Spain and Italy - am I crazy?

My husband and I will be traveling to Europe for 16 days in July/August. Our tentative itinerary is.. 1 day - arrive in Bilbao, and head to San Sebastian 3 days (4 nights) - enjoy pintxos, wine, and everything else in San Sebastian. Maybe spend one day taking a day trip to St Jean de Luz and other towns in French Basque (suggestions for towns to see?) 1 day - travel from SS to Barcelona (suggestions on best travel method?) 4 days - soak up (and drink up) the good life in Barcelona. Maybe 1 day for a day trip (suggestions for towns to see?) 1 day - fly from Barcelona to Italy. - here is where we don't know where to go.... 5 days in Italy - how should we spend them? All in one city? which one? or split between a larger city and a smaller town? I know 5 days is not a long time at all, so I would appreciate any suggestions. 1 day - fly home (to Miami)
My goal in planning this trip was to not cram too much into a short amount of time. I feel like with this itinerary, we get to really soak up the local flavor of a few places. Who knows when we will be able to come back to Europe, it took us a long time to save up for this trip, so we want to make the most of it...

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Spain and Italy - am I crazy? No, you're not. If you were traveling from Spain to Italy by train, you'd be considered crazy, however. I'm just glad you're acclimated to warm weather. If you have any leeway in your schedule, September is often mentioned on this website as the best month to go to Europe, and especially Italy.

Posted by Ariel
Miami
14 posts

I forgot to mention that in Barcelona we will be there 5 nights, so I was counting on 4 full days there. I know we could spend all 16 days in one particular location, and still not see everything...but I was hoping my idea of 3 full days in SS, 4 full days in BCN, and 5 full days in Italy somewhere would be pretty good....

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2171 posts

Your plan is sensible. Distances in Western Europe are relatively short (by flight time), so you shouldn't consider crazy combining Italy with Spain. First, you should fly between San Sebastian and Barcelona. It is impossible to suggest one specific city in Italy, there are many alternatives. What you should do, however, is to just one and spend your time there (resist the temptation of going "OMG I must visit 3 cities in 5 days or I'll be doomed for what I'll miss"). Roma, Firenze, Milano, Venezia, Napoli are all examples of cities that can keep you well entertained with world-class activities, monuments, food, art for a whole week. Read about them, pick one that suits you well. Other alternative, completely different, is to go for a rural/countryside approach, ing one well-positioned "home base" for 5 days, from which you take day trips to the vicinity.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
666 posts

Yes, you are crazy. You should skim copies of Rick's Spain and Italy books. A library copy is fine for your immediate need to narrow down destinations. Ignore the days, hours, and navigation. You need to be certain before committing so much time to only a few destinations. (I don't think you should do the reverse and go to a different city every two days, but Rick does have such itineraries, both by country and for someone's first trip to Europe, in his more general books.) In particular, Bilbao and SS and Barcelona are geographically and culturally limited places in Spain. I don't mean that anyone should avoid visiting them. Well, I don't think Bilbao should be on anyone's FIRST VISIT TO EUROPE. It's like visiting Pittsburgh because Fallingwater is close by. (sorry, I know Pittsburgh is an up and coming destination. I'm anxious to visit August Wilson sites and Carnegie museum collections. Really I am.) I can't imagine spending less than three nights in Rome. But your OP suggests that you would go to Lucca or Reggio Emilia for four days and spend one day in Rome. That's crazy! Well, maybe you'd do the Cinque Terre, but miss out on Rome, Venice and Florence??? Come on.

Posted by Ariel
Miami
14 posts

Tim,
Thanks for your response. Actually we would just fly into Bilbao and head straight to SS (no time in Bilbao). We want to spend 4 full days in SS. In reference to the Italian portion of our trip, I realize with only having 5 days (6 nights) we are limited to one city (area). Do you have any suggestions? (I know that's a question with a billion answers) :)

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3297 posts

I'm not sure why in your first (I presume it is your first) trip to Spain you'd want to devote so mush to Bilbao and San Seb. In any case, you must have your reasons, maybe family ancestry. The best way to go to BCN is to fly with either Vueling or Ryanair from BIO. Vueling also flies to BCN from EAS. Four days in BCN are sufficient. It's hot in July, so take a quick train trip to Sitges for a beach day. That's what I used to do when visiting relatives in Barcelona. From BCN you can fly virtually anywhere in Italy in less than 2 hours. You need to decide where in Italy you'd like to go for those 5 days. Florence and Tuscany? Rome and surrounding? Naples area (Capri, Pompeii, Amalfi coast)? Venice and Veneto region (Verona, Vicenza, Lake Garda)? The Dolomites? Milan and Lombardy lakes? 5 days aren't many, so you must concentrate in a focused area like the ones I suggested above.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

I like the idea of mixing it up with big city (Barcelona) and countryside in Italy. I would opt for a nice village in Tuscany (san g, or any number of places). It will be hot, so spending all the time in cities would be grueling for me. If you stay close enough to Florence you could make a day trip there. You could fly into Florence and pick up a car at the airport and enjoy the vineyards and villages at your own pace. I like mixing it up a bit and the idea of both Spain and Italy will give you a taste of each country with many reasons to return.

Posted by Ariel
Miami
14 posts

Hi Roberto, No time in Bilbao, just straight to SS. I've read some amazing things about the food and atmosphere of SS, and it sounded like an amazing place to start our trip in. Also, I figured with 3 full days in SS, we could use one of those days to take a day trip to one of the gorgeous towns in the French Basque region.

Posted by Ariel
Miami
14 posts

Thanks Terry,
The idea of smaller towns in Italy is sounding more and more appealing. I know we are going during the hottest part of the year, and I've read that a lot of the smaller towns are pretty empty (restaurants closed, only a few hotels available, locals all gone, etc) because that's when everyone will be on vacation. Is that true?

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2811 posts

I disagree with posters who say that there is a "right" or "wrong" place to go on a first visit to a country. If San Sebastian and Barcelona call to you, go there. If Rome, Florence, and/or Venice don't, you don't have to see them. There's lots of other wonderful places in Italy. On my first trip to Italy, I didn't go to Rome, because I wasn't drawn to it. Some were upset, but in the end, it worked out better. I developed a love for Italy and a strong desire to see Rome, so on my second trip, I focused on it, and loved it. Who knows if I would have enjoyed it if I went merely out of a sense of obligation. Like in the old song from The Mamas and The Papas, "Go where you wanna go, and do what you wanna do."

Posted by Christine
Seattle, WA
9 posts

I have to agree with Harold....go where you want to go. That being said, you are covering a lot in 16 days especially with 2 countries. Every time I've been to Europe, I focused my attention to one country because there is just so much to do and see plus traveling in foreign territory can cause some delays which could eat up some of your time. Rick Steves Travel books are the best resources I've found. I'm heading to Spain for the first time in September for 17 days but I can definitely make some recommendations in Italy. Florence and the Cinque Terre were some of my favorites during my time in Italy. We spent 4 days in Vernaza(Cinque Terre) and 4 days in Florence, 4 days in Orvieto and 2 days in Rome. It depends on what your interests are....Cinque Terre has quaint villages where you can enjoy the coast with hiking, great food and wine. Florence is great for history and culture filled with a ton of museums and architecture. Orvieto is an older version of Italy but equally beautiful. Rome was incredible but 2 days was not nearly enough time. If I were to go back I would want to spend 5 days in one of the cities with allowing 1-2 days for day trips. I would recommend checking out Florence for 3-4 days and then take a day trip to Lucca or Sienna. Enjoy your trip and take your time exploring these wonderful countries. Christine, Seattle, WA

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

Ariel... as far as villages being empty in summer...I did not find that to be the case. Probably some of the locals are on vacation, but there are still plenty of tourists around. However, I will take the 'crowds' in a village in the hot summer versus the hordes of people in Florence, Rome, etc. Not that I wouldn't visit then, because I have... but I really prefer to stay someplace quiet and relaxing as well. And since you will have two city/tourist areas I thought you might enjoy a little diversity. It's fun to just drive around Tuscany, find a vineyard, have a picnic, and enjoy Italy in a more personal way, instead of the checklist of 'must-see' sights. Makes the best memory for me. You have lots of options. Have a great time.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2171 posts

I don't get why people think changing between two countries is "too much", in the sense that these flights in Italy are like domestic ones. When you had cumbersome border controls and money exchange issues to deal with in 1985, ok, it made sense to avoid shuffling too much between countries. But not in 2013 IMHO. A flight from Spain to Italy is short, in fact, shorter than a Denver-New York one. No border controls. No money to be exchanged. I honestly don't see the "hurdles" of visiting two countries in 2 weeks. I also don't get why people should pass cities or areas they are attracted to for others just because it is their first time. Just my opinion on this: Europe is not moving anywhere. Go visit what entices you. It is your vacation, don't give a damn if place x is much more famous but you are curious and interested on place y. You don't have any 'obligations' to see something or go somewhere as sort of "first time touristic pilgrimage to europe" that forbids you to skip a famous place in favor of a place that you are eager and longing to be at.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
666 posts

I have been to Spain at least 6 times, but never San Sebastian. So I checked Rick's "Spain 2005" before replying again. The former beach resorts of the European royals are a dime a dozen. Some of them, like Rovinj, Croatia still have a scrap of the original charm. Others, like Osteende, Belgium are all-new reinforced-concrete and little remaining beauty. I have no idea where SS falls in this continuum. A big plus for SS in August is probably sea breezes. If you're going with a rock-bottom budget (?) and no air-conditioning, that's important. Plan to buy a small 240V fan. As a practical matter, Barcelona has access to beach resorts. I've only been to Sitges, and it's not at all like SS. But I'm sure there are smaller towns you could visit there. You should read up on Rick's Barcelonetta and weigh it against what you expect from SS. I'm going to make a wild guess and imagine that you speak some Spanish and hope to meet locals and find out how they live. Because I haven't been to Spain since the global financial crisis began, I can't give advice on the best way to do that. I don't know if a higher proportion of people in Madrid or in SS have jobs or regular paychecks for the jobs they do have. Although Andalusia is very hot, I would suggest that you fly into Seville, stay in a white hill town for a few days, and move on from Granada to Italy. I write that because you asked for my suggestions. A good retort to me might be a Rick Rule: "Assume you will return." It is true that my wife and I concentrate on seeing sights and less on meeting people. Sometimes we have wonderful local encounters, totally by accident. We call those (honest ...) "Rick Steves Moments".

Posted by mike
shingle springs, CA, USA
70 posts

Hi Ariel, San Sebastian is a great place to visit,it is a Bsaque City with alot to see Historically and culturally.It is a short trip to St Jean de Luz in Basque France,and is a nice contrast to San Sebastian.Barcelona is not Spain,it is Catalan which goes up into France,lots to see and do.You could spend your Italy time in Florence,it is the birth place of the Rennasence,sights,Museums,food,hope this helps
Mike

Posted by Danni
Everywhere
41 posts

I think Ariel's trip sounds great....so don't know why people are telling her to go to a different part of spain when she obviously has an interest in that region....just my 2 cents, I was in Sevilla last year and did not care for it at all, so like they say, different strokes for diff. folks. I would say spend the 5 days in Sicily but everywhere is sooo hot in July/August...maybe Milan/Torino/Genoa area...