Deciding on which TIKI TOURS Spain and Portugal tour to do first is quite possibly the hardest decision to make, both tours are equally packed with fantastic experiences and wonderful sights.
To make it just a little easier we invited Henk de Jong to fill you in as a traveller who has recently experienced both tours, 'Ancient Kingdoms' in 2015 and 'Castles and Palaces' in 2016. From our perspective another point of view and insight is always welcome.
In your personal opinion, what is the main difference between the 2 Tours?
I think the main difference for me was that the roman empire influence and the politics of the earlier kings and queens of Spain and Portugal was more apparent in the 'Ancient Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal' tour while the Moorish influence was more apparent in the south on the 'Castles and Palaces' tour. For example the 16km roman aqueduct in Segovia and the 2.1km roman wall completely surrounding Luga versus Toledo old town and Granada with the Alhambra Palace.
What made you decide to travel with TIKI once again?
I had such a good experience on the first trip, great tour schedule, great tour guide in Manuela and a great bunch of fellow travellers. Plus I wanted to experience the southern part of Spain and the 'Castles & Palaces' tour did that.
What is it that makes Spain and Portugal such special destinations for you personally?
I hadn’t been to Spain or Portugal in my previous holidays in Europe and a couple of work conferences in Madrid wetted my appetite. Plus that part of Europe has a certain mystique as the home of Don Quixote, El Cid, Carmen and the catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand.
What was the highlight of your 2015 ‘Ancient Kingdoms of Spain & Portugal' trip?
Many highlights on the Ancient Kingdoms tour; Astorga the birthplace of (European) chocolate, Bilbao with the Guggenheim Museum, Santiago de Compostela where four of the men on our tour had a great experience walking the last 25km of the Camino, the views driving up the mountain in Parcs de Europe near Cangas de Onis, (still not sure how the bus driver got the coach up the hill) and the beautiful mountainous countryside of northern Portugal.
What was the highlight of your 2016 ‘Spain & Portugal in Castles and Palaces' tour?
The highlights of the southern tour were wandering around the old town of Toledo with its Cathedral and El Greco paintings, Granada and the Alhambra Palace, Cordoba with the Moorish mosque with its 1000 columns and a catholic cathedral built in the middle of it, Gibraltar with the Spanish/English politics still being played out with its formalised custom/border crossing and its English fish & chips in all the cafes/restaurants, Jerez with the tour of the Tio Pepe sherry bodega and sherry tasting and much more.
How would you describe the heritage accommodation i.e. the Spanish Paradores and the Portuguese Pousadas packaged for our tours?
The Paradores and Pousadas were all great, some located in excellent locations such as Toledo located on a ridge overlooking the town, and Santiago de Compostela located right on the cathedral square. The rooms were large and well appointed with WiFi everywhere. All had a character you don’t get in the usual 4/5 star hotels.
Did any particular hotel stand out for you? Why?
The hotel at Granada probably had the best view, quite an experience having a pre dinner gin and tonic before the evening meal looking out over Granada.
As a solo traveller, did you find like-minded company on tour? Did the group bond well?
Both tours had a mix of couples, friends travelling together and a few solo travellers. Being a small group you got to know all your fellow travellers quite well over the tour and everyone got on well. Having dinner together was good as were some of the evening functions such as the flamenco dinner/show and the and fado dinner/show.
What do you think of the group size you experienced on tour?
Small group size helps in getting to know your other group members better, makes guided tours a lot better (great knowledgeable local guides) and generally made logistics a lot easier. Having a large tour bus where you had room to move about made travelling more enjoyable.
How would you rate the level of fitness needed to participate on the day to day TIKI TOURS excursions?
The guided tours were not over strenuous and no great physical fitness required. Successful ingredients of a small group tour are great tour guide, good accommodation, relaxing itinerary.
In your opinion, what are the most important ingredients for a successful fully escorted small group tour?
Successful ingredients of a small group tour are a great tour guide, good accommodation, relaxing itinerary, good food and good company.
Did you feel there was enough free time between touring in the day and dining at night to explore individually?
For me there was enough time to explore, I particularly liked finding a local café/restaurant for lunch and trying the more local/regional/rustic food, sometimes not quite knowing what you’re getting due to language nuances.
What sets TIKI TOURS and their many suppliers apart from other tour companies? In other words, what is the point of difference?
Point of difference is small group size, good accommodation, large bus and multiple night stays.
Where would you like to go next in Europe?
Next trip is a river cruise on the Danube from Bucharest to Prague. The TIKI Italian tours also sound great.
Who would you recommend the TIKI TOURS 'Spain & Portugal' Tours to?
I’d recommend the tours to anyone apart from perhaps younger family groups.