When I was invited by Travel Department to go on a press trip to Salamanca in north-western Spain, I jumped at the chance. In the past, GG and I have travelled to South Africa, Beijing and several European cities with the online agency and have always been delighted with its service.
The beauty of an organised trip is that everything is laid on, from collection at the airport to quality hotels, top class guides, tours to local places of historic or cultural interest yet plenty of free time to do your own exploring.
The only aspect of our trip that Travel Department could not organise was the weather. We left sunny Ireland behind in a heatwave for very mixed weather – unusual you would imagine in Spain in June – totally unprepared for the conditions, having only brought lightweight summer clothes! But we did manage to make the most of every bit of sunshine!
The Hotel Alameda Palace, opposite a park, is ideally located to enjoy the attractions of Salamanca, situated as it is a short walk from the Playa Major, the city’s central feature (below).
An attractive foyer provides a good first impression which is continued when you reach the well-appointed bedroom, notable for a superb bathroom complete with His and Hers washbasins, glass panelling and dramatic black marbled tiling…oh, and a really comfy bed.
Continental breakfasts can be a little hit-and-miss in our experience but the Alameda’s was at the top end of the scale.
Our guide Alejandro (with us for the entire trip) was both informative and entertaining, with a lovely storytelling style. On our three guided tours – around Salamanca, Avila and Valladolid – we had local guides, who imparted their knowledge with good English and humour too.
Salamanca’s outstanding feature is its sandstone buildings and the efforts to use sandstone on modern building exteriors to blend with the old are extraordinary. The consistency adds significantly to the overall ambience.
The central Playa Major (below) is reminiscent of St Mark’s Square in Venice, only smaller and a lot less expensive. There’s a real buzz around the perimeter with cafes in abundance, great places to people-watch. It seemed a popular place for stags and hen parties too, with many groups of strangely attired young revellers.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is home to the world’s fourth oldest university; below you can see one of its beautiful courtyards.
The city also boasts two Cathedrals – the newer one used for Masses and the older one favoured for weddings.
There’s no shortage of eateries either, with over 500 restaurants listed on Trip Advisor, ranging from the typical tapas places to more upmarket spots.
I particularly enjoyed visiting Zara (yes, the shop), uniquely housed in a renovated convent, blending the old and the new seamlessly.
Day 3 saw us visit Avila (below), another UNESCO World Heritage city, renowned as the cradle of Saint Theresa. Surrounded by ancient walls dating from the 11th century, it’s a beautiful place, dotted with church towers and Gothic palaces.
On the way back to Salamanca, we called into Alba de Tormes (below), also closely associated with Saint Theresa. I passed on the church visit and the relics and enjoyed the wonderful scenery instead.
An early capital of Spain, it was an attractive city. Unfortunately, the rain poured down as we walked around, so we retired early to lunch, not too much hardship really.
On our last day, we had a bus tour around Madrid en route to the airport – that gave us time for a leisurely lunch and a wander around the streets and squares for a few hours, which completed a most pleasant break.
As well as having the trip organised from start to finish – and there is no pressure to do every aspect of the holiday – the benefits include the freedom to do your own exploring and meeting interesting like-minded people. Six degrees of separation was certainly in evidence on our trip as we met several people who knew people we knew, if you get my drift!
One of the group discovered ten minutes after being dropped at Madrid Airport that he had left his phone on the bus. Our guide phoned the driver who twenty minutes later delivered said phone back to a much relieved traveller.
You see Travel Department looks after its clients. This was in evidence during the Ash Cloud Debacle and the recent snow too. It is one of the reasons we and others travel with them; the glowing feedback from very happy clients is testament to that. They promise to go the extra mile for you and they DO.
As it happens, we are off to India with four friends in October with TDactive, the adventure holiday wing of Travel Department.