Basque countries, Barcelona revised

Old Jul 9th, 2013, 09:58 AM
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Basque countries, Barcelona revised

Hi Again,
Revised plans are to fly from Newark to Madrid and on to Bilbao Oct 11-12, spend 5 days or so there, on to Barcelona (perhaps arriving 10/18) for my wife to run a 10K on the 20th, leave for Madrid on or about the 23rd and fly home 10/27.
I am thinking of renting a car for excursions around Bilbao. I would like to visit my family's ancestral home of St Jean Pied de Port, but have no idea what driving in that area entails, nor how long to allow to get from point to point.
Also wondering what is the best way to get to Barcelona, rail, air or do I dare try to drive?
Driving as an option came up when looking at the map and finding a road from St Jean PdP to Pamplona. I wonder if an overnight stay in Zaragosa might fit if we were to drive to Barcelona or if it might be a bit ambitious.
Recommendations for the best ways to spend 5 days in Barcelona?
Thanks in advance for the advice
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 10:22 AM
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Hi og,

> I would like to visit my family's ancestral home of St Jean Pied de Port, ....<

Use and/or to get driving directions from Bilbao.

There are many new, well-marked highways in that area. We found driving to be very easy.

Is there a reason why you prefer Bilbao over San Sebastian?

ira is offline  
Old Jul 9th, 2013, 11:03 AM
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No real reason for Bilbao over San Sebastian... I am totally unfamiliar and open to suggestions
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 12:29 PM
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Ogar:what a coincidence!, we just returned from a trip covering, among others, Bilbao, S.Sebastian, Logroño, Zaragoza, Pamplona and Barcelona.
I prefer Bilbao over S.Sebastian, the main reason being the Guggenheim, one of the most beautiful structures in the world. But this is just us.
Also, we found a great price at the Carlton hotel, best location in Bilbao.

We proceed from Barcelona to Bilbao, with 2 days stops at both Zaragoza and Logroño.
Zaragoza is nice, with two super churches, El Pilar and La Seo, and some nice restaurants.
Logroño is a small city, pretty but nothing special, but a good base for a day trip to Pamplona, which we did.

Aways drive in highways, and they were great!

Enjoy your trip, Barcelona and Blbao are really special cities.
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 08:01 PM
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I'm still a San Sebastian fan, with it's horse shoe shaped beach and distinct old town.

Some great restaurants in the area.
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 08:18 PM
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Loved San Sebastián, Pamplona, basque villages, the Rioja, etc. Here is a link to our trip report. It is seven years old, but may be helpful. We had a great time seeing our ancestral villages.
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Old Jul 9th, 2013, 08:31 PM
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Check out Maribel's Guides to the Pais Vasco, Pays Basque and Barcelona. Great recommendations for planning your trip ( Arzak, by the way, is here in Pamplona for the fiesta. Ran into him at La Olla the other day.
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Old Jul 10th, 2013, 09:49 AM
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If you rent your car in Spain it should cost the same if returning the car to the same location or a different one such as Barcelona. Driving is not difficult and might be the easiest way to travel between the Basque country and Barcelona.
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Old Jul 10th, 2013, 02:09 PM
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If I'm counting correctly you have 15-16 nights and want to visit the Basque Country, Barcelona and Madrid. If you budget 5 nights for each destination it would be good. 5 nights in Barcelona will give you time for 1-2 daytrips (Girona and Tarragona are my personal favorites but Montserrat, Vic, Sitges are also easy to vist using public transportation). 5 nights in Madrid would give you time to do daytrips to Toledo and Segovia. As for the 5 nights in the Basque Country I'd base myself in San Sebastian. I've visited this area several times and love both Bilbao and San Sebastian. But if I had to choose one for a base I'd choose San Sebastian. From here you could easily spend a day visiting St Jean Pied de Port. Other easy daytrips include Pamplona, Bilbao (which I'd definately visit if you don't use as a base), Getaria, Hondarribia, and many more. Maribels guides will give you extensive information on this area. If you don't want to drive you could very easily get around the Basque Country and then on to Barcelona using public transportation. Or you could rent a car just for the Basque Country and drive to Barcelona then drop off the car (you definately won't need in Barcelona or Madrid). Parking can be very expensive in both San Sebastian and Bilbao so I'd figure this into a decision to drive or use bus/train. Of course a car will give you flexibility of exploring some areas in the Basque Country that may not be as accessible by bus/train. But with only 5 days you probably won't have alot of time for exploring beyond the highlights. If you end up with an extra night I'd add it to the Basque Country so you have 6 nights. If this is the case you could spend 2 nights starting out in Bilbao and then move on to San Sebastian for 4 nights.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 01:50 PM
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Thank you all for the insightful responses, travelogue (MichelleY) and video. Jelopez, wow I can't believe my luck, that you were just there... the Guggenheim is at the top of my list... the one here in NY is one of my favorites. Any other absolute must-sees you can recommend?
My lovely wife would prefer to have centers of operations, so I am convinced that I will rent a car to explore the areas around Bilbao/San Sebastian and end up in Barcelona... I don't know what to expect as far as traffic and travel times, and what my range might be for day excursions. CathyM you are right, we could probably have 5-6 days in Bilbao and Barcelona, if we spend only 3-4 in Madrid- we have to look at our priorities again. Of course I want to see as much as I can in a very short time... I am seeking highlight areas on the northwestern coast as well as inland- places that might be off the beaten track, venturing from the coast to St Jean Pied de Port, on to Pamplona and points east, returning the car in Barcelona. Tonight I will dig into Maribels guide.

Do hotels routinely have parking? I imagine street parking once reaching a destination could be problematic too... are there public parking lots/facilities? Do roads have tolls?

Also, I read something in the Fodor's guide regarding senor discounts... we are both 60+; it would be nice to stretch our Euros as far as possible.

The research goes on, I can hardly wait.. having decided that the Bilbao marathon in the middle of a trip might be too demanding, Lovely Wife can't wait to run the 10K in Barcelona.

I'm certain I will have more questions..
thanks again
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Old Jul 12th, 2013, 09:26 AM
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Glad to give you some more tips; please, remember those are my opinions, other persons can think different.Please note we are in ours 60's, fit, good walkers.

--Madrid to Bilbao: (we did Bilbao to Madrid); just in case, an easy drive, just some 5 hours, highway,with a must stop at Burgos for lunch and see the most beautiful cathedral ever(well S.Peter in Rome is another thing....).

--Bilbaobvious must see is the Guggenheim and its surroundings; with the Spyder and the Puppy; we were 8 persons, and we all loved the Puppy.
Inside , the museum is great also,specially if you like modern art; but the building is the star, your ticket includes an good audio guide.
You can easily walk along the water towards the old city, charming , and very good tapas.
We were in front of Plaza Moyua, at hotel Carlton (excellent price/quality), parking available for something like 26 euros per day.
A good italian restaurant(not Michelin) is La Tagliatta, in a neighborhood with plenty of tapas bars.

--From Bilbao we did a day trip to San Sebastian, easy one hour drive, or a little over one hour.Visited the bay and beach, the old city plenty of bars and restaurants,had a great lunch, drive across the city and returned to Bilbao, a great day.

--Zaragoza: three "must visit":
The churh of El Pilar (the biggest in the city), really good, the Cathedral of La Seo(even better) one or two blocks from El Pilar, and the palace of La Alfajeria.
In central Zaragoza you can find many good to excellent restaurants; and hotels are not expensive.
Many public parkings near hotels for some 20 euros per day.
Zaragoza can be ideal for a one night stop driving Bilbao to Barcelona but you can go non stop if you like to drive.As always, really good highways.

One of the best destinations in the world.
You must visit, at least:
Sagrada Familia , not only outside, please, go inside.
Casa Batllo and/or La Pedrera(Gaudi).
Park Güell(also Gaudi,but a park this time).
The Cathedral in Barrio Gotico.
Mercado de La Boqueria(buy some cold cuts or fruits, or just enjoy colors and presentation of goods).
Take a stroll along Barceloneta beach and have lunch.
Walk along the Ramblas.
Take a look at least at the outside and cafeteria of the Palau de la Musica Catalana.
Please, Please, go to see the Magic Fountain at night, you will remember for life!!
Visit Plaza del Rey(King's Square) at night, you can even dine outside at Les Quinze Nits;reservations, please; not expensive,you can people watch and enjoy the Plaza.
If you have read La Catedral del Mar( a Cathedral by the Sea) visit Santa Maria del Mar, a great church in a charming neighborhood.
And much much more, I am sure others will contribute..
Enjoy your trip, and ask anything you need.
Sorry for my poor english, spanish is my first language....
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 10:04 AM
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Great comments and suggestions all around. Much appreciated!
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