By Regina Winkle-Bryan
My oh my, it was a busy year…..
I saw Christine’s post on where she went in 2011 and decided to do something similar. This time of year most of us want to reflect on the year gone by, and doing so through photos is a good way for a ‘visual learner’ like myself to process 2011. So much of my life is connected to travel that it makes sense to do a little roundup of where I’ve been in 2011 and the adventures I had in those places while giving some scoop on why you might want to plan a trip to these destinations, or skip them!
NEW YEAR’S EVE 2010:
Let’s start at the beginning. Just back from the USA I spent New Year’s 2010 with my sweetie A and a couple friends at home. Of course we ate the mandatory 12 lucky grapes!
For some reason I did a lot of traveling in February 2011 around Catalonia…
Girona is one of my favorite places to recommend as a day-trip from Barcelona. The other one is Tarragona.
Emporda, in northern Catalonia, has some excellent and innovative wines to offer. Those who are bored with the traditional, albeit yummy, riojas should head on up to Espelt Vineyards. I went wine tasting around the area in early February 2011.
Popped over to the all white and cobalt Cadaques, one of the Costa Brava’s prettiest villages. Love that place!Scoopometer 8!
Drove for almost 2 hours north of Barcelona into an area of Catalonia I’d never been to before and spent the night in Cardona. This hill village is known for its castle, views, and salt mine.
Lloret de Mar is a hideous beach town catering to little more than cheapo tourists. I don’t recommend staying in Lloret. I do recommend staying just outside of Lloret at Hotel Santa Marta on Santa Cristina beach. I was there for a night, and while it was far too cold to swim it was perfect weather for enjoying the hotel’s spa! This is an amazing spot with an almost private beach. Scoopometer 10.
March was a less eventful travel month, but I did end up going to snowy Stockholm, Sweden for work! One of my great grandmothers was Swedish, and I thought I might feel some ancestral pull there. Not so much. But I did appreciate what a gorgeous city it is and their love of pickles and carrot cake.
With spring coming on I went to Collioure, an easy drive north from Barcelona. Collioure, France, is a perfect little seaside village surrounded by grapevines. French wine, food and cobblestone pathways along the Mediterranean; what more do you need!?
On the same jaunt I visited Sant Llorenç de la Muga near the border of France on the foothills of the Pyrenees. This is a one-horse village with not much going on, other than a bubbly river running through it, a snug plaza and Hotel Torre Laurentii. For those who want to see the Catalan countryside and stay in an excellent B&B, this is the place to go. Another Scoopometer 10!
With the weather getting hotter in southern Europe, I went with Nancy Todd to Bordeaux, France. I spent most of my time there drinking wine and window shopping. If I did Bordeaux again, I’d do it with a car to be able to visit vineyards outside the city.
By the time May rolls around in Mediterranean Spain, it’s hot enough to go swimming! May is one of the best months to visit southern Europe because of the pleasant weather.
Remember how I stated that Girona is one of my favorite day-trip destinations? The other is Tarragona. Not only do I recommend going there to visitors, but I like make it there at least once a year! There are many wonderful beaches around Tarragona if you have a car, and the city proper is easily reached by train. The beach in front of Tarragona city is also ‘da bomb’.
The Islas Cies may win the prize for All-Time-Favorite-Destination-of-2011. I went with A and had a fantastic time doing almost nothing at all. Powdery white sand beaches and peacefulness make these islands special. Stay clear of them in August when they are overrun with tourists.
A July highlight was a group trip to the southern Tarragona province to St Carles! We put some shrimp on the BBQ, went swimming, played scrabble and had an all around great time. Ahhhhhhh, summer.
Nancy and I took a trip with El Moli tours to wine and cava country, Penedès. This area gets a Scoopometer 9 from me, because it’s close to Barcelona, easy to get to by train, and full of excellent vineyards. Great day-trip. Of course we also recommend El Moli Tours, which is the easiest way to see this area.
As many of you know, August is the best or worst month to be in Spain, depending on what you’re after. For locals it’s nice to be in Barcelona because everyone leaves town! It’s easy to park, the city is quieter, and long, humid August days can spent at the beach. However, there’s not much going on in town in August as far as nightlife and events. Like most locals, I left town in August 2011 and spent all of August and September in the United States, mostly in Portland, Oregon, where I’m from.
One of the things I derive most pleasure from when home in Oregon is the summertime Farmers Markets! Living in Spain, sometimes I forget what a real blueberry looks like.
And then there’s all the garden parties, barbecues and catching up to do! The NW is heavenly in the summer and early fall…winter, not so much.
Because I was in the States for such a long time (2 months!) I got to travel quite a bit while there for work and pleaseure. Here are the highlights:
This was one of the best summers I can remember in a long time!
As it started to rain in Oregon, I got on a plane and flew back ‘home’ to Barcelona only to get right back on a plane and head to Berlin, Germany, for work and a mini vacation with my main-squeeze A.
From Berlin we flew to Amsterdam. It was a first for both of us and we had blast. We wanted to see Amsterdam before they close down all the coffee shops to tourists.
After a wild Halloween at Barcelona’a Anti-Karaoke (Scoopometer 10), I got up early on the Day of the Dead, Nov 1st, to go to Sant Feliu Sasserra for their annual witch festival.Those interested in Catalan history will want to save the date for this interesting event. The Sant Feliu Sasserra witch museum can be visited year-round, but is in Catalan.
Looking for fall color and autumn’s wild mushroom harvest, A and I went to Girona and poked around Pals, Bisbal, and Peratallada. Pals was the winner for village charm, and while Peratallada is beautiful, it seemed touristy. Bisbal is the spot for Catalan ceramics.
Right before the intense feasting and partying of the holiday season consumed us, we took off to Solsona, a sweet village just past Cordona heading north towards Andorra. We stayed at Hotel Sant Roc, which is a Scoopometer 8 and has a spa to warm up skiers from December to March when there’s snow on the mountains.
I finished off 2011 with a New Year’s weekend spent in La Seu d’Urgell, Calvinya and Andorra. I’d never been to Andorra, a small country on the French / Spanish border, so that was interesting. You can still smoke in most restaurants and bars there. Remember when that was also the case in Spain? Gross (and I say that as a former smoker, of course).
Looking back, no wonder I’m exhausted!? Mr. A always says, ‘Nunca paras,’ referring to my constant coming and going, but I brush him off. However, doing this little reflection exercise I realize he may have a point and that it makes sense that I am tired and that I don’t have a whole lot in the way of savings.
So this is the moment where I make some resolutions or something…? No, I don’t think so. But I will share a bit of my bucket list for this 2012:
Canary Islands…as many of them as I can get to.
Cordoba. I’ve never been!
Austurias. This is an area of Spain I know very little about. Same goes for Cantabria.
Alicante/Murcia are on the list, and I’ll for sure be there in spring for a wedding!
I have to visit Cabo de Gata. Have to.
I’d love to do The Running of the Bulls, which I’ve not got around to in the last 6 years. Same goes for Carnival in Sitges (a sin, I KNOW).
Semana Santa in Toledo would be amazing, as I think seeing it in Seville would be too much for me to handle.
If I start with these destinations for now, I should have a pretty busy 2012. Let’s not forget that I must go to France at least once and to the USA, Oregon. Why didn’t I win the lotto? That would have made all this easier!
What Spanish destinations are on your bucket list?
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