Italy and France get all the wine and food-loving attention, but Spain has more than the lion's share of fine wines (I'm currently stuck on anything with the Tempranillo grape in it), fine food (from avant-garde foam creations to tapas), and opportunities for relaxing along its extensive coastline or at vineyards and spas. We're not talking about the mani-pedi-Swedish massage kind of spa, but the kind that are scattered throughout Europe, have been around for centuries and involve fizzy, mineral-rich waters and therapeutic mud. In Spain alone, there are 2,000 registered thermal springs in various locations, whether by the water, on the coast or in the mountains near the French border. And you can familiarize yourself with the wine routes, or rutas de vino (www.rutasdevino.com), a resource that the Spanish government has established and continues to develop to help guide visitors through the country to vineyards, wineries, restaurants, and haciendas. And Spain's tourism site (www.spain.info) offers more information, including an interactive map of the country's regions.
For an indulgent spa approach that also extensively incorporates wine, the Marques De Riscal City of Wine (tel. 34/945-606-000; www.marquesderiscal.com) in Elciego, in the Rioja wine region, offers guests access to a wine cellar, museum, restaurants, spa and a vineyard. This "city" opened in the fall of 2006 and includes a Frank Gehry-designed Hotel Marques de Riscal, a Starwood Luxury property (tel. 34/945 180 880; www.starwoodhotels.com). Anyone familiar with Gehry's work will immediately recognize the undulating waves of metal jutting out from the building. The resort has 43 rooms with marble bathrooms, high ceilings, and fully loaded technological offerings. The Caudalie Vinotherapie -- yes, that's wine therapy -- spa offers treatments such as baths with extracts of red grapevines (good for your circulation), massages with grape seed oil and facials that involve elements of grapes as well. Staying here is not inexpensive -- a quick search in early March for a Sunday-Tuesday stay revealed room availability from 300 € to 750 €, but the hotel does offer a cheaper romantic experience for two special. If you stay for three nights or more you'll receive daily breakfast through room service and 100 € spa credit per person (it's an offer that is based on availability.
Hotel Termes Montbrió (tel. 34/902-930-400; email: email@example.com; www.rocblanchotels.com) in Tarragona dates from the turn of the century. Its ten acres are characterized by a flowering landscape, fruit trees and sequoias. Four years ago the hotel opened the Spa Aquatonic and Leisure Center, with nutrient-rich spa thermal waters, treatments involving mud and seaweed, a sauna, and a Turkish bath. Right now there are several packages being offered, including "Discover the Thermalism" priced from 260 € per person for two days of treatment and two nights' accommodations (valid for Sunday-Thursday stays until August 12). The spa treatments involved are considerable -- hydromassage, thermal shower, thermal inhalation, oxygen therapy, and more. Specials are honored based on availability.
Warm salt water and local clay have purifying and therapeutic properties and are incorporated into the offerings of 2,000+ year-old spa, Balneario de Archena (tel. 34/968-688-022; www.balneariodearchena.com). With two million square feet overall of wellness opportunities -- such as thermal swimming pools, mud massages, nasal lavages, thermal and hydro baths, honey massage, chakra stone massage and chocolate massages and mineral waters in the physiotherapy center -- you could spend days here. Likewise, the options for treatment and accommodations are extensive. If you are fluent in Spanish you can go through the property's well-designed website and read up (click on "Tarifas 2007"), but if you aren't, the rates and program options are available at this website (www.abalnearios.com/en/balneariodearchena/index.htm), which lists this property along with other health and spa resorts in Spain and Portugal. There are three hotels at Balneario de Archena, and a one-night program with treatments ranges from 140 € to 210 €, depending on the hotel, the number of treatments and number of people in the room. Longer, more therapeutic stays are possible, from 1,603 € for a program of 14 nights. When you're not relaxing there are five restaurants to choose from and numerous other diversions to keep you occupied or relaxed, as the case may be.
Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) has a special for an eight-day Costa del Sol vacation from $969. This reflects travel departures April 10, 17, and 24, based on airfare from New York to Malaga. The price includes airline fuel surcharges, six nights' hotel accommodations -- you can select one of three -- and breakfast daily. It features a combination of time on your own -- the last few days are especially open, good for spa visits--with side trips to visit the towns of Ronda, Granada and attractions such as the Alhambra and the oldest bullring in Spain.
If you want to go to Spain, specifically Costa del Sol, immediately, then check out this fly-drive package from Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) for this region. Priced from $759, it's good for a manual, economy-class car rental. The purchase deadline is March 7, and the special is valid for travel March 4--22, based on travel from New York City-JFK; other departures are possible for an additional fee. You can spend your mornings at the spa of one of the properties mentioned here and your afternoons exploring the coastline's beaches, small historic towns and fishing villages.
Iberia Airlines (tel. 800/504-8030; www.iberia.com) has a special on fares to a variety of destinations in Spain from the US. Choose from New York to Madrid or Barcelona (from $440); Chicago to Bilbao, Malaga, Seville or other smaller cities, (from $562); Los Angeles and San Francisco to Madrid or Barcelona (from $667) or Bilbao, Malaga or Seville (from $697). Iberia also flies from Miami, Boston and Washington, D.C. The fare sale is good for departures up to March 31 and requires a minimum three-day stay. There are, however, no advance purchase requirements. Taxes and fees of up to $150 per ticket are not included, but fuel surcharges are.
For travel closer to the summer months, Orbitz (tel. 888/656-4546; www.orbitz.com) has a special on Iberia from Boston, its new departure gate to Europe. Travel to Barcelona round-trip from $560 or Bilbao, Santiago de Compostella or Seville $590. You must purchase the tickets by March 15 and travel is good for May 16-June 15. Travel is permitted any day of the week and, as of now, no blackout dates apply.
Talk with fellow travelers on the Spain Message Boards.