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Basque Country and Andalucia both

I am a first-time poster but have lurked here often... Appreciate the wisdom and experience of others!
We are 3 couples who are doing a 10-day hiking-and-biking tour of Mallorca in late May. We were thinking we might want to visit the Basque Country first--San Sebastian?--but could only spend 3-4 nights there. Is it worth it? Should we fly directly there? We'd rather not rent a car.
After Mallorca, we would like to visit Andalucia: Seville, Granada, Ronda, the white villages, etc. We would prefer to stay in one location--perhaps rent a villa?--and travel to these places by bus or train. Is that possible or do we really need a car? Suggestions for where to stay?
We enjoy outdoor activities and good food and wine! Thank you for any advice you can give.

Posted by
135 posts

Hello

If you like hiking and biking, you'll love the Basque Country. I have relations living there, and visit at least once a year. It's influenced by the Atlantic coast of Spain, and somewhat different in flora, fauna and climate from the South - if you go to Andalucia too, you'll be able to appreciate almost two different countries (and two different languages of course).

You don't say what sort of distances you like to bike and hike, so I'm assuming you're reasonably accomplished bikers and hikers. If that's the case, I'd recommend that you stay somewhere like Elorrio - a beautiful, historic Basque town in Vizcaya. It's about an hour or so on public transport to Bilbao City (also same time to Bilbao Airport); close to the Urkiola National Park (think mountains / forest); about 45 minutes drive to the beautiful coast in many places and the infamous Guernica (Gernika in Basque), and about 90 minutes drive to San Sebastian and Vittoria. Loads of the locals cycle in the area; clubs are commonplace, although be aware it's hilly and windy (that's 'wine-dee', not blowy!)

Try the Hotel Elorrio - and have a look at the following website - Elorrio Council (sadly, for Anglophones, only in Spanish or Euskara). I'd strongly advise to visit the area, especially in May when it will be beautiful.

Posted by
4535 posts

I would think 3-4 days in the Basque region would be appropriate. San Sebastian and Bilbao are the two main cities, with other smaller towns sprinkled along the coast. If you stick to the main cities a car isn't necessary or desirable. But you'd probably need one to visit smaller towns. The region is not connected by the AVE yet so you'd be best to fly in and out.

For Andalucía, it is a big region and not necessarily well connected by train. Sevilla and Granada are about 3 hours by bus (very frequent) or train (not at all frequent). Ronda is well connected to Sevilla but not to Granada. Other white villages and other sites will need a car, but a car isn't recommended in Sevilla and Granada. So having just one villa might not work. However, you might be able to see Granada on it's own for a couple of days, then stay longer elsewhere for more explorations. Staying at a villa of some sort outside of Sevilla might allow having a car for rural trips and commuting by train or bus into Sevilla. I did something similar just outside Barcelona and it worked great.

Posted by
16883 posts

Agreed that flying to and from the Basque country makes sense, especially if you can find a direct flight from Mallorca; try www.skyscanner.com. Trains from Bilbao or San Sebastian to Seville take 8 or 8.5 hours via the fastest morning train departure and a connection in Madrid; trains to Granada would take longer with an additional connection.

Agreed that Granada makes a good city to stay in for a couple of nights just for sightseeing right there, either before or after you explore other areas. At some point, the extra time for roundtrip transportation each day eats up any convenience you might gain from a "central" home base.

I quite enjoyed this 3-hour afternoon Olive Oil Tasting excursion from Granada but did not try the 6-hour/lunch version or the extra wine-tasting option; they pick you up at your Granada hotel.

Posted by
107 posts

If you have a tiny suitcase (plus daypack), you can look for extra cheap airfares on Vueling, and you can fly very fast from Madrid to San Sebastian, or you can take the train, although it takes a while

To simplify your life, you could:
Fly into Madrid.
Make your way to San Sebastian.
Take a trip by train from San Sebastian to Gastiez and stay overnight.
Return to San Sebastian and continue on your trip.

After Mallorca, you could fly to Seville and stay a couple nights
Take a bus to Ronda, and stay overnight. Take the train from Ronda and spend a night or two at a white village right along the route.
Visit Granada via same train
Spend a night in Granada and leave the next day for Madrid for your flight home.

Have a great time. May should be a perfect month.

Posted by
13 posts

I am so grateful for the suggestions. After seeing these comments and studying the map, though, I am worried that we are trying to do too much--so I may suggest to our traveling companions that we should stay a week in the Basque Country and Pyrenees after Mallorca. We don't want to spend so much time moving around, so it may be best to save Seville, Rondo, etc., for another trip...
If we decide to spend more time in the Basque Country, is San Sebastián a good home base from which to do day trips? And where in the Pyrenees would you recommend we spend a night or two? And would the wine country be another nearby destination? (Looks like we could easily fly back from Barcelona if we followed this plan.)

Posted by
5617 posts

We used San Sebastian (a/k/a Donostia) as a base for a short, 3-day visit to the region in November 2013. We rented a car in Bilbao, used it for getting to and around the Donostia area, and returned it to Bilbao for a flight to Barcelona (much cheaper flight from Bilbao than from Donostia) on Vueling Air. In Donostia, we stayed at the Pension Edorta, recommended by Rick Steves.

As Douglas mentioned, the car wasn't desirable while in the city itself, and Donostia has expensive underground parking garages. Local trains can get you around the region, if their destinations and time schedules would work for you.

Spain's a big enough country that all our visits have been either "north" or "south" on a visit, but not "both."

By the way, one hour north of Barcelona is Girona, a charming town with narrow winding passages, where many US pro cyclists base themselves during the race season in Europe -- maybe worth a visit for avid bikers.