Made for Spain trips get up close and personal

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NEW YORK -- Horseback riding, gastronomy workshops and watercolor painting classes are subjects not typically covered by off-the-shelf tour packages available in the U.S.

Enter Made for Spain, an Andalusia-based firm that seeks to capture the special-interest, small-group market with custom-designed itineraries.

"What we are about is meeting real Spanish people and getting to know how they live, not going around by bus and seeing the sites listed in a guidebook," said Alonso Alvarez de Toledo, one of the firm's founders.

De Toledo said he saw the need for a niche-market tour company in Spain after meeting Americans there "who all seemed to go to the same touristy hotels and sites without ever really getting to know the soul of the country, its people."

"We are offering visitors a chance to slow down and become a little bit Spanish, if even for only a week," he added.

Made for Spain's programs are scaled toward affluent travelers and place an emphasis on top-notch cuisine, the arts and small but luxurious accommodations.

In conjunction with Marketing Ahead, a leading Spain specialist in New York, Made for Spain offers a weeklong horseback riding trip at Andalusia's Donana Nature Park in the province of Huelva during the spring and fall.

During the rides, which average six to seven hours a day, guests will visit sparsely populated villages with whitewashed houses and abundant vineyards.

Riders will have the opportunity to take part in El Rocio, a major folklore festival, and to view the migratory birds from Africa that can be seen in the park, a Unesco World Heritage site.

A chef and waiter accompany the group to prepare al fresco lunches of Andalusian specialities at scenic spots along the trail.

Each night, the group stays at Cortijo Los Mimbrales, a ranch set amidst an orange grove at the edge of the park, about 60 miles southwest of Seville.

"Nonriding guests are welcome to participate in the program, and can travel on the same trail as riders in horse-drawn buggies that hold up to six people," said De Toledo.

The trip also features lectures on the Donana region, a visit to the Royal Equestrian School in Jerez and a wine tasting at the Bodegas Gonzalez Bypass.

A flamenco party concludes the tour, which is priced at $4,045, land only, including all meals.

Made for Spain also has two other small-group programs it is promoting to the U.S. market: a Spanish gastronomy workshop in the city of Cuenca, 95 miles east of Madrid, and a watercolor painting course in Andalusia's Renaissance cities of Baeza and Ubeda.

All three programs feature leisurely visits with locals, typically in their homes or studios.

It's this person-to-person connection that makes Made for Spain perfect for the U.S market, said Marketing Ahead's president, Antonio Alonso.

It is "the only ground operators that we work with in Spain because it is extremely professional, classy and hands-on, and it goes beyond the limit to make an experience attractive," he said. "And because of these professional contacts, [Made for Spain has] access to people and places that no one else does in Spain."

For instance, Alonso said he is handling the arrangements for American Express at the upcoming ASTA World Travel Congress in Seville this November, "and Made for Spain is getting [American Express] the best possible location for breakfast and an ideal ranch for horse shows and an evening program."

Along with its set itineraries, Made for Spain caters to incentive groups seeking extraordinary experiences, said Alonso.

"It can do this for all of Spain, not just Andalusia," he said. "[Made for Spain] convinced the local governor of Cuenca to rehabilitate a beautiful building there to be the cooking school.

"In Madrid, someone with a small group might want to have tea with a nobleman; if anyone could get this done, [Made for Spain] can," he quipped.

For more information, contact Marketing Ahead in New York at (800) 223-1356 or (212) 686-9213; e-mail [email protected], or visit Made for Spain on the Web at www.madeforspain.com.

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