totally spain tour operator matador hands madrid

How to plan a Spain vacation with insider help from a Spain tour operator

Planning a trip to Spain? Want some help from a Spain tour operator? Take a look at the questions we at Totally Spain put to our clients when working on an itinerary. It might help you identify what you want to do, see and experience in Spain. And we also provide a checklist, to make sure you only book with an experienced company that cares about you, your likes and dislikes, and the type of Spain trip you want to take.

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Totally Spain California Cantabria surfing coast

Might Cantabria in Spain be the Spanish California? At Totally Spain we think so…

Huh? I hear you say. What’s all this about and where is it going? Well, just bear with me for a minute. By the way I’m Ken Baldwin, one of the founders of Totally Spain.

Totally Spain California Cantabria surfing coast

Surfing in Liencres, Cantabria. photo credit: Dani_vr via photopin cc

Totally Spain is a Spain travel specialist and our headquarters is in Northern Spain in the region of Cantabria. It’s an area that we chose to settle in and which we love and it’s a part of Spain that always exceeds our client’s expectations when they visit it.

It’s a curious thing but in we are always comparing places in Spain to similar places in the USA, UK, Ireland and even Australia. It helps us to give clients a sense of what Spain is like.

Totally Spain Cantabria California map

Cantabria as seen on Google Earth

It’s truly beautiful here in Cantabria and often we have found ourselves telling people that Cantabria is like California. At least the lovely countryside, the magnificent beaches and the stunning coastline is very similar. It’s all very reminiscent of California. On a much smaller scale, significantly less traffic and much more relaxed it has to be said, but it’s like California. And a bit like New England. And Cape Cod too.

Is this important or even interesting? Well, I think so. As I said, it helps our clients, especially those from America to gain a feel for what they can expect to see in Cantabria. It also reinforces what I believe to be true and that is that Cantabria is a world class tourist destination which, in it’s own way, has as much to offer as California and which hasn’t been spoilt in any way. Cantabria is very much ‘real Spain’.

It’s a place I feel very lucky to live in and which I have an enormous appreciation for. I don’t exaggerate when I say that you live the ‘good life’ here in Cantabria. Sometimes I think that I appreciate it more than the Cantabrians themselves. Naturally speaking, Cantabria is extremely appealing in the same way that California and even Cape Cod or Vermont is appealing. Cantabria has all the flavour of those places. I know this because I’ve lived in Boston and have visited Cape Cod and California on many occasions. Interestingly enough I found this post online the other day from a New Englander living in Cantabria. It says it all.

Totally Spain Cantabria California Ris Noja beach

One of the many great beaches on the Cantabrian coastline – Ris Beach, Noja

Totally Spain California Cantabria surfing school beaches

You can just about make out the sign for the surf school here. Surfing is a big deal in Cantabria and there are some top class summer schools for children and adults

I also did an experiment the other day and searched in Google Images the following terms. I think the visual results speak for themselves. In natural terms, Cantabria could easily be the Spanish California. Here are the links where you can judge for yourself: CALIFORNIA beaches and CANTABRIA beaches. And here’s CALIFORNIA Coast and  CANTABRIA Coast. And CALIFORNIA Countryside and CANTABRIA Countryside. Try also searching for ‘surfing Cantabria’ and ‘surfing California’. Might as well be the same place.

Though where you do see a difference is here. CALIFORNIA Food  CANTABRIA Food. No tacos, burgers and pizzas in sight!

Totally Spain California Cantabria anchovies

The anchovy is one of Cantabria’s most popular exports. Taste it and you’ll know why. Photo credit: Viajar sin Destino via photopin cc

Totally Spain California Cantabria food market Lierganesq

The Cantabrian farmers’ markets are excellent – here is one of the stalls in Lierganes,

So, what is the point of this post? Well, the point is to draw some more attention to Cantabria if I’m honest. If you are thinking of coming to Spain it really is worth thinking about coming up north. And if you love the feel of places like California and New England, then you’re sure to love Cantabria. Add to that the superb cuisine in Cantabria, the emerging wine scene, the people, the history, the beautiful regional architecture (even Gaudí has left his mark here) and you have all of the ingredients for a unique holiday in a place that will please you to be in. Doesn’t matter your age group, Cantabria has something for everyone. And for the travel connoisseur, believe me, Cantabria is definitely worth checking out.

Totally Spain California Cantabria Palacio Sonanes Villacarfiedo

The Palacio de Sonanes in Villacarriedo is as beautiful inside as it is outside. It’s a hotel and its lunchtime set-price menu offers great value for money

I hope that my observations on Cantabria connect with you. Tell us if they do. And of course, should you be inspired to visit Cantabria do please contact us at Totally Spain to help you out. We are locals after all!

You can contact us at Totally Spain by phoning Spain: +34-942-637358 USA: 1-888-717-4514 UK: 0871-6660214 or SEND US AN EMAIL or REQUEST A QUOTE

Also check out previous posts about Cantabria such as:
Let The Kids Have Fun While You Relax – Surfing & Nature Holidays for Families in Cantabria 2014

Cantabria Cuisine – Totally Spain’s Insider Guide To Cantabrian Gastronomy

Cantabria Coastal Wine Region and its emerging Wine Tourism

Cave Painting in Cantabria, Northern Spain – the oldest art in Europe?

A Great Self Catering Holiday in Cantabria – 7 Top Activities including Antoni Gaudi!

Totally Spain 2014 creative itineraries Camino de Santiago

Do Something Out of the Ordinary with our Really Creative Spanish Itineraries

Ever noticed how people from Spain usually talk about their own region rather than the country as a whole? It’s because Spain is a very diverse country and the geography, landscape, climate and even the language changes from region to region. It’s part of what makes a trip here so exciting.

But because of the size of the country and the cost of domestic travel – up until now – it’s meant that you had to decide which part of Spain you wanted to see. Was it the gastronomy, winery and pilgrimage trips in the North? Or the Moorish architecture, sherry tastings and skiing in the South? Or was the draw of Dalí, Gaudí, paella and Calatrava going to take you East? And going into Portugal – naaw – probably too much to take on this time.

Totally Spain 2014 creative itineraries Camino de Santiago

It’s getting easier and easier to get you here – Camino de Santiago or St James’ Way. Photo credit: AlexGroundwater via photopin cc

Being a Spain-based company, we have first-hand knowledge of the terrain (and thanks to some extensive research trips now Portugal), and have honed our travel planning skills so we’ve always been able to produce some really interesting trips. But lately, because travelling into and across this country (and Portugal) has become more accessible than ever, we are producing some really amazing itineraries that have us beaming with satisfaction.


Totally Spain 2014 Creative itineraries Cordoba

An inexpensive direct flight will now take you from the Camino in Galicia to the Moorish architecture in the South.  The Roman bridge at Cordoba… Photo credit: Psicoloco via photopin cc

Not only are the regional airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair making it easier to arrive into regional locations but the increased competition internally within Spain means that flying domestically has become much cheaper and it has really opened up the country. So now we really can prepare trips to the four corners of Iberia.

Totally Spain 2014 Creative itineraries airline routes

With many new airlines flying into new destinations, you really can travel the four corners. Photo credit: Tamara van Molken via photopin cc

For an example of what we’re talking about, we’ve just planned a trip for a group who want to walk the Camino de Santiago for a week and then fly (inexpensively with Ryanair) from Santiago direct to Seville for a week touring Seville, Cordoba & Granada. Before it would have taken a day or two overland or it would have been prohibitively expensive to fly.

Totally Spain 2014 creative itineraries high-speed AVE train

Sightsee while you travel at high-speed. This was taken on the Madrid to Seville AVE train. Photo credit: Cris Valencia via photopin cc

In addition to these improved airlinks, we’re also making great use of the ever-expanding high-speed AVE network that connects a growing number of cities each year. The latest route connects Madrid and Barcelona with Paris and a number of other French cities such as Avignon and Marseille! And although we often forget to mention it, driving in Spain is a cinch, with excellent road networks – making it easier than ever for you and your fellow travellers to get around.

Totally Spain 2014 creative itineraries roads and bridges

Driving can be fun in Spain too. Here’s the red bridge you drive under to get to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Photo credit: taniwha via photopin cc

So there you have it! It’s never been easier to access the regions and criss-cross the country. But don’t take our word for it – put us to the test! If you liked what we blogged about in Asturias or Cantabria but also fancy seeing the Mesquita in Cordoba, let us know. If food markets make your day, and you want to see some of our favourites – we’ll get you seamlessly from city to city. And if you want to see some or all of our 14 Hidden Spanish Gems, it’s never been easier to take them in.


Tempted? Ask us about our creative itineraries for your trip to Spain and do something really extraordinary in Spain!
Please contact Totally Spain by phoning Spain: +34-942-637358 USA: 1-888-717-4514 UK: 0871-6660214 or SEND US AN EMAIL or REQUEST A QUOTE.

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Holidays from us all at Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

We were shopping the other day and queued up for some…

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

rustle rustle rustle

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Spanish delicacies that are popular at Christmas…

Well, we started to FOOL around a bit (as you do at this time of the year) and HEY PRESTO we came up with this.  Okay so we know it’s a silly idea but we thought we’d share this sweet sentiment with you anyway to wish you Happy Holidays…

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain


Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

That’s our way of saying that we wish you the very best for Christmas. And a very happy and healthy New Year full of nothing but good news.

Now, who’d like one of these with a café con leche?

Happy Christmas Happy Holidays from Totally Spain

Ken family Totally Spain donkeys Portugal

Ken Baldwin & Belen Encinas talk about Totally Spain in 2013

Totally Spain 2013 review Ken Belen

Ken Baldwin & Belen Encinas, co-founders of Totally Spain

2013 has been a challenging year for many in Spain but one sector that has really bucked the downturn is tourism. Overall visitor numbers are up significantly and here at we have seen our numbers increase too. As we approach 2014, Ken Baldwin & Belen Encinas, the founders of Totally Spain, talk us through the past 12 months.

You founded this company 13 years ago. What has changed and how is Totally Spain in 2013?

We started Totally Spain in the Basque Country in early 2000. We began as a small niche travel specialist offering custom travel to the Basque Country & Northern Spain and while we’ve grown over the years, Totally Spain is still very much a niche travel specialist except that now we customise travel throughout the whole of Spain and Portugal. We, along with our staff, have travelled the length and breadth of Spain and Portugal over the years and we continue to do so. We feel that we have our finger on the pulse and by regularly attending the major and small regional travel trade fairs within Spain and Portugal, we keep very up-to-date.

In the past if you wanted to tour a country and you wanted everything included you had to take a group tour and of course that committed you to a fixed itinerary and timetable as well as hotels that you might not otherwise have booked. Also, it meant having to travel with strangers. Nowadays many people want to travel independently, stay in the hotels of their choosing and have a multitude of services and special highlights included just for them. It takes a lot of time to arrange. It’s not just about booking hotels and car hire anymore. It’s much more complex than that.  And that’s exactly what Totally Spain does.

Ken Belen Totally Spain review of 2013

Ken and Belen at Expovacaciones in Bilbao in the Spring. These trade events are useful not only for picking up some hot-off-the-press printed material for clients but also to talk face to face with suppliers and regional tourist boards

Belen Olaia Lisbon Totally Spain review 2013

Olaia and Belen in decadent Lisbon – it was the first of two extensive (and very enjoyable) research trips to Portugal in 2013

2013 was a very good year for Totally Spain. Possibly our best to date. The profile of our clients has changed with more and more seeking to include a whole new variety of experiences in Spain & Portugal. Our custom trips are now much more complex and the range of services we offer has expanded greatly. For example we’re currently finding a huge interest in Gastronomy tours and also in Genealogy tours. We organise lots of trips for clients tracing their Spanish and Jewish heritage.

What would you highlight about the last 12 months? And what would you like to forget?

Well it was great to see so many visitors coming to Spain this year. Record numbers have been achieved, up 4.5% based on the latest data, though the troubles in Egypt and Turkey will have been partly responsible. For us at Totally Spain, the highlight has been the number of clients who’ve really wanted to get out and see the real Spain. People are getting more adventurous and more interested in all aspects of this very big country. It’s great to see people exploring Northern Spain and other gems like the region of Extremadura which have so much to offer. Also the Alentejo in Portugal and Central and Northern Portugal too.

Like many people in Europe we suspect, we would like to forget Spring 2013. It really was so wet and cold. Most unusual. Still, many clients braved the elements and enjoyed their time here but I would hope Spring 2014 is much more settled…

How has the business evolved in the past year? Any new ventures? New routes?

Well, we’re always keen to spread the word about Spain and Portugal and this year we’ve made a big effort to be more active on social media for example on this blog and on Facebook and Twitter. We’re not doing it just for the sake of it. We’ve really tried to produce quality articles for the blog with content that would be useful to anyone thinking about travelling in Spain & Portugal.

Jimmy Pons Totally Spain Review 2013

Ken (up the front) paying great attention to speaker Jimmy Pons at a conference on Social Media Trends & Innovation for Tourism run by the regional tourism office in Cantabria. Photo credit:

This year we have seen our business grow significantly in Portugal. Many clients from the US & Canada are now combining travel in Spain with travel in Portugal. We’re very keen to encourage this as Portugal is a fabulous country. We will be adding a lot more Portugal product to our program especially the lesser know areas such as the stunning Alentejo, Central Portugal and beautiful Northern Portugal and the Douro. We also have more clients nipping over to Morocco while holidaying in Andalusia, so we’re keen to do more there. In fact, we’ll be spending Christmas and New Year travelling there so watch this space.

Cantabria is our home base and this year has been an interesting one. Lots more people are discovering the delights of this region and Northern Spain. There is an incredible emerging gastronomic scene starting to take hold here which food lovers should keep an eye on and we are keen to promote. We’re also very excited that the Sailing World Championships are taking place in Santander next September and the Botin Centre will be opening during the summer as well. Bound to be wonderful.

totally spain 013 review Santander bay

Ken, Belen & family enjoying Santander Bay. 2014 is a big year for the region with the opening of the Botin Centre and the ISAF Sailing Championships.

Ken Baldwin Totally Spain Cantabria Review 2013

Ken with one of the biggest and friendliest dogs in Northern Cantabria. The dogs at a well-known hotel in Liebana (down South) are pretty amazing too.

Any special trips organised in 2013?

There have been lots of special trips this year. We’ve handled quite a number of large families who’ve come to Spain to trace their roots and some of those trips were quite emotional for them. Plenty of honeymoons too that were extra special. We also received some very touching feedback from several groups from the United States who felt we made their trip truly unforgettable.

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Gaudi Pedrera detail Barcelona

How to book the perfect Honeymoon in Spain

Honeymoon Spain 14 days Madrid Barcelona Seville Valencia

Candy Bigwood’s Pinterest board for her Honeymoon in Spain organised by Totally Spain

We love what Candy Bigwood posted on her Pinterest board about where attracted her “visually” when planning her HONEYMOON to SPAIN arranged by Totally Spain. We know that finding the perfect location for a honeymoon is a huge decision and we found Candy’s approach quite unique. Also the beautiful images from the locations she and her husband visited last year, it has to be said, are truly inspiring. Continue reading

Expulsion Spain Portugal Jewish 1492 1496 1996

Why Stuart loved his Totally Spain Jewish-interest trip

Jewish heritage tours trip Trancoso

Mrs Cole with our driver-guide, Manuela, in picturesque Trancoso

Here at Totally Spain, we love to receive spontaneous feedback. We often receive direct thank-yous from our clients which is very thoughtful and rewarding.

We recently heard back from Stuart, a client from the US for whom we customised an independent Jewish-interest tour in Spain & Portugal in February for himself and his wife. He mailed us an unsolicited testimonial and insisted that we should do a bit more chest-thumping about our skills and experience. Continue reading

Totally Spain – Top Zicasso Spain Travel Specialist

Top Zicasso Spain Travel Specialist

In February 2013 Totally Spain will be exactly 3 years cooperating with Zicasso, an online travel service with a Best Travel Website rating by Travel & Leisure magazine that connects discerning travelers with the travel industry’s top 10% specialists in Handcrafted Travel.

In 2011 Zicasso awarded Totally Spain with their Top Specialist award.  And those past clients who chose to review their trip with Totally Spain (over 46 at time of writing) have given us an average rating on Zicasso of 4.63 stars out of a possible 5 stars for which we´re very proud and grateful. You can read their independent Customer Tour reviews about Totally Spain here

This year we look forward to serving many more Zicasso clients and if you would like to learn more about Totally Spain and our services please check out our short video on You Tube.