MTV Spain guidebook authors Fernando Gayesky and Kristin Luna join Frommers.com Podcasts Host Kelly Regan to offer their insight about exploring Spain. Gayesky tells Regan why Barcelona is the country's most exciting, cosmopolitan city, while Luna shares tips on exploring the caves and skies of rural mountain areas (and why you should rent a car). Listen further for insider info about the party scene on the Balearic Islands.
To listen this episode, click the "play" button on the MP3 player below.
Top Tips from This Podcast
See transcript below for links to more information.
- Try Barcelona: Tourist friendly, small and walkable.
- Museums: Modern Art Museum and Espana, The Magda.
- Outdoor Sports: Rafting, hiking, camping, canoeing, canyoning, paragliding, skydiving, surfing, windsurfing, scuba diving.
- Getting Around: Rent a car, many of the smaller villages and the beaches aren't accessible by train or bus.
- Beaches: Balearic Islands -- Eivissa, Mallorca, Formentera, Menorca.
- Party Towns: Try Eivissa City and Sant Antoni on Eivissa island for the beach party scene, or the bigger cities such as Valencia, Barcelona, or Ibiza.
- Ask the Locals: Get the local experience, many locals are very open to taking a traveler out on the town.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.Announcer: Welcome to the Frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations please. visit www.frommers.com.
Kelly Regan: Hi and welcome to the Frommers.com podcast. I am Kelly Regan, Editorial Director of the Frommer's Travel Guides. I'll be your host. Today we will be talking about the MTV travel guides. MTV and Frommer's have collaborated on a series of guidebooks for students and 20 somethings and my guests today are two of the authors of our MTV Spain guide -- Fernando Gallesci and Kristen Luna. They are here to talk about the best places in Spain for museums, for partying and for adrenaline adventures among other topics.
Fernando and Kristen, welcome! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.
Kristen Luna: Thank you.
Fernando Gallesci: Thank you.
Kelly: Fernando I'd like to start with you. You have been living in Spain for a while now so I am curious from your perspective, and based on your survey of the landscape, what do you think the hottest destination is in Spain right now to visit and why do you think it is so hot?
Fernando: Much to my disdain, I have to say it is Barcelona which is where I live. It really has become one of, I think, the European capitals. It is very cosmopolitan. I used to live in New York before I moved here.
Fernando: And one of the things I thought I was going to miss was the "cosmopolity" of New York. But right now in Barcelona it's also there. Which also means, of course, that it is probably the most expensive city in Spain. Well maybe...
Fernando: ... it's really become a hot destination in the last couple of years. It's opened a lot. It's very tourist friendly. It's a small city that you can walk pretty much everywhere. It has amazing architecture, great museums, it has the beaches, nightlife. It's really a complete destination.
Kelly: You mentioned the museums. And I really liked what you had to say in the book where you said that one of the ways to start a conversation with the Barcelona native is to ask them what their favorite museum is and if they don't have a favorite you should kind of kick them to the curb. In a city with such great art, everyone should have a favorite.
So I am going to ask you the same thing. What's your favorite museum in Barcelona?
Fernando: Personally because I like especially turn of the century art and Catalonia has been a great center for that, so I would have to say the Modern Art Museum plus Espana. But I think maybe for less obsessed people The Magda is probably the most interesting. And not only because of its connection, they always have interesting shows in modern art, more contemporary art, but it's also the center for skating actually. Because that's where, it's a very architecturally interesting building. It's pretty modern and has all these ramps where skateboarders tend to get together.
Kelly: Oh. That's great.
Fernando: Yeah so not only can you check out art you can also check out the more urban scene. And it is also around the corner from another cultural center, the CCCV, which is also a center for contemporary and culture.
Kelly: Oh OK. The museum, that's an acronym right?
Fernando: Museo de arte contempario, contemporary art museum.
Kelly: So you get a little museum experience, you get some skateboarding in. [laughs] I think that's kind of a nice one two punch there.
Fernando: Yeah. It's also located in the center of the old city so it's very convenient to everything too.
Kelly: Yeah. From talking about the city and kind of jumping out into the countryside. Kristen, I know that the area you covered, one of the areas you covered was Aragon. And it's in the Pyrenees Mountains and I was really surprised to find out in reading your chapter that it's one of the best spots in Spain, if not the best spot in Spain, for adrenaline junkies.
Can you talk a little bit about the stuff you can do there? I was particularly interested in this sport called "parapente."
Kristen: Right. Well you have pretty much every mountain excursion available under the sun in the Pyrenees. I would say the Spanish part of the Pyrenees is one of the best spots in Western Europe to get some of these adrenaline rushes. You have your normal sports like rafting and hiking, camping, canoeing.
Kristen: You have skiing from Christmas to Easter usually.
Kristen: But then you have the more extreme sports like canyoning, or as the Spanish say, "descanso de barrancos." Are you familiar with canyoning?
Kelly: No. No. What's that?
Kristen: It's an extreme sport where you're basically trekking through canyons from the top to the bottom and you do this jumping off of waterfalls to climbing and repelling and wading through ice-cold water. And you are wearing all sorts of equipment like carabineers and harnesses and life vests and helmets to prevent any sort of injury. But it's...
Kelly: [laughs] Right.
Kristen: ... definitely very extreme and it's a sport that is relatively new to Spain from what I understand. It's very common in places like Switzerland and New Zealand but I think it's now becoming quite big in Spain. Pretty much every small mountain town I went to offered some sort of canyoning excursion.
Kristen: And great places to do that are like Torla and Alcazar, the national park or Desa Eamon de Perdido. And then you have an even smaller sport that's not as common which is called "parapente", which is basically what we think of paragliding.
Kristen: You are harnessed on to a glider and you start out at the top of a mountain. You usually do this in tandem unless you are very experienced and have some sort of license. But you have a professional who is harnessed on to you and you are basically free gliding off the top of a mountain.
Kristen: Yeah. It's very, there's that adrenaline rush for those who like that. It's a good thing to consider the time of year you are going because it depends on the weather, obviously.
Kristen: Because they are not going to let you go hurling yourself off a mountain in the middle of snow.
Kelly: [laughs] Right.
Kristen: ...So I don't think you would want to do that either. But you should definitely check that out if that is something that interests you when you are in Spain. And then, likewise, there is also the option to sky dive, which is what I did when I was there.
Kelly: Oh you did?
Kristen: Yes. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. I was new to sky diving. I had never done it before. I thought, well I am in some of the most beautiful mountains in the world why not hurl myself out of a...
Kristen: ... small plane...
Kristen: At 12 thousand feet. [laughs] So.
Kelly: [laughs] And you lived to tell the tale which is the best part of all.
Kristen: I did there was that moment when you're jumping out of the plane where I thought, "Well I won't live to tell the tale", but I'm here so.
Kelly: [laughs] But you got through it. Yeah. The other thing we talked about briefly was to explore these kind of areas, and to do these kind of adventures, it is a little bit hard to access this region by train. If you are really committed to doing this it probably makes most sense to rent a car to really get to some of the smaller villages that you talk about in the chapter.
Kristen: There are basically no trains that run through the Pyrenees. So it is vital to have a car. There are occasional buses but often they only run once or twice a day. So if you miss that bus then you are basically stranded. I found that out the hard way.
Kristen: I end up hiking much of my time in the Pyrenees. I finally rented a car because rental places are very scarce in the mountains so you have to go to a bigger city like Zaragoza or Huesca to find rental agencies.
Kristen: And finally I did rent a car to get to Benasce which is a very pretty town near the French border but it's basically non-accessible by bus or train.
Kelly: OK. Well Kristen that sounds like its probably the smartest thing the more off the beaten track you want to get in terms of exploring some of these smaller towns it sounds like renting a car is probably the way to go in terms of ease of getting around. So that's kind of a little snapshot of the mountain experience.
I wanted to spend some time talking about the beaches. Fernando, the Balearic Islands are probably the biggest beach and party spot in Spain and I would make an argument they are one of the biggest in all of Europe. And I know you say that to visit like Eivissa in the heart of the summer you really need to plan ahead. But I'm really curious about the experience of being there in the summer when the party scene is in full swing. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the scene, what it's like, and what your favorite thing is about visiting the islands.
Fernando: OK. Well first of all this is also true for the islands that you sort of need to have your own means of transportation especially because all the beaches are not in the cities.
Fernando: The bus service is really not that great to them. There's beaches where you have to, the last bus leaves at a quarter to seven or so, so you miss the sunset and stuff like that so.
Fernando: The islands are actually not the cheapest destination but of course what you get for your money is like you said it is one of the hottest party scenes in Europe. I would not recommend going there in August because it tends to be, either one of them, it's just too many people.
You have to do huge lines to get into the clubs and the experience is not, the beaches are packed with people, and but then again also you can go Eivissa and club season starts mid-June. If you go before that you wont get the real party scene. I guess the best thing would be to go around July or end of June and it's really, really wild.
It's a fun town. It's like an old hippy type club that all of a sudden got mass media, big party, OK sort of new things. But it's been really big in Europe for, since the 70's. Pretty much it's madness total madness.
Fernando: It's like you can start basically any hour of the day, any day of the week, you can go to the club that is going to be packed with people dancing to music of the top DJ's all over the world.
Kelly: I know you mention in the book that there is a club called "Space" in Eivissa where the best party that you can find on a Sunday morning at eight am [laughs].
Fernando: Yeah, it's true. It's probably the best party you can find anywhere in the world at any time. Space is a classic that has been there forever and whenever you talk to someone that's a normal visitor to Eivissa they can tell you Space on Sunday mornings is the best, the best party.
Kelly: Oh OK.
Fernando: Another thing about Eivissa is that there's two main towns one is Eivissa City and the other one is Sant Antoni.
Fernando: And they are very, very different and you should be aware of that because Sant Antoni is more like Daytona Beach.
Kelly: Oh OK. [laughs]
Fernando: Kind of crowded you have to be aware of that because they are not that close. It takes about an hour with the bus.
Kelly: OK to get from one to another. Mm-hmm.
Fernando: Yeah, they are usually out of the cities but there's disco buses that go to all the clubs. If you get your car it should be to go to the beaches not to go to the clubs.
Kelly: Right. When you go to Eivissa or Mallorca or any of the islands what's your favorite thing to do?
Fernando: I personally really love Formentera, which is the smallest of the islands and the less developed and just lay on the beach and get your drinks and your fresh seafood right from the surrounding areas. Scuba diving is amazing.
Kelly: Oh really?
Fernando: Yeah. Formentera is like this little paradise island in the middle of the Mediterranean with crystal clear waters. But, also in August it's like, I guess, half of Italy probably moves to Formentera.
Fernando: In August.
Fernando: Also I don't know if it is recommended, and in some capacity, for Formentera it is very, very good news. I would say Formentera is less in May or September.
Kelly: Oh OK.
Fernando: During the quiet months cause it's definitely not a party town like Eivissa. Although there is a ferry that leaves every 10 minutes and it takes 25 minutes to go from one to the other.
Kelly: Oh OK so that makes it easy to get to.
Fernando: Yeah, exactly.
Fernando: So you can do your partying in Eivissa and then go chill out and recover in Formentera.
Kelly: OK that sounds like a good idea!
Fernando: That would be like an idea of a good vacation but then of course you have Menorca. It is another beautiful, beautiful island. It is a lot bigger, and actually, in Menoraca there's this club that's an amazing thing -- it's a cave that's about 100 ft on top of sea level and the cave is like on the sea. Huge cave.
Kelly: Oh, wow.
Fernando: Yeah and they turned it into a club. It's probably one of the most amazing clubs on earth.
Kelly: What's it called?
Fernando: La Cova de'n Xuray. It means Xuray's cave. And it also has a legend because supposedly on this cape there was a moor that escaped from the Inquisition and escaped into this cave and he used to steal food from the people in the island and...
Fernando: ... and then he took a girl and he took her to his cave, this cave that is now a club. They corrupted him and once they cornered him in the cave he jumped off the cliff.
Kelly: Yeah, so now you dance, you don't jump off the cliff. You're just dancing but it sounds like an amazing place for a club!
Fernando: Yes it is.
Kelly: Yeah that's great. So Christian speaking of the beaches, you are a big fan of the beaches in the Basque country which is on the northern coast of Spain. And, I think people might not think of that part of the country as a beach destination but I know you talk in the book about how it is a great place for surfing and for wind surfing.
Tell me what it is that you like the best about this area and what you felt the highlights were as you were traveling around.
Kristen: The Basque country in general is a very interesting place to go just because there's a different language and a different culture. It also has a very beachy feel. San Sebastian was one of my favorite cities to visit in all of Europe and it has some magnificent beaches including Playa de la Concha, which is one of the most photographed images in all of Europe. It's a big bay that looks like a seashell that cuts into the city.
Kelly: Oh, Wow.
Kristen: And what I particularly liked about the city is that all of the beaches were right in the city center like the downtown area. So you were never far from the beach, no matter where you stayed or where you went to eat you could always just walk out there and be standing on the beach.
I really liked that and I liked how the water was this magnificent shade of blue and the beaches were really clean. And it's particularly a good place to go if you are into surfing or wind surfing because whereas on the Mediterranean side the water is often very still the Atlantic side is very windy over there so it's great for water sports.
Kelly: Right, did you find that the water was really cold?
Kristen: It's not the best place to go for swimming but it's great to go to lay on the beach. Or if you are into surfing it's a great place to be; but another good part about the Bay of Biscay area is that it's pretty much the same temperature year round. It gets a little warmer in the summer but I think for the most part it stays around like the 60's, high 50's the rest of the year so...
Kelly: Oh, wow.
Kristen: ... it's never that warm but it's, yeah, it's never that cold. Even in the colder months you could still go and hang out on the beach maybe even in February or March.
Kelly: Oh that's great. It's worth noting I think that this area of Spain, this region, the Basque country, Navarre, in this area you talked about San Sebastian. There's also Bilbao which is where the Guggenheim Bilbao is. That's a very popular destination for people who are traveling up around there.
And, also Pamplona, which is where Sanfermines is, which is that festival that happens every year that culminates with the Running of the Bulls. That's where that happens. Christian, I know you went to Pamplona but you weren't quite there during the Running of the Bulls. Can you describe the town for a bit for people who might be interested in going?
Kristen: Yes. Well I just missed the Running of the Bulls and I was very sad about that. I was there about...
Kristen: ... six weeks before it happened so I missed all the insanity. It's interesting because the rest of the year Pamplona is a kind of a quiet city. It's along the road to Santiago so there are a lot of backpackers. There's a steady stream that come into the town year round.
It's a quaint town. It's smaller than your other cities. I think it's no more than 200,000 inhabitants, maybe even less than that, but during Running of the Bulls I think it probably at least triples in population.
And from what I understand, it's everywhere within maybe a 30 mile radius, is booked months in advanced. When I was there, I spoke to several of the owners of places and hotels and they said they often take reservations for that week up to a year in advance.
Kristen: And prices are in accordance, probably double, triple what they usually are. It is a little over a weeklong and from sunrise to sunset, probably even in the hours in between, it's just one-stop party.
Kristen: And there's music and there's theater and there's drinking. There's everything going on that week and of course the bullfights, obviously.
Kelly: I think the idea is that if this is something you want to do, you really do need to plan as far ahead as possible, in order to make sure that you can be there during that time.
Kelly: Just in general, the party scene in Spain... I know that certainly in the big cities like Madrid and in Barcelona the scene gets started quite late. I'm curious; as you were traveling around-I'll ask this question to both of you-what were some of your most memorable experiences when you were out on the town?
Fernando, you were talking about Space. Were there other places that you encountered on your trip where you just had a really memorable experience? Whether it was a party evening...what stands out for you as your best memory of traveling around for the research for this book?
Fernando: There are just so many places to see in Spain because people are really into partying. No matter where you go, especially in big cities it's always guaranteed to be a big nightlife scene.
In Costa Brava there's this place called Tossa where we went to a small bar that was called Flamenco. As we walked in, it was like right out of an Almodovar movie. You realize where his inspiration comes from. There was a couple singing and it was a woman, I believe she was 60 though and kind of older with a very deep voice. Then next to her was this younger guy that may or may not have been her lover. He was playing a guitar. So he played flamenco, and she sung, and then the waiters were all like characters out of a David Lynch movie. They would come to you and they would clap and go, "Ole, ole!" and sing in that spirit of flamenco.
Even when you go to the big club scene like in Valencia, Barcelona, or Ibiza...even the small places have their own attractive...its always very interesting to go to, if you can ask the locals and find out if there's some kind of flamenco like gypsy handclap because those are the most different for us and the most authentic, in a way.
There's a lot of tourist flamenco stuff right, but when you...they won't necessarily have a show playing. And I went to this bar there once where there wasn't anybody playing. There's a lower room, like a basement room, where they have shows sometimes. Just looking at the people, this air, the gypsies have this very interesting culture and way of dressing and acting. That's a great experience.
All over Spain, actually, the town parties are just crazy fun. You have the fires in Valencia, you have in Barcelona there's Merced or San Juan where they have bonfires on the beaches. Pretty much all the city and two million people are on the beach dancing around bonfires until the sun comes up.
Kelly: How often does that happen?
Fernando: Very often! [laughter] In Spain any time of the year you are very likely to find a town party. Each town has their own party, where the whole town goes out on the streets to party. Big cities like Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia have many. In Barcelona I think there's actually four because each neighborhood has their own party.
They close their whole neighborhood to cars. It's all open and all the bars put tables out on the street and serve drinks at half price. Everybody is just drinking and partying on the street four times a year or so. It's not hard to find one if you just look at the calendar.
Kelly: I think you were saying also in the book, that the bonfire on the beach-when it happens in Barcelona-usually it culminates at sunrise with people going skinny dipping. Is that right?
Fernando: Yes, yes that happens a lot too! [laughter] The advantage of having the beach right on the city and the water is...eight or nine months out of the year you can swim because the Mediterranean is not that cold. A lot of nights out end up skinny dipping on the beach, particularly on San Juan, which has one of the bonfires in June. The party takes place on the beach and people don't even have to go there because they're already there. So it's just a matter of taking your clothes off and jumping in the water.
Kelly: [laughs] That's one way to commemorate the festival, I'd say! Certainly a memorable way to do it.
Fernando: It's the solstice festival so it's like the beginning of the summer. It mixes the Catholic party of San Juan with the pagan rite of the beginning of the summer.
Kelly: Kristen, what about you? What was your most enduring memory? I'm sure skydiving probably ranks up there pretty high for the adrenaline aspect. But do you have another memory that you feel was your most telling one?
Kristen: I really liked the Spanish people as a whole. They're really friendly, they're always happy to help out a traveler, and I found them really open to taking me out on the town and giving me the local experience.
I was traveling alone and I met several people particularly in Zaragoza which was one of the bigger cities I visited. I had some great experiences going out with a bunch of students there. Zaragoza or, as the locals call it, Saragoza - that's how they pronounce it there. It is predominantly a student town and I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of the university students who took me out every night.
The going out experience in Spain is unlike anything I had ever been a part of before. We started with a tapas crawl early on, maybe eight or nine in the evening, where we would go from one bar to the next. You would have a tapa and a drink, and then you'd move on to another place. That was the early evening dinner part of the night. Then we moved on to some other bars and then we'd go on to a disco.
I remember at one point it was 6:30 in the morning and I thought I would turn in for the night. I went back to my hostel thinking I was very proud of myself for lasting that long. The Spaniards I'd gone out with called me the next morning and they said, "We were just wondering what happened to you last night; you went home so early! Is everything OK?"
I was thinking, "I am not equipped to live the Spanish life if this is what they do every night." I think it was maybe a Tuesday or a Wednesday. And there were bars and discos that didn't even open until six or eight in the morning. It's very intense, the party scene there.
Another thing that struck me as funny was one night I was at a pub with a bunch of locals and one of their professors came out with us and his wife. They also brought their two-year-old child. She was sitting in there with us in the pub until two or three in the morning.
Kelly: Oh God!
Kristen: But that's very common in Spain for parents to bring their kids with them to the bar at night.
Kelly: It gets them started early on the whole nocturnal experience.
Kristen: I guess so.
Kelly: [laughs] That's great. It certainly puts the whole cultural tradition of siesta in a whole new light. I think if you're out until 6:30 in the morning or later, suddenly taking a nap at three in the afternoon seems like a really good idea.
Kristen: I became a big supporter of the siesta while I was there. Everything is closed so you just go and find a park, and take a nice long two-hour nap everyday.
Kelly: Exactly. Unfortunately, I think that's all the time we have for today, but I really enjoyed our conversation.
I've been talking with Fernando Guyeski who's the primary author of our "MTV Spain Guide" and who also contributed to our "MTV Europe Guide" and also with Kristen Luna who covered the Basque country and Aragon for "MTV Spain." We have MTV guides to Italy, Ireland, Europe and Spain on sale now. You should look for more MTV destinations in the months ahead.
Fernando and Kristen, it was really great to talk to you. Thanks for being here, and thanks for filling us in on what's going on in Spain.
Kristen: Thanks for having us.
Fernando: Thank you.
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