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Trip Report Four Awesome Weeks in the North of Spain and Catalunya

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Hi, all –

I am back from a truly awesome 4-week trip to parts of the north of Spain (but unfortunately, not Galicia) and then through the Pyrenees to Catalunya. Many thanks to ALL who helped me plan this trip, whether by responding to my questions or by sharing information through other posts – you all contributed to what was, for me, a journey through awe-inspiring places and an itinerary that very successfully indulged my interests in art, architecture, natural scenery, food, and wine. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Spain!

Rather than offering a blow-by-blow account of my trip, I’ll present my final itinerary, review what I liked most and least, and then offer some observations to thank those who so generously offered their advice as I planned this trip. I’ll be happy to answer questions at any point.

Basic info: 

• This was a 29-day trip during which I used a rental car for 21 days (and during which I drove a bit over 3,000 km). 

• I’m a solo independent female traveler.
• This was my 2nd trip to Spain, but my 1st trip to each of these areas.
• I planned this trip with an eye to maximizing the diversity of my experiences.
• I can speak only a spattering of Castillian – not much and not well, but with a focus on civilities. I learned to try to say “thank you” in Basque while on this trip, but managed no other Basque.
• I would not recommend my itinerary to anyone else: This was a plan very specifically tailored to my interests and travel style. It was certainly not an itinerary geared toward relaxation or leisurely exploration! I spent many delightful moments relaxing over a meal, but I wanted to make full use of every possible moment I had in the glorious part of the world. On the other hand, segments of it might prove useful to others.

My basic route, defined by overnight stays, was: Burgos (1) → Laguardia / Biasteri (2) → León (2) → Oviedo (2) → Potes (2) → Santillana del Mar (1) → Santander (2) → Bilbao (2) → San Sebastian / Donostia (3) → Taüll (2) → Cadaques (1) → Girona (1) → Tossa del Mar (1) → Montserrat (1) → Barcelona (6)

I’ll post more as I can. In the meantime, thank you one and all! :-)

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    @ annhig – Welcome aboard! You did, indeed, help me plan this trip and I raised a glass in your honor at the parador in León. More about that later…. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the ride!

    @ Mara, thursdaysd, joannyc, & rialtogrl – Thanks, one and all! How lovely to be welcomed by so many encouraging voices. :-)



    I’ll start with a little more detail about what I actually did.

    I had an itinerary written out – actually, a very detailed one (I love to plan! :-) ) – but I viewed it as a “roadmap” rather than a schedule, so I skipped things or (less commonly) added things or switched things around as each day unfolded. I had reserved a number of things that were, for me, high priority (e.g., visits to caves with prehistoric art, guided tours in English of certain sites), and reached all of those places “on time” or even early enough to shift to an earlier option, except for one reservation I decided to cancel in advance when I reconsidered my options. So, while I remained aware of the time, I did not let the time dictate my actions: If I decided to visit something, I visited it to the extent that it met my interests. :-)

    In this “installment,” I’ll take you through my time on the Costa Verde, ending with my last night in San Sebastian / Donostia. (BTW, please forgive my many misspellings.) Note: You might want to sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and be prepared to pace your reading – I packed a LOT into this trip!

    Day 0: Depart from the U.S.

    Day 1: Arrival in Burgos
    • I landed in Madrid and, after an ATM machine ate one of my cards! ( :-( ), I took the first possible bus to Burgos.
    • I began my exploration of Burgos by walking along the river to and from the Cartuja de Miraflores.
    • I then roamed various plazas and streets of the old town, visited the mirador of the castello, and popped my head into a few churches.
    • I dined on tapas at La Favorita, followed by one night at the Hotel Fórum Evolución.

    Day 2: From Burgos to Laguardia/Biasteri:
    • I explored Burgos a bit more (mainly the Cathedral), then picked up a rental car and headed for La Rioja.
    • En route, I visited the Bodegas Lopez de Heredia and stopped at El Balcon de la Rioja and a small dolmen.
    • Then, as soon as I reached my delightfully charming B&B – Erletxe -- I left again for a tour of Bodega El Fabulista.
    • I roamed a bit and relaxed in the B&B before a wonderful dinner at Restaurante Cueva La Muralla.
    • 1st of 2 nights in Laguardia/Biasteri.

    Day 3: La Rioja
    • I visited Laguardia’s magnificent Santa Maria de los Reyes with a tour that included seeing its portico illuminated with English explanation and then roamed around other parts of Laguardia.
    • I then visited the Dolmen of the Sorceress near Bilar;
    • toured the Viña Real winery;
    • joined a tour of the monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla (Monasterios de Suso and Yuso);
    • drove by the Bodega Marques de Riscal just to get a glimpse of Gehry’s hotel there;
    • walked around a nature preserve / bird sanctuary just outside of Laguardia; and
    • ended with an OK, if overpriced, dinner in the cave restaurant associated with the Hotel Hospedería de Los Parajes.
    • 2nd of 2 nights in Laguardia.

    Day 4: From Laguardia through León:
    • When I left Laguardia, I went first to Remelluri, where I had not been able to arrange a tour, but where I spent a pleasant hour strolling the vineyard on a mapped path they allow visitors to stroll.
    • I then toured Bodegas Bai Gorri, where I especially appreciated the two delicious tapas served with the tasting wines.
    • On to the Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas, in Burgos, which I hadn’t been able to see during my initial stay there.
    • After failing to locate the Iglesia de San Miguel de Escalada – or was the stork-nested San Miguel I did find, but could not enter, it? –
    • I went on to León and checked in for my 1st of 2 nights at the Parador de San Marcos.
    • I had a wonderfully memorable dinner at Cocinandos.

    Day 5: León:
    • I visited various markets and squares and edifaces, the Basilica de San Isidoro and its magnificient museum, the Museo Biblico y Oriental, part of the river walk, the parador itself (cloister, church, museum), the Cathedral and its cloister.
    • After dinner at the Parador, a 2nd of 2 nights there.

    Day 6: León to Oviedo:
    • After leaving León, I was glad I made it to Santa Cristina de Lena JUST in time to visit before it closed for siesta. :-)
    • I then drove through the spectacular Teverga ravine to the Colegiata de San Pedro in La Plaza, although it was closed when I got there. I did, however, get to see my first hórreo close-up – bonus!
    • I reached and checked into the well-located Hotel Sercotel Ciudad de Oviedo and quickly left for
    • A long visit to the Cathedral.
    • I then roamed more of the Old Town and visited the more modern part of the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, then
    • walked through the Campo de San Francisco; located the screeching peacocks in the gated property housing what seemed to be some kind of performance venue across one street, and
    • had a wonderful dinner at El Restuarante Del Arco.
    • I then spent the 1st of 2 nights in Oviedo.

    Day 7: Oviedo:
    • I visited Oviedo’s markets (indoor and out), the Museo Arqueologico de Asturias, and the larger portion of its fine arts museum.
    • I stopped for cider and a small cheese plate at the Sidreria Tierra Astur Bascona (oh, the cheeses!!!) before walking to
    • San Julian de los Prados and its magnificent frescoes.
    • I then drove to the Centro del Prerrománico Asturiano, and visited San Miguel del Lillo (with two other people) and Santa Maria del Naranco (with just the guide). Awesome!
    • I returned the car to my hotel, freshened up, and roamed around a bit before a very pleasant dinner at the Taberna Salcedo and my 2nd night in Oviedo.

    Day 8: Oviedo through Potes:
    • I left Oviedo and reached the impossibly packed Congas de Onis – oh, right: it is a spectacularly beautiful Sunday, relatively early in May – of COURSE everyone has been waiting for just the occasion to drive into this area! With patience,
    • I visited the Puento Romano and the fascinating Ermita de Santa Cruz
    • Before heading to the Lakes of Covadonga. And let me take this opportunity to offer a sincere apology to anyone who got stuck behind me on that road! (As noted below, under “things I liked least,” I could barely coax my wimpy rental car up those roads!)
    • I thought I would have time for the “classic circular walk” of the Lakes of Covadonga, but by the time my little car made it to Lake Ercina, and by the time I could find a parking space (nearly a mile away), I decided to just roam around a while. What a glorious place! Instead of the full walk, I walked about an hour at the top and then made several stops on the way back downhill (e.g., at Lake Enol). It is a beautiful place, and it was a perfect day to see it!
    • Once I left the Lakes, I went to magnificent Tito Bustillo.
    • And then stopped very briefly at the Playa de Cuevas del Mar
    • Before driving through the Desfiladero de la Hermida
    • To Potes and the 1st of my 2 nights at the Hotel Valdecoro (which, regrettably, I can not recommend)
    • And the first of two dinners at la Asadore Llorente, which I recommend wholeheartedly. :-)

    Day 9: Potes and the Picos de Europa:
    • I roamed Potes, including its Monday markets,
    • Visited Fuente De (on a PERFECT day for it!),
    • Visited Santo Toribio de Liébana and its Ermita de San Miguel, and then
    • Roamed Potes a bit more.
    • I then took a taxi to Valmeo and walked back to Potes on a very pleasant path that wended its way above and to the side of the river, before
    • A 2nd wonderful meal at la Asadore Llorente and my 2nd of 2 nights in Potes.

    Day 10: Picos de Europa through Santillana del Mar:
    • I left Potes in the morning, stopping first at Santa Maria de Piasca,
    • And then at Santa Maria de Lebeña.
    • My next stop was the Ceuva El Soplao, for its very beautiful “eccentric” geological formations.
    • I spent several very enjoyable hours in Comillas, where I visited El Capricho and the Cemeterio Ruta Modernista, and then roamed along the harbor and beach and through the Old Town.
    • I drove on to the Parador Gil Blas in Santillana del Mar, where I stayed for just one night.
    • I enjoyed a lovely meal at La Villa on Plaza Gandara and then returned to the parador, where I poked around a while before retiring.

    Day 11: From Santillana del Mar to Santander:
    • I began the day by exploring Santillana del Mar, including Santa Juliana, the museums of torture and dioscesan art, and otherwise just strolling around.
    • Then drove on to the impressive recreations of the Museo de Altamira and from there to
    • The Hornos de la Peña, where I am eternally indebted to my guide for an extraordinarily in-depth tour. :-)
    • I then made my way to the OK Hotel Bahia in Santander, where I checked in and freshened. (WARNING: beward of DCC at the Bahia!)
    • I had an enjoyable evening stroll and meal at Bar Marucho before the 1st of my 2 nights in Santander.

    Day 12: In and around Santander:
    • I explored Santander -- the Iglesia del Santíssimo Cristo, the Cathedral, and markets,
    • Including the city’s excellent Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueologia de Catabria, and then drove to:
    • the Cuevas Las Monedas and El Castillo of Monte Castillo. Awesome!
    • After returning to Santander, I walked from my hotel along the waterfront to the Peninsula de la Magdelena, from which I caught the sunset through the trees nearest the point, and then continued my walk toward the Playa Sardinero.
    • A quick taxi ride brought me to Bodega Cigaleña and a delightful meal before
    • I walked back to my hotel for the 2nd of my 2 nights in Santander.

    Day 13: Santander to Bilbao:
    • I drove from Santander to Castro Urdailes, arriving during a windy rainstorm. Santa Maria was closed, but I walked around it to the lighthouse and from there to the interesting Ermita Santa Ana.
    • I also stopped at the ruins of 3 adjacent Roman houses.
    • As the wind and rain began to diminish, I went on to the Hotel Conde Duque in Bilbao.
    • Once I had checked in and freshened, I walked along the river into the Old Town and began my explorations – the Museo Diocesano d Arte Sacro, the Cathedral, Plaza Nueva, Basilica de Begona, Funicular de Artxanda….
    • Later, I had a lovely dinner at La Vina del Ensanche before spending the 1st of 2 nights in Bilbao.

    Day 14: Bilbao:
    • I began my day by visiting the excellent Museu Vasco and Arkeologi Museo,
    • Then the Guggenheim,
    • And then the Museo de Bellas Artes.
    • I then walked through El Parque de Doña Casilda and along the river.
    • After freshening, I headed to the Restaurante Etxanobe, where I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, right until I was charged in US dollars, even after explicitly stating that I wanted to pay in Euros. Unfortunately, that left a VERY bad taste in my mouth.

    Day 15: Bilbao to San Sebastian / Donostia:
    • I drove to the fascinating Puente Colgante (Biscaya Bridge) in Getxo, toured it, and
    • Then stopped briefly (not long enough!) in the Old Port of Getxo.
    • I drove to the area near, and then hiked into and explored, the Oma Forest. Oh my!
    • I drove to and roamed around lovely Lekeitio.
    • I found a place in San Telmo from which to view the flysch of Zumaia.
    • And then I found my way to the very basic – but well-located and servicable – Pension Aida in San Sebastian / Donostia.
    • After freshening, I went to Casa Urola for a lovely meal and leisurely stroll before returning to the pension for my 1st of 3 nights in San Sebastian / Donostia.

    Day 16: San Sebastian / Donostia & Hondarribia
    • I began my day with a visit to the Catedral Buen Pastor, then
    • Walked through the Alderdi Eder Parkea, roaming nearby streets and plazas, to the Mercado Bretxa.
    • After visiting San Vicente,
    • I found some wonderful breakfast pintxos, including the jamon at Bar La Cepa. :-)
    • And then I began a long walk of Monte Urgull. Some of the trails to the east had been damaged by recent mudslides, but I did a decent job (I think) of finding my way up and around various battlements and miradors and (of course) the Cementerio de los Ingleses to the upper reaches. I skipped the Castel itself.
    • Instead, I headed down and around the waterfront to the Palacio de Miramar and its gardens,
    • And then down and around the waterfront to the spectacular El Peine de los Vientos.
    • I took the funicular up and, shortly thereafter, down Monte Igeldo (stunning views!).
    • At that point, I took a taxi back to my parking place where I claimed my car and drove to
    • Hondarribia, where I drove along some of its waterfront and walked around some of the Old Town.
    • Upon returning to San Sebastian / Donostia, I freshened up and then had a wonderful meal at the Restaurante La Muralla.
    • And then I enjoyed a late, long meander back to my pension for a 2nd of 3 nights.

    Day 17: San Sebastian / Donostia and the Pasaia (Pasajes)
    • I walked along the riverside in Gros and then the “surfing beach” to its east end,
    • Where I found some delicious breakfast pintxos at La Guinda.
    • I then hiked to the Pasaia and took the little boat to Donibane,
    • Where I had an absolutely delicious lunch at Restaurante Txulotxo.
    • I took a bus back to San Sebastian / Donostia, where I visited the excellent Museu San Telmo
    • And the Basilica Santa Maria.
    • I then joined a number of interesting people for a pintxos tour through the old town
    • Before returning to my pension for a 3rd of 3 nights.

    To be continued….

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    I raised a glass in your honor at the parador in León. More about that later…. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the ride!>>

    I hope that means that you enjoyed staying there. It sounds like a terrific trip.

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    @ ekscrunchy – Thanks for reading along! I don’t think I have quite your palate, but I certainly ate well on this trip. :-)

    @ danon – Thanks for the kind words! Yes, I did move FAST on this trip – so much to see, so little time! And at the end of every day, I felt that I had earned the right to savor every bite and sip of a leisurely meal without any regard to its caloric content. ;-) Life can ge good.

    @ kimhe – Ditto what I just said to danon. :-) I was able to focus my days in large part because of the wealth of information that you and others provided – what a gift! I’ll try to avoid providing unnecessary detail in my descriptions and trust that if you, or anyone else, would like more detailed information about what I did, you’ll ask.

    @ annhig – Oh my, yes! The parador in León was, IMO, well worthy of the splurge, and for me, a two-night splurge at that! (I initially thought I would spring for just ONE night, but ribeirasacra and others convinced me that León needed more of my time….) Leaving aside the service and amenities, I would have wanted to visit that building even if it were not a hotel. To be able to sit in its cloister at any time of day or night, to catch up on my journal while sipping a glass of wine in its extraordinary library, to sit by the balcony in my room and watch the birds in the trees beside the river…. honestly, what have I ever done to merit such wonderful moments? I truly am a remarkably lucky woman.


    Actual itinerary, continued:

    Day 18: San Sebastian / Donostia through Taüll:
    • I left San Sebastian / Donostia without further sightseeing. Although I had planned to stop in San Juan de la Pena, a variety of navigational problems prevented me from reaching it in time to visit prior to siesta.
    • I went on to Torla, where I spent an enjoyable hour or so roaming around. And then
    • I headed to Taüll.
    • After checking in to the delighful Hotel Rantiner, I had time to freshen and walk to
    • Restaurant El Caliu, where I had a delicious meal from a most welcoming hostess.
    • I then returned to the Rantiner for my 1st of 2 nights there.

    Day 19: Taüll:
    • I made it to Sant Climent de Taüll just in time for the 10:30 “video-mapping” – awesome!
    • I admired the surviving mural fragments and mural recreations of the 4 open churches of the Vall de Boi – Sant Climent and Santa Maria de Taüll; Santa Eulalia d’Erill la Vall, and Sant Joan de Boi.
    • And I stopped at the visitors’ information center, where there is additional information about these churches.
    • I drove to a number of the other churches that are only open during high season, including the churches in Còll, Cardet, Barruera, and Durro.
    • At the info center, I had learned of an easy hour-long walk from the main church in Durro to a hermitage – St. Quirc – just outside Durro. I was game! But an hour later, when I realized that a sign about half-way there had routed me by a different path back to my origin, instead of to the hermitage itself, I was ready to say I’d had a pleasant enough walk for the day.
    • I returned to one of the lovely common rooms of my hotel for a bottle of wine and a long “catch-up” session with my journal, all while watching the light change over Sant Climent and the valley and mountains beyond. Glorious!
    • I had a pleasant dinner at El Restaurante Mallador before the 2nd of 2 nights in Taüll.

    Day 20: Taüll to Cadaqués:
    • The route from Taüll to Besalú was not short. I wish I had programmed it better.
    • Besalú was well worth a visit of several hours IMO, particularly for the Pont Fortificat and San Pere.
    • Despite the ways in which the winds whipped my little car (and me, when I stepped out!), I’m glad I drove to the Cap de Creus. Wow!
    • I eventually found my way to the Hotel Octavia in Cadaqués, where I spent just 1 night.
    • I had a lovely dinner at Es Baluard and a late night stroll around town.

    Day 21: Cadaqués to Girona:
    • I enjoyed roaming Cadaqués for a while, and especially liked the “cat sanctuary” upon which I inadvertently stumbled.
    • I did NOT like the wind-whipped drive to Sant Pere de Rodes, but OMG, I loved the monastery itself! Well worth braving the drive to see, IMO.
    • I drove to Santa Maria in Vilabertran, but got there just after it closed for siesta.
    • I then went to Figueres and its Teatro Museo Dali and Dali-Jewels. Fascinating.
    • And on to Girona, where I checked into the Peninsular for my 1 night in Girona.
    • I meandered around for a while and enjoyed a slow, relaxing meal at Cal Ros.

    Day 22: Girona to Tossa del Mar:
    • I roamed delightful Girona, visiting the Cathedral, Museu d’Art, the Banys Arabs, gardens and walls, Sant Feliu, Sant Pere de Gailligants, and the Call. Lovely city!
    • I then drove to Lloret de Mar, where I savored a short amble along a beach and then a leisurely stroll through the glorious Jardins de Santa Clothilde.
    • I made my way to the charming Hotel Cap d’Or in Tossa del Mar and, after a brief walk around the town,
    • Had a wonderfully memorable meal at La Cuina de Can Simon.

    Day 23: Tossa del Mar to Montserrat:
    • After watching the sun rise over the beach and sea from my room,
    • I roamed Tossa del Mar and its walls briefly
    • before leaving for Barcelona, where I took my rental car through a car wash and returned it to Avis without incident.
    • I took a taxi to the hotel where I would be staying in Barcelona, with which I had made arrangements to leave my main suitcase, and proceeded to Montserrat via the metro and then the rack rail (Cremallera) with just an overnight bag.
    • I checked into the Hotel Abat Cisneros and freshened up before
    • meeting rialtogrl :-) :-) :-)
    • We attended vespers and listened to the magnificent boys’ choir
    • And then enjoyed an evening of great food and wine and conversation with a group of very interesting travelers.

    Day 24: Montserrat to Barcelona:
    • Rialtogrl and I toasted the sunrise with mimosas before visiting the Black Madonna. I’ll look forward to my next visit with each of these wonderful women!
    • I then visited the monastery’s museum before taking the rack rail back to Barcelona, where I officially checked into my hotel in Barcelona.
    • I stopped in La Boqueria on my way to
    • A brilliant meal at Can Culleretes. :-)
    • I visited the delightful courtyard of the Antic Hopstial de la Santa Creu i Sant Paul,
    • and then Santa Maria del Pi, Palau Guell, Plaza Reial, and Sant Pau de Camp before
    • A long stroll through Parc Guell
    • And an “early” night of rest on my 1st of 5 nights in Barcelona. (Oops – did I say 6 above? It was 5.)

    Day 25: Barcelona:
    • I strolled the Passeig de Gracia to see its various mansions and
    • Visited Casa Batlló;
    • Took an English tour of the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau;
    • Spent hours and hours at the Sagrada Familia, and
    • Had tapas at Cerveceria Catalana before
    • An evening visit to Casa Milà.
    • 2nd of 5 nights in Barcelona.

    Day 26: Barcelona:
    • I took a bus to Montjuic, from which I took the
    • Teleferic to the castle (which I did not visit), and then ambled along the Cami del Mar.
    • I then walked downhill to the Fundacion Joan Miro.
    • I spent most of the day at the magnificent Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
    • After a brief stop at the Mies van der Rohe Pabellon, I went to
    • El Poble Espanyol, where a few crafts shops were still open.
    • I enjoyed dinner and a wonderfully passionate flamenco performance at the Tablao de Carmen and
    • Caught the Font Magica before returning to my hotel for the 3rd of 5 nights.

    Day 27: Barcelona:
    • I began the day with an English tour of the glorious Palau de la Musica, then
    • Strolled through the Mercat de Santa Caterina.
    • I spent several very interesting hours exploring at the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat, including the Roman excavations under Barcelona, various important eccelesiastical and governance structures, and Santa Agata.
    • I also visited the Cathedral, Museu Frederic Mares, and Picasso Museum.
    • I took a LONG walk along the harbor area and then the beach before
    • Eating the BEST paella EVER at Restaurant 7 Portes.
    • I stopped quickly at the Sagrada Familia to see it illuminated at night before
    • heading to sleep on the 4th of 5 nights.

    Day 28: Barcelona
    • Anticipating an early departure the next day, I first packed insofar as possible and made sure that I hadn’t neglected gifts for anyone on my list.
    • I tried to find the Fundacio Francesco Godia, but if it still exists, I did not find it.
    • I did stop in the Fundacio Antoni Tapies for a brief time.
    • I visited Santa Maria del Mar and El Born and Ciutadella Park with its glorious fountain.
    • I was thrilled by the performances of four different troops of castellers at the "Fes-te al carrer" a Sants. Awesome!
    • I savored a last meal of tapas at Tapeo and then
    • Enjoyed another flamenco performance at Tablao Cordobes.
    • Finally, I made my way through the drunken sports celebrants clogging Las Ramblas back to my hotel for the last of my 5 nights in Barcelona.

    Day 29: Flight back to the U.S


    As I said, this was not an itinerary for someone who wants a leisurely experience! I admit that I was tired by the end, but I wouldn’t have given up a single experience. :-)

    Next up: What I liked most.

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    Wow, I admire your stamina!

    Thanks for the details. I will be putting some of those places (e.g. paella!) on my list. I'm splurging for the parador in Leon too, your description sounds fabulous.

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    This is great. I'm in the process of planning our visit to Spain, which will be in 3 weeks' time (can you say last minute?) and after having read your planning threads, I can't wait to read more of this trip report. Especially the drive to/through the Pyrenees.

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    I am curious about the museums in Bilbao. Could you elaborate on your experiences of the Museo Diocesano d Arte Sacro, the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Museu Vasco and Arkeologi Museo? We are planning on the Guggenheim (obviously!) and will, I hope, have time for at least one other museum. I am impressed and a bit envious of your trip, as your interests seem similar to mine.

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    @ thursdaysd – I’m glad you are finding some useful details in this account! If your experiences have been anything like mine, then finding paella that is served for one can seem like seeking the Holy Grail, so to find it, and to find that it was excellent, was a delight! The suggestion to go to 7 Portes for “rice” was one of the MANY recommendations that kimhe made that I was happy to pursue on this trip.

    @ joannyc – I think I can safely speak for rialtogrl when I say that we were both thinking of you as we sipped our sunrise mimosas! Thanks for the inspiration. :-)

    @ noe847 – Oh, you are in for a wonderful trip!

    As for the drive to/through the Pyrenees, two bits of advice: (a) I hope you have a car that is more powerful than an Opel Corsa, or at least, more powerful than the one I rented. More on that coming up…. (b) Even if you have a really good GPS system, do invest in a good road map. I updated my TomTom maps in the week before traveling, but the latest versions I was able to access were well behind the times for that part of Spain, creating some interesting challenges until I turned the TomTom off and pulled out a paper map.

    As for Bilbao’s museums: (a) Like the Telmo Museum in San Sebastian / Donostia, the Museu Vasco is devoted to Basque culture. If you have any interest in these fascinating people and their heritage and traditions, then I would strongly encourage you to visit one or both of these museums. (b) The Guggenheim focuses exclusively on modern art, with very few permanent installations in a huge space that is, perhaps, better known for its architecture than its art. (c) Bilbao’s Museo de Bellas Artes is a traditional museum of fine arts with a focus on Spanish arts through the centuries (and a bit more international coverage of modern art). Small enough to be comfortably seen in a half-day, IMO, it features just one or two masterpieces by each of the artists it includes. It was, I believe, the most comprehensive collection of Spanish art that I visited on this trip. (c) Bilbao’s Arkeologi Museo has a small, thoughtfully displayed collection of prehistoric and archeological finds from the area. And (d) Bilbao’s Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacro displays religious art and sacred objects. If the guidebooks with which you are working don’t cover these museums, you might want to look at the Michelin Green Guide.

    @ Adelaidean – I think the biggest trick for ANY of us who travel is to learn our own travel style and plan (or not!) accordingly. I do enjoy planning my trips, and had so much really wonderful input from fellow Fodorites that it was surprisingly easy to develop my plans – well, aside from the hard decisions of what to skip! I think of solo travel as a great self-indulgence: I get to do EXACTLY what I want, and I get to do it when I want to do so. Hard to beat that! If you haven’t seen it and are interested, here is a link to a superthread with solo travel reports:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/travel-tips-trip-ideas/goin-solonothing-like-it-a-trip-report-collection.cfm

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    -@ joannyc – I think I can safely speak for rialtogrl when I say that we were both thinking of you as we sipped our sunrise mimosas! Thanks for the inspiration. :-) -

    Indeed we did! Thanks from me too!

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    There was some hippy chick close to us singing/chanting with her eyes closed as the sun came up. Then she took a selfie. It was pretty funny. Of course, she probably thought we were a little weird opening little bottles of cava at 7 in the morning.

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    @ noe847 – The museum of Basque culture in San Sebastian / Donostia is, of course, the SAN Telmo. Oops!

    @ marigross – Thanks! I hope you continue to enjoy my recap!

    @ thursdaysd – Ooh, I must have good risotto fortune: I’ve never had trouble finding it for one! :-)

    @ rialtogrl & joannyc -- I assure you, joannyc, that rialtogirl picked the PERFECT place from which to savor that sunset -- may we ALL have many more occasions for inspirations like that! And thanks so much for the laugh, rialtogrl – I had completely forgotten that woman! I would have said new-ager rather than hippy (I seem to remember crystals), but the image works either way, I think. I had the sense that she wanted to burst into song like Ella or Maria von Tropp, but instead “respected” everyone else’s space by being quite – which is to say that there was a sort of eerie, off-key quality to sounds that occasionally veered from whispered lilt to hum and at other times to atonal whisper. And then the selfie – not something I saw coming, LOL! If I have to choose between cava at 7 a.m. or selfies at ANY time of day, I admit it – I’ll go for the mimosas. ;-)

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    Thanks, @ kja, for the info; it is helpful.

    We are armed with paper maps and I will double check those to see if they're of fairly recent date. I'm looking forward to reading your car escapades! We will not be driving quite as extensively in the Pyrenees as you did but we are seriously considering stopping overnight in Taüll to see a few of the Romanesque churches on our way back to Barcelona. On the early part of our trip, the first night out of Barcelona we are planning to stop in Jaca and I'm hoping for a stop at the nearby San Juan de la Pena, which I know you missed.

    We are quite interested in getting a feel for the history and culture of the Basque region. The Telmo is definitely on our list for San Sebastian but we will be in Bilbao first and for a fairly limited time so I have wondered whether to see the Meseu Vasco. Your input has moved it up on the list. Whether we can see the other museums in Bilbao will depend on time.

    A question about the Viscaya Bridge to Getxo: can we fairly easily cross there with our car? Or is the wait too long?

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    @ noe847 – I’m glad you are finding my comments helpful!

    If you have any interest in Romanesque art or architecture, I think you might enjoy stopping in Taüll or elsewhere in the Vall de Boi – it is a beautiful area, and these churches and their murals are remarkable. Of course, you can see the original murals once in Barcelona….

    As for the Viscaya Bridge, my understanding is that it is a regular part of many people’s commute and the delays are rarely long – but I could easily be mistaken, and what is “too long” is, of course, open to interpretation. And I’m sure the timing matters, too. I was there on a Sunday morning, and I don’t remember seeing any cars that had to wait for more than one gondola (i.e., the one after the next), but I really wasn’t paying attention. If makes a difference, and if one of the real experts on the area (like mikelg) doesn’t weigh in on the timing, then you might consider posting a separate thread on the Puenta Viscaya. Sorry I can’t be more definitive!


    @ joannyc – Trust me, I know not to add juice to cava during the evening!!! I am now raising my glass of cava to your attention to ensuring that I imbibe appropriately! ;-)

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    Thanks, everyone, for reading along so far! Now, what some might consider the CORE of my report:


    What I enjoyed MOST about this trip, in no particular order:

    • The incredible diversity of my experiences! :-) That might not seem too surprising, given that I had planned the trip in part to maximize the range of my experiences, but OMG, I succeeded beyond my wildest imaginings!

    ... I saw brilliant works of art from masterpieces of prehistory to works gaining modern acclaim and an astonishing array of truly fine work from countless ages in between, including works as unusual and memorable as the Painted Forest of Oma.

    ... And I saw ancient dolmen to buildings by Gehry and impressive architectural achievements from just about every Western style in between – and not just majestic preRomanesque and Romanesque and Gothic and Moderniste structures, but also varying styles of hórreos and city fortifications and everyday architecture, too.

    ... I saw the fascinating red and tan and green mesa-studded tapestry of La Rioja; and the high plains across to Léon, with distant snow-capped mountain ranges marking every horizon;, and the glorious peaks and valleys and alpine lakes of the Picos de Europa; and the rippling cloud tops filling the green, green valleys to the north; and the powerful, heaving, crashing tides of the Bay of Biscay and the the cliffs and harbors and beachs and protected waterways of the Costa Verde; and the battling waters of the Rio Urumea as it attempts to deposit its waters against the incoming tides at Donostia; and the differently glorious peaks and valleys and sparkling reservoirs of the Pyrenees; and the incredibly different waves of the Mediterranean; and the beaten, but unyielding, fingers of rock and wind-whipped vegetation of the Costa Brava; and the greens and golds of Catalunyan farmland; and oh, SO much diversity in the natural scenery I encountered!

    ... And I got to see these gloriously diverse landscapes not just from a car (which, IMO, is not the best place for a driver to take in the scenery), but also from miradors and balconies and walks, some of which were very short and easy and a few that were more challenging. And I had time to contrast these experiences of more open areas with city streets, where I had time to watch people while savoring a glass of wine with a view of an intriguing plaza. I had time to experience the hustle and bustle of modern life in cities that remain geographically defined, at their cores, by medieval times. I had time to listen to the quiet calls of birds in the late twilight and to listen to the different kind of quiet that settles on a cobbled lane within a city’s ancient walls at night.

    ... I tasted extraordinary flavors, whether as simple as Pimientos de Padrón or as complex as a Basque seafood soup, whether traditional or gastronomic, whether fish or seafood or poultry or fresh meat or dried meat or tapas or pintxos or dessert or cheese or bread or fruit or OMG, the quince jelly! What incredible foods! :-) :-)

    ... And, of course, I savored luscious wines and effervescent cavas and other beverages (txakolí and orujo and various house liqueurs which I was so kindly offered at several restaurants) -- and have I even mentioned the delicious coffee or juices?

    ... And so many other differences, too – the range of meat cuts in markets (from trotters to pigs’ ears and essentially everything in between) and the flowers (alpine, wild, and cultivated) and the feel of the air, so different in each location….

    ... Well, I think we can agree I met my goal of having a diversity of experiences! :-)

    • I saw the Castellers – oh my, what a delight! :-) :-) :-) I never watched a tower being built without a frisson of fear – the little ones are so very little! But at least the little ones wear helmets, and it is obvious that they are very much in the mind of every casteller out there. I was awed by the strength and coordination and teamwork that every tower required and feel incredibly priviledged to have seen them.

    • I heard L'Escolania! Whatever one thinks of the tradition – and I’m not sure what I think of placing such young boys (and some of them are VERY young) into intensive training – hearing them sing is a incredible and transporting joy, particularly in a place that provides the accoustics (and visual aesthetics) of Montserrat’s Basilica. So moving!

    • And I experienced so many moments when I caught a glimpse of the ways in which music and art have a fundamental place in Spanish life – the incredibly evocative and ethereal sounds produced by a woman playing a set of metal domes outside Girona’s cathedral and the appreciative audience that had gathered around her; the majestic glory of the waves crashing around the Peine de los Vientos in Donostia, waves that also inspire squeals of joy from people young and old, and breath-y piping sounds from associated accoustic elements; the painted “lockers” embedded in buiding walls in Cadaques; the use of Gaudi’s hexagonal tile pattern for sidewalks in Barcelona….

    • And I caught other glimpses into ways of life other than my own: Families out for a Sunday evening stroll along Lekeitio’s harborfront; and women at the market, chatting with the same sellers from whom they have purchased their produce for countless years; and young couples sneaking a few moments together in the darkening shadows of park benches; and dogs bounding happily along the beach….

    • I was able to “see” the murals of the Vall de Boi both in situ and under optimal viewing circumstances, particularly for Sant Climent de Taüll. The church itself is lovely and is in a gorgeous setting. Inside, it has a few remnants of its original murals – pieces too small or too damaged to have been tranferred. The walls also hold recreations of the original murals that were removed. (These statements are also, I believe, true of Santa Maria de Taüll and the other churches in the valley whose frescoes were removed.) Sant Climent is, I believe, unique in that it now offers a “video-mapping” show on occasion – and I had timed my trip to take advantage of this opportunity! A lasar show staged within the church recreates the painting of the interior, drawing attention to features that might otherwise escape notice. Wonderful! I was thrilled to have seen this laser show, and these churches, and must admit that I was a bit trepiditious about what I would think of seeing the original murals once in Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. I needn’t have worried – the originals have a jaw-dropping richness of detail, and moreover, are arranged in ways that give one closer and better physical access to some of these details. I found the experiences not just complimentary, but synergistic. How fortunate I am! :-)

    • I saw – and experienced – the works of Antoni Gaudi. I cannot say, with honesty, that I loved everything he did. I can say that adored the vast majority of what I saw! :-) And I stand in absolute awe of his genius. Remarkable. How fortunate we ALL are that he had the chance to create spaces that the rest of get to explore. Awesome!

    • I benefited from the extraordinary patience and generosity of many, many guides with whom I interacted. I had the incredibly good fortune to work with some outstanding men and women who went above and beyond what their jobs required to ensure that I understood what they were showing or telling me. As just a few examples: My guide at the Hornos de la Pena spent more than twice as long with me as the tour was slated to take, and shared with me not just the cave’s extraordinary gems, but also his love of them. The guide at Santa Maria del Naranco carefully selected clear, simple Spanish words until she was sure I understood and even though it was late, she allowed me my fill of time on that amazing church’s portico. The woman at the Ermita Santa Ana in Castro Urdiales patiently struggled to find ways to communicate the various purposes to which the building had been put, and she did so successfully.

    • And more generally, I welcomed the warmth and kindness and helpfulness of the many Spaniards with whom I came in contact. As already noted, I knew very little Castillian and nothing of the other primary languages of the regions I visited, but people were unfailingly kind and patient and helpful. As examples, when my ATM card was eaten at Madrid’s Barajas Airport, a very nice woman tried to call the emergency number listed on the machine using her own phone; it didn’t work, but it was very kind of her to try. Sseveral times, when I realized that I was the last person in a restaurant and had just been served my entrée, I commented – only to be firmly reassured there was no problem and, as proof, I was often presented with a complimentary glass of the house liqueur. (After the third time this happened, I quit commenting on whether others were there – I feared that I was triggering some hospitality norm that required them to prove my welcome.) A very sweet man in Santa Maria de Cadaqués made sure that I stood within the small area within which one can see Santa Maria’s crown formed by the morning light. And when I asked a woman in Léon for directions, and she realized that I hadn’t understood her, she simply turned around and walked several blocks with me. What wonderful kindnesses! And these are just some examples of the hospitality with which I was greeted. :-)

    Let me be clear: These are just a FEW of the things that I liked MOST about this trip. They may be the most salient of the things I liked best, at least upon quick reflection, but they are not ALL of the things I enjoyed by ANY means!!!

    It was a trip with many wonderful moments!

    But it was not perfect. Next up: The things I liked LEAST.

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    I am awe struck by the amount you covered on this jaunt, and by your appreciation for even the small things. Just a marvelous report. I am setting it aside to re-read and am eagerly awaiting the rest…I now have to rethink the plan for my own next visit in order to include a few of the highlights that you detailed so well here!

    I am such a wimp for being so squeamish about the driving when here you drove in and out of hamlets and cities with no apparent problem and no one in the passenger seat to navigate for you.

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    <<I am such a wimp for being so squeamish about the driving when here you drove in and out of hamlets and cities with no apparent problem and no one in the passenger seat to navigate for you.>>

    While I'm more than happy to give kudos to Kja to have done this on her trips, many of us solo female travelers do this every trip and don't really think much about it. Just the way we travel. For me, I'm a car person, not a train/bus person unless it's the first leg of my trip (after an overnight flight) from the airport to my first stop.

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    @ Adelaidean – You are most welcome for that link to the solo travel superthread. I think you will find that Fodor’s has a number of committed solo travelers who are happy to share their experiences and expertise, even if we sometimes forget to post our trip reports on that thread. ;-) (And BTW, thank you for reminding me to do so!)


    @ ekscrunchy – thanks so much for your kind words! I’m glad that you are finding some useful bits of information in my ramblings and am sure that you will have a wonderful trip no matter what you decide.

    I must admit that I love driving – or at least I did, until I met the car I drove on this trip! :-( Like everything else I do when traveling, I just approach it as an adventure: If I get lost, well, I’ll get back on track somehow – no use doing anything other than enjoying myself! (And oh my gosh, it is easier now with GPS systems than in the old days of printed maps only!) That said, I have so far taken road-trips only when I conclude that a rental car will allow me the freedom to do things that otherwise would be too difficult or would take too much time. So for example, visiting the caves with prehistoric art that I saw on this trip would have been MUCH more difficult without a car. I like taking public transportion – its generally a greener option than driving (at least for a solo traveler), and I can relax and enjoy the scenery and, if it’s a route used by locals, get some glimpses into their lives that aren’t otherwise readily accessible.

    And while I didn’t have anyone in the passenger seat to navigate for me, I also didn’t have anyone in the passenger seat making me nervous by audibly praying for his / her life. ;-)


    @ joannyc – I’m picturing you in a convertible, and you are smiling. :-) May you have MANY more delightful road trips!

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    Thanks for the further info about the Vall de Boi. The Romanesque is my absolute favorite architectural period, and I was already planning to visit the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona - which will have to be on the day our flight from the US lands, unfortunately, but if anything will keep me awake it will be Romanesque church murals! Now after reading your "favorites" description we've decided to stay two nights in Taüll to absorb a little more of the mountain ambiance, rest (husband) and make sure to see a few of the churches (me). I've reserved the Hotel el Rantiner and am really hoping I can catch the video mapping at Sant Climent.

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    @ noe847 – oh, if you enjoy Taüll even half as much as I did, then you will have a great time there! I think I mentioned that only four of the churches were open when I was there, but I’m pretty sure that several of the others are open starting in early June, so you may be in for quite a treat! I urge you to stop at the visitors’ information center in Erill la Vall at your earliest convenience – or contact them ahead of time! – to get hours and map out a route. With a love of the Romanesque, I think you will find much to savor in the region. :-)

    The Rantiner suited me very well – I think you’ll find that the family who runs it are very gracious and welcoming hosts. And you might consider dining one evening at El Caliu – delicious!

    Let us know what you think!

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    Hi, all --

    Another note about trip highlights:

    I just realized that I didn’t include a separate bullet in my “liked most” list for prehistoric art – a terrible oversight, as seeing these magnificent works of art was, for me, among the undisputed highlights of this trip. For one thing, I was awed by the fantastic geologic formations of the caves. With the exception of Pech Merle, the caves with prehistoric are that I had previously seen have not had particularly interesting geological features, and found it wonderful to imagine our ancestors seeing what their artists had created in such beautiful and fantastic and magnificent natural settings. As for the incomparable artwork, I am awed to think of the resources that social groups would have had to devote to support the artists who created these masterpieces. I am awed to think what these creations much look like in the flickering of a torch, when so many of the figures must seem to move. I am awed by the craftsmanship and artistry and vision and expressiveness of these ancient masters. And I am awed by the efforts to preserve these works, and that I have somehow had the great good fortune to see them. :-)


    OK, time to “get down to brass tacks,” as the saying goes. I did NOT like everything I experienced on this trip. Some things were DECIDEDLY less than perfect.

    So here’s what I liked LEAST, in no particular order:

    • I did NOT like my rental car. An Opel Corsa, it was little – so it offered good gas mileage -- and that was a good thing, but that was just about the ONLY good thing I have to say about it. It had so little oomph that I swear the only reason bicyclists didn't pass me in the mountains was a fear of what it would mean to be anywhere near it. :-( (Cyclists did pass me elsewhere!) Even when I held the gas pedal fully and firmly to the floor, I still struggled to keep that car moving forward on some of those mountains! Going up hill, it had no oomph; coming down hill, it seemed to offer little control, all too often giving me the sense that it was skidding out. :-( And the car had a structural part that was perfectly positioned to completely block my view of the road on any left-turn switchback. Gotta love that, right? :-( Especially when driving km after km of blind switchbacks. And the car was so lightweight that gusts of wind sometimes seemed to shift it markedly to one side or the other – a particular delight on the windy blind switchbacks around the Cap de Creus and Sant Pere de Rodes. :-( And apparently just for chuckles, the car’s radio came on without warning at random moments, sometimes quite loudly. :-( I’m happy to drive at whatever speed feels comfortable to ME, but I hate to be the person who keeps everybody else waiting. So when cars came up behind me, I tried to pull off whenever I could. But sometimes, there were no turnoffs for very long stretches. I was fortunate to be traveling a bit off-season, so it was relatively uncommon for long strings to build up. Still, there’s nothing fun about driving a car in which one has less than complete confidence when in unfamiliar, narrow, twisting roads. And BTW, I’m not complaining about the roads – as a rule, I thought them well maintained and well signed. I did not like this car, I did not find it’s controls well-positioned (some were actually counter-intuitive to me), and I sincerely hope I never encounter a Corsa again! That said, it did get me where I wanted to go….

    • Losing an ATM card to a machine upon arrival in Barajas was NOT something I enjoyed. I still have no idea what went wrong; I know I hope I never again need to trust a card to a machine that isn’t attached to an open and functioning office where some actual person might be able to help me. All I know is that the card went in and did not come out, nor did any money. Jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, it took me a while to realize that if I couldn’t get the card, then no one else could, either – and it was only once I came to that realization that I felt able to leave the machine. Fortunately, I did have a back-up ATM card, but I won’t pretend that I found it easy to use after that! (Actually, I didn’t use it at the airport – I was willing to bear the cost of using a credit card to withdraw cash until I had a clearer head and different machine.)

    • As I understand it, Barcelona’s soccer team played, and won, a game against Bilbao’s team on my last Saturday in Spain. I admit that soccer is not among my interests, but I have nothing against it, either. I wasn’t quite so disinterested in the masses of drunken fans who began making their presence loudly known by very early that day and who proceeded to do what drunken fans do anywhere in the world: Make too much noise and take up too much space, all with no awareness that they might not be fully adored for doing so. I could have done without. I could also have done without the huge bruise I have on my face from where a drunken young fan tripped and slammed his shoulder into me. And I could definitely have done without the celebration, which apparently was hosted right outside my “quiet” room on the Plaza Catalunya. The bone-shaking drums, ear-splitting firecrackers, and never-welcome drunken fight songs went on until well past 2:30 a.m. These are NOT among my fondest memories of this trip. ;-)

    • While just about anyone in Barcelona could probably have told me who played for them that day, NO ONE I could find at the Tablao de Carmen or Poble Espanyol could tell me the names of the performers who took part in the flamenco performance the night I was there. That struck me as very unfortunate!

    • One complaint about the food – yes, really! I LOVE fresh vegetables, but found it nearly impossible to order fresh vegetables as part of a dinner. The few times I was delighted to find a salad listed, it was 2 or 3 times as much as I wanted and with tuna or other meats. Better too much than none, though! Still, a small salad, or a plate of chopped or sliced fresh vegetables, would have been SO welcome SO many times! Does anyone know: Are servings of raw vegetables a part of the local cuisine anywhere in these parts of Spain? Or is that just not done?

    • I walked through Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella one lovely weekend afternoon and was barely able to avoid getting stoned! Oh, am I confusing my liked least / most lists…?

    • And the one thing I liked least of all: There was simply too much that I wanted to see, do, experience, and taste! ;-)


    Hmmm, seems that my “liked least” list is a tad shorter than my “liked most” list – who saw that coming?!? ;-) To be absolutely clear: I did, indeed, love this trip. The things I didn’t like were, at most, minor irritations. (Well, the car was a MAJOR irritation, but I managed to navigate it to where I wanted to go!) The things I liked best were the things that make me love to travel. :-)

    I feel incredibly fortunate to have ventured into parts of this varied and rewarding part of the world, and while I had to make some very difficult choices to fit a sample of its treats into a month-long trip, I regret none of those choices – I simply feel fortunate to have had the experiences I did.

    Next up: Some observations I offer by way of thanks….

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    Other than answering questions, the one remaining thing I want to do is to say a few words to each of you who helped me plan this trip. I benefited from any number of threads started by others, as well as several that I began, including my initial post:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/starting-to-plan-for-35-weeks-in-northern-spain-may-2015.cfm

    Followed by a more detailed planning thread:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/initial-itinerary-northern-spain-and-catalunya.cfm

    And then by a thread focused on San Sebastian / Donostia:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/san-sebastian-donostia.cfm

    And several threads with more narrowly defined questions, including:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/bus-from-madrid-barajas-to-burgos.cfm
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/teverga.cfm
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/which-2-of-these-3-lekeitio-getaria-and-hondarribia.cfm
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/vall-de-boi.cfm
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/barcelona-logistics-car-rental-drop-off.cfm

    Thank you all so much the generous and helpful advice!

    Several of you have, I’m sure, recognized your footprints throughout my itinerary. (All mis-stepps were mine and mine alone.) There is NO WAY I can thank each of you for every inspiration you offered. I will, however, try to thank each of you who offered suggestions on one or more of these threads for just one specific thing that made a particular difference to me, hoping you will understand that in doing so, I am thanking you for ALL your comments.

    And if I skip anyone, please forgive and let me know so I can correct the error!

    Okay, turning to each of you in alphabetical order:

    annhig – As I splurged for the parador in Leon, I thought of you and your comments about its linens. Oh my! I was especially taken by the incredibly luxuriant linen towels placed beside the bed in each of the paradors I visited. NOW I understand why you still remember them after so many years!

    Bettsydney: As you suggested, Maria Arrate and her staff at the charming Erletxe in Laguardia / Biasteri were able to arrange my reservations to visit the Monasterios Suso y Yuso. It’s a wonderful B&B run by a delightful, knowledgable, and welcoming woman, and it was a privilege to see those monasteries!

    crosscheck – I can see why you enjoyed your time in the Dali Triangle – so much to see! I wanted to thank you in particular for mentioning Besalú, which (although not related to Dali insofar as I know) I thought well worth seeing and a made for a good stopping point on my way from Taüll to Cadaqués.

    Cruiseluv – Thanks so much for encouraging me to see the Picos de Europa – magnificent, and so different than the Pyrenees! Although I did not make the full circular walk of the Lakes of Covadonga, I got to see them, and OH what a beautiful sight they are!

    danon – I found the Museum of Torture in Santillana del Mar fascinating. I had seen an extensive collecion of implements of torture that had been used during the Inquisition once before, and so was prepared for much of what I saw, but this museum placed some of these “tools” much more squarely in the domain of the everyday world of public punishment than I had previously allowed myself to imagine. Seeing this museum made me wonder how a Christian’s understanding of the crucifixion would be different if it were not seen as unusually, exceptional, and tortuously barbaric punishment? I have no answers – just a way of looking at history and religion that is new for me..

    HappyTrvlr -- Although I didn’t take that little pedestrian ferry from Hondarribia to Hendaye, I can see why you love this part of the world – it has SO much to offer, doesn’t it?

    joannyc – Fully expecting to think of you with every sunrise mimosa of the rest of my travel days, I’ll single you out for recommending delightful Comillas: From the Casa Capricho (my first real exposure to Gaudi!) through its stunning cemetery, from its tiny old and narrow corners to the open expanses by the beach… Lovely!

    kimhe – Fodorites are incredibly fortunate to be able to call upon your knowledge of, and love of, Spain. So where to begin? I guess with breakfast – and your mention of breakfast pintxos in San Sebastian / Donostia. Until I read your comment about that (perhaps on someone else’s thread), I had no idea one could find pintxos for breakfast! And how perfect – not just a great way to start the day, but also to greatly increase my exposure to pintxos and the joys of dining in Basque country. It allowed me a greater range of accomodations, too, because I quit looking for a place with a good breakfast buffet. :-) MANY thanks, kimhe!

    Kwoo – I see why you so enjoyed Cadaqués – what an absolutely beautiful place to walk around and admire the Mediterranean and enjoy the flowers and paintings that people have used to adorn the white-washed exteriors of their homes!

    lincasanova – Thank you for pointing me in the direction of Laguardia / Biasteri – what a perfectly lovely place to stay! Once I realized that I could visit La Rioja without worrying about public transportation, it quickly became clear to me that THIS little city would meet my needs perfectly – lots of charm, a gorgeous setting, enough restaurants to satisfy, and a few sites that really set it apart. I’m so glad I stayed there!

    lreynold1 – OH, how I envy you for having sufficient experience with the cheeses of Asturia to have chosen a favorite! I made sure to taste La Peral – heavenly! I think I would have to spend a year there to taste enough to come up with a favorite. Of course, one could do worse that try… :-)

    LuisJp – I believe you were the first person to bring the incredible Painted Forest of Oma to my attention. I came REALLY close to skipping it. I thought: Seriously? Hike an hour in and an hour out just to spend some time looking at blotches of paint on bark? But several people mentioned it, and I finally decided that I could do worse than take a pleasant walk of a few hours, particularly because it was a gorgeous day. So, an hour later, I saw a pair of trees with yellow triangles on them -- I've arrived! A few steps later -- oh, that's interesting, from here the two trees look like one and the shape like a single diamond. And hmmm, there's a small triangle on the ground that points straight to the diamond. OK, there's another little arrow on the ground ... Oh my, if I stand right over it, I can see something else! Once I got the hang of it, I came to one marked spot where I simply couldn't make the images come together -- until I stooped down: oh, it's designed for a little person! Absolutely awesome! I am so glad that you and so many people told me to make sure I saw this place – thank you so much!

    mamamia2 – I managed to time my visit to Potes to include its Monday market and can see why you mentioned it – oh, I do love a good local market!

    Michael – Your picture of the soon-to-be flooded village in the Pyrenees proved immensely helpful to me in a way that you might not have anticipated. My TomTom did a pretty good job of getting me where I wanted to go, but while driving in the Pyrenees one day, it kept “changing its mind,” telling me to turn around when possible, sending me off again, telling me to turn around, etc. When it shouted, “Turn left NOW,” while I was traveling at high speed on a bridge over a reservoir, the likely truth dawned on me: Remember Michael’s picture? Maybe the TomTom’s map predates the reservoir!?! So I pulled out my map (yes, I did have one) and soon navigated my way out of that area. :-)

    Mikelg – Your love of Bilbao and the Basque country shines through every word you write, and we are all the beneficiaries of that passion. Although I was not able to arrange to tour Remelluri’s wine-production facilities, it would never have occurred to me that one might simply walk through a vineyard until I read about the option while checking out your recommendation. Once there, I easily found the map and got only a tiny bit lost. ;-) I enjoyed seeing the vines close up, and seeing the ways in which different grapes not only differ in their growth, but also in their cultivation. And I enjoyed seeing the side an old monastery, the remains of an ancient church, and even a glimpse of a deer bounding through the vines, all in a gorgeous setting. What a pleasant place to stroll! For this idea, and so many others, eskerrik asko, Mikel! :-)

    Pvoyageuse – You were so right about Sant Pere de Rodes – the views were stunning! Getting there was well worth every white-knuckled moment it took to navigate that whimpy rental car up, around, and down those roads in the midst of winds that often seemed stronger than the car itself!

    Rialtogrl – Not only did I get the advantage of your wonderful insights and recommendations about this part of Spain, but what a delight to have met you, and to have done so at Montserrat, which I know holds a very special place in your heart! It was a privilege to see the light shifting as it touched the fantastic crags and abutments of that magical mountain, and oh, to hear L'Escolania under the Black Madonna’s gaze in that beautiful Basilica! It still makes me shiver. I am so glad we got to share some good food, good wine, good conversation, and a few of those moments that simply bring tears of wonder to ones eyes…. Until next time!

    ribeirasacra – Particular thanks for encouraging me to spend a few nights in La Rioja, rather than visiting it from Bilbao – that really worked out well for me!

    Robert2533 – As another expert on Spain, you, too, provide a wealth of information that benefits us all. And I’ll start at the beginning with you, too – my ride from Madrid to Burgos. I readily admit that I find the start of any trip – those first few hours after landing – among the most stressful. I’m jet-lagged and disoriented; my ears aren’t accustomed to the language, I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, etc. The very first thing I did after claiming my luggage at Barajas was to go to the ATM machine, and I’ve already said how that turned out – me with no euros and one less ATM card. Once I did everything I could think of to resolve that situation, I did what I could to get back on track. Soon, I was on the bus to Burgos, sitting beside a window on the right side, just as you had recommended, comitted to trying to relax after the stresses of the preceding few hours. And as I took note of the Bodegas Portia, and then the spires of the Parador de Lerma, and then – at last – Burgos’s cathedral rising above the city, I thought: Aaah, I’m in Spain and I am at the start of a journey that will be full of wonderful moments, a journey that is already special because of the advice I’ve been given by fellow Fodorites. Thanks so much! :-)

    Rubicund – In the end, I didn’t make it to the Caldes de Boi, but not for lack of interest! Thanks again for letting me know that you and your wife enjoyed it. :-)

    Southam – Thanks for adding your voice to those endorsing Bilbao’s Museum of Fine Arts. Much as I was glad to see the Guggenheim, I preferred the art at the Museo de Bellas Artes and was happy to spend several hours roaming its halls. While I was there, it had a special exhibit, “The 50s: Fashion in France 1947-1957,” which not only held some gorgeous clothing, but also displayed it in and around the works of art in its permanent collection – fascinating use of space!

    sssteve – Thank you again for reminding me of the obvious, but essential, concept of spitting. Thanks to you, I allowed myself to consider staying outside of a public-transportation hub in La Rioja (how I loved Laguardia / Biasteri!) and I allowed myself to plan a variety of activities in La Rioja other than wine tastings -- and I so enjoyed those things! Sometimes it really is helpful to state the obvious. ;-)

    yorkshire – Your recommendation to walk from San Sebastian to Pasaia and eat lunch in Donibane was perfect! As I mentioned, I’m a bit wary of solo hikes these days, and so want some level of comfort that others will be on the trail. For most of my hike, I had the spectacular scenery all to myself, but I passed just enough others to know that the trail was well used. Thanks so much!


    So that’s the end of my report. Questions are welcome at any time.

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    Your "What I liked most" list should immediately be published as a seperate article, a very much out of the ordinary trip highlights report. What rhytm and music!

    And all kinds of celebrations on Saturday the 30th of May by more or less drunk and very loud Barcelona fans should of course be understood, praised and wholeheartedly supported. This season has seen the ultimate crowning of the best team on earth, and we are seriously talking all kinds of teams and all times and places. And Lionel Messi is beyond doubt the greatest artist in the history of sports, beating Muhammed Ali by an inch. On your night he scored one of the finest goals of his career in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. It was a night for crowning of the king: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOX2QpfMkq4

    For the second time Barcelona won the treble (unprecedented) this spring, both the national league, Copa del Rey and Champions League in the most widespread sport on earth in the hardest leagues in the world (the Spanish and the European). The main moment of the season and perhaps in all football history (including Pele and Maradona) was how he almost on his own destroyed Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final a month ago. A kind of artistry that could only be met by the finest moments of a flamenco performance in a church in Antequera in September 2007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brrJrIPKMtc

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    Thanks for taking all this time to write about your experiences kja. I am very, very glad I got to meet you in Montserrat and have no doubt our paths will cross again. Maybe our next sunrise mimosa can be on the northwest coast. :)

    As for the amazing Messi goal we were all watching in a bar in Girona... after the initial cheer, the bar went quiet in sort of a stunned silence. Everyone kind of pondering what they knew was something extraordinary. After the game we all got shots of ratafia on the house.

    Here is another video (with analysis) showing this amazing goal by Messi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFyr0oVJSXE

    But I can understand why the noise got to be a little much and sorry you had to try to sleep through that!

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    Super report from kja, and interesting video from rialtogrl (and I don't even care about football - either variety).

    I sympathize about the noise! I suppose the season will have started again by the time I get there in October, but I'm staying a bit further away from Plaza Catalunya. Good warning for future travelers.

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    Glad you found the Museum in SdM interesting and informative.

    Being a lazy traveler who prefers short solo trips , I am slightly
    envious of how much you were able to see and absorbe.
    Spain has it all ( IMO) : rich history, great art and architecture, mix of cultures and languages, fantastic scenery, excellent wine and food( even without raw vagitables on the menu!). And, as you mentioned, kind, helpful and warm people.

    I have already booked another visit in the fall.

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    Oh dear, I fear that I have created some mistaken impressions! I have nothing against sports or those who participate in them or cheer them on. I can – and do -- appreciate athletic excellence. Especially after seeing the videos that kimhe and rialtogrl kindly provided (thanks!), I can understand why so many people were so in such celebratory spirits: Messi was – is -- amazing! I certainly did not mean to suggest that the fans I saw were doing anything wrong. (If nothing else, I remember too many rowdy moments from my own youth for that!) I really just meant that dealing with the noise and crowds were not among the best moments of this trip – nothing more. And maybe I should be grateful, because I got so little sleep that night that I was able to sleep on my flight – bonus!


    @ kimhe, robert2533, rialtogrl, marigross, thursdaysd, danon, & cruiseluv: Thanks for your compliments! I’m envious of those of you who will see Spain again soon. As danon said, Spain has it all! :-)


    @ Robert2533 – “Not even in Navarra!” – So are raw vegetables like chicken, too mundane for a restaurant table? I know I saw many people buying lots of beautiful produce in markets….

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    I don't think we got that impression kja (that you don't like sports.) Just that you did not like the noise. I think those of us who DO like sports just sort of hijacked a couple of posts is all. :)

    I was in Morella, a small town outside Valencia once and at 2:30 in the morning the townspeople starting shooting off fireworks because some festival was starting the next day. I was like, really??? I think all of us who have visited this part of the world have had a hard time sleeping at one time or another. Its OK to say it too!

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    @ rialtogrl – what a great story! Makes sense, though – it’s a shame to leave fireworks until the END of a festival, when people might not be able to stay up for them because they have to get up the next morning. ;-)

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    rialtogrl,
    Great Messi video with the speed, the touches, the yards, the angles and degrees, very "American" ;-)

    thursdaysd,
    Plenty of football highlights in Spain from September to June, but very few are celebrated this way. When fans go bananas they usually have an outstandingly good reason for it, like the Copa del Rey win and Messi's spectacular performance on May 30. When Barcelona wins a normal league game, there will be some smiles in the bars but business as usual and no more noise than usual in Plaça de Catalunya.

    kja,
    By no means suggesting you have anything against sports, but history can happen right around the corner without us having a clue of what's going on ;-)

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    In light of the history that was happening all around me, perhaps I should edit the last bullet of the summary of what I did:

    “Finally, I made my way through the drunken sports celebrants clogging Las Ramblas back to my hotel for the last of my 5 nights in Barcelona [adding:} where I stayed up for hours listening to the joyous celebrations in honor of Lionel Messi and the awesome – historic -- success of Barcelona’s soccer team.”

    That would be true! ;-)

    No, I won’t engage in revisionist history, even if I can retain factual accuracy.

    It’s nice to understand the context of the celebrations that rocked Barcelona that day.

    And I did have an awesome trip!

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    @ kelsey22 -- How fortuitous -- I think I just entered a response on your planning thread! I'm very pleased to learn though you found my words helpful -- thanks for letting me know!

    As for Montserrat, oh yes!, I was VERY glad I spent the night there, and not just because it gave me the chance to meet rialtogrl. For one thing, the light during the early morning and late evening has a way of caressing those magnificent cliffs and rocks in ways that is breathtaking, and that puts anything and everything one can see during the day into a broader and even more awesome perspective. And OMG, even though I'm not a morning person, the memory of seeing the sun rise from Montserrat was an experience that I think will always make me gasp with awe and wonder. :-) Second, although one can hear the boys' choir earlier in the day, I suspect that attendance at vespers is much more limited, since most day trippers will have left by then. And that means that you would likely get to experience their ethereal voices in a much more serene setting. Third, you would have a chance to visit this glorious basilica, and the Black Madonna, at times when they are not thronged by daytrippers. For me, these things are ALL good reasons to spend a night in Montserrat. Of course, YMMV. :-)

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    Wow! Your description gave me the chills! This is how I felt when I stayed at Carcassonne - different country and different circumstance but the feeling was the same. I will book the same hotel.

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    @ kelsey22 -- there are some places in this magnificent world that simply inspire chills. May we both have many more of those moments!

    As for the hotel in Montserrat, well, there IS only one -- the Hotel Abat Cisneros. In most ways, I was well satisfied with my stay, but I think that there are some ways in which it might improve if it had some competition, in particular, the efficiency of its service. Note that the single rooms face the mountain, so if you go there while traveling alone and want a view, consider paying the extra for a double for single use that has a view. I thought it worth the cost. Also note that I didn't watch the sunrise or sunset from the room -- I went a bit away from the hotel for each. For directions to a good spot for the sunrise, take a look at the post by rialtogrl on Feb 5, 15 at 9:20 on the following thread:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/initial-itinerary-northern-spain-and-catalunya.cfm

    And of course, note joannyc's excellent advice (same thread, on Feb 5, 15 at 10:14pm) to bring the makings of a mimosa to toast the sun's rising. :-)

    I look forward to the day I am fortunate enough to visit Carcassonne and thank you for adding yet another reason for doing so. :-)

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    Kja, your TR makes me want to start planning my Northeastern Spain trip! But, I haven't even finished my planning for next month's trip to the south of France (including 2 nights in Carcassonne which may require a mimosa sunrise!).

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    @ joannyc – OH, I am a lucky person! Unless you count Toulouse (lovely, magnificent Toulouse!) or Albi (amazing Albi!), I haven’t yet visited southern France – and THAT means that I will once again benefit from your experience. We might not walk exactly the same paths, but it seems we overlap more than many travelers do, so I know I stand to gain a great deal. Happy travels, joannyc, and may you (may WE!) have many excuses for moments worthy of bubbly celebrations!

    (Is Toulouse part of your plan? Or Albi? I will, of course, be happy to share any info I can if it would help.)

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    Kja, thanks so very much for your kind words! We do seem to enjoy many of the same places, don't we?

    Toulouse (4 nights with a day trip to Albi) is the first destination on my itinerary!

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    @ joannyc -- WGACA! I learned about the Clos Sainte Cecile from another Fodorite some years ago. I can't remember who it was now, but I do remember thinking it a great find. I hope it has withstood the years!

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    @ kelsey22 -- I stayed at the Hotel Ginebra. Here's my (unusually long) TA review:

    "I spent 5 nights in a single with a (tiny!) balcony at the Hotel Ginebra in late May. Although I have mixed reactions about my stay (because of the mix of pros and cons), I thought the pros outweighed the cons and think staying here was a good choice for me.

    "Pros:
    • The location, overlooking the Placa de Catalunya, meant a certain level of noise at certain times of days, but also meant ready access by foot, metro, or bus to just about anywhere one might want to go in Barcelona.
    • Even if it was tiny, I loved my little balcony!
    • Although the breakfast buffet was not extensive, it wasn’t limited to absolute basics. For example, it included a nice selection of cheeses. For a small and very inexpensive hotel, I was favorably impressed.
    • The bathroom was spotlessly clean and was cleaned daily (as was the room), had a decent amount of counter space, and offered good water pressure and temperature.
    • The room included some welcome accoutrements: a hot water kettle and basket with beverage essentials; a mini-fridge (empty); a safe; free wifi.
    • At the end of my first long day in Barcelona, I heard a knock on the door – there was a staff member, holding a tray with a split of cava, champagne glass, and selection of chocolates – a welcome gift! :-) Absolutely unexpected and so VERY welcome!
    • The hotel kindly accommodated a request I placed in advance of my stay to hold a suitcase starting a day before my check-in. (I passed through Barcelona on my way to an overnight stay elsewhere.)
    • Compared to other hotels in the area, I thought the value VERY hard to beat.

    "Cons:
    • My single was oddly shaped. The only way to get to the tiny balcony was to either roll over the single bed or – for those of us who are flexible enough – to contort one’s body through the limited space to the balcony door.
    • This room was decorated with an appalling eye – the clash of discordant colors and incompatible patterns produced in me a strongly visceral negative response.
    • My initial entry to the hotel was not welcoming – I pressed the bell, only to hear an indecipherabl gutteral response, which was repeated several times before I was buzzed in, and then, after I reached the floor on which the hotel is located, I encountered another series of incomprehensible squawks before I was finally admitted.
    • Although the majority of the staff were helpful and hospitable, one or two staff members were a bit brusque.

    "All-in-all, for me, the pros outweighed the cons for me."


    Since returning, I noticed that kimhe recommended the Hotel Jazz, just a few blocks from where I stayed. It seemed like a great option!
    http://www.hoteljazz.com/default-en.html

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    kja, this is a wonderful and well written report! Thank you. I am sure I will be reading it several times as we plan our next "adventure." It was nice to hear someone else take our attitude of most experiences as we travel! And your line about the not having someone in the passenger seat praying for their life - that is oftentimes me...
    So glad it was such a great trip for you.

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    @kja Thanks so much for posting your hotel information. I have narrowed down my hotels to 4. Hotel Jazz seems nice but probably a bit out of my range.

    I love your report. I am getting so excited. I am going to book Sagrada Familia and some other bits and pieces.

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    kja,
    I've just started reading through your trip report and have bookmarked it to catch up on when I get home from our current trip.

    My husband is a great fan of Romanesque architecture - so much so that when he went on holiday a few years a go with my brother and a friend to Bilbao they started calling him Romanescu! Anyway, we both loved the frescoes at the Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, what an extraordinarily rich heritage and so beautifully preserved and displayed. After our visit there we've thought about a trip to see the churches in situ. I'm completely unfamiliar with the names or areas, but your report and enthusiasm could be a starting point for us. Thanks again.

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    @ nanael – Thank you for your kind words! It WAS a great trip, and I remain grateful to all the Fodorites who helped me plan and hone my journey.

    I must admit that I do NOT make a good passenger – I find it hard to hide the white knuckles or suppress the gasps. ;-) So if you are the passenger during your time in this area, BYH and good luck! Maybe drugs are an option? :-)


    @ kelsey – Again, I’m glad you’ve found my words of help. I am absolutely sure that you are going to have a wonderful time, too!

    Yes, by all means, reserve the Sagrada Familia in advance! FWIW, I booked a visit with a guide and a visit to the Nativity Tower(s). I got there in plenty of time, took a long look at the Nativity Façade and then roamed the interior until time for my tour. I don’t usually like guided tours, but had read so many favorable comments that I decided to try – and I was glad I did! The guide was very knowledgeable and able to answer several questions I had. I then went up the Nativity Tower – the one you can reach by elevator, but then descend by stairs. Unfortunately, I ended up behind a couple that had difficulty: The woman, who was in front, came to a point where she refused to take even one step forward unless her husband moved ahead of her, but the stairs were too narrow for him to do so. That must have been so very hard for her! And him, too! He eventually helped her to a point where there was a bit of a corner, so he could get ahead, and once they got to a wider point, he helped her step aside enough for me and others to pass. After I descended, more than willing to spend more time in the Sagrada Familia, I rented the audio guide, and was pleasantly surprised out how little overlap there was with the guided tour – much of the general information was, of course, the same, but the specific examples and additional details were sufficiently different that I felt it well worthwhile. (If I had to choose one, I’d probably go with the person and the opportunity to ask questions, but neither is a bad choice IMO.) I lingered in the interior a bit longer, spent some time outside the Passion Façade, visited the “school” and museum, and then went to the shop. Do note that I wasn’t a COMPLETE fanatic: I decided against visiting the Passion Tower. ;-)


    @ welltraveledbrit – I hope you are enjoying Helsinki and Berlin as much as I did! :-) I urge you to consider visiting the Pergamon, even if much is closed and you have a long wait, and please give a nod to Nerfertiti for me.

    Aren’t the Romanesque frescoes in the Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya awesome?!? I don’t know if you noticed, but there is a sculptural group from one of those same Romanesque churches in that museum, from Santa Maria de Taüll; I thought it outstanding. With an interest in Romanesque architecture, I would heartily recommend a visit to the Valle de Boi. Actually, I’d recommend it even if you didn’t have that interest – it is a beautiful part of the world! I was very pleased with my decision to stay in Taüll, so you might want to give that some thought.

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    We are back from our visit to Spain (and France/Lourdes) and I was able to incorporate several sights I gleaned from your planning threads and trip report, so THANKS! We absolutely loved the Valle de Boi. We spent 2 nights in Taüll at the Rantiner, which gave us time to have a lovely hike in the National Park and for me to explore 5 of the churches (the brochure with opening times is available online, so I printed it before we left. Even so, I got a bit mixed up and missed some opportunities to see another church or two). We did eat at El Caliu and loved our meal.

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    Although a bit late...thanks for your mentions!! What an incredible trip...in fact I think I´m going to profit from your knowledge to prepare a similar trip on my way to western Spain. Thanks very much for all your info and for your appreciation of my country!!! I´d had loved to meet you in Bilbao1

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    @ mikelg -- I'd have loved to meet you, too! But even without that pleasure, I benefited enormously from your patient responses to my MANY questions and the incredible generosity with which you (and others) shared information about your awesome part of an amazing country. I know that I saw some wonderful things that I would have skipped without your advice, and as hard as it was to skip some things, I did so with greater confidence because your words helped me sort out my priorities.

    Eskerrik asko, Mikel!

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    I just finished reading this and omg wow just wow, your trip was incredible...superbly done with kja precision! I especially loved the San Sebastian and La Rioja portions as it brought back some of our own memories. I love how you utilized all forms of transpo including a little boat to Donibane. Will be referring to this in the future for the many places we didn't get to, just full of good stuff... and there will be a next time especially in San Sebastian.

    By the way, I adopted the sunrise mimosas from joannyc which was a huge hit and happy to read you guys did it too! Thank you for this.

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    Hi, tessietoes – thanks so much for checking in! My trip was, indeed, incredible, and I still find daily reasons to smile about something I saw or did on this trip -- some reminder of how very fortunate I was to visit this amazing part of the world.

    As I recall, we were simultaneously planning partially overlapping trips – I trust you enjoyed yours?

    If it were the morning, I would raise a mimosa to you (and joannyc and rialtogrl); instead, I toast you with a glass of the lovely Rioja I am having with tonight’s meal. :-)

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    @ joannyc -- I envision a growing number of travelers stumbling about Europe (or elsewhere!) after morning mimosas -- and I smile, even as the image causes me a frisson of alarm! ;-)

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    I think you travel like I do! Looks like I'll need to rent a car too. Did you find parking difficult in villages along the coast? Any issues with theft or other concerns? Did you pre-book lodging?

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    Hi, Kittenzen -

    I didn't have difficulty parking, but note that I made arrangements for parking in advance for all the cities in which I stayed that were along the coast. I think parking in those locations -- Santillana del Mar, Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastian -- would have been much more challenging (and more expensive) to find on the fly.

    I didn't have any problem with theft, but made a choice to live with the risk when I had luggage in the car. I took the basic precautions, which include:
    - Don’t ever leave anything in the car that can be seen through its windows
    - ALWAYS keep key documents (including your passport), cash, and bank cards with you (preferably in a under-the-clothes passport pouch, with only what you need for the day outside of that pouch), and be sure that that pouch also has a copy of any key documents you might need on one or more days
    - Don’t ever move things from the interior to the trunk in the place that you will leave the car – do that somewhere else, even if it means pulling off the road briefly a mile or so from your destination
    - Try to park in a well lighted area where other people might have eyes-on (not so much because they might act, but because their presence might discourage thieves)
    - If possible, park your car in a way that would make it difficult for thieves, for example, consider backing the car up to a wall to make it difficult to open the trunk or remove anything from it
    - Be sure you know how to contact your rental car agency and insurance agency as soon as possible after any incursion
    - Only leave your car with things in it if you are willing to come back and find that they are gone

    I booked all of my lodging in advance, mostly using booking.com with a few through the parador system and a few through their own websites. All were cancellable with 24 hours notice. I prefer to book in advance (as long as I can cancel) -- I like finding the places that suit my needs and interests, and I like knowing where I'm going and how to get from there to sites and restaurants (etc.); I don't like "wasting" time on a trip in trying to find suitable accommodation or settling for something that does not meet my needs because I can't find anything I can afford. Not everyone agrees!

    Hope that helps!

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    Wonderful report! Northern Spain is so beautifully unspoiled, so diverse, gorgeous beaches, and breathtaking mountain passes, not to mention the best pastries in the world so far! Delicious food, cheeses I'm still dreaming of, green vistas, rocky coastlines, and a different culture from the rest of Spain, really.

    I really loved northern Spain, I love the people, I love how they stay up late, they love excitement, they are so accommodating. The seafood we had was so fresh and delicious! Can't say I'm a big fan of salad with iceberg lettuce, wimpy asparagus, boiled egg, tuna and olives, although my daughter-in-law, Spanish heritage, thought she had died and gone to heaven. Veg = roasted red peppers. Good thing I like them. ��
    Found the people at Valdecoro very unfriendly, not sure why, but Potes itself very photogenic.
    Among my faves, Comillas and San Sebastián. From Bilbao we went to Sevilla.
    Although I was really looking forward to Santillana del Mar, I found it felt strangely plopped in the middle of a land where it didn't belong.
    Thanks for the great memories. I am slightly envious of all that you get to see, travelling alone, unencumbered, and not having to play tour guide to the rest of your party.

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    @ sundriedtopepo -- I'm so glad my report brought back some good memories for you!

    Traveling solo is, IMO, a delightful indulgence -- I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Hard to beat that! :-)

    Like you, I would have loved a few more fresh salads, but with all that great cheese and the breads and the seafood and jamon and ... well, I didn't hurt for good food. Or good wine! ;-)

    And like you, I found the owners of the Valdecoro less than optimally hospitable, but was very glad to spend some time in Potes. The kindness and attentiveness of the staff of la Asadore Llorente -- a nearby restaurant -- more than made up for my difficulties with the Valdecoro.

    One of my guidebooks noted that Santillana del Mar is sometimes called “the town of three lies” because it is not near the sea, not flat, and not sainted. ;-) Having been forwarned, I savored what I found there. I enjoyed the old town, with it's roofed and age-old community watering hole right in the center of a wide cobbled street, a field of grazing horses and cattle and a chicken coop right next to the glorious Santa Juliana (and oh, what wonderfully carved capitals in its cloister!), and of course, the town's well preserved mansions with their coats of arms and flower boxes.

    The areas I visited were, indeed, very different than anywhere else I've been in Spain -- and they were also discernibly different from each other. I find it fascinating to see the sometimes dramatic differences between places that seem, to our modern perceptions, to be so very close to once another, and yet were -- in the past -- faraway realms separated by distances that would have required substantial journeys to cross. And as you say, there is MUCH to enjoy in the area.

    Thanks for your comments!

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