Please sign in to post.

Basque/Northern Spain

We will be there for 2-3 weeks in late June, early July of this year. Does anyone have any suggestions as to where a good home base would be in order to visit everything in Northern Spain? We will be coming from Porto, as the last 3 weeks of a 88 day European Trip. My wife and 2 youngest, ages 8 and 11 will be with us.

I want to visit San Sebastian, Bilbao, Pamplona, Asturias and maybe into Southern France.

Please let me know if you have any ideas!!

Posted by
16763 posts

From my perspective there's not one, single base that will work for all of those places. There's barely one that will work for San Sebstian and Bilbao (that would be one of those two cities or a point in between)

What area do you mean by "southern France"? Do you plan to drive? Will your group be two adults, or will there also be children? Are you outdoorsy people?

Posted by
950 posts

I second acraven. I suggest moving from place to place to save the round-trip drives from a "home-base". Even Bilbao and SS are 90 minutes apart, and there are wonderful things about each. Many of the places you mention would be worth several nights.

Posted by
68 posts

We went to that area a couple of years ago and LOVED it! My daughter was over there for 4 1/2 months and she seemed to move around easily from San Sebastian. The bus between San Sebastian and Bilbao is really good, so you could easily stay in one and do a day trip to the other. If you are flying into Bilbao, you could stay there for a few days, then take the bus to San Sebastian and stay there for a few days, etc. It's also pretty easy to get to Biarritz in southern France (you would have to take a bus to Hendaye, then get on the train from there- I think that's fairly easy, although we never did that). We were in San Sebastian for 5 nights and I could have stayed there for at least two weeks (adding hikes and other day trips). We didn't make it to Pamplona, but it looks really easy to get there from San Sebastian. The next time I go, I will rent a car and drive along the coast :)

Posted by
1862 posts

What cities will you be flying in and out of? This will significantly help us with making suggestions for your itinerary :)

I agree with others that the north is best seen through a road-trip, not so much with "home-bases".

Will you also be visiting Pamplona in early July, in order to be there for the Feria de San Fermin (aka running of the bulls) July 6 - 12?

Posted by
227 posts

You need to break it up and probably start in Asturias, since it's convenient to fly nonstop from (listed in chronological order with the first being the cheapest) Madrid, Seville, Valencia, Malaga, Ibiza, Barcelona, Palma, Tenerife and Gran Canaria (check Skyscanner). You can then rent a car and drive to Bilbao (3h 15m) and sleep there and drive to San Sebastian and Pamplona. You're also close to Hondarribia, Lequeitio (leh-KAY-tee-oh) and Guernica (GEHR-nee-kah) that was heavily bombed during the Spanish Civil War, but is the sight of one of Picasso's masterpieces, Guernica.
Places to visit in FR are St. Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne, Biarritz, La Rhune, Sare, Ainhoa and Esoekette.

Posted by
16763 posts

Depending on your origin, Barcelona may be as cheap to fly into as Madrid, but the drive to Asturias will be considerably faster from Madrid. You might also check flights into the smaller airport in Bilbao and the even smaller one in San Sebastian. I don't know where you're heading in Asturias, but ViaMichelin estimates about 3-3/4 hours from Madrid's airport to Leon and Oviedo's about 5 hours. Neither of those estimates includes stopping, getting lost, traffic issues or looking for parking.

You shouldn't plan to drive to Asturias from whichever airport you use on your arrival day. You can get a train to Leon from Madrid's Chamartin Station (downtown) in as little as 3 hours. [edited to correct train station]

Posted by
1653 posts

Trains for Leon leave from Chamartin, not Atocha. Happens to be much closer to the airport, so even better to use the train to give you a headstart.
A note on Pamplona : it is not very interesting outside of Sanfermines (the yearly festival), and the latter can be 'interesting'.

Posted by
73 posts

You´ll have the best train, bus and flight connections to Bilbao, which makes a very good home base for Donostia-San Sebastian, the Rioja wine region, Cantabria to the west, and even for a day trip to the French Basque Country or Pamplona (which, I believe, may not be that interesting). I would not miss the Rioja wine area, so different from the rest, visiting Laguardia, Labastida, Haro, Elciego...

In between the Basque Country and Asturias you have Cantabria, a real gem and with many interesting places to visit (Santillana del Mar, Carmona, Santander, San Vicente de la Barquera, Potes and the Picos de Europa area...). For Asturias I´d take Oviedo as a home base.

Posted by
5634 posts

We also loved our time in both Basque regions, Spain and France. When staying in San Sebastián or Hondarribia it is a very short drive into France to visit those beautifulBasque villages, Ainhoa, Sare, Ascain, Espellette and more.

Posted by
16763 posts

Use ViaMichelin.com to check driving times from potential bases to the places you want to see. It's one thing to spend one day driving three or four hours round-trip to a place you want to see. It's a completely different situation to set up a trip that calls for doing that over and over and over again and in many cases seeing the same stretch of highway repeatedly.

Bilbao to a lot of the French Basque Country will be about 2 hours each way.
Bilbao to the atmospheric hill town of Laguardia is about 1-1/2 hours each way.

San Sebastian to Santillana del Mar is about 2-1/2 hours each way.
San Sebastian to Laguardia is about 2 hours each way.

Just driving between Bilbao and San Sebastian is likely to take over an hour.

None of those times allows for fetching your car, which will not necessarily be parked right outside your lodging, or for getting from the parking place at your destination to what you want to see.

I'd recommend at least three different bases on this trip, and I'd go with four if you're traveling for 3 weeks.

I agree with Mikel that Pamplona isn't special. I much preferred Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Posted by
84 posts

wow, these are awesome ideas. Thank you.

We will be coming from Porto, but this is the last 3 weeks of a 3 month European Trip, so I kinda wanted to collapse here. It's not a whirlwind trip, we are taking it fairly slow but we still will be staying in 9 rentals before this, so I didnt want to keep bouncing around. We have 2 of my youngest with me, but they are resilient. Im worried about me hahaha

Posted by
16763 posts

Three months is a long time; I agree that you won't want to be scurrying around. That could be an argument against changing hotels often, but it could also be an argument against having to drive a considerable distance nearly every day. None of the cities in the area you contemplate visiting is Paris or Barcelona or Seville or Lyon in terms of the number of local attractions. Some will keep you busy for perhaps two days; others for only 2 hours. Other than wandering around and enjoying the architecture and food, you will run out of stuff to do in your base cities pretty quickly.

You can't count on having what I'd call "beach weather" on any particular day. I traveled through the Spanish Basque Country and other places along that coast in the latter half of June 2016. Few people were in the water when I happened to look at a beach, and most of those folks were wearing wetsuits.

Posted by
84 posts

Thank you Acraven, I still need to work every day, and we like to linger, so Maybe I could take 3 places, and stay for a week each time.

I know San Sebastian is one week, what about the other 2 locations?

Posted by
16763 posts

Having to work makes a lot of difference. If you want a spot on the French side, I'd vote for Bayonne since there's more to see there--a large historic district, an art museum, a chocolate museum with a very generous tasting room. Others would prefer St-Jean-de-Luz, which is smaller, which has its own appeal. I just get stir-crazy if I'm stuck in a small town for very long.

I much, much preferred Bilbao to San Sebastian. Bilbao has more to see, including a large medieval district, and is far less touristy. But San Sebastian has the magnificent beach. I suspect your kids will vote for the beach. The train between the two cities is considerably slower than the bus (or a car), but it runs through some very pretty countryside and is worth taking.

I really didn't care much for Santander. It's not a bad or unattractive place, and it has lovely beaches. But there was a dreadful fire back in the 1940s, and there's not a lot of historic architecture remaining. A plus for Santander is that you could day-trip to the dramatically beautiful Picos de Europa area. I know that, because I took a one-day bus tour from Santander.

Farther west your choice of good-sized places comes down to Oviedo and Gijon, I guess. Oviedo is an historic city with some extremely old (and important) churches. The city itself seemed quieter than one would expect in Spain. I remember reading that the locals go to Gijon for excitement. Gijon is an industrial, port city. It has a very small historic area and some attractive early-20th-century architecture.

Really, where you should stay depends to a considerable degree on what side trips you think you'll want to make. I used public transportation, so I don't have an innate grasp of what places are workable from various bases.

Posted by
73 posts

Just consider that beach weather may not be an option (San Sebastian is the rainiest city in Spain), as all the north of Spain is a rainy area, so if one week in SS try to have plan B.