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Suggestions for a 2.5 Week Roadtrip in Northern Spain

Hello everyone,

We are planning to move forward with our 2.5-week roadtrip through Northern Spain in mid- July. We have been to Barcelona and cities in Andalusia, but we are less familiar with this part of Spain, so we would be grateful for your tips and suggestions. I look forward to delving further into each region / destination, but for now, we would value your thoughts on the overall itinerary for pacing, feasibility, variety, etc. I’m sure one could spend an entire week—or two!—in San Sebastian, but we would like to get a good flavor of the region(s). For us, the two places we would like to visit most are San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela. Our international flights are into and out of Madrid. We are considering a one-way car rental, picking up in Madrid and dropping off in Galicia (at Vigo airport). We would like a mix of cities and villages and a diversity of experiences, though we tend to value places of natural/scenic beauty (both sea and mountains). And good eating, of course—fresh seafood in particular!

Day 1: Arrive into Madrid early morning. Rent a car and drive to Rioja (Where to stay? Parador Santa Domingo La Calzada?)

Day 2: Basque Coast: Hondaribbia?

Day 3: Basque Coast: Hondaribbia?

Day 4: San Sebastian

Day 5: San Sebastian

Day 6: Bilbao (Hotel Gran Bilbao)

Day 7: Santander (or Parador Santillana Gil Blas in Santillana del Mar?)

Day 8: Santander (or Santillana del Mar?)

Day 9: Picos de Europa (Parador Fuentes De?)

Day 10: Picos de Europa

Day 11: Oviedo

Day 12: Oviedo

Day 13: Santiago Compostella (Stay in Parador there?)

Day 14: Santiago Compostella

Day 15: Combarro

Day 16: Return Car in Vigo and fly to Madrid in AM

Day 17: Madrid

Day 18: Madrid

Day 19: International Flight Home

This is a first pass as an itinerary, and we are not wedded to it yet. All thoughts and critiques are welcome. One question I have is how different the Basque region is from Galicia in terms of coastal scenery, food, experiences, etc. I’m sure each region is rich enough to devote the entire 2.5 weeks to, but to the extent they are sufficiently different, we would like to experience both.

I would particularly value suggestions for hotels/lodging in each of these places, and suggestions for places to cut (for redundancy), substitute, or add (for variety and diversity).

Thank you for the consideration of the itinerary and our questions.

Posted by
2080 posts

Day 1: 3.5 hours would be beyond my limit for driving after an international flight. Can't recommend that in good conscience!

I have not been west of Bilbao, and I spent ten days between San Sebastian and Bilbao, so I travel much more slowly and like tiny places. That's enough about me--do you usually prefer this quick of a pace? I can't advise if it is doable, just that it looks like a lot. Anytime there are lots of 1 and 2 night stays, I think a re-think is in order (but if you have done this and like the pace, of course disregard). I have to stay one place for at least four nights, and when it comes to northern Spain, I think focusing on east, west, or central is a good strategy.

Posted by
6763 posts

First thing you need to do is try to book a room in the Parador in Santiago de Compostela. We booked a year ahead but due to less people traveling, you may still be able to get a room. Every time you walk outside, you will see pilgrims arriving in the square.
We spent a week in Hondaribbia, an excellent base. It is a large town/ small city with two distinct historical districts and many good restaurants. Our trip was from Lisbon to Barcelona, six weeks by car. We loved Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque country. Be sure to cross the border and visit the French Basque villages in the foothills of the Pyrennes, so charming. Very close to Hondarribia. Visit St-Jean de Luz too.

Posted by
2440 posts

Hi!
Your Day 1 drive is too long to be safe, unfortunately. The highway to the north is curvy, and the last 40 miles to your destination is a 2-lane road. You could perhaps take the bus from Madrid Airport to Burgos (very frequent, 2.5 hours) and rent a car there, as it is then only 1 hr to Sto. Domingo de la Calzada. I say "perhaps", because I am unsure about car rental options in Burgos and you would need to do your own research.

In any case, 1 night in the Rioja won't give you time for anything. I would skip it, and use a connecting flight to Bilbao instead!

Which brings me to the north coast proper:

  • Hondarribia is lovely but as far East as you can go. It would be more convenient, and just as lovely, to stay in Lekeitio, set in a gorgeous bay, with the option to visit historically-important Gernika.

    • San Sebastian is great, no comments there.
    • Bilbao could be your first night if you land there. 1 night is enough if you just plan to visit the Guggenheim; the old town is nice but there will be better towns further along your route!
    • Hard pass on Santander, however Santillana del Mar is worth it, but 1 night could be enough. I only know the outside of the parador so cannot comment.

Until this point, the route I suggest is Bilbao - San Sebastian - Lekeitio - Santillana ; you would only need to rent a car to leave San Sebastian.

Further west:

  • Picos de Europa are great but the Parador in Fuente Dé is ugly; I would rather stay in the Hotel del Oso in Cosgaya, a few miles down the valley (been there a decade ago, reviews still great!).

  • No comments on Oviedo, I only passed through

  • Oviedo to Santiago de C. is a long stretch... but with the Rioja night you could skip, you have a night to spend in, for instance, Ribadeo, with a chance to see the Playa de las Catedrales (amazing beach)

  • 2 nights in Santiago is OK, but a 3rd won't hurt, it is a good base to see the coast as well.

  • I had never head of Combarro until tonight, and now I am curious!

  • 3 nights in Madrid seem appropriate to me unless you are a museum-hound.

All in all it is a fast-paced trip but very feasible except that day 1!

Posted by
159 posts

What I can comment on:

Day 1: Arrive into Madrid early morning. Rent a car and drive to Rioja (Where to stay? Parador Santa Domingo La Calzada?)

It depends. If you want to visit wineries, I would not stay there, I´d choose Laguardia (Basque Rioja) or whereabouts instead, or Haro in La Rioja. If it´s history and monasteries, yes.

Day 2: Basque Coast: Hondaribbia? (Hondarribia)

Beautiful town, just 20min drive from Donostia-San Sebastian and a very short drive to the French Basque Country. A good base for the area.

Day 3: Basque Coast: Hondaribbia?

Day 4: San Sebastian

if you´ve stayed in Hondarribia, maybe too close?

Day 5: San Sebastian

Day 6: Bilbao (Hotel Gran Bilbao)

(my hometown), the hotel is new and a few minutes walk (uphill) from the old quarter. I´d stay two nights in Bilbao.

Day 7: Santander (or Parador Santillana Gil Blas in Santillana del Mar?)

Santillana is quite touristy, a lovely place off season though. Historica, but very small, two days may be too much. Santander is the capital of Cantabria, not too big, but a city (beautiful beaches, although weather in northern Spain is usually very rainy). Two very different concepts. From Santillana you may want to visit prehistoric caves, like El Castillo and Las Monedas, well worth the visit.

Day 8: Santander (or Santillana del Mar?)

Posted by
2283 posts

You could consider reversing your trip, to stay the first few nights in Madrid and then employing the direct Alvia high speed train that goes from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela that takes about 4ish hours. That way you won't have to drive right off the bat.

So it would go like:

Madrid
|
high speed train to Santiago de Compostela
|
Rent car drive to Oviedo (stopping in Cudillero)
|
Picos de Europa
|
Drive to Bilbao (stopping at Santillana del Mar)
|
Drop off car in San Sebastian
|
Fly to Madrid and directly connect with international flight home

Dropping places like Santander, Hondarribia, Vigo, Combarro will minimise redundancy while maintaining diversity of sites you will visit.

Posted by
3320 posts

Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take to drive places, once you get off the autovias. Santo Domingo de la Calzada is about 150 miles from Madrid, a little less from the airport. The road to Burgos is interstate and then 2 lanes from Burgos to Santo Domingo. It’s an easy drive and the roads are in good condition. There are two Paradors there, the one on the main plaza by the church is in the best location and Santo Domingo Bernardo de Fresneda parking is about 50 yards from the entrance. It is in a restricted driving zone and you’re limited to 30 minutes for unloading. The other, Santo Domingo Bernardo de Fresneda is a couple blocks away. There is little to see in the town itself. There are a few things to see in nearby towns, but after a flight and drive, my guess is you wouldn’t want to drive anyplace at all. Consider staying in Burgos. It is closer to Madrid and has more to see. We stayed at the Abba Burgos hotel. It has a parking garage. Another option if you want to stay at a Parador would be to stay at the Parador de Lerma, between Madrid and Burgos. It would cut down on the drive after a long flight.

If you’ve never been to Santillana Del Mar it’s worth spending one night. It too has two Paradors, Gil Blas and Santillana Del Mar. We stayed at Gil Blas and enjoyed it. Both are near each other about 50 yards apart and the parking lot is at the Santillana Del Mar Parador. Driving in that town is forbidden during the day with the exception of those staying at the paradors. You’re limited to 30 minutes unloading or loading. After the day trippers leave (about 4pm), the town is enchanting during the evening.

The Parador in Hondarrbia is outstanding, but not inexpensive, 238€ per night is what we paid. It is in an old castle and the terrace out back has an outstanding view over to France. There’s also an elevator on the backside of the Parador so you don’t need to walk up the hill unless you want to. Parking is limited and rather tight to maneuver into from a narrow road. Pulling out is just as tight.

In Santiago de Compostela we thoroughly enjoyed our couple nights in the Parador. It is not cheap. We paid 225€ per night in May. It’s location is fantastic, right beside the cathedral and plaza where the pilgrims complete their Camino. To get to it, you must drive into a restricted driving zone to unload. Parking in under the Parador. The parador will park and retrieve your car.

We love staying at Paradors. If you’re going to stay at some, join its free Amigos program. With it you’ll get a free beverage upon arrival at every parador you stay at. If you’re over 55 there are special Golden Days rates with included breakfast. Plus, you also earn points for future stays (restrictions apply). In 2017 we had enough points by the end of our trip that we got a suite at the Parador in Tordesillas.

The entire northern coast is beautiful and there is great food everywhere you go.

Posted by
298 posts

I have to agree with all the above, it is a tough drive. I know I've done it a few times, and avoid it everytime I can.

There is a bus that goes direct from Terminal 4 to Logroño. Unless you are have special reason for visiting Sto Domingo, you can skip it as your only stop in La Rioja. Usually the bus will have you here by 3 pm. Which will give you time to get to a hotel, and then later go out to Calles San Juan and Laurel for tapas. Also by taking the bus, you save a rental day as you can pick up a car here the next day.

If you are not in a hurry to get to the coast, you could have a morning visit to Bodegas Franco Espanolas here in the city.

I've never done it, but the bus makes one stop in Soria, where there is a connection to Pamplona if you were interested in going there and skipping La Rioja.

Posted by
832 posts

Hello from Wisconsin,
Carlos makes a good suggestion. Spend your first few days in Madrid. Get your feet on the ground and the jet lag behind you, sort of. Driving after an international flight is not a good plan. I have done short drives after landing when I was young and foolish. I don't any more.

From the French border to Santiago de Compostela is further than you might think. Even with two weeks allotted to it. There exists a choice of roads along much of the coast. A super highway at 100 km/hr while seeing and experiencing nothing. A person might as well drive across North Dakota. Or the more scenic route which is measured in miles per day. It is slow, curvy and dangerous because of pedestrians and bicyclists. Beautiful though. You have to dedicate yourself to enjoying the drive and scenery rather than dedicating yourself to a destination.

The valleys that run up from the coast into the Europa mountains are spectacular. They take time as the roads are really curvy. It might take a day to drive up one side and down the other. But it looks like Ireland on steroids. My goodness!

There are little known caves with prehistoric paintings that are shockingly ignored by tourists. They are in little places that would seem like a city or township park here in the US. But they take time to visit as they off the road and have limited touring times.

Non-carbonated Cider between Galicia and France is worth a night out.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you all for the very helpful suggestions. I hear loudly and clearly the advice of not driving after the international flight. We will either spend the night in Madrid as some of you suggested or limit the driving (perhaps up to Burgo) that first day. We are able to sleep on long flights, and were able to upgrade to business class using points which will help arrive more rested, but acknowledge underestimating the risks of a long drive upon arrival.

We generally strive to stay at least 2 nights in each destination, with one nighters to break up long travel days. As Carlos and others have pointed out, I think streamlining the itinerary with less destinations would be wise, given the distance we want to cover from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostella. So, instead of 2 nights Hondarribia and 2 nights San Sebastian, we will opt for 3 or 4 nights in San Sebastian. We can daytrip to Hondarrribia if we so desire.

I also like Carlo’s and balso’s suggestions for taking public transport into Bilbao or Santiago. That would obviate the need for a long drive the first day. The problem is that we are having difficulty finding at reasonable rates (or finding at all) rental cars outside of Madrid, particularly because of my preference for an automatic. I have driven manual in the past, but it has been a while, and I would feel less comfortable driving it in crowded cities/spaces or in the Picos with steep grades/changes in elevation. Also, the direct flights we could locate out of Madrid into Bilbao, Santiago, or San Sebastian all leave in the afternoon, which would mean a lengthy wait at the airport after our international flight into Madrid arrives early morning. Perhaps I can look into the train schedules but since there are 3 of us, it’s more cost effective to travel by car.

Having considered your thoughts and suggestions, here is my current thinking:

Madrid or Burgo (1 night)
San Sebastian (3 or 4 nights)
Bilbao (2 nights)
Santillana del Mar (1 night stay at parador)
Picos (2 nights, thinking 1 night at Parador Fuente De—balso, Hotel del Oso is sold out—and the second night at Parador Canga de Onis).
Oviedo (2 nights)
Santiago de Compostella (3 or 4 nights, depending on whether we add another night somewhere in Galicia).

A few questions:

-balso, may I ask why the hard pass on Santander?

-2 nights at one location in the Picos may be more ideal, but what you think about splitting our limited time in the Picos between two Paradors, one on the east and another on the west? I read that the drive between Potes and Cangas de Onis through the southern route is particularly scenic and may be a nice way to see both.

Thank you all!

Posted by
7 posts

Also,

valadelphia, I appreciate your preference for slower travel.

Suki, the parador at Santiago is showing availability now. The prices, particularly there, are high! I think with our already limited time, and uncertainty with border crossings, we will limit our time to Basque Spain and not go into France,
balso, thanks for your very detailed and helpful tips. I read that Combarro is a beautiful little village, but perhaps we should just visit it as a day trip and add that night to Santiago so we are moving/packing less.
MikelBasqueGuide, thanks for your helpful tips on Laguardia. We wanted to visit a winery en route to San Sebastian. Perhaps we can stop in Laguardia. I think we will visit the prehistoric caves from Santillana and hope 1 night there is enough before moving onto the Picos.
Carlos, your suggestions for streamlining the itinerary was very helpful. Thank you.
jaimeelsabio, thanks for your helpful tips on the paradors. We are looking forward to them very much. We will stay at the Gil Blas in Santillana.
dlindstrom, thanks for sharing your experience on the drive and the options for the bus to Logrono.
wayner, thanks for the tips. May I ask what region/section of the Picos you are thinking of? And the little known caves?

Thank you all!

Posted by
3320 posts

An affordable alternative to the Parador in Santiago de Compostela is hotel Rua Villar. It is centrally located near the cathedral and Praza de Praterías. We found it rather charming. The elevator is small, but we enjoyed our stay there.

Cangas de Onis is a very nice town. We spent a couple hours just walking around it. The is a Parador there too. It is near the Sanctuary de Covadonga that is very much worth visiting. As an FYI, the roads in that area (AS-114 and AS-262) are two lanes, mountainous, and with plenty of curves. You won’t be driving very fast on them, so allow plenty of time to get to your destination. The letters before the road numbers equate to the province you’re in (AS=Asturias, CA=Cantabria).

Posted by
298 posts

You have said mid July. Just remember that July 25 is Saint James' day, and that this year is Xacobeo Holy Year. That may influence some prices and availability in Galicia.

Posted by
159 posts

Just one note: for the prehistoric caves, AVOID Altamira, as it´s a replica full of people, and more a museum than a replica, in fact. Try to book any of these, https://cuevas.culturadecantabria.com/en/, massively ignored by visitors (who are drawn to Altamira replica) and are just fabulous, with prehistoric paintings and are unique caves (hard to see these days real paintings, due to conservation issues).

Posted by
2080 posts

Looks much better!
I appreciate some like to move more quickly as well. I look forward to seeing more (and eating more) of northern Spain.
I have had to secure an automatic in other EU countries at non-airport locations, and a couple times I had to call and place a special request. It always worked out, but you may not want any added stress in such a weird travel year.

Posted by
19217 posts

Santander has a beautiful beach (as does San Sebastian), but there was a massive fire in Santander in the 1940s, so most of the architecture is relatively new. It's just not as visually interesting as most other Spanish cities.

I found the old stone town of Potis charming, but you should expect it to have a lot of tourists.

I definitely wouldn't move to Combarro for one night; it's quite small.

Posted by
2283 posts

Glad I could help! Regarding the Picos de Europa region, 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 mentioned by Balso), a rustic tavern/inn which serves the hearty local food of the mountain area. You don't need a room there to eat at their fantastic restaurant :)

We arrived late the first night driving direct from Santillana del Mar, like in your itinerary. 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 medieval 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. There are good alpine hiking trails here too, up to some famous lakes in the high mountains.

Regarding Altamira, the best part I thought was the adjacent museum of Ice Age Europe that was very well done and had nice explanations of the caves and other artifacts, the replica cave is an extension to the museum and had nice guided tours explaining each of the paintings in depth, I felt I did not miss anything. It's also a 10 min drive from Santillana del Mar, so very convenient to visit.

When in Madrid, make sure to visit the National Archaeological Museum, often overlooked, here you can see many of the stunning prehistoric artifacts discovered from many of the places you will then visit on your road trip to northern Spain.

Posted by
7 posts

jaimeelsabio, thanks for pointing us to a more affordable alternative in Santiago.
dlindstrom, thanks for the tip. I will note the holiday on July 25.
MikelBasqueGuide, thanks for pointing us in the right direction. I had read that it was a replica, and was looking for an alternative. The website is very helpful.
valadelphia, your initial reaction to our first itinerary was very helpful. Good to know about requesting an automatic. Thank you.
Acraven, that’s good to know about Santander. I think we will follow balso’s suggestion and skip it. And yes, we decided against the one nighter in Combarro as I will explain in a moment. Thanks for weighing in.
Carlos, thanks for these additional thoughts. It is good to hear that you had a nice visit to Pico and at the Parador Fuente De. They are currently having a special for a 2 night stay during the dates we will be there, so I think we’ll opt for 2 nights there. I was/am considering one night at Parador Cangas de Onis for the Covadonga lakes (and the pilgrimage site as you describe it sounds interesting too), but perhaps we can visit both on our way to Oviedo, or as a day trip from Oviedo the next day. Based on your time in Potes, it appears that we can fill 2 nights there.

Posted by
7 posts

Okay, we have made some decisions based on parador availability and could use one more look at the itinerary before we finalize. Our lodging at the beginning and end of the northern portion of the itinerary is booked. I saw a 3 night special at the Parador at Santiago and booked it. It looks like we have one night to add somewhere in the middle. Where would you add it?

Here is the revised itinerary:

Day 1: Flight into Madrid. Rent car and either stay in Madrid or drive to Burgo.

Day 2: San Sebastian

Day 3: San Sebastian

Day 4: San Sebastian

Day 5: Bilbao

Day 6: Bilbao

Day 7: Santillana del Mar (Parador Santillana Gil Blas)

Day 8: Pico del Europa (Parador Fuentes de)

Day 9: Pico del Europa (Parador Fuentes de)

Day 10: Oviedo

Day 11: Oviedo

Day 12: Ribadeo (Parador Ribadeo or elsewhere? Parador looks beautiful, but pricey)

Day 13: Santiago de Compostella (Parador booked)

Day 14: Santiago de Compostella (Parador booked)

Day 15: Santiago de Compostella (Parador booked)

Day 16: Fly to Madrid

Day 17: Madrid

Day 18: Madrid

Day 19: Flight home

A few points.

  1. On Day 12, I added Ribadeo to break up the long drive from Oviedo to Santiago. Another attraction was to see the Cathedral beach, as balso recommended, and to add a seaside town. Our itinerary appears too city focused. What do you think about Ribadeo serving this purpose? Would you recommend another seaside town in lieu of Ribadeo?
  2. Most importantly, we have one extra night. To where would you give it? I’m mulling over the following options:

a. San Sebastian (for beach and could use to day trip to smaller seaside coastal towns).

b. Pico del Europa (Parador Cangas de Onis -- after our two nights at Parador Fuentes de)

c. Instead of dropping off the car at Santiago and flying to Madrid, we could decide to drive back to Madrid and add that night to somewhere en route, say, at Salamanca or a coastal town in Galicia. Costwise, it doesn’t make much difference to have the car a few more days, but I imagine parking the car during our stay in Madrid will be a pain.

d. Or somewhere else?

Thanks again for your generous responses so far. They have been enormously helpful as I try to cobble together an itinerary at this late stage.

Posted by
773 posts

First I have to comment that you posted the same question here and on Fodors (both on 6/7) and got about 4 responses on Fodors and about 16 here in the same amount of time.

Anyway, I just answered your question on Fodors but in looks like you are monitoring this thread so here it is again:

I did a trip that covers the places you list. My trip was much longer but it also included other places but you might get some useful information from the trip report - https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/criss-crossing-the-camino-5-weeks-in-northern-spain-and-a-bit-of-france-1476103/

I agree that you should spend more days in San Sebastian and just do a day trip to Hondaribbia

While I know people are often against one night stays, I would do one night in Santander and one in Santillana del Mar

I also agree driving after an international flight is a bad idea. I suggest taking a bus from the airport to Burgos and spend one night there and rent the car as you leave there.

For me one night was enough in Oviedo

Posted by
3320 posts

I’m surprised the Parador in Ribadeo was pricey. We paid 105€ when we stayed there in 2017. That was the Golden Days bed and breakfast rate. The Parador was fine but needed some minor refurbishment, e.g. new carpets on stairs and landings. Every room has a view. There isn’t a lot to the town itself but it was nice to walk around and wind down. There is a small chapel there that was built by the knights Templar, Virgin of the Camino. It was closed when we were there. Try and get to Cathedral beach at low tide so you can walk on it, beneath the rock formations. Unfortunately, we arrived there at high tide. The road to it is more an auxiliary road, narrow in spots, so the drive is slow once off the N-634.

When we did that drive we started in Santiago, went over to Muxia (seen in the movie “The Way”). It’s rocky shoreline is nice as is the little Nosa Señora de la Barca chapel. If you wanted to go, follow the signs to the lighthouse. We then went to Cathedral beach before stopping in Ribadeo for the night. If you had time on the way to Santiago, take a break for lunch in Betanzos’ main plaza. From there you get a nice view of the very typical Galician enclosed balconies. You pretty much have to drive right past the town.

On our last trip to Santiago in 2019 we took the train to Madrid and it worked well. The train station is about a mile downhill from the Parador. If you decide to drive from Santiago to Madrid it is 303 miles. If you head in the direction of Ourense you could spend the night in Puebla de Sanabria, about half way. It has a nice castle and there is a Parador. Another option closer to Madrid is Zamora. It’s good for half a day and it too has a Parador. Zamora is about 2.5 hours driving from Madrid.

If you took the northern route towards Lugo (UNESCO world heritage site for its Roman wall) you could spend the night at the Parador at Villafranca de Bierzo. It was nice. The town is very small and it’s right on the Camino de Santiago. Nearby is Ponferrada. It too has a castle and is nice to walk around. If you wanted to drive a little further, you could spend the night in León. It has a nice cathedral and the Basilica de San Isodoro de León.

Posted by
159 posts

Blockquote

a. San Sebastian (for beach and could use to day trip to smaller seaside coastal towns).

Blockquote

Well, don´t be surprised if none of the days of your stay is a beach day. San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela are the rainiest cities in Spain, over 190 days a year, so expect any kind of weather in northern Spain (the sunny side is south of Burgos). We´ve had awful Julys and fantastic Decembers, and also the opposite. There´s not a rainy season as such, although it´s true that as per statistics the summer months are the less rainy. This means nothing in this so unpredictable weather of ours, so be prepared for any kind of weather on those dates.

As side trips from Donostia-San Sebastian, I strongly recommend Getaria (great fish restaurants and quaint fishing village), Hondarribia, Pasai Donibane, the impressive Arantzazu monastery, Tolosa,...

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for your thoughts. We have decided to add the night at the parador at Cangas de Onis, after our 2 night stay at Fuente de. All of the paradors are now booked.

isabel, thanks for your thoughts and your excellent trip report. It will be helpful as we plan our trip. I realized that I had been more optimistic about the weather there in July and that we need to prepare for rain.

jaimeelsabio, thanks for your generous posts. Sounds like you have much experience staying at paradors. We will experience them for the first time on this trip. Do you usually eat lunch/dinner there as well? Most of our bookings include breakfast, but I wonder what the quality and value of the meals are there generally.

Re: the parador at Ribadeo, the rate for 3 was around 300 euros. But when I checked last night, it came down to around 170 euros, which I booked. It is now around 300 euros again. I booked it because apart from San Sebastian, this is the only location near the sea/water. I had difficulty finding much availability for reasonable rates at seaside locations like Lekeitia, Llanes, Baiona, etc. So we plan to take day trips for lunch perhaps to locations like Cudillero, Cathedral beach, and (if we decide to keep the car in Santiago de Compostella), Combarro, etc.

Thanks for the additional suggestions on paradors between Santiago and Madrid. We may decide to keep the car and drive to Madrid instead of dropping off in Santiago, as the new rates for a one way rental are much higher than the pick up and drop off in Madrid.

On that issue, if we decide to fly out of Santiago, where we are staying 3 nights, should we keep the car all three nights or drop off as soon as we arrive? I’m not sure whether Santiago has enough to occupy us for 3 days, or whether the car might be handy for day trips to seaside villages, etc.

MikelBasqueGuide, thanks for your continuous help. I’m hoping for a sunnier July, but your point is noted! Yes, we plan to visit Geteria, and I will take a look at your other recommendations. We are on the waitlist at Elkano, but hope there are other good options nearby.

Posted by
3320 posts

We usually get the rate with breakfast included so that we only need something light for lunch, like a sandwich we can take with us. Most often we find a restaurant in town to eat dinner at. While the restaurants in the Paradors are fine and a little upscale, we find them to be more pricey. If the Parador is in town we will normally eat at a local restaurant. If the Parador isn’t in town or a distance from it, or the parking in town is limited, we’ll eat at the Parador. Sometimes we just go to the grocery store and buy stuff for dinner and eat outside if the Parador is in a place with a good view. An interesting fact about the Paradors; each sources many products locally so the wine will be from that province as will some meats and cheeses at the breakfast buffet (if they’re still doing them).

I don’t recall any restaurants near cathedral beach. There are plenty of beaches, but few nearby restaurants. In most towns you can find places to eat at almost any hour, but in Ribadeo the restaurants opened late for dinner, so hope you’re not hungry before 8:30pm or so.

I’ve been to Santiago 3 times and I feel it’s worth a full day or a little more. It would be easy to take a day trip over to Muxia, Betanzos, or Fisterra. There is a small chapel (church of San Salvador) east of Santiago we enjoyed. It is about a half mile off the N-547 in Vilar de Donas. It has some very nice original 1400s paintings. I thought we’d be there for 10 minutes but ended up spending about 30 minutes there taking photos and speaking to the docent. Also, make the short couple mile drive over to Monte de Gozo to see the Pilgrims statue. There another less impressive monument to a visit Pope John Paul II made to the area.

With regard to driving ensure you don’t drive over the limit. There are speed cameras entering and leaving most towns, and even 2kph over the limit might get you a ticket.

Posted by
159 posts

My favorite restaurant in Getaria is Astillero, simple but perfect for excellent seafood and grilled fish coming directly from the port, and if you´re lucky to get a table with a view over the port, it´d be just perfect (I´ll be there next July 4). As you ´ve chosen Elkano, the next best option is Kaia Kaipe (again, try to get the table on the corner, with views), less expensive but equally excellent (and the owner Igor /eegor/ has an amazing wine cellar with thousands of references). Another option similar to Astillero is Mayflower (funny name, uh) if you can get an outdoor table and if it´s sunny (crossing fingers...) the views are fantastic.

Posted by
271 posts

Instead of the parador in Fuente De, consider Hotel Rebeco. It's a family run hotel across the road from the parador. The parador is a modern building, so it has much less of the atmosphere of other paradors in older, renovated buildings. But it's just as pricey.

Posted by
7 posts

jaimeelsabio, thanks for the additional guidance. We decided to keep the car in Santiago for daytrips to seaside towns. We also decided to fly to Madrid from Santiago, which will give us 3 nights in Madrid.

MikelBasqueGuide, many thanks for the restaurant recommendations. We are not particularly set on Elkano; it's the only one I had heard of in Getaria. It's good to know there are other options. We may splurge on a few restaurants with Michelin stars, but I hope we can eat affordably and well during this trip. Since we will have a car, I hope we can find places away from the huge tourist centers.

Archimedes, thanks for another option in Fuentes de. Others have also advised me to seek another option in Fuentes de. I couldn't find availability at Hotel Oso. Even the parador reservation representative with whom spoke noted that Fuentes de is "three stars, not four." (We are not particular about the number of stars or that the place is luxurious--just clean and comfortable with a good location). We got a relatively good deal staying 2 nights, but I see that Rebeco costs significantly less.

I think we are set on the overall itinerary. I may come back with specific questions about each destination as I delve into that research now, but glad that with all of your help we have the outline of what promises to be a good trip. Thank you all for your generous replies.