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April in Spain-- Semana Santa and The Fair

My girlfriend and I are heading to Spain for ~3 weeks in April, and then Italy for 3-4 weeks more. I'm getting excited-- first trip to Europe!

Our thought was to a) start our time in Spain with Semana Santa in a couple towns, b) end it with few days at the Feria in Seville and c) fill the time between (April 21 - May 3) with highlights from Rick's shows-- Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Arcos, Granada. Bilbao and Lisbon too if possible.

Any thoughts? Does it limit us too much to "bookend" trip like this? We can modify (Barcelona after Seville?) or add days if that improves the pace, and makes jump off to Italy easier.

Thanks much

Posted by
1262 posts

The most important piece of advice? With six to seven weeks together respect the need for each of you to have some time alone (rather for an hour or several hours). After seven years of marriage we took a 30 day journey and around day ten went after each others throats over taking one wrong turn. It was then we realized being together 24/7 is not a good thing.
Next, mentality make the statement "this will be the first of several trips to europe." And with that belief accept the need NOT to jam in as much as possible. Spain is huge and the geography you are proposing to cover is too much in too short a time. You are going to recieve a number of posts from contributors offering excellent guidance upon where to focus your time. Listen to them and then prioritize several to take a deep romantic dive into enjoying the experiences. The term "quickie" should not apply as an adjective defining the number of locations you visited during your travels. Example: Granada. Visit Alambra so you are there as dusk falls, this can make for a wonderful romantic memory.
Recall one of the consistent highlights from all of Rick's shows, slow down, don't be a tourist, act like a local anf make great memories! Safe travels.

Posted by
106 posts

Thank you Steven-- I really appreciate the insight.

Posted by
9363 posts

It will depend a lot on what towns you want to spend Semana Santa in. What you don't want to do is zigzag all over the place. Some of the places you are interested are on opposite sides of the country, like Barcelona and Lisbon. Some are in natural groupings, like Toledo and Madrid. Once you decide where you want to start, we will be better able to help you with an intinerary.

Posted by
11286 posts

My first thought is, make sure you are OK with the hotel rates during Feria de Abril and Santa Semana. I remember my Seville hotel had three rates: low season, high season, and Feria/Santa Semana (called "bonus season" on some hotel websites, and when you see the prices you'll understand).

Next, start picking first and second choices among the "Rick's Spain highlights," and also research places he doesn't talk about. As said above, Spain is a big country, and you can't see everything. As you research, start making an estimate of how much time you will want in each place. You should know that the question of "Madrid vs Barcelona" is very divisive; some love both, some hate both, and many have a strong preference for one over the other. As you rough out an itinerary, you will probably find that you have to skip some places in order to have enough time in the others (the reason to have a priority list). With 3 weeks, however, you can certainly see a lot of the places Rick features.

Third, consider transportation. For getting from Barcelona to Madrid to Seville, AVE (fast trains) are best, and trains or buses work for many towns, but a car allows you to get to smaller towns more easily. Don't overlook the option of a flight within Spain (from Barcelona to Granada, for instance, it can often be the best and easiest way).

From Spain to Italy, you will want to fly, unless you want to stop off in France (the train ride is VERY long with multiple changes). So, you will also want to think about flight options as you start planning; you can use Skyscanner to find these. You will want to end your Spain trip to enable an easy flight to Italy (I don't know if Seville has flights to Italy or if you would have to change in Madrid or Barcelona).

Posted by
50 posts

The Feria starts Monday at midnight. Last year, my husband I are were in Sevilla the weekend before, so we got to experience the city landscaping and decorating, the store windows filled with flamenco dresses, and the excitement building! We did get to see the parade of carriages from the bullring on Sunday, so that was awesome. At the time, we thought that being there for the Feria would be like crashing a wedding reception, since it really is a community event, but if we had to do it again, we'd stay for a couple of days to be in it.

We weren't there for Semana Santa, so I can't comment on that. Hopefully someone can tell you the best cities for it, and you can build your itinerary from there.

Happy traveling!

Posted by
11805 posts

One thing I regret from our April 2012 trip was spending most of Semana Santa in Barcelona. Barcelona isn't a particularly religious region (read George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" for some history) so not really anything going on. Nearby in Zaragosa, however, they have amazing processions. Holy Thursday in Zaragosa is one of my life's top travel memories. Seville is famous for Semana Santa too, but there are plenty of other places around Spain that have great celebrations (other processions, like Pamplona, are pretty tame). I'd certainly recommend Zaragosa and maybe add Burgos, Valladolid and/or Salamanca (others may have some first hand experience there) during the week.

Starting in Barcelona before Semana Santa would be a better option and net better airfares.

The April fair is another really great cultural experience. We were there for the opening (at midnight) and stayed a few days. We were invited into a few private casetas and made some friends. Plan on visiting at least one night, for partying, and one day, to see the horses, carriages, and family atmosphere. It won't take long before polka-dots seem like a good fashion choice (like lederhosen when you're at Oktoberfest).

Read my trip report titled (something like) Spain: Affordable Lodging, Clean Toilets on this site. I'd be glad to answer any questions you have. Feel free to PM me.

It will be interesting to see your comparison of Italy and Spain. I love Italy, but now prefer Spain. They both have incredible history but Spain adds the Moorish feel in the South (plus affordable lodging and clean toilets). The customer is never right in Italy, Spain is much more accomodating to travelers (although their horrible economy may be the reason).

Posted by
106 posts

Thanks everyone for the advice.

I'm clear I need to cut out a few of my "wanna sees"-- probably Northern Spain and/or Lisbon-- or I'll need a vacation after my vacation to recover. The part I'm still having a challenge with is routing.

I'd like to experience the last part of Semana Santa-- say Thursday on-- somewhere where it's a real happening. And I definitely want to be in Seville the first few days of the Feria (no way I'm missing midnight kickoff!)

But how to fill two weeks in between?? Does the following seem reasonable?

  • 4-5 days: Madrid and surrounding (Toledo, Salamanca)
  • 4-5 days: Barcelona and surrounding (Montserrat, Figueres)
  • 4-5 days: Granada & Andalusia White Hill towns

Can any of these do "double duty" as places to see Semana Santa?

Am I better off doing Barcelona after the Feria, since it's a better gateway to Italy?

Or do I rethink this whole plan, and visit Italy first? Start late March in Sicily/Amalfi Coast; work North to Easter in Florence; then go to Spain, and see Seville at beginning or middle of visit?

Thanks again everyone. As problems go, I know this is a really nice one to have...but right now it feels like trying to solve a tough math problem in my head!

Joe

Posted by
106 posts

Steven-- I have not. Any thoughts there?

And Brad-- thanks for the detailed Spain info. Read your posts-- great stuff!

Posted by
11805 posts

When I planned for our Spain trip it started as 2-3 weeks for Spain and Portugal, but morphed into one month in Spain and no Portugal - there was just too much to see in Spain (and we still skipped a ton).

I think it's smart to drop Portugal and plan that as a separate trip. Transportation between Portugal and Spain is far from convenient.

If you wanted one great day of Semana Santa. I can't imagine much that could top Zaragosa on Holy Thursday. Very exciting processions go all night.

4-5 days to see Granada and a couple of hill towns after Seville isn't too bad. We were happy visiting Jerez (the only drop-in Bodega visits) and Ronda. I'd probably visit either Ronda or Arcos, not both in your time frame.

4-5 days to see some cities in the north isn't bad either. Personally I'd severely limit my time in Madrid. It was made into a capital very late, by European standards, so doesn't offer much of historical significance. My top sights in Madrid are the Prado and Temple Debod.

I'd focus on some combination of Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Salamanca, Valladolid, and/or Burgos, depending on which seem to interest you most. There are three great castles around Valladolid - Coca, Penafiel, and La Mota - that are certainly worth a visit.

Remember to plan around the siesta around midday to early afternoon for all but the really major sights (Alhambra, Prado, etc.).

Posted by
11805 posts

Once you arrive in Spain, check out flights on Vueling for any hops that are inconvenient by train. They are a decent low-cost airline.

Posted by
1262 posts

Brad's post, as usual, is right on target in responding to your latest question. Madrid is one of the three largest cities in Europe, but offers a limited menu in contrast to Barcelona. For your money, and time, i recommend Barcelona w consideration of the following: skip la ramblas - a touristy pick pocket haven. There are plenty of other places to take a very pleasant walk. Sagrada familia is a great four hour investment of time. Plan a early morning visit and do your research for on line ticket purchase to minimize waiting in line. Go up at least one of the towers. On a pleasant day purchase jamon, cheese, bread and some wine to make a picnic on a visit to parc guell. Research and then pick one Gaudi house to visit. Skip the picasso museum. Tour the palau academy musica, see if there is a concert to attend there. Montserat is a wonderful day trip experience. I am typing quick so not correcting spelling. If you like tennis the mens atp touney will be held in barcelona during the last week of april. Rafa typically plays in this tournament.

Posted by
9363 posts

I am a Madrid fan, not quite as fond of Barcelona. In addition to the Prado, Madrid has the Thyssen and Reina Sofia museums, the beautiful Retiro Park, the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral, and easy access to places like Toledo and Segovia. It is the capital city of the country, and has both contemporary and historic areas that are worth seeing. The Plaza de Cibeles offers a great panoramic view of the city from its tower, as does the cathedral.

Posted by
106 posts

I appreciate the advice. We'll visit both Madrid and Barcelona-- El Prado and La Sagrada Familia are both on our "must see" list. How much time we spend in each; that we'll work through.

Does anyone have feedback on renting a car there? My original thought was to stick to trains, because it seems a lot easier. But I'd definitely reconsider if anyone's found a car to be more convenient for some/all of Spain-- and not too much of a hassle.

As always, thanks much!

Posted by
1262 posts

Renting a car is easy, parking it can be a different story. Should you rent you will need to obtain an international drivers permit from AAA ($20). Without one you risk huge cash fine payable on the spot.
We chose to rent a car while based in malaga for day trips. We used autoeurope and picked up the vehicle from hertz at the train station. We had a gps and driving was a breeze. We did choose to not try and park in old town areas known for narrow streets and limited parking. We would park near a tourist district and walk to the destinations.
Having a rental car enabled greater control of our time and to roam freely.
We would not rent a car while staying in any major city. Too much hassle and so many better public transport options.
Be very astute about not leaving valuables in a car.

Posted by
11805 posts

I'll agree with Nancy. Madrid does have some very nice green spaces, Retiro Park is one of the nicest. In April 2012, however, Europe hadn't yet emerged from a very cold winter. Even at the end of April in Madrid, it was far from park weather.

I might have had a different view of Madrid if we were able to enjoy the parks - but my focus is primarily on history, and Madrid has almost none. Culturally, it's pales in comparison to the Basque, Catalon, Andalusian, or even surrounding Castillian centers.

Posted by
9363 posts

This past April, on the 15th, the high in Madrid was 75 degrees. The average is about 67 degrees. Of course, there can be colder or warmer days. Like anywhere, you can't predict from one year to another just what you will get.

Posted by
1262 posts

Old technology can still be a great method to grasp the scope of a trip so......
Somehow find a map of Spain, one which needs to be unfolded, and then mark the destinations you desire to visit, the date an interesting activity (e.g. Festival) is occurring and use the info to visualize prioritizing the trip itinerary. From this exercise a grouping of events typically starts to be portrayed based upon distance. Next consider time investment based upon achieving great experiences and making wonderful memories. Keep in mind striving to minimize travel stress from moving from city to city as you will be on the road for six weeks.
Tip: everything you need for this long trip is already over there so pack far less than you think you need. Purchase some clothes while on your trip as this is practical use of space and provides wearable memories for when you return home. Don't start a long trip overloaded and overweight with luggage. Start really light an d then judiciously add items as you travel.