PHOTO: Getting a different kind of view while on a group tour. (Courtesy Back Roads Touring)
For many, the idea of a group tour conjures up images of visits to crowded “must-see” tourist destinations, a rushed itinerary and little time to relax or get to know the “real” destination. The UK touring company Back Roads Touring is turning that notion on its ear with a fresh approach to group travel: keep the group small and do the unheard of–take scenic back roads (hence, the name) at a leisurely pace with no more than 18 people to a group.
That means traveling with Back Roads allows you to truly experience what makes each destination unique and savor it at your own pace. Back Roads’ 8-night itinerary through Northern Spain is a prime example, where travelers will discover the best the region has to offer as they travel the scenic by-ways by luxury mini-coach with an experienced tour leader.
Day 1. The journey begins in Barcelona, where you will explore some of the city’s most stunning architectural wonders, including the Sagrada Família cathedral. From there, it’s off to the Gothic city of Gerona, where there’s time to visit the 18th-century Placa de la Independencia and the Old Quarter, before heading on to El Port de la Selva, a secluded town on the Costa Brava.
Day 2. It’s in Port Lligat that you will visit the Salvador Dali House Museum, which is not surprisingly a labyrinth made of fishing cabins. Wander about the gardens and his workshop and get greater insight into the passion behind Dali’s art. The afternoon brings free time in Cadaques, with plenty of time to shop the artsy boutiques and galleries.
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Day 3. Head inland to the northern mountains and the medieval village of Besalu. You’ll continue onward with stops in Ripoll and its Benedictine monastery before arriving in Cardona, where you will visit the Cardona Castle, a medieval fortress perched high above the town.
Day 4. The historic town of Cardona is the order of the day. Guests will visit one of the world’s most important salt mines (Salt Mountain), and then take a guided tour of the 11-century town and castle.
Day 5. Breath-taking scenery is in store as you wind your way through the Spanish Pyrenees. Among the stops are Jaca, known as the ‘Pearl of the Pyrenees’ and an important stop for pilgrims making the journey along the Santiago de Compostela. After meandering through the town and taking in the sights, travelers will spend the night in a converted 9th-century monastery in Leyre.
Day 6. Continue on to Navarre with its rolling hills and striking vineyards. Here, travelers will have the chance to discover Olite, with its 15th-century castle, gardens and quaint walkways. From there, it’s on to Estella before continuing along the Camino de Santiago into La Rioja, known for its wine and sweeping vistas. The day ends with an overnight in Laguardia.
Day 7. It doesn’t get much better than a day spent wine-tasting in La Rioja. You’ll visit two of the region’s best wineries, where you will learn about the subtle nuances of each varietal and have the chance to sample authentic pintxo snacks.
Day 8. No trip to Northern Spain is complete without a visit to the Basque country. You will have the opportunity to learn about, and of course, sample, anchovies in oil a favorite on any tapas menu. Follow this with a wine tasting at the Txakoli winery, and then for the piece de resistance, lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Elkano. Continue to San Sebastian for a leisurely exploration of the city’s highlights.
Day 9. The tour concludes with a farewell breakfast before saying adios.