Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Photo of travelers Ann Wilkinson and her husband in Serralves Foundation in Porto.

Ann Wilkinson and Wayne Amedee at the Serralves Foundation in Porto.

We had a wonderful trip to Spain and Portugal, 3 weeks in late September into October, thanks to Pablo Calvo and his colleague Catarina. Pablo engaged us promptly and was very responsive through the planning and the trip itself.

Right off the bat, I want to acknowledge Wendy’s oft-repeated mantra. Having the right fixer for the unexpected is invaluable. On my first day of the trip, I had a dental emergency. I asked Pablo for help in finding a dentist. Within a few minutes, he had made an appointment for me with a reputable clinic in Barcelona. Everything was in order and my situation was resolved!

Our hotels in Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastián, Porto and Lisbon were top tier. The guides and drivers in various locations were exceptional. We made day trips to Toledo, Figueres, Basque Country (both in Spain and France), Bilbao, Sintra. We loved visits to palaces and art museums, particularly enjoyed gardens and sculpture of the Serralves Foundation in Porto, thrilled with Gaudi architecture in Barcelona. Visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao was a treat. We took a “urban street art” tour and visited many contemporary art museums, our area of interest. We also loved the Fado performance in Lisbon as well as a Jorge Palma concert at the Casa da Musica in Porto. Needless to say, the food was divine everywhere we went.

An exceptional day was a visit to a family-owned Iberian pig farm in the Basque Highlands. The family was delightful. The farm was beautiful and we were treated to the many types of pork products produced by the farm. The owners were 13th generation of the family on this land, literally spanning hundreds of years. Amazing.

A rare disappointment was our hotel in Marialva in the Douro Valley. Though highly recommended, the hotel was understaffed and poorly maintained.

We so looked forward to our WOW Moment, scheduled for the last day of the trip. However because it was an outdoor activity and there was a terrible storm that day, the WOW Moment was cancelled.

I was particularly grateful for the very efficient 24/7 line that we could call or text. That staff was very responsive and took care of issues like changing dinner reservations, adjusting pick-up times, sending us duplicate digital tickets to some venues which required tickets. They were terrific!

A couple of hiccups but, all considered, a marvelous trip.

Our family is a pretty well-travelled bunch but none of us had ever been to a Spanish-speaking country. So it was with much excitement that we arrived in Madrid in early September and fell in love with Spain.

With the help of Travel Expert Pablo Calvo, we fashioned a two-week itinerary that was jam packed, staying in Madrid, Sevilla, Granada and Barcelona with multiple stops in between. We clocked, on average, anywhere from 12,000 to 30,000+ steps per day. I think even Pablo thought we were a little over-ambitious but he crafted an itinerary that balanced time together as a family with time for everyone to explore on their own that gave us a much better than basic appreciation for each stop’s special history, culture and feel.

Our guides were excellent, from the “force of nature” Beatrix who welcomed us to Spain in Madrid and also showed us magical Toledo, to Martin at The Alhambra in Granada, to Faco, our host for a mouth-watering gourmet tapas tour in Barcelona. Tapas isn’t just gazpacho and Spanish tortillas—it’s veal cheeks and snails and honeyed eggplant and fried artichokes and pan con tomate and everything you can imagine.

Special thanks to Lily in Jerez who saw us through an ambitious day that ended with a delightful surprise in Cadiz—a visit to the tall ships in port for the celebration of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world in the 16th century, to Pepe who showed us the enduring charm of Sevilla and its spectacular cathedral, to lovely Marta who schooled us in history and bullfighting in dramatically perched Ronda, to Lores who guided us, wide-eyed, through Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. In Cordoba, if you close your eyes and wish the modern world away, you can see the sultan coming out of the Great Mosque after prayer and families preparing for the sabbath in the Jewish Quarter up to almost the end of the 15th century.

The Alhambra, the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, the Cathedrals in Toledo and Seville, the Prado, the Dali Museum in Figueres, Sagrada Familia and Park Guell in Barcelona—these are all fabulous things to experience but it’s also some of the “smaller” experiences that make a trip memorable and for us, some of them were:

A day trip to Alcala de Henares, home of the University of Alcala, founded in 1293 and birthplace of Cervantes—a delightful “off the beaten path” day.

A river cruise in Sevilla followed, later that evening, by dinner at an excellent riverfront restaurant.

An open-air evening concert in Sevilla at the Real Alcazar.

A sherry tasting and tour in Jerez and a tour and tasting at a small, award-winning eco-winery between Ronda and Granada where we, as the only guests, were joined by the resident dogs and cat.

Watching the sun go down over The Alhambra and, following that, its illumination, from the patio of the Parador de Granada.

The over 2000-year-old city of Girona, one of the most charming places we’ve ever visited.

And don’t forget flamenco!!!

Our trip was excellent and we were very happy with Pablo’s suggestions! The best part of our trip were the private food tours and the cooking class, which I had never thought to do before, and we covered so much ground in every way. I’d highly recommend these experiences, which felt very personal and not touristy. Our only negative was that I’d think twice about a bike tour in Barcelona for an 8 year old. But half of us continued with that same bike tour and loved it. The trip planner absolutely added value by booking fantastic, charming, perfectly located hotels and booking such incredible unique experiences like our cooking class and our tapas and pintxos tours that make a short trip feel SO full of culture, new experiences, new tastes, new friends. Bravo!!

We completed a two-week vacation to northern Spain in June/July 2023 including time in Barcelona, Rioja, and San Sebastian. Pablo did an excellent job selecting guides to help us explore the regions, including historical sights, hiking, wine tasting, and general sightseeing. Our lodging met (and sometimes exceeded) the expectations we had before arrival. We had an excellent trip with no problems.

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