It would be impossible for us to list all of the tours that are offered for visitors to Spain. We’ve limited this list to some of the most well-respected and long-established tours. But do your own research as well; even the most long-running company can experience financial difficulties and go out of business. When purchasing a tour, it’s often a good idea to purchase travel insurance from a third party, as tours can be expensive. Don’t purchase from the company itself; if it goes belly-up, you’ll lose your insurance, too.
Heritage Tours ([tel] 800-378-4555 or 212-206-8400; htprivatetravel.com) offers customized itineraries focusing on art and architecture. Founded by architect Joel Zack, these tours can be customized and often include guided trips through such art cities as Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Barcelona, and Bilbao.
Featuring groups ranging in size from 15 to 25 participants, ACE Cultural Tours ([tel] 01223-835055; www.aceculturaltours.co.uk) in Cambridge, England, offers tours led by an art historian to Moorish Spain or other walking tour options. Context Travel ([tel] 800/691-6036 or www.contexttravel.com) offers excellent, scholar-led tours of major cities around the globe and has recently added Barcelona and Madrid to its roster.
A leading U.S.-based outfitter is Easy Rider Tours ([tel] 800-488-8332 or 978-463-6955; www.easyridertours.com). Their tours average between 48km and 81km (30–50 miles) a day; the most appealing tour follows the route trod by medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago. The bike tours offered by Backroads ([tel] 800-462-2848 or 510-527-1555; www.backroads.com), take you through Mallorca or from Barcelona to the Pyrenees. One company that specializes in bike tours of Camino de Santiago is Saranjan Tours ([tel] 800-858-9594; www.saranjan.com). Cyclevents (www.cyclevents.com) offers a number of affordable, self-guided itineraries throughout the Spanish countryside.
Bravo Bike ([tel] 91-758-29-45; www.bravobike.com) is a travel agency featuring organized cycling tours around Madrid. They have branched out to include other parts of Spain as well, notably the route from Salamanca to Santiago de Compostela. One of the most intriguing bike tours is the ruta de vino (the wine route) in La Rioja country.
In England, the Cyclists’ Touring Club ([tel] 0844-736-8450; www.ctc.org.uk), charges 39€ a year for membership; part of the fee covers information and suggested cycling routes through Spain and dozens of other countries.
Hiking & Walking Tours
Several firms offer guided hiking on the Camino de Santiago across the north of Spain, but Spanish Steps ([tel]877-787-WALK ; www.spanishsteps.com) offers the most comprehensive program of walks in terms of number of days and level of difficulty. It also includes some walks in the Picos de Europa combined with a yoga retreat. Backroads (see “Biking Tours,” above) also offers some deluxe walking tours in Spain.
Food & Wine Trips
Spain Taste offers excellent food and wine tours in Catalunya designed for serious gastronomes. They include dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants, wine tastings, and cooking lessons with famous chefs. Tours are conducted from March to June and from September to October. For more information, contact Spain Taste ([tel] 93-847-51-15; www.spaintaste.com).
Catacurian offers 3- to 6-day gastronomic vacations that include cooking classes in Catalan cuisine. Programs also feature olive-picking sessions and 1-day market visits and cooking classes within Barcelona itself. Catacurian is located in a private boutique hotel in the Priorat region of Catalunya. For more information, contact Catacurian ([tel] 866-538-3519; www.catacurian.com).
Escorted General-Interest Tours
Escorted tours are structured group tours, with a group leader. The price usually includes everything from airfare to hotels, meals, tours, admission costs, and local transportation. Escorted tours—whether they’re navigated by bus, motorcoach, train, or boat—let travelers sit back and enjoy the trip without having to drive or worry about details. They take you to the maximum number of sights in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle. They’re convenient for people with limited mobility.
On the downside, you’ll have little opportunity for serendipitous interactions with locals and cannot deviate from the schedule and itinerary. The tours can often focus on the heavily visited sites, so you miss out on many lesser-known attractions.
A number of companies are beginning to offer pre-planned tours for individual travelers rather than groups. Some of the most expensive and luxurious independent tours to Spain's major cities are offered by Abercrombie & Kent ([tel] 888-611-4711; www.abercrombiekent.com). Guests stay in fine hotels and are welcomed by knowledgeable local guides. Tauck Tours (www.tauck.com) offers similarly deluxe tours.
Trafalgar Tours ([tel] 866-544-4434; www.trafalgartours.com) offers a number of tours of Spain. One of the most popular offerings is a 16-day trip called “The Best of Spain.” Escapade Vacations ([tel] 800-356-24-05; www.escapadevacations.com) sells both escorted and package tours to Spain. It can book you on bus tours as well as land and air packages. It offers some culinary holidays as well as general sightseeing, and can set you up for fly-drive tours on your own. Other companies that offer Spain itineraries include GoAhead Tours (www.goaheadtours.com), Globus (www.globusjourneys.com), and Insight Vacations (www.insightvacations.com).