The first six tours are sold out so we are pleased to be able to add a seventh date for this popular European tour.
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$1,950 per person based on double occupancy ($285 single occupancy upcharge)
Please scroll to the end of this announcement to the DEPOSITS heading for detailed info on how deposits will be charged.
NOTE >>> If the euro to dollar exchange rate exceeds 1.20 at the time of the tour we reserve the right to adjust the price accordingly. (It’s currently trading around 1.10 as of mid July 2015.)
RSVP: (619) 295-3939
YOUR CHOICE OF 6 TOUR DATES:
All tours begin Sunday evening in Madrid and end the following Saturday morning in Zaragoza.
TOUR #1 ~ May 15 – 21, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #2 ~ May 22 – 28, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #3 ~ May 29 – June 4, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #4 ~ June 05 – 11, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #5 ~ June 12 – 18, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #6 ~ June 19 – 25, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #7 ~ June 26 – July 2, 2016 ~ 40 SEATS STILL AVAILABLE
The bus has 55 seats so that pretty much dictates the maximum that can go on each trip. Hope you can join us for this amazing wine adventure in Spain and, if you’re interested, we very much look forward to hearing from you. So without further ado, here’s the itinerary. It’s a long read so you may want to get comfy and pour yourself a glass of wine … heck, just bring the whole bottle. (I won’t even tell you how many glasses, err, I mean bottles, it took me to write this.) Many thanks.
>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the hour-by-hour itinerary below, but here’s an overview of the highlights:
The tour starts on Sunday night in Madrid and ends on Saturday morning in Zaragoza. Zaragoza is midway between Barcelona and Madrid, and is served by a blazing fast (300 km/hr) high speed train that will get you back to either city in about an hour and a half. Many of you will want to extend your visit before and/or after our tour, so keep in mind that pretty much all of Europe is easily, quickly and affordably accessible from either city via an ultra-efficient network of high speed trains.
~ Everyone will meet Sunday at Hotel Regina in Madrid. For those of you who want to arrive a day or two early (highly recommended!) to get over jet lag and/or explore this city on your own, we’ve made arrangements for a discounted group rate of 120 euros per night including breakfast. And yes, these same discounted hotel rates will also apply if you decide to extend your stay in Madrid after our tour. The hotel has been completely renovated and is centrally located and within walking distance to many of the attractions and a main Metro subway station. From the airport it’s about a forty euro taxi fare or, better yet, you can take the yellow airport express bus for five euros that will drop you off at Cibeles Plaza which is less than a ten minute walk away. The group will meet at 7:00 Sunday evening in a private room at the hotel for a quick orientation before the festivities begin.
~ Then at 7:30 we’ll take about a ten minute walk down the famous Calle Mayor and through the equally famous Plaza Mayor to Restaurante Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world. Yes, the world! Those of you who went on our New Orleans tours a couple years ago will remember eating at Antoine’s, the oldest restaurant in the United States, but Botin pre-dates Antoine’s by over a century. Opened in 1725, Botin specializes in roast suckling pig cooked in an ancient wood-fired oven. Mary and I ate here in 2014 and I could not wait to get back. I spent three nights in Madrid earlier this year doing recon and ate there three nights in a row. Yep, it’s that good. We’ll be taking over the entire upstairs dining room where we’ll obviously be having this amazingly succulent and tender specialty. First we’ll start with bottles of Rose served with gazpacho, an elaborate salad, some of the huge white asparagus this region is known for and that fortunately will be in season while we’re there, and roasted artichoke hearts with jamon. Then the red wine will start flowing with the pig and some of the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever had. (I’m pretty sure they’re roasted in pig fat.) Finally we’ll enjoy a simple dessert of vanilla ice cream served with an 80-year-old solera of Pedro Ximenez Sherry, similar to how we serve it at Wine Vault & Bistro. The restaurant doesn’t open until 8:00 and normally doesn’t accept groups our size, but I did a little “horse trading” and promised them that we’d be done by 10:00 so they could turn the tables. Owner Antonio graciously made another exception and is opening up fifteen minutes early for us so we’ll have a little more time to enjoy ourselves. (A note about dining times in Spain: Most restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 8:00, and many not until 8:30 or even 9:00. It takes a little getting used to but all of the dinners on this tour will be starting late. It helps that Spain is so much farther north than San Diego, meaning that it’s still daylight until way after 9:00.)
~ Anyway, after that delicious dinner we’ll walk back to the hotel for the night. (A word to the wise: I highly recommend that you resist the temptation to stop for a nightcap at one of the many bars lining the streets on the way back. We’ve got an early start and are covering a lot of ground the next couple of days, and you’ll want to be sharp and well rested for what’s ahead.)
~ Breakfast is included Monday morning at the hotel, after which our bus will arrive. We’ll depart Madrid and head about an hour and a half north through Segovia to the region of Rueda. Our only stop in Rueda will be at Shaya winery. Rueda is known for a white wine called Verdehlo. Shaya has some ancient vineyards of century old Verdehlo vines that I found extremely interesting to see because the trunks are literally only a foot tall. I’ve seen plenty of head-trained old-vine Grenache with their thick gnarly three-foot-high or so trunks, but never anything like this. So we’ll make a very quick (five minutes or so) stop in one of the vineyards just so you can see these vines yourselves before heading to the winery to taste several kinds of Verdehlo. Here again, this will be a very quick stop as this is strictly a working winery out in the middle of nowhere that is not set up for tours, but I thought that since we were so close, it would be a shame not to share this experience with everyone.
~ Next we’ll start heading northeast towards Ribera del Duero. We’ll make a lunch stop at El Riscal on the outskirts of Segovia. And what a lunch it will be! The owners of El Riscal also own a ranch that specializes in a very rare kind of ox. Time permitting, we’ll drive by the ranch on the way so you can see them. They’re basically a gentle, non-aggressive breed of bull used to herd the aggressive bull-fighting bulls to the arena or to do farm work. I actually had the opportunity to walk right up next to them and, while they look quite menacing with their huge horns, they are quite docile. When you see pictures of the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, contrary to popular belief, it is not the bull-fighting bulls that are chasing the people through the street; it’s this special non-aggressive breed. The owner told me that if the bull-fighting bulls were allowed to chase the people there would be lots of fatalities! So there’s your little known factoid for the day. Anyway, I digress. So once these gentle oxen can no longer perform their “herding” duties, they’re pretty much of no use. Compound that by the fact that the advent of the tractor has all but eliminated the need for farm work animals and you can see why this is a rare and rapidly diminishing breed. That’s where the owners of El Riscal (one of whom is a veterinarian) come in. They buy these “retired” oxen and then raise them on their ranch specifically for their restaurant. (They cannot be bred because they are sterile.) Many of them are around twenty years old, ridiculously older than conventional beef cattle which would be beyond tough at that age, but these special oxen remain amazingly tender and flavorful in spite of their age due to the special way they’re raised on this ranch. I can honestly say that this is the best beef I’ve ever had in my life. Period. And you’re going to love the way it’s served. Basically it’ll come to the table raw and you’ll cook it yourself tableside on a VERY hot ceramic plate. How hot you ask? The restaurant has special, asbestos-lined, laboratory grade ovens that I personally saw digital temperature readings of 320 degrees Celsius. That’s over 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes! Anyway, once your hot plate comes, you grease it with a ball of tallow, toss your meat on, wait about thirty seconds, flip it on the other side, wait another thirty seconds, and then devour. I guarantee that you probably will never have had and probably will never have again meat this good. After last night’s dinner at Botin, this lunch promises to be yet another in a string of meals for the record books that you will experience on this tour!
~ After lunch we’ll head into the town of Penafiel in the region of Ribera del Duero. First stop will be at Protos winery for a private tour. This winery consists of two parts: the new, modern portion (which was designed by the same architect who designed the Madrid airport – you’ll notice the similarities if you fly into Madrid), and the old caves across the street which are dug out of the mountain that the famous Penafiel Castle sits atop. After the new winery was built, they connected the two facilities by building a huge tunnel under the street linking the new winery’s cellar to the old winery’s caves. We’ll start our visit in the old winery walking through the extensive caves before entering the tunnel and arriving to the new winery for a tasting.
~ After the Protos visit we’ll make the five minute drive to the other side of town and check into our hotel, the first of two converted convents that we’ll be staying in on this tour. After unpacking and freshening up, we’ll take a short hike across the bridge and up the cobblestone streets to El Lagar de San Vicente, an old restaurant with a huge wood-fired oven built on top of several levels of now abandoned winery caves that have since been converted into underground dining rooms. We’ll start with a casual wine and appetizer reception in the first lower dining room before descending into the depths of the deepest cave for an amazing seated dinner. Lamb is the specialty of this region and is prepared much the same way as the pig at Botins – basically roasted in a wood-fired oven and served family style in a scalding clay vessel along with roasted potatoes. We’ll enjoy that along with plenty of the Tempranillo-based Ribera del Duero wines that perfectly complement it. Then we’ll finish with a light dessert and a selection of local after-dinner liqueurs before heading down the hill and back to the hotel for the night.
~ After breakfast at the hotel Tuesday morning, we’ll head to Rioja where we’ll spend the entire day. It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive so this is a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep if you’re not quite acclimated to the time change yet. First stop will be at Baigorri Winery for a tour and lunch. When we arrive everyone is going to wonder where the winery is because all that’s visible from the road is a small glass building. Once inside though, you’ll see a glass elevator that descends eight stories down into this state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery that essentially follows the contour of the not-visible-from-the-road hill on the other side. I’ve seen a lot of wineries and am usually not easy to impress, but I was blown away by this one. Unbelievable attention to detail and design. But perhaps the biggest surprise is when you exit the barrel room on the bottom floor only to find a breath taking restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the valley in front of you! Which, of course, is where we’ll enjoy lunch. I can’t tell you what’s on the menu yet because I don’t know myself as it will be different for each tour. I’m just leaving it up to the chef to take full advantage of the best seasonal ingredients available. What I can tell you, though, is that it will be a 5-course wine pairing menu and that it will be awesome.
~ After Biagorri we’ll head to Laguardia, a tiny enchanting hillside village honeycombed with underground caves and cellars. We’ll visit El Fabulista Winery first and enjoy a tasting in their spectacular cave. Then we’ll have a little free time to give everyone a chance to explore the quaint shops and bars along the narrow cobblestone streets before we leave. But before we do, if there are any gin ‘n’ tonic aficionados in the group, I’ll be happy to sneak away for a few minutes with y’all to show off my favorite place where they’ve taken that cocktail to a new level. I’ve never seen such a wide variety of gins in my life, each perfectly complimented with a special different herb, berry or seasoning that exquisitely amplifies its flavor profile. Trust me – if you’re a fan, these will be the best G&T’s you’ve ever had.
~ After leaving Laguardia we’ll visit Marques de Riscal, an ancient Rioja winery with a modern twist. Founded in 1858, the winery has extensive underground cellars tunneling under the hillside vineyards. But the most distinctive feature is the new hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant on site designed by famed architect Frank Gehry in 2006. The colorful steel ribbons wrapping the entire hotel can be seen for miles and provide a unique contrast to the old stone buildings prolific throughout Rioja. We’ll tour both the winery and the cavernous cellars, view the landmark hotel up close, and then end with a tasting before heading to our hotel for the night.
~ Final stop in Rioja will be in the town of Haro at Los Agustinos, another converted convent hotel. Actually it started out as a convent in 1373, then turned into a military garrison in 1809, then a military hospital in 1811, then a jail in 1839, and finally a hotel in 1989. During its time as a prison many of the prisoners etched messages into the rock walls which are still visible to this day. (The manager did point out one particular inscription that had to be “erased” as it included an inappropriate reference to the prisoner’s mother-in-law!) Anyway, this should be a relaxing conclusion to a busy and productive day. After checking in and freshening up, we’ll all meet in the huge center courtyard where we’ll enjoy a delicious 3-course dinner with some local Rioja wines. I’ve purposely designed this dinner to be much simpler than everything we’ll have had to date just so we can pace ourselves and not end up in a “food coma” … which is easy to do in Spain! If you’re up for a quick nightcap after dinner (and I do mean quick as tomorrow is another big day) there’s a short pintxos route called “herradura” (Spanish for horseshoe because the route is in the shape of a horseshoe) that’s less than a five minute walk from the hotel. Even if you don’t want to imbibe, it’s a nice walk and a relaxing way to wind down before hitting the hay. I’ll be happy to lead the way there after dinner for anyone who’s interested.
~ After breakfast at the hotel Wednesday morning, we’ll head north towards San Sebastian, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in all of Spain and home of the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world on a per capita basis. But we’ll break the two-and-a-half hour drive there into two segments with two fascinating stops en route.
~ First will be in the remote village of Gesaltza Añana to visit the Valle Salado, or Salt Valley. An utterly fascinating stop dating back 6,500 years, Valle Salado is a huge, ancient salt producing facility. When a natural salt spring (salt content in the water is thirty times the salinity of ocean salt water) was discovered here millennia ago, the locals diverted the water from the spring into shallow pens using hollowed out pine trunks as channels. Once in the pens, the sun evaporates the water and leaves behind high quality fleur de sel. The salt here is so highly sought after that many of the Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain actually have their own salt pens here. Unfortunately the facility was virtually abandoned about twenty years ago and fell into a massive state of disrepair. Fortunately a non-profit organization funded by the local village came to the rescue and started an ambitious restoration project. It’s still very much of a work in progress but parts of the original facility are now producing salt again and it recently achieved coveted world UNESCO site status. Anyway, we’ll stop here for about an hour to tour this throwback to a bygone era and, of course, try the salt. And, yes, the salt is available to purchase if you want to take some home.
~ After Valle Salado we’ll head up into the mountains just outside of San Sebastian to the village of Getaria to visit Txomin Etxaniz, a Txakoli winery. Txakoli is a unique white wine of the region made from the indigenous Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza grape varietals. The vines are grown on incredibly steep hillsides overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Because it rains so much here, causing the ground to remain damp year round in spite of the steep slopes, the grapes are prone to mildew and rot. The vintners successfully combat this by trellising the vines with a unique system of tall poles so that the vines first grow straight up about seven feet in the air before following a wire mesh between the rows that basically trains the vines to create a tunnel that the pickers can actually walk under and that also allows the sea breezes to funnel through. We’ll enjoy a quick tour here and admire the breathtaking views before finishing with a tasting paired with some local pintxos.
~ After our light lunch here we’ll make the final descent into San Sebastian while taking in some of the most spectacular scenery in northern Spain. Once in San Sebastian we’ll check into our hotel (which we’ll stay at for two nights) and then enjoy some free time before dinner. The hotel is located right next to the main river going through town and is about a 10-15 minute walk to the famous La Concha Beach and the pintxos bars in the old part of town. We’ll have about four hours before dinner so you’re free to just relax and unwind at the hotel, or hit the ground running and explore this beautiful city.
~ Dinner is going to be a very special treat! We’re taking over most of Zelai Txiki, one of the most amazing restaurants in the city. The restaurant is perched high up on a hill and is not accessible by bus. I agonized on how to get everyone there as it’s too far to walk and public transportation is too complicated, and almost gave up on including them. Then I finally decided that this was just too important of a culinary destination to miss because of transportation issues, so this will be the only stop on the tour where you’ll be required to take a taxi on your own. Plan on about fifteen euros per taxi each way divided by three-to-four people per taxi. Once you arrive I’m confident that you won’t mind this small extra charge. Dinner will start at 8:30 but the restaurant will open at 8:00 for us if you want to arrive early and enjoy an adult beverage before dinner. Dinner will be five courses each paired with a local wine. We’ll start with appetizers with Txakoli, chorizo and slow poached egg with Rose, and then fish with Verdejo. The main course will be a spectacular Txuleta, the local specialty of a ridiculously thick cut of T-bone steak cooked on a huge wood-fired outdoor grill. That will be paired with red wine from Baigorri that we will have just visited the day before. To end we’ll have a leisurely dessert that you can enjoy by itself or with an optional after dinner libation. After what will surely be another dinner for the record books we’ll taxi back to the hotel for the night.
~ After breakfast at the hotel Thursday morning we’ll take the bus for a short fifteen minute ride to the outskirts of San Sebastian where we’ll be dropped off at the harbor. From here we’ll take a five minute ferry boat ride across the harbor to the ancient village of Ciboure. The fare is less than a euro each way so here’s your chance to use up some of that pesky lose change that’s weighing you down. Once across the harbor, we’ll walk directly to Ziaboga, a quaint restaurant specializing in some of the freshest (usually caught just hours before) seafood that you’ll ever taste. But this time we’re going to be doing the cooking! Chef/owner Alex will greet us and then divide everyone into three-to-four rotating groups so that he and his staff can guide everyone in preparing the local cuisine. You will actually be working hands-on in a real restaurant kitchen … no closed circuit TV monitors or overhead mirrors here. (If you prefer to skip this experience you can hang out at the harbor or explore this fascinating village and then just come back for lunch.) After the prep is done you’ll have about an hour or so to explore the village or relax with a glass of wine while Alex’s staff makes final preparations for lunch. Weather permitting, we’ll eat outside on the patio next to the harbor. I can’t tell you what will be on the menu because it hasn’t been caught yet, but it will be amazing!
~ After lunch we’ll take the ferry back across the harbor where the bus will meet us and take everyone back to the hotel. The rest of the day and evening is free time to do whatever you want. I definitely recommend the “hop-on-hop-off” bus if you’ve never been to San Sebastian before as that will give you a great overview of the city in about an hour. You can also explore the city by foot, visit the beach, check out the many shops or just recharge back at the hotel. Dinner will be on your own tonight as no visit to San Sebastian would be complete without bar hopping though the pintxos bars in the old part of town. Pintxos are diverse as can be so it’s a lot of fun to just go from one bar to the next sampling one food item with one glass of wine. For the most part, wine is served in what we would consider to be half portion glasses so it’s easy to sample lots of different wines without getting trashed. The price is right, too, with each half glass usually costing 1.50-2.50 euros. You can easily visit a half dozen pintxos bars, enjoying a different pintxo and a different glass of wine in each for less than forty euros total for the entire evening. Think of it as creating your own progressive dinner! >>> And for anyone wanting to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant (and willing to pay the 250+ euros for dinner before wine!), I do have an “in” at Akellare, a spectacular three-star restaurant high on a hill on the outskirts of town overlooking the ocean. I can’t guarantee this, but chances are extremely good that I can also set up a tour of their state-of-the-art kitchen if that sort of thing interests you. Just make sure to let me know well in advance if you want to eat there so I can facilitate your reservation. After your pintxos crawl (or dinner) it’s back to the hotel for the final night in San Sebastian.
~ After breakfast at the hotel Friday morning we say good bye to San Sebastian and start heading south towards Zaragoza. First stop is about two-and-a-half hours away so this will be a good opportunity to catch up on some sleep if you over-enjoyed yourself the night before. First stop will be pretty much out in the middle of nowhere in the tiny village of Tabuenca. Here we’ll do a short vineyard trek to see some of the gnarly 100+ year old vines that produce some of the 100 point wines of Alto Moncayo. The vineyard manager will also show us a new, cutting-edge, insecticide-free, pest riddance technique they’ve pioneered. It effectively reduces the destructive insect population by tying a small plastic strip resembling a twist tie to each vine. This strip emits female insect pheromones, thus attracting the male insects only to have them all die off naturally because they can’t reproduce. Very cool!
~ After the vineyard trek we’ll head into Campo Borja to Alto Moncayo winery. Alto Moncayo is making amazing Grenache and, under winemaker Chris Ringland’s (who many of you know as the winemaker for Clio) direction, has several perfect 100-point ratings. We’ll have a quick visit here with a tasting of their current releases and maybe a few barrel samples before heading ten minutes down the road to Bodegas Borsao.
~ Many of you are already familiar with Bodegas Borsao as the producer of Tres Picos, one of the best under $20 bottles of Grenache out there. We’ll have a quick tour of the winery and then sit down for a delicious lunch featuring local produce and cured meats paired with the Borsao wines.
~ After lunch we’ll head south about 45 minutes to Zaragoza, our final destination. After checking into Hotel Palafox you’ll have at least three hours to relax or explore the town before dinner. (And yes, we have made arrangements with Hotel Palafox for a discounted rate of 110 euros including breakfast if you want to extend your stay in Zaragoza.)
~ Dinner will be at Restaurante Aragonia, a gorgeous restaurant located on the hotel’s lower level. In collaboration with their somm we were able to create an extravagant, not-on-the-regular-menu, 7-course pairing dinner for the finale. The menu is subject to change, of course, but here’s the direction it’s leaning: 1. Cava paired with ahi tuna; 2. Sherry paired with foie gras; 3. Rose paired with a salad of lettuces, balsamic ice cream and warmed goat cheese; 4. Albarino paired with bacalao; 5. Mourvedre paired with slow-roasted lamb; 6. Aged Moscadelle Sherry paired with pecan brownies and rum ice cream; 7. Pacharan (a local spirit) paired with nuts. It should be an amazing way to end the tour and yet another dinner for the record books!
~ After dinner you’re free to go upstairs and call it a night or, for anyone wanting to extend the night a bit longer, I’ll lead the way for no-host Mojitos at La Lobera de Martin, a sidewalk café about five minutes away. Even though it will be close to midnight, it should still be shirt sleeve weather and the place will be hopping.
~ After breakfast at the hotel Saturday morning the tour is officially over. You can spend an extra day in Zaragoza exploring the ancient town or you can taxi to the train station where you can take a high speed train to either Madrid or Barcelona in about an hour-and-a-half. Options are unlimited at this point as you can pretty much take a train anywhere in Europe from either of these two cities. Whatever you do though, have fun! If commitments back home allow, I definitely recommend taking advantage of this opportunity to do some additional exploring.
$1,950 per person based on double occupancy. The single occupancy upcharge is $285. If you’re a single traveling with another single there are also rooms with two beds at nominal or no additional charge.
If the Euro to Dollar exchange rate exceeds 1.20 at the time of the tour we reserve the right to adjust the price accordingly. As of early July 2015 the exchange rate was around 1.10. Of course it’s impossible to predict what it will be next May/June but we’re optimistic that it won’t exceed 1.20.
Reservations will not be guaranteed until a NON-REFUNDABLE deposit of $250.00 per person is received. Another non-refundable deposit of $700 will be charged 75 days prior to the trip and the final payment of $1,000 (plus the single occupancy upcharge if applicable) will be charged 45 days prior to the trip and also becomes non-refundable at that point.
TRIP CANCELLATION INSURANCE
Please, please, please understand that we cannot issue refunds for any reason whatsoever. (This includes but is not limited to illness or injury, an unexpected pregnancy, a death in the family, loss of income or anything else.) If you want to get trip cancellation insurance in the event something comes up on your end that prevents you from going on the trip at the last minute, there are several on-line sites that can provide that service for as low as $75. Here’s a link to one site if you’re interested: http://www.insuremytrip.com/plans/index.html and here’s a link to a local San Diego travel insurance provider: http://www.csatravelprotection.com/. I cannot stress how strongly I recommend that you at least look into coverage as it seems like every trip we do there’s always at least one person who can’t make it at the last minute for one reason or another, and, while we always feel horrible about the circumstances surrounding it, at that point we are totally on the hook for your expenses whether or not you show up. We strive to make these tours as affordable as possible and simply are not in a position to absorb the costs of cancellations. Thanks for understanding.
INCLUDED IN COST:
1. All breakfasts
2. All lunches (including wine)
3. All dinners (including wine) except the pintxos crawl in San Sebastian on Thursday
4. All hotels
5. Motorcoach transportation within Spain
6. All winery tours and tastings
NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Air fare to and from Europe
2. Taxi or shuttle fares to and from airport, train stations and hotels
3. Free time activities
4. Ferry boat fare to and from Ziaboga (less than two euros)
5. Taxi to and from hotel and Zelai Txiki
6. Optional extra cocktails or extra wine