January 24th, 2013 by Tom Smith

AlcazarTravel in Spain is first of all, easy!  The train can take you to most places in the country easily and fast.  However there are special places where you just need a car.  Extremadura is one of those places.  This would be a place you could visit on your way to Cordoba/Seville/Granada.   Extremadura is a state that lies southwest of Madrid along the border with Portugal.  It is ideal for nature lovers and those who want to get off the beaten track  and discover old Spain.  It offers beautiful drives, ancient sites from Roman times (and before!), wonderful nature preserves, the Templar towns in the Sierra Morena and the wonderful Mideval towns of Caceres, Trujillo, Merida and Guadalupe.  You will need a minimum of 4 to 5 days to do this special part of Spain justice.  I suggest starting out from Madrid (it is only about 2.5 hours of easy driving on one of the main highways (the A-5) get off the freeway and drive south towards Guadalupe but make a stop a Bohonal de Ibor and see the magnificent Roman Ruins that stand above the lake.  In Guadalupe you will find the huge Monastary founded in the 14th century. In 1496 the monastary was the site of the baptism of some of the first native Caribbeans brought to Europe by Columbus.    The Hospederia Monasterio is now a wonderful and comfortable hotel and rivals the Paradore so there are two great places to stay and explore this town.

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Merida, Spain
The Roman ruins

Moving on westward you will find the town of Merida, just 127 km away.  This was one of the most important towns of Roman Spain.  Founded in 25 BC by Augustus, Merida was the cultural and economic capital of Rome’s most western province.  There are many things to see in this town among them are:  the Roman theatre, one of the best preserved in Europe, the amphitheatre and gardens, the incredible Roman bridge across the Rio Guadiana along with the aqueducts and my favorite is the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano. This museum is built within ruins and is of a modern design.  It displays the rich archaelogical treasures of the area.  Sculpture, mosaic, and excavations.  There is a wonderful Paradore to stay that was an 18th century convent.

The Medieval Parador
Caceres, Spain

Moving on to Caceres, just 66km you find a wonderful town of towers, palaces and stately homes.  This Renaissance town dates from the 15th and 16th centuries.  Caceres has been untouched by war so you will find a preserved city.  Easy to walk in and enjoy the sites.  There are several grand museums and ancient churches. The town is a delight to just get lost in.  The Paradore is located just down from the San Mateo Church and is in a 14th centgury palace, but the inside is totally modern.  Very comfortable and a great location.

The ultra modern & chic
Atrio in Caceres, Spain

Next door is the famed restaurant (2 Michelin Stars**) and hotel Atrio.  This restaurant is a desintation in itself for many “foodies” from around the world.  The creators of this place Tono and Jose are the real deal.  They have created a wonderful hotel and restaurant.  It is upscale and expensive and worth every Euro!  The wine cellar is said to be the best in all of Spain.  I was a guest for lunch that lasted from 3pm to 6pm.  It was truly an experience of a lifetime.

 

Ancient bell towers
Trujillo, Spain

Paradores in Spain are historic buildings and settings with a modern luxury hotel inside!

Special for Paradores of Spain:  For 2013 when you book a standard room category at any Parador you will receive a Superior Room! This applies to standard rates and Senior Citizen rates!OK so from Caceres head north and east to Trujillo, 40 km away.  This is the town of the Conquistadores.  Orellana, Paredes and most famous Pizarro. The town is built on a hillside with a big castle on top.  The main plaza, the Plaza Mayor is one of the most beautiful in Spain.  It is huge with a big statue of Pizarro on is horse in the middle. There are lots of things to explore here including a small museum that was Pizarro’s home and of course the Castillo bilt in the 9th century by the Moors.  Trujillo is a great place to explore Extremadura.  The Paradore in Trujillo is a former 16th century convent with two cloisters.  The dining room specializes in the wonderful ham that comes from those pigs who only eat acrons their entire lives!  It is 43 km to Monfrague Natural Park which is a wildlife preserve and the best place to see the famous Griffen Vultures.  along the way se rolling hills of ancient oak trees with pigs eatin the acorns that fall down for them to feast on.  From Trujillo you can head south to Cordoba or head back to Madrid.  Or you can continue west to Portufal  The pace is slow here in this section of Spain.  This is relaxed Spain at its best.  The people are friendly, it is not overly touristy and the countryside is delightful.  Viva Espana!

October 17th, 2012 by Tom Smith

A typical dinner served at your room in Koyasan

The enchanting little train from Osaka to Mt. Koya

A special  journey to Japan.  A customized trip to Japan taking advantage of the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of this island nation. An idea for a great 2 or 3 day side trip from the hustle of Kyoto or Osaka would be a visit to Mt. Koya and the village of Koyasan. Explore Mt. Koya,  Japan’s best-known Buddhist Mountain Retreat and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its eight-forested peaks reach eight hundred meters into the clouds, surrounding the high plateau with a sense of serenity. Boasting over one hundred temple complexes, Koyasan offers a wonderful respite in the mountains of Wakayama.  Relax in a fabulous shukubo or temple lodging which is one of the best ways to experience Buddhist life in Japan, rising with the birds for morning prayers with the monks. An absolutely gorgeous and spiritual setting.  With the help of the experts at JapanQuest Journeys we can put together a customized and wonderful journey to any part of Japan you want to visit.  Tom has been traveling to Japan for almost 40 years and knows the country intimately.  Give us a call or email at Tom Smith Travel for help with your journey to Japan!  We can help you with accommodations, Japan Rail Pass and special tours to the enchanting places of Japan.  There are many places that are perfect for 2 to 4 days to retreat from the cities in Japan.

A typical room during the day. At night the futons appear for a restful sleep.

Tom is a Japan Specialist with the Japan National Tourist Office.  He has the connections to make a wonderful journey happen for you in Japan.  Either independently or small group tours or a cruise!  Let Tom be your guide in Japan!   He has been traveling to Japan since 1973!

December 29th, 2011 by Tom Smith

Tom’s Travelogue Part 1:  Spain in the off-season

Dear Travelers,
Here is Part 1 of my travelogue from Spain.  I spent the month of December from the North to the South in this amazing country.
This was a very special trip to Spain this December.  I have always liked to travel and explore since I was a kid and so a nice slow trip to a destination just suits me.  I have never been a fan of the packaged, programmed visit to a destination, but rather a slow discovery of the treasures of a foreign land. My jounrey began with flying into Barcelona. This is the city of Gaudi, The Rambla and it is Catalonia!  I stayed at the Hotel Colon, which is driectly across from the main cathedral in the center of the city.  It was a great location, comfortable and cozy room and a wonderful breakfast every morning of fresh squeezed orange juice, baked breads, manchego cheese and great Jamon Iberico (Spanish ham).  The service and graciousness of the staff were wonderful and I would recommend this hotel to any of my clients.  After a full 3 days of sightseeing in Barcelona, my buddy and I rented a car and headed north to Girona (the province between the French border and the Costa Brava).  This is an area of Greek and Roman ruins, small coast towns and mountain villages.  We stayed in Girona, an ancient city of ramparts and walls built by  the Romans.  We stayed at the Hotel Ultonia which was just outside the Medieval walls and very nice and super modern.  A great thing was the convenient parking as it was a difficult city to drive, but a wonderful city to walk.
From Girona we headed to the coast and hung out in the delightful coastal villages of Pals, Empuries, Escala and Cadaques.  We hiked the Cap de Crues (the most eastern point of Spain).  We based outselves in a tiny village of Torrella de Fluvia and stayed and the wonderfil L’Hort de Sant Cebria.  This small hotel run by Juan Carlos and Jorge is a gem, a true find in the region.  It is a perfect place to base yourself for amazing day trips to the region (both coastal and mountains).  Our room overlooked the pool and gardens and the 13th century Roman church on the other side of the garden.  Room was comfy and the bathroom was huge.  The breakfast each day was delightful and plentiful and kept us going until tapas at 4pm!  I would recommend a stay here of at least 3 nights and there is so much to see.  The owners gave us wonderful recommendations of restaurants and places to visit.  We visited a winery run by friends (La Vineyata) and sampled the wine and olive oil they make on the property.  This was such a relaxing place to stay……… and very romantic.
I’ve created a visual itinerary for my favorite hotels in Spain if you’d like to know where they’re located and what they look like.

 

 

-Tom Smith’s Travels in Spain Part 1.  See Part 2 for  Madrid, Cordoba and Seville.
September 10th, 2011 by Tom Smith

Beautiful Milford Sound

First about the air.  The flight is so easy.  You leave in the evening from LAX and arrive into Fiji (or New Zealand) in the early morning.  Yes, it is a long night on the airplane, but there is really no jet lag..if you fly “in the front of the airplane”.  Premier Business Class on Air New Zealand or International Business Class on Qantas or even Tabua Class on Air Pacific make the going great.   However, here is the “Private Journal” scoop on these three business classes:  Air New Zealand’s Business Premier offers seperate check-in at LAX and Auckland (much nicer in Auckland of course) , use of the Koru Club Lounge (although the club in Auckland needs some refurbishing),  I love the club at LAX (great food and better wine selection than in Auckland!).   They do share the club with Air France so be prepared for some Francaise stuff and attitude. On board Air New Zealand’s “fully flat bed” is very comfortable, meals are created by the likes of Rex Morgan (Huka Lodge). (more…)