Trafalgar’s “Spanish Wonder” tour is the company’s most popular itinerary in Spain, providing a satisfying sketch of the destination. The itinerary is well designed so that it hits many of Spain’s most notable sites, starting in Madrid and drawing a counterclockwise semicircle around the country. From Madrid it travels southwest to Toledo and Cordoba to Seville, then eastward to Granada, Valencia and Peñiscola, and culminating with two nights in Barcelona.
The tour is promoted as a 10-day trip, but the first and last days are traveling days, so it breaks down to eight hotel nights. It is moderately paced, with two-night stays in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona, and one-night stays in Granada and Valencia. The two-night stays allow you to settle in for a day without having to gather your things together to move on. The one-night stays facilitate faster movement across broad stretches of the country.
The package is an excellent introduction to Spain at a relatively low price. It includes many of the historic and culturally rich cities that make up the diverse character of modern Spain. Optional tours and activities allow for opportunities to expand an itinerary if you wish, or, alternatively, to exercise more independence and/or keep down the cost of the tour.
Trafalgar has 60 years of experience and thousands of customer-feedback forms under its belt, and the “Spanish Wonder” program reflects the benefit of that experience. Logistics were well taken care of by the tour director, leaving participants free to enjoy the trip. Following is a report on a “Spanish Wonder” departure in April 2008. It was a great season for traveling in Spain, when the spring blossoms were at their peak, but it was not yet hot. Tourist traffic was also relatively moderate.
Travelers on this departure ranged from their 70s down to their 20s and displayed a wide variety of nationalities, originating from the U.S., the U.K., South Africa, Australia and Thailand. Most traveled in twos but were not necessarily married couples. There were mothers with daughters, groups of friends and families, siblings and singles.
Guides: Trafalgar employs the standard model of escorted touring, with a full-time director who travels with the group from beginning to end and takes care of all the problems, as well as local guides hired in each of the stops. This product design is effective, but is also mandated by law in the European Union, which requires tour operators to hire licensed local guides. Trafalgar’s tour director was competent and effective. Her work insulated the passengers from the decisionmaking that has to occur to move from one place to the other. The tour director has a multifaceted role, which requires her to be a caretaker, facilitator and entertainer, and to do it all in an unobtrusive way that makes her work seem almost invisible. She was effective at fulfilling her role. The local guides were entertaining, knowledgeable and appropriately chauvinistic about their own destinations.
Accommodations: The hotels, primarily four-star properties, varied in style and location relative to city centers. The hotel in Madrid, Rafael Hoteles Atocha, was within a few blocks of the Reina Sofia museum, which houses Picasso’s Guernica among with many other historic works, and only a few blocks more from the Prado. It was also close to many other museums, parks, public squares and shopping areas. It was 20 minutes from the airport into which guests arrive to begin the tour.
The hotel in Barcelona was farther from the shopping district at the city center and required a 10- or 15-minute bus or cab ride to the center of the action. But in return for its less central location, it provided more spacious, luxurious accommodations than might have been expected for the same money in the city center. The hotel in Seville, the Occidental Sevilla, was within walking distance – though a longer walk than most Americans like to take – from the restaurant, pub and shopping district of the old city, and was perhaps the most luxurious hotel of the trip.
Transportation: The tour used a 49-seat motorcoach for most of its transportation from city to city as well as within cities. It was a comfortable, high-quality coach with high-backed seats that recline. The seats were covered with soft blue and red fabric. The fittings and appointments were crisp and new. The windows had curtains to block the sun. The front windshield was a huge expanse of glass. There was a video monitor that could be used for playing DVDs, as well as a rest room.
Meals: Breakfasts were included with every hotel night, and they were of the standard variety in European four-star hotels. Four dinners were included, designed to provide some characteristic, event or culinary style. Participants were on their own for lunch. The tour design provides a moderately budgeted mix between included meals, which minimize out-of-pocket outlays, and meals taken independently, which allow a measure of choice.
Sightseeing: The program was comprehensive without being overtaxing. Sightseeing tours with local guides were provided for each of the major city stops. Highlights included El Greco’s masterpiece in Toledo, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz; the Alhambra Palace in Granada; the Cathedral of Cordoba, which was once a mosque; the Seville Cathedral, the largest in Spain; and Antoni Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona.
Trafalgar offered 10 optional tours for additional charges ranging from 28 to 51 euros. These included a tapas dinner in Seville with a cruise on the Guadalquivir River, a horse and carriage ride through Seville and the bullring of “Carmen,” a flamenco evening in Seville, an excursion to Carmona, a night of gypsy entertainment in Granada and a visit to Montserrat from Barcelona.
Offering these as options rather than inclusions allows customers to tailor the itinerary to their personal tastes, needs and budget. Those wanting more independence and fewer out-of-pocket expenses can decline more of the optional excursions.
For more information, visit www.trafalgar.com.--David Cogswell