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Please help w/ Spain, Portugal Itinerary!

Hi Everyone!

I'm trying to plan a 2 week trip to Western Europe for this September. Problem is, I am having a really hard time narrowing down the number of locations to visit and also the best route/itinerary to take. I'm flying from Philadelphia and have not yet booked my flight because I'm still deciding where to start and end. But I do want to book this week. I did find good prices flying into Paris and out of Lisbon, but the prices weren't so low that I wouldn't consider a different order of locations if I discovered another route made more sense. I am willing to train, bus, drive, or fly within Europe during this trip. Also, I would like to rent a scooter and spend a day or two cruising around. (Maybe in the Basque region?) I have big ideas, but too little time/$, and I don't want to ruin my trip by rushing everywhere. Here are some destinations I would love to see: I realize I'll need to cut it down considerably. Problem is, as I do more and more research, I just keep finding more fascinating destinations I'd love to visit. So before I start crossing cities off the list, I'd love to hear your opinions. Please don't hesitate to suggest itineraries and routes if you have any ideas. I'll also welcome any suggestions for off the beaten path locations to visit along the way. Oh, and I love wine tasting, great food, and roads less-traveled :)

France: Paris, Nice, Cannes, Grasse, Eze, Bordeaux, Carcassonne
Spain: San Sebastian, Bilbao/Basque region, Santander, Santiago, Barcelona, Seville, Cadiz
Portugal: Sintra, Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Nazare, Fatima, Salena, Sesimbra
Italy: Tuscany
Switzerland: Gimmelwald, Murren

Again, I do not expect to see even 1/2 of all of these wonderful places. But my head is spinning and I cannot decide! Any ideas you have would be greatly appreciated. I promise to take lots of photos and share them with you upon my return!

Thank you thank you!
~amanda

Posted by
21865 posts

Then answer is quit doing research. But I thought you had ask a the same question earlier. First, you develop to adopted a mine set. "This is not my last trip to Europe and I need to save things for the next trip." Seeing a few places very well is superior to seeing a lot of place poorly." But there are some people are interested in driving by everything just to check it off the list. Afterward, once you have seen the inside of one cathedral you have seen them -- they are just alike. So you need decide which side of that fence you prefer.

Transportation between lots of cities means a lot of lost time in train stations and trains and adds considerable cost to the travel budget. IMO, the best you can do is four to maybe six sights in a two week period and my preference is closer to four.

You need to pick a theme or one area that is most interesting and put your plan around that. In others words -- France, Belgium, England. Or Spain and Portugal, or Italy or northern Italy and Switzerland. Forget the others and focus on you one patch. You could have a great experience with just into Madrid, on to Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, and home from Malaga and maybe toss in one of white hills towns. That would be a very full two week schedule. Something similar in Italy - Rome, Florence, Venice, and duck into Switzerland and home from Zurich. Once you decide that STOP reading about other stuff. Save it for the next trip.

Posted by
4125 posts

Two weeks is not a ton of time. Figure 3 or 4 destinations. It can be helpful if they are close together in a line, but with cheap airfare that is not required.

Some of your destinations make me think you are flirting with in-depth exploration of a particular region. This is an alternative that can be very rewarding and perhaps you should flesh out this idea and see if it appeals.

You might couple four or five days in Paris with a stay in Provence or the Cote D'Azure or Tuscany or the Basque countries, especially if you arrange to fly open jaw.

Posted by
7 posts

First of all, thanks so much for your quick responses. Frank, I truly appreciate your honestly. Your name suits you! (I'm sure you've never heard that one before :) I'm definitely not interested in visiting cities just to check them off my list. I've stopped researching new places, I promise!

Adam, I do like the idea of taking the time to explore a couple of regions in-depth. And overall, I enjoy the countryside, vineyards, and small villages and towns more-so than the city so I really don't want to go city to city just visiting museums and tourist spots. I'm definitely flying open jaw, I'm just torn on where to begin and end. I'd definitely like to hear your suggestions on my itinerary while in Paris. Is it silly to only stay for 3 days?

I have decided to save Switzerland and Italy for another trip. And I've omitted Bordeaux as well. So I'm focusing on Paris, Barcelona, Basque country, Portugal, and possibly Seville if I make it down to Salena. (If there's time.) I'm even flirting with saving Barcelona for another time so that I can take it easy in Basque country. I'm guessing it's necessary if I really want to see Portugal.

Thanks again for your input! I'd love to hear more...

Posted by
2 posts

You might want to consider cutting the trip down a bit more. I've had a lot of great trips by concentrating on one region and/or just one or two cities. I typically pick a B&B in an area that allows me to reach a bunch of sites within a two hour drive. I stay in the country side a week, then return the car to the big city train station/airport and spend three or four days in the city. This strategy works great in France. You could pick up a car in Avignon or Nice, stay at B&B for a week hitting many of the sites on your list, then return to Paris or one of the other cities on your hit list for a few days before flying home.

Posted by
2876 posts

If you've decided to focus on Portugal/Basque region/Barcelona, here's a driving itinerary that we followed a few years ago:

Fly into Lisbon, then Lisbon > Fatima > Douro valley > Porto > Ponte de Lima > Santiago de Compostela > Santillana del Mar > Bilbao > Biarritz > Lourdes > Foix > Andorra > La Seu d'Urgell > Costa Brava > Barcelona. Fly home from Barcelona.

The trip took about 17 days. We didn't overnight in each listed place, but we had plenty of time to see them all. It was one of our most memorable & fun trips.

Posted by
2876 posts

"For instance, Paris/Basque/Porto in that order or Porto/Basque/Barcelona?"

I agree with Douglas. Since you have only two weeks, I'd save Paris for another trip. Why throw in a semi-rushed visit to Paris when everything else you want to see is so much further south?

Also, I'd want to end up in Barcelona instead of Porto because your flight options home from Barcelona should be much more numerous.

Posted by
4535 posts

If I'm correct in understanding that you have only 2 weeks, then your revised itinerary is still way too loaded. Paris is a minimum of 4 days. You can overnight train to Spain. Basque country is another 2-3 days. Barcelona, one of the best cities in Europe, is minimum 3 days. How will you get to Portugal? Even if flying, that will deduct a half day or more each way. Lisbon is at least 2 days with 2-3 more days for other places such as Porto or Sintra. You mention Sevilla but that is in the south of Spain. That's at least 3 days and more if you want to throw in a day trip to Cordoba. That's over 14 days not counting travel times.

Like others, I strongly encourage you to focus on a region. Spain/Portugal can be done in 2 weeks. Paris/France can be done in 2 weeks. Even Paris/Basque/Barcelona is doable. But your trip will be more meaningful if you focus and limit your transportation (which is very stressful and tiring - especially on a whirwind trip).

Good luck!

Posted by
7 posts

Hi everyone. I'm still trying to cut this trip down as I decide which route makes the most sense. Your input is truly appreciated.

I find myself leaning towards car rental for shorter travel within regions flying when it comes to the big leaps from Paris to Barcelona, Bilbao, or Porto. Would you say this is wise?

Has anyone out there rented a scooter in any of the cities I've mentioned? I'd love to hear about your experience.

Elizabeth, I'm realizing I do indeed need to just decide on 2-3 regions. We simply cannot cut it down to two, unless you consider Basque/Barcelona one;)It seems like I'm going to have to decide between Barcelona and Paris. The Basque region is the only non-negotiable location in our trip. For us and our tastes when it comes to travel, the Basque region just seems to have it all.

Tom, this itinerary sounds wonderful. I'm seriously considering using a modified version of it and sticking to Portugal,Barcelona and the Basque Country. Problem is, I think my husband actually has his heart set on a short visit to Paris while I dream of Barcelona.

So, while I've definitely cut it down to Paris/Barcelona/Basque/Portugal (either Porto or Lisbon based.) I'm still working on this itinerary.

Since we do not have unlimited funds and enjoy less touristy locations, it seems as though a jaunt through Portugal is ideal for us.

Douglas: You say Barcelona is one of the best cities in Europe. I hear this a lot! Otherwise, I would just go Paris-Basque-Portugal.(sigh) I mentioned Seville because I considered traveling south through Portugal: Flying from Bilbao to Porto and perhaps flying home from Algarve, Seville is only an hour and 1/2 drive from there - thus allowing us a taste of Andalusia before returning home.

Does anyone have any insight on which direction I should travel and why? For instance, Paris/Basque/Porto in that order or Porto/Basque/Barcelona?

Again, you are all wonderful. Thanks very much for your help!

Posted by
977 posts

Reading your post and your likes, Porto and the Douro Valley will definitely be places you will really enjoy. I would suggest just sticking to Spain and Portugal this time around. In my opinion, Paris is a city worthy of your full attention and not to be experienced in a rush.

Posted by
269 posts

My personal recommendation would be narrowing the trip down to Portugal and Spain, but you could probably also do France and Spain as well (though I'd still recommend setting Paris aside for a trip where you would really be able to dedicate a significant amount of time to the city).

Posted by
4535 posts

A few more thoughts for you based on your latest post. If Basque country is your primary location, use that as the core of your trip. The other places you go should be easy to get to from there and complement it. That certainly suggests Barcelona since it is pretty close and is a major transportation hub. If Portugal is important too, then consider driving across northern and NW Spain on your way to/from Portugal. You'd pay a premium to drop off the car in another country, but it might be worth it to make a memorable trip. And that's an area that might fit your desire to be away from typical tourist destinations.

Portugal is very remote from Spain. It's hard to get to so once you are there you should spend more than just a couple days in one city. I'd strongly recommend against going there unless you make it a major part of your trip (4-5 days at least).

Keep in mind a few other tips: On a two week trip - you want to minimize transit time once you are there. Intra-Europe traveling is time, money, stress and exhaustion and not worth it with only 2 weeks. Spain and France are huge countries and Portugal is a long way from Barcelona. Transit between the three countries is not ideal or always easy. There is no need for cars or scooters within cities. Public transit will get you anywhere you need to go. You may want a car to see the countryside but plan that carefully to avoid the hassles of parking/driving in cities.

Finally - I sympathize with your husband. Paris is wonderful. But unless you agree to do Paris-Basque-Barcelona, you'd be wise to leave it for next time.

Posted by
7 posts

You guys have been incredibly helpful. I think I'm finally making progress with this itinerary. And I think you will all be very proud. We have decided just to focus on Northern Spain with a bit of Portugal thrown in, 15 days.

We will be flying into Barcelona and flying out of Vigo, Spain. Finding out about Vigo airport solved many a conundrum I was having planning this trip. Vigo is a 1/2 hour drive outside of the Northern tip of Portugal, and the airfare out of Vigo was the lowest I found. (And I ran the same search using MANY different cities.)

4 days in Barcelona, then we will be either flying or training it from Barcelona to Bilbao, then renting a car in Bilbao, backtracking just a bit to San Sebastian and then driving through Navarre and Basque (exact stops tbd.) Then over to Porto for a couple of days and then back up to Vigo, return the rental car and fly home from there. This way we do not have to return the car in Portugal, which is very expensive. But we do not have to forget about Portugal completely. And I think having a rental car to trek through the Basque region will allow us plenty of flexibility to explore.

And we just happen to be stopping for a layover in Paris on the way to Barcelona from 8am to 7pm. So we'll get our taste of Paris after all. (Until next time...)

I'd love to hear of any unusual or outstanding accommodations, restaurants, sights, or towns along our route. Again, thanks so much for talking me out of trying to see everything in 2 weeks.

Posted by
2876 posts

Just my prejudice, but I think it'd be a shame to go to that part of the world and not visit the historic pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela. The Cathedral of St.James there is fantastic. I'd also find time to visit the beautiful village of Santillana del Mar a little west of Santander, and the adjacent Altamira caves with their amazing prehistoric cave paintings. You can't go into the actual caves, but the Spanish government has built a full-sized perfect replica right next door.

Posted by
629 posts

If you have a car, Saint Jean-de-Luz is a lovely seaside town just a short drive from San Sebastian into France.

Posted by
1 posts

In Portugal ,Sintra is a magical place, Lisbon an amazing city, find history galore travelling between Lisbon & Coimbra, don't forget to stop at medieval Obidos, oh, and visit a quinta for an Estramadura wine-tasting. We are also returning to Portugal this September:favourite fish dish :a toss-up between seabass and monkfish: Boa viagem!

Posted by
7 posts

Maybe I should start a new topic? My itinerary has changed a lot since my first post. I think I'll try that to keep the responses somewhat relevant. ps: Rosalyn, thank you for that link. Excellent resource!

Posted by
7 posts

Still planning away, trying to keep things somewhat flexible. Our main focal points are shaping up to be Barcelona, Basque, and Galicia, hoping to explore a bit of Cantabria and Asturias along the way. We will be in the San Sebastian area just in time for the film festival, so accommodations are booking up quickly. I'm exploring rural B&B's, I hope to have one booked by the end of the day. I would love advice on towns to sleep in. We enjoy rural hotels but anything interesting or unusual and not too expensive is just right. So far our itinerary looks like this: Day 1: layover in Paris (8am-8pm), flying into Barcelona Day 2-4: Barcelona and surrounding Day 5: flying into Bilbao early morning, sleep in Bilbao Day 6-8: San Sebastian and surrounding Day 9: AM train to Santander, picking up rental car, sleep in ? Day 10: Santillana del Mar, Potes, sleep in Oviedo? Day 11: morning drive towards Galicia, sleep in ? Day 12: Galicia: tbd Day 13: Galicia: Santiago de Compostela, Cambados sleep in ? Day 14: drive down to Northern Portugal (or not?) Day 15: flying out of Vigo I'm still editing. Here's a list of places I originally wanted to see. Can anyone suggest which towns I should skip and which are truly special? After Santander, I think we'll have our fill of beachy destinations and we truly want to see some authentic un-touristy countryside towns. Santillana del Mar Lagrono Fisterra Potes Oviedo Vitoria-Gasteiz Ribadesella Llanes Solares Why can't Americans have month long vacations?

Posted by
3333 posts

About 10 years ago, we spent a month in northern Spain and Portugal. For lodgings in Spain, we used Alistair Sawdays's "Special Places to Stay", and we were extremely happy with our choices. They were all charming, super clean, run by very nice people, and reasonably-priced. I don't remember the names; but one was at a winery in the Basque country, one in Cangas de Onis (Picos de Europa), and one in the mountainous countryside near La Seu d'Urgell and Solsona. The first and third also had excellent restaurants. I believe that you can now access all his listings at www.specialplacestostay.com - - no more need to buy the book.

Posted by
809 posts

Skipped a lot of posts - you do not need a minimum of 4 days in Paris! My favorite city is Lisbon - I adored Portugal. France too - I just don't think you NEED more than 4 days. Great wine in Portugal and great food. We enjoyed Lisbon and Evora - Evora was a bit slow but really neat and we took rides out to Monsaraz and to Estramoz. My 11 year old said he loved Evora because you could wander and get lost even though it was a small city. I find that we like to more around on our vacations but generally it is most enjoyable when geographically you don't travel to far (or maybe fly between Portugal and France or utilize overnight trains)