A Guide to Sunny SouthWest Germany

By Terry Dale, President & CEO of USTOA

Hohenzollern castle / TMBW, Gregor Lengle

With ancient art caves, rolling green valleys, and vibrant cities, the lively region of SouthWest Germany offers a varied treasure trove of experiences for visitors.  There is a wealth of luxury, culinary, and wellness opportunities for travelers who want to visit the sunny side of Germany. Here are some top tips and trips to keep top of mind for your next European vacation.

Kurhaus in Baden-Baden © TMBW, Mende

WHAT TO DO

SouthWest Germany is renowned for its Black Forest and Black Forest Highlands, where picturesque farms, villages, and vineyards dot the wide-open valleys and mountains. Crystal clear lakes and vineyards can be passed by bike, hike, or car. On the border of the Black Forest sits Baden-Baden, a spa town with traditional 19th century baths. The region’s capital city of Stuttgart is home to wineries, artists, and attracts car-lovers for its world-renowned Porsche and Mercedes-Benz Museums.

Hiking at the Swabian Alb © TMBW, Gregor Lengler

HOW TO GET THERE

Located in the heart of Europe, it is easily accessible. Rail is the convenient alternative to flying and is often the quickest way of getting around Europe and SouthWest Germany. By air, travelers can fly into Stuttgart Airport, Frankfurt Airport, Munich Airport, Zurich Airport, and Basel Airport. SouthWest Germany has an excellent network of highways if travelers prefer a car. River cruises also often make stops in the region.

Typical Christmas treats at the Christmas market © trickytine/Christine Garcia Urbina

WHEN TO GO

SouthWest Germany is a four-season destination with a pleasant and mild climate year-round. For spring, explore the blooming countryside and its forests and lakes. Summer is for watersports like tubing and paddle boarding, as well as city festivals. Fall foliage offers scenic hikes and cycling. During the winter, Christmas markets are a popular attraction.   

Porsche Museum, Photo Courtesy of Tauck

INSPIRED TO TRAVEL?

Call your travel advisor or find a new one at www.ustoa.com/travel-advisor-directory and ask them about SouthWest Germany.

Trips from USTOA tour operators include:

  • Collette’s Classic Christmas Markets includes a winter excursion to the scenic Black Forest before visiting the Christmas markets of Würzburg. The nine-day tour is available in November and December 2021 starting at $1,849 per person.
  • Grand Circle Travel’s Romance of the Rhine & Mosel is a 16-day river cruise of the Rhine and Mosel rivers with excursions to the Black Forest Open Air Museum via Strasbourg, and a cuckoo clock presentation. Departures are available from April to October starting at $4,495 per person.
  • CroisiEurope River Cruises offers a Bountiful Christmas in Alsace and The Black Forest with a four-day cruise along the Rhine to explore the Black Forest and Christmas traditions. Sailings are available in November and December of 2021 and 2022, starting at $736 per person.
  • Tauck takes travelers to The Rhine and Moselle on a 15-day river cruise to experience Heidelberg Castle, visit the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, and an optional excursion to the spa town of Baden-Baden. Departures are available October 2021 and April, May, August through October 2022m starting at $7,590 per person.
  • SITA Tours’ 12-day Germany’s Southern Highlights  is a river cruise that includes visits to Baden-Baden’s thermal baths, the Black Forest, and more. Departures are available throughout 2021 and 2022 starting at $5,875 per person.
Cuckoo Clocks of SouthWest Germany, Photo Courtesy of Grand Circle Travel

ARE YOU A TRAVEL ADVISOR?

SouthWest Germany is offering a complimentary Going Cuckoo specialist program filled with interactive quizzes, games, and videos to become an expert on the region. Travel advisors will learn what to pack, when to go, where to stay, and what to do while visiting the region so that they can become a go-to agent for SouthWest Germany vacations.

Find more information about SouthWest Germany at www.tourism-bw.com.

Travel advisors can register for the training by visiting www.going-cuckoo.com


Travel Expert Terry Dale Chronicles His Trip to Turkey

What it’s really like to travel internationally in the age of COVID-19

By Terry Dale, President & CEO of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)

If there is one lesson I learned from my recent travels to Turkey, it’s that the value of tour operators has increased tenfold. Even though I’ve spent countless hours in airports and traveled to more countries than I can remember, I still experienced a wave of anxiety when I thought of traveling during the age of COVID-19. Between negative tests, quarantine requirements, and travel restrictions, it’s nearly impossible to manage it independently while trying to enjoy your travels.  

While I successfully produced a negative COVID test in time for my departure flight out of Fort Lauderdale, others were not so lucky. I took the trip to Turkey because I had the honor of speaking at a travel conference in Istanbul. But on the opening night of the event, nearly 15 attendees were missing because they did not fulfill all the testing requirements to fly.

Each country has its own protocols that need to be followed, and it’s constantly evolving. With the ever-changing landscape of travel requirements and lockdowns, this is a challenge for airline employees, travelers, and destinations alike.

Surprisingly, I was not asked to show my test results at any of the airports in route to Turkey, even though they were requested while flying back to the U.S. It was clear that a global health credential system would be so useful for travel, so that each visitor and employee know exactly what is going on. It’s 2021, paper CDC cards with the dates of vaccines and written confirmation of test results seem primitive!  

One observation was that every airport I visited was bustling with people wearing masks and social distancing. The pent-up demand for travel is real and immediate.

As for Turkey itself, the weather was rainy and grey, but the people brightened the destination each day. At a small, vibrant and colorful restaurant in Istanbul, the waiter treated us like royalty. The meal served left my stomach full of chicken kababs, hummus, and olives, and even though I don’t know much about Turkish food, I know it was delicious.

A river cruise of the Bohasmas is a must-do while in Istanbul. In the quick trip up the narrow straight, visitors can gaze at Asia on one side and Europe on the other. The two major continents come together where you stand, and it is stunning.

Terry Dale of USTOA (left) with the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Ersoy (right)

Turkey is ready to be open for business. At every hotel, the sanitization protocols were thoughtful and professional to make sure travelers feel safe. There’s a natural culture of service and hospitality that makes everyone feel welcome. Plus, there’s great value for American travelers given the exchange rate. After meeting with the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Ersoy, I felt confident that Turkey is going to bounce back quickly.

It was a learning experience to make the trip as a vaccinated business traveler. If it were a vacation or personal adventure, it would have been much more manageable and relaxing using a tour operator or one of our travel advisor partners.

In closing, I was grateful for the opportunity to meet some incredible people (see below) and experience the thrill of travel once again.


Why the Green Season is Great in Africa

By Lion World Travel

We are letting you in on a safari secret – the Green Season! If you have no idea what the Green Season is, that is ok, Lion World Travel will fill you in. Suffice to say, if you have been wanting to get the best value in luxury safaris, the Green Season is the answer you seek. 

What is the Green Season? 

The Green Season is also known as the wet season, or rainy season, in Africa. Its timing varies from East Africa to Southern Africa, and it can be the best time to take a safari.  

When is the Green Season? 

In East Africa (including Kenya and Tanzania), you have the short rains that often start in November, and then the long rains that usually start in April.  

In Southern Africa (including Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe), the Green Season can run from about December to March. Of course, anything to do with weather is unpredictable, and the timing of the rains fluctuates every year.  

You may think that these warm, rainy months would be an unfavorable time of year for travelers to go on safari. However, many safari connoisseurs will argue that traveling during the Green Season perhaps the best times to visit. Want to know why? 

Baby Zebra by Kate Berg 

“Having been to Africa during both High Season and Green Season, I can say they are equally amazing in different ways. They each have their own charm. It is less expensive during the Green Season; it is less crowded and best of all, there are lots of baby animals.” - Lucille Sive, CEO Africa Division, The Travel Corporation 

Top Reasons to Travel to Africa during the Green Season 

#1 – All the Baby Animals 

Without a doubt, this is a huge reward for visiting during the Green Season. The rains signal to the animals that food will soon be in abundance. This means it is the best time to have babies, so the wide-open plains of Kenya and Tanzania are filled with adorable cubs, pups, calves, foals and fawns.  

This abundance also draws in the predators, such as lions, who follow the large herds of zebras and wildebeest in search of their own meals. It is a time of abundance for all animals. If someone is particularly keen on seeing the big cats of Africa on their safari, there is a good chance of seeing the “thrill of a chase” during the Green Season in East Africa.  

Similarly, the Green Season is a great time in southern African countries to spot babies, from giraffes to buffalo to zebra, it is their natural cycle to give birth during times of plenty and forthcoming rains are a time to celebrate for all in the animal kingdom. 

#2 – Fewer People 

Amazingly, with the arrival of new animals, there are fewer travelers. While Africa is known for its wide-open wild spaces any time of year, during the Green Season travelers often feel like they have access to their own personal wildlife paradise. In East Africa, for example, it is possible to be out driving on safari for a couple of hours before coming across another safari vehicle. 

At Elewana Serengeti Migration Camp – No Crowds, Except the Animals! 
#3 – It is Turning Green 

Arriving on safari when the Green Season is underway means being blessed with a more colorful safari experience. Some, or most, of the classically dry scrublands and grasses will have come to life and turned green. For photographers, this can make for some more lively, high contrast images. 

Kudu in Chobe National Park, during the Green Season by Red Hunt

“On one trip to Africa I visited Tanzania and Botswana at the start of their Green Seasons. In the Serengeti, we were surrounded by zebra and wildebeest as far as we could see, and not another safari vehicle in sight, it felt truly special! What I noticed most on that trip were the colors coming to life. It wasn’t all dry and dusty like on my previous trip. Vegetation was coming to life, the smells were different, and it really made photography more exciting. The kudu photo above was one of my favorite shots taken during that Green Season trip.” - Red Hunt, VP Marketing, Lion World Travel 

#4 – Stretch Your Dollars Further 

At Lion World Travel we are all about Affordable Luxury, and the Green Season enables everyone to get a little extra value for their money. During peak season, prices are at their highest. During low season, you will get a better value. If your or your clients are flexible on timing for a safari, planning a safari for the start or end of the Green Season can mean being rewarded with the combination of optimal wildlife viewing and lower prices. 

#5 – The Migration is Always in Motion 

Did you know that the migration in East Africa never stops? Since the seasonal rains vary, the enormous herds of zebra and wildebeest are always on the move. So, no matter what season, if someone is planning to visit both the Serengeti in Tanzania and Maasai Mara in Kenya, they will likely witness the greatest migration on earth. 

#6 – Perfect Timing with Holidays 

With the Green Season covering the coldest months of the year for Americans, anyone yearning for more warmth should consider a Green Season safari. The timing is perfect to escape for part of winter. As vacation days can be limited, having the Green Season cover popular holidays from Thanksgiving through to spring break, means travelers, including families, have lots of opportunities to turn holiday time into safari time. 

With great rates, fewer travelers, and cute baby animals to see, who wouldn’t want to visit Africa on a safari during the Green Season? 

For more than 56 years, Lion World Travel has been focused on offering the best Affordable Luxury Safaris. Making safari dreams come true during the Green Season, or any season, Lion World can work with you and your clients to create a custom safari experience for any budget. Our travelers have come to expect exceptional wildlife encounters, five-star service, and the best safari experiences. Visit lionworldtravel.com to see our full selection of African Safaris. 


A Taste of Southern Cooking

Hospitality on a Plate

By Cindy Clarke, senior travel writer for Tauck

Culturally diverse with a storied history that speaks volumes about the people who created it, southern cooking is best described as “hospitality on a plate” alluding to the abundance of comfort food you’ll find on menus in Savannah and Charleston. Think shrimp and grits, an iconic dish in the coastal Carolinas and Georgia, buttermilk biscuits smothered in gravy, she-crab soup and fried chicken that only southern cooks have mastered, cornbread, collard greens and crustaceans perfectly prepared, and you’ll be in the right food aisle. And forget counting calories. We’re talking pure indulgence here, with taste trumping will power in every bite.

Aptly nicknamed the “Hostess City,” it is no surprise that Savannah is home to some of the South’s best dining experiences, with recipes passed down and refined through the generations. Dressed in American history and draped in Spanish moss, Savannah is awash in cobblestone charms, antebellum mansions and gardens full and fragrant that make the city eye candy all by itself. Art, in all its incarnations, enhances the cultural feast showcased here.

You can stroll down streets your eyes walked first in films like Forest Gump or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You can wander in wonder in museums, cemeteries and squares – 22 of them – dating back centuries, and you can ride trolleys and horse-drawn carriages past stately homes, parks and landmarks that chronicle the city’s storied past from the Revolutionary and Civil wars. And while you’ll cover a lot of ground – and history – during your explorations, you won’t go hungry.

Parties are a favorite pastime in Savannah, both inside gracious dining rooms and outdoors in springtime gardens abloom with flowering azaleas. Brunch and picnic menus typically boast sweet succulent oysters, locally harvested, and roasted to perfection. Savannah red rice, fried chicken, ham sweet potato biscuits and jalapeno cornbread often follow, with traditional favorites like Georgia peach cobbler with blueberries, peach ice cream and pecan praline bars sweetening the line up. Evening menus may include old-time favorites like Corn Pudding, Rice and Peas, Fried Green Tomatoes, Jumbo Lump Crabmeat and Beef Tenderloin with Madeira Sauce, all Savannah staples you may find at a number of great eateries all over the city.

Local seasonal ingredients reflect Charleston’s “sense of place” in the Lowcountry, where the roots of southern cooking run deep and the fertile fields, forests and waterways that surround the city provide ample sustenance all year long. Its food heritage reflects the cultural influences of its residents, African slaves and their Gullah descendants, French Hugenots and English aristocracy from centuries past, and culinary stars and rising chefs from around the world today. Award-winning restaurants, housed in historic homes and repurposed buildings, have creatively blended lowcountry cooking with high-brow haute cuisine to tempt taste buds with the complexity of flavors and spices that make this multicultural city one of the top food destinations in America – and the “#1 Top City in the US in 2020” by the readers of Travel + Leisure.  

The irresistible allure of Charleston, palmetto-lined streets, ballast-stone alleys, rainbow row houses, grand mansions and carriage rides, inevitably whets your appetite for discovery in more ways than one. So while you’re here soak up the tales of the town with its golden rice, a mainstay from its colonial day economy; a bowl of gumbo, a.k.a. okra soup to the folks who live here; fresh from the sea oysters, served raw, stewed and steamed; and its signature she-crab soup, created in a private home when dining in was in fashion. Then raise a timeless toast to its culturally infused cuisine with the city’s magnificent Madeira wines, long aged and locally produced, as you drink in history with every sip.

Founded in 1925, Tauck is a world leader in upscale guided travel, with more than 150 land tours, safaris, river cruises and small ship ocean cruises to 70+ countries and all seven continents. In each of the last 23 years, Tauck has been honored in Travel + Leisure magazine’s annual “World’s Best Awards” celebrating the very best in luxury tours, cruises, hotels and more. Tauck resumed operating its Southern Charms – Savannah, Hilton Head & Charleston itinerary in March 2021.


Celebrating Women’s Month: Top female-led experiences with Contiki Cares


By Contiki

Contiki is the world’s leading youth travel company, offering over 350 annual trips for 18-35s, and bringing together travelers from all corners of the globe to discover new cultures and a little part of themselves along the way.

At Contiki, we believe firmly in the importance of travelling sustainably and consciously, and that’s what Contiki Cares is all about. It’s our commitment to protecting the communities we visit, the wildlife we interact with, and the planet we all share.

We build travel experiences into our trips that give something back. From learning about local cultures and ethical experiences, to funding for local communities, our aim is to leave places better than we found them – and to empower our travelers to do the same. 

We’re proud that so many of the experiences we offer are led by such inspirational men and women across the globe. To celebrate Women’s History Month this March and the International Women’s Day theme of #ChooseToChallenge, we wanted to share a round-up of our favourite Contiki Cares female-led experiences. These are just some of the brilliant women who challenge the status quo and are creating change where it matters.

The Dhonk Centre – India

Divya Khandal is the female-founder of The Dhonk Centre, a cooperative that provides former poachers and their families with skills, training and alternative employment to tiger poaching. Community is at the heart of Dhonk, and Divya has created a real opportunity for growth in her home of Ranthambhore. Now, its members have an alternative, ethical means to provide for their families through the creation of handcrafted products that preserve Indian artistry and culture.

Not only does Divya’s work challenge the traditional role of women in India, it uplifts those around her. She’s been successful in creating a network of micro-entrepreneurs and changemakers with a strong focus on education and employment opportunities for young girls and women. When you visit Dhonk you can support this network by investing in their products, interacting with the local community and learning more about the great work of Divya and others.

Visit Dhonk on Eternal India.

Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco – Peru

Founded by Nilda Callanuapa in 1996, the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) is a traditional weaving centre in Cusco, Peru. It’s been pivotal in its preservation of Peruvian culture, offering employment to local men and women to maintain the importance of this 10,000-year-old practice.

Nilda was determined to maintain her own cultural heritage while also seeking employment opportunities for the locals – in particular, women and young girls –  and this is something she’s successfully achieved. Today, CTTC is female managed, operated, and founded, and its focus is on keeping indigenous traditions alive by teaching the younger generations how to weave. CTTC also provides a place where local weavers can sell their crafts, creating revenue streams for the community in multiple ways.

Visit the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco on Peru Uncovered.

The Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Co-operative – Jordan

The Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative was established in 1993 by the Noor Al-Hussein Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to combat employment disparity amongst the women of Jordan. Its aim is to teach and equip Jordanian women with new skills and business opportunities, and to ultimately achieve their own financial independence.

Iraq Al-Amir is entirely managed and run by local women and has also provided handicraft training for more than 150 women from local villages. Handicrafts sold in the gift shop and online provide them with income, which has in turn allowed the community to continue growing; merchandise expertise is another skill that’s enabled the Co-operative to expand its offering to food services. When you visit, you’ll have an opportunity to meet these women, learn more about their craft and show support through purchase of products. Crucially, this ripple effect of women helping women has begun to change the lives of both families and single women across Jordan.

Visit the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Co-operative on Israel and Jordan Uncovered.

Uncle Nearest – USA

Premium whiskey brand Uncle Nearest launched in 2017 in Tennessee and is now the fastest‐growing independent premium whiskey brand in American history. And there’s a fascinating story behind how it came to fruition.

As a writer, Fawn Weaver set out to learn more about the story of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green, in the hope to create a film around his largely unknown involvement in the creation of the American whiskey brand, Jack Daniel’s. In doing her research she soon discovered that Nearest Green, a former slave who worked on the distillery, was actually the master distiller at Jack Daniel’s. Weaver’s brand both honours the legacy of a hidden voice within Black history and establishes one of her own. Her team is comprised exclusively of women, including members of Nearest Green’s family, and she is also the first African American to lead a major spirit brand. You can learn all about the story and support the legacy when you visit the distillery. 

Visit Uncle Nearest on Southern Stars.

Flourish Forever – USA

Founder and high school student Siena Mills created Flourish Forever to combine her passion for people and the environment. Cognisant of the fact food insecurity can affect many communities throughout the USA, she wanted to find a way to tackle this head on – namely by addressing some of the barriers to accessibility, like income and education.

Siena saw community gardens as a great way to provide support on both an individual and collective level. And so, Flourish was born. The family-run organization in Los Angeles, California, focuses on community empowerment, equality, and resilience by providing much-needed access to fresh, affordable food. Siena and her team are working towards creating even more thriving community food gardens and introducing healthy eating habits across the USA. You can visit this project with Contiki’s Best of USA trip, or read about our other conscious travel trips here.

Visit Flourish on Best of USA.

Head to the six-two x Contiki blog to discover more great experiences and stories like these, and Contiki Cares for more information on our other travel experiences


Vote for a Chance to Win a Trip for Two in the USTOA Bucket List Travel Bracket Sweepstakes 

Entrants Vote on Bucket List Travel Experiences in Nearly 40 Destinations for  the Chance to Win a Trip for Two with a USTOA Tour Operator Member

USTOA has launched the USTOA Bucket List Travel Bracket Sweepstakes where travelers will have the opportunity to vote daily through March 31, 2021 on the most inspiring destination experiences around the globe. 

Participants will be entered to win a vacation for two, valued up to $10,000, to the destination that champions the bracket with a USTOA tour operator member. 

HOW IT WORKS 

US residents ages 21 or older can enter the USTOA Bucket List Travel Bracket Sweepstakes by voting on 64 featured travel experiences among 32 match-ups that span nearly 40 destinations across six continents. A new round of voting starts every Monday and Thursday through March 31, culminating in a champion bucket list travel experience named on April 1. 

Travelers can cast votes once per day as the brackets advance. Every vote is an entry to win a trip for two to the bracket champion destination with a USTOA tour operator member of their choice. The vacation prize value is up to $10,000. 

WHERE TO GO? 

The bucket list worthy experiences featured in the bracket are merely a sampling of the exhaustive collection of travel, adventure, and cultural experiences that our 142 different tour operator brands offer to a wide variety of destinations across all seven continents. Find your dream vacation here.  

MORE INFORMATION 

The sweepstakes opens today for the first round of voting which closes at 11:59pm ET on Sunday, March 14, as the brackets advance to a new round of 32 destination travel experiences across 16 match-ups. New brackets advance every Monday and Thursday until the final two destination experiences are revealed on March 29. The destination experience that champions the bracket will be unveiled on April 1, and the grand prize entry winner will be selected on April 5, 2021.  

Good luck and happy voting! 

Vote Here! 


Castellfollit de la Roca in Catalonia, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Spain is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with 15 national parks, 52 biosphere reserves, 40 designated natural spaces, 15 geoparks, and dozens of starlight reserves. It is a destination that offers sustainable tourism experiences, where travelers can be confident that they are traveling to protected areas and preserving the natural habitat. The landscapes themselves vary from mountainous and rugged to endless expanses of white sand beaches, and even marshy areas teeming with wildlife. Here are five ways to get your sustainable, fresh-air fix in Spain.

1.National Parks

Spain is home to 15 National Parks. Ten of the parks are located on the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, four in the Canary Islands off the coast of northwestern Africa, and one in the Balearic Islands, an archipelago off eastern Spain. Plus, four of the parks are also UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

Adventure is abundant at each. At the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park there are more than 200 bodies of water, including streams, rivers, and lakes. Marine and terrestrial wildlife can be found at the pristine beaches of the Galicia Maritime-Terrestrial National Park, located in the northwestern community of Galicia. Dozens of ecosystems exist in the Doñana National Park in southern Spain, from marshland to lagoons, pine groves to dunes, and cliffs. Picos de Europa National Park spread across the provinces of Asturias, Cantabria and León, is home to brown bears and the Iberian wolf, with a skyline of impressive rock formations.

Roque de los Muchachos Astronomical Observatory. Garafía, La Palma Island (Canary Islands)
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

2. Starlight Reserves

Home to dozens of starlight reserves, Spain is a leading destination for astrotourism.  Clear skies and little light pollution result in worthy hours to watch the constellations. Plus, several hotels offer star charts, educational materials, and even have a telescope on hand for visitors. Small towns, like the ones on the Canary Island of La Palma or outside the Sierra Morena mountains in Andalusia, are ideal places for stargazing with zero distractions.

3. Biosphere Reserves

Spain counts 52 Biosphere Reserves, the most out of any country in the world. From the snowy Alto Bernesga Biosphere Reserve in the Green Spain region to the lakes of the La Mancha Húmeda Biosphere Reserve south of Madrid, there are endless miles of wide-open spaces teaming with wildlife. Travel by horseback through the Dehesas de la Sierra Morena near Seville or spot native flora and fauna like giant lizards in the La Gomera Biosphere Reserve on the Canary archipelago.

Fuente de Piedra Lagoon in Andalusia, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

4. Natural Spaces

Travelers can find businesses and organizations committed to protecting the ecosystem in 40 Natural Spaces accredited by the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism. Travelers with a sustainability mindset can visit these spaces and be confident that they are contributing to the preservation of the natural landscape. A comprehensive list of all the protected rushing rivers, parks, nature reserves, biospheres, and many more, that are invested in having a planet-friendly impact can be found here.

5. Geoparks

Spain’s 15 Geoparks reveal the history of the Earth through spectacular landscapes, fossils, and rock formations that are millions of years old.

The world’s largest collection of jellyfish fossils can be found at the Sierra Norte de Sevilla Geopark in the central region of western Sierra Morena. Several wineries now populate the area around Central Catalunya Geopark in the heart of Catalonia, while guests can eat food cooked by lava at the Lanzarote and Chinijo Islands Geopark. Although the northeastern Conca de Tremp Montsec Geopark was once under the sea and later the home of dinosaurs, there is now a sightseeing train that runs through the mountains.

A virtual look at all the nature-based experiences Spain has to offer
Video courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Insight Vacations’ nine-day Country Roads of Andalucia offers a bird-watching tour with a naturalist guide for a chance to see rare species in Doñana National Park.

The ten-day Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon itinerary from Europe Express visits multiple parks, including Montserrat Natural Park. Contact your travel advisor to learn more.

At the top of Montserrat Natural Park with Europe Express
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


The White Village of Casares in Andalusia, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Along Spain’s southern coast is the large region of Andalusia, made up of eight provinces with Seville as the capital city. Two of these provinces, Malaga and Cadiz, are famed for the prettiest historic architecture: Pueblos Blancos, translated to White Villages. Here are the most picturesque places to go in each area.

Malaga

The city of Malaga in the southern coastal province of Malaga is the largest city on the Costa del Sol and the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. Travelers who are soaking up the sun on the Mediterranean beaches and tasting the fresh seafood would be smart to venture inland for a few days. Whitewashed houses occupy the streets of villages further inland from the Costa del Sol, but still within driving distance.

The top small towns outside the city to view these historic homes include Ronda, Frigiliana, and Casares. While Ronda offers a 98-metre-high bridge for breathtaking views, Casares has an Arab castle at the top of its village, historically home to Iberians, Phoenicians, and Romans. Frigiliana still has a view of the Mediterranean while sitting up in the hills, offering narrow streets and passageways that evoke its Moorish past.

Beaches, foods, and white houses along the Mediterranean
Video courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Cadiz

In the southwestern province of Cadiz, an entire white villages route takes travelers through 19 different towns in the area. Here’s a full list of the stops: Arcos de la Frontera, Bornos, Espera, Villamartín, Algodonales, El Gastor, Olvera, Torre Alháquime, Setenil de las Bodegas, Alcalá del Valle, Prado del Rey, El Bosque, Ubrique, Benaocaz, Villaluenga del Rosario, Grazalema, Zahara de la Sierra, Algar and Puerta Serrano.

There is much more to see than these picturesque homes in each small town. Leather workshops line the streets of Ubrique, while Ronda is known for its organic wine. Popular foods throughout the area include pastries like buñuelos and traditional mollete bread rolls. Artisanal cheese and other handmade goods are always nearby.

This route also takes you through some natural parks in the provinces, including the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, Los Alcornocales Natural Park, and the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. Spend a few days hiking or walking along the ravines in between your city walking tours.

#SpainWillWait until you can visit the white villages again
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Feeling inspired? Visit the white-washed houses on Collette’s Spain’s Classics & Portugal 15-day tour of coastal views and citrus groves, historic walking tours and boat rides, and much more. Select departure dates are available between May and November 2021, starting at $3,449 per person.

Or, contact your travel advisor to add a full day sightseeing tour of Ronda and Setenil to your itinerary through Europe Express. This guided walk through the white houses is followed by a visit to a bullfighting museum and then a local winery.

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


The seaside town of Cudillero in Asturias, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Green Spain is a region in Northern Spain that earned its name for its dense forests, lush pastures, and wet, temperate oceanic climate. Stretching along the Atlantic coast between the borders of Portugal and France, vibrant cities line the green coast.

Four autonomous communities make up the Green Spain region, which include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. Here is just a sample of the beaches, foods, museums, and parks that travelers can discover in the area’s smaller historic cities.

CANTABRIA

Santander

In Cantabria, the city of Santander sits on Sardinero beach near the Magdalena Peninsula. Strolling through the city, you might spot penguins playing in a small marine park near the water and small fish markets serving calamari.  Historic mansions line the streets and the bay. Enjoy the smell of the ocean by walking on the sand down the coast.

Altamira

Approximately 21 miles from Santander sits the Altamira Cave, which holds some of the most famous prehistoric cave art and charcoal drawings in the world. The Altamira National Museum and Research Center reconstructs the original cave and offers information on the origins. Afterwards, it is a short drive to Santillana del Mar, a beautiful village of medieval towers and Renaissance palaces.

Travelers enjoying a treat above the Bay of La Concha in San Sebastián, Basque Country
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

BASQUE COUNTRY

Bilbao

The port city of Bilbao in the Basque Country, the eastern most autonomous community, and home to cobblestone streets, local artists, and small bars serving pinchos. The “Seven Streets” in the old town are the origins of the city with a medieval layout. The streets link the Cathedral of Santiago and the La Ribera Market, one of the largest covered markets in Europe.

Famous for its contemporary art and architecture, Bilbao is home to the Guggenheim Museum as well as the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao. There are 30 other art galleries that surround the Albia gardens in the heart of the city. Funiculars, like cable cars, take travelers up and down Mount Artxanda for a panoramic view of the city. For a different perspective, there are boat rides that ride along the river for a look at the city’s architecture.

San Sebastián

Located on the Bay of Biscay is the city of San Sebastián, with a seafront promenade, sandy beaches, and vibrantly colorful sunsets. There are several fine dining restaurants credited to its 19 Michelin stars. Popular pinchos, include anchovies, seafood, and mushrooms. Live music, modern bars, and five-star cuisine line the wide streets, along with shops nestled into the 19th century architecture.

A city tour through San Sebastián, Basque Country, with Insight Vacations
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

ASTURIAS

Picos de Europa National Park

Although the Picos de Europa National Park spans multiple regions, it is a popular place to visit while in the Asturias area. Here, travelers can visit the two Lakes of Covadonga, which include Lake Enol and Lake La Ercina, and are perfect for hiking.

Oviedo

The churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco in Oviedo are some of the best example of pre-Romanesque Asturian art. Traditional cake shops here serve carbayones or moscovitas, popular and traditional pastries. It is also home to the 9th-century Foncalada fountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gijón

Spending a few hours in Gijón is worth it for a visit to the small fishing neighborhood of Cimadevilla, with cider houses, traditional foods, and perfect sunsets over the bay. San Lorenzo beach is also a top spot to stop, with historic Roman baths and the Church of San Pedro nearby.

A local group dinner in Oviedo with Insight Vacations
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

GALICIA

Ribeira Sacra

In the farthest western community of Galicia, the area of Ribeira Sacra is home to monasteries dug into rocky mountains across more than 60 miles. Cliffs and trees line the horizon with wineries dotting the countryside. Travelers can even explore the area by taking a catamaran trip down the Sil and Miño rivers or riding in a hot air balloon.

Santiago de Compostela

In Santiago de Compostela, explore the old town and its cathedral before stopping at a restaurant for octopus, empanadas, pork shoulder, or some delicious seafood. The city is home to the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art and the park of San Domingos de Bonaval. Nearby, the Cíes Islands, which the Romans regarded as the islands of the Gods, are accessible by boat each summer.

See each distinct area of Green Spain in this short video…

The ‘Green Spain’ Region
Video courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Explore Oviedo and Gijón, on Insight Vacations’ Northern Spain 11-day itinerary filled with fine wine, local produce, and art tours. Departure is available on select dates between April and October 2021 starting at $3,146.

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


Paella dish of rice, seafood, vegetables and spices from a Europe Express tour
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

Spain is world-renowned for its wine culture, olive oil farms, and traditional dishes like tapas and paella. Famous Spanish restaurants and chefs are experts when it comes to the healthy Mediterranean diet, and each region boasts its own specialty. Here are ten gastronomic experiences to check off your foodie bucket list on your next trip to Spain. 

A small tour enjoying wine and pintxos in Spain with Europe Express
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

1. Volcanic Wine

While travelers can experience Spain’s distinct wine culture through tastings, tours, and even yoga classes in a vineyard, they can also visit a volcanic winery in the Canary Islands. Farmers have built these vineyards by carving out holes in the volcanic gravel, where the vines flourish and eventually produce sweet and white varieties.

2. Calçots

These long, white, mild onions are barbecued and served with a sauce called salvitxada. It is a culinary tradition in Catalonia to throw on a bib and dig in by eating with your hands. On the last Sunday of January, the Great Calçotada festival takes place in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia as a sociable and delicious ritual.

3. Queimada

Queimada is a drink based on marc, a liquor distilled from pomace leftover from winemaking, that is accompanied with a ritual preparation. At Galician bars, the bartender will light the liquid on fire while stirring the drink with a wooden spoon and speaking a spell out loud to ward off evil spirits. 

People sharing pintxos on an Insight Vacations trip
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

4. Pintxos

Similar to Spanish tapas, pintxos are the types of snacks from Northern Spain, particularly the Basque County, that are eaten as an appetizer before dinner. The difference in pintxos from tapas is that the food is spiked through a skewer, typically with a piece of bread as well. Pintxo translates to “spike” or “skewer” in English. An insider tip: it is pronounced pinchos.

5. Sardines

The best way to try sardines is either on a boat or at a beach bar on the Costa del Sol, where the fish is skewered onto bamboo sticks and grilled over a fire. This delicious way of preparing, serving, and eating sardines has been popular since the 19th century.

6. Manchego

This delicious cheese is made with sheep’s milk and matured over a long period of time, ranging from one month to two years. Local cheesemakers produce it in three varieties: soft, semi-cured, and cured.

7. Olive Oil

The province of Jaén is home to 60 million olive oil trees that produce 20% of the world’s olive oil. Visit an oil mill or a museum, hike through the groves, join a tasting, or even spend the night on an oil estate.

A paella cooking class on an Insight Vacations tour
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

8. Paella

This Spanish rice dish, paella, originated in the city of Valencia. Travelers can grab a seat at a seaside restaurant and taste the seafood, vegetables, and spices. Cooking classes are a fun and interactive way to learn about the dish that often include boat rides and local market visits to find the ingredients yourself.

9. Cocido

The comforting and warm Cocido is a long-simmered stew. Each region has its own twist on the classic recipe, but famously, there are four main ingredients: broth, chickpeas, vegetables, and meat. A celebration of the dish is held throughout Madrid in February and March when restaurants come together to offer an entire Cocido Madrileño Route.

10. Caldereta De Langosta

Also known as a casserole of spiny lobster, the Caldereta De Langosta is a Mediterranean dish that is best found in the village of Fornells, known as the temple of this recipe. It is so popular that making a reservation at a restaurant that serves it is recommended. 

Learn to make your own paella on the Collette Spain’s Classics & Portugal, which includes a visit to a traditional fisherman’s home, known as a barraca, for a paella-making demonstration and authentic lunch.

Nadine, a local guide for Collette, takes travelers virtually to a traditional paella lunch
Video courtesy of Collette

Globus offers tapas tastings and wine pairings on their 14-day Spanish Fiesta itinerary, bringing travelers along the Costa Del Sol, through Madrid, and more. Or, go to a traditional paella dinner in Valencia on Globus’ 9-day Best of Spain itinerary from Madrid to Barcelona.

Travelers dine like a local in Torremolinos, Spain with Insight Vacations
Video courtesy of Insight Vacations

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain