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Spain | France | Italy


When most people think of Spain, they think of bullfighting or flamenco, but that’s like saying that Texas cowboys represent the United States. There’s so much more!

Spain has been one of the cultural centers of Europe for thousands of years.

Over 45 million tourists visit Spain each year, making it the third most popular destination in Europe.

I’ve prepared a brief introduction to Spain which I hope is helpful, and you can get your bearings by checking the map above.


Spring. -The best time to visit the central regions of Castilla, Andalucia, the Mediterranean Coast and the Balearic Islands. Climate is good, but expect occasional rain.

Summer. -A good time to visit the northern regions, especially the resorts along the Cantabrian Coast from Hondarribia on the French/Spanish border to La Guardia at the Portuguese/Spanish border.

Fall. -Perhaps the best season to travel the entire country. Climate is excellent with sunny days and blue skies.

Winter. -A good time to visit the Mediterranean area long the Costa del Sol. The high mountain ranges in both the North and South offer excellent winter sports, and the Canary Islands offer a stable climate year-round for winter getaways.


Spain occupies 80% of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal has the other 20%). It’s approximately 194,884 square miles and has a population of 39.5 million.

The top Northeast corner is attached to France (and the rest of Europe), by the Pyrenees Mountains, which run for 250 miles. The mountains were actually a barrier to the rest of Europe until the last 100 years; by contrast, Spain is only 10 nautical miles away from Northern Africa.

The regions that make up the country are all different geographically, climatically and even in personality. Politically, Spain’s divided into 17 autonomous regions, which are subdivided into 50 provinces; but let’s focus on the regions, which I’m going to highlight by dividing them into five sections.

Green Spain.

The northern part of the country from the Atlantic to the Cantabrian Mountain range. From east to west, it continues from the edge of the Pyrenees and the border with France – more than 400 miles. The most famous culture from this area are the Basque.

In the far northwest section is Galicia; the language spoken there is a cross between Spanish and Portuguese, with some Celtic culture thrown in. The people who live in this area are more directly descended from Ireland or Scotland.

Mediterranean Spain.

A long strip of land, 50 – 100 miles wide, running along the east coast. In the northeast corner you have the Catalonia culture as well as Barcelona, the second largest city, with a number of coastal beach resorts.

Las Ramblas
Inland Spain.

Central, or inland Spain is flatter than the rest of the country, and has the highest concentration of castles. Again, within this region you have a variety of other regions — Navarra, on the French border – a medieval kingdom with a heavy Basque influence; La Rioja, to the south, Spain’s premier wine growing area, and in the center is the capital, Madrid. Castile and Leon occupy a huge area in the center as well as Castille La Mancha, the setting for Don Quixote.

In the northeast region is Aragon, a very large region and a kingdom that once ruled Spain. One of the least known regions is Extremadura, which has many Roman ruins and for some unknown reason, almost every major Spanish conquistador came from this area (something in the water?).


This is my favorite area in Spain; it’s a combination of Moorish, Christian and Jewish influences, which is reflected in the architecture, the language and the food. The history, heritage and the sunny coast make it one of most visited regions. Andalucia conntains the cities of Granada, Seville, and Cordoba; as well as the Costa del Sol for those like beautiful beaches.

Gardens in the Generalife, Granada
Plaza de Espana, Sevilla
the Mesquita, Cordoba

The Islands.

The Balearic Islands, off the Eastern Mediterranean coast are some of the most popular in Europe; there are 5 islands that make up the Balearics; the three major islands are Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca. Many are visited on day trips.

The Canary Islands, off the western coast of Morocco, are about 700 miles south of the mainland and are made up of seven islands, the most well known is Tenerife.


La Boqueria Market, Barcelona

Spanish cooking has long been a source of pride to Spaniards. The food of Spain is not hot and spicy as some people think, they are more Mediterranean, based on olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, rice,

beans and fish – all recognized as important to a healthy diet.

There are everyday standards in Spanish food – you can go anywhere in the country and always find a “tortilla Espana” for example, but each of Spain’s regions have their own unique dishes. For the best food available, stick with the specialties of each region.

Of course, there are fresh fish dishes all along the coastline. (Madrid also features seafood from all of Spain’s coasts); delicious roast lamb, suckling pig, game, bean dishes and sausage products in central Castille; rice dishes – especially paella, in the southeastern regions.

And the one food that Spain is most passionate about….ham! You’ve never seen so much ham in your life, and in Madrid, there’s even a ham museum! Believe it or not, this picture I took is not of the the very large Ham Museum in Madrid, in fact, it’s just a regular butcher shop located in the small town of Ronda.

Not to be missed are Spain’s tapas, appetizers that are served before lunch and again before dinner in thousands of bars and taverns across the country. Tapas come in endless varieties and provide the opportunity to “graze” in casual surroundings with the locals! It’s fun, inexpensive and an education experience that’s interactive!

The ideal accompaniment to Spanish foods is of course, Spanish wines. Experts agree that Spain is producing some of the best wines. Wine making is a 3,000 year-old tradition, although production of quality wines is a more recent development. The wines run the gamut from dry sherry and sparkling cavas, to table wines, dessert wines, sweet sherries, brandies and liqueurs. Food and wine should be an integral part of every travel experience.

If you’d like, we’ll be happy to include some of our favorite restaurants and wine recommendations in your custom itinerary!


Melodie & Sam Kennedy at the Parador Hondarribia

A great variety of items: ceramics, jewelry, suede and leather goods, designer clothing, shoes, fans, handicrafts, antiques, art objects, etc. Many shops, and all major department stores will ship goods to the United States for a fee.

We hope you’ve learned a little bit more about Spain than you knew before visiting the website, and perhaps even now, you’re envisioning yourself seated at an outdoor cafe in the Plaza Mayor, nibbling on tapas while drinking some Spanish wine….and why not?! Interesting scenery, modern architecture, castles, Moorish palaces, shopping bargains, Roman ruins, great food and wine…

Call us, and we’ll be happy to help you plan your Spain vacation!



Certified Spain Specialist



Italy is divided into 20 regions. Each region is divided into provinces, and each province is divided into municipalities. The Italian regions are important because many of the customs and foods are regional in Italy, however, I’ll just touch on a selection of the regions.


Divided into 9 provinces: Bologna, (the most well known), Ferrara,Forlì-Cesena, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Ravenna, Reggio nell’Emilia, Rimini. This is an area where you are going to EAT your way through the area – the food is that good…Parma ham, Modena balsamic vinegar, Reggio Parmesano…the list goes on!

This region runs from the Apennines Mountains to the Adriatic Sea, and nearly every town and village has a medieval cathedral and a castle with a few towers.

Ravenna, which was the last capital of the Western Roman Empire, is known for Bzantine mosaics; Bologna has Italy’s oldest university, the Basilica of St. Petronio and the famous Asinelli and Garisenda towers. Besides all the history and art in this region, it’s also famous for food and wine! Specifically: meat dishes, sausages, Comacchio eels, tortellini and lasagna. Wines: Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Albana, Bianco di Scandiano.


The capital is Genoa, (and the capital of pesto!). The region’s small, but very popular and loaded with seaside resorts that comprise the Italian Riveria. Portofino is one of the most beautiful of the coastal towns, and the other popular destination is Cinque Terre; made up of five villages that are linked by train and hiking trails right on on the coastline of Liguria. The villages are part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


In the 12th Century, Amalfi was part of a very powerful Maritime Republic that included Venice, Genoa and Pisa – they had the military power as well as the trading between other countries, which influenced their style of architecture. It used to be a heavily populated city, but Pisa kept attacking & looting and in 1343 most of the city slid into the sea after a big earthquake; now there’s about 5,000 residents.

That number probably doubles in the summer, when the coast, and it’s cities are overrun by tourists and umbrella-wielding tour guides.

This area has some of the most beautiful coastline and photo ops you’ll ever see – and if you’re driving – some of the most nerve racking! In town, the narrow alleyways wind through and up the slopes between the sea and mountains. Excellent examples of medieval architecture with Moorish influence include its ninth century cathedral, Duomo di Sant’ Andrea and the Cloister of Paradise, Chiostro del Paradiso.


In the center of Tuscany, is Florence. To the west, Prato, Pistoia, Lucca, and Pisa. To the east, the ancient Etruscan cities of Cortona and Arezzo; and just a little bit south of Florence is Siena. All of these cities were part of the Italian Renaissance and centers of art, architecture, culture and banking, and yet Tuscany is essentially farmland – miles and miles of beautiful rolling hillsides with picturesque towns perched on top of hills. Acres of vines with some of the best produce as well as the best extra-virgin olive oil, as well as as multitude of fabulous wine. Tuscany produces a higher proportion of wine than anywhere else in Italy!
When you visit Tuscany, you have art from the 13th to 16th centuries, with artists such as Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Simone Martini, Leonardo, and Michelangelo – all in one area.
Many people don’t know that Tuscany also has some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean as well as beautiful walks and hikes through hills and mountain ranges.


No trip to Italy would be complete without visiting “the Eternal City”, Rome, in Lazio province. Rome has the richest history of any ctiy in Italy, with its unique position in what was once the world’s greatest Empire. A strong religious and cultural center, as well as some of the best surviving architecture you’ll ever see. Add in great food and wine as well as a wonderful walking city with good public transportation, and you have a “must see” destination! In addition to the city itself, there are many interesting day trips you can take (such as Pompeii), using Rome as a base.


Of course, this region means one thing – Venice, in my opinion, the most romantic city I’ve ever been to. In addition to 400 bridges and 118 islands you have 20 kilometers of canals lined with gorgeous villas, spa resorts (Abano and Montegrotto), and the northern Venetian border, including Cortina, and the towns of Verona and Padua.



They say the Greeks invented Western civilization – but it’s the French who refined it.

The essence of France involves a complex history, fine wine, world renown cuisine, great works of art, cosmopolitan cities, charming villages and many different styles of architecture such as Baroque, Gothic and my favorite, Art Deco.

This may explain, in part, why France is the most visited destination in the world (according to figures from the World Tourism Organization). In it’s most recent survey they found that France attracted 75.5 milliion visitors – closest competitors? Spain, with 48.2 and Italy with 41.1.

Shaped like a hexagon, France is the largest country in Western Europe; there are six mountain ranges with some of the highest peaks in Europe; 37 million acres of forests, a dramatic Atlantic coastline, rich farmlands, vineyards, wetlands and a subtropical Mediterranean shore — all of this in a country about the size of Texas!



Burgundy, Champagne-Ardenne, are synonymous with fine wines; Lorraine, World War I battlefields and Art Nouveau architecture in the capital, Nancy. Bordering on Germany is Alsace, Strasbourg, the capital.


Defined by the Mediterranean Sea, this is where the French Riveria and Provence are, as well as the island of Corisca, the birthplace of Napoleon.


Covered by a mountainous landscape of vocanic craters and deep gorges; elegant spa towns such as Vichy and Le Mont-Dore and the pretty town of Limoges.


Includes the Midi-Pyrenees mountain range, forming a natural border with Spain, with towns such as Toulouse, Bayonne, and the capital, Bordeaux, which is surrounded by some of the best known vineyards in the world.


A very diverse area containing the battlefields of Normandy, with World War II history, the coves and fishing villages of Brittany and the Loire Valley where you can tour elegant chateaux.


Home to Nord-Pas-de-Calais, a dramatic coastline that faces the English Channel and the town of Lille, known for Flemish architecture; Picardy, which has one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in France, as well as World War I battle sites and stunning chateaux.


Rated from 1 to 4 stars, and there’s always the option of B&B’s, a quaint farmhouse or mill, or a stay at a chateaux.


France has its share of diversity. In the Normandy or Brittany areas, many people are descended from Viking and Celtic invaders; areas near the Spanish border have a large Basque population.

Alsace and Lorriane have been passed back and forth between Germany and France; and the Mediterranean regions have some Italian flavor. In recent years, France has received many immigrants from different parts of Europe and from its former colonies in North Africa and Indochina, so large cities like Paris and Marseilles are a melting pot of international cultures.


There have been tons of books wrriten about the cuisine of France, so I won’t begin to cover that in this brief description.

However, here are some of the types of restaurants:

bistros are fairly inexpensive, often family-run, where the menu usually features hearty roasted meats, pommes frites (French fries), classic stews such as boeuf bourguignon or cassoulet. Brasseries are usually larger than bistros, tend to be lively, open from noon until late at night; brightly lit and have a selection of wines, beers and dishes such as choucroute (the Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and smoked meats).


Again, so much ground to cover! In Paris: designer fashions, particularly on the Right Bank near the Paris Opera, on the Left Bank near the 6th Arrdondissement around Boulevard St. Germain. All the large department stores such as Le Bon Marche, Galeries Lafayette, La Samartaine, and Le Printemps have an assortment of clothes, accessories, perfume, cosmetics.

There are great gourmet shops around the Place de la Madeleine; for souvenirs, take a stroll down the Rue de Rivoli; or if you like flea markets, Marche aux Puces de St. Ouen. Quimper is known for their pottery and lace; Limoge for china and enameled pieces; crystal in Baccarat, Provence for herbs, linens; and Grasse for perfume.

I’m assuming you’re reading about France because you’re interested in travelling there. A comment I’ve always heard when I’ve had clients inquiring about France is “I’ve heard the people are really RUDE”. The other thing that people will tell you is that “oh, it’s only in PARIS that people are rude, once you get into the countryside, people are much nicer.” In my personal experience I’ve found both of these statements to be untrue.

Everyone I encountered in France was polite and helpful; both in Paris and as I headed south. Acknowledging shop owners or a restaurant as you enter with a “Bonjour” and “Merci” goes a long way in having friendly local encounters!

I hope you’ve found this brief overview helpful. Please feel free to contact me for additional information and planning your French vacation.


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