La Padrera in Barcelona; all photos by Nicole Pensiero
La Pedrera in Barcelona; all photos by Nicole Pensiero

As one who’s been to Spain multiple times, I was happy to introduce a good friend to one of my favorite countries, but also needed to be mindful of budget and time constraints.

Wanting to hit Spain’s “greatest hits” of Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Granada in little more than a week’s time, we opted to do an escorted tour from Gate 1 Travel, a mid-priced operator.

The package cost about $2,500 a person, including round trip flights, airport transfers, eight nights of hotel with private rooms for each of us, daily breakfast and a buffet dinner, as well as guided tours of each city, admissions to Madrid’s Prado, Granada’s Alhambra Palace and other key attractions, and guided stops in Toledo and Cordoba.

An added perk –– and break from the tour bus –– was the inclusion of a high-speed rail transfer from Madrid to Barcelona. Instead of another day on the bus, we traveled between the cities in about three hours’ time.

By my estimate, it would have cost at least $3,000 each to set up a similar itinerary on our own. Money-savings aside, here’s a look at what I liked best about the experience and a few things that could have been improved.

The Alhambra Palace in Granada
The Alhambra Palace in Granada

Travelers welcome Gate 1 arranged for our hotel rooms to be ready for our early morning arrival in Madrid, allowing for a much-needed nap and freshening up, before we set out for our explorations.

Tipping optional I was surprised at the laid-back way in which Gate 1 approached gratuities for the tour guide and bus driver. The operator didn’t provide envelopes, leaving it up to us to tip –– or not.

I was happy to provide a gratuity to our main guide, Pedro, who was laid-back yet highly organized and recommended local-favorite spots for lunch and to enjoy a glass of sangria.

Hotels not so central My only real gripe was the location of most of our hotels outside the center. That meant a bit of planning to take the metro or bus, but wasn’t a major issue, given Spain’s good public transportation system.

No hidden costs Unlike many operators, Gate 1 puts the value in the main itinerary sand doesn’t try to drive up its fees with lots of optional excursions. Of the two offered, we opted for a flamenco performance at Seville’s El Patio –– it was fairly priced and seemed like the real deal.

Long travel days Trying to cover so much ground in a country as big as Spain had its challenges, mainly during our day-long bus trip from Seville to Madrid. We did get to break up the ride by stopping at Cordoba to have lunch and see the breathtaking Mezquita, a cathedral built inside a mosque that dates from 786, but it still felt like a bit of a schlep.

Successful journey The experience proved to be the perfect choice for our circumstances, giving us a way to cover a lot of ground for an affordable price, without the hassle of setting up all the details ourselves. I would recommend Gate 1 to anyone traveling under similar circumstances.



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