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Northern Spain, request help with itinerary for October trip of 2 weeks

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I will be touring northern Spain the first 2 weeks of October with my husband. We need to start and end near Barcelona, we'll be renting a car. Our main interests are taking in the scenery and culture, walking in the mountains, enjoying the local cuisine, picturesque villages, visiting some ruins/cathedrals in the area. We've been to Spain before, this time we prefer to avoid the larger cities and want to soak in the charm of the countryside, and if we're lucky, to see colorful autumn leaves.
I am particulary interested in the areas of Cantabria and Asturias as the Picos, which look amazing, are located there, am thinking of ending the trip in Oveido then possibly returning to Barcelona by public transportation.
Like many travelers, my plans may be too ambitious as far as what I want to see in 2 weeks time... please let me know.
Given that weather in October can be changeable we should be in places where there is more to do than just walking. I am thinking of starting with a few nights somewhere in the Spanish Pyrenees then going to La Roja for a few nights to enjoy the wine country, then driving to Cantabria then to Asturias. Am thinking of staying in or near Logronos in La Roja and Potes in the Picos if the weather is OK .
Is this a reasonable Itinerary? We can skip the nights in the Pyrenees if its too much...
My plan is to stay 2 to 3 nights in each place, would love to hear some suggestions as to where would be good places to stay.. We are in our 50's, need to stick to a moderate budget ( 60-80 euros a night for accomodation maybe with one or two splurges). I understand that some places close down after the summer rush, are we likely to run into that... I assume not as we aren't going to any resorts...
Thanks in advance for your feedback...
Ruth

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    Hi Ruth,

    First of all, you shouldn't worry too much about the weather in October as is usually stable with pleasantly warm days and cool evenings. Storms are possible in the Pyrenees in September though in fact autumn is one of the best times to visit Northern Spain.

    Also, it's high season in Rioja as the harvest is going on. It's a lovely time of year and I wouldn't expect many places to be closing at all. Some do but most don't ;)

    Concerning your itinerary, two weeks should be ok if you don't want to explore Northeastern Spain in-depth. So I would recommend you to do this kind of itinerary: Castelladral/Cardona - Aínsa - Logroño - Briñas/Haro - Bilbao - Potes - Arenas.

    Cardona is a picturesque site with an important mediaeval heritage. Its most outstanding features include the walled fortress in its castle, set on a hill, and the foremost example of the Catalan Romanesque style of architecture. The area around Cardona offers a range of possibilities for excursions. Typical farmworkers' houses and old farm buildings can be seen along the route to the Cadí-Moixeró nature reserve.

    On your way to Ainsa you can stop to the stunning Aiguestortes National Park, which is characterised by its crystal-clear waters that run through its many lakes and rivers, and make this Pyrenean landscape rich. As well as the torrents and waterfalls, there are thick forests which look extremely beautiful when it snows.

    Ainsa is a very lovely village of the Pyrenees, very close you'll find the extremely abrupt Ordesa National Park, formed by deep canyons and raised plateaus. The extreme aridity of the upper areas contrasts with green valleys with woods and pastures, where the water forms waterfalls and rushes through canyons and gorges. The park actively takes part in the recovery of bearded vultures, with supplementary feeding areas in the Escuaín sector.

    Logroño is a city rich in history and traditions which have been preserved since the Middle Ages. The Pilgrim's Route to Santiago de Compostela made this one of the most important towns on the route, leaving an interesting monumental legacy closely linked to the traditional passing of the pilgrims.

    Around the lovely village of Haro you might enjoy wonderful walks, the valley is wide and open at this point so you'll enjoy lovely views of the mountains to the north and south, and hilltop villages. Visit also one of the finest and most traditional wineries in the region: Muga. At this bodega everything is made of oak. They even have their own master coopers on site to make the barrels & casks for the wines.

    Bilbao is the heart of a metropolis where more than a million people live. The great architectural and infrastructure projects have been the driving force of the urban and economic regeneration of the city. Highlights: Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, Euskalduna Conference and Music Centre, Norman Foster's Underground, towers designed by the architects Arata Isozaki and César Pelli. By the way, food in Bilbao extraordinary wonderful!

    Potes is one of the most attractive villages in Cantabria (my favorite?). The village is in the centre of the historic Liébana region, an area surrounded by spectacular mountains, with running streams and rivers. Its old quarter has the Property of Cultural Interest designation.

    Finally, Arenas is also a beautiful village around the Picos de Europa. Moreover it is a strategic place to stay if you want to discover the northern area of the National Park (Cares Gorge, Covadonga Lakes) and see the lovely coastline (between Llanes and Ribadesella), perfect to spend some time walking or relaxing at the beach!

    Hopefully this helps!

    Laurent

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    If it is more of a village life you are after I would consider Laguardia in the Rioja over Logrono - it's not a tiny village, but a hill town and a lively one.

    Oviedo is pretty far from Barcelona - can you fly out of Oviedo instead of doing the round trip? The center of Oviedo is wonderful and well worth ending a trip in, but driving there is hell (at least for me it was.) Consider dropping your car at the airport and taking the airport bus into town.

    Also I'd consider 4 nights in or somewhere close by Potes as you'll spend one day to get there and settle in and there is plenty to do and see to fill 3 more days. It is so beautiful up there... you'll want time to sit still and take it all in.

    The Asturian coast is beautiful too.

    Hope this helps - happy planning.

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    The first two weeks of October are still a little early for fall colors along most of the north coast, but you will find fall colors in the higher elevations of the Aragon Pyrenees, in the Val d’Aran, and in the Navarran Pyrénées, in the eastern half of the Irati Forest, the Aezkoa and Salazar valleys, but depending on the weather, the lower elevations generally do not start to change until the second half of October, when it gets cooler, just before the snow starts to fall.

    Fall usually arrives by mid-October in the Picos, but you’ll have to be in and around Potes to enjoy it. We spent a week in the Liébana a couple of years ago and it was beautiful. If you have a couple of days, then the Hotel del Oso in Cosgaya may still have a room (www.hoteldeloso.com).

    Early October marks the end of harvest time in the Rioja and the leaves in the vineyards will be starting to turn as the nights grow colder, but again, it will be later in October before you get to see the bright reds and yellows in the vineyards. In October, I'd recommend staying at the Villa de Abalos (www.hotelvilladeabalos.com), which lies just west of Laguardia and sits between the Ebro River and the Cantabrian Mountains. And I think you might enjoy La Cocina de Merche, Merche is an excellent chef. You might want to read Maribel's Guide to the Rioja for more information on the area.

    If you had the time, you could head for wine region of the Rias Baixas and Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, which are spectacular when dressed in fall colors, but you may want to save that for another trip.

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    Thank you for all of this wonderful information... I have spent the last few days reading about the places recommended. It looks like we'll actually have 16 days so I am thinking from Barcelona we'll drive through the Pyrenees(maybe to Cardona then Ainsa) where we can do some hiking then continue to LaGuardia for a few nights in the wine country then move on to Potes maybe for 3 nights then to Arenas ending up in Oviedo where we'll fly or take a bus or train back to Barcelona. In addition to hiking we would like to see the caves, where they make cheese, etc.
    Does this seem like a realistic plan? If its too much we can skip the wine country, we are not big wine drinkers and I lived near Napa and Sonoma in California for years...it just sounds like the countryside there is beautiful... I'm happy to receive feedback regarding places I should not miss following this route...

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    No, don't skip the Rioja. It's nothing like Napa or Sonoma.

    Cardona is only 100 km from Barcelona. Aínsa is another three hours away. I would not spend the night in Cardona, although it has an excellent Parador (www.parador.es). I would instead head up to La Seu d'Urgell and spend the night there, after visiting Cardona. There is a nice Parador, as well as the outstanding Hotel El Castell de Ciutat.

    Aínsa is about a three-hour drive from La Seu d'Urgell, but plan on the drive taking a little longer.

    The best route to Laguardia would take you through Jaca to Pamplona, following the N-240. This is a fairly scenic drive through the foothills of the Aragon Pyrenees. The drive can be done in under 4 hours, but with so much to see along the way, I wouldn't expect you to reach Laguardia until early evening. Don't forget to stop in Lumbier to see the gorge and the colonies of griffon vultures (www.focesdenavarra.es).

    Actually, you could easily spend two days following this route because of everything else there is to see, including a stop in Sangüesa, a visit to the castle of Javier (St. Ignatius of Loyola), the founder of the Jesuit order and possibly the monastery of San Salvador de Leire, where you may be able to hear the Gregorian chants of the Benedictine monks.

    The drive south from Pamplona (following the Way of St. James) will take you to the medieval village of Puente La Reina with it's Romanesque bridge, and the historic city of Estella-Lizarra, home to the kings of Navarra.

    There are couple of good options for the drive from Laguardia to Potes, either up along the coast past Bilbao and Santander, or inland, past Burgos and up through Aguilar de Campoo, where you'll find another historic 12th century castle. Both routes take around 4 hours.

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