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5 week Spain itinerary....comments, input, additions?

My husband and I are mapping out our upcoming trip to Spain, and after much research, have got a rough draft. Now we need to fine tune it and would like some assistance. Does it sound good...what may be missing....too many/not enough nights? We do prefer to base ourselves in an apartment/house somewhere and do day trips in some places....don't like "1 night stands", if possible! But we do want to see as much as possible, without racing around! (Our idea of hell is a 14 day tour of All of Spain!!) So here's what we have so far:
Fly into Barcelona.......5 nights (day trip to Montserrat)
Train to San Sebastian......5 nights (day trip to St Jean de Luz....have Basque relatives from that area)
Train to Madrid......5 nights (day trip with rental car to Segovia, Avila, El Escorial)
Train to Toledo.....2 nights
Rental car to Granada.......3 nights
Rental car to either Ronda or Arcos......6-7 nights (day trips to other white villages, undetermined which ones yet)
Rental car to Seville..........5 nights (dropping rental car off before entering Seville!)
Train to Cordoba.....2 nights
Train to Madrid.......1 night Fly home from Madrid

Any suggestions/additions/subtractions, ideas would be appreciated. Keep in mind this is a ROUGH draft and we are aware that there is a lot more work in the details!!!

Posted by
14930 posts

When are you going? Different times of year make different places more (or less) desirable.

Some thoughts:

6-7 nights in the pueblos blancos sounds like a lot to me. I found Ronda to be a good base to tootle around for 3-4 days to tootle around the beautiful hills and see some of the much smaller villages. In the summer, Ronda is very popular and may not be as enjoyable or a good base. I was there in February and loved it. Even then there was a goodly number of tourists.

Granada is not a place to have a rental car. You won't want to drive in the city and parking is expensive. Try to work out getting to Granada by bus or train, then rent a car to visit the pueblos blancos and return it in Seville or Jerez.

Jerez is interesting and a good base for a day trip to Arcos (by bus) and a day trip to Cadiz (by train).

Posted by
195 posts

Thank you, Chani, for your input. We, most likely will be traveling in April/May. Would you think, then, that basing in Ronda for 4 nights and then maybe in Cadiz for 3 would be a better plan? The white villages intrigue me, in much the same way as villages in Tuscany and Provence did, but perhaps there aren't as many differences between the white villages? One of the reasons we like to base ourselves in a village is to avoid all the daytrippers and enjoy the village at night and early morning. Perhaps another village as a base would be better??? What about basing in Arcos??

We were thinking to DRIVE to Granada (and park the car for our stay there.....we know not to drive in the cities!!) so as to avoid the backtracking on the train (the schedule seems to be Toledo>Madrid>Granada and takes almost 6 hours...driving seems to take about 3 1/2 hours, plus we could stop along the way). But I will check on the bus schedule...hadn't thought of the bus. I did locate a nice appearing hotel that offers free, or reasonable, parking in Granada, though.

Posted by
2652 posts

Hi Donna,

I do understand your wish to pack as much as possible... so nothing to say here. But I'd like to entice you to consider spending more days in Catalonia. You see, Catalonia is much more than Barcelona, there are plenty to see and do in the region, so allow me to point you to a couple of websites for you to 'reconsider' ;)

www.catalunya.com

... and since we're talking about Barcelona, my city, these should also be a good reference for you:

www.turismedebarcelona.com and www.timeout.com/barcelona

Enjoy!

Posted by
195 posts

Thank you, Mary and Enric....As a matter of fact, we are now thinking of adding at least a couple of day trips from Barcelona and extending a few days to the 5 we already had planned! Girona, Pubol, Figueras, and Besalu have all come highly recommended! Yes, we are trying to squeeze a lot in, but there is always so much to see and do and absorb!! We DO NOT like moving every day, hence the day trips from selected bases. Thank you both for the provided links.

Posted by
1501 posts

Do at least day trip to Nerja. The Balcon de Europa is spectacular. Sweet little town, nice beaches, great cafes/restaurants.

Posted by
195 posts

Thank you to all.....I have heard good things about Nerja, so we may add that as a stopover from Grenada, Donna...glad for the recommendation. And, yes, we will have the rental car in Granada, but I found a hotel that has free parking and looks nice. If that doesn't work out, there are also a few that have paid parking of 15 euros a day so not too bad. We didn't want to do the backtrack on the train from Toledo to Madrid to Granada so hence the car pickup in Toledo. If not for the backtrack, we would have taken the train to Granada and picked up the car as we were leaving there.

Posted by
195 posts

Oh, and, yes, I have heard that Barcelona is expensive, but we are traveling with another couple and renting an apartment which helps on hotel costs and there is NO WAY we could go to Spain and not go to Barcelona!! So we will just grin and bear it!!

Posted by
2652 posts

Not going to enter into the never ending discussion about expensive/inexpensive since this is always related (a) to your budget and, most importantly, (b) to your expectations.

But I'll simply give you some random figures for you to have an idea for your trip to Barcelona: average 3-course meal at lunchtime $18, same at dinner $30, ticket to main tourists sites $10-40, a beer/refreshment $5, fast-food menu $9, 4-star hotel $100-150 (depending on the hotel and the dates of course!), bus ticket $3, bus 10-journey pass $14, ho-ho bus 1 day $30, taxi to/from airport $50, cinema ticket $12... for some more: http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/city_result.jsp?country=Spain&city=Barcelona&displayCurrency=USD

Posted by
14930 posts

Nailing down logistics is the worst part of the planning, isn't it! April/May is a great time. I'd start in Andalusia, before it gets hot. Can you fly into Seville? Leave from Barcelona?

On my trip, I flew into Madrid and took the train to Cordoba, then Seville, then Jerez. From there I rented a car for the pueblos blancos to Granada, where I dropped the car, then the train to Madrid (the end of my trip). From there you could go to Toledo, then (via Madrid) San Sebastian, Barcelona and home.

More details:

I loved Cordoba in the evenings (I had 2). Aside from the Mezquita (a real WOW), my faves were a horse show and the guided tour to Medinat Al-Zahara (buy tickets at a TI - the guide is optional, worth the extra few euros).

I think 5 nights in Seville is too much. Maximum 4, 3 may be enough. Don't bother with going out to Italica. It's far and there's little to see.

Jerez was a good base for me (thanks muchly to Brad who helped me so much in planning the trip). It's an easy day trip to Arcos by bus and to Cadiz by train (a day trip is definitely enough for Cadiz). There are some interesting sights in Jerez itself - the Royal Spanish Equestrian School (Escuela Ecuestre) is there and do go to a daytime show if possible (they are only one or two days a week). It's also the place where sherry is made. There are several bodegas that offer tours without appointments - Tio Pepe is the most fun. It's also the flamenco capital of Spain (the world?), so a good place to see a show.

Back Roads Spain (a DK Eyewitness guide) has excellent directions for multi-day driving tours through parts of Spain, including the pueblos blancos. Some of them are tiny places that you will spend 2-4 hours in. Some are good for overnight stays. I preferred to stay in one place (Ronda) and spend more time driving than to change hotels every night. PS - driving through the mountains is easy (if you've ever driven in mountains) - the roads are good and the views are spectacular, but driving in the little towns is challenging (and I used to drive in San Francisco). The streets are very narrow, very steep, and the corners are sharp.

On the way to Granada (by car), there are two stops I'd recommend. There's the "pink lagoon" at Fuente de Piedra. It's called that because in the spring there are thousands of flamingos there. I went in February and there were only a hundred or so. I hear that by April there are so many, you can't see the water. A good place to stop for a night or two is Antequerra, definitely worth a full day's sightseeing. From Granada, take either the bus or the train to Madrid. Both are comfortable. I chose the train because the time worked better for me. From the Madrid trian station, you can go straight to Toledo for a couple of nights (frequent trains, ~ 1/2 hour ride). Consider leaving some of your luggage at the train station until you return (no reason to schlep it for 2 nights).

Posted by
11857 posts

We did similar, the month of April beginning in Barcelona and ending in Madrid. I did a trip report called Spain: Clean toilets, affordable lodging (sorry the title isn't very appealing) here. You may find it useful.

We started in Barcelona on the last day of March. Easter was the first week of April in 2012 and we spent most of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Barcelona. This was a mistake. Barcelona does less for Semana Santa than anywhere in Spain (read George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" if you're interested in a good historical context), so I'd try to plan Holy Week elsewhere.

We picked up a car in Barcelona (a short walk from our hostal off the Ramblas). We bring only one carry-on each, so a compact, diesel with standard transmission is my first choice. The gas mileage is beyond amazing (better than 50 miles to a gallon). We drove first to Montserrat. It was nice to see but rained so we didn't do any hiking.

From there we drove to Zaragosa. We were there Holy Thursday and the processions were amazing, hundreds of drums along with the normal procession floats. This was one of the best travel experiences of my life, very local, very friendly, very affordable lodging. My biggest problem was getting to our hotel with so many street closures for the processions (which went all day and all night).

We drove north to Pamplona, a decent look around but a really subdued Good Friday procession compared to what we'd seen the night before. On the way to Pamplona, however, we stopped to see a castle in Olite (maybe 30 minutes driving distance before Pamplona). This is a great castle visit. I highly recommend it. It's not a ruin but isn't furnished - which means you get free reign of the place. A good handheld guide gives you an idea of what the castle would have been like when the Kings of Navarre lived there.

From Pamplona we visited San Sebastian (Donostia to the locals). I like the place but it's definitely best experienced during the high summer months. It was mostly cold and rainy in April - we could have skipped it and come back during a summer trip through the Basque region.

After Donostia, we drove through the Rioja region - staying in Burgos, Valladolid, and Salamanca. Around Valldolid are some of the best castles La Mota, Coca and Penafiel. We visited all three.

From Salamanca, we visited Avila, Segovia, and Toledo (we bypassed Madrid until the end of our trip).

After Toledo we headed south. We drove through Consuegra, then to Belmonte Castle, and down to Valdepenas. I'd skip Consuegra, stop in Aranjuez instead then down to Belmonte and Valdepenas. Consuegra is neat because it has a small castle as well as old windmills. The area's hills are dotted with the old windmills, however, so you don't need to visit Consuegra to see them and Belmonte is by far a better castle visit.

We totally missed Cuenca. It just wasn't convenient to our itinerary. I wish I could have included it.

We stopped in Jaen before going to Granada. We could have skipped it. We went because it's supposed to have great Arab baths - which were closed for rennovations.

Granada was great. We travel without reservations - only a rough idea of where and when we'll be - which made Granada a little tough. I ended up with my fourth choice of lodging (from a list prepared ahead of our trip) - this is the only time we had something other than our first choice. It was also awkward seeing the Alhambra. Without reservations or Rick's advice about how to see Alhambra without advance reservations, we might not have seen it (Rick's book was worth the money for this advice alone). A Sambra performance in a cave-home was another highlight.

From Granada, we made a short stop in Antequera to see the passage tombs and museum (free and worth a stop) before visiting Ronda, Granada and Tarifa. All of these were good choices IMO.

After Tarifa. we headed back north (to be continued)...

Posted by
11857 posts

From Tarifa, we first stopped at Claudia-Baello ruins. This is a nice ruin to see because it's right on the ocean. It also has a great museum (and costs only about a euro to visit). From there we drove north and stopped in Chiclana de la Frontera. I was worried there wouldn't be much available lodging along the Costa de la Luz. If doing it again, I would stop in Conil de la Frontera instead; Chiclana was big enough to be like a piece of the California coast.

Cadiz was a disappointment. Arguably the oldest city in Europe, founded by the Phoenicians, it's run down and doesn't have many sights (apparently it's known for it's Carnival celebrations). I would plan a day-stop only.

Jerez was a pleasant surprise. It's the only place in Spain with open public tours of Bodegas (here it's Sherry). We visited Tio Peppe (I think officially Gonzalez-Byass) then Osborne. We skipped Arcos (Ronda was the substitute) and went to Sevilla.

Sevilla's April Fair is another outstanding cultural experience. I'd strongly suggest timing your visit to see it for at least a couple of days. The cathedral, alcazar and surrounding quarter are really nice in Sevilla. A Flamenco performance is another must see here.

From Sevilla we drove north to Cordoba. The mesquita, surrounding quarter, including a very old synogogue were well worth a visit. On Rick's advice we skipped the Alcazar, so can't tell you how it is. We dropped our car in Cordoba and trained to Madrid to finish our trip.

Madrid was my least favorite place. It's newer than any European city and has no real architectural or historical treasures to speak of. We loved the Prado, a world class art museum, and liked the Temple Debod. There are also nice green spaces compared to most European capitals. Lodging was less appealing and more expensive here than all but Barcelona and San Sebastian, food was also generally less appealing and more expensive. I never recommend anyone stay in Madrid and do daytrips - rather stay outside Madrid to enjoy better food and lodging at better prices and take a day trip or two into the city.

The 31-day trip was like a big figure eight. We had originally thought about including Portugal but dropped it because it's not easy to travel between the two countries, and there is so much to see and do in Spain. Portugal will wait for another trip.

Posted by
195 posts

Such fabulous information and ideas to ponder!! Thank you so much!! Yes, Chani, the logistics are the issue right now...but it will all come together, thanks to all of you!! I had considered flying into Madrid (Seville isn't an option, we are using mileage....no flights available) and out of Barcelona, but it wasn't working well. I'm going to do some more research on everything that has been mentioned and rework the itinerary though. It is always helpful to get other's opinions and advice and I so appreciate you all taking the time to give your input. Brad, I will check out your trip report...it will be helpful, I am sure, and thanks for what you posted...we hadn't thought of that itinerary. We, too, always travel with only carryon luggage and rent small, manual, diesel cars and have driven MANY mountain roads (used to live in Lake Tahoe!) so none of that should be a problem. We do, however, prefer to have accomodations reserved (don't want to spend any valuable time searching for "room at the inn") and will do whatever prebooking tickets is necessary (the Alhambra, for sure). You have all given me much food for thought......need to get it all sorted out. Thank you all so very much. If any further thoughts occur, please do let me know!!!!

Posted by
11857 posts

Donna,

When I was 21, I attended CSU Sacramento and worked a summer at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. We rented a condo on Tramway. Later got married at the Love Chapel at the base of of the hill in Stateline (I don't think it's still there).

The driving in Spain was surprisingly easy. The roads are good, the signage logical and there's very little traffic. We had a few problems with our GPS, one day started us going the wrong direction and another day wanted us to go the wrong way down a one-way street (and wouldn't compute a detour) but overall easy is the best description.

Posted by
195 posts

Ah, Brad, so you are familiar with Tahoe and surrounding mountain roads!! Small world, huh? Now in Virginia, a beautiful state.

Thanks for the input re driving....my husband (who does all the driving) finds driving in any foreign country (in Australia....a motor home for 3 weeks) a real joy!! He has actually been known to want to completely change the itinerary of a trip so as to allow more driving!! Our last trip, he was disappointed when I vetoed driving from Amsterdam to Prague and insisted on the train!!! So as you can see, he is all for as much driving as possible on the trip to Spain!

We are now considering driving (he may win yet!) from San Sebastian to Segovia, Salamanca, Toledo, Caceres, Merida, Cordoba, Ronda, (use a base for some of the white villages, then to Seville (returning the car upon entry). Then taking the train to Granada and on to Madrid for our final few days. This all after spending up to 7 nights in Barcelona. I really hate 1 night stands and am pondering which is a better base.....Segovia or Salamanca or possibly Caceres. The distances between don't seem to be far. I haven't had the chance to do too much research yet, but have read your trip report. It sounds like you used a few of the towns mentioned as a base for a few days, but which ones? Toledo, Cordoba, Ronda, Seville, Granada, and Madrid will all be for at least 2-3 nights, but what about the others? I also know that between SS and Segovia, we will have brief stops (castles, etc) Any suggestions?

Posted by
195 posts

Hi, Wonderful......not sure what you were meaning by "this is the part of the trip that you should drop, this is way of your run from north to south Spain (which I like)....are you referring to the SS to Segovia part? We are aware of the 4.5 hour drive but are thinking of making a few stops along the way, and not taking the Autovia, but doing some of the side roads. Segovia looks very appealing!! I just wasn't sure what you were suggesting. As for a return to Spain, that isn't likely since we already have so many "return to" on our list!! But I get your point about trying to cram in too much so I will review what we now have. We have nothing less than 2 nights (most are 3-5 nights) for any stop, but a lot of "stop along the way" places and day trips penciled in right now. The other thing we are considering is that we live in the west of the U.S. and a 4.5 hour drive is nothing to us!!! We do like to stop along the way, though!

Posted by
14930 posts

Donna, give my itinerary another think. You could fly into Madrid airport, then take the train to Cordoba, continue through Andalusia first by train, then by car ending in Granada, where you'd return the car. Then train or bus to Madrid/Toledo, then figure out the rest of the itinerary, ending in Barcelona. Or you could start in Toledo for a couple of nights, then Cordoba etc.

I planned a 21-day trip just to Andalusia so I would be able to check it off my list. After a week, I knew I'd be back (loved Spain more than Italy) and here I am planning a return visit that will be just 2 years after the first.

A car is useless in towns like Seville, Cordoba and even Granada. You will just park it and pay for it. Jerez could be a good place to spend 2-4 nights, with or without a car, to explore nearby places. Traffic in Madrid's center can be painfully slow, so if you are planning to keep a car for day trips from there, you may want to stay outside with center. Remind your husband that the high-speed trains travel at faster speeds than cars as well as not having traffic delays.

Posted by
14930 posts

More thoughts. Go to the Trip Advisor Spain forum. Among the "top Questions" (upper right side of page) there's one about trains and one about driving. Both are well worth reading. You can save a great deal of money by buying train tickets well in advance. You can also use the train's website (renfe.com) in planning (schedules, prices, etc.).

Posted by
195 posts

Chani, you are so very helpful and I do appreciate all the input from you, and everyone else, as well!! Based on some further research, and knowing we have more to do, we have come up with a slightly different itinerary. Yes, my husband is aware of the fast trains and ease of taking them...he just has his heart set on driving for at least SOME of this trip. I will look into the tripadvisor site that you mentioned for comparisons, though. Also I have used the rome2rio site which is helpful in comparing travel times. We love Roman ruins so decided to add a few stops to see them. And I am studying whether we can flip the itinerary to begin in Andulucia, but not sure yet whether it is feasible for several reasons. For now, the latest itinerary is

Fly into Barcelona.........6 nights 2 day trips (car rental each day or train) one to Girona, Baselu, Cadaques and one to Montserrat apt rental
Train to San Sebastian........5 nights 1 day trip (car or private tour) to St Jean de Luz and Lourdes apt rental
Drive to Burgos ..........1 night stop stops along the way
Drive to Segovia...........2 nights

Drive to Toledo............3 nights several stops along the way (I think Avila, El Escorial, and another place, can't remember)
Drive to Caceres.........2 nights

Drive to Cordoba........2 nights stop in Merida
Drive to Ronda, Arcos, Antequera, base in 1 for 4 nights visit Jerez, Zahara, Grazalema, maybe others, maybe not all
Drop car in Seville........... 4 nights apt rental
Train to Granada........ 3 nights
Train to Madrid...........4 nights
I'm basing the nights in each place during the "car" time for driving, arriving in the afternoon or evening, allowing a day to explore the area, and then another night, then leaving for the next place. I know it is a lot of moving, but still only 1 "one night stand". And, you are right, we MAY return to Spain, but then again, we may decide to return to Italy, Greece, France, Australia (LOL!)....who knows. Does this itinerary seem any better, or does it seem to disjointed? I was using Brad's itinerary for some of our ideas, and also wanted to add Segovia (thought about Salamanca, too, but decided Segovia seemed more appealing). We are far more interested in small towns/villages and we love to wander in them. Am even thinking that 4 nights in Madrid may be 1 more than we want!! Any thoughts on this revised itinerary?

Posted by
2652 posts

Hi Donna,

Food for thought:
1.) As a general rule of thumb, avoid having a car while in a major city, it's difficult to park and expensive.

2.) We have a high speed train network called AVE (http://bit.ly/1uTqLVy) that 'flies' you at speeds nearing 200 mph between many major cities. When available to your particular destination it's far more easy and convenient than a car. Having said that, a car allows you of course to tour 'everything in between' which is often also very recommended.

Choices from Barcelona:
To Girona: AVE (40') or regular commuting service (90')
To Besalú: bus service
To Cadaqués: there's a bus service but for this one I'd recommend a car to tour the area
To Montserrat: regular train+cable car or regular train+rack train... this is the traditional way to go to Montserrat to spend the day and it's worth doing it this way to get the 'full experience'

Posted by
14930 posts

Donna, you're route seems a little disjointed to me. Invest in a decent map of Spain and a few different colored highlighters. Then plot out your itinerary, then work on it. For instance, Antequera is about halfway between Ronda and Granada. It makes more sense to me to continue to Granada and return the car there.

Posted by
195 posts

Enric....we are aware of the AVE train, but it doesn't seem to go several of the places we want to visit. And, yes, we are trying for the "see things in between" sort of thing! For the Girona, Besalu, Cadaques area, we were planning on the car for the day so as to see some of the countryside, but Montserrat was going to be the train...I wasn't clear on that. We were attempting to organize the itinerary so as to minimize having the car in large cities....in all cases we would be parking for the duration of the stay in the town. Just using the car as a way to get there easily. Would you suggest a shift in the order of places visited?

Chani.....yes, we do have a good map, I think....the Michelin Spain one, but having Granada after Seville allowed for us to just drop the car in Seville and continue the final portion by train. Are you suggesting to do Granada after Ronda, etc and then taking the train to Seville? We are also trying to eliminate the need to go back to Madrid between each city on the train, hence the Toledo backtrack from Segovia (Segovia>Toledo>Caceres). We are still considering flipping the entire itinerary, flying into Madrid and out of Barcelona. It does appear to be disjointed somewhat, but not sure where to adjust. With the car we have more freedom, but know it could be an issue in the cities.

Posted by
513 posts

Donna,

When you are in Barcelona and making day trips to the surrounding area, you should surely consider the short jaunt, either by train or car, to visit Tarragona. This is especially true as you have indicated a great interest in things Roman and Roman ruins. Tarragona, once the Roman capital of the region, has some of the best Roman sites anywhere in Spain, including an awesome arena that many consider the best in Spain. Also, while you are in the Madrid area you should consider a day trip to Segovia (30 minutes by train) to see, among other sites, the Roman aquaduct there.

Posted by
195 posts

Thanks, Jack......we will certainly add Terragona to our list!! We are planning to stay in Segovia for 2 nights on the "road trip" part of our itinerary. It looks like a wonderful, interesting city!!