November 26, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

A year and half ago I spent eight nights sleeping in Camino hostels: these clearly weren’t my best hotel experiences in Spain. In fact, that was the first and probably last time that I will be roughin’ it backpacker-style (until my next Camino rendezvous, anyway).

Why? Well, although I consider myself a very low-maintenance traveler, I’m pretty much crazy high-maintenance when it comes to my lodging (cleanliness, vibe, location — I’m flipping neurotic about it). So, being the picky hotel-selector that I am, I’ve decided that I ought to put all of my madness to good use and share with you some of my favorite hotels across Spain.

Casa Morisca Hotel, Granada
After staying at various questionable (and over-priced) establishments during my visits to Granada, I finally happened upon this one thanks to a recommendation from a friend. Indeed, in a city full of tourists, it can be hard to find lodging with charm that remains untainted by the masses — but then there’s Casa Morisca. The house-turned-hotel dates back to the 15th century and recalls those times when the Moors occupied a healthy chunk of Iberia (creating magical places like the Alhambra!). And while restored, all the rooms are different, each still maintaining old-world details such as intricate wood-carved ceilings and interior access via a riad-style patio. While I haven’t been back to Granada in a couple of years, you can bet this is where I’ll be staying whenever I return.
Casa de San Martín, Huesca
This off-the-grid (seriously) piece of paradise is what motivated me to write this post. Previously an abbey, the hotel is located at the end of a five-kilometer gravel road that takes twenty minutes to carefully navigate. It may be remote, but the drive is worth it, as the hotel is a perfect mixture of antiquity and pure lodging luxury. The grounds are impeccably landscaped and the service as good as it gets. Even better: since you probably won’t be too keen to make that off-road excursion back to civilization for dinner, you can stick around at the hotel, where the multi-course meals are lavishly rustic, just like the setting itself.
A Casa de Aldán, Galicia
Once a fishery, this hotel is situated along the quiet waters of the Rias Baixas fishing village of Aldán. The rural lodging is an understated mishmash of weather-worn granite and modern cedar-wood detailing. Marry that with bedrooms of humble white linens, miniature porthole-like views of the small bay, and a sprinkling of local restaurants that serve morning-caught seafood, and you’ve got yourself the perfect Galician getaway. In fact, I loved it so much during my first visit that I returned once again simply for the pleasure of staying in such a sweet hotel and in one of Spain’s sweetest little spots.
Marques de Riscal Hotel, Frank Gehry
Marqués de Riscal, La Rioja
Yeah, and then there’s Marqués de Riscal, which practically drips indulgence; the only “rustic” things about this place are the winery’s old bodegas, and the views of Elciego village. Ranked up there among the world’s most luxurious hotels, expect this lodging experience to come with an appropriately hefty price, though. But doggonit, the place is pure magic, so much so that I convinced my mother to return there with me last February; a trip that I’m fairly certain was her favorite of all her annual journeys to Spain. But really, between the wine, the luxury, the Michelin star-rated food, and the surrounding La Rioja region, how can you go wrong? You just can’t.

So now it’s your turn: What have your best hotel experiences been? And even better, what have been the best ones in Spain or even Madrid? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

April 25, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Camel races are a good time, to be sure, but after a trip to relatively alcohol-free Dubai, my mother and I needed to follow up with some wine. What better place to do the trick than a couple of days in Spanish wine country?

Truth is, though, that pretty much all of Spain is wine country — head in any direction and you’ll end up in one of the 62 (!) official Spanish wine regions (called denominaciones de origen, or DO’s). But on this trip we had our sights set on undoubtedly the nation’s most famous wine region, la Rioja, and, more precisely, a return to one of the country’s – and the world’s – most prestigious hotels, Marqués de Riscal.

Do you recognize it? Unless you’ve been under an architecture rock (totally possible), the structure’s undulating steel panels might seem a little familiar. Perhaps they remind you of the artsy exterior of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or maybe the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, just to name a few.

Designed by revered architect Frank Gehry, the Marqués de Riscal Hotel was built in 2006 as an addition to its namesake winery, located in the miniature pueblo of Elciego. Its goal: to raise awareness around wine and the region, and also of course to increase visits to the winery itself. And oh boy, has it ever worked: Annual visits have surged from a humble 5,000 (pre-hotel) to over 60,000. It worked for me too, I guess, as I’ve stayed there twice now and can only hope that we’ll go back again one day (fingers crossed!).

Apart from lounging around in our rad hotel room while spying the Elciego Cathedral from a cushy bed, we also went on a tour of the winery’s bodegas, and even ventured outside of town to some of our other favorite La Rioja spots.

First was the pueblo of Laguardia, which sits precariously on a maze of bodegas and, as such, cars aren’t permitted to traverse the fragile, walled city.

Then we headed to the village of Ezcaray to do a little shopping (undoubtedly my mother’s favorite pastime). There, we stopped by the Mantas Ezcaray workshop to peruse its shelves, which bulge with rainbow-hued scarves and fuzzy blankets (many of which are exported around the world and sold at much higher prices!).

On my last visit to Ezcaray, I stayed at Casa Masip (pictured above) and dined at Michelin-star-rated Echaurren — both recommended, especially the restaurant, which is one of my favorites in Spain.

And that was my mom’s trip to Spain (and beyond, really): Dubai, La Rioja, and even quick visits to Segovia and La Granja. Next up: My father will be making his second and much-anticipated visit to Europe. Stay tuned for more family adventures, but next time — I’m guessing — without the camels.

March 3, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

I can’t even really begin to explain what a wonderful weekend I had! Saturday morning Jacob and I left for Elciego – the “City of Wine” and home to the bodega Marques de Riscal and its famous hotel designed by Frank Gehry. Jacob and I had passed by the hotel back in November when we were visiting the La Rioja wine region and had vowed that we would come back and stay there.

Arriving at the hotel you encounter gates that allow only guests past – the exquisite up close view, while coveted by all visitors to Elciego, is only reserved for those residing in the exclusive 40 room hotel. Up close, the hotel is brilliant with its different shades of titanium reflecting the sun. The colors mimic those of wine and grapes such that the very modern architecture seems to blend in naturally with its surroundings. The design itself is meant to be an abstract version of a grape vine with its three base pillars and vertically flowing waves of titanium. It’s stunning and nothing short of eye candy. We arrived a bit early (actually stopping by the cathedral in Burgos on the way) and treated ourselves to a glass of wine at the bar while we waited for our room to be available. And the room – wow! The room and bathroom were basically bigger than our flat in Madrid! And the view was just remarkable – the windows filled the entire length of the one wall (and nearly the entire height as well) giving us a near 180 degree view of the hotel on the left and then the entire hillside of Elciego including its cathedral. It was breathtaking. Oh, and there was another bottle of wine waiting for us there too, so we continued the “tasting”.

One tasting lead to another – but this time it was an actual tasting, as well as a tour. We spent an hour and half on a tour of the bodega, seeing their modern cellars as well as the old ones which contain wines as old as the 1870s! The tour was capped off with a few more wine tastings before we headed back to the hotel for a five course lunch….and more wine. After our heavenly lunch we siesta-ed Spanish style while gazing at the view of the cathedral….all the way into the evening when the cathedral lit up along with the rest of the small village. The perfect afternoon!

That evening we drove to another local pueblo, Laguardia, where we walked around the tiny little Basque village. We were mesmerized by its charming small streets and sweet little terrazas. The entire city has no cars due to the fact that beneath are nothing but fragile wine bodegas….well, that and I am fairly positive that no car (eh hem, except maybe my Smart!) would fit on such small streets. We had dinner at a quaint restaurant owned by an old women who insisted on giving the philosophical background of Jacobo’s name and also that we try wine from her husband’s bodega. It was a perfect La Rioja dinner.

Following dinner we returned to the hotel to visit the library to have drinks (yes – the library, located on the top floor of the building with views all around). While there, we received a text message from one of Jacob’s friends telling us that another couple (friend’s of ours) were indeed at the hotel as well! So, we called them up, and sure enough they were downstairs just finishing dinner and were heading up to join us for a drink! It was such a nice surprise to spend our Saturday nightcap enjoying a drink, wine to be exact, with friends.

The next day we spent the day at the famed Caudelie spa at the hotel. I’ve been to spas before, but wow, this one was incredible. The views of the vineyards coupled with the grape/wine based spa products completely put me in the zone. After a hot bath, massage and facial, I couldn’t have been more relaxed!

To finish off our adventure we headed back to Laguardia – the city just seemed too precious by night to miss by day. The city was even more darling in daylight with breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys as well as the tremendous mountain ranges. And the air smelled of bodega! It was incredible! Both the hotel we stayed in and the city of Laguardia were built on bodegas, so we could truly smell the wine lingering in the air wherever we went!

Our trip concluded with the three-plus hour drive home. It was just the most incredibly relaxing weekend ever. I can promise it won’t be my last visit there either!

In other exciting news, I will be coming home to SF in less than a week! I need to go to the consulate and pick up my visa!! I hope that I can visit with everyone then.