The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, 11 nights' accommodations, hotel taxes, six dinners, sightseeing tours, and entrance fees, from $2,479—plus an estimated $105 in taxes.
When: Dec. 4, 2008; add $100 for Nov. 20; $200 for Nov. 6; *$400 for July 17; $600 for Oct. 16; $700 for Sept. 8 and 25.
*Go Ahead Tours is offering a special $500 discount exclusively for Budget Travel and msnbc.com readers off one summer departure, July 17, 2008, which reduces the $3,379 typical rate to $2,879 per person.
Gateways: Boston, D.C., New York City; add $145 for Atlanta; $160 for Detroit, Miami; $190 for St. Louis; $215 for L.A.; and $240 for Seattle; additional cities available.
The fine print: Fuel surcharges, hotel service charges and tips, local taxes, entrance fees, and airport transfers are included. Price does not include estimated departure tax of $105 per person. The promo code for the special $500 discount on the July 17 trip is 701146. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $405. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: Based on availability; special discount on the July 17 trip is good only for bookings made by May 15, 2008.
Contact: Go Ahead Tours, 888/462-4323, goaheadtours.com.
Why it's a deal: In this package, you'll fly into Barcelona and out of Madrid. A Kayak search produced a round-trip, multicity fare of $600 from Boston in early December on Lufthansa. So for $1,879 more, you'll receive 10 nights' accommodations and taxes, some meals, travel within Spain, and sightseeing tours and entrance fees. To better appreciate the savings, consider that booking the accommodations by yourself takes time, and you often don't get as good a rate as a tour operator can negotiate (for example, the Catalonia Berna hotel in Barcelona for two nights will cost you more than $500 per room). Secondly, locking in these rates in U.S. dollars now—the same goes for the guided sightseeing, entrance fees, and meals—will save you money, as the package price was fixed several months ago, when the dollar was stronger than it is today and than it may be when you actually take the trip. Plus, there's the benefit of one-stop shopping.
Trip details: The Barcelona and Northern Spain escorted tour will let you experience three days in vibrant Barcelona, followed by a weeklong jaunt in the northern countryside.
After arriving in Barcelona on your overnight flight on Lufthansa, Delta, or Iberia, you'll be treated to an included dinner, where you can get to know your tour group. Your home base for two nights will be the 124-room Catalonia Berna hotel, classified as a historic monument and perfectly situated in central Barcelona, near landmarks like Old Town and Plaza Catalunya.
Your guided sightseeing tour of the city (by air-conditioned deluxe motor coach) will hit major attractions like La Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family), Parque Gaell and La Pedrera, works by famous architect Antoni Gaudí. You'll also be able to stroll through the Gothic quarter, an area known for architectural brilliance (and it's something of a melting pot—modern sculptures can be found next to buildings of the Roman era).
The next day, you'll begin your trek through northern Spain. You'll travel to Montserrat, a pilgrimage site, and then on to Zaragoza, once the seat of the ancient civilization of Aragón. After your sightseeing tour ends, you'll stay at the Catalonia Zaragoza Plaza hotel for one evening and enjoy an included dinner. Zaragoza is another pilgrimage site rich in legend. The story goes that Virgin Mary told St. James, patron saint of Spain, to build a church here.
For the next two days, you'll continue to travel through northern Spain, with stops in Pamplona, famous for the annual running of the bulls, for a walking tour and San Sebastián, on the Bay of Biscay in the Basque region. You'll stay for two nights at the 162-room Hotel Silken Amara Plaza, where you'll have dinner and can relax at the piano bar. You can also unwind at the beach, just a five-minute walk from the hotel.
Your second day of visiting San Sebastián will begin with a morning tour. The area is known for its beautiful beach and swanky vibe—it was once an exclusive resort for Spanish royalty and is still a playground for the wealthy. You will also take a two-hour walking tour with a scenic climb up Monte Urgull.
The next two days will take you farther into Spain. You'll head to the Santillana del Mar region along Spain's Costa Verde, or Green Coast, and into Bilbao. In Bilbao, see the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, renowned for its collection of art from the mid-20th century to the present, and take a walking tour of the Old Town. After an included dinner, you'll stay at the 32-room Hotel Altamira, a charming residence in a central location, which will aid you on your next day at your leisure.
After a morning visit to the Altamira Museum, you'll head toward Oviedo by way of Comillas. In Oviedo, you'll stay at the 118-room Tryp Oviedo, located near a shopping center, and partake in an included dinner. This ancient town has a medieval flavor and has been meticulously preserved.
On the last leg of your trip, you'll go to Santiago de Compostela, another important pilgrimage destination. Here you'll spend two nights in the Lugo Avenue Hotel Husa Ciudad de Compostela, close to all the action in the heart of Santiago de Compostela (for those of you who need a little retail therapy, the hotel is next to the Fontiñas leisure-shopping district). You'll also be treated to dinner and a sightseeing tour, and will visit St. James's burial site. Santiago is known for its seafood, so take the opportunity of a free evening to savor the local cuisine.
The next day, you'll board your included flight to Madrid, where you'll stay at the Catalonia Hotel A Gaudi and partake in a farewell dinner. You can take the optional two-night add-on in Madrid beginning at $369.
Summer is high season for travel in Spain, so if you choose to book the summer departure with the special $500 discount, you can expect crowds and hot weather; July is Spain's warmest month, with high temperatures in the 80s. If you go with the lowest-priced departure, $2,479 for early December, you can expect temperatures in the 50s Fahrenheit. The higher regions (like Madrid) can get colder than that, and the rainy season is in October and November.
Keep in mind that for part of the trip, namely the stop in San Sebastián, you'll be traveling through the Basque area, which is the seat of a separatist movement. For more information on safety and travel to Spain, see the U.S. State Department's travel fact sheet.
For more tips on what to do, visit Barcelona's official tourism site.