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Flying into Bilbao and driving to Santiago de Compostela and back

We are interested in UNESCO sites and I note there are about 10 along the way. We only have a week. We are wondering about the road conditions in Spain in November? I understand it is a balmy climate. We like to stay at nicer hotels, so any insights on road conditions and also comments on a high quality hotel that you have stayed at in this region.

Much obliged. Ken and Karen

The UNESCO sites are:

Vizcaya Bridge
Primeval Beech Forests
Paleolithic Cave of Altamira
Tower of Hercules
Santiago de Compostela
Roman Walls of Lugo
Las Medulas
Burgos Cathedral
Atapuerca
San Millan Monasteries

Posted by
2038 posts

I definitely would not characterize Northern Spain (where these places are) as "balmy" in November, remember Northern Spain has a totally different climate to the rest of Spain, think Ireland mixed in with the Alps, you can expect rain and cold weather in most places you want to visit during November.

Honestly, taking into account all the places you want to see and considering you have backtrack all the way back to Bilbao to fly out, I don't this trip is practical in only one week... consider flying in and out of Santiago de Compostela and only visiting Galicia for a week.

Posted by
50 posts

OK.

Surprised about the weather. I see the November average is 62, which for Chicago is like Miami Beach. We would not hit EVERY UNESCO site. But we move quickly. Up early, to bed late. I understand from what you say there is a lot of rain though. Not enticing then to say the least. Thanks for all that though.

Posted by
2978 posts

I’ve only visited a few of those places. For hotels near:
Altamira caves - either of the Paradors in Santillana Del Mar. We stayed at the Gil Blas one.
Santiago de Compostela- the Parador right by the cathedral. It’s pricey but nice. Another nearby hotel we recently stayed at, is Hotel Rua Villar. Very nice.
Lugo is not very large. We recently stayed at Hotel Monumento Pazo de Orban. It’s just inside the wall and a few minutes walk from the cathedral. The wall is about 1.2km all the way around, so doesn’t take long to walk around.
There are plenty of hotels in Burgos. We stayed at Abba Burgos for it’s location and because it had a parking garage. Each of the hotels I mentioned have onsite parking.

Not terribly far from Las Medulas (11 miles) is the Parador at Villafranca Del Bierzo. We enjoyed our stay there although there’s little to see in the town.

Posted by
6169 posts

Try to book a room in the Parador in Santiago de Compostela. It’s right on the Plaza de Obradoiro where you can watch the pilgrims arriving, beautiful building and location. A splurge but worth it. Isabella and Ferdinand built the building in 1486 as a hospice for the arriving pilgrims.
We also stayed in the Parador in Baiona , south of Santiago de Compostela, where a replica of Columbus’ ship “Pinta” is moored. This is where this first of his three ships returned with news of his “discoveries.” That Parador is a
waterfront, right on the bay.

Posted by
127 posts

Northern Spain is usually very rainy, very green and very mountainous. Roads are excellent and driving should not be complicated. I believe that just a week may not be enough to cover all the beautiful places in this area.

Posted by
18102 posts

You can find summary weather statistics (monthly averages) on the Wikipedia pages for some of the places you mentioned. I looked at both Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela. In November those cities are likely to be warmer than Madrid and cooler than Barcelona. Both get substantially more rain than Madrid and Barcelona. I wouldn't consider the November temperatures a deal-breaker if I wanted to visit the area in the off-season and was planning to rent a car. The amount of rainfall would be a bigger issue, I think.

For a better idea of the range on conditions you might experience, go to timeanddate.com and view the actual, day-by-day, historical data for November 2018, November 2017, etc. I've linked to Bilbao's statistics for November 2018.

I agree that a week is really an awfully short time for covering the stretch of northern Spain from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela. I'd suggest splitting the destinations across two trips.

Missing from your list are the UNESCO-listed sites in Oviedo; I'd try to include them.

Posted by
11230 posts

I can't speak to the weather at that time from personal experience, but the region is famous for being rainy, cloudy, and did I mention rainy, for most of the year. I was there in late May and had great weather, but the locals made clear that this was not the norm, even that close to the official start of "the season" on June 1. The season ends mid-September. Note that many things are closed or have shortened hours in the off-season.

Of the sights you listed, the only one I went to is the Vizcaya Bridge. I loved it. It was the first transporter bridge built, and one of the few still in operation. If you have any interest in engineering, it's great; otherwise, you may not be as excited as I was.

Here's what I wrote about it at the time:

"Next on the agenda was the Puente Colgante at Portugalete, a half hour north of the center. This means "transporter bridge," and it was the first one in the world and one of the few still operating. If you don't know what a transporter bridge is, it's easier to show than to describe. Fortunately, the opening sequence of the movie The Young Girls of Rochefort takes place on one. So, if you haven't seen the movie, watch this clip. You may, if you wish, ignore the dancing - just pay attention to the bridge.

https://youtu.be/1hvjhyL04c4

You see, it's a bit of the roadway that is suspended from a great height above the river, and moves across it. This means that boats can go under the high part unimpeded, but there need not be a very long approach as would be needed with a high span of a regular bridge. The director of Young Girls of Rochefort, Jacques Demy, was a bit obsessed with these bridges (there had been one in Nantes where he grew up, but it was dismantled in the late 1950's), and put them in several of his films one way or another (in a movie set in Nantes, he recreated it in the background of the credits with special effects). Rochefort's transporter bridge still runs, but I'm not likely to get there, so this one near Bilbao was a must-do, especially when I learned it was the first one ever. For €0.40, you can take the transporter across; for €10, you take an elevator up to the top level, walk across while listening to an audioguide all about the bridge, and then take an elevator back down to take the transporter back across. Needless to say, I did the whole shebang. I don't recommend it for anyone with any issues with heights; for those people stick to the transporter part, which is only a bit above the river (remember, the same height as the surface roads on either side).

By the way, I was amused to see the signs in three languages (Basque Castilian English) on the transporter saying Do Not Smoke and Stay In The Car. So, you can't recreate the movie's opening scene yourself - at least in Bilbao - without getting in trouble."

Posted by
127 posts

By law, all public signs have to be at least in Basque (first) and then in Spanish, in the Basque Country.

Posted by
50 posts

JAMIE, I take it the PARADOR hotels are a high end chain in Spain. Ala the Hyatt, Hiltons, etc. Would that be accurate?

Some of our experiences though with hotels in city centers in Europe have been awful with the noise. Perhaps off season will not be an issue?

Posted by
2038 posts

Hi, our Paradores we have in Spain are definitely a good option if you want a unique experience. They are Gov. run hotels built in former historic structures, like monasteries or castles. I've stayed in a few, and there is definitely a variety when it comes to hotel class with the Parador system, with some more modern/luxurious than others, I wouldn't say they're all 5 stars, but at least 3-4 star. Many of the Paradores are actually located outside the city centres.

Posted by
50 posts

Suki, with all the pilgrims arriving...what a sight that must be. But what I said earlier, what about the noise level for sleep that close to the center of town? ken

Posted by
50 posts

harold, so it pulls a few cars/people over at a time? Novel, for sure, but forgive me if I insult you, what a waste of time and energy! Seems more of a fad if I may use the word which is probably not the right one. However, due to the uniqueness I can see why it is a UNESCO site. Thanks for sharing regardless. (NOTE: i am not an engineer but my wife is and my brother in law is a structural engineer!!)

Posted by
2978 posts

Carlos pretty much covered the Paradors. The Parador in Santiago de Compostela is high end, 5 star. When we stayed at it, we couldn’t hear any street noise and our room looked out over Rua de San Francisco. The Parador at Villafranca Del Bierzo is in a newer building at not high end. The ones in Santillana de Mar are in historic buildings. You can find more information at the Parador website; www.parador.es/en. Price varies between locations and time of year. We’ve found they are comparable to other hotels in the location they are in. There are no Paradors in Lugo or Burgos.

Posted by
6169 posts

Ken, a good question about noise. You are on a pedestrian plaza. There is no one who worries more about noise in hotels than my husband and me.
We do Google Street view and search for interior courtyards. We always request a quiet room location. No worries about this Parador.
This parador books solid far in advance, up to a year ahead, one of the top two Paradors in Spain; the other one is in Granada. Go to parador.es/en to search for them.
We have stayed in many Paradors all over Spain. As noted above, they are govt run, managed by others, but are mostly historical buildings in more rural settings. A few are modern. Their dining rooms offer the local regional cuisine and have hours more suitable for foreign guests. I always choose them if they are found where I am visiting. Portugal’s Pousadas are similar.
They are very different from a Hilton or a Hyatt as can be as they reflect the history and culture of the region where they are located and usually are historical properties. If you are interested in visiting UNESCO sites, I assume that you would love staying in Paradores.

Posted by
18102 posts

You sometimes have to choose between a quiet room and a room with a good view, though I assume luxury hotels have few rooms with views of airshafts.

The noise-sensitive definitely need to read a lot of reviews of Spanish lodgings they are considering. Due to the very late meal hours (locals not sitting down to dinner before 10 PM), there will be lots of people on the street quite late, walking home from dinner after midnight. Booking.com is a good source for reviews, because only people who have booked there and actually stayed at the hotel can leave a review. That will only work for places listed on booking.com, of course.

I highly recommend traveling with earplugs; you never know when you will need them. There are different styles available; buy one and try it out at home to be sure it's reasonably comfortable and stays in your ears.

Posted by
50 posts

OK, good stuff on all the hotels. Much obliged to everyone. As I get older (now 65) the noise becomes paramount. I have spent nights sleeping on bathroom floors to find peace. Earplugs just don't do it for me. I will read the reviews and make our own decisions. By the way, have traveled extensively through France, Belgium, Germany et al, but not Spain. Do the major hotels, and even the more modest ones, offer like buffet breakfasts?

Posted by
2978 posts

Most hotels offer breakfasts. Some are better than others. When I’m looking for hotels I’ll check the photos to see if there are any of the breakfast buffet. All Paradors have outstanding buffet breakfasts and feature meats and cheeses from the region they are in. Of the hotels I mentioned previously, the one in Burgos had a very nice buffet breakfast. Hotels Pazo de Orban (Lugo) and Rua Villar (Santiago) had more basic and less extensive buffets, but still better than a typical continental breakfast. Some are included in the room price and some are optional, so check when making the reservation.

Of note, if you intend on staying at a parador, join its free Amigos program. You get a free drink (beer, wine, soda) every time you check into one, and a free breakfast for you and your guest the first time you book through its website. Also, it has special rates for those over 55. Essentially, you get the room and breakfast for what the room would normally cost.

Posted by
50 posts

jamie

"You get a free drink (beer, wine, soda) every time you check into one, and a free breakfast for you and your guest the first time you book through its website. Also, it has special rates for those over 55. Essentially, you get the room and breakfast for what the room would normally cost."

Better than a sharp stick in the eye. ha Who can pass this up. We make make a whirlwind trip soon. Thanks so much....ken and karen