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Europe: Road trip

Europe: Road trip

A few years ago, I wrote an article for my Hotel Insights column entitled “A tale of three castles.” It was to highlight the charm and affordability of staying in unusual hostelries while traveling in Europe.

If my memory still serves me correctly, one of the “castles” was in the Haute Savoie district in France and another was in northeastern Spain’s Costa Brava region. The latter was one of my favorites and was close to the ancient town of Pals.

Nearby, in the small town of Pujol, was a small castle belonging to Gala, Salvador Dali’s estranged wife. Dali lived 25 miles away in the small seaside hamlet Port Lligat.

By virtue of living apart, they would arrange meetings with one another at mutually acceptable times.

This, up to now, unnamed “castle,” and more of a country inn, was Mas de Torrent. Had Dali and Gala been alive today, they probably would have met here, as it was equidistant between their homes. Mas de Torrent is to me… a home away from home.

These “Relais et Chateaux” or “castles” are often sumptuous in their service and ambiance yet there exists a second tier of hostelry, which is equally charming yet distinctly less pricey. It is, for lack of a better description, the luxury bed and breakfast.

Europe is dotted with these smaller inns which are often less costly than staying at your local Holiday Inn. They are also giving Airbnb a run for their money.

On a trip to Southern Spain, I decided to try one of these smaller hostelries in the seaside town of Palamos on the Costa Brava. I must admit I was a little nervous as the Inn was called Casa Vincke (casa meaning house) and envisioned myself living alongside a Spanish family, with no room for escape.

I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. A beautifully-appointed room in an elegantly restored Catalan Villa awaited. With only nine rooms (and only four occupied during my visit), the overall feeling was peaceful and quiet. Upon making a reservation, a code is sent to one’s mobile phone allowing access to the main foyer, and then the key is immediately available. This is an important factor for those late-night arrivals while on a road trip.

The next morning, I had to leave early for my drive to Valencia, my next port of call. I was not allowed to depart without Isabel, the housekeeper coaxing me into the dining room for a glass of fresh orange juice and some strong Spanish coffee; I just wish I had had more time to enjoy the breakfast spread!

For these European road trips (and even for longer stays), I look to the British newspaper, The Telegraph. Its Travel Destinations column is one of the best I have read and generally lists the top tier hotels in different categories along with average room rates. Here and number one on their list for Valencia, was Barracart apartments, a family-run affair in what was described as “a shabby-chic beachfront neighborhood.” This did spark my curiosity, and I called them. I was warmly greeted by the manager, Olga Juhasz. My room secured, I was also informed that this family–run establishment also runs the revered Casa Montana restaurant where I would be dining that night.

My final destination on this Spanish road trip was Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia, center of Spain’s sherry industry. My father had visited the region in the early sixties and wrote expansively on the delights of Jerez de la Frontera as well as Sanlucar, closer to the coast.

What particularly excited him was the annual Vendemia or wine harvest festival in September where a ritual would take place to “bless the grapes.” I wanted to explore this part of Spain that my dad had so loved, which exalted wine horses and flamenco.

Looking again to the Telegraph for a recommendation on where to stay, my curiosity was instantly aroused by the name “Casa.” “Casa Vina de Alcantara,” is a refined country house dating back to the early 1900s. The Telegraph gave it an 8/10 rating with a reasonable price to boot.

Yet again I was not to be disappointed, as this country house used to be in The Gonzales-Byass family as their country retreat. Gonzales-Byass have been in the business of making some of the finest sherry since its inception in 1835.

Delighted to meet the owners of Casa Vina, I was quickly taken in like a member of the family, and my next day in Jerez was planned out for me with a tour of the Gonzales Byass Bodega.

Castles, country inns, and wonderfully-colorful people recounting stories, come away with me on my journey through Spain.

There are many travel adventures to be had out there, and with a small amount of planning, they can be pleasant, if not outstanding experiences.

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