I’ve been to Barcelona four times. And every time I’ve walked around and peered at the sand-castle-like exterior of the unusually gorgeous Sagrada Familia cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi.
But I’ve never been inside. Why?
Because the queue to get in has always been too long, snaking around the building, full of fanny-packing, sandal-and-socks wearing, camera-toting tourists fresh off the tour bus.
Usually, by the time I got to Barcelona, finished my meetings and decided to take on the town, it was too late. Online advance bookings for the cathedral were long gone. And there was no way I was going to stand in that line.
So I missed out on seeing one of the most beautiful sights in this beautiful city.
But my latest trip to Barcelona was different.
Instead of coming on my own, I came along as a guest of Monograms, a company that offers a new type of travel package for people like me who: 1) are too busy to make intricate plans and prefer to rely on the opinion of local experts, 2) are independent-minded and enjoy taking in a new city at their own pace, avoiding the tourist throngs, and 3) like to save money.
How does that work? Well, Monograms is part of the giant Globus group– you’ve likely seen the ads in the Sunday paper and the big busses and tour groups, I’m sure.
But this is not a big bus, group tour.
What Monograms does is allow you to hang around on the fringes of those big Globus tours and get all the advantages without being part of the group.
Those on Monograms tours get access to things like private tours and line-cutting privileges at popular, overcrowded attractions. This is especially valuable if going to Europe during what’s expected to be a hot, crowded summer– who wants to wait in line?
When I was there, my Monograms guide walked us in the side door of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. We breezed past the line snaking through the Barrio Gotico for a mesmerizing private tour of the Picasso Museum, and strolled right past the line at Gaudi’s famous Casa Batllo to soak up the amazing and unusual interior.
As a matter of fact, we saw all three of these popular attractions in one day– try doing that on your own.
After that, I was free to roam around the city on my own… doing what I like to do, which is touring brand new, business class hotels.. my two favorites: The Cotton House (Marriott Autograph Collection) which just opened in February and the Mercer Barcelona (unrelated to the one in NYC) built inside the walls of 2,000 year old Roman ruins.
Monograms had a local guide with office hours in the lobby of our hotel. She helped me determine which hotels were newest (by calling her contact at the city’s convention bureau), and then helped put together a map with the most efficient walking route between each one. So instead of just wandering around aimlessly, I had a solid plan and saw exactly what I wanted to…with the help of a local expert. Plus I found out where to find some of the best tapas in town afterwards.
Speaking of hotels, Monograms offers the bulk buying power of Globus to get deeply discounted rates at 3-4 star hotels. The hotel they chose for us in Barcelona, the Catalonia Ramblas (4-stars on TripAdvisor), is centrally located, offers fast and free wi-fi, big rooms and the most amazing breakfast buffet in town– all included in the rate. Transfers to and from the airport cost an extra $35. They also negotiated a special rate for a first class seat on the high speed rail trip between Barcelona and Madrid, including hotel transfers on both ends.
So you end up with the best of all worlds with this product– lower prices, exclusive access and local knowledge. Yes, you do end up rubbing elbows with the fanny packers… that can’t be avoided, but for the most part, you are truly on your own…but with a helping hand when needed.
Monograms‘ all-inclusive packages offer good value, too. For example, a four-day package in Barcelona, which includes 3 nights at the Catalonia Ramblas hotel (which I really liked), breakfast, VIP tours and access to the local host starts at $890 per person (double occupancy) or $1,200 for a single traveler. Three nights at the hotel alone booked on Expedia runs about $1200. Monograms can book air, too. Or you can take care of that on your own or with your frequent flyer miles.
Here’s Monograms’ pitch….it’s fun to watch and tells a good story about how all this works:
Disclosure: I was a guest of Monograms Travel on this trip
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Delta’s first class fare sale + Aircraft size and flight delays + First class summer fare sales+ Chris’s summer travel outlook + United’s plans for LAX overhaul + Hertz’s fleet renewal