I’m a Type-A individual in nearly every way, a fact I’ve even written about before. It affects all areas of my life, but perhaps most of all travel. I’m an over-planner; it is hard for me to let any aspect of a trip go unscheduled, a personality trait that I’ve been trying to remedy in recent years. That’s because intellectually I realize that the best travel experiences are the ones we never expect, the surprises, the local finds you just can’t know about until you’re literally standing in that new city. That important lesson was once again proven to me while visiting sunny Seville in Spain on an Abercrombie & Kent Connections Boutique Journey around the southern cities of the country. There I spent two days basking in the warmth for which Seville is so well known, understanding it in a way that not even most tourists can manage. Travel is also a lot about luck and timing, and the gods were looking down favorably upon us that weekend because our group arrived during one of the city’s most festive seasons, which ultimately made all the difference in how we experienced and got to know the city. I’m working with Abercrombie & Kent to share what makes these boutique tours so unique but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
I had some misconceptions about what group tour experiences are like before joining this small group tour of Spain. I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone either. As an independent traveler I value my, well, independence and it’s an important aspect of the travel experience that I always want to maintain. Abercrombie & Kent though are the best in the business for a reason, a fact that was proven true to me again and again throughout my time in Spain, but especially in Seville. The average day touring with them in Spain was set up more as a series of walking tours combined with plenty of free time to explore on our own. It’s how I normally travel anyway, I find incredible value from well done walking tours, and having everything organized for me was a timesaving luxury in its own right. In Seville though having local connections proved invaluable since our group unwittingly arrived during one of the city’s major social events, the Feria de Abril.
Translated simply as the April Fair, this is one of the main social events of the year. As an outsider it can be a little confusing at first, which is why I was so happy our tour director took the time to show us the massive celebration and to explain it to us. This weeklong event takes place two weeks after Holy Week and is one of the highlights of the Seville social calendar. Intensely colorful traditional dresses, more horse-drawn carriages than I thought still existed and of course food, so much food, are all hallmarks of this massive event. Walking through the main fairgrounds I marveled at the 1,000 pop-up restaurants assembled on-site, mostly for private parties and all serving incredible local favorites. Even if you aren’t invited to a private tent though, the whole city gets in the spirit and no matter where I went I found fantastically dressed people on their way to a soiree, adding more color and pizzazz to my travel experience than I thought possible. Being in Seville during Feria was pure luck, but was one of those travel experiences that transformed my visit into something truly extraordinary.
Food is important in any immersive travel experience; it’s the fastest way to learn more about a new city or even culture. It’s also the one thing that all travelers have in common regardless of budget or style of travel, which is why I was thrilled to see it so well represented throughout the tour in Spain, but especially in Seville. One evening our resident tour director took the group on a fun and lively tapas tour featuring a few popular spots in Seville. Today tapas is a world-wide phenomenon, and you’ll find it in almost every corner of the globe. But in Spain you’ll discover its roots, its value and why it’s an important aspect of not just the culinary culture, but of life throughout the country. In many regions of Spain, lunch is the main meal and tapas it a perfect way to enjoy lighter bites later in the day. At its root, tapas is simple – olives, tomatoes and bread, meats and cheeses are all the cornerstones of this culinary event and it’s how we started our evening. One of my favorite European travel experiences is also one of the simplest – enjoying the cool breezes of early evening at a sidewalk café. There’s nothing quite like it and it’s an experience we have yet to replicate here in the US. That’s where we found ourselves, a group of friends and not strangers enjoying great food and each other’s company. That’s ultimately at the root of the tapas experience, conviviality and as someone who normally travels alone, it was a wonderful respite from lonely solo meals. It’s also what surprised me most about my Abercrombie experience, that the group of strangers didn’t stay strangers for very long. We got to know and like each other over the course of a week, turning the trip into a much more meaningful experience than it would otherwise have been.
One of my favorite aspects of any trip are the hotels. I love them, I love experiencing new ones and I especially love being pampered in them. The Abercrombie & Kent boutique journeys are a little different from their other tours in a number of ways, but perhaps best seen through the included hotels. Local, well-located, high-end boutique properties are the norm and not once was I disappointed. That was especially true in Seville when we called the luxury Gran Meliá Colón home for a couple of days. Smack dab in the center of town, the hotel itself has a long and vaunted history in Seville, and is most famously tied to the bullfights that seem to be so popular. This has long been the hotel of choice for the famous bullfighters, choosing to stay in one of the city’s best hotels before they take to the arena. While I don’t approve of bullfighting in any way, I do recognize its importance in certain areas of Spain and it just so happened that fights were occurring during our stay. That, combined with the Feria, meant the Gran Meliá Colón was busy and a fascinating place to be. The city’s elite passed through the front doors nonstop throughout the day, and sitting there just people watching was an experience in its own right. Add in luxury finishings, immaculately designed rooms and five-star service, and you have a hotel that enhanced the travel experience in every way imaginable. Ultimately, a great hotel will do just that, it will play a starring role on our travel experiences, helping us to see and do as much as possible.
Travel is all about balance, and that means any great trip will combine expert-led walks or tours with plenty of time exploring alone. Throughout my trip with Abercrombie & Kent I was impressed by how very much free time we had, time to do whatever we wanted and to experience cities in the way that made the most sense for us. In Seville we had more than enough independent time and that time alone made all the difference for me. Staying at the incredibly well located Gran Melia Colón made it easy for me to come and go as I pleased, to do whatever I wanted. I visited the massive cathedral where I climbed to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city. I enjoyed leisurely meals outside, ate more than my fair share of gelato and just meandered around, gawking at the incredible dresses of the Feria attendees. I can’t point to any one moment that meant the most to me, it was simply the act of getting to know the city personally that was important. We can organize as much as we like to, but ultimately it’s the unplanned and unexpected which means the most, and that’s exactly how I decided to visit this, one of Spain’s most colorful cities.
There are many reasons to travel with Abercrombie & Kent, whether on a private journey or on one of their innovative and immersive Connections Boutique Journeys. Special extras are what I enjoyed the most, experiences that were unexpected and unique. Experiences I’d never be able to replicate on my own, like the leisurely dinner we enjoyed in a stately manner in Seville. We didn’t know a lot about the evening in advance, only that it would be a night of good food and exciting entertainment that we would never forget. An early spring evening in Seville meant that it wasn’t too hot and yet the sun was shining and the entire city seemed to be out enjoying the weather. It was the ideal time for a horse-drawn carriage ride around town, and the perfect way to start a memorable evening. The horses pulled up to an inauspicious home not too far away from our hotel, the historic home that played host to our locally inspired evening. There we were escorted inside the veritable palace by the owner, the latest in a long line of family members who have acted as caretakers of the property through the generations. A tour of the mansion followed by an incredible meal featuring local delicacies would have been enough, but the capstone was a form of entertainment for which Seville is particularly well known – the flamenco dance. Professional dancers and musicians thrilled us all with their strangely enticing dance, leading us through stories and tales along the way. It was honestly a perfect evening and one that could not have been otherwise duplicated; but one example of many of how Abercrombie & Kent adds real value to their Connections Journeys.