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2 lovely weeks in Spain

We have just returned from an amazing 2 week trip to Spain. My jetlagged self is up at a ridiculously early hour, so I’ll use the time to write up a trip report.

Who we are: 10 people traveling, 2 families; 4 parents and 6 kids ranging in age from 15 to 26. We’ve vacationed together before, in the US, and felt confident we could pull this off and still like each other at the end of the trip. We started talking about this adventure last spring and committed to plane tickets in June. Half the group works in healthcare and this was a desperately needed vacation, so we were in agreement that, as long as we felt we could do it safely, and as long as Spain would let us in, we would go. We are all fully vaxxed and boosted except for the 15-year-old, who will get his booster this week. He is also special needs and mobility-challenged, so we travel slower than most people.

Why we picked Spain: My family has been before, most recently in 2018. We knew we wanted a single country destination, and I knew it would be easy to make the trip arrangements and travel around. Spain’s Covid vaccination rate is among the highest in the world, and it has a tourist-friendly approach, so we felt that any new restrictions would likely still be welcoming for travelers. Plus, we had plenty of Spanish speakers in the group, we love the food, and we thought the culture would be a great fit for a relaxing vacation. All of these assumptions held true – we had a fantastic trip that exceeded expectations.

Where we went:
December 26: Fly Burlington, Vermont to Madrid and private transfer to Toledo
2 nights in Toledo
Private transfer (minibus) to Granada with stops in Consuegra and Baeza
4 nights in Granada, train to Cadiz
4 nights in Cadiz, train to Cordoba
1 night in Cordoba, train to Malaga
1 night in Malaga
January 8: Fly home Malaga to Burlington

We felt like this was a nice itinerary with a good mix. Cadiz was our favorite city; we could have stayed for a month and still enjoyed ourselves. In the end we were happy that we had seen so much, but in the future, we will try and avoid one night stopovers. We also as a group felt that 11 days would have been the sweet spot for the total trip length; 14 days was just a touch too long.

We did things as a group (all 10 of us) for most of the major sights and private tours, but much of the day we split off into smaller groups and went our own way. I think this is the only way for a group this size to have a good vacation – divide and conquer, do what you want, then get back together and celebrate what each of you did.

Transportation:

Flights: We purchased plane tickets in June for a lovely itinerary with great flight times, nice 3-hour layovers, and one stop each way. We then had 7 schedule changes, with the last one resulting in us landing at JFK after our connecting flight home departed. Thank you, Delta computer. Hoping for one last magic change in our favor (didn’t happen), I waited until after the third Saturday in November and then got on the phone with Delta. Three hours later, we had a new itinerary that was horrible but at least got us home. We wound up departing Burlington at 5:30 a.m., then a 13 hour layover at JFK, and then the overnight to Madrid, and our return home was Malaga (6:00 a.m. departure) to CDG to Atlanta to Burlington, total travel time home 24 hours. Ugh. But ultimately it all worked (even at CDG, where we had horrible, nasty, rude airport staff, incredible disorderly masses of people at passport control, almost missed our connection even with 2+ hours in the airport, never again), everything was on time, and we made it happen. And we got to spend some quality time in Terminal 4 at JFK (for the record, 13 hours is a looooonnnggg time). We took over one of the central lounge areas, brought games, and made the best of it.

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Transportation (continued):

Private transfers:
I booked airport transfers via Suntransfers. I’ve used them before in Spain and find them to be reliable and economical. Highly recommend.
I booked a private transfer from Toledo to Granada via Spain Private Guides. We could have taken the train this day, but it would have been a long trip, with a 1 hour stopover at Atocha, and not much to see from the train. With 10 people, we could realize some economies of scale, and a private transfer wasn’t significantly more than 10 train tickets. I worked with Dolca at Spain Private Guides, and it was a very positive experience. I originally told her we wanted a private van from Toledo to Granada, with stops in Consuegra to see the windmills and then a longer stop in Ubeda, with lunch and a private tour. After some back and forth, including the input from her Ubeda guide, we decided on switching to Baeza, because the guide felt we could use our time more efficiently and see more in our short time there. I appreciated the feedback, the scheduling and booking process was very easy, and we had a lovely day.

Trains:
I booked all train tickets directly on Renfe’s website using PayPal to purchase the tickets. No issues. For this many people and train tickets, it was a tremendous time saver to create an account and register everyone’s passport details once.

Lodging:

  • Toledo: Canson del Corpus via booking.com – 2 4-BR apartments. Great location, right off Plaza Zocodover. Comfortable but spare. Great host and check in/check out process.
  • Granada: 4 2-BR apartments via Airbnb. Awesome location in the Realejo district, right on the Plaza Principe, fantastic host. Plenty of room in the apartments; we were very happy staying here.
  • Cadiz: El Armador Casa Palacio via booking.com -- 3 2-BR apartments and 1 1-BR apartment. This place is lovely, one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed at. We had the Penthouse apartment with a gorgeous terrace, lots of space in the apartment. Very helpful reception desk. We felt pampered.
  • Cordoba: Apartamentos Tendillas via booking.com – 3 2-BR apartments. Great location right on Plaza Tendillas. The apartments were fairly small and spare, but reasonably comfortable. We only stayed one night and it was perfect for our needs. Entirely contactless check in and check out process, and we were able to store our luggage for a few hours after check out in their offices around the corner.
  • Malaga: Pinar VIP Class Malaga via booking.com – 3 2-BR apartments. Very nicely equipped, located near the Alcazaba. Excellent and accommodating reception staff. We only stayed a few hours (up at 3 a.m. to head to the airport), but would definitely stay here again.
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Eating:
Most days, we had a big breakfast in one of the apartments, then usually either lunch or dinner in a restaurant, sometimes both. We ate outside whenever possible. Often, because our group was so large, if we were inside, we had our own small room in the restaurant. We made reservations most of the time if all 10 of us were eating together, which we usually did for dinner. We had a few dinners in the apartment; the most fun was one that we shopped for at the Central Market in Cadiz – delicious seafood! We also had one night of Uber eats delivery to the apartment, perfect after a travel day.

And I must mention…. The vomiting
We had a 70% vomit rate among trip participants. Some motion sickness, some food related, one migraine. And spread out over duration of the trip; it seemed as though on any given day, someone was saying hello again to their dinner. Fortunately, we came prepared with some good meds (all those healthcare people like their drugs) and everyone recovered quickly. But it will become one of those “memories” we laugh about later. I hope.

Packing:
We packed carryon only. This is old hat for my family, but new for our travel companions. They embraced it and loved it. With all of our moving around, it was easy to just have everyone grab their own bag and go. And super wonderful to zip through customs at Atlanta while everyone else waited for their checked luggage.

Covid:
Covid paperwork:
Our Spain entry forms were completed within 48 hours of arrival into Spain. Easy process, and we printed the QR codes and also downloaded them to our phones. The phone version was accepted everywhere, including at the airport.
In Burlington, our originating airport, they checked our passports and Covid vaccination cards.
In JFK, our entry airport for Spain, they checked our passports, our Spain QR codes, and our vax cards.
In Madrid, upon arrival to Spain, they checked our passports, our QR codes, and our vax cards.

On the way home, in Malaga, our originating airport, they checked our Covid test results (we had paper copies) and our passports.
At CDG, our entry airport for the US, they checked our Covid test results, our attestation form, and our passports.
In Atlanta, our first US destination, it was regular passport and customs process, no Covid paperwork.

Other covid notes:
We felt safer in Spain than we do at home, and we live in one of the most covid-safe places in the US. Masks were required indoors and outside, with limited exceptions, throughout our trip, and we found that compliance was nearly 100% for indoors and probably 90% for outdoors. Although, somehow, New Year’s Day was an exception – Granada was crushed with everyone outside on a sunny, 75 degree day, strolling and socializing, and yet very few masks. Maybe mask compliance takes a holiday on holidays?

Even though Andalucia does not have a covid pass requirement, we were asked for proof of vaccination before entering several restaurants. They all asked for the QR code that was generated on our Spain entry form and scanned that code, rather than looking at our CDC cards.

To travel home, we used the Binax proctored home covid tests. We brought extras in case of problems. Good thing, as one test kit had no dropper bottle in it, and I was told we needed to open another kit. We had weak WiFi in our apartment, and the connection dropped several times as we tested multiple people. But the process ultimately worked. We received all results via email and through the Navica app. We printed the results at our apartment’s reception desk, and the paper copies were checked at the airports (we did not try and use the electronic copies on our phones).

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Private guides:

  • Toledo: Juan Jose Espadas (Juanjo), as recommended on this forum. We did a 2-hour walking introduction to Toledo on our first afternoon in Spain. He was absolutely AMAZING, one of the best guides I’ve listened to; our whole group loved our tour, even in our jetlagged, sleep-deprived condition.
  • Baeza: Josue (can’t remember his last name), booked via Spain Private Guides. A really nice 2-hour walk around Baeza with some excellent, funny storytelling and a great historical overview. Loved it.
  • Granada: Margarita Ortiz de Landazuri, as recommended in the RS guide. She did a 3-hour Alhambra tour for most of our group (my husband and I skipped the tour and wandered on our own, since it wasn’t our first visit) and was excellent.
  • SpainFoodSherpas, with Molly Sears-Piccavey as our private guide. This was a really fun food tour, starting with a jamon tasting, then olive oil sampling, then 2 different restaurants for tapas and a meal. Lots of interesting food and culture-related knowledge, great conversations as we walked around Granada and sampled some fantastic food and beverages.
  • Cordoba: Isabel Martinez, as recommended in the RS guide. Again, awesome. We arrived in Cordoba in the afternoon on January 6, a holiday, so I emailed Isabel to see if she would be willing to give us a 2-hour walking introduction to Cordoba, focusing on history and culture, since all the sights would be closed. She did an absolutely amazing job; very, very knowledgeable, very personable, a nicely paced tour.
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What we did:
Toledo: December 27-29. Weather 50s day, low 40s night; cloudy
2 hour private walking tour with Juanjo; wonderful tour focusing on history of Toledo. Many lessons based on the architectural details of the buildings.
Cathedral visit with audioguides
Santo Tome to see the painting
Visited the Alcantara Bridge at night (beautiful with the Christmas lights)
Walk through the Jewish Quarter and then around the river
Zocotren
Christmas market in front of the Cathedral – small but really fun; great food (stuffed potatoes, churros with caramel, empanadas, fresh potato chips, pastries)

Toledo to Granada via private transfer (minibus): December 29
Stop in Consuegra to see the windmills
Stop at a roadside café for coffee, snack, and bio break
Stop at another roadside café to take care of motion sickness
Stop in Baeza for lunch and a 2-hour guided walking tour

Granada: December 29-January 2. Weather 70s day, low 40s night; sunny
Alhambra
Spain Food Sherpas tour
Cathedral
Capilla Real
Basilica of San Juan de los Reyes
New Year’s Eve (restaurant dinner, celebration in the apartment after, ate grapes and watched fireworks)
Albaicin walk
Mercado de San Augustin
New Year’s Day walk in the park above and behind the Alhambra. Spectacular. Met the only other Americans we saw on the trip.
Had lots of stops while walking around for drinks and free tapas

Cadiz: January 2-6. Weather 60s day, 50s night; sunny with a couple of brief rain spells
Lots of walking – especially on the promenade around the coastline. Beautiful.
La Caleta beach, walked in the ocean
Lots of gelato on Calle Ancha, just down from our apartment. Very convenient.
Tavira Tower
Shopped for dinner at the Central Market. Bought clams, fish filets (don’t know specific species; some kind of whitefish), fish gills, roe sacks, and chicken (for the cowards who wouldn’t eat the seafood).
Roman Theatre ruins
Christmas Market in the Plaza de San Antonio (including toboggan rides!)
Three Kings Parades (super fun)
More walking
Just a note that although it looks like there’s nothing to do in Cadiz, we absolutely loved it. It is very low key but beautiful for strolling around, lots of wonderful places to stop for food, lovely gardens, many pedestrian-only streets with great window shopping, and of course, the beach. It was a wonderful, relaxing place to be, and we would have loved to stay longer. Next time.

Cordoba: January 6-7. Weather low 50s day, 30s night; cloudy
Walking tour with Isabel Martinez.
Mezquita
The kids did lots of shopping – leather and jewelry

Malaga: January 7-8. Weather 60s
We were in Malaga for 10 hours, enough time to take care of Covid test paperwork, eat dinner, and sleep a couple of hours before our 3:30 a.m. airport pickup. A couple of the kids managed a walk to the beach.

Recap:
Probably our most wonderful vacation ever. Fantastic destinations, so fun to travel with a group of people who all get along; we could mix and match into smaller groups depending on the mood of the day, or go places en masse when we felt like it. The very over-stressed and over-worked people came home rested and happy. We ate like kings, tried everything, had plenty of vino, vermut, and cerveza. Octopus is the best food ever. Our lodgings were fantastic, absolutely no negative experiences aside from one smelly drain that they tried really hard to fix but couldn’t. Welcome to medieval plumbing.

Next time, we will probably shorten the trip by a couple of days and have fewer destinations, but we are glad we visited the places we did on this trip. Everyone loved them all.

We are already talking about where to next….

Posted by
2464 posts

Thank you so much for this trip report. My husband and I only spent a few hours in Cadiz, but we absolutely loved it. I had a feeling that it would be a great place to spend a few days - exactly as you described!

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3087 posts

Thank you for writing a wonderful trip report Deb! We had a similar itinerary in November and also has a great time. I'm happy that El Armador in Cadiz worked out so well for your group. We had a lovely stay there too.

Welcome home!

Time to start planning the next adventure!

Cheers!

Posted by
496 posts

Deb, I really enjoyed reading your trip report. Excellent planning on your part and I admire your choice of destinations and your use of guides within the different cities.

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290 posts

It’s hard enough planning for one person. I can’t imagine planning for 10. I laughed at the “70% vomit rate” so I hope all of you can to, once recovered from the jetlag. Sounds like a great trip.

Posted by
7463 posts

Deb, your report makes me so happy! Congratulations on pulling this trip off! We also loved Cadiz!

Posted by
814 posts

Lovely report! I’m going to have to research Cadiz now. We spent 4 nights in Granada in November 2019 and fell in love with it. Hoping to return someday.

Posted by
46 posts

Loved reading your trip report! My son had a semester abroad in Cadiz, so we spent a week there over Thanksgiving a number of years ago. It was a wonderful city to wander the streets and plazas and also walk the paths along the sea! We also loved Granada! Our daughter was studying there and we enjoyed all the tapas and drinks as well as the Alhambra and old town.

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7423 posts

This is incredible Deb -- your planning for 10 people (!!! I hope they appreciate all the work you did), the incredible trip you had taking into consideration all the factors you had to deal with, and heck the detailed and enjoyable write-up of your trip report !!!

I am so glad you all had a great time -- sorry for the vomiting ! But that is so funny (in retrospect, and to someone who didn't have to experience it) . What a way to kick off 2022 !! Congratulations.

(And sorry about your horrible routing and nasty CDG staff on your return. Once again, more evidence that if given the choice -- which you weren't -- travelers should transit just about anywhere except CDG!)

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4341 posts

Loved your trip report, Deb, and kudos to you for planning an excellent trip for 10 people!

I haven’t been to Cadiz, so I really liked hearing about it. And, it’s wonderful to be reading about people traveling & having fun again!

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480 posts

To all the Granada lovers: definitely give Cadiz a try. I love, love, love Granada; have been many times, and my husband and I have even talked about making it a permanent winter destination when we are ready to make big lifestyle changes. But Cadiz grabbed us on this trip, and we are now thinking this might be our new favorite. It has all the cultural and historical charm that I love about Granada, but it is a little slower, a little more relaxing.

Kim, you're right about CDG, people should avoid connecting there at all costs! Our only other option for this trip was to go home through AMS. Normally, I would love this option, but this was right as the omicron surge was taking off, and I was nervous that the Netherlands would put last-minute travel restrictions in place that would be difficult for us to navigate (as they've done before). So, for better or worse, it was CDG. At least we made it home.

Aimee, Atlanta was wonderful and I would choose to connect there again. Passport control was efficient; our entire group was through in just a few minutes (my immediate family went through the priority line because of my son's disability, but the rest of the group were in the main line, and it moved along quite well). The only chaotic area was baggage claim, but we sailed right through with our carryon luggage, and therefore got to the front of the line for security. Even that was efficient, and the TSA agents were actually fun (they kidded my older daughter about all of her extra shopping purchases that made her suitcase bulge). We deplaned in ATL at 3:45 and we were at our connecting gate at 4:13.

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1642 posts

I too loved your trip report and was impressed with the logistics you arranged and managed for such a large group. I have planned for seven twice but have felt that was about the max!

We also went through CDG and Atlanta with connecting flights last summer. CDG was 2 hours from deplaning to being at gate of plane to Milan. Like you, we didn’t plan on it-our flight to JFK was delayed enough that we missed our direct flight to Milan. I certainly wouldn’t do it again if another choice.

When we went through Atlanta from Italy last summer, it took much longer for us than you. We have Global Entry but our nephew traveling with us did not. It took us almost 1.5 hours before we were at our gate. The lines for passport control were long and there were not many people working.

Posted by
2399 posts

What a wonderfully thought out trip report, thanks for posting. We are looking to go to in September, just 4 people though. I too have planned trips but 6 adults is my limit. Will definitely use some of your references and suggestions.

Posted by
5221 posts

Great report, thanks for sharing your trip with us. (I'll skip the vomiting though, thanks anyway.) Seems like in hindsight Malaga wasn't worth the detour for such a short time. Madrid might have been an easier departure point. I can relate to your problems with Delta's computer, it messed with me twice last summer and each time I spent way too long on hold to get a person.

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480 posts

Dick, we weren't trying to visit Malaga -- we were just trying to get home. Our options were slim. Either a 6:00 a.m. departure from Barajas, or a 6:00 a.m. departure from Malaga. Same god-awful, 24-hour, 3-hop travel day. We chose Malaga because it's a smaller airport closer to town -- we left our apartment at 3:30 and had plenty of time to check in and wait at the gate. We would have had to leave much earlier to make a 6 a.m. flight out of Madrid (or stay at an airport hotel; at least in Malaga, we stayed in town and enjoyed our last evening).

Plus, from Cordoba (our location just prior to going to the airport), Malaga is a 1:15 hour train ride; Madrid is 1:45. So, overall, Malaga was a better choice for us.

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7423 posts

@Aimee - I don't have Global Entry and was through passport control in Atlanta pretty easily in December - a week before Christmas. I have never had any real issues there that I can remember; it's how I usually go home.

Posted by
1244 posts

I will refer folks to your trip report as being a gold standard for planning and implementing a group journey. Well done and thank you for sharing!

Posted by
480 posts

Marbleskies, thank you! I was a project manager when I was working. Planning this trip was soothing; it was nice to be able to actually organize something in a world otherwise gone crazy!

Posted by
27428 posts

what a wonderful report. stars to the author.

Posted by
1180 posts

I enjoyed your report. We leave the 25th for Andalusia, and it was helpful. I particularly appreciated the Covid notes. They were very helpful.

Posted by
480 posts

You’re very welcome!

Andalucia is beautiful in the spring — have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
199 posts

Awesome trip report (and planning and tips). Happy to hear it went well despite the flight and the vomiting!