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Spain itinerary planning -3rd trip, focus on area between Bilbao and Valencia

I'm starting to plan our 3rd trip to Spain for June 2020. Previous trips have covered Barcelona, Madrid and Andalucia. Hubby was born in Bilbao and speaks Spanish, has family in and around Valencia. Added bonus - we will be travelling during the 2020 Euros and look forward to being in Bilbao (a host city) for at least one of the games. Flying into BCN on June 10, departing BCN on June 27 - which gives us 17 nights. Flights are locked down. We are experienced travelers, love history, all things Roman, architecture, tromping around castle ruins, and sitting in plazas con tapas y vino. Not so much into churches and museums, but we are keen to see at least the outsides of the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the Science museum in Valencia. We are thinking a car will be necessary to cover more ground and allow more stops. The only must do places are Bilbao, Valencia/Xabia.

First run at itinerary looks like this - may need to revise once Euro draw is made.
Upon arrival at BCN, immediately bus to Tarragona (2 nights)
Train to Valencia (4 nights) Visit family, check out city, day trip to Cuenca by AVE one day. (1 night too many?)
Pick up car and drive to Xabia (aka Javea) - visit more family (2 nights)
Drive to Zaragoza (3 nights) with a stop in Teruel?. Day trip to Huesca ?by car. (1 night too many?)
Drive to San Sebastian (2 nights) with stops in Olite (for castle) and possibly Pamplona
Drive to Bilbao (3 nights). One day will be spent touring around the area, including Guernica
Drive to Zaragoza with stop in Logrono?. Drop off car. Continue by train to Barcelona (or possibly Sitges) 1 night (or 2?)
Fly home

Any thoughts from the (very knowledgeable and experienced!) peanut gallery? Our previous trips to Spain, France and Portugal have been amazing - all planned with the help of this forum. Thanks to you all!

Posted by
17861 posts

I didn't think Pamplona was any great shakes. Not a bad place, just not an essential stop. The life-size bull-running statue is cool, though. Olite is a back-of-beyond sort of place. I love places like that.

I am quite a fan of Cuenca and Teruel, but it must be said that--aside from the hanging houses along the gorge and the medieval center on the hill--the major sights in Cuenca are probably the cathedral and the two small modern-art museums. Teruel hase som interesting mudejar architecture and is blessedly non-touristy.

Near Teruel is the atmospheric town of Albarracin. It can't be seen on a day-trip from anywhere if you're using public transportation; you have to bus in from Teruel and spend the night. If you get as close as Teruel with a car, I hope you'll be able to make time for Albarracin.

I only passed through Logrono on a bus. If you find yourself near the hill town of Laguardia, it is definitely worth a stop. It's between Vitoria-Gasteiz and Logrono and very near the latter.

There are lots of additional attractive places in the Basque Country, though you may already have enough on your plate: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Hondarribia, Zumaia/Getaria/Zarautz.

Posted by
1992 posts

Sound like a fantastic trip you have planned, I too love all things Roman and tromping around castle ruins! ;-)

First, some initial logistical thoughts:

  • Your itinerary is doable, albeit quite "zig-zag". I agree that a car will definitely come in handy, especially making the trek up from Xabia to Zaragoza and beyond, doing this by only public transport will be a headache. You may want to rent the car right from the get go as you leave Barcelona, as there are many interesting places to see in the area between Tarragona and Valencia (nicknamed Spain's Tuscany).

  • If you do rent a car, know that it may be difficult to find parking in the larger cities, but I think the freedom offered by having a car outweighs this inconvenience (in this case).

  • On your way back to Barcelona, instead of backtracking in a convoluted manner with the car/train combo, consider just doping off the car in Bilbao and taking a low cost flight back to Barcelona. This will free up some nights you can spend in Barcelona, before your flight the next day after. I would not stay in Sitges in the summer.

  • If you must drive back to Barcelona, consider going through the foothills of the Pyrenees via Jaca, rather than back tracking via Zaragoza.

Now for the fun part: my recommendation for Roman Ruins, Medieval Castles, and other Points of Interest along your route:

Between Barcelona and Valencia:

  • Les Ferreres Aqueduct - Roman Aqueduct you can walk on top of, a few km from Tarragona.
  • Tarragona Roman Ruins - make sure to visit their archaeological museum MNAT
  • Sagunto Castle (Saguntum) - settlement sacked by Hannibal that led to the Second Punic War. Now an eclectic mix of Roman, Moorish, and Christian fortifications.
  • Peñíscola Castle - Knights Templar castle and white-washed town that sit on a large rock jutting out to the sea.
  • Poblet Fortified Monastery - UNESCO Heritage Site that houses the unique hanging Royal Tombs of the old Kings of Aragon.
  • Miravet Castle - Knights Templar castle perched high above the lazy Ebro River

Between Valencia/Cuenca and Zaragoza

  • Villa de Noheda - (not seen myself) may be open to the public by the time you travel, recently discover Roman Villa with largest intact Roman mosaics in the world!
  • Albarracín - voted the prettiest village in Spain, located close to Teruel
  • Teruel - fantastic Mudéjar architecture

Zaragoza and around

  • Castle of Loarre - one of the oldest castles in Spain in the foothills of the Pyrenees, used by Ridley Scott in the film Kingdom of Heaven, located close Huesca.
  • Olite - highly recommend, the walled town and castle are excellent!
  • Sos del Rey Católico - a bit of a detour from Olite, but a very atmospheric and historical Medieval stone Village

Well... that's all I got for the time being until I can think of more things lol! You may want to check this article in the meantime: https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/05/30/inenglish/1559231622_485491.html

Posted by
327 posts

Wow! Thank you Carlos and ACraven for your amazingly detailed and thoughtful responses. Will continue my thinking while I wait for the Euros draw!

Posted by
1992 posts

Will continue my thinking while I wait for the Euros draw

And so will I... vamos la Furia Roja! ⚽⚽🔥🔥🚨🚨🚨🐂🐂

Posted by
601 posts

'The Trip to Spain' is on Netflix. It somewhat covers some of the areas you mentioned.

Steve (Coogan) convinces Rob (Brydon) to go on a trip through Cantabria, the Basque region, Aragon, Rioja, Castile, La Mancha and Andalucia, retracing the journey Steve took as a young man. On their journey the pair contemplate history, fame, and fatherhood.

It's not really a travel movie, but it might be useful to you.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trip_to_Spain
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTvy8ab1NSo

Posted by
1669 posts

You've got plenty of good advice already, I'll just chip in on a few things:
- there's nothing too special in Huesca, so I'd rather cut Zaragoza to two nights and spend the night in Teruel - this will leave time for Albarracin.
- I'm assuming the Bilbao dates are locked by the football game schedules, right? Otherwise it would have made more sense to drive straight from Teruel to Bilbao, it only takes half a day. And then do Bilbao - Donostia - Zaragoza.
- I'd drive all the way to Barcelona rather than drop off a car in Zaragoza. Timing your drive with a train when coming from hundreds of km away is difficult.

Posted by
327 posts

Alas Going234 The Trip to Spain* seems not to be available on Canadian Netflix :( But I will definitely rent it! Thanks for the tip. And thank you Balso for another vote for Albarracin, and for Carlos - Vamos Furia Roja indeed. We've got some new players to learn for this tournament!