Revel in the colour and vibrancy of Spain. There’s a wealth of choice for compelling experiences, from becoming part of a Catalonian human tower to exploring San Sebastián’s foodie scene and enjoying a dramatic flamenco show in Seville.
SEE BARCELONA'S SEMINAL ART
From remarkable paintings to momentous architecture, explore Barcelona’s greatest art destinations with a private guide. From 1895, Pablo Picasso spent his formative years in the city and studied art here: see the Picasso Museum which holds 4,000 of his paintings, including much of his early work and his brilliant interpretations of Velázquez’s Las Meninas. Joan Miró, his contemporary, was born in Barcelona and also studied art here. In the leafy Montjuïc area, you’ll visit Fundació Joan Miró, a haven of his gentle Surrealist paintings and sculptures as well as a showcase for contemporary artists. Nearby is Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, where you can explore 1,000 years of art in the region, from stunning Romanesque works to striking photography. Your guide will also take you to Barcelona’s most iconic site, Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia basilica, its spires rising above the city like extraordinary peaks. Still under construction more than 140 years after the foundation stone was laid, this massive building is a hauntingly beautiful place of soaring vaulted ceilings, jewel-like stained-glass panels and strange, wonderful sculptures.
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MEET BARCELONA'S FISHERMAN
For a terrific and memorable dining experience head to Barcelona’s fishing quarter, Barceloneta, accompanied by an expert guide. In juxtaposition to the beach and the sleek yachts in the area is the hard-working old harbour. Your guide will introduce you to the inside world of this fishing port, telling you about the biodiversity of Mediterranean sea life and the professional, sustainable practices of today’s fishing community ‒ which your excursion is helping to support. You’ll meet fishmongers and you may see fishermen tending their boats and fixing nets. You’ll also enjoy a fresh and tasty catch of the day, dining with a family of fishermen and, with your guide to translate, learning about the different boats and the daily lives of the netters and fishermen, and enjoying their stories.
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BECOME PART OF A HUMAN TOWER
The building of castells, or human towers (one group of people standing on another group’s shoulders), is a Catalan practice dating back to the 18th century and traditionally taking place at fiestas. It’s an art form, a sport and a show of strength during which the pyramid-building teams attempt to create higher and higher castells (some have an astonishing 10 tiers of people) and also dismantle the structures of other teams, all to much cheering from surrounding crowds. In 2010 the custom was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In Catalonia they say building a castell requires força, equilibri, valor, i seny ‒ strength, balance, courage and common sense. Become part of a team, training with experts and learning how to build every part of the pyramid, from the pinya (or base) right up to the top, with a single enxaneta climbing to the final tier and raising an open hand to signal that the tower is complete.
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ENJOY WINE TASTING IN LA RIOJA
This is an interesting time to come to Spain’s most famous wine region. Across La Rioja’s vine-growing area in the Ebro Valley, there are many traditional producers using time-honoured methods. But alongside them, recently arrived, cutting-edge wineries have been introducing new ideas. The region’s lesser-known white wines have seen the biggest changes. Reds, though, remain La Rioja’s acknowledged forte, for which Tempranillo is the principal grape, often blended with Garnacha for more body. All this and much more you’ll learn on a visit to one of the region’s celebrated producers. You’ll take in the cellars to explore the winemaking process before enjoying a tasting session, sampling everything from young ‘Joven’ wines to more spicy Crianzas, aged for at least two years, and exceptional Gran Reservas with complex, big flavours. You’ll also be served lunch and will be able to order a case of your favourite wine to be sent to your home.
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EXPLORE FOODIE SAN SEBASTIÁN
Known as Donostia in Basque, pretty, charming San Sebastián is one of the world’s top gourmet destinations and proudly has 16 Michelin stars. In Europe, that’s the highest concentration per square mile of the foodie accolade. It exudes an epicurean spirit, particularly in its handsome Old Town. On a private guided visit, wander the fishing port and narrow streets here then head to one of the town’s two traditional food markets, La Bretxa or San Martin, where your guide will introduce you to stallholders. You’ll also learn how gastronomic societies have an important role in San Sebastián society; these are usually closed to the public, but your guide will take you to enjoy an atmospheric lunch in one of them. Alternatively, your guide will give you chapter and verse on San Sebastián’s famous pintxos dishes – tiny and wonderfully inventive small plates ‒ and take you on a pintxos bar-hopping tour, during which you’ll sample some dishes with a glass of Txakoli, a sparkling wine traditionally served with drama by being poured into a tumbler from a height.
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GO CLIFF JUMPING IN IBIZA
For a full-on, adrenalin-fuelled experience go cliff jumping; it’s amazing, daunting and exhilarating in equal measure, and the euphoria you feel as you descend into the water can’t be underestimated. Of course, it’s all the better if the sea is warm and crystal clear and the setting is glorious, too: Ibiza offers terrific areas for cliff jumping along the dramatic, unspoilt northern coast. On a guided excursion, you’ll be accompanied by an expert who will begin by sharing theory and safety instructions; you’ll start with a relatively easy jump and work up to more challenging heights according to ability and confidence. You will be shown different ways to jump, particularly the pencil style, making your body as straight as possible, feet pointed downwards to minimise the surface area that strikes the water. The locations are carefully chosen for safety ‒ and beauty, too.
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VISIT THE BERNABÉU STADIUM
Tune into Madrid’s football culture. A must for all footie fans is an excursion to near-legendary Santiago Bernabéu stadium. It is home to Real Madrid, one of the world’s most-awarded clubs, with 35 La Liga (Spanish league) titles and 14 European Cup wins. See these trophies and more on a private guided visit. Get an adrenalin rush as you walk through the players’ tunnel and set foot on the pitch where soccer giants such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos have played. Walk the perimeter and sit in some of the best of the 80,000 seats ‒ you’ll even be taken to the presidential box. Then relive sporting triumphs through interactive screens in the stadium’s museum.
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KAYAK ALONG THE MENORCAN COAST
Menorca’s 134 miles of glorious coastline are surrounded by shallow waters and dotted with beaches and quiet coves, many of which have no road nearby and are best accessed from the sea. It’s a combination that makes kayaking here a winning option. On a private excursion with a guide, you’ll visit hidden bays and marvel at the abundance of birds living on the cliffs ‒ Balearic shearwaters, storm petrels and alpine swifts among them. The biggest challenge is simply deciding on a route. On the south coast, Cala en Porter is a great starting point for exploring sea caves. On the north coast, the route between Es Grau and Cala Sa Torreta runs through Albufera des Grau, Menorca’s only national park, complete with lagoons, coastal islets and dune systems.
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WATCH THE SUNSET ON A SAILING EXCURSION
Board a beautifully equipped catamaran for a spectacular evening, seeing the sky turn from deep shades of blue to golden yellows, orange and hues of pink as the sun sets across the Bay of Palma. The excursion begins in the Port of Palma where you’ll meet your captain and embark in the afternoon, relaxing on board while the catamaran heads towards Cala Vella, southeast of Mallorca’s handsome capital. You’ll enjoy a cocktail and superb panoramas as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon and the catamaran turns to head back to the port.
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SEE A FLAMENCO SHOW IN SEVILLE
Exuding passion, energy and emotion, flamenco is a compelling artform blending dance and guitar playing with singing and a great flourish of percussion from castanets, polyrhythmic hand-clapping and foot-stomping. It is fabulous to watch and hear, particularly in Andalucia where it originated, largely based on gypsy culture, in about the 15th century. Seville, the colourful capital of the region, is widely considered the cradle of flamenco culture and is renowned for its tablaos, dedicated flamenco venues where dramatic, traditional shows are performed. There are many flamenco options across the city, but for a truly authentic and intimate performance head to Plaza de Santa Cruz where Tablao Los Gallos has been presenting magnificent shows in a historic, renovated house since 1966. Its Andalucian architecture adds to the spectacle – and you can enjoy sangria and cocktails alongside.
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GO WHALE WATCHING IN TENERIFE
Enjoy a private morning boat ride to marvel at frisky dolphins and a wealth of whales in the warm waters off the coast of the largest of the Canary Islands. Tenerife offers remarkable opportunities to see cetaceans largely thanks to a channel up to 3,000m deep that runs between the island’s southwest shores and the eastern coast of La Gomera; strong currents drive squid and fish into this area making it a perfect feeding ground. Some 400 pilot whales live in the region year-round and there are resident pods of bottlenose dolphins here, too. You are more than likely to spot this marine life, often close up, at any month. There are plenty of other cetacean visitors as well: sperm whales pass through between March and May; fin whales feast here from November to February; you may even get a sighting of orcas, humpback whales and Blainville’s beaked whales, too.