Excellent, efficient, informative trip to Spain
Oct 17 - Nov 2, 2023
Adam, who set up the trip plan, and Jessica, who made the bookings, were excellent. Although there is a bit of a menu that gets put forward, we were able to say yes or no to the parts we did or didn't want, and book some non-menu visits to things ourselves. Many of the agencies that were contracted with were also very attentive.
We were half expecting a couple of things would not go as planned but it all did. Our last ride to the airport was 15 minutes late as traffic was heavy, but everyone else was early for their booked times. Quite impressive given several hotels and transfers and activities were booked by them!
This is the first time we travelled with Kim Kim. We have travelled quite a bit in the past. Decades ago, we booked things when we got to our destination. Pre-COVID, we tended to book our hotels ahead of time, though were noting that big tourist sites increasingly needed skip the line or group tour tickets to avoid hours of lining up. We wondered if lines would be long in October in Spain for big sites like the Prado, or Mesquita - yes they were and great to have Kim Kim have arranged it already.
We were also new to private guided tours. In the past we would read a brochure or listen to an audio guide. Way better having a well informed expert and just you - the tours were flexible, you could ask all sorts of questions, and you were not trying to see things through a big group or trying to find what the audio guide is pointing out.
The cost was more than if we tried to book this ourselves, I think. However, we would have had to do a lot of work and would not likely have picked as excellent hotels and guides as Adam, Jessica and Kim Kim did.
Very comfortable, elegant hotel not far from the main train station (15 minute walk), the Prado (10 minutes), Reina Sofia (15 minutes), and on the edge of the old historical centre. Great location, comfortable rooms. A bit noisy at night between yelling drunk young folks and city service trucks, but you are in the middle of a big city so sort of expected. The breakfast was very generous, and their coffee was better than the machines at other hotels- seemed fresh made. The restaurant in the hotel was good though expensive compared to the many other places you could eat. Our room was very spacious. Good choice!
Newer hotel in older palatial type building off a main square. Close to all the main sites. Room was comfortable - not spacious but we were not cramped feeling. We were lucky to get a room overlooking the courtyard (which was the glass -roofed in breakfast area) so super quiet at night, which was better than expected for sleeping in crowded city core. I suspect most of the room were not a quiet.
We had a very quiet room - which is a treat staying in a city centre. Unfortunately, it was on the 4th floor and the elevator only went to 3 and the stairs were winding - hard on bad knees if you have them. The hotel was clean and modern inside an older building. Nice roof patio for drinks. The room was small - hard to hang up much so most of our luggage remained packed for the 4 nights we spent there. Breakfast was generous and good variety offered - coffee machine was adequate.
Really cool maze of a hotel. Our room was either accessed through a 5 minute walk through tunnels, leading to various lovely courtyards, then crossing an alleyway into yet another old building. The other way was walking outside along a few alleys- we eventually got it down without getting lost. Unique place as all the old mansions have been connected. Our room was very spacious- largest of the trip. Not newly renovated but in good shape and clean which added to the historical character feeling. There was an elegant piano bar on the 2nd floor of the main entry building decorated with lots of very old, elegant furniture- the kind you see in museums that they tell you not to sit on - except you could it on them - old painting on the walls. If we weren't dressed like 21st century tourists, you could feel like you were having a drink in an 18th or 19th century salon of some sort. Breakfast was generous- lots of choice, coffee was a fancy Nespresso machine - prefer real coffee myself but not bad. Our roomed looked out on an alley- one rainy night someone's motorbike alarm kept loudly sounding though the hotel staff were able to remedy that for remaining nights.
Room was clean and spacious. We arrived about 8 pm as flying out the next morning. Not much food on offer - so we had drink and some nuts from the bar as evening meal. Breakfast was mediocre- the worst on our trip as all the others were good. Maybe given breakfast ran from 5am to noon given an airport hotel was part of it - stuff looked like it had been sitting out for hours when we ate about 8 am. Staff were nice. This is about the only part of the trip we might plan differently on hindsight- maybe arriving back in Madrid a day earlier and staying downtown again.
We spent a few days in Madrid and pretty much had seen most of the stuff on the walking trip instructions ourselves. It did point out a few highlights we might have missed (e.g. chocolate and churros place that might have been good but very crowded so we skipped it).
Our guide, Enrique, was excellent- studied art history and pointed out all kinds of details and perspectives on modern art that we would have missed. We know a little about art but not a lot and came away having learned quite a bit. Very enjoyable. The tours ends at the gallery so you can keep on see things if you are not saturated. Private tour was great for asking questions and more flexible than a group if you had special interests.
Our private guide, Stefania, was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and we had an excellent overview of the Prado and Spanish painters in particular. Private tour was great for asking questions of an expert and not trying to see things through a group. It was somewhat flexible if you had particular interests. We had not tried private guides before this trip and it we learned more than we would have ourselves with an audio guide. The Retiro park walk was beautiful and informative.
Our guide, Enrique, whom we had for the earlier Reina Sofia tour as well, had studied art history and was very knowledgeable. The walk to the palace through the old city was informative, and we picked up a tip for lunch after the tour which worked out well. He was able to point out all kinds of details and link them through the palace and in historical context- stuff we would not have picked up on as well ourselves with an audio guide. Having a private guide was new to us this holiday- and better than a group - more flexible, easier to ask questions, and to see things without the group in the way.
Our minibus had about 20 people on it- so a small group. It took about an hour or so to get to Toledo from Madrid and our guide gave us a decent overview tour of the town before leaving us to explore ourselves for a while. On our own, we wandered around the Jewish quarter some more, bought some fresh marzipan (which is a thing there) and then spent most of the rest of our free time in the wonderful cathedral (small admission fee but not a bit line up). We then drove about an hour to a winery - had an informative tour and got to try some of the wines as they were going through the maturation process all the way to trying some delicious finished products quite a few tapas laid out. It was a good day.
Guide was helpful though we generally just explored ourselves with the a map app on our phone. Depending on what other activities you have booked, there is some overlap with the walking notes. If you had no pre- booked activities then there would be none
Our guide, Maria (?), was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. She pointed out all kinds of details we would have missed or struggled to find. First holiday where we tried private tours and the personal touch, flexibility, and ability to ask lots of questions was great. We learned a lot more than we would have on our own or in a group.
The notes were helpful, but there was some overlap with other booked activities, so we just used them as a guide and generally wandered around ourselves with a map app on our phone. I think we would have seen the Setas anyway without the notes. The Setas admission was steep comparatively but excellent views and a cool structure. The Roman ruins underneath in a separate but cheap admission were very good.
Candela, our personal guide, was keen and knowledgeable. She pointed out all kinds of details we might have missed and provided a lot more context to it all than a larger group might have. The flexibility and being able to ask pretty much limitless questions was excellent. We were new to private tours this trip and came away learning more than we would have by ourselves or in a group.
We read the notes, and I bookmarked some places on my map app, but we did not go to any of them. Checked one out but was swamped. Some were quite a distance from our hotel, and after walking around all day, and it being dark (October), we mostly just wandered around locally.
This was a long day (0800-1800) that seemed like a short day! Carlos, our guide, met us close to out hotel. Lots of discussion on the drive of things we say and Spain in general. Drive was very scenic and Carlos pointed out cork plantations, wild goats, etc. en route. Zahara and Grazelema were beautiful towns with stunning views. We tried local specialties at each place. Ronda was crowded. We had short guided trip then a couple of hours for lunch and/or exploring more ourselves (we ate lunch looking at the famous bridge). Then long-ish drive back to Sevilla. We were new to private guides this holiday, but the flexibility, ability to ask lots of questions, and wider context given were better than trying to do this ourselves, or in a group. We had many good days on the trip and this was probably the best day!
We mostly just explored on our own, using a map app on my phone. The notes were helpful for pointing out things to see, but overlap with other booked activities on other days. If you had nothing else booked, it would be fine. Seeing the Alhambra, even in October, requires planning ahead. There were no same day tickets on the morning we did our pre booked tour. The cathedral, royal chapel, etc. are easier to get tickets for though we bought them on line the day before- they are not for a specific time just morning or afternoon windows.
Our private guide, Theresa, met us at the main square at 8pm and we proceeded to wander. One set of knees were pretty sore from the day's activities, and the Albaicin is hilly, so she flexibly amended the tour to avoid a lot of hills. We went to 3 different places and with 4 drinks and generous tapas (and we ordered one extra dish at the first place that I think we probably did not need to portion wise). At the end, she pointed us towards other options, though, honestly I was stuffed and had had enough to drink. I can't see doing this in a group as many of these places are small and crowded. The big advantage having the guide for us was overcoming our reticence to go into authentic or cool looking places that looked too crowded. We would not have gone into some of the places she took us and they were excellent.
Eduardo met us at the hotel. I went alone as at the end of the holiday, one of us had knees that were too sore to want to do the hilly Albaicin area plus it had rained and the cobblestoned streets were a bit slippery. The tour got moved a bit earlier given the clocks went back while we were there (appreciated as the views are better in daylight). This ended up being booked towards the end of a few days we spent in Granada, so we had seen some of the stuff routinely on the tour. The great thing with private guides is they are flexible so Eduardo walking me up and down to various other lookouts I had not seen, and through the medieval streets, and one large beautiful garden in a university owned building. Lots of conversation which put it all into various contexts, and, again, was geared towards my personal interests.