Heading to Spain for about two weeks mid-July to mid August (looking at best airfare from west coast of US). Four of us, kids 10 and 14. Kids are in their 5th and 9th year of Spanish Immersion-being their age, they are shy about actually using their Spanish so we’d like to be somewhere where they really have opportunities to do so. We’d love to rent a house for a week somewhere in the North and then do time in Madrid and Barcelona. Suggestions for where in the north?
Well, the north of Spain is quite big, if you include just the coastal regions you have Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. Green, rainy, mountainous and mild temperatures (not hot at all like the Mediterranean). Your kids can practise their Spanish in any of these places, but maybe you should narrow down a bit your preferences. I´m Basque and therefore I´d direct you to the beautiful Basque Country...
I would not advise going to Barcelona. We love the city, but every restaurant we visited the menus were in Catalonian. Also, we found most people were speaking that language.
Madrid is a great city and you can venture out to other nearby places like Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca.
Your trip will depend on what you want to see. If you want to see all the tourist sights, then you should focus your trip on Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla. Contrary to popular opinion, you and your kids will be able to practice speaking Spanish (Castellano) in all of those places. True, in Barcelona, most people speak Catalan as a primary language, everybody who is from Catalunya also speaks Spanish. Because it is also such a tourist destination for Americans and people from the UK, there is also a lot of English spoken.
Now, if you really want to see some really beautiful parts of Spain, and you don't want to swelter in the mid-summer heat, northern Spain is a great choice. Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias, Basque Country are all so beautiful, green, mostly uncrowded. There are truly lovely beaches, countryside and mountains. Also, aside from some other languages that are also spoken (Gallego, Austurian, Catalan), Spanish is spoken.
You could also mix it up. Start in Madrid (airfare price is usually lowest), take a train to Galicia, make your way to San Sebastian (Donostia), and go home from Barcelona. Use Rome2Rio for information about transportation from place to place. Renting cars is also easy. Do some research here. There are lots of people who are very helpful.
Llanes (pronounced ‘Yannes’ on the north coast (it’s either Asturias or Cantabria, can’t remember!) is a lovely little town - it has beaches, pedestrianised parts in the old town, delightful architecture, great food- and really great for practising your Spanish! We rented a house there for about 10 days, tucked away from the town but just a few minutes walk away.
As a side comment, Gallego (Galician), very similar to Portuguese, is spoken in Galicia. Bable is a dialect from Spanish spoken in Asturias and not considered a language by itself. And Basque, the oldest living language in Europe, is spoken in the Basque Country and it´s not related to any other language in the world. Road and street signs, as well as many other publications, are in both Basque and Spanish and Galician and Spanish. In any case, everybody speaks Spanish and it´s the main language in these areas.
Spain has four languages (Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque, by number of speakers), and they are officially recognised in the community they are spoken. Then there are quite a few dialects (Valenciano and Balearic, very close to Catalan; Bable; Aranés; Aragonés...and then dialectal variations in each region. Andalucía has several dialects, or variations of Spanish, within its boundaries, and to us northerners sometimes it´s complicated to understand somebody from Seville, for example. Extremadura has also a different dialect, as has Murcia. Indeed, Spain is a very heterogeneous country and very different from north to south, east to west.
FYI - You'll only find around half of Barcelona speaks Catala habitually, many people only speak Castellano (Spanish), geovagriffith you found that Catala is written on "everything" because that is what is mandated by the local law, but you will also find Spanish just under it. It's only when one ventures out into 'las Comarcas' that one finds really significant levels of Catala spoken ;-)
Thank you all! So sorry for my brief initial post-got interrupted mid typing and had to rush.
To add more details: I have not been to Doain, but my husband has and loved Barcelona so at least a few days there is probably a must.
We will probably have some friends joining for our house rental week, and many of them are fluent Spanish speakers. One spent her college study abroad in Asturias and recommends it highly. For that week, I’d love to rent a house and let folks do what they want-cook some great food, swim, wander. A pool or beach access would be great. Food and wine are huge for me and I’m very excited to eat and explore. That is a bigger deal than sites and museums but some of the latter would be good too. I guess :).
I’m vaguely thinking fly RT Madrid. Start there for a few days then drive North. Week or so wherever then a few days in Barcelona before heading back to Madrid for return flight.
Again, think that pools in the north are very scarce...weather is rainy and there´s not many houses with a pool, take that into account. Also, most beaches will be at a distance from towns. Except in some very touristy areas (Noja in Cantabria, Suances,...), there´s rarely apartments by the beach on the northern coast.
Another quick thought. We loved Santander. It's on the beach, has lots of places to see and a great place to practice Spanish speaking. It's not high on many people's lists, but we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.
We were there with kids the same ages. Did not like LLanes (I mean it was fine but not a place I would stay for a week). Liked San Sebastian, which was a surprise because we aren't beachy people or fancy-place people, but it turned out to be a very good balance of culture and kid activities (mostly beach) and nature (some hiking) and with proximity to more nature and hiking on the peninsula between SS and Bilbao (Oma forest, Gaztelugatxeko), and of course the Guggenheim and Bilbao. The city of SS was interesting as well bc it has the sections that look like Paris, and then the Old Town and then the sections near the beach. Anyway, Dh and I were both surprised at how fondly we look back on our three nights there. We also liked Bilbao but not for a week, but in SS you'd be close enough. We also really liked Oviedo. You're 30 minutes from the coast (Ribadesella, Gijon, or Cudillero, for example. In the first there is a kayak race sometime in the first two weeks of August that looked fun although our timing didn't line up). Your 60-90 minutes from Congas de Onis and Covadonga, both of which we really enjoyed. You could spend a day driving to Covadonga, visit the Basilica, take the bus up to the lakes and hike, come back and eat in Congas de Onis. We liked BCN, and did not visit MAD so can't comment there. We found Sp[anish speaking opportunities everywhere. BCN was the hardest to engage with people in Spanish, not bc of Catalan, but because so many people speak English that they would switch to it. They weren't as patient with our Spanish (and my daughter is nearly fluent). But in N. Spain, people were excited that they could speak to her and had the patience to let her practice.
I think a bit of time in the Picos de Europa area (Covadonga, Potes, etc.) would be good for a family with children. It's beautiful, and there seemed to be opportunities for outdoor activities. I found Potes a totally charming (though touristy) old stone town.
Santander would not be my choice as a base just from the aesthetic perspective; there was a terrible fire there in the 1940s, so there's not a lot of old architecture remaining. However, it has a lovely beach (probably more than one), and it's much less touristy than San Sebastian. Most likely there would be more opportunities to speak Spanish in Santander. Santander's also fairly close to the Picos de Europa.
Price out multi-city airline tickets into Madrid and out of Barcelona (as well as vice versa). You may find they are no more expensive than round-trip tickets. Not having to complete the loop will save you the cost of 4 train tickets between Madrid and Barcelona and the need to spend your last night in a city you've already visited--a waste of precious vacation time.
Loving the tips-my guidebook is on its way so I’ll start digging in. And I’ll look at an open jaw ticket.