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2-3 nights escaping the Madrid heat in August in northern Spain

Hi all! I will, fingers crossed, be spending 10 nights in Spain this August (2020) with Madrid as the primary base*.

I would like to escape the Madrid heat for two-three nights midweek solo at a single location -- given that it's August, it seems likely that the ideal candidate is somewhere in northern Spain (though I'd be curious to hear if others have different thoughts).

The priorities are:

  • A cooler climate than Madrid in August, and ideally not too muggy either
  • Opportunities for a day hike or long walk but still offers some "urban"/cultural attraction/amenities in case the weather does not cooperate (two nights means I really only have one full day, I might not luck out!)
  • Somewhere I can navigate without a car
  • Reachable in a single train ride, bus ride, or domestic flight (no connections) from Madrid.

The choice that springs to mind is San Sebastián -- it's definitely cooler in August, there seem to be reasonably accessible hikes/walks I can start from the city and there are interesting cultural amenities in case it rains, and I love Basque food, although the train ride from Madrid is a bit longer than I'd prefer.

However, I'm curious if anyone has any other suggestions or general thoughts that I might not know about! Thank you all!

*Please assume I am aware of the impact of COVID, and in addition for various reasons both the Madrid homebase and August timeframe are non-negotiable, so please take those as givens!

Posted by
6823 posts

Cooler weather San Sebastian is the way to go. But two days is not enough since it is 4 hours away.

Posted by
3136 posts

I’ll throw out Leon and Burgos as possibilities. Both are on the Camino de Santiago so arranging a partial day hike should be easy to do. Both are easy to walk around and easily accessible from Madrid. From downtown Burgos you could also walk out to the Cartuja de Miraflores dating back to 1442. It’s just under 3 miles from the cathedral area. Either should be cooler than Madrid.

Posted by
18736 posts

The fastest train to San Sebastian I see at the moment is the 4:05 PM Alvia, which takes 5 hr. 23 min. The other departures take considerably longer, and most involve connections.

I can't imagine taking that trip for just one day in the Basque Country, but I totally understand needing a break from the Madrid weather. I just don't know of any reliable alternative that would be easier to reach. Cuenca's at altitude (3000 feet), but I checked, and it had five 100F days last August and four 99F days. I don't think that's going to do it for you.

Note that, though it's rare, freak hot days do occasionally descend upon the Basque Country. It's sometimes just for a day (and might be for only a few hours in the middle of the day). However, last year it was 93F on August 19 and 90F on August 20.

Edited to add: I like Burgos and Leon, but I don't think either one is going to be anywhere near as cool as the coast.

If you're willing to fly, you could also consider destinations in Galicia. Just not the comparatively dull Vigo.

Posted by
217 posts

I think you have options, though it's true that the length of the train journey is a factor. I'm assuming that, since everything else is non-negotiable, so too is your plane ticket out of Spain? If you were able to leave Spain via a northern city, that might make things easier.

Assuming the train schedules aren't subject to summer travel change or Covid demands (which is a considerable IF), you can reach Pamplona from Madrid is just over three hours by train. There look to be a couple of direct trains (I checked on Renfe and bahn.com--both generally reliable, but I also only did a dummy booking for June). There were also a few that took roughly the same about of time (under four hours) with a change in Zaragoza. Depending on how you want to spend that travel day, taking the ticket with the stopover might actually be preferable, as it'll open up early morning and later evening departures. I've traveled pretty extensively in Spain by train and have usually found the trains to be punctual, certainly more so than in the States or UK.

I generally prefer trains to planes, and usually you pay for the "quick" in-country hops with longer commute times to the airport, security,etc., but certainly you can fly to northern cities like San Sebastian (which I liked, and thought the food was great, but didn't adore) and Oviedo, which is wonderful, as well as some others.

Caroline

Posted by
2169 posts

There is a direct Alvia high speed train that goes from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, that takes about 4ish hours. If you like the Basque Country, I'm sure you'll love Galicia, which has more in common with Ireland than Andalucía, both culturally and climate-wise!

Closer to Madrid, I know that many of my Madrileño friends often make the escapade to la Sierra de Guadarrama, a snow capped mountain range one hour north of Madrid, to escape the summer heat.

Posted by
217 posts

Ooh, I didn't know about the Madrid-Santiago de Compostela train, thanks Carlos! (I will have to remember that if am every able to get back to Spain!).

To the OP, I would absolutely second this recommendation. I only spent a few days in Galicia a few summers ago, during a food tour of northern Spain, but I adored it. You will certainly have no trouble finding nice hikes and Santiago de Compostela itself is a really beautiful small city. I personally cannot wait to go back. In fact, I'm very jealous of your plans. I've never been anywhere in Spain that I didn't like and wouldn't return to, but the north is special. I really wish RS would devote a whole tour to it. I know there is the Basque tour (which I'd also love to take some day), but I found Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia to be so wonderful and very much worthy of more time.

Good luck!
Caroline

Posted by
400 posts

Hi all -- in case it makes the question more reasonable (I'm definitely hearing you all on the short visit!) I've edited to say I can stretch this to 3 nights, but it definitely can't be more than that. Thank you for the suggestions so far!

The flight thing is a good point, and normally I would absolutely consider arranging this trip to avoid backtracking as pointed out by @cslh324! However, as you might have intuited, the whole reason August + Madrid are non-negotiable is that I am visiting a friend who will be studying/working in Madrid in August.

It's going to be something like arriving Fri 6 Aug, departing Mon 16 Aug -- I'm arranging the trip such that I can hang out with him on the two weekends when he is freer, but take myself on a solo getaway in the middle while he is working/studying. Hence the midweek travel!

Posted by
2169 posts

Ooh, I didn't know about the Madrid-Santiago de Compostela train, thanks Carlos! (I will have to remember that if am every able to get back to Spain!).

No problem 😀, know that this Alvia high speed train actually leaves from Madrid's Chamartín train station, in the north of the city, rather than the more known Atocha station, in the centre of Madrid.

Posted by
217 posts

@Andrew, check out Skyscanner's "search everywhere" function (I think Google flights does this too). I did a dummy search for direct flights out of Madrid on 8/9 and found some to Santiago de Compostela, San Sebastian, Santander (and others), in the early morning. You could probably get a return trip that Wednesday or Thursday for later in the evening, helping you to maximize you time in the place you pick. The downside to that, of course, is that is just really tiring, but can definitely be worth it.

Of course, definitely look at refund/cancellation policies, especially now. My guess is that Spain will try very, very hard to stay open to tourists this summer, for obvious reasons, but low demand, rising infection rates, etc., could all impact the availability of those flights.

Caroline

Posted by
140 posts

Bilbao is easily accessible from Madrid by either bus, train or plane, weather is cool in August (with occassional outbreaks of heat waves, as in Donostia-San Sebastian) and there are hundreds of hikes on an easy walk or short ride from the city. Culturally more "complete" than SS and gastronomically is quite similar, with easy access to many beaches, which are normally surrounded by green forests.