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September 2021, 35 nights in Spain … is this too much?

First may I say we LOVE the forum! Nothing beats the kind of grassroots information we’ve gotten here.

A little background…

My husband and I are planning a five week trip to Spain in early September of 2021. Though we are both in our late 60s we are extremely active and have traveled a fair amount. We love art, music, archeological sites, farmers markets, and especially small traditional towns. This will be our fourth trip to Spain. In 2018 we spent a great deal of time in Madrid, Barcelona and Granada so wanted this trip to focus on smaller places.

As many of these areas are new to us we would appreciate your input. Particularly if it seems too rushed.

The itinerary so far looks something like this:

9/9 land in Madrid 9:10 a.m. take Train to Segovia for 2 nights

Question: (since there are two trains involved is it possible to take a taxi to Madrid-Chamartin then catch direct train to Segovia Guiomar?) to save a bit of time. I looked into Jayride but it’s too pricey!

9/11 train to Santiago de Compostela (arrive mid day/ pick up rental car)

9/11-9/14 Santiago 3 nights (visit Finisterra & Musial one day)

9/14 depart am for 6-9 hr drive (stop at Puente Viesgo) to Bilbao

9/14-9/18 Bilbao/San Sebastian 4 nights

9/18 depart Bilbao early a.m. for Girona (6.5 hr drive)

9/18-9/23 Girona 5 nights (1.5 hr drive) return car to BARC 9/21 train back to evening in Girona

Devoting the last two of the five days to Girona here are some of the other towns we’d like to visit while in the area.
Question: what makes sense time wise without overloading ourselves?

Tossa de Mar

Maybe Peratallada 1/2 day, Cadaqués 1/2  day
Another day split between Besalú to Castellfollit de la Roca to Rupit
Third day, Pals to Peratallada to Begur or Tossa de Mar

9/21 At the end of the 3rd day return car to BARC then take fast train back to Girona

9/22-23 Girona 9/23 train at end of day to Barcelona

9/23-9/26 Barcelona 3 nights 
(arr. eve. 9/23 dep.  early am 9/26) 

9/26 early flight to Sevilla 4 nights

9/29 pick up rental car (9/30 visit Italica)

9/30 drive to Ronda

10/4 Ronda 4 nights

Question: using Ronda as a base, what towns are a must and how much time should we allow?

Arcos de la Frontera
Setenil de las Bodegas

10/4 a.m. drive to Cordoba Return car stay 5 nights  

10/9 am train to Toledo 4 nights 

10/13 Train to MAD airport Toledo > MAD 1.5 hr train/subway


Posted by
18732 posts

I have never driven in Europe, so I really don't have a good sense of how much time you need for visiting smaller places with your own vehicle. I've always had to depend on public transportation, which is a different kettle of fish altogether. In addition, I haven't been to all the places you want to see. Therefore, my comments are going to be unbalanced. Incidentally, I am your age. I walk a lot but tend to be a slow starter in the morning, and I hate the idea of leaving an area before I've finished what i set out to do.

Since Segovia is your first stop, it will be where you are most affected by jetlag. I wonder whether you'll want to hang around in Segovia for part of 9/11. I found it an interesting city, architecturally. There was more to see than just the stunning aqueduct. It appears that you'll have to take one of the fast trains to Santiago de Compostela, so I assume you'll want to buy the tickets in advance, which means having to commit to a specific departure time before you've experienced Segovia. If you decide to take an afternoon train, that will mean a late arrival in Santiago de Compostela, giving you only one full day there. SdC has a very, very large historic district, and I think you'll find just one day inadequate.

I wouldn't pick up the rental car on the day you arrive in Santiago de Compostela. Unless forced to do so something different because of opening hours at sights you want to see, I'd do the side-trips on the last day in SdC so the car rental would be two days shorter.

There are many other interesting places in Galicia (A Coruna, Pontevedra and Betanzos among them), and the countryside itself is lovely. There are also some great cities between Galicia and the Basque Country. Have you been to Leon, Oviedo, Burgos, the Picos de Europa, etc.? Rather than a rushed trip to Galicia that gives you time to see just a bit of it before hurrying back east, I'd suggest postponing Galicia until your next trip to Spain and using that time in other areas so you don't spend so much time in transit. Three days is also short for the Basque Country--Bilbao alone has two art museums and a large medieval district to explore, so that's another place where I'd add some time. Then you could think about Hondarribia, Zumaia/Getaria/Zarautz, Bermeo, Lekeitio, Vittoria-Gasteiz and Gernika (not all of them, of course).

Ronda's a lot larger than Arcos and Arcos is larger than Grazalema--plus Arcos is hilly. I haven't been to the other two, but if the driving times aren't too long (I haven't checked, and I understand the roads can be slow going), you should certainly be able to hit at least two of the side-trip towns in one day, and perhaps three if you don't want to have a long lunch. Bagging three of them one day would allow some extra time in Ronda if you decide you need it.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I'd go all the way to Ronda just to see it and the white villages (and Italica) on this trip. I'd be tempted to stop at Cordoba, postpone the places farther south till a time when I could include some other places in Andalucia. I guess I'm still trying to find time for longer stays in the north.

I loved both Toledo (hilly) and Cordoba, and I don't think you have too much time in those cities. (I assume others will disagree.) However, by comparison to what you've allotted for Galicia and the Basque Country...

I would be nervous about staying in Toledo the night before a flight out of Madrid, though I see you're departing on a weekday, and there are some early trains. What time is your flight?

Posted by
3115 posts

Since you like archaeological sites, you should look into some of the caves with prehistoric paintings in northern Spain. Altamira is a reproduction, but the cave of Tito Bustillo, in Ribadesella, is the real thing. Get a reservation. The town, itself, is interesting, with a number of mansions built by men who made fortunes in the West Indies.
Zaragoza is another really interesting city. I believe its origins antedate ancient Rome, but there are plenty of Roman sites and a good museum to explain what you see. There are many remnants of the Islamic period, including the stunning Aljaferia Palace. When we visited, about 3 years ago, the Art Nouveau covered market was being rehabbed; but I would expect it has been finished by now. There are many other attractive buildings of that era.
On the Costa Brava, Empuries has both Greek and Roman sites, with a small museum showcasing some of the finds.

Posted by
882 posts

Ronda is great and easily walkable. We stayed there 3 nights about 10 years ago but didn't do any day trips. Looks like you have a fabulous trip planned!

Posted by
3134 posts

I don’t understand the long drive from Santiago de Compostela to Bilbao with only one stop. You’ll be passing some beautiful countryside and cites/towns. While the drive is all on interstate type roads, plan on it being closer to your 9 hour estimate especially if you take the interior route rather than the coastal route. For the white towns, you’ll be able to see the ones you want in a day., especially since you’ll be starting in Ronda. If you’re not going to be doing any hiking, an hour in each Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra should be enough, and a little longer in Arcos de la Frontera. The roads in that area area rural so you won’t be going more than about 35mph. The road between Grazalema and Zahara has a lot of twists and turns, so even though the distance is short it will take about 25 minutes. Sentenil de las Bodegas is about 20 minutes north of Ronda and is worth about an hour. The others you mention are kind of on a loop. From Ronda you can take the north road to Zahara then over to Arcos. On the return you can take the southern route to Grazalema. When driving ensure you don’t drive over the limit as cameras are everywhere. Also be aware that the speed limit in all towns and cities was recently reduced. The new limit is either 12 or 18mph, I don’t recall.

With regard to the metro, getting to Chamartín station is easy. Take metro line 8/pink from the airport to the Nuevos Ministerios station. Switch to line 10/dark blue and go two stops. It would be cheaper than a taxi. I’m not sure if a taxi would save time since it would need to stop at all the traffic lights and get stuck in traffic.

Posted by
1237 posts

It's all personal preference, of course, but I'd skip Italica. Especially if you've ever seen any of the Italian ruins such as Pompei or Ostia Antica, it is rather disappointing. Instead I'd drive from Seville to Ronda via Osuna.

Given the weather you'll be experiencing from heat and humidity, I'd ensure your trip includes a few "nothing days" when you plan to just relax rather than tour. When you have 35 days time and a car, one of Spain's hidden delights is stopping in a one-horse town with nothing much to see, but a hotel or hostal, and a bar with local food, a language barrier and something incomprehensible on the battered TV in the corner.

For me, each White Town is individually worthwhile to visit. But more than a couple in a row tends to get samey. It is like spending seven days looking at each town's cathedral, each attractive in themselves but after number three they do rather merge into one (unless very different like Cordoba's). Instead, from Ronda you could on one day take a trip to the seaside, either south or west, for variety.. Or visit Antequerra for the dolmens which might tickle your archaeological interests.

Posted by
2169 posts

September 2021, 35 nights in Spain … is this too much?

My honest opinion is yes, the way things are going in Spain, my inclination would be for a much more focused and less complex itinerary, as to mitigate complications and stress.

With this new wave of covid and return of restrictions/curfews in much of the country, a highly structured 35 day multi-city/region trip might not be practical nor enjoyable. It appears you want to see most of the country with this current draft of your itinerary, I think that is better suited for 2022, when things will hopefully be more stable.

For 2021 travels, I would recommend you think of an "appetizer" to just visit one region, with 1-2 cities as a home base from which to make local daytrips. Perhaps a Bilbao and San Sebastian combo would work well, with daytrips in the Basque Country? Or Sevilla and Malaga combo, with daytrips to the white hill towns? The key for 2021 I think is don't over plan and to keep your itinerary flexible.

Posted by
3789 posts

Make sure all plans are changeable, and I agree about narrowing down regions this year. Andalucia in September is still in the 90s or 100sF whereas the northern coast is dropping down to low 70s.
I was staying near Atocha station so took the direct slow train to Segovia. It took longer but was picturesque and relaxing. Still requires a bus to get you downtown, but a shorter local bus trip. Much less crowded that the other station bus.
I think this year, having an idea of what you want to do, but not committing until arrival may be the easiest. Decide a few days at a time.

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you all for your thoughtful replies to my post. We sadly (and with plenty of hesitation) decided to postpone our trip until 2022. At that point I’ll revisit your ideas and give the Basque Country more time.

Posted by
1986 posts

I know you have postponed, but that will give you time to delve more deeply into these regions. The issue I saw was one others mentioned--by choosing several regions, you are only skimming each. You could spend all 35 days in Andalucia and just barely see most of it, for example. I just physically could not drive across northern Spain and not see more than a few places. It is all personal of course, but the beauty of having ample time to travel is that you can really settle into a place, and there is just so much to see in each region. I felt the same about reading your Basque country plan. I spent ten days and could have doubled it easily.
Here's hoping we will both be traveling in 2022!

Posted by
2169 posts

Thank you for the update, I think with the complexity of your proposed itinerary you guys made the right choice, best to leave it to a hopefully more stable 2022.