Enchanted Corners of Spain: Alcalá de Henares, Burgos, and La Rioja
Spain is a treasure chest filled with enchantment and riches that few foreigners ever discover. Our tour is focused on bringing you closer to the "real life" Spain, away from the large bustling cities, and into an assortment of medieval villages and larger towns of major historical and cultural interest that were influenced over the centuries by the numerous inhabitants of Spain including the Celt-Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Sephardic Jews, and Christians. On this adventure we will focus on three areas: the Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), the communities of Burgos, and La Rioja located in central and northeast Spain. Our destinations will lead us through an amazing variation in landscape, from immense stretches of grain fields to breathtaking mountains and rolling hills covered with seemingly endless vineyards.
Travel with American Patricia Ross who has lived in Spain for over 25 years and has previously arranged VIP tours for the American Embassy, and now creates new adventures for small groups of people who want to experience the "real" Spain (Intriguing Discoveries International). This expedition encompasses the rich history, culture, gastronomy, wines, artisans, and a famous and unique festival that have been woven together through the centuries creating a magical experience.
Day 1 (Sunday, September 18)
Arrival at Barajas Airport in Madrid and transfer to the Hotel Bedel in Alcalá de Henares, 22 miles northeast of Madrid. The medieval historical center with its 17th century buildings and lovely cobbled stone streets and arcades was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998. Tonight we are staying next to the University of Alcalá, the second oldest university in Spain founded in 1293. Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, was born in Alcalá de Henares, and the King of Spain presents the most prestigious award in the Spanish-speaking world, the Cervantes Prize, an award for lifetime achievement in literature, at the University of Alcalá. We will have an afternoon tour of the medieval center, followed by a group orientation with wine and tapas and a delicious welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 2 (Monday, September 19)
Travel to the National Park of the Hayedo de Tejera Negra, or as we call them in Spanish, Los Pueblos de Arquitectura Negra (Villages of Black Architecture). Started in the 1200s, the villages are located in a huge valley within the national park and are constructed entirely from black slate using oak trees for the internal structure. We will visit a remarkable museum in one of the beautiful villages, Campillo de Ranas, that was created by a local man, Juan Andres Roizo, who has a very large interest in historical architecture and handcrafts miniature replicas of various buildings out of slate, wood, and metals (bread bakery, flour mill, forgery, just to mention a few). Large museums and other villages often commission his accurate and detailed work. Next we will embark on a one-hour hike (weather permitting) through the beautiful countryside to Majaelrayo and stop for some delicious tapas and drinks at a local establishment. Then continuing by coach we make our way to our typical regional lunch awaiting us on the other side of the mountain in Riaza.
After lunch we head north to Aranda de Duero, one of the famous areas in Spain known for its red wines with Domination of Origin "Ribero de Duero." We will visit the Portico of Sta. Maria la Real with an expert local guide and later tour a remarkable centuries-old bodega (winery) that lies 56 steps (12 meters of 38.4 feet) below ground. Below the entire medieval town of Aranda de Duero there is a network of tunnels that served as bodegas for over a century. Next we will travel to a newer family-owned and built bodega and Hotel El Vid to feast on their awesome tapas and excellent wine.
Day 3 (Tuesday, September 20)
Traveling further north to a beautiful half-timbered village, Peñaranda de Duero (population 580), we will take a step back in time as we visit the remarkable Palace of the Counts of Miranda from the 16th century. The intricate wooden and stucco carved door and window frames and the Mudéjar ceilings within each room are stunning. After a short coffee and rest break, we head up to the 10th century Castle of Peñaranda de Duero overlooking the village which was first recognized in 1062. The Order of the Dominicans was started here in 1216 by Domingo de Guzmán, and this year (2016) marks the 800th year celebration of the founding. We have a guided tour of the monastery and the cloister in the convent before heading to the village of Lerma for a regional lunch of roasted lamb prepared in a typical "asador" original brick and stucco wood-burning oven. Next we head to Quintanilla del Agua to experience an incredible construction project of a life-sized medieval village made out of recycled materials by artist Felix Yáñez. Our last stop for the day is the village of Covarrubias (declared a Historic and Aristic site in 1965 by the Spanish Government) where we will check into our family-run Hotel El Rey Chindasvinto for two nights. Free time to wander the enchanted stone-paved village streets before a local dinner prepared by the excellent owner/cook of our hotel.
Day 4 (Wednesday, September 21)
Our expert local guide will lead us through the medieval village this morning, including a visit to La Colegiata de San Cosme y San Damían and later a climb up the Tower of Fernán de Gómez. Lunch at El Gallin Restaurant, owned and operated by the same family for five generations. Next we set off by coach for Yecla and (weather permitting) a unique experience walking between two stone mountains above a stream, then on to the medieval village of Santo Domingo de Silos that boasts an incredibly well-preserved 1000 year-old Romanesque cloister within the Benedictine monastery. Our official guide will lead us through the cloister and old pharmacy where monks prepared herbal medications centuries ago. Free time to wander the monastery and small village before hearing the famous Benedictine monks sing the Gregorian Chants. Return to hotel and dinner in Covarrubias.
Day 5 (Thursday, September 22)
This morning we will stop at the Cathedral of Burgos (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) for an official guided tour. The cathedral is known for its huge size and distinctive architecture, and is part of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route that winds throughout northern Spain on its way to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Next we visit La Rioja, known for its famous wines and Roman dominance. Regional lunch in the medieval village of Briones which sits on a hill overlooking acres of beautiful vineyards, followed by a very special tour of the unique Bodega R. López Heredia in the village of Haro, wine capital of La Rioja. Witness how the family-owned business is still making wine the same way it did when the winery started almost 140 years ago. We will receive a gift of a bottle of reserve wine, presented in an old-fashioned tin canister, and of course do some wine tasting at the end of the tour with tapas provided. Then we continue to Abalos, another enchanting 16th-century village, to lodge for the next two nights in a restored nobleman's large manor house that is now a beautiful small hotel, Villa de Abalos. The hotel is owned and operated by a lovely couple who are also excellent cooks. Dinner at the hotel is always fabulous!
Day 6 (Friday, September 23)
Visit Navarette, a village along the Camino de Santiago, and meet legendary potter Antonio Naharro who has been producing pottery for over 60 years. Continue on to Laguardia, a beautiful village that lies in the Alava region (part of Basque country), to visit an incredible stone carved and painted portico in the Church of Santa Maria with our expert local guide, followed by a chance to climb the defense tower! Lunch in Rivas de Tereso at the fabulous and locally renown Asador of Jose Mari, where you can sit outside and enjoy lovely views of vineyards below (weather permitting). Next visit the nearby town of San Vicente de Sonsierra, a beautiful village dating back to the Romans with a commanding view of the Ebro River below. Walk the narrow streets to reach the castle/church originally built in 1194 that overlooks the Ebro River and take in breathtaking views below. Return to our hotel in Abalos to enjoy unlimited homemade tapas and three different wines from the hotel's bodega.
Day 7 (Saturday, September 24)
Today is the highlight of our adventure: the festival in Anguiano. Based on a Celtic celebration of harvest, eight young male dancers from the village twirl down the steps of the church on stilts and continue dancing for two kilometers to the Hermitage for a short mass to thank the Virgin Magdalena for the crops they gathered. Making it more impressive, they are dancing backwards and going uphill! Later we watch them twirl down the very steep river stone paved street. It is more than impressive! After all of the excitement, lunch at the nearby village of Badarán before heading back to Alcalá de Hernares to celebrate with a farewell dinner.
Day 7 (Sunday, September 25)
After breakfast at the hotel, your arranged transportation return you to the Barajas Airport.
Trip Inclusions & Exclusions
Discovery Expeditions agrees to provide the following goods and services for the duration of the tour to each participant:
- Professional General Liability and Errors and Omissions Insurance Policy ($5,000,000)
- Transfers to/from Barajas Airport on the 18th and 25th of September
- Accommodations in shared facilities (double occupancy) with private bath (7 nights total)
- Breakfast daily, 6 Lunches, 7 Dinners
- Snacks and drinks at rest stops
- Private bus transportation and driver between sites
- Full-time professional tour director (Patricia Ross)
- Radio headsets during guided tours
- Licensed English-speaking local guides
- Entrance fees to all program sites and activities listed on the itinerary
- Complete tour participant accounting including option to pay by credit card
- Welcome package with detailed write-ups, maps, water bottle and luggage tags
- All taxes and service fees
- All gratuities (tour leaders, local guides, driver, and restaurants included)
- Comprehensive Accident, Medical/Liability/Travel Protection/Cancellation/Interruption Insurance included
- Optional Cancel For Any Reason Insurance available -- cancel up to 48 hours prior to departure and receive 75% refund
Not included in the trip price:
- Airfare and baggage fees (to be purchased at the discretion and responsibility of each participant)