By Rebecca Clark | Fox World Travel Vacation Travel Advisor
I recently returned home from two amazing European trips. My first trip to Spain was a self-guided adventure. Our second trip was a guided castle group tour through Scotland. Both adventures were impressive. Here are the highlights from each trip. Enjoy!
ADVENTURES THROUGH SPAIN
My love of the spirit and soul of Spain is endless. We spent just over a week in captivating Spain – 4 days in Madrid and 4 days in Barcelona. I highly recommend the high-speed train to Madrid! Very convenient. Our first morning in Madrid began with a trip to the market for fresh fruit and snacks. This market was huge and filled with amazingly fresh and unique foods.
Next, we ventured through Palacio Real de Madrid, Catedral del a Almudena, and saw an amazing view overlooking Madrid. We celebrated with a delicious glass of sangria which quickly became our daily ‘treat.’ If you are looking for an authentic experience in Madrid, I recommend checking out a local Flamenco dancing show. The dancers are incredibly talented and surprisingly the shows are improv, which was very impressive!
The Spanish sleep schedule is shifted, so it’s very normal for people to stay up until midnight and not go in to work until 9 or 10 in the morning. We went to another market that had more prepared foods rather than a grocery store. We tried so many things, everything was tapas, small bite snacks.
Another remarkable sight is Parque de Buen Retiro – a massive park in the middle of the city filled with statues, gardens, a crystal palace, and museums. We strolled in and out of museums while listening to musicians freestyling music throughout the park.
Then we took the high-speed train back over to Barcelona for the next few days, and I was incredibly blown away by the unique architecture in Barcelona. My most beloved part of the trip was an audio-guided tour of Casa Batlló . This was the private home of infamous Barcelonan architect Antoni Gaudi, and I highly recommend the tour.
What is a ‘must-have’ when visiting Spain? Hands down the paella. After having Spanish paella, the paella in the states does not compare.
Aside from the architecture, the Barceloneta beach proximity to the city is a really endearing part of Barcelona. If you ever have the chance, wake up early and walk down to the beach to watch the sunrise. I highly recommend waking up early and going to the beach to watch the sun rise.
TOURS THROUGH SCOTLAND
Our eight-day adventure through Scotland was our first guided vacation, via CIE tours. The trip began flying into Glasgow with a free afternoon to wander. We chose to visit a botanical garden followed by dinner and drinks at a local pub where we tried haggis – a Scottish dish most people turn their noses up. We both loved it!
We then had a welcome reception at the hotel where our guide told us what we can expect on the trip and some tips about traveling the countryside. We began on a guided city tour which includes a variety of city stops with historical references and ended with a visit to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery Museum which was interesting.
The next day we headed out of Glasgow via a cruise on Loch Lomond which had the most beautiful views. They offered drinks and we quickly found out that their “coffee with a drop of whiskey” was definitely more than a drop! We toured Inveraray Castle, and then made our way to Ballachulish, a village in Scotland. We went to the Isle of Skye to see Armadale Castle and the beautiful gardens surrounding it. Then we stopped by Loch Ness and of course bought a little Loch Ness Monster and took a picture of her and the lake. Then we were off to the Culloden Battlefield where there was a huge battle between the British and Jacobite army.
Next, we experienced a sheepdog demonstration from a sheep farmer. It was incredible watching the dogs work together and listen perfectly to the commands.
Next up was a visit to Blair Castle in Atholl and a stop at the Blair Athol Distillery where we did a tour, tasting, and filled our own bottle of whisky. Fun fact! The Blair Athol Distillery was controlled by the Atholls that lived in the Blair Atholl Castle which did not pay taxes for an awfully long time. When they were finally forced to start paying taxes, the distillery was not happy about the tax so they purposely misspelled Atholl.
The next castle on the list was Glamis Castle followed by a trip to St. Andrews which is the “Home of Golf” with a magnificent course and clubhouse.
We finally got the chance to try the popular sticky toffee pudding dessert that had been mentioned several times by our guide. It was so delicious! That night, we had a traditional Scottish evening with bagpipe players, Scottish songs, dancing, and a traditional Scottish meal. Of course, haggis was included.
Our last full day was spent touring the city of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle before getting free time to wander the city on our own. We had a drink at the oldest pub in Scotland, established in 1516, where we found our family crest and tartan which was a nice blue color.
We enjoyed a final dinner with a few other couples in our tour group at a cute little restaurant down the road from our hotel which was some of the best food of the trip. At the end, the restaurant staff tried calling us a taxi to take us back; however, there was a large event happening which made the city busy. The restaurant owner surprisingly offered to take us back – in his own car. Needless to say, the hospitality and our trip was absolutely incredible!
Are you interested in booking a self-guided trip or a guided group tour? Fox has so many options and we are happy to assist you with the planning process. Reach out to us for more information. Happy travels!