And don’t think that the fun ends on Ash Wednesday, as the weekend of La Piñata Chica follows shortly after with more partying in the Plaza de Principe. So head out on 9th of March for what will undoubtedly be the best street festival of your life. More info on Tenerife´s Carnival events this year.

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Tenerife for Wine Lovers- While on this beautiful island, don´t miss tasting spectacular local wines from the  Crater bodega. Enjoy stellar food and wine in one of the most beautiful settings on earth at Terrazas del Sauzal, and El Burgado is also unmissable.

Terrazas-del-Sauzal-Nice Carnival 2014

Capital of the Cote d’Azur, Nice holds a suitably glamorous and elaborate carnival celebration each year across its splendid squares, parks and the famous Promenade des Anglais. Its temperate winter climate and fantastic setting makes it the perfect location for a carnival to remember. The celebration starts on 14th February in 2014 and ends on 4th March, over two weeks of non-stop partying. Nice Carnival has had a long and distinguished reign: history records that the event was established in the 13th century, by Charles Anjou, the Count of Provence. In 1294, the Count made references to “the joyous days of carnival” suggesting that Nice Carnival is in fact the original and oldest carnival celebration in existence. Each year the carnival’s organizers choose a different theme for the celebrations, 2014 is the year of the “King of Gastronomy” so expect cuisine to dominate the parade and events that entertain revellers who flock to the Promenade de Anglais each year.

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However, Nice Carnival is most famous for the Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) which takes place on various dates throughout the Carnival season (in 2014 the 15 19, 22, 26 February and 2 March) Members of the parade fiercely battle to outdo each other with spectacular floral displays on floats that line the Promende de Anglais. As the procession moves through Nice, flowers are thrown into the crowds, stalls selling delicious local delicacies fill the air with enticing smells and the city seems to literally buzz with excitement. The festivities officially start with the Carnival Procession, heralding the arrival of the Carnival King in the beautiful Place Massena. Local residents spend months designing over 20 elaborate floats, which will take the theme of the year.

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But perhaps the most eye-catching sight is the giant puppets marching through Nice, called Grosses Tetes, accompanied by hundreds of musicians, street artists and dancers that come from all over the world. The chosen King then takes the key to the city and declares a brief reign of excess! Highlights in 2014 include the unmissable Zuma party on February 16th and the awe-inspiring closing firework display over the Baie de Anges, officially ending the proceeding on 4 March. For more information on this unmissable carnival event, check out info on Nice Carnival here.

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Nice for wine lovers- Nice is the gateway to Provence. You are less than an hour away from dreamy hilltop villages where you can stay in gorgeous country properties tasting stellar rosé wines in situ. In Nice itself you have some fab little wine bars, we love La Part des Anges, La Cave de l’Origine and Cave de la Tour.

Cadiz Carnival 2014

Second only to Tenerife in the sheer scope and originality of its carnival tradition, Cadiz carnival is a riotous, ten day celebration that literally turn the city into one big party. It is the highlights of any self-respecting Gaditanos calender, indeed, preparations for the carnival begin almost as soon as one carnival finishes. Historically, Cadiz has laid on a boisterous carnival since the 16th century, when the city thrived as a major trading port for the Americas. Looking across to their Italian neighbors in Venice, the citizens of Cadiz decided to copy their tradition of marking the start of lent and started to organize what would become the liveliest and most elaborate carnival in mainland Spain. It was the one celebration that the Fascist dictator could not ban, due to the overwhelming protest and resistance for the local Gaditanos!

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Beginning on February 27 and ending on March 9 in 2014, Cadiz’s carnival is essentially one massive street party, with eleven days of elaborate costumes, theatre, processions, concerts and above all else, singing! The originality of Cadiz’s lent celebration is impressive, the driving force of the party is an emphasis on music and on the famously witty local inhabitants of Cadiz, whose love of comedy comes shining through in their imaginative displays of satire. These performers are known as Chirigotas: their music and satirical songs provide the central focus each year. In fact, the celebration really starts a month before the official opening day, as various musical groups compete in the “official contest” held at the beautiful Gran Teatro Falla. Over 200 groups will take part in this musical feast, with various categories of performers: Chirigotas, Choirs, Comparsas, Quarters and Romanceros. The Choirs will often also entertain people in the streets, as will the single act Romanceros. The Comparas tend to take the competition more seriously and sing classical songs with deep, romantic leanings. The competition is held 20 days before carnival and in four stages: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the grand final. Listening to the various performers is a big highlight of the festival, the songs tend to be aimed at ‘debunking’ the cult of celebrity, politicians and the church are also fair game!

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The finale is another main attraction of the carnival, held on the first Friday of the celebrations. Performers roam the streets singing their compositions and on the following Monday perform on a central stage for all the city to enjoy. The other key attraction during carnival time is the procession and street parties, as thousands upon thousand of people in elaborate costume party the night away in Cadiz’s old town. In addition, there are gastronomic stalls, various musical concerts and plenty of things to keep the little ones happy; including puppet shows, and the incredible closing fireworks display. Key dates for your Carnival calendar in 2014 are Friday 27, which is the Grand Finale of the singing contest, the main procession on the following Sunday (29) and the awe-inspiring fireworks display in La Caleta. Truly, this is a carnival you won’t want to miss.

Cadiz for wine lovers- you are in the Sherry heartland here and this is a supremely interesting spot for wine aficionados. Don´t miss the terrific bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera like Lustau, Fernando de Castilla, González Byass and Domecq. And Angle Leon´s Michelin starred seafood eatery Aponiente is a glamorous place to taste terrific local Sherries paired with unusual and magical fish pairings.

SHERRY pxSitges Carnival 2014

Spain’s delightfully avant-garde, unconventional seaside resort is merely a half-hour away from Barcelona by train, so there’s no excuse for not visiting the next time you set foot in the Catalan capital. Sitges has been a fashionable place for jet-setters and night-owls since the 1960s, and puts on one of Spain’s most outrageous carnivals. It’s a week long riot of the extrovert, the colorful and the exhibitionist, capped by a gay parade along the sea-front promenade. Sitges has been holding carnival celebrations for over a century, although the installation of Franco as Spain’s Fascist dictator in 1939 put a temporary stop to the fun. Today, it is regarded as Spain’s wildest party event and over 200,000 visitors, both Spanish and international, turn out for the carnival. A normally quiet village (in winter at least!) explodes into life with parades, endless parties, local gastronomy, numerous folk dances and outrageous displays – a feast for all the senses.

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The party starts on 27 February in 2014 and ends March 5. The inaugural event is the opening Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday) celebrations, with stalls offering a massive selection of local dishes; Sitges’ citizens seriously pig-out into the evening. It heralds the arrival of King Carnestoltes – the King of the Carnival – who arrives in a great flurry of color and activity. Let the mayhem begin! Sunday 2nd March sees the famous Rua de la Disbauxa, or the Debauchery Parade, an anything goes display of debauchery and outrageous costume, over forty floats usually participate in the fun, carrying up to 2,000 people at a time. However, even this spectacular event is outdone by the Rua de l’Extermini, or Extermination Parade, on the following Tuesday night. This parade marks the end of the festivities, although there is nothing mournful about the celebrations with more riotous displays of dress and kitsch.

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Carnival truly ends with the Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday, the large effigy of a sardine buried in Sitges’s sandy beach. Around the same time as carnival, a more sedate but equally unmissable event is taking place – the Corpus Cristi celebrations. They are marked by the creation of floral ‘carpets’ in the streets of central Sites. These can be of incredible complexity and generally consist of geometric designs or religious depictions. They are simply stunningly beautiful so make sure to catch them before they are trampled over when the religious process passes through this delightful city.

Sitges for wine lovers- you are on the doorstep of the Mediterranean Penedes wine country. This is where Spain´s famed Cava, bubbly, is produced and great wines to seek out include Agusti Torello and Pares Balta. Don´t miss a meal at winemaker´s haunt Cal Xim where charming host Santi will take excellent care of you, and while in Sitges itself we love the easy going paella at beach front La Fragata.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Top Basque Gourmet Restaurants in Pais Vasco and Pays Basque

Cellar Tours recommend:

The Basque country – and in particular the glamorous resort of San-Sebastian – is now a must visit destination for lovers of fine gastronomy traveling in Spain. Its inhabitants, the fiercely proud Basque people, have always enjoyed spending money on food and drink, and lots of it! They are privileged to have access to an abundance of superb raw materials – fish, seafood, excellent game, vegetables, mushrooms, fine wines and other delicacies can all be sourced locally. Moreover, over the past thirty years Basque cuisine has been going through a phase of creative renewal, inspired by the French nouvelle cuisine cookery school. The result is that the region is now Spain’s uncontested gourmet stronghold and a paradise for visitors looking to immerse themselves in good food and wine.

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Unsurprisingly, there are more Michelin starred restaurants in the Basque country than any other part of Spain and with standards ever rising; the number is set to increase in the future. The city of San-Sebastian alone has 8 Michelin-starred restaurants, including the famous Arzak, one of the pioneers of the new Basque cuisine school of gastronomy. Of course, plenty of superb restaurants can be found across the region without a Michelin star and not having a star does not mean that the restaurant does not work to the highest gastronomic standards. As a guide for discerning visitors keen to sample one or two of the finer points of Basque cuisine, we have selected our top Basque country restaurants below:

1. Akelarre, Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56, 20008, San-Sebastian- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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With over 38 years experience of wowing diners, head chef Pedro Subijana rarely hits a wrong note with his incredibly refined, exquisite take on traditional Basque dishes and cuisine. This 3 Michelin-starred restaurant in San-Sebastian simply has it all: spectacular views of rolling hills which plunge into the sea, sublime food, a lengthy wine list and professional, but not overly formal service. To savor Subijana’s star dishes, you must try the seven course menu de degustacion. Every dish is a gastronomic treat, but particular highlights include the Sauteed Fresh Foie Gras with Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper and the utterly irresistible Roasted Baby Pig with Tomato “Bolao” and Iberian Emulsion. One for that special occasion! And a personal fave were our clients get extra special service here.

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2. Arzak, 273 Avenida Alcade Elosegui, 20015, San-Sebastian- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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Considered to be one of the word’s best restaurants in any gourmet guide worth its salt, and, judging by the consistently excellent standards at this icon of modern Basque cooking, we’d have to agree. Founded in 1897 as a house by the current owner’s grandparents, Arzak’s fame can be attributed to one man with a great vision – Juan Mari Arzak. After returning home from the army, Arzak trained in his mother’s kitchen and founded what would become Spain’s first restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars in 1989. Today, he works with his equally passionate daughter Elena to bring diners a taste of his incredible take on Basque dishes – Arzak literally is the godfather of new Basque cuisine. Signature dishes include his marvelous Rape Marea Baja, which is Monkfish with mussels and nori flavored shells and his sublime Pichon con Chia, a moreish concoction of roasted pigeon with a Mexican Chia seed cracker and chia spheres filled with broth. A venue everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

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3. Azurmendi, Corredor del Txorierri, Salids 25, Barrio Legina, Larrabetzu, 48195- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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If Azurmendi were up for sale then it would pull in a fortune for its location alone! A spectacular hilltop setting 10 minutes drive from Bilbao airport houses a modern glass and steel building that serves 3 Michelin-starred food of the highest quality. A relatively new kid on the block, Azurmendi was founded in 2005 by superstar chef Eneko Atxa who cut his teeth at such prestigious venues as Andra Mari and Mugaritz. Its fame quickly rose and in 2013, the venue was awarded a third Michelin star. The restaurant, in addition to being celebrated for its Nouvelle Basque cuisine, is noted for its exceptional and well stocked wine cellar, which is also excellent value. A bottle of the superb Alion from Vega Sicilia can be obtained for €60 for example, which is equivalent to the retail price. Atxa’s prize winning dishes include his roast lobster with a tapenade of lobster, mushrooms, black olives and spring onion emulsion and the already legendary Confit of pork on a breadcrumb base salted with pork bones and acorns, garnished with pork jus, herbs and pork crackling. Divine!

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4. Berasategui, Calle Loidi 4, Lasarte-Oria, 20160, San-Sebastian- THREE MICHELIN STARS

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A living legend in Basque gastronomy, Martin Berasategui currently holds more Michelin stars than any other Spanish chef. He opened one of the Basque country’s leading restaurants in 1993, in a charming converted farmhouse. He quickly earned a Michelin star and was awarded his third in 2001. This is a restaurant that strives for perfection and easily achieves it; the service is some of the best in Spain, each dish is meticulously crafted and most importantly, Berasategui will happily substitute any dish for something more to your liking. He will also design a menu to fit your budget, which is a rarity in Michelin-starred establishments. Add into the mix an extensive wine list and beautiful setting, and you have the recipe for gastronomic perfection. His signature dishes include a cold potato soup with smoked bacon and the award winning roasted Araiz pigeon, with fresh mushroom pasta, spring onions and light touches of truffle cream.

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5. Elkano, Herrerieta Kalea, 2, 20808, Getaria

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This restaurant is justly celebrated for being a seafood lover’s paradise. Located in the charming Basque village of Getaria, head chef Pedro Arregui, aided by grill master Luís Manterola are famous all over Spain, in fact Europe and beyond for their exquisite shellfish and grilled fish dishes, washed down with the local Basque wine, Txacoli. Their secret is simply only using the freshest, seasonal and locally caught produce which is clearly reflected in the menu. The undisputed highlight at Elkano is the turbot-rodaballo, whole turbot cooked on oak charcoal ashes very slowly, without touching the fire, the result being the finest turbot we have ever tasted. Visitors must also try the delightful kokotxas pil pil, which is grilled hake jowl served with a sauce prepared with its own gelatin, olive oil, parsley, and garlic. Finish with the delicious helado de queso de Idiazabal, ice cream made from a mascarpone-like local cheese served with fresh strawberry coulis.

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6. Etxebarri, Calle de San Juán, 1, 24549 Atxondo- ONE MICHELIN STAR

etxebarri 66Head chef and founder Victor Arguinzoniz is the master of Asador style cooking, which is a traditional Spanish method which cooks everything over a large charcoal grill, including dessert! Located in the beautiful Basque countryside, the restaurant offers new culinary creations based on classic techniques and Arguinzoniz is not afraid to grill baby eels, rice, clams, anchovies and black truffles in his quest for culinary perfection. At the heart of this gastronomic temple, however, is a love of freshness and flavor rather than aesthetics for aesthetics sake or overwrought creations.  The wine list is a similar delight, packed with diverse offerings from Spain’s finest regions. Start your feast with his signature grilled baby eels. Follow with baby sea-cucumbers and green beans and tartar of fresh lobster, then move onto the obligatory chuletón or gilled rib eye. This restaurant, although off the beaten track is an essential visit for lovers of great food and wine!

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7. La Villa Eugenie, Hotel du Palais, 1 Avenue de l’ Imperatrice, 64200, Biarritz- ONE MICHELIN STAR

One of France’s greatest restaurants, the Michelin-starred Villa Eugenie can be found in the stunningly beautiful Hotel du Palais in the glamours French resort of Biarritz. The hotel was founded in 1855 as a private villa (known as Villa Eugenie) for the Empress Eugenie. In 1880 the villa was sold and subsequently converted into a hotel casino and then the luxury hotel we see today. It is now a must visit destination of gourmets traveling in the Basque country and the favourite of many Parisians, who say it exceeds the finest restaurants in the French capital. Head Chef Jean-Marie Gautier is a culinary master, but unlike some of his contemporaries prefers to serve classical dishes and is not a slave to the inventiveness of the new Basque school of gastronomy. The ornate, opulent dining room is a sight to behold and one of the most romantic destinations in France. Diners come from far and wide to enjoy his wonderful creations, including the sangria poached duck foie gras and sautéed sucking lamb with artichoke. As expected, the wine list is extensive and a Bordeaux and Burgundy lovers delight.

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8. L´Atelier, 8, rue de la Bergerie – Quartier St Charles, 64200 Biarritz- ONE MICHELIN STAR

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Another fantastic example of fine gastronomy in the resort of Biarritz, L’Atelier is run by a husband and wife team who recently gained their first Michelin star. A deserving accolade for one of the region’s finest restaurants, presided over by head chef Alexandre Bousquet, while his wife runs the front of house. This small, intimate restaurant serves modern, refined cuisine which mixes the best elements of its French and Basque heritage. Some dishes that must be tried include the sea bream and mashed potato with a pistachio sauce, fried oysters with coconut foam and his divine veal sweetbreads. The wine list offers many gems from both France and Spain, including a great selection of vintage Champagnes. Magnifique!

9. Mugaritz, Otzazulueta Baserria, Aldura Aldea 20, Errenteria, 20100 San Sebastian- TWO MICHELIN STARS

mugaritz

Andoni Luis Aduriz, who founded Mugaritz in 1998 has a pedigree like no other in Spain. This incredibly talented chef worked at the legendary El Bulli in the 1990s and also trained under Martin Berasategui in 1996, another of the Basque country’ leading chefs. He is widely acknowledged to be at the forefront of the new Basque haute cuisine of the region, following the template set out by chefs like Arzak, who wished to investigate the science behind food preparation in their pursuit of perfect molecular gastronomy. Dining at Mugartiz – a mere 20 minutes drive by car from San-Sebastian – therefore, is an experience rather than just an evening of great food. Expect such creative delicacies as noodles of milk skin wrapped in lard served with a tomatoes and pumpkin emulsion, hake with cauliflower and marscarpone cheese and lamb with brain ragout! Service as you’d expect is flawless and attentive throughout and the wine list is a monument to every major Spanish wine producing region.

Mugaritz - gnoc

10. Zoko Moko, 6 Rue Mazarin, 64500, St Jean de Luz- ONE MICHELIN STAR

zoko 2

This elegant and beautiful venue is now undoubtedly St Jean de Luz’s best restaurant. Presided over by head chef Remy Benedeyt since 2011, his cooking is a veritable showcase of sophisticated Basque cooking, and is well worth the visit to this delightful seaside resort on the French Basque coast. The emphasis is squarely on providing diners with a warm personal touch, service is friendly rather than overly formal and the restaurant is only too happy to accommodate your personal requests or preferences. Highlights include prawns on a bed of a julienne of avocado and courgette and the famous cannettes (female duck) which comprises of a pan fried breast and a confit leg. Desserts are also splendid, as is the carefully prepared wine list. Prices are reasonable considering the quality on offer and if this fantastic restaurant has a drawback, well then we can’t see it!

zoko 1

11. Zortziko, Calle Alameda Mazarredo 17, El Ensanche, Bilbao, 48001- ONE MICHELIN STAR

zortziko class

The legendary Zortziko remains today Bilbao’s finest Michelin-starred restaurant; founded by Daniel Garcia in 1989 it continues to wow visitors with Garcia’s superlative, contemporary haute cuisine. The destination is worth the price of admission alone, a gorgeous and elegant building which was actually declared a historic monument. Garcia keeps the menu seasonal, allowing diners to return and sample different innovative dishes, which are always sublime. Service is totally professional and the wine list impressive. Start your meal with the signature langostino con risotto de perretxikos (prawns with wild mushroom risotto), followed by the suprema de pintada asada a la salsa de trufas (guinea fowl in truffle sauce). Finish with strawberry soup and rhubarb ice cream for real gastronomic heaven.

Zortziko comedor

12. Zuberoa, Araneder Bidea, Barrio Iturriotz, 20180 Oiartzun- ONE MICHELIN STAR

Restaurante-Zuberoa

Another of Spain’s best restaurants, Zuberoa is set in an idyllic 600 year old farmhouse in the Basque countryside. Founded by the Arbelaitz brothers, the restaurant has maintained over the years a flawless consistency in its culinary artistry, head chef Hilario Arbelaitz is a devotee to the new Basque school of cookery, although he never forgets the traditional origins of Basque cooking which shines through in his creations. Service is perfect, complimenting his delicious, inventive cooking. Signature dishes include: foie gras with chickpea sauce, roasted Norway lobster, vichyssoise and vanilla ravioli, roast duck foie gras with a red fruit sauce and his legendary strawberry and tomato soaked gazpacho.

restaurante-zuberoa_

Best Wine Bars in Barcelona – Cellar Tours Shortlist

Posted by gen On September - 22 - 2013

Our selection of fave wine bars  in Barcelona….

Madrileños will strongly disagree, but there is no doubting that Barcelona‘s nightlife and bar scene is now one of the most vibrant in Europe. For while the citizens of Catalonia’s capital are all too happy to culturally distance themselves from their regional neighbors, they have in common with all Spaniards a love of social drinking that supports the highest number of bars per capita in the world. So banish those clichés of pitchers of Sangria on Las Ramblas and instead be prepared to party in a city that continues to sizzle with creativity: Barcelona’s wine bars and restaurants speak more of bold contemporary design than tradition!

barcelona cata 181 2

Today, Barcelona’s wine bars run the gamut from trendy, design led hotel bars to wood-paneled wine cellars and backstreet local haunts. An explosion of nightlife has occurred in recent years in the City’s waterfront area, which continues to attract large volumes of tourists in the summer. Cava and wine bars, some elegant and cool, some funky and style conscious are also reaching new heights of popularity, especially in the trendy Born district east of Barcelona’s gothic quarter. These bars vary enormously in clientele and vibe, but all are extraordinary atmospheric.

Just don’t expect things to get going before 10pm, especially at the weekend as people get into their night-time stride. Of course, not every venue in this captivating city is worth a visit, so we have done the hard work and listed Barcelona’s best wine bars below:

Salud!

The Bankers Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – 38-40 Passeig de Gracia

Since opening in 2009, this world-class hotel has won pundits far and wide for its service and has emerged as one of Barcelona’s finest and most sought-after hotels. Housed in an old bank vault, the Mandarin’s classy and refined Banker’s Bar has become a popular choice for both locals and visitors wishing to sample a range of Spanish and international wines by the bottle or glass. There is a real sense of sophistication about the space – sleek, softly lift with a black bar counter and black leather chairs. The service is exemplary and a range of high-quality tapas compliments the extensive wine list.

barcelona-restaurant-bankers-bar-2

Monvinic – 249 Carrer de la Diputacio

Could Monvinic be the best wine bar in the world? It certainly comes close, as Monvinic has an incredible selection of both Spanish and imported wines by the glass or bottle. The emphasis here is on merging the traditional and cutting edge – visitors are handed an iPad like device instead of a wine list, however, a very large wine library is free for anyone to peruse at their leisure. The space is relaxed, elegant and refined, with soft cream colors and chairs replaced by loungers. There are over 60 selections by the glass and unusually for a Spanish destination; there is no bias to local wines. The bite-size accompaniments are also some of the best to be found in the Catalan capital – try the langoustines!

monvinic 2

Hotel Omm’s Lounge and Terrace bar – 265 Carrer Rossello

Hotel Omm led the way in re-defining Barcelona’s hotel and bar scene with its extremely smart, sophisticated urban accommodation for discerning travelers. It’s informal but chic lounge bar has become a firm favorite with Barcelona’s night crowd at the weekends, in addition to the hotel’s guests. Relax in the ridiculously comfortable sofas and peruse their extensive wine menu, which includes some brilliant cava options by the glass. An ultra-trendy club occupies the basement, whilst in the summer months the action takes place on Omm’s fantastic terrace, with views straight over to Gaudi’s masterpiece La Pedrera next door.

Omm

La Vinya del Senyor – 5 Placa Santa Maria

Still in a class of its own, La Vinya del Senyor occupies a space on the delightful Plaça de Santa Maria del Mar right in front of the extraordinary Gothic cathedral, gorgeous spot. Hoards of both tourists and natives come here to taste a wide variety of red and white vintages, accompanied by great value tapas. A good and varied selection of around 300 Spanish and imported wines, including some great cava and sherry, is served at the counter; or in the summer months on the fantastic outdoor terrace. There is no finer spot for people watching in Barcelona. Don´t miss it!

vinyadelsenyor3

La Vinoteca Torres – 78 Passeig de Gracia

Torres’ global wine empire now extends to serving excellent tapas and pretty much every Torres wine by the glass at this deservedly popular wine bar on the city’s famous Passeig de Gracia Boulevard. The place’s secret is its ability to be things to all men: purchase wine, stay for a glass, and sample a few tapas or a full-blown 5 course meal. The venue is sleek and stylish and the tapas are some of the finest and most inventive in the city -  Vinoteca offers a great opportunity to enjoy the top-end wines of Torres without having to commit to a bottle. Service is uniformly excellent too.

Cata 1.81 – 181 Carrer de Valencia

The clean, modern interior of this ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ underground venue in Barcelona’s Eixample district suggests that this is no ordinary tapas bar. It is in fact a haven for oenophiles and mini gastronomic surprises. Cata 1.81 serves more than 250 wines by the bottle, with a clear emphasis on wines from every major Spanish region, and a list of over 25 by the glass that changes every 15 days. The only drawback is that space at this wonderful wine bar is quite limited so get there early!

barcelona cata 181

El Xampanyet – 22 Carrer de Montcada

Barcelona’s best-known cava bar still packs them in with its inviting atmosphere and selection of tapas and cava by the glass. Discover the finer points of Spain’s bubbly by sampling the wares of different produces by the glass, accompanied by perhaps a selection of sardines or a Jamon platter. The colorful tiles, stacked casks hung with a variety of bottle-openers and well-worn interior bespeak the informal, fun atmosphere for which this family run operation is well-loved. There is nothing cutting-edge or trendy about the place, which only adds to its timeless appeal.

xampa

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

Ten Most Beautiful Castles in Spain

Posted by gen On May - 12 - 2010

Spain’s turbulent history has resulted in the country being home to over 2500 castles, ranging from Moorish castles to military fortresses built in the “Reconquista”, medieval castles, castles overlooking the sea….

Many of these beautiful  castles are perfectly preserved, others in romantic ruins on atmospheric hilltops.  Here is a perhaps controversial selection of our personal 10 favorites, many of them in the wine country:

1. Segovia’s Alcazar

The ultimate Disney castle, the Alcazar of Segovia is just gorgeous. And such rich history. This is where Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand met for the first time and where King Philip (Felipe) the 2nd married his wife (Anne of Austria). You can visit the interior of the castle and also climb up over 150 stairs on a narrow, winding staircase to get to the Torre Juan II and enjoy views over Segovia and the countryside. Quite magical in winter, when you can also appreciate the local suckling pig and fab wines.

Most beautful castles in Spain2. Jarandilla

This preserved 15th century castle has been converted into one of Spain’s national Parador hotels and is located in the wonderful region of Extremadura (Paprika mecca). King Charles V lived here and the castle and grounds are very atmospheric. The cuisine here is rustic fare and terrific. While in this region don´t miss medieval Trujillo and Cáceres, gorgeous places. On the other side of the border is the Portuguese Alentejo region, full of Arabic castles and romantic wine estates.

Most beautful castles in Spain

3. Mota

This delightful gothic castle near the Rueda and Ribera del Duero wine regionsis where Juana la Loca (Jane the Mad)lived and over the years has changed its hat from being a royal residence, prison and these days is used forspecial events and art exhibitions. More info.

Most beautiful castles Spain

4. Ponferrada

Whimsical castle in one of our favorite wine regions, Bierzo. Interesting as it is one of Spain´s few Templar castles. From July 1-4, the local town council is organizing  medieval Templar nights, very atmospheric.

Most beautiful Castles in Spain

5. Coca

A 15th century ornate, perfectly preserved military castle located about half an hour from Segovia, Castillo de Coca is a very handsome castle. You can visit the inside of the castle too (not all castles allow visits). Why not make it an afternoon excursion from Segovia? Bring a picnic and munch on Chorizo and queso while sitting in the shade of the trees and sipping on some chilled Rueda…


Most beautiful Castles in Spain

6. Olite

This absolutely gorgeous castles in Navarra is one of the loveliest in Spain and set right in the middle of the historic village of Olite and overlooking vineyards. Stay the night in Olite (the Parador, also a historic building is the best spot in town) and enjoy the castle lit up and the wonderful local restaurants. While in the area, visit the super Ochoa winery and why not pop over to the neighboring Rioja wine region?

Most beautiful castles in Spain

7. Peñafiel

Situated in the heart of the Ribera del Duero wine country, the Castillo de Peñafiel houses a regional wine museum and overlooks a charming medieval village of the same name.  Shaped like a battleship and set right on top of a steep hill, a stop here is a must if touring the wine country. You can stay nearby at the pretty Convento las Claras.

Most beautiful castles in Spain

8. Alarcon

This Arabic fortress (dating back to the 8th century!) in Cuenca province in the La Mancha wine region has been transformed into an itty bitty Parador (only a few rooms, including the Infante Don Juan Manuel room at the top of the castle keep ). This is the land of Don Quixote, dusty and dreamy. Visit Cuenca with its hanging houses and the swish Pago Vicario wine estate.

Beautiful castles Spain

9.  Tossa de Mar

Overlooking the sparkling sea, this castle (fortified tower) wins for location location location. Tossa de Mar is a touristy town on the Costa Brava, close to the Emporda wine region. In the 50′s, when Ava Gardner filmed “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” here it was a sleepy fishing village. These days it’s a popular beach haunt. Absolutely delightful to visit in June or September when the crowds are gone and the weather is balmy…

Beautiful Castles in Spain

10. Loarre

Very close to the Somontano wine region (featured in our Spanish wine odyssey tour) in Huesca you´ll find the absolutelymystical castle of Loarre. This castle complex dates tot he 11th century and is Unesco protected.

Most beautiful castles in Spain

Other wonderful castles, big and small (some abandoned), include the Alcazaba of Guadix, Butrón in Vizcaya, the castle of Vejer in Andalucía, Málaga’s Alcazaba, Coyanza, Burgalimar, Peralada (home to a wine estate to and featured on our Catalonia wine tours), Castillo de Bellver (just above Palma de Mallorca)  and Castillo de Almansa.

More on Spanish castles and architecture here.

Castles in Spain

It´s Friday and you are day dreaming about where do take your next vacation… here are some images of one of our favorite regions on earth, La Rioja, to inspire you :)

Enjoy these shots of Rioja´s vineyards, medieval villages, rivers and mountains…

Rioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine countryRioja wine country

Find out more!

Rioja wine region

Rioja wineries

Rioja wine tours

Madrid Top 10 Tapas Bars

Posted by gen On February - 5 - 2010

Madrid’s Best Tapas Bars

Everybody in Madrid has their Tapas bar- their secret neighborhood hideaway. Whether for a morning coffee, a midday snack, or a late night bottle among friends, madrileños live their lives in their favorite haunts. Here are just ten of our favorite tapas bars in Madrid, to give you a taste. But when you walk through the winding cobblestone streets of Madrid, you will be sure to stumble upon your very own taberna.

by Martina Hemm

 

La Camarilla

La Camarilla

 

Le Cabrera

As the collaboration between Argentinean mixologist, Diego Cabrera and Sergi Arola, the culinary mastermind behind many of Spain’s great restaurants, Le Cabrera could settle back on their good names, but that would go against this new Gastrobar’s principles. Whether in its boutique tapas or distinct cocktails, Le Cabrera gives top ingredients the limelight. Split into two levels diners can start the evening upstairs with a glass mellow red Terrazgo, and follow up with one of Cabrera’s signature drinks in the downstairs cocktail lounge. Or enjoy the night at the open kitchen’s bar, where you can watch the chefs create the stars that make Le Cabrera shine.  Even though head chef, Benjamin Bensoussan, is originally from Marseille his traditional tapas with a twist could fool any Madrileño into believing he was a native. Tiny rolls of potatoes hiding a spicy center and topped with a smooth garlic aioli, are what Le Cabrera calls patatas bravas; a worthy addition to any gourmand’s dictionary.

Calle Bárbara de Braganza 2
Madrid
Tel +34 913 199 457

Taberna Matritum

Rustic yet refined, Matritum is set back from the busy bustle of Cava Baja. Enter into the cozy dining room and watch the dim lighting reflect off of the over 400 wines on display, which the in house sommelier will be more than happy to go guide you through. Treat yourself to one of Matritum’s specialties: pan seared foie with a confit of oven roasted apples and onions or a gratin of scallops in a luscious Cava cream. Better yet, brings friends and join in on a family style serving of patatas bravas with five cheeses.

Cava Alta 17
Madrid
Tel +34 913 658 237

Best tapas Bars in Madrid

Taberna Agrado

Meaning to please in Spanish, Agrado does everything to stay true to its name. Although only a week old at the time of publishing, the tiny modern taberna tucked in amongst the winding backstreets of Madrid, already has a large following of locals who know to appreciate good customer service.  For those in need, the openhearted bartenders are quick to give a wine recommendation, favoring those from their hometown such the 2008 La Vendimia. Drinks are served with crumbled aged Parmesan drizzled with a tart olive oil. If you have come with an appetite Agrado has empanadas de carne with a spicy pebre of onions, pepper, and cilantro, and an excellent list of small dishes focusing on seasonal produce such as the ceviche with ripe mango and crunchy red onions, to please your hunger.

C/Ballesta 1
Madrid
Tel +34 915 216 346

Casa Lucas

Long lines speak for the popularity of this Cava Baja mainstay. So be sure to arrive early and put down your name for one of the coveted tables. This will give you enough time to browse the chalkboard’s daily specials and skim the crowds for a friendly face. Dim lighting and laughter make it easy to find a conversation and enjoy the homey atmosphere over a glass of dry white Peñedes and their classic tapa of pork loin on a confit of onions.

Best Tapas Madrid

Calle Cava Baja 30
Madrid
Tel +34 913 650 804‎

La Perejila

The tiny entrance to La Perejila is easy to miss despite its green color, but sneak a peak inside and the soft breeze of Andalusia will beckon you in.  Flamenco memorabilia covers the walls and lends a distinct touch to the colorful nightspot frequented by the La Latina’s bohemians. Saddle up to the bar and toast to the vibrant atmosphere with a glass of Cava. Be sure to try the salmorejo, a deliciously refreshing soup similar to gazpacho, and if you are feeling like something heartier the toast of sobrasada and warm goat cheese with a drizzle of caramel will leave you craving for more and happy you haven’t missed this jewel of a bar.

Best tapas bars in Madrid

Calle Cava Baja 25
Madrid
Tel +34 913 642 855‎

La Camarilla

A total contrast to the sleek dining room, the bar area of la Camarilla with its bistro tables and worn terra cotta tiled floor, is the perfect pit stop on a tour through La Latina. After a morning of scouring antiques at the Rastro market around the corner, enjoy a typical Madrid breakfast of café cortado and toast with tomato and olive oil. Come back at night to pick and choose from the tapas on display, from salmon rolls filled with a scallop béchamel to sautéed mushrooms topped with green pardon peppers. While the night is still young, browse the long list of wines representing every corner of Spain and enjoy a glass while the music continues to play until the early morning.

Best tapas Madrid

Calle Cava Baja 21
Madrid, Spain
+34 913 540 207

Mercado San Miguel

Come on a weekend and hear a medley of languages bounce off of the beautifully restored marketplace. Crowds of Madrileños and world citizens pulse through the wrought iron stands whittling away the hours with laughter and conversation. Home to small upscale shops by day, the market turns into one big tapas bar at night offering a wide range of delicacies from cured ham, to artisan cheese, olives, almonds, and melt in your mouth seafood tapas. Try the traditional sardine tapa with an unconventional curry sauce, a surprisingly divine combination. The Pinkelton & Wine bar has an excellent red, 2007 CLIO, the perfect way to sip the night away watching as the world passes by the glow of the Mercado.

Best tapas Madrid

Plaza de Oriente 3
Madrid
Tel +34 915 415 104‎

Bar Miguel Angel

Hidden within the entrance to an apartment building, is a white door that takes you down into a cellar filled with small wooden tables. This is Bar Miguel Angel, the secret tip of everyone in the barrio: breakfast joint in the morning, white table dining at lunch, after work hangout for young professionals on weekends. But those who really know stop in between 7pm and 9pm, when the mood is mellow and the tables in the alcove are still free. Following tradition every glass comes with a heaping plate of tapas to choose from. Cured ham on pisto with melted goat cheese, or the ubiquitous tortilla Espanola, the options change everyday but the flavor is consistent.

Calle de Miguel Ángel 6
Madrid

Jose Luis

An institution for over 50 years, Jose Luis has locations throughout Madrid, as well as in Sevilla and Barcelona. But the original is in the prestigious Calle Serrano in Madrid. A fashionable establishment of the 60’s, artists, writers, and professionals were drawn by the ambient and the large variety of tapas. Today’s crowd is a mix of decades of regulars, enjoying drinks at the bar or the daily menu. Try to get a seat at one of the two tables in the bar area to enjoy a casual meal among friends with all the pomp that Jose Luis has retained over the years. The counter offers a broad range of traditional tapas to choose from, be sure to savor a variety to see what makes the Madrileños come back day after day, year for year.

Best tapas Madrid

Calle de Serrano 89
Madrid
Tel +34 915 616 413‎

Lateral

The answer to many Madrileños search for modern, sleek, tapas at a good price, Lateral has several strategic locations throughout Madrid. Take a break from shopping your way down Calle Fuencarral with a medley of tapas at Lateral.  But make sure to plan in some waiting time as the young and the fashionable flock here in droves for light dishes with a blast of flavor. Try the rolls of salmon filled with cream cheese and caramelized apples, a warm salad of grilled eggplant, caramelized onions, and goat cheese, or roasted pimientos de pardon with olive oil and sea salt-an emblematic tapa throughout Spain.

Best tapas Madrid

C/ Fuencarral, 43
Madrid
Tel +34 91 531 68 77

Ten Most Beautiful Villages in Spain

Posted by gen On January - 13 - 2010

Spain is packed full of beautiful towns and villages, ranging from the Arab white washed hamlets of the south to slate “pizarra” villages of the north to sandstone pueblos in the Balearic islands and tropical architecture of the Canary islands. It is near impossible to pick ten, but here is a good start: our selection of the ten most darling villages in Spain, in our most humble opinion.

Feel free to tell us your favorites, too as there are dozens more gorgeous towns!

TOP TEN MOST BEAUTIFUL VILLAGES IN SPAIN

1. Cadaqués

Most beautiful villages in Spain

2. Cudillero

Most beautiful towns in Spain

3. Hondarribia

Most beautiful villags in Spain

4. Besalù

Most beautiful towns Spain

5. Trujillo

Most beautiful towns in Spain

6. Pedraza

Most beautiful towns Spain

7. Ronda

Most beautiful towns in Spain

8. La Orotava

La Orotava- Canarybird 2009

La Orotava- Canarybird 2009

9. Úbeda

Most beautiful towns in Spain

10. Deià

Most beautiful towns in Spain

Postcards from Asturias in Green Spain

Posted by gen On December - 15 - 2009

Enjoy some of our photos of Asturias, in Northern “Green” Spain, one of our FAVORITE places to disconnect, eat well and relax.  Stunning nature, sea and mountains, delicious local cuisine, super friendly locals- what more could one ask for?

Asturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green Spain

Asturias- Green Spain

Asturias- Green Spain

Asturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green SpainAsturias- Green Spain

Keeping things light:

Here are some of our suggestions for the weirdest and wackiest museums in Europe.

Enjoy this silly list, and feel free to send us your tips for weird museums or tourist attractions you have encountered while travelling in Europe-

1. Museum of Sewers, Paris

Weirdest Museums in Europe

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2. Stockfish museum, Norway

Weirdest museums in Europe

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3. Phallus Museum in Iceland- seriously…

Weirdest museums in Europe

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4. Medieval Torture and Crime museum in San Gimignano, Italy

Weird museums Europe

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5. The Fan Museum, England

Fan Museum, England

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6. Moscow Cat Museum

Weird museums Europe

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7. The German Leather Museum

Weird museums Europe

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8. Bandit Museum, Ronda, Spain

Fun museums Europe

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9. Witchcraft Museum, England

Weird museums Europe

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10. Erotic Museum Amsterdam

Weird museums Europe

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Unique Marriage Proposal Ideas

Are you thinking of popping the question and just can’t think of where to do it or how to make it special?

Do you want to organize the time of her life and cherish the memories of your proposal day forever?

Are you looking for a unique, incomparable, ultra romantic and creative wedding proposal idea?

Well, you have come to the right place! We are incorrigible romantics and have a few ideas that are sure to make her so impressed, she will say “yes”:

1). VERONA, ITALY- ROMEO & JULIET

Verona wedding proposal

Spend a night in one of the most romantic historic hotels in Italy- in the courtyard of Juliet’s house in Verona, booking the room “Il Cuore” at the magical “Il Sogno di Giulietta”, overlooking Juliet’s courtyard and balcony. In the morning, go out to your private terrace for a champagne breakfast where she will see a medieval style banner hanging from Juliet’s balcony, saying “Will you marry me?”. Below, a private serenade with local musicians will be the final coup de grace!

Verona wedding proposal

2). BARCELONA , SPAIN- JEEP RIDE THROUGH THE VINES & PICNIC

Wedding proposal ideas

Your Mercedes will pick you up at your hotel in Barcelona and sweep you away to the Penedès wine country, about an hour south. Upon arrival to the wine estate, meet your charming hosts and hop into the jeep to tour the beautiful vineyards. Stop at a the 13th century hermitage on the property, at the hill´s summit and a romantic picnic will be set up for you. When the Cava bottle is popped, you can pop the question while looking out at the vast vineyards and Mediterranean sea in the distance. Follow with a private tour of the estate and celebrate with a glass of their excellent “Honeymoon”, an interesting single varietal wine, made with 100% Parellada, an aromatic Catalan grape.

3). DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL- WINE CRUISE

Wedding proposal ideas

If you or your partner are port wine lovers, there is no better place to spend this special day than in the breathtaking Douro Valley. Stay at the luxury spa hotel Aquapura and about an hour before sunset take a private Rabelo cruise on the Douro River. These are replica Vintage boats traditionally used to carry the wine down the river from Douro to the lodges in Oporto. Sip chilled white port while taking in the views of the vineyards and colonial style Quintas. On one of them, a banner with “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” will be displayed when the boat passes by. When you get back to the hotel, rose petals will have been spread around your hotel room, and a bottle of bubbly awaits…

Wedding proposal ideas

4). MADRID, SPAIN- WINE, ART AND ROMANCE

Marriage Proposal Wine and Art

For art and wine lovers, Madrid is an interesting destination. Begin the morning with a private guided tour of the outstanding Prado museum with a focus on wine throughout the ages and in art.  To follow, enjoy a supremely entertaining private wine tasting masterclass in a 19th century refined building with exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable hosts. Among the bottles lined on the table, one will have a custom made label saying  “Will you marry me?” Your celebratory toast will be with the stunning Krpta cava.

Marriage Proposal Wine and Art

5). VENICE, ITALY-PRIVATE COOK´S TOUR AND SUNSET GONDOLA

Marriage Proposals in Europe

No woman can resist a man who cooks. So, why not organize a market tour and a private cooking class for the two of you as part of your vacation in Italy. Venice is the ultimate romantic destination and you can spend a day taking in a Rialto market tour with gourmet tastings and learn how to cook the perfect Italian meal!  After the lunch with your private and charming chef, tasting your own creations, you will get a diploma. On your girlfriend’s one, it will read “Will you marry me?. Finish this unforgettable day with a gondola ride at sunset with bubbles on board!

Marriage Proposals in Europe

6). TUSCANY, ITALY- HOT AIR BALLOON AT SUNRISE

Marriage Proposals in Europe

As a day excursion from Florence to Siena, head to the Chianti wine country at dawn and watch the spectacular colors of the early morning over the olive groves and medieval villages as you float over this fairy tale land on your own private hot air balloon. When your champagne toast is served on board,  a note will accompany the tray saying “Say yes and let´s have a reason to celebrate, marry me!” When you land, your driver will be waiting and you´ll spend a day in the wine country including an incredible Michelin starred lunch in a 14th century hamlet.

Marriage Proposals in Europe

7). BORDEAUX, FRANCE- SUNSET PROPOSAL AT TOP CHATEAU

Unique marriage proposal ideas

Spend a night at a gorgeous Chateau in Bordeaux´s left bank on the “Chateaux Route”, taking in a private dinner in the historic dining room. At sunset, go for a walk on the manicured grounds, and as you are served your aperitif by elegant waiter, the box for the ring will be presented with the wine along with a single rose. Voilà, the perfect moment to propose.

8). CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE-TOAST IN THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE WORLD´S BEST BUBBLY

Unique marriage proposal ideas

Take a day tour to Champagne from Paris. After a morning of wine tasting, enjoy a gourmet aphrodisiac´s lunch on a private terrace facing the vineyards. Your waiter will be working with you on this, now when you select the wine, he will come back with a magnum bottle of champagne. On it your fiancée´s name will be painted on it, along with the message of your choice. A variation of the champagne theme can be a private “sabrage” in a champagne cave like at the beautiful Pommery cellar, where you will have the perfect private moment to propose.

Marriage Proposals in Europe

9). PRIORAT, SPAIN- HELICOPTER WEDDING PROPOSAL AND WINE TASTING

Unique marriage proposal ideas

If money is no object and you want to have the experience of a lifetime, spend a day visiting a top Priorat vineyard Costers del Siurana by private helicopter from Barcelona. When you arrive to the wine estate the owner himself will board the helicopter with you and you´ll get expert commentary on this gorgeous region with its terraced vineyards from the air. Land again and cruise the vineyards by landrover before carrying on to a vertical tasting of top vintages at the winery. An 8 course gourmet feast is next, each course paired with estate wines. When things can´t get any better, the dessert will be presented, with the ring inside the tart. Absolutely fantastic way to propose.

10). ROSS CASTLE, IRELAND- PRIVATE BOAT AND PROPOSAL IN MYSTICAL LAKE

Unique marriage proposal ideas

Your driver and vintage Rolls Royce will collect you at your hotel in Ireland´s Kerry or Cork regions and you´ll travel through idyllic landscapes to the ethereal Killarney lakes. Board a private boat at Ross Castle, and once you have sailed tot he middle of the lake, your gourmet picnic basket will be presented. Smoked organic salmon, artisan Irish cheeses, homemade Gubbeen oatcakes and of course a chilled bottle of champagne will be included. Present your lover with an Irish Claddagh ring as the engagement ring…

Ireland wedding proposals

More great ideas of how to pop the question:

* Treasure Hunt in a Castle

* Horsedrawn Carriage Proposal

* Horseback riding at sunset through the vineyards

* Private dinner in a vineyard

* Venetian Carnival and Masquerade Dance Proposal

More info: Cellar Tours offer fabulous custom designed marriage proposal tours

Marriage Proposals in Europe