Tossa de Mar, Spain

A quaint town lined with cobbled streets, Tossa de Mar can be found in the Spanish area of Catalonia, along the Costa Brava. The mountainous region filled with beautiful green valleys, a multitude of gorges and natural springs juxtaposed the medieval remnants of what was once a fortress, complete with castle and alleyways, splashed with ancient homes, restaurants and little shops leaves nothing out for a vacation getaway memory.

Only 100 kilometers south of the French border, Tossa was visited by Hollywood in the 1950s, before it was known as a tourist attraction. The film, “Pandora & the Flying Dutchman” hosted screen greats such as Ava Gardner and James Mason, with Tossa de Mar’s beauty as the backdrop.

Coastline of Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava, SpainSheltered coves and sandy miles of sandy beaches give the opportunity to play in the crystal clear, Mediterranean waters. Scuba diving and snorkeling adventures can be had or for those that would rather see the undersea creatures from the safety of a glass bottomed boat, they are available.

The activity along the coast is buzzing with fun in the bars, restaurants, gift shops and ice cream parlors. No vacation in Tossa de Mar is complete without a trip through the historic region of town. The Villa Vella still hosts the ancient walls used for defense against enemies years ago and the remaining towers that are still in tact, create a day filled with endless intrigue and educational fact learning. Medieval times saw Tossa in the year 966 and with the 1187 castle that was erected with defense elements in mind, leaving enough historical structures behind to enjoy today.

After a tour through the enclosure, a visit to the man-made nature reserve of Sa Riera park delivers wildlife views and a diverse inspection of flora and fauna. Wildlife abounds in the reserve. The special ecosystem hosts higher levels of humidity and rain, lending hand to the observation of numerous rare species along the six kilometers of coastline that is protected from harm.

Tossa de Mar is the perfect holiday getaway. Relaxing, yet fun-filled, Tossa appeals to families and couples alike. Visit Tossa for your next vacation and be reminded just how relaxing a vacation can be.


Sants Railroad Station, Barcelona, Spain

Also known as the Sants Estacio, the Barcelona Sants Railway Station located in the capital, Barcelona, Spain is one of the most important hubs for travelers in the country. As the largest railway station, Sants Railway serves not only outside of the country, but all of Spain, as well as around the Barcelona area. Within this bustling space is located the metro trains or subways that take tourists and locals to destinations within Barcelona and other areas of the province. These commuter trains travel underground and to different areas. The high speed line and long distance trains are also located within its walls. Just outside the structure are buses and taxis to help commuters get to where they are going.

Sants, Estacio Sants, Barcelona SpainLocated northwest of the city’s center and named Sants after the neighborhood in which it is located, the Barcelona Sants Railway Station was built in the 1970′s. Today there are plans for expansion in the works. It is a large, sprawling station with several levels underground and take travelers to points within Barcelona as well as places in Spain and France. The station can be reached by taxi, bus, subway, or anyone can drive there and park behind the station. This structure offers the high speed service train, known as AVE, which brings travelers between Barcelona and Madrid. The AVE has first-class service for travelers wishing to travel in style. There are other long distance trains that will take visitors and travelers to different places within the country, like Tarragona, located south of Catalonia, as well as a line to take travelers to other destinations.

There are plenty of services for travelers to choose from; Sants Railway Station offers car rentals, restrooms, tourist information centers, parking, many different shops and restaurants. Being so large, there are many different places that will advise the visitor where to go, how to buy tickets, when the trains will depart and arrive, and other information that is crucial to navigate around the station. There are also many spots with Wi-Fi available so that being connected to friends, family, work, and schedules is easy. If there is a wait for the next train, enjoy a cup of coffee, snack, or lunch at the many cafes around the station. There are also several hotels nearby in case the train will not be departing until the next day.

Take note that frequent travelers and visitors who do not want the hassle of waiting in line for train tickets can look into discounted metro cards. Called the Barcelona Card, this allows the carrier to travel the Barcelona Transport Network without limit, as well as give the holder discounts to a score of restaurants, local attractions, and shops, but this card is not for long distance or foreign travel. Just like any major hub of transportation, the Barcelona Sants Railway Station can be intimidating, but get your bearings, find an information booth, and find out where and when the next train is departing. Have a safe and enjoyable trip.


San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano was a small village during the 10th century. Travelers on religious pilgrimages stopped there during medieval times. The town flourished during the 12th and 13th centuries. The townspeople sold produce grown in the countryside around the town. Several of the town’s towers were built during that time. The Black Plague decreased the town’s population and it came under the rule of the city of Florence. The town flourished again when it became a tourist destination in the 19th century.

The Collegiate Church of San Gimignano in the Piazza del Duomo is also referred to as the Duomo. It dates back to the 11th century. It was transformed from a small village church into a basilica between the 13th and 18th centuries. The Chapel of St. Fina in the church was built in 1468. The church is adorned with artwork from the 13th and 14th centuries.

San Gimignano, ItalyThere are more paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries in the Palazzo del Podesta. The palace is also in the Piazza del Duomo. It has a tower that was built in 1300. There are four other medieval towers in the Piazza del Duomo.

The Palazzo del Popolo is on the south side of the Piazza del Duomo. The entrance to this palace is in a courtyard from the 14th century.

Visitors can see items dating back to the 14th century in the Museum of Sacred Art. Religious items from the 12th to 19th centuries are on display here. This collection includes paintings, sculptures and reliquaries.

The Etruscan Museum has items found in the countryside around San Gimignano. Jewelry and pottery are displayed here.

Items made in Tuscany are available at some of the shops. Beconcini sells painted ceramics. Items made from olive wood are sold at Casa & Cose. Olive oil, wine and cashmere items made at a local farm are available at Ai Quattrorsi.

Local ingredients are used in dishes served at some of the town’s restaurants. The cookies at Bristot are made from natural ingredients from Tuscany. Fresh fruit is used to make the ice cream at the Gelateria dell’Olmo. Tuscan dishes served at Dulcisinfundo include white boar and pork meatballs in a saffron potato cream.

Visitors can stay in hotels or farmhouses. The Relais Cappuccina hotel has a wellness center with a heated pool, a sauna and a solarium. The farmhouses at Sassi Bianchi were built in the 16th century. They are close to woods and a lake. The farmhouse at Poggiacolle is on a hill overlooking the town.

The closest international airport to San Gimignano is in Florence. Travelers can take a train from Florence to the town of Poggibonsi. There is bus service from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano.


Chianti, Italy

The most popular tourist destination in the region, the Chianti area lies just south of Florence, Italy and draws visitors from around the world, not only for the beauty of the landscape and the medieval architecture but the famous wines produced by the local vineyards. Although the area known as Chianti is loosely defined, it can be thought of as the easternmost part of Tuscany, bordered by Florence to the north and the city of Siena to the south.

The Geography Of Chianti
This region is comprised mostly of gently rolling hills, the many wine vineyards and olive groves. A photographer’s dream, the area draws many visitors simply because of the peaceful nature of the landscape, which is dotted with many small villages comprised of stone houses, churches and historic fortresses. The climate is very mild, with no extended rainy period and little variance in temperature from one season to the next. The area is easily reached by automobile from downtown Florence, and visitors will find numerous byways that branch off from the Superstrada highway and enter the very heart of the Chianti region.

Vineyard in Chianti, Tuscany, ItalyThe only difficulty for visitors traveling by car is the decisions to make regarding what villages and landmarks to reach on a day trip. There are a myriad of smaller country roads traversing the area and it is best to take an updated guide book along on the trip. Most of the villages and wine vineyards are clearly marked and planning ahead will save time when multiple destinations are visited.

The Famous Chianti Wine
The village of Greve is one of the more popular stops for tourists on day trips from Florence. Here can be found a number of restaurants and smaller pubs offering all the best known wines produced in the region. The Wine Museum is also located here and is worth at least two hours for visitors. Near the town is the famous Castello di Verrazzano, birthplace of the famous explorer who discovered New York Harbor. Here organizers offer visitors free wine tastings of the famous Chianti Classico and conduct guided tours of the Castello itself.

Panzano, another village in the Chianti area is famous for its local wine brands and also the popular Florentine steak. Just two kilometers outside of town is the Panzanello estate, which is a must stop for wine tasters. The remarkable cellars are accessible to tourists daily and there are a number of appetizers available at the estate to complement each one of the brands.

Guided Tours From Florence
There are numerous bus tours leaving downtown Florence daily and traverse the Chianti region. Most of these include a stop at multiple wineries but also take visitors to the nearby farmhouses and villas where there is ample time to rest, take pictures or video, and visit the local shops in the towns. Each village has its own unique personality and including several of them in the itinerary is not difficult. Of greatest interest to visitors are the towns of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve and Radda.

The region can also be reached by public bus service from Florence using the SITA line, by trains departing from both Florence and Siena, and by rental car. There are many rental car agencies in Florence and most can be contacted with help from hotel front desk personnel.


Spain’s Regions

Spain’s constituent regions aren’t states or provinces, as in many other countries of the world, but autonomous communities. This political distinction results from the profound differences in culture within the country’s borders. Several of the regions have their own language, all have their own food, and many have their own storied histories as ancient, proud civilizations.

El País Vasco, or Basque Country, is perhaps the most famously independent of Spain’s autonomous communities. The Basque language is notoriously difficult to learn. Luckily Spanish is widely spoken, but any effort to communicate in Basque is appreciated by locals. San Sebastian is the area’s top destination, thanks to its breathtaking Atlantic shores and its reputation as the best producer of the region’s unique food. A local specialty worth sampling is sidra, a slightly alcoholic apple cider.

Spain’s other famously independent region, Catalonia, is located on the country’s eastern shore. Its language, Catalan, is easily learned by Spanish speakers. Barcelona is known for the many structures by famous modern architect Antoni Gaudí, whose style permeates this well-planned regional capital. The beaches of this cosmopolitan city nicely complement the region’s ski resorts to the north and nature reserves to the south.

Andalucia is the intersection of all the finest aspects of Spanish culture, from food to music to architecture. The region invented tapas and is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, while the city of Sevilla is known as the home of flamenco music and dance. This southern region of Spain enjoys a rich Moorish history; sites such as the Great Mosque of Córdoba and La Alhmabra of Granada exhibit the height of Arab art and architecture from the Middle Ages.

El Comunidad de Madrid consists of the city of Madrid and its surrounding towns. Despite being the home of Spain’s central government and the Royal Palace, Cathedral, and Gardens, Madrid is best known for its nightlife. The neighborhoods of Huertas and La Latina are filled with revelers at all hours of the night as they scour the city for the best bars and dance clubs.

Even Spain’s less famous regions have their own defining characteristics. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, La Rioja is famous for its red wines, and the windmills of Castilla La Mancha were immortalized in Don Quixote. One of Spain’s ancient kingdoms, Galicia adds another regional tongue, Galician, to the tally of official languages, and another famous dish, empanadas, to the nation’s cuisine. Aragon, another such kingdom, houses a wealth of historical artifacts from the Middle Ages, while Cantabria is home to more Stone Age archaeological sites than anywhere else in the world. In Navarre’s largest city, Pamplona, locals and tourists alike run through the narrow streets with bulls during the Feast of San Fermin, and with its soaring mountains and dramatic rocky coastline, Asturias is considered the most beautiful part of the country.

Thanks to the linguistic, culinary, architectural and artistic diversity displayed across Spain’s autonomous communities, a trip to this one country can feel like a tour of over a dozen different nations.


Montserrat, Spain

Millions of years ago, as the Iberian plate converged upon the European plate, masses of earth were thrust upwards, forming what is now the Pyrenees mountain range that borders Spain and France, and depositing rock to form what is now the Montserrat chain of mountains. In Catalan, “Montserrat” means “serrated mountain,” which describes the jagged silhouette of the mountain range, formed by centuries of erosion.

Today, Montserrat is famed for its unique rock formations, as the location of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, and for the historical significance of the area in connection with the struggles of the Catalan people. At 4055 feet above the valley, Montserrat stands at a central point above the Catalan lowlands, and has long played an important role in Catalonian history. Overnight hikes up the mountain to watch the sunrise remain a significant part of Catalonian tradition.

Nestled within the crags of the mountain, the monastery was founded in 1025. The Montserrat Escolania, a world-famous boys’ choir, came into existence soon after. Traditionally, the boys lived and studied in the monastery. Though run by the Benedictine monks, the school’s goal is to prepare students for acceptance into music conservatories, not into the order. In 2005, when enrollment dropped drastically, allowances were made for the children to return home overnight and on weekends. The choir gives brief performances at the abbey every day but Saturday.

The monastery was destroyed by the French in 1811. Monks managed to hide the statue of Mary before the destruction. During the 1830’s, Spanish royalty banned religious orders from building monasteries and convents. The present church was built during the 1850’s. Under dictator Francisco Franco, 300 protestors were held as prisoners within the monastery.

The focus of the basilica is the statue of Mary, known as the Virgin of Montserrat, La Moreneta or the Black Madonna. Pilgrims line up along a decorated passageway for the opportunity to spend a few moments alone with her. All but encased in protective glass, only the orb that Mary holds in her hands is available for pilgrims to touch. The site is also home to the Museum of Montserrat, featuring paintings by El Greco, Caravaggio, Money, Picasso and Dalí.

While a modern hotel is located near the abbey, visits to Montserrat are most often taken as day trips from Barcelona. By car, it’s a 30-minute drive from Barcelona to the base of the mountain. Many visitors choose to disembark at the base and ride the cable car up to the abbey site. Visitors may also drive up along a series of switchbacks to the site. Trains take visitors to the base of the mountain from Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya. Rack railway is also available up the mountain.


Figueres, Spain

Spain is a country rich in culture and history. Inspiring generations of visitors with the sweeping vistas and stunning mountains, Spain is home to some of the most splendid cities in Europe. Figueres located in Catalonia is often overlooked by tourists who prefer the larger cities that offer more hustle and bustle. Figueres is a charming location well loved by the residents and by those who happen across it.

The city is home to about 40,000 residents. Known for the beaches, the wine, and the gourmet food Figueres offers visitors an array of activities, sights, and sounds.

Dali Egg, Figueres SpainFigueres’ history can be traced to the 10th century and the city enjoys a rich diversity of architectural inspirations taken from nearly every era of its history. The Castell de Sant Ferran is billed as one of the largest castles in all of Europe. Constructed in the 18th century the castle overlooks the city and is a favorite spot for locals. While the grounds are most always open, the interior of the castle can only be viewed during certain time depending upon the season.

SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM IN FIGUERES, SPAINFor those who want to drink in the sights and sounds of Figueres a trip to the Placa de les Patates would be a welcomed diversion. The square is lined with traditional and classical architecture and lined with shade trees visitors can enjoy a lazy afternoon at any of the cafes and small restaurants. When night falls, the square is populated by revelers looking to unwind and relax after a long day.

It is the Dali Museum; however, that remains the biggest draw to the city. Figueres is the birthplace of the eccentric artist Salvador Dali that helped to change the face of art for generations to come. The Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali is not hard to spot. The facade is bright pink decorated in an eccentric style must like Dali himself. Many visitors will spend the entire day roaming the halls and grounds of the museum. It houses the largest collection of Dali’s work including his sculptures and curiosities designed by the artist.

While visitors will find accommodations in Figueres many visitors come by rail from Barcelona. The trip to Figueres averages about 2 hours which makes for a perfect day trip. Figueres is an incredible town ideal for a quick getaway during a visit to Barcelona or an extended stay while in Spain.


Sitges, Spain

Approximately 22 miles south along the Spanish coast from Barcelona is Sitges, a town of about 26,000 which has been celebrating Carnival for over a hundred years. Carnestoltes (Carnival) beginning on Fat Thursday, continuing throughout the week before Lent, promotes nonstop festivities attracting over 250,000 visitors to one of Europe’s most outrageous parties. Beginning when the Carnival King comes back to life on Thursday through two huge parades until the Carnival King and Queen perform a ritual but doomed conflict with the Spirit of Lent on Ash Wednesday, drag queens change costumes to mourning head gear and black dress, screaming and wailing the death of Carnestoltes for another year.

Other than Carnival, Sitges is famed as the home of an international film festival billed as the world’s number one fantasy film celebration. Beginning in 1968 the Festival is an assemblage fantasy and horror movies lovers worldwide. Attendees have included Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Paul Verhoeven, Jon Voight, Santiago Segura and Quentin Tarantino as well as many others year in and year out during early October.
The economy, based on tourism, offers 5,000 hotel beds weighted heavily with four-star ratings, all of which is easy to understand considering the extensive beaches, exciting nightlife, and active gay accommodations. Yet, it is also charming in winter, although much quieter, with day trips to Barcelona. Never forget that because Sitges’s main industry is tourism, there are many excellent restaurants specializing in seafood as well as local fare.

Sitges began as an agriculture, fishing and commerce center in the 10th century; therefore, its oldest building is the parish church, Eglesia de Sant Bartomeu I Santa Tecla, replete with stone foundations having withstood the past thousand years. By the end of the 16th century monasteries and castles appeared and Sitges became a township, important to American sailing ships by the 18th century. Cau Ferrat museum, commissioned in the late 19th century by Santiago Rusinol, became a center for bohemian art and modernist parties. Paintings by Picasso, El Greco, Miro and Ramon Casas are still shown at Cau Ferrat.

At the border of Catalan wine country, Spanish sparkling wines are in abundance promoting yet another celebration. In August Sitges entertains yet another crowd with its Fiesta Major in honor of Sant Bartomeu parading giant puppets through the streets and executing an outstanding fireworks display at the old cliff-edge church.


Vic, Spain

Vic is a charming city located in Catalonia, Spain. Situated between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean sea, Vic is a city sure to win the hearts of visitors. An ancient city dating back to the 8th century the city has seen its fair share of history making events. It will always be remembered in the books as the first site of rebellion against King Phillip V of Spain during the 18th century. This rebellion started the War of the Spanish Succession which ultimately led to Catalonia losing its independence. Today, Vic is a favorite for natives and tourists for it culture, history, and charm.

Centered between the stretch of the Pyrenees and the sprawl of the ocean, Vic offers visitors amazing vistas and stunning landscapes. Inspiring generations of artists, visitors to this region of Spain will find that the scenery offers a glimpse into the raw beauty of nature. Back in Vic, tourists often wander the charming streets and avenues admiring the traditional architecture that helps to create a sense of romance and intimacy.

While Vic does not offer excitement like the larger cities of Spain it does offer a true sense of the Catalonia region. The cafes and restaurants offer traditional regional dishes and beverages. Tourists are encouraged to fully immerse themselves in the culture of Vic for a truly memorable experience. A terrific way to do this is the cultural routes offered by the Vic tourism committee. The Route Sert shows visitors Vic through the eyes of famed muralist Joseph M. Sert.

The Old Town Road takes tourists along a marked path full of architectural wonders dating from the medieval era to the modern. The route will take visitors past Roman crypts, Baroque buildings, and Gothic cloisters. A market is held along the route two days a week where nearly anything can be found from fruits to antiques.
There are two fantastic museums the MEV and the Museum of Art Leather. Each museum offers a stunning array of historical artifacts and art. The Vic cathedral continues to be an amazing sight. Constructed in the 11th century the cathedral still has its original bell tower.

Vic is not a destination for those that want adrenaline pumping excitement although visitors can enjoy an amazing hot air balloon ride. The city of Vic is perfect for visitors that want to unwind and relax. Sitting outside with a good book and a good bottle of wine, Vic is perfect for those that want to know the region and the people.


Barcelona Spain, Day Trip Girona

Girona, a small capital city in Catalonia, Spain, of about 100,000 people north of the Mediterranean coast city of Barcelona, has been an important focus for the region for the past few thousand years. The city, active since the days of the Roman Empire, sits at the joining of the rivers Güell, Galligants, Ter and Onyar, making the inland city a natural trading center. The nearest airport, named for both Girona and Barcelona, is an hour away from both cities — Barcelona itself is only 98 km (61 mi) from Girona for a bus or train trip between the two of slightly less than a hour and a half.

The Old Town of Girona is on the east side of the many rivers within the old city walls. One of the highlights of any trip to Girona is a stroll along the top of the ancient walls, from which you can see beautiful views of the entire city. The architecture throughout the Old Town is all fascinating, especially the Jewish section. Two places to seek out are the church of Església de Sant Feliu and the Banys Arabs, or Arab baths.

The Rambia, a neighborhood that runs parallel to the river, has many atmospheric restaurants; the tourist office can be found at the south end of the Rambia. Every Saturday, a market is set up in a park on the river bank northwest of the centre of town — you’ll find stalls selling all types of goods cheaply. You’ll also find both modern and tourist shops throughout the city. Many streets in the Old Town are paved with large cobblestones and lined with steep stairs — though this type of old street-scaping is quite authentic, it does make it difficult to roll wheeled luggage or walk in high heels.

The New Town is along the west river banks and has more hotels and shops, wider streets and more affordable restaurants. Nightlife is also very lively in the cafes and discos. Both the New Town and the Old Town are not suited for car travel and are easier to navigate by foot. Car rentals in town are available for short trips into the nearby countryside to explore the old castles; golf courses are also fine nearby destinations for a day’s jaunt.