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September trip--Basque, La Rioja, Picos de Europa/Cantabria/Navarra

I am planning a trip for September 2021 to Dordogne/Basque areas/Picos de Europa/La Rioja. Thank you to those who responded to my post under France. Now that I've nailed down this trip more, I'm starting a separate post under Spain with more specific questions related to Spain.

  1. We are very interested in the Basque Culture. There are 3 museums of Basque culture that I'm seeing. Bayone, France, and San Sebastian and Bilboa. I'm not sure I have time for all 3.

  2. Looking for recommendations for winery visits in LaRioja.

  3. We would like to drive from San Sebastian to Bilboa in one day thru and stopping at points of interest in Getaria, Lekeito and Gernika. Doable? Recommendations?

  4. We stay at local, modest, well located, friendly and clean inns/hotels. Any recommendations for San Sebastian which is expensive especially given the weak dollar. Also, we will need to park our rental car. Additionally, other inns along my route that you'd like to recommend?

  5. We are wanting to spend a couple days in Picos de Europa. We will probably visit the more western parts on another trip. I read of Hermida Gorge. Is this the highway route between Panes and Potes? There are chair lifts in Fuente De and Tres Mares, probably can only do one of them. Opinions?

  6. We'd like to stop for Comillas (modernista archetecture), Santillana Del Mar (picturesque), Laredo (maybe) and Castro Urdiales (pink, gothic cathedral, castle built by Templar now a lighthouse). Wondering if people have visited any of these and amount of time spent.

  7. Recommendations for spots for picnic lunches along the route.

  8. I watched the movie "Aerial Spain", which was excellent BTW, on Amazon which is not available at present. There was footage of a place by Bilboa or San Sebastian or Hondarribia, where a path runs on a ridge extended way out into the ocean. It looks spectacular. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

Thank you!

EDITED--Fixed format

Posted by
18766 posts

The one-day bus tour I took into the Picos de Europa took us to the Fuente De lift (we paid for the 15-euro ticket separately). I am not an expert on high-mountain lifts, but I thought it was worth doing. There were patches of snow on the ground at the top of the lift on July 7, 2017. There was a fair amount of waiting at the lift on the Thursday of my visit. I don't know whether it will be as busy in September, but you should be prepared to lose some time there. I think there was a place to buy food, but I don't remember the details. If you'd expect to be at Fuente De around lunchtime, you might arrive with a packed lunch so you could make some use out of any waiting time that materializes.

I don't keep notes on how much time I spend at day-trip destinations, but I have a record of going inside three different places in Comillas, so it wasn't just a quick visit: Palacio de Sobrellano (neo-Gothic; may require guided tour), El Caprichio and Universidad Pontificia. The first two are close together; the U.P. is set apart and may have required a bus or taxi (though I have no cost recorded for either, so I may have walked; I think it's uphill). I think there's a small historic center as well, but I have no memory of how much time I spent there. I had no trouble doing what I wanted to do in Comillas and having lunch there (didn't record name of restaurant) on a day-trip by bus from Santander.

For me Santillana del Mar was a walk-around sort of destination, another day-trip from Santander. I recall a ceramics shop that had some pretty, green pottery that I hoped to encounter again, toward the end of my trip when I wouldn't have to carry it around for too long. Alas, I did not see it again that year. There was something similar--maybe identical--for sale in Ubeda in Andalucia, which I unfortunately visited the first week of my 4-1/2 month 2019 trip. I am doomed never to have a piece of that green pottery!

Posted by
2180 posts

We spent 3 nights at the Parador de Fuente Dé, back in mid-September of 2015, it was so convenient to stay right in the Picos de Europa National Park, the views were incredible. I really enjoyed the hiking in the area, just take the adjacent cable car up to the top, and there are a number of alpine trails. It was light jacket weather when I was there. The restaurant at the Parador was fairly good as well, but the best dining experience was at nearby Meson del Oso (I think I mentioned before), a rustic tavern/inn which serves the hearty local food of the mountain area.

We arrived late the first night driving direct from Santillana del Mar. The next day we went up top of the mountains with the teleférico de Fuente Dé (an experience onto itself) and hiked all day. There is a restaurant at the top that you can have a quick lunch at. The next day we drove to nearby Potes to explore the town and the immediate environs, we gave plenty of time for us to stop and explore an alpine stream or take photos of a beautiful meadow or two.

The last day we drove early to the stunning pilgrimage site of Covadonga aka the "Cradle of Spain", where the Reconquista was birthed after a fateful battle. The holy cave under the waterfall holds the tombs of the 8th century Visigothic Kings Pelagius and Alfonso I.

Posted by
3155 posts

It appears you’re staying up along the coast. I know there are wineries further south, like Bodegas Marqués de Cárceres in Cenicero, but that’s probably further south than you’ll be. On our 2017 trip in that area we started in Santillana Del Mar and ended in Hondarrbia the same day, so it is doeable. En route we stopped in Zumaia and Getaria and still got to Hondarrbia by late afternoon. In Zumaia there is a point/ridge that fits your description. It’s right by Ermite San Telmo (mirador Paseo zumaya) if you want to find it on Google maps. Beautiful view of the beach and flysch rock formations. If you’ve never been to Santillana Del Mar it’s like walking back in time and worth probably a half day. It is full of day tripping tourists during the day but empties out at night. Also, cars are not allowed on the streets during the day. When we were there we stayed at one of two Paradors (Gil Blas) in the town. If staying at one of the Paradors, you can drive to them to unload your luggage. They do have a parking lot right in the town beside the one Parador. Believe it was 15€ per night to park. The hotel was 130€ per night and that was in late May. Prices vary by time of year. I agree with Carlos that Covadonga is stunning.

La Rioja wineries
https://www.savoredjourneys.com/11-must-visit-bodegas-rioja/

Posted by
950 posts

Paragraph 3: Jules, so you're spending the night in Bilbao correct? It'll be a shorter day if you visit Geurnica along the way instead of stopping in Geitaria or Lekeitio. Geitaria is a good day trip option from San Sebastian (30-minutes), but I wouldn't combine Gitaria and Lekeitio both in a single day let alone all threee. I suggest deciding which one you want to see most unless you like cramming a lot in. Lekeitio is 1h and Guernica is 30-minutes east of Bilbao making them better day trip options from Bilbao than San Sebastian.
Paragraph 4: I use Rick Steves’ guidebooks for hotel recommendations or AirBnB. I then check out the negative reviews of what Rick suggests on TripAdvisor. When you see the TripAdvisor owl eyes on a website, it’s a winner.

Posted by
3870 posts

@MaryPat, In #1, it should be Bayone, Bilbao and San Sebastian. I corrected. I am interested in the museums of Basque culture, not art. I'm not sure on your comment in regards to Paragraph 3. We are driving from France and will see San Sebastian for a few days and then will be driving from San Sebastian to Bilboa where we'll stay at least a day. I am talking about taking a day to get from San Sebastian to Bilboa. This trip is almost a month in length. I also use Rick Steves' guidebooks as a starting point on accommodations and have already noted what he has for San Sebastian. I do like to get input from locals or people that have traveled to the area. We have taken quite a few trips to Europe, now, and most often have had good luck with RS's recs however, sometimes we have gone with other travel guides or personal recommendations.

Posted by
241 posts

I disagree that the architecture at the Gugg is the only thing to see. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Currently there’s a Kandinsky exhibit and Jeff Koombs work is not to be missed.
On a RS tour of Basque country we stayed in a simple hotel near Old Town - a short walk away from delicious pinxto. If you’re a cheesecake lover, do stop at La Vina for a generous slice and say hello to Miguel.

Hotel Parma in San Sebastián
Try not to pack too much into an itinerary.
Have fun!

Posted by
144 posts

We are very interested in the Basque Culture. There are 3 museums of Basque culture that I'm seeing. Bayone, France, and San Sebastian and Bilboa. I'm not sure I have time for all 3.

Looking for recommendations for winery visits in LaRioja.

I like the small wineries, family owned, such as Ostatu, Alútiz, Casa Primicia, Tritium....the big ones are maybe too touristy. La Rioja is an autonomous region (like an state) and it should not be mistaken with the Rioja wine region, divided into three areas (Rioja Alavesa, the Basque part. with Laguardia as the most important town; Rioja Alta, close to it, where Haro is located, and Rioja Oriental, the less known one).

We would like to drive from San Sebastian to Bilboa in one day thru and stopping at points of interest in Getaria, Lekeito and Gernika. Doable? Recommendations?

It´s a perfect drive, avoid the highway, beautiful road but lots and lots of curves. No big parking lots, so take your time for parking (Lekeitio is absolutely beautiful but a hell for parking). In Gernika do not miss th eCasa de Juntas, one of the oldest forms of Parliament in the world, and our sacred Tree, representative of our liberties.

I watched the movie "Aerial Spain", which was excellent BTW, on Amazon which is not available at present. There was footage of a place by Bilboa or San Sebastian or Hondarribia, where a path runs on a ridge extended way out into the ocean. It looks spectacular. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

Yes, you must refer to the worldwide known Camino de Santiago, St James Path or Way, that extends into Santiago de Compostela from France. There are at least 14 Caminos. Our coas is very wild and rigged, and offers beautiful walks along the cliffs. Well signed and an excellent thing to do from Zumaia to Deba, for example, or from Donostia-San Sebastián to Pasaia Donibane (Pasajes San Juan in Spanish).

Posted by
3870 posts

@Mike, thanks for the info! Any thoughts on the three Basque museums I am seeing? I will likely be in Bayonne at the start of my trip and will go to that one for sure. Then there is the one in San Sebastian which I think is extensive and the one in Bilbao.

I do know of the Camino de Santiago and its history. So interesting and compelling! I think if I had the time (and better knees and feet!) I'd do it, or at least a chunk of it. What I am talking about and apparently not clear ;) is some kind of day or half day hike that goes out on a thin ridge/peninsula that juts out into the ocean. I think I will need to do some BING searches and look at images.\

@Ann, jaimeelsabio, and Carlos, thanks for the info on how you approached Picos de Europa and those cities west of Bilboa. I'm really looking forward to that area. Also thanks for the details on La Rioja

Posted by
144 posts

A common spelling mistake, due to the pronunciation of English, is Bilboa by Bilbao (you have 15 vowel sounds and we have 5).

What you´re talking about is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, which used to be one of my favorite places until it was shown in Game of Thrones...and then invaded by massive tourism. Still a great place to visit, but you have to go downhill for a while first, and then climb almos 250 steps. It was a very important place for us Basques, full of symbolism, and it´s been ruined by GOT fans and by the excessive publicity it´s received recently.

Regarding the museums: the Baiona (Bayonne) one is really good, the San Telmo in Donostia (Basque for San Sebastián) may not be that interesting, and in Bilbao (my hometown) you can´t miss the Guggenheim. My parents live in front of it (best views from the other side of the river, which most people ignore), it was built on what was a very industrial, port area, and now is a beautiful promenade and parks.

If in Bilbao, do not miss the Old Town, the 116 year old funicular from the hill of Artxanda for the best views of the city, the Fine Arts Museum and if you can, the unique Hanging Bridge (Puente Colgante, a working UNESCO World Heritage Monument) in Getxo and the old fishing port of Algorta. Easy drive or easy access by metro. Both Bilbao and San Sebastian are walkable cities, no need to get a car.

Posted by
3870 posts

Mike, my fingers keep wanting to do Bilboa, usually I catch it. THANKS! Mystery solved, though disappointed it may have become a selfie spot for GOT people. We noticed similar in Girona. I have never seen an episode of GOT.

There is a Basque Museum in Bilbao, yes? In the RS guide, it is called Euskal Museoa located in a 16th century convent. It appears to be cheap so I suppose we could pop in and determine on our own.

Posted by
144 posts

The Basque Museum in BilbAo is worth a visit, yes, next to my birthplace in the old town and a place all kids visited during our school years. You´ll love the building, that´s true! Euskal means "Basque" in Basque (Euskal Herria is the Basque Country, also known as Euskadi).

Posted by
268 posts

I watched the movie "Aerial Spain", which was excellent BTW, on Amazon which is not available at present. There was footage of a place by Bilboa or San Sebastian or Hondarribia, where a path runs on a ridge extended way out into the ocean. It looks spectacular. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

Posted by
401 posts

I watched the movie "Aerial Spain", which was excellent BTW, on Amazon
which is not available at present. There was footage of a place by
Bilboa or San Sebastian or Hondarribia, where a path runs on a ridge
extended way out into the ocean. It looks spectacular. Anyone know
what I'm talking about?

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

This looks lovely (as someone who is also toying around with a trip to northern Spain!) but alas, due to landslides in January of this year (2021) it appears that this is temporarily closed:

NOTICE: Due to the risk of landslides, both ways to Gaztelugatxe are
closed to the public. For safety reasons, no bookings can be placed
until further notice.

Relatedly, Aerial Spain is no longer available on Amazon but it is available on Tubi TV (in the US at least -- it may be georestricted elsewhere in the world. This is a free but ad-supported service, so unskippable ads will appear at intervals in the video.)

Posted by
3870 posts

Andrew, well I guess that, at least, frees up my itinerary a bit! I will have to explore Tubi. Now, if I could just watch Stanley Tucci's Italy shows somewhere. (already checked tubi!)