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6 week Itinerary - Spain & Portugal

My husband and I are travelling to Spain for 6 week beginning Sept 2021 starting in Madrid with a rental car and returning to Madrid.
We are especially interested in Extremadura and the White Hill Towns. My thought is to stay in Seville for a week and use it as a base for day trips. Is it a good base city for visiting the Hill Towns? Also, was is a good base town for Extremadura. I am looking at Caceres but other suggestions would be great. Also, other ideas for staying for a week or so. We are hoping to take one of the bike trips on Via Verdes. Any suggestions as to which one, bike rentals, etc.

Our thought is to concentrate on Central/Southwest Spain with a side trip to Portugal and skipping Northern Spain pretty much.
Any thoughts on Northern Spain and the Galicia Coast? We have already spent a lot of time in Barcelona and Mallorca, so not going there.
Other imput on must do, must see appreciate. We both love cities and cobblestoned villages, museums, food, hiking, bird watching, swimming, and "off the beaten path" types of places. what should we not miss in Portugal as well.
Thoughts on car rental vs. trains/busses.

Posted by
1976 posts

My experience is limited to Andalucia and Basque country. I'd stay in Sevilla (using train and bus for day trips to places convenient to do so, like Cordoba, Jerez, etc.) and take full advantage of the city. Then I'd stay somewhere smaller for your white town exploration-by-car part--mostly to make it easier to come and go without having to deal with parking, driving somewhere more challenging, etc. If you don't fancy staying in a small village, Ronda is a midsized city that does not feel like one in the old town.
Look at hiking around Grazalema. Beaches near Vejer de la Frontera looked nice.
There is a park near Cadiz called Donana you might look into for birding.
I like your plan and time frame, good luck!

Posted by
18700 posts

Andalucia is a very large region, and I don't think it's best seen from a single base, or even from two bases if you want to see a bunch of different cities/towns/villages. You'll spend a heckuva lot of time traveling back and forth and not so much time sightseeing. You can use ViaMichelin.com to estimate driving times, but understand that they do not include stopping, traffic tie-ups, getting lost or searching for parking.

There's nothing wrong with a week in Seville, but I wouldn't use it as a base for the white hill towns; nor would I want to use a car while in the city. Who needs the hassle of driving in and out of a major city through all that traffic? Although I spent several nights in Cordoba and recommend that to others, it is true that you can day-trip from Seville to Cordoba (I'd have needed to do it twice). You can travel by fast train from Seville to Cordoba in just 42 to 45 min. ViaMichelin.com estimates the driving time at a minimum of 1 hr. 47 min.

Jerez (sherry and horses) is also possible as a day-trip from Seville. For me, there's a lot less to see there than in Cordoba, but I don't like sherry! Train time would be 55 to 65 min. ViaMichelin estimates the shortest driving time at 69 min. Historic Cadiz, which is beyond Jerez and on the coast, is estimated as a 1 hr. 23 min. drive but takes longer by train.

I side-tripped from Seville to the white town of Carmona (not one of those most often mentioned) by bus, so I know it could be done by car if one wanted to.

The white villages most people want to visit lie between Jerez and the larger white town of Ronda. Some people stay in Ronda, but I don't see why you couldn't stay in Jerez if you wanted to (and then you could day-trip to Cadiz as well). But a better solution for those with a car, I think, is to hit the white villages as you drive from the Seville/Jerez/Cadiz corridor to Granada or Malaga. It is absolutely possible to visit Grazalema and Arcos de la Frontera without a car; it just will not be as efficient if you have to depend on buses. Ronda has some rail service.

I think Caceres is the most attractive city in Extremadura. I day-tripped from there to Trujillo, I think by bus. Merida (Roman ruins and museum but otherwise not exciting) was far enough away that I spent a couple of nights there rather than trying to day-trip.

I love northern Spain, but I visited the north coast (Galicia to the Basque Country) in the summer, when it provided a wonderful break from the heat elsewhere in Spain and much of Europe. You will have no trouble filling your time south of Madrid. Places you haven't mentioned (aside from Cordoba and Granada) that are worth considering are Ubeda, Baeza and Jaen in northern Andalucia and a slew of great destinations around Madrid: Toledo (worth multiple nights), Segovia, Cuenca (much, much faster by train than by car; it's not a day-trip by car), Salamanca and the nearly-suburban town of Alcala de Henares. There are other options.

I'm a big fan of public transportation and have never rented a car in Europe, but it's not very easy to move between Spain and Portugal by bus or train. I'd recommend roughing out an itinerary and then thinking about what would be the appropriate means (singular or plural) of transportation for the trip.

Posted by
3122 posts

With a rental car there’s no reason to have a base for more than 2 or 3 nights. Generally speaking, the roads in Spain are in good condition and well marked. With good planning you can establish a route where you’d avoid all the back and forth traveling from the base to wherever you’re day tripping. Since you’re sticking mainly to SW Andalucia and Extremadura you should easily be able to keep you daily travel time down to less than 90 minutes. Many off the beaten path sights don’t take long to see and many can be seen in a day. With good planning, you can visit some between your bases and they break up the drive. Sevilla to Cordoba will take about 1.5 hours to drive while to Jerez de la Frontera would be about an hour.

There are a number of vias verde paths throughout the country. Once you have a more firm itinerary look at ones in the areas you’ll be visiting. The link is to the English brochure of paths: http://www.viasverdes.com/pdf/FolletoGreenwawys2016.pdf. Many towns also have their own paths that go around them as well as paths not part of the Vias Verdes system. For the White Towns, I’d use Ronda as a base to see them and some other nearby towns e.g., Sentenil de las Bodegas.

Sevilla is a pain to drive in on a good day, let alone trying to find one of the public parking lots. I’d stay in Sevilla to visit Sevilla, but would find a smaller town to use as a base. Last time I parked in Sevilla (a garage near the cathedral) it cost 15€-20€ per day.

Northern Spain and Galicia are fantastic. Places I liked include Santiago de Compostela, Lugo, Ponferrada, Leon, Zamora, O Cebreiro, Playa de las Catedrales, Muxia, and Castro de Santa Trega. Using Lugo as a base, if inclined you could bike a portion of the Camino de Santiago that passes through Lugo.

Personally, I’d leave Portugal for another trip as there are enough things to do and see where you’re going for the time you’ve allotted.

Posted by
405 posts

Ideas for Extremadura- a wonderful and often overlooked destination.
My three recommended must sees - Cáceres, Trujillo and Guadalupe. Each of those three is very different and rewarding. If you have the opportunity to do so, stay a night in Trujillo. I thought the Plaza Mayor was eerie and almost spooky at nighttime. If you want to see Roman ruins, consider those in Mérida, otherwise skip Mérida. Relatively near Cáceres, (most are north to northeast of Cáceres) there are many small attractive rural mountain towns: Plasencia, Hervas, Bejar, La Alberca, Miranda di Castañar, Granadilla, San Martín de Trevejo. Almendralejo, Mogarraz. Valle del Jerte has lots of nature activities, trails, waterfalls. I prefer exploring smaller towns and some of these I have not yet been to, but are on my wish list. Since you are planning on having a rental car, it will be easier to get around in these rural areas. If you are circling back to Madrid from this area, consider a stop in beautiful Salamanca.

Posted by
15 posts

I can only speak to major cities in Portugal, but Porto is absolutely wonderful. Lisbon is lovely too, but given the choice between them I would return to Porto. Reasonable minds can absolutely differ!

Posted by
930 posts

If it were me, I would stay in Ronda to visit the white hill towns not Sevilla. Sevilla is a good base to visit Cordoba though.
If I went to Extremadura, I would stay in Trujillo instead of Caceres. I would then take a day trip to Evora, Portugal from Trujillo.
I would also try to spend time in Granada which I prefer over Sevilla and Cordoba instead of northern Spain.

Posted by
18700 posts

I'll disagree about Caceres vs. Trujillo. Both are worth visiting, but it takes considerably more time to see the sights in Caceres, which has ten times the population of Trujillo (roughly 96,000 vs 9600). I'd rather stay in the place where there's more to see than day-trip to it from a small town. And Trujillo seemed super-quiet to me--though in fairness, I was probably there during the siesta period.

Posted by
14267 posts

First, consider the weather! Much of Spain is still very hot in September and even well into October, most especially Andalucia. You can see daily historical weather conditions here for the last 10 years for many cities. So I would leave Andalucia for last.

Madrid/Cordoba/Sevilla are best without a car. Driving in and out of these cities will eat time, never mind the difficulties and expense of parking in them. Cordoba is best as an overnight stay (even 2-3 nights) but it can be a day trip by train from Sevilla. Jerez is easily reached by train. Using it as a base you can day trip to Cadiz by train and to Arcos by bus. Then rent a car and head for the white hill towns. There are two ways to see the area - base in one or possibly 2 hill towns for several nights each and day trip to nearby places or do a string of one-nighters. The driving is pleasant (but remember you're driving in the mountains, so lots of curves) and scenic (with frequent pull-outs to admire the views).

I met a fellow from Bilbao who gave me this advice for a future trip (still to be taken): The best time of year for Basque and Galicia is Sept/Oct. It's best by car, but it's better to take the trian from Madrid to the north and pick up the car after 2-3 days in Bilbao.

Posted by
4803 posts

Spain’s big enough that we split it into a 3-week trip to the southern part, plus a visit to Portugal with a flight, then a second trip, 2 weeks, to Madrid/Vasque country/Barcelona. With 6 whole weeks you could cover more turf, or not go as fast.

Either way, in Portugal, be sure to spend time in and around Evora.

Back to Spain - When we arrived in Seville that first trip. trying to get to our hotel, after dodging an enormous, unnerving army of motorcycles and scooters that filled the streets, we found an expensive parking lot on the edge of town, and stationed the rental car there for three days, until we were ready to move on to the next place. Seville was a fantastic stay, but not with a car. We didn’t get to visit the Alcazar, as Charles, Prince of Wales, was visiting it, and it was closed to us commoners. So it’s still on the to-see list.

Next trip to Spain, October 2013, we had about a week in Madrid, then took the train to north to Bilbao, where we picked up a rental car. We headed east, to Basque country, but as Chani mentioned, you could head west to Galicia instead. I don’t know about Galicia weather in October, but we had some soggy, rainy days in the northeast.

Posted by
4818 posts

Six weeks should give you enough time to do Southern Spain, Extremadura and Portugal.

Seville is one of my favorite cities in Spain.

As for Galacia, if you do Porto and the Douro River Valley in Northern Portugal, you could easily do a day trip to Santiago de Compostela.

In Portugal, don't miss Lisbon, Evora, Sintra, Obidos, and Porto with Douro valley.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks for all the great suggestions. Now I have a more detailed framework.
One more question?
We would like to stay in a couple of cities or towns for more than a couple of nights up to a week.
I had mentioned Seville and Caceres as a couples of possibilities.
What city/town would you pick for a longer stay and why?
Including Northern Spain.

Posted by
18700 posts

Seville has a lot to see. I stayed there for six nights in 2019, taking two side-trips (Arcos de la Frontera and Carmona). I definitely could have stayed longer. I also based in Cordoba and Cadiz, so none of my Seville time was spent in those cities.

I think you'd end up doing a lot of driving if you spent a full week in Caceres.

Because of the huge number of top-class day-trip destinations, Madrid would also work. In fact, one could spend more than a week in Madrid. Note: I am not a great lover of Madrid-the-city and opted to spend multiple nights in Cuenca, Toledo, Segovia and Salamanca rather than making rushed day-trips to those cities from Madrid. For one thing, hotels are usually more expensive in Madrid (though Toledo isn't cheap).

Lisbon also has a lot to see, and the hills mean you don't cover ground as fast as you otherwise might. It would be good for a week with a few day-trips.

The cities in northern Spain are smaller, there's less high-speed rail service, and I don't know about driving times. In the Basque Country I much, much prefer Bilbao to the more-touristy San Sebastian, but I think SS is, on the whole, a more convenient base for Basque Country day-trips (you could probably also hop over the border to see a bit of the French Basque Country). I believe Vitoria-Gasteiz is more easily visited from Bilbao, however.

There are a lot of very interesting cities stretching across northern Spain, but I think they're better visited in a linear, rather than hub-and-spoke, fashion.

Santiago de Compostela may make the most sense as a single base in Galicia, though I haven't checked the driving times to places I'd want to go. I liked all of these places: A Coruna, Betanzos, Pontevedra and the smaller Tui, Cambados and Combarra.

Posted by
930 posts

If you stay in Sevilla you can also take a day trip to Tavira, PT.

Posted by
4803 posts

Granada is a good candidate for a several-day stay. The Alhambra palace alone could warrant more than a single day’s visit, for its architectural magnificence by and wonder, but the town’s worth exploring, and you need time to savor the don in big possibilities. If a rental car was somehow involved, you could make day trips from there.

If northeast Spain is being considered, San Sebastián (also called Donostia, in the Basque language), has a wonderful bayside setting, a nice aquarium, and a superior tapas/pintxos dining scene. The 3-star Michelin restaurant Martin Beresategui, perhaps the finest restaurant in which you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating, is a short drive away. Go for lunch - better prices, better views n the daytime. San Sebastián old town is car free, so park a car in the expensive underground parking garage, or park for free in one of the outlying park ‘n ride lots.

Posted by
4818 posts

How about Porto in northern Portugal, you can do a day trip to Santiago de Compostela, the spend some days exploring the Douro Valley. Also, take in Salamanca, Spain not far from the Portuguese border.

Posted by
5975 posts

We spent a week in Seville on a 3 week trip and wish we had spent maybe 5 nights instead and added those nights to Granada and Madrid. We did a day trip to Cordoba and loved the Mezquita -- but you don't need a car and it is a pain in Seville and it is easy to day trip by train to Cordoba.
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/the-mezquita-at-least-the-catholics-had-the-good-sense-not-to-destroy-it-when-they-desecrated-it/
I would not have a car for cities like Seville and get on on the way to the white towns and base in a town there where parking and getting out of town to tour will be easier. We loved Ronda which we visited by bus from Seville - spent 2 nights and then took the train to Granada. Ronda was a delight and we are glad we spent two nights there and had a full day to explore the town on foot including going down into the gorge that splits the town so picturesquely
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/ronda-the-most-romantic-town-in-spain/
We wish we had had more time in Granada -- we only had time for the Alhambra which was amazing but wish we had had another day for the city. We did love the Albaicin.
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/granada-they-said-wed-be-mugged-in-the-albaicin/
For what its worth -- I would head to your furthest destination on arrival and not stay in Madrid then and would not pick up a car until your furthest urban destination is complete. e.g. arrive Madrid, train to Seville - spent time there and then pick up the car and tour the smaller destinations where a car is useful and finish in Madrid, dropping the car on arrival and spent a few days in Madrid and fly home. You don't want to be rushing back to Madrid for the flight home -- you want to be there a few days. Nothing spoils the good feeling of a lovely trip like this like spending the penultimate day on logistics rather than relaxed sightseeing and enjoyment.

Sounds like a fabulous trip

Posted by
25 posts

I'm salivating as I read about your trip planning, as our trip to Northern Spain was nixed by Corona virus. One point that I'd check into is the advantages of a short-term auto lease through one of the companies that work with the French Government. My personal favorite is IdeaMerge, but there are others. Somewhere around 18 days of car rental becomes less expensive with the short-term lease, and you get exactly the car you plan for. The disadvantage is that pick-up/drop-off sites are limited to Madrid / Barcelona / Vigo in Spain, and Lisbon / Porto in Portugal. I've used these cars on two trips on The Iberian Peninsula, both time starting at one point and dropping at another. It's good to visit the city you start / end without a car, thus shortening the lease cost, and a car in a large city is best kept in a car park. Take note of the amount of luggage you absolutely need, as the size of the car required is usually dictated by how much hidden luggage space you require. Nothing like being on the road and seeing something really interesting that you can just pull in to see, rather than wishing you could. Driving is Europe is very similar to the States, just be extremely careful of your speed and don't go into the ZTL's without authorization.

Posted by
18700 posts

Judging by its website, IdeaMerge (now Motorvana) rents/leases RVs in Spain but not cars.