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Itinerary for first-time travelers to Spain

My husband and I will be traveling to Spain in late September. This is our first independent trip to Europe (we did the RS Venice/ Florence/Rome trip in 2016). Our interests include museums, architecture, cultural arts, nature, local food (not gourmet foodies, though) and wandering. I have received great feedback throughout the development of this itinerary, so thanks to all who responded. I would appreciate any thoughts on the (what I believe to be final) itinerary below.

Also, two specific questions:
1. We will be in Seville during the National Day of Spain. Are there associated festivals, celebrations, etc.?

2. Any tips on surviving 5 weeks alone with your partner beyond lots of alcohol and chocolate?

Barcelona: 8 nights (includes day trip via train to Montserrat). We will be there during La Merce. :-)
---Rent car. Drive to Figureres to see Dali Theatre-Museum (he is a favorite of ours). Drive to Cadaques.

Cadaques: 2 nights (includes day trip to Dali House and Garden)
---Early start to drive to Bayonne, France. Explore Bayonne and then drive on to San Sebastian.

San Sebastian: 4 nights (includes day trips to St-Jean-de-Luz, France and Bilbao)
---Drive to Hondarribia for lunch/relaxed wandering, and then on to San Sebastian airport to return rental car and an evening flight to Seville.

Seville: 7 nights (includes day trip via train to Jerez de la Frontera for sherry tasting. Not interested in horse performance)
---Train to Cordoba

Cordoba: 2 nights
---Train to Ronda

Ronda: 2 nights
---Train to Granada

Granada: 3 nights
---Train to Toledo

Toledo: 2 nights
---Train to Madrid

Madrid: 5 nights (possibly includes day trip to Segovia)
---Fly from Madrid to USA

Posted by
77 posts

Cadaques --> Bayonne --> San Sebastian in one day sounds like a really rough day! Make sure the rental company knows you are taking the car to France (there may be a fee, but there may be bigger problems if something unfortunately happens while in France). Pick up the chocolate in Bayonne and make sure you get plenty of Txakoli (local wine) when you get to San Sebastian

If going to St Jean de luz on market day, make sure you get there very early. People were fighting for our parking spaces when we left at noon.

Be patient with the navigator and vice versa! My wife and I have travelled a lot together and the only time things get rough is around missed turns and being unsure if this road that looks like a sidewalk is actually where I'm supposed to be driving.

Posted by
69 posts

"Be patient with the navigator...the only time things get rough is around missed turns and being unsure if this road that looks like a sidewalk is actually where I'm supposed to be driving."

Ha! I will keep that in mind.

I do have a small concern about the long day that includes the Bayonne stop.

Thanks for the feedback.

Posted by
2765 posts

Overall itinerary looks good. I have no specific suggestions. Glad you are giving Granada 3 nights. It’s well worth it, my favorite place, and so many people try to squeeze it into a night or two.

As for the partner - you are a couple, but you aren’t joined at the hip. There is no reason you each shouldn’t go off on your own to explore something the other might not be as interested in. Go to the concert while your partner shops for antiques. If either or both of you are social and want to meet others, short tours are good for that. A 4 hour food tour, or a guided walk of a sight. You can go together or individually. If one of you (or both) is more solitary, walking around a town by yourself can be energizing. Don’t feel the need yo be together 24/7 - a day pursuing your own interests, and sharing your experiences over dinner, can be really helpful.

Posted by
8895 posts

We spent a week in Hondarribia and went over to France, Pays Basque, several days. Make sure to visit some of the Pays Basque villages in the foothills of the Pyrenees not far inland from St-Jean de Luz.
Hondarribia has two parts: Medieval section at top of hill and Fisherman’s houses area below. Both have excellent restaurants. It is a nice big town/small city.
We enjoyed the French Basque villages of Saré, Ainhoa, Ascain, Espelette.
We also covered the extensive Spanish Basque areas.
For a wonderful experience at a sherry tasting in Jerez de la Frontera go to Tio Pepe. The tour and tasting was very well presented and they gave us a lot of good food to eat too. Highly recommend it.
I only question 8 days for Barcelona and five for Madrid? Are you arriving in Barcelona from US? If so you’ll be jet lagged so your first day will be a blur so that leaves seven days. I enjoyed Barcelona but keep a good watch over your purse and wallets. It’s reputation for pick pocketing/ purse snatching is deserved which you probably have heard about.. We were warned every time we left our hotel and in restaurants. Just be extra “city smart” walking around and on the metro. Take a look at Las Ramblas but don’t spend much time there.
The Dalí Museum in Figueres is fabulous!
We love Madrid, have gone there twice so far. There are many excellent museums plus nearby Retiro Park is beautiful. Don’t miss the Thyssen Museum. Day trip to Segovia was wonderful and we preferred it to Toledo.
You are taking on a lot for your independent trip and will love it. You’ve done the hard part, the planning, so relax and enjoy it all.
We get a SIM card for my phone and use it to navigate. Believe the posted speed limits.
We have taken two annual international trips for many years, usually for four weeks but several were six weeks and loved every minute of all of them. Europe and Asia have been our favorites but also have spent time in Africa and South America.
We have never had any problems being together away from family and friends for that long, lots of excellent wine, no chocolate!

Posted by
490 posts

I assign laundry duties to my spouse, and while he is at the laundromat for a few hours that is my time to read a book and relax by myself. LOL

Posted by
1105 posts

I love your itinerary, and I am happy that you are spending lots of time in each place. Great that you are spending 2 nights in Cordoba, one of my favorite places. Many people visit Cordoba as a daytrip from Seville, and I think they are doing Cordoba a great injustice. it's a wonderful city to spend 2 nights. Make sure you walk along the Roman bridge at night. We were there in September on a Saturday night, and it was a parade of families with their kids on bikes, etc. socializing with other families. While in Cordoba, I recommend visiting Palacio de Viana. The patios are so pretty, and it was quiet when we were there.

While in Seville, visit the Casa de Pilatos, the Triana neighborhood, see a Flamenco show, and take a carriage ride.

When in Barcelona, visit neighborhoods such as Gracia, Las Pedrables, and Sarria.

I assume you know that you need to purchase tickets in advance for Dali's house at Port Lligat, but thought I would mention it in case you forgot.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
771 posts

As I read your post about spending a lot of time with your spouse, I thought that some group or private tours might help to break things up and give you others to talk with. I see from one of your other posts that you have lined up a private guide for the Alhambra.

We did the RS Best of Spain tour in Spain in April-May this year and spent 3 nights in Barcelona before the tour. We added 5 nights after the tour, adding 1 more night to Sevilla, 2 nights in Cordoba, and 2 more nights in Madrid. Using the RS book, we booked the Barcelona Taste Tapas tour for our second evening in Barcelona, and private guides Isabel Martinez in Cordoba, and Federico Garcia Barroso in Madrid. It was money well spent for us and I can recommend them all. Our tapas tour was supposed to be a group of up to 8, but no one else booked for that evening, so it was just us and the guide. Isabel and Federico were very receptive to what we wanted to do and see and planned itineraries with our wished in mind. In Cordoba, another couple from the tour were interested in joining us, and Isabel was fine with that.

Your itinerary sounds great. Some people on the tour stayed in Sevilla for several extra nights and did a cooking class there, which they enjoyed.

Posted by
292 posts

"Early start to drive to Bayonne, France"...make that really early! I guess through France is probably more direct but boy o boy that's a long drive. Know that if you get off the main road you will be in for a long long drive. Very scenic though. There are truly 100's of amazing places along the way in either France or Spain. Basque France or Spain is wonderful. No criticism of the itinerary intended. I'm sure you will love your trip!

Posted by
77 posts

I do have a small concern about the long day that includes the Bayonne stop.

Carcassone is about halfway on the drive to Bayonne if you need a stop for coffee and want to look at a castle.

Posted by
69 posts

Wow, so much great feedback--thank you! I especially liked the idea of sending hubby to do laundry as a way to save our sanity. ;-)

Based upon some of the comments, I am reconsidering the Cadaques-visit Bayonne-drive on to San Sebastian idea. It looks like there is a shorter route to San Sebastian via Barcelona. Now thinking I will combine the day trip to St-Jean-de-Luz with a trip to Bayonne, as they look to be about 20 minutes apart.

Posted by
2980 posts

It looks like there is a shorter route to San Sebastian via Barcelona

Yes there are several ways to get from Barcelona to San Sebastian, driving, flying, or high speed train + regional bus switching at Zaragoza (about halfway in between)

Zaragoza itself is a gem of a city that remains stubbornly off the international tourist radar and offers a glimpse of urban Spain before mass tourism. you could spend those 2 nights there in between Barcelona and San Sebastian.

Zaragoza has more than 2,000 years of history including Roman ruins of the city walls, forum, and amphitheater, as well as the Aljafería; an 11th-century Moorish palace. It's also the home of the famous pilgrimage site of Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica, housing the Virgin Mary of Pilar.

Posted by
22486 posts

Use to figure out the most efficient driving route. It does not suggest returning through Barcelona, and forcing the route to include Barcelona is estimated to take an extra 1-1/2 hours.

With a driving-time estimate of 7 hours 51 minutes for Cadaques-Bayonne-San Sebastian--which excludes any stops, traffic delays or navigational errors--I think the idea of seeing Bayonne en route is clearly a non-starter. I can't imagine doing that drive in one day even without the stop in Bayonne.

Everything else looks reasonable, though if you're art fans you may wish you had time for two days in Bilbao. The Guggenheim is not the city's only art museum, and Bilbao has a larger, and far less touristy, historic center than San Sebastian.

Posted by
69 posts

I'm laughing that I thought we would have had the time to do the drive from Cadques, tour Bayonne and then check into San Sebastian hotel before having dinner. What a nightmare that day would have been. Perhaps I had a glass or two of wine when researching that part of the trip, as I had noted the drive would take six hours. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The good news: In reviewing my itinerary again, I realized I have us booked for three nights in Cadaques, not two as mentioned in my original post. I'm going to take one night from Cadaques and break up the drive into two days. Any suggestions on a good place to stay as a halfway point? Looking at Zaragoza based upon Carlos' comment above. It's not on the most direct route according to ViaMichelin (thanks, acraven, for that tip), but looks like it could make for a nice layover.

This forum has been a life saver. I'm grateful.

Posted by
1388 posts

So when was the last time you spent 24/7 for 35 nights with your partner?

Be clear with each other it is okay to want to take breaks and spend some "me time' exploring, resting, etc.
Celebrating 42 years together and we take journeys of this length. We travel with only one piece each of carry on luggage. We stay in apartments and seek ones that have a clothes washer. Wife loves to find consignment shops and purchase clothing for us both while on the journey. Adds an element of being "local" and has often lead to discussions where we are directed to lesser known good eateries or places to explore. We do not travel with our best clothes so tend to shed some of them in order to make way for purchases. Not being luggage mules really enables a better journey. We greatly enjoy having a kitchen to prep breakfast, lite snacks and sometimes a full meal to get away form eating out. Extra room to spread out is nice. Wife speaks the international language of "quilt" and seeks out shoppes while on the road. The quilt cult offers another connection to learning about all things local, If you have a hobby then seek to make a connection with like kind hobbies while on the road.