Fellow travel blogger Josie Schneider and husband Conrad have created a small, personal tour to explore Catalonia, titled A Cava and Castles Experience
. Josie is a go-to expert on housesitting around the world, sharing her knowledge at housesittingtravel.com
. Recently Catalonia has become the preferred niche for the Michigan couple. The northern Spanish region has also recently captured my imagination, so I’m intrigued to know more about their new venture.
Cultural immersion requires in-depth local knowledge. I guess this is where you come in?
Conrad and I were very fortunate to land in the gravitational pull of a very charismatic Spaniard on our first visit to the Barcelona region in 2010. We rented a charming apartment and Joan Raventós was our landlord – and owner of 3 restaurants, a fruit orchard, and vineyards. He was a very enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and generous guide to us over the three weeks we were there, filling us in on what makes Catalonia so special. Over several years and a few more trips to Spain, we became fast friends with Joan, (pronounced zhu-ON), his whole extended family and many other locals.
So yes, this is where we come in. What Conrad and I are offering is a condensed version of our five years’ learning. What we want to share is the joy of discovery of the sweet customs – like the importance of socializing every day – and the rhythm of life in wine country. And for us who come from young countries like Australia or the United States, the very long history of Spain tells a story that you can now see how it coloured the present. Spain is the only European country that has such a strong Moorish influence.
Additionally, L’Alt Penedés and the city of Vilafranca, where our guests will be staying for this tour, is not visited by many tourists. Conrad and I know every nook and cranny, the shop owners and some families there. Our guests will be privy to events – like the Castellers who perform making human towers – and locals they might not have found on their own, and certainly not on any other tours. The magic of wandering through authentic Spanish life is what we want to share.
Why does northern Spain inspire you?
In 2010, Conrad and I spent 2 months in southern Spain. I love the rustic landscape and tropical ambience. But Catalonia has a completely different vibe. It is one of two highly prosperous regions in Spain. (The Basque region is the other.) Catalonia’s economy and tax base contributes a high percentage to the nation’s GDP. Throw in that Barcelona is a top travel destination and you have a region that attracts the best and brightest to settle there. My gosh, it’s sexy and the people are fashion-forward, progressive, quirky, and they absolutely love to savour their food. I love an environment of excellence and Catalonia has that for me. Catalans are highly proud too, with a healthy dose of arrogance thrown in. To me that makes them more attractive. A showman can’t be demure, you know?
How did you find the the fabulous Can Mercer de la Penya? Wow, what a property!
Searching out the perfect lodging was one of the most important aspects for me – because the concept of our tour is to stay in one place. I had a vision of what I wanted and when we drove up to Can Marcer de la Penya, I knew we’d found it. I had goosebumps as we got out of our car and entered the grounds of this magnificent villa. Tucked in Garraf National Park and surrounded by conifer-covered hills, the lovely home is a modern renovation of a 17th Century winery.
Time-consuming networking and web searches led us to the owners, Ginette and Peter. Theirs is not a place where travellers can go to book a room, like an inn, so we are so very proud to offer the entire 9-bedroom home exclusively for our group. I can’t wait to see the look on our guests’ faces as we approach on the bumpy one-lane road through the woods.
Do you cater for food sensitivities? Physical disabilities?
Since our group will be no larger than 20, Conrad and I will get acquainted with each and every one prior to the April 2016 trip, including all the details of dietary needs and/or disabilities. Our chef Marie and restaurant owners will be alerted beforehand of any special needs. Disability covers a wide range of situations, so I welcome any questions about a particular traveller’s story. What we do say on our 5-page brochure about A Cava and Castles Experience is that we will spend time touring and exploring on foot two or more hours at a time. Pavement may be uneven or broken, and the villa has wood and stone steps inside and out.
Why have you chosen the late April dates for the first tour in 2016?
The “shoulder” seasons, those times on either end of the high summer season, in my opinion are the best travel times. Airfares are lower, crowds are practically nonexistent, and Catalonia is warm and welcoming. Spring and fall are our target times to start. And with the temperatures still warm, the palm trees swaying and the cava flowing, life is good in Catalonia!
More info email Josie: GrassyPaths@yahoo.com