Best Off the Beaten Path in Spain
1) San Sebastián
The city of San Sebastián is the centerpiece of Spain’s oft-overlooked Basque country. Highlights of the city include a lively seaside promenade, a picturesque fishing harbor, a bustling historic quarter, the Alameda del Boulevard (a lively area of cafes, restaurants, and shops) and the Kursaal Palacio (a cultural center made of giant glass cubes). The city also boasts the world’s highest number of Michelin stars per capita, making it the perfect place for a private culinary tour. We recommend a private guide to help you discover the city’s best “pintxos” (Basque tapas). With the right connections, it may also be possible to explore Basque cuisine in one of the exclusive sociedades gastronómicas - Basque social clubs known to have nurtured the region’s culinary tradition. Our hotel of choice in San Sebastián is the María Cristina, a Belle Epoque landmark located in the city center that hosts many celebrities during the annual International Film Festival.
2) Pueblos Blancos
The picturesque Pueblos Blancos are traditional whitewashed settlements that dot Andalucia’s hills and valleys. An excellent region to discover with a private guide and driver, some of the must-see villages include Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera and Vejer de la Frontera. Also noteworthy is the village of Jerez de la Frontera. Famous for its sherry production, Jerez is an excellent place to enjoy a privately-guided wine tour and discover the best of the city’s soaring pitched-roof bodegas (wine cellars). Our hotel of choice in the region is the 5* Hotel V Vejer, a classic Andalucían boutique hotel that offers striking views of the nearby picturesque scenery and the Atlantic Ocean.
In the rural and scenic region of Extremadura, the Parque Natural de Monfrague is replete with wild olive, cork and holm oak woods. Granted natural park status in order to safeguard the area’s outstandingly varied wildlife, the park is an excellent place to visit with an outdoor specialist. We also suggest a private tour of the nearby city of Trujillo. Dominated by an imposing 10th-century Moorish castle built over Roman foundations, this important city dates back six centuries before Christ. Not to be missed is Pizarro’s 16th-century residence, Palacio de la Conquista, which now serves as a museum commemorating Pizarro’s career. The legacy of the Conquistadors’ wealth is evident in Trujillo’s numerous mansions and public monuments. Our hotel of choice in the region is the Parador de Trujillo, housed in a beautiful former convent in the center of town.
4) Santiago de Compostela
A UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site, Santiago de Compostela is Spain´s most famous pilgrimage site. Highlights to discover on a privately guided tour include the Cathedral (considered one of the finest achievements of Romanesque architecture), the Museum of Pilgrimage and the many medieval plazas and monasteries near the cathedral. Often described as the “oldest hotel in the world”, our hotel of choice is the 5* Renaissance Parador de los Reyes Católicos, originally founded by Fernando and Isabella as a hostel for poor pilgrims. Surrounding four cloisters, this is one of Spain’s best (and hardest to book) paradors. It is also home to one of the finest restaurants in northern Spain.
Girona is an excellent off-the-beaten-path privately guided day excursion from Barcelona. With a history that dates back to the Roman era, the city is full of magnificent monuments, museums and archives. Touring highlights include the winding medieval alleyways, the Gothic cathedral and the beautiful 12th century Arab baths. For travelers interested in Jewish heritage, Girona is also home to a fascinating old Jewish Quarter. We recommend travelers spend the night in Barcelona (about one hour away) at the “5* Grande Luxe” Casa Fuster, one of Barcelona’s most luxurious properties. Casa Fuster is a historic landmark built in the early 20th century by renowned Modernista architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner (who also designed the Palau de la Música Catalana, a UNESCO World Heritage site). It underwent a complete restoration and has been featured in just about every travel publication around the world.
Heritage Tours Private Travel is a destination specialist based in New York that creates custom-designed, private tours of Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and Southern & East Africa. For five years in a row, both Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure have each chosen Heritage Tours Private Travel for its prestigious list of top travel specialists in the United States. The company celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in 2010 and is a preferred supplier for Virtuoso. Heritage Tours Private Travel has been featured in Virtuoso Life magazine for being a leader in philanthropic travel.