You can see it in the art, taste it in the tapas and feel it in the rhythm of the flamenco dance: Spain is a country of passion, and that fiery feeling proves attractive to many American groups. Visitors will find great history and architecture in the bigger cities and small towns, but a trip to Spain really comes alive in culinary and cultural experiences.
Top Stops: Barcelona is a favorite destination for groups traveling to Spain. Visitors can see historic churches, beautiful parks and a Picasso museum. Madrid is the country’s other metropolitan destination; it features a number of grand public plazas, art museums and epic nightlife. The Spanish coast has a number of beach destinations that prove attractive to visitors as well.
Small Treasures: Although it is less known than Barcelona or Madrid, Sevilla (Seville) is one of the most important cultural centers in Spain. Visitors can learn about the gypsy roots of flamenco music and dance from local experts or visit vineyards and wineries where locals produce Spanish sherry. Historic sites around town give insight into the Moorish period of Spanish history.
Great Tastes: Traditional Spanish tapas have become popular in American cities of late, but the Spanish still do small plates better than anyone else. In tapas restaurants or bars all over Spain, chefs serve up appetizer-size bites of cured meats, cheeses, olives and other local products. Another Spanish favorite, paella, is a popular way to prepare seafood on the coast.
When to Go: Spain’s climate is divided between the temperate north and the coastal south. Summer in the south often gets oppressively hot, and winter weather can be a bit temperamental in the north. Spring and fall are good bets all around.
Although we spent much of the 20th century locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Americans have found Russia an enticing place to visit in recent years. Tourism infrastructure in the formerly communist country has grown considerably, allowing visitors to easily tour in both the city and the countryside. River cruise companies have added Russia as a destination and continue to increase departures there, giving groups another Russian travel option.
Top Stops: Moscow and St. Petersburg top most Russian tourism lists. In St. Petersburg, visitors explore the regal heritage of Russia’s imperial age, touring majestic historic sites and government buildings built by the czars some 300 years ago. In Moscow, the current capital, groups can tour the legendary Kremlin, as well as former Soviet sites such as the KGB headquarters.
Small Treasures: This year, Russia has invested a lot of time and money in promoting smaller destinations outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Among featured destinations are Ivanovo, an arts-and-crafts region, and Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake. Outdoors-lovers can have memorable experiences in more remote regions such as Tarastan and Siberia.
Great Tastes: Perhaps the most famous food in Russia is borscht, a beet-based soup that often contains other vegetables and meats. But Russia is also known as a source of great caviar, and adventurous eaters can find it spread on bread, pancakes, crepes or the popular local blini pastries.
When to Go: With a land mass larger than that of the United States, Russia has numerous different climates and seasonal weather patterns. St. Petersburg enjoys long, warm days during summertime, and most Russian river cruises run from May to October. Some tour operators offer Russian winter packages as well.