Spain Shines as a Long-Weekend Destination

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MADRID, Spain -- In a country where three hours each day are taken for lunch and siesta, where dinner isn't served before 10 p.m. and the nightlife doesn't pick up until well past midnight, visitors to Spain need not worry about rushing around.

Spain is a place where people are relaxed and friendly and go about their day without constantly looking at their watch. People don't drink their coffee on their way to work but enjoy their cafe con lecheand chocolate at a cozy cafe at the start of their day.

A trip to Spain is like stepping back into an old world: a country with some of the most beautiful architecture and people who are not caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern cosmopolitan life.

As the "long weekend" becomes a more popular travel option among tourists, so do three- and four-day package deals to Europe. Spain is a destination that delivers a lot in a short amount of time. City of Toledo Two days in Madrid and a day in Toledo allow visitors to see world-renowned art, sample the delicioustapas and catch a performance of the famous flamenco dancers.

A good way to spend the first day in Madrid is just walking around with a city map. There's really so much to explore, from the Botanical Gardens to the Royal Palace to Gran V'a, the main street, densely populated with shops, hotels, and restaurants --a great place to spendpesetas.

Visitors may be surprised at how clean Madrid is for such a large city. Although it's a city of smokers, cigarette butts rarely are found on the sidewalk or streets. (Street sweepers and city sanitation workers take painful strides to ensure a litter-free environment.) Fuente de la Cibeles Against such a clean backdrop are Madrid's beautiful fountains, scattered throughout the city parks and squares. At night these fountains are lit up, illuminating statues against the dark sky.

It is thought that the reason some Americans bypass Spain is because the nation as a whole doesn't speak English. The locals, however, are more than happy to help a lost traveler and will practice their limited English in exchange for an American's limited Spanish. Most hotel clerks and some shop owners speak English. Armed with a map and an English-Spanish dictionary, clients should be fine navigating the city.

For art lovers, Madrid is a heaven, and a full day can be spent exploring this domain. The neighborhood surrounding the Prado has some of the world's finest first-rate art. The Dalis and Miros and Picasso's masterpiece "Guernica" at the Reina Sofia; the Caravaggios, Rembrandts, and Kandinskys at the Thyssen-Bornemisza; El Grecos and Velazquezes at the Prado -- clients could spend hours in museums alone. If there's only time to visit one, the Prado, home to more than 7,000 paintings, is one of the most acclaimed museums in the world and shouldn't be missed.

Visitors should not, however, leave the shopping and museum tours for Sunday.Musician While some things may be open in the morning, such as the Prado and the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), almost everything is closed in the afternoon (providing a good excuse to walk around the different neighborhoods enjoying tapas and drinks at the cafes along the way). Many tourists spend Sunday morning at El Rastro's flea market, where rows of mingled junk and antiques extend for blocks.

The Plaza Major and Puerto del Sol is the heart of the Old Madrid and is a great area to explore at night. There, visitors can enjoy socializing with the locals and getting a taste of Madrid's infamous nightlife. Clients who are planning a trip in the spring should try to hit the last night of Carnival, the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. People of all ages, dressed up in costumes, crowd in the center of the Plaza and in the surrounding bars, dancing and partying until well into the night.

While there are several options for a day trip out of Madrid, Toledo is probably the most worthwhile. This is the type of city one conjures when envisioning Spain: cobblestone streets, ornate buildings and passageways that are barely wide enough for a man and his donkey. (Tour buses are not allowed in the streets, so visitors should be prepared for a lot of walking.)Streets of Toledo What makes this city unique is the combination of Jewish, Mudejar (Arabic) and Christian influences in all the architecture. A full day is needed to explore this beautiful city.

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Easy Spain

A great way to discover Spain, especially for a long weekend, is through a new program by Travelplan, Air Europa's in-house tour operator.

Clients purchase $60 coupons that can be redeemed for a variety of services, including car rental, accommodations, airport transfers, one-way domestic flights and full- and half-day excursions.

For instance, one $60 coupon can be used to stay at any of the 250 hotels listed in the Easy Spain brochure. The cost is per room single or double. Some of the hotels listed have rack rates of over $100 per night. Clients need not book the hotel beforehand. The coupons allow clients the flexibility of prepaying for a hotel but selecting the hotel at the last minute.

Clients must fly Air Europa in order to partake in the program.

For more information, call Air Europa at (888) 238-7672.

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