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July 13, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain, Video

Admittedly, blog trips can be a little perplexing. All of our hosts share their food, hotels and products with such love, that I finish the trip overwhelmed with gratitude, full of food, and with my eyes a bit crossed. In the end, it seems near impossible to pass all the experiences on to my readers, lest my blog posts turn into nothing but one large promotion. Beyond that, it often leaves little room for me to really highlight the places I loved, mention those I liked a little less, or even provide fair critiques.


Perplexed by this, I spent the final night of last trip dando vueltas (tossing and turning) over the issue. But somewhere between 1am and 2am in the morning, I had an epiphany and decided that I would provide a candid review for each hotel, restaurant and activity (!!!). My goal: To not only honor the generosity of my hosts, but also respect my readers, to whom I want to give the most honest input possible. Obviously, I will continue to share the highlights of my trip in more detail via my blog posts. Here goes….


Activities


El Parque de los olors
This is one of those activities I probably would have never thought to do. I mean, an herbal farm? Sounds illegal. But no, it’s not what you’re thinking. Rather, it’s a fresh-smelling paradise of fragrant plants – from lavender, to chocolate mint (no joke – it’s a variation of peppermint), and hunger-inducing curry plant. A visit will open your eyes and nose to the world of fragrant plants.


Castanya de Viladrau ~ Highly recommended
I was unnaturally excited to visit this chestnut farm, and couldn’t have been more impressed. Run by volunteers committed to keeping the chestnut-love alive and strong, the farm not only sells chestnuts but every nutty product you can think of – from chestnut beer, to crushed-chestnut-filled sausage, cookies and honey. The tour cured me of all my chestnut curiosity, and left me looking at the little roasted fellers with a new set of taste buds, err eyes. Read more about my visit here.


Cervesera de Montseny ~ Highly recommended
I don’t really drink beer, but my visit to this beer factory made we want to take it up with great zeal. The collective is owned by all its employees and is a true labor of love. As trailblazers in the Spanish industry, they offer a selection of artisanal beers and, little by little, distribute it as far away as the US. A fan of wine tastings, I found this to be an equally awesome beer equivalent, and very much worth the visit.




Serrat de Montseriu ~ Highly recommended
Josep is passionate about his small little bodega where he produces 10,000-15,000 bottles of wine by hand, per year. Focused on organic farming, he looked for a good place to produce wine, analyzed the soil, and then started growing. Since he doesn’t alter the wine (as many large wineries do), his creations turn out different every year, depending on the weather and other factors. Truly passionate about what he produces, a visit to Serrat de Montseriu will mean not just good wine, but also a unique look at organic wine making. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to return.


Hotels and accommodations

Hotel Masferrer*
This historic villa — with an archway dating back to the 13th century — reminded me a lot of those that I visited during my last trip to Catalonia; it offers the comforts of a home, with the amenities of a hotel (private rooms and bathrooms). The building itself is very well taken care of, the rooms and facilities relatively new, the land carefully manicured, and the hosts super warm and welcoming. If you’re looking for a hidden getaway that is less hotel and more house, this is the spot for you. Additionally, it’s not a far drive from Barcelona, Girona, or the beach.


Les Oliveres *
This accommodation isn’t unlike a bed-and-breakfast, complete with a few bedrooms and a kitchen. In fact, I can mostly accurately equate it to “grandma’s guesthouse,” in that it’s by no means anything luxurious with its unkempt land and old-school decor, but has a country coziness which might just be your thing (it wasn’t mine). To get a feel for it, check out the news report below in which I was interviewed. Never mind how horrendous I look (it was hot, we’d been trekking around the mountain. Forgive me).



La Morera
La Morera is another villa-meets-rural-hotel (apparently Catalonia is covered with them). Guests have their own private rooms and bathrooms, but share the common area. La Morera is especially rustic and, depending on your preferences, this may be both good and bad. The two-story rooms, complete with a very basic bathroom, and beds up stairs and downstairs, are most appropriate for families, or very friendly groups. If you don’t mind the not-so-glamorous room accommodations, then you’ll appreciate the highlight: the host. Preparing generous meals full of local favorites – like butifarra and toasted-on-the-fire bread — he makes guests feel like they’re in a secluded mountain home. It might be far from fancy, but there’s something to be said for the charm.


Can Vila ~ Highly recommended
This place was my ultimate sanctuary — I totally fell in love with every last well-thought detail, so much so that I’m eager to return. The main building has been entirely restored and renovated, so everything is brand spanking new, designed for the most discerning tastes, and comfier than my own house. Combined with the views, the subtle smell of farm, and the perfectly landscaped grounds (with a sweet looking pool!), I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t disappoint.



Rural Montseny
Located in the sweet little pueblo of Gualba, this apartment-like hotel is, well, nothing more than that. The rooms are fairly new and basic (and in some cases a little awkwardly laid out). That said, the beds are surprisingly comfortable. If all that matters to you is a cute pueblo and a good place to sleep, then this will do the trick. The bonus: it has WiFi (as did most places we stayed), a nice kitchen, and a tremendously friendly manager who gives spectacular tours of the city upon request.


Hotel San Marçal
When it comes to character, this is where you’ll find it. Occupying a 9th century monastery, you can easily imagine what the building must have been like in its past life. Not unlike the structure itself, though, the amenities are a little dated (think old sinks and out-of-date showers). If you’re like me and prefer a slightly more modern touch, then you might find it at their sister hotel, Hotel San Bernat, which has been more recently renovated.


L’om ~ Highly recommended
If you’re into eco and you like a good spa, gosh darn it, this is the place for you. It’s a proper, extra-cushy, cabin-style apartment in the middle of a pueblo – a surprisingly inventive concept given the remote location. Masterminded by Finnish designers, the building is constructed in natural wood and is maintained using renewable energy. Absolutely loved it.



La Coromina*


Owned by famous go-cart racer Antoní Zanini, this house reminds me of a home I might find in the American northeast, with it’s ivy-covered brick, and airy-bright interior detailed with crisp white crown molding. The restaurant occupies the downstairs salons, while guestrooms fill the floors above. Decorated like a comfy country home, it truly does feel like your own house in the Montseny countryside.






Restaurants


Hotel Can Barrina
With picnic-table views of the Montseny valley, dinner at this villa was the perfect start to our trip. It offers a rustic setting, imaginative dishes, and friendly service. I didn’t stay the night there, but would definitely recommend dinner if you’re in the area.


La Garrafa
We tried a variety of dishes here that were good. I wouldn’t say they were out of this world, but if I were in La Garriga, I wouldn’t mind stopping by again to try something a la carte.


Les Magnolies ~ Highly recommended
This restaurant delivers when it comes to innovative and modern Mediterranean cuisine – a foaming cappuccino that isn’t really coffee, but instead a sweet-potato soup; a frozen ice-cream-like tomato that bursts in your mouth; an award-winning gin-and-tonic dessert that tastes just as colorful as it looks. All in all, definitely a Michelin-star-worthy foodie spot.


Can Marc ~ Highly recommended
I fell in love with this restaurant, its food and its staff. Family owned, the restaurant is not only run by one of the family’s sons, but he’s one of the chefs too, along with his gorgeous wife who waits tables and serves. While the stone-wall setting recalls traditional fare, the cuisine swings extra modern and will blow both your mind and taste buds. They offer a tasting menu, which cannot wait to try again.

Romani
You wouldn’t know by the outside of the establishment that it would have such fantastically delicious dishes. While nothing fancy, they deliver classic Catalan and Iberian cuisine that tastes phenomenal. If you’re in the area and looking for a humble meal and traditional tastes, this spot is worth the visit. Plus the darling grandpa owner is so cute that I wanted to squeeze his cheeks.


La Vall del Montseny ~ Highly recommended
I’ve kind of fallen in love with this little valley, as all of my favorite spots seem to be clustered in the pueblo of Sant Esteve de Palautordera. This restaurant is no different. In terms of ambiance, it’s nothing particularly special, but the food was exceptional – a fresh pea salad, shrimp perfectly grilled with garlic, and one of the most amazing risotto dishes I’ve ever had. Definitely a restaurant you should try if you pass through the area.


Ripoll*
Located in what looks to be the darling pueblo of Sant Hilari Sacalm (sadly I only saw it by night), is Hotel Ripoll. While the hotel itself isn’t anything to write home about (note that I did not stay there), the cuisine was above average; they served a potato-y confection topped with egg and mushrooms that rocked my world. If you’re wandering around Ripoll and looking for a reliably tasty and inventive meal, this is a good option.




*Hotels marked with an asterisk are those at which I did not stay, but instead only visited.
**Disclosure: I traveled through Montseny as a guest of Turístics Montseny. Rest assured that I’m keeping it real – all opinions are entirely my own.

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May 8, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain, Video

Only about a week ago did I finally check my camera to see if I actually had any Camino video. Sure enough, I discovered a bunch of clips that brought the memories rushing back in (albeit bumpily and blurrily). Paired with pictures, and the sound of (very redundant) bagpipes next to the Santiago Cathedral, it captures some of the mood from the trip. While it may not be my most impressive video to date (by a longshot), the sights and sounds are special, so I thought it was worth sharing!



You can also see more photos (including those of my recent trip to Prague) by visiting the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

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November 29, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain, Traditions, Video

Before last week, I’d had two country line dancing memories: learning it during PE in high school (seriously), and then one very bored night in college. Little did I know that my third stab at shakin’ it western-style would be the most memorable and awesome line-dancing experience ever.


And that it would be in Spain.


And guess what? There’s a video.


Brace yourselves, people, this is going to be good. So, so painfully good.



A few months ago I discovered a country western festival taking place near Madrid – a discovery akin to gold, calorie-less chocolate and a winning lottery ticket. I went by myself and witnessed one of the most jaw-dropping experiences I’ve had in Spain to date, but having witnessed it alone, I felt a bit robbed. I would need to return with others to both verify and revel in its legendary-ness.


Good thing my friend Michella is all about country and all about America (and baking cupcakes, and decking out her entire house every time a holiday comes around – LOVE this girl). So when her birthday rolled around, her only request was that a group of us chicas from the US go line dancing.


So we did.


About 20 minutes north of Madrid, in dark fields at the end of a sketchy pot-holed road, is El Encuentro – scene of my original discovery a few months back. We arrived for what they claimed would be an “authentic American dinner.” We also arrived in a mix of flannel t-shirts, jean skirts, cowboy-ish boots and new names: Peggy Sue, Sara Beth, Marge and Lu Lu May (that’s me!). Go big or go home – am I right?


But you know who went big? Like, really big? The Spaniards. Cowboy hats, belt buckles, boots and button-up shirts emblazoned with “Wrangler” and “Rodeo Champion.” They brought their whole families, and also a whole lot of cowboy spirit.


Seated below a giant American flag (obviously), we selected our orders from the extensive menu: the Grand Canyon nachos, a round of random burgers, and a couple of Coors. OK, so the burger tasted more like meatloaf than burger, but hey, still American, right?



Then the line dancing began. And hot dog, these Spaniards knew their stuff. The four of us girls just stared and giggled in amazement – part impressed, part confused, and mostly just embarrassed that these guys pulled off American way better than we ever could. But we weren’t going to let that stop us. At the sound of Achy Breaky Heart, we skedaddled onto the dance floor to demonstrate our electric-slide skills (which I do have, believe it or not).



As the dancing wound down, one of the owners stopped by our table to say hello. We told him it was Michella’s birthday and about five minutes later they brought out a surprise birthday brownie while the entire farmhouse sang “happy birthday” in English. No joke. This was followed by us taking pictures with Spaniards like we were an attraction at Disneyland. Who’s this guy? Who knows. Who cares. (And yes, that’s a tipi in the top left.)



We eventually realized that all good things must come to an end and that it was time to call a cab – that is, see if a cab would actually journey out to the countryside to get us. Before we found that out, though, José the bartender had offered us a ride home. Stupid? Potentially. But really, who were we to stop such a historic night from taking its natural course.


As the three of us piled into the backseat, my man José turned on the ignition, and the car filled with the familiar beats of 50 Cent. Marveling at the dreamcatcher hanging from the rearview mirror of his VW golf, it became ultra clear to me that this night was one for the record books.


Back in Madrid’s Plaza Castilla, we parted ways – Marge and Peg mosied on home, while Michella – make that, Sara Beth – and I vowed to keep the night going strong. With that, we met up with her other friends at one of Madrid’s most popular bars, where people would inevitably stare at us and our ultra-American getups.


Having had a few drinks, I didn’t even realize the irony of the bar in Madrid that we ended up at that night. It’s called – of all things – Honky Tonk.




*It might be worth repeating from my previous blog – the Spaniards unfortunately don’t quite seem to grasp the meaning of a certain flag.

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September 7, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe, Video

Just admit it – you barely knew the country of Georgia existed before I started flooding your inbox and RSS feeds with blog posts that make you so hungry you think you’re going to burst. But now, you’re extra curious about this peculiar Eurasian nation. So, since I’ve reeled ya in, here’s a little video giving you yet another taste of the country. (Be sure to watch it until the end – I think it’s hilarious, but I’m also easily amused.)




If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.
To see pictures from my trip to Georgia, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page or Flickr page.

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August 29, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain, Traditions, Video

Every year, I’m drawn back to good old San Sebastián de los Reyes for another round of watching drunken teenagers narrowly escape angry bulls. Somehow, as I hide my face behind my hands, I can’t resist the urge to peek through my fingers and watch the train wreck of an event that is the second largest running of the bulls in Spain. But rather than tell you about it, here is some footage from yesterday’s run along with a few pictures.



plaza de toros, san sebastian de los reyes, running of the bulls, encierros
charging bull, encierros, san sebastian de los reyes, plaza de toros
bull fighting, dodging bull, san sebastian de los reyes
bull fighting, encierros, plaza de toros, san sebastian de los reyes

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