In mere moments, our adventure begins as our group gathers in Madrid, the tour’s jumping off point. Most of us are American, though somehow a Canadian and two Germans managed to join the company.

In Madrid we’ll meet our local guide: Cesar Higueras Sanz. Cesar is a student of history, art, language (he speaks Spanish, French, Italian, and English), food, and good wine. Having worked with Cesar on previous trips, I can attest to everything except his Italian (perhaps we’ll ask him to say a few words). He also has a very dry sense of humor, and I look forward to exchanging bon mots with him.

The NASA photo of the Iberian Peninsula, attached to this blog, helps illustrate where we’re headed. We start in the middle of Spain (the “M” stands for Madrid, not Middle) and speed north to La Rioja (#1), a Spanish province deservedly famous for its wines. After much wine sampling, we continue north to the coast (Costa de Cantabria, area #2). Here we’ll stay in Santillana del Mar (an 11th century medieval hamlet), visit caves possessing Paleolithic art, and explore Bilbao’s fabulous Guggenheim Museum. I’ve been to this region before, and it’s a treat — I love the parador we’ll be enjoying at Santillana del Mar.

After a high-speed TGV train up the coast of France to Bordeaux and a visit to Saint-Émilion (the heart of Bordeaux’s winemaking region), we’ll slide across to the Dordogne Valley, one of France’s most picturesque regions (#3). This is where we get into some serious prehistory, including Lascaux. Although the original cave is closed, we can visit Lascaux II, an amazing replica of two of the cave halls (the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery). Except for a twist of fate in university, I might have become an anthropologist, so I can’t wait to experience this historic region of France.

Our excursion into prehistory extends another day as we explore the Cave of Niaux and the Grotte de la Vache in southwestern France. Then it’s on to our finale in the bright lights and modern life of Barcelona (the “B” on the image). This is the land of Antoni Gaudi, Guell Park, and his as yet unfinished Sagrada Familia. Talk about ending a trip on a high note! It will be sad to leave, but our memory banks (and memory cards) will be full to overflowing.

Written by: Paul Deans – TQ Editor

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