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Feedback for Northern Spain itinerary

Old Dec 20th, 2019, 04:48 PM
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Feedback for Northern Spain itinerary

We will be in Northern Spain (flying in and out from Bilbao) for 12 days, during the second half of September 2020. We are a couple in our lower 70s and like a combination of sightseeing in old towns, museums and architecture, festivals and local markets; we love nature and nice vistas. While we are no longer hikers, we love easy walks. We don’t like to sit for hours on a beach, just have a walk and admire the scenery and surroundings. We are not into wine tasting; we would like a “taste” of everything else I mentioned above, but without trying to run around to be able to say that "we have seen it all”. We like to taste local food but eating doesn’t drive our destination. We will rent a car, to allow us to move easily from place to place, but without spending the day driving.
We would like to include one mountainous area if it makes sense, maybe the Navarrean Pyrenees (Auritz, Roncal, etc.) OR parts of Picos de Europa. The later seems to be easier to integrate. We would like to avoid one lane, difficult roads (lots of hairpin turns).
Ideally we would love to stay in a max of 3-4 places during our trip, do a roundtrip if possible, with day trips from the places where we will stay. We would like to avoid backtracking as much as possible and include as many local specific attractions as possible.
I looked at regions in the North and there is a LOT to see. We will not be able to see everything that appears to be interesting for us. Obviously we have to also take into account the weather in September.

Based on high level info I gathered, I came up with some potential itineraries, listed below. Locations in parentheses might be optional. Based on Google’s estimates it appears that both tentative itineraries STARTING on DAY 4 would require an average of 2-3 h driving/day if everything was included as listed OR about 1h 45 min - 2 h without the “optional” locations.

I’d appreciate your feedback and suggestions regarding the itineraries, what to take out/replace, locations for the night stop-overs, what to include in each day starting with Day 4. Thanks in advance.

Itinerary 1

Day 1 - Bilbao
Day 2 - Bilbao, maybe a drive to Lekeitio or Mundaka
Day 3 - day trip to San Sebastian; probably could not include Hondarribia
Day 4 - start the roundtrip (9 days)
Bilbao- Vitoria- Pamplona-Olite- (Bardenas Reales)- Logrono-Laguardia - Santo Domingo de la Calzada- (San Milan de la Cogolia) - Burgos- Leon- (Astorga) - Riano - Oviedo- Cangas de Onis- Cabrales- (Poncebos) - Comillas- Santilana del mar- Santander - Laredo - Castro Urdiales - Bilbao.

Itinerary 2

Day 1 - Bilbao
Day 2 - Bilbao, maybe a drive to Lekeitio or Mundaka
Day 3 - day trip to San Sebastian; probably could not include Hondarribia
Day 4 - start the roundtrip (9 days)

Bilbao- Vitoria- Pamplona-Olite- (Bardenas Reales)- Logrodo-Laguardia - Santo Domingo de la Calzada- (San Milan de la Cogolia) - Burgos- Leon- (Astorga) - Riano - Cangas de Onis- Bulnes- Fuente De- Potes- Lebena- La Hermida- Santander- Laredo - Castro Urdiales - Bilbao.

I am sure that many more variations could exist, but one has to start someplace. Many places on these itineraries probably deserve days - which we don’t have. So we probably will need to cut out some of the listed locations. I don’t know which ones.

The above might be overly ambitious. Also I do not know which places on these itineraries would be the best ones for night stops. We would like to stay in locations that are not very expensive, places that have parking and would allow us to have a good night sleep, but we are not looking for hostels.

Thanks again.

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Old Dec 20th, 2019, 05:24 PM
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It really depends on what you want to see and experience, but I would have found either of your "round trips" overly ambitious -- and I travel HARD! I didn't see all the places you mention, but I did visit many of them. If you haven't seen it, you might get some ideas from my trip report:
Four Awesome Weeks in the North of Spain and Catalunya

BTW, I haven't been to the Navarrean Pyrenees, but thought the Picos de Europa absolutely stunning.

Good luck with your planning!
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Old Dec 20th, 2019, 08:17 PM
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Thanks a lot, kja.

I read your trip report. The report is amazing. I don't know how you were able to pack so much in your days. Thanks for posting links that helped you.

If you don't mind:
- how can one easily find the threads for your trip preparation
- was parking an issue in most places including the hotels where you stayed
- was the driving in Picos de Europa "scary" (lots of narrow roads, with many switchbacks and impatient drivers, etc.)?

I am not yet sure how/what to cut out ....
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Old Dec 20th, 2019, 08:55 PM
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I had an amazing trip, and hope my report proves helpful. I do pack a lot in -- which is why I'm inclined to think that your plan could be overly ambitious.

You can find my trip preparation threads by clicking on my screen name, but you'd have to go back a ways. Here they are:
Starting to plan for 3.5 weeks in northern Spain, May 2015
Initial itinerary – Northern Spain and Catalunya
San Sebastian / Donostia
Which 2 of these 3: Lekeitio, Getaria, and Hondarribia

I had made sure to arrange parking before traveling in the area, usually with my hotel, and I had researched parking options for any day trips I took. I don't remember problems actually finding parking, but if IIRC, parking was expensive in San Sebastian / Donostia.

IIRC, driving from Cangas de Onís to the Lakes of Covadonga in the Pecos de Europa involved some very narrow switchbacks -- but surprisingly easy traffic, as everyone who was on the road was going to those lakes and was very patient. (I remember horrid traffic around Cangas de Onis, though -- IIRC, it took a ridiculously long time to drive the few blocks just in town.) IIRC the drive from Leon to Oviedo was challenging -- narrow, twisting roads too steep for the wimpy car I was driving, with impatient drivers (and scared cyclists!) frequently catching up with me. And I recall a bit of that in the parts of the Pyrenees I visited, and I think maybe there were some challenges in the roads to Cuevas Las Monedas and El Castillo of Monte Castillo (but fortunately, there wasn't much traffic on those particular roads). My recollection of most of the roads in the areas you are considering is that they were pleasant, scenic, and generally easy to drive -- although I ran into enough showers (it's green for a reason!) that reducing speed was often appropriate. That said, it's been a while and those aren't necessarily the things I remember.

The area has a lot to offer, so I can certainly understand that cutting will be difficult -- I had difficulty cutting enough to come up with a fast-paced itinerary that involved fewer places for more time. I think you just have to learn what you can and decide on your priorities. Do you have the Michelin Green Guides for these regions? I found them invaluable. Good luck!
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 09:17 AM
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This is a third time I am typing this message (no auto-saved one)... So I will be quick to say thank you again (before the website throws me out again). I will read all your exchanges and hope to learn from them. The hardest part for planning a trip for me is to come up with an itinerary. But in the end it all works out. I have travel guides from the library and I just ordered the Michelin one you suggested.

What does IIRC stand for?
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 09:31 AM
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IIRC = If I Remember Correctly.
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 10:08 AM
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Thanks!
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 05:03 PM
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Susana,
Just some comments:
Both your loop itineraries seem quite ambitious to me as well since it covers 9 separate provinces in 9 days. I've actually been to and like all of the places on your list, but it's taken me many years. You may need a bit of admittedly very difficult culling. The monument-filled Burgos & León both deserve a couple of overnights, and I would say Oviedo as well with its wealth of pre-Romanesque churches in the surrounding area.

You may want to consider limiting your 9-day loop to 2 contiguous regions: either Basque Country + Cantabria or Basque Country + Rioja (it offers more than just wine..stunning scenery, beautiful mountain drives, monasteries, abbeys, dolmens, an Iron Age site) or Basque Country + Navarra.

Day 2 from Bilbao:
I might take a loop drive through the UNESCO World Heritage Urdaibai Nature Reserve through Gernika, the spiritual home of the Basques, for a stop to visit the excellent Peace Museum (narrating the April 26, 1937 bombing) and/or the Casa de Juntas (oldest surviving Parliament building in the world). Then since the Oma Painted Forest is temporarily closed, go north to the coast to surfing Mundaka, the former whaling port of Bermeo (perhaps a stop at the whaling museum there), drive past San Juan de Gaztelugatxe for the views of it from the road (now terribly busy due to its Game of Thrones fame) and then head south through the Uribe. Then perhaps over west past the Butrón castle to the beach of Sopelana then south back to Bilbao. You may have time to stop in Las Arenas to see the unique Puente Vizcaya hanging bridge across the estuary to Portugalete. But that's makes for a very full day.

But... since you're a museum/architecture lover, you could spend that full day in Bilbao itself visiting the Guggenheim (special Kandinsky exhibit in Sept), the unsung but wonderful Museum of Fine Arts and the Basque Museum to learn more about Basque culture/history and take a boat ride out to Portugalete or the metro out to Las Arenas to see the suspension bridge.

Day 3 from Bilbao: I wouldn't try to include Hondarribia but instead concentrate on a full day in San Sebastián (but International Film Festival takes place there Sept. 18-26; the city will be packed). The city offers some lovely walks/easy all around town. Least expensive underground garage parking there: Txofre (just follow the signs as you enter the city)

Re Navarra Pyrenees versus Picos de Europe: I've spent considerable time in both (Roncal, Roncesvalles, Auritz in Navarra and Cangas/Covadonga, Potes/ Fuente Dé in Picos). For me, there's just no comparison in sheer, jaw dropping beauty: Picos de Europa is far more spectacular, dramatic, to my eyes. But I don't think you'll have time to do both the Asturias and Cantabrian Picos with all the rest that you want to see.
It's very time consuming to get down to Fuente Dé through the winding and narrow Desfiladero de la Hermida pass to the Liébana valley and once there, you'll want to stay for a couple of nights to soak up all that it offers.
I would choose one Picos location: either Cangas/Covandonga/Lakes/Cabrales on the Asturian side or Potes/Fuente Déon the Cantabrian side. On the Cangas side, you'll have the funicular up to Bulnes but don't go if it's a rainy day.

You may not want to include this....but if you plan to include the Ruta del Cares trek (La Garganta Divina) from Caín (León) to Poncebos (Asturias) and back, it's not too strenuous in most parts, except at the end, climbing out of the gorge up to Poncebos. But it will take the entire day unless you hire a taxi to take you to Caín and pick you up in Poncebos or vice versa (there are plenty of services that will do this).
On the Potes, Cantabria side you'll need to get up early to avoid the long lines for the cable car up to the top of Fuente Dé. These stunning mountain excursions just take lots of time.

Ditto to what kja has told you about the drive up to the lakes of Enol & Ercina in Picos de Europa. Very, very slow, narrow, lots of switchbacks and a bit "white knuckle" if you happen to meet a large tour bus coming down (yipes!) when you're heading up! But you do have another option now-- take the bus from Cangas or Covadonga up to the lakes if it's a bank holiday (1st departure in Sept. at 9 am) or take a taxi. There are lots of walking trails up there, but they can be muddy.
folleto-acceso-a-lagos-de-covadonga-en-transporte-publico-2017-version----.pdf


For your Northern Spain journey you may find the green zoom Michelin maps 144 (Basque/Navarran Pyrenees), 143 (Cantabrian coast) and 142 (Asturias/Green coast) to be your new best friends, along with the Michelin green guide. You can then get a better idea of driving distances and types of roads. Driving distances can be very deceptive in Northern Spain, and the many cyclists on the road make it often slow driving.

About lodging & parking: you may want to look at these moderately priced hotel groups that we regularly use for our Northern Spain travel: Casonas Asturianas, Club de Calidad Cantabria Infinita (manor homes and former palaces in both groups), Ruralka, Rusticae, Secret Places, i-escape (for Basque Country/Asturias). There will be overlap among these.

Also the Paradors offer a Golden Age sr. rate or their more unbeatable "Best Available Web" rate--sign up for the free Amigos program and receive a free buffet breakfast on your first day and welcome drink at each Parador. The Paradors always run specials (Amigos receive their weekly e-newsletter) and they have plenty of free parking.
Paradors in Santillana (2), Cangas de Onís, Olite, Santo Domingo de la Calzada (2), Fuente Dé. One of the jewels in the crown, Parador de San Marcos in León is closed for renovation.

Hope this helps you to decide!
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 05:48 PM
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Maribel, thanks a LOT for taking this much time for the very useful and practical advise. I have to "digest" it together with the wealth of information I am gathering from the many links provided by kja. Probably I would need many months to actually see (in an enjoyable way) everything I listed.... Knowing that this will be (unfortunately) the only trip to this part of the world, I have to be really "picky". I had this same sinking feeling last year when I started planning for Japan. Information and choice "overflow" can be paralyzing. But I know I will figure it out, especially with so much handholding. On some level, I seem to have similar interests with kja and I also plan with a lot of details, so her links (and the ones included in her threads) are very helpful. If have more questions as I try to figure out the itinerary, I will get back to this thread. In the meantime however, If there are other suggestions for what to cut out (if there are "overlaps"), please let me know.

Happy holiday preparations and thanks again.
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 06:20 PM
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Maribel has (of course!) given you some great information.

FWIW: I know that paralyzing feeling you are describing, or at least something like it -- there's so much I would like to see -- WAY more than I'll ever be able to see in my life time! -- and whatever the time I have, it's never enough. For me -- and maybe JUST me -- I sometimes get so caught up in what I'm going to have to skip that I lose sight of all the wonderful things I will see. I often (not always) find that that realization can help me return to the list of things I might cut with much greater equanimity and clarity, so I keep it written down beside my desk. And I try to keep travel times firmly in my mind. Sometimes, the scenic value is enough for me to consider traveling long-ish distances, but as a rule, I hate losing time on my trips to unnecessary time in transit, and so find identifying the core that most meets my interests very useful in helping exclude some of the places that are further afield. Too, sometimes just getting away from the planning can help. Just some ideas....
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 07:33 PM
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A big ditto to what kja has said---itinerary planning can sometimes be overwhelming, especially with so many wonderful options in (very, very large) Northern Spain. It can easily become "planning overload".
I would suggest that you digest the indespensible Michelin green guide and also, more specifically, the DK Eyewitness guide: Northern Spain, to help you prioritize.
But what ever you decide, it's all wonderful, IMO!
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 07:57 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement.

On a different note, I have to stop using for a while the website. I notified Fodor's about the problems I am experiencing and asked them to investigate. I could not understand why every time I spend more time on the website I am thrown out. I am mentioning this just in case you might also get these pop-ups. Don't download and install!

Here is what happened:

I started using Fodor’s Forum yesterday. Ever since I have been getting the fake flash player update virus pop-ups. I did not download or install anything as I realized that this is not an update from Adobe. But the pop-ups keep disrupting me. They appear when I go to Fodor’s Forum and throw me out of the website. This happened multiple times. I have a suspicion that this has to do with Fodor's website.

I have done a lot of research on the web and I ran the Matwarebytes program and I also have Norton. Both of them tell me that my computer is clean.

Malwarebytes has a tutorial on the topic (https://malwaretips.com/blogs/remove...player-update/) and it states:

"You are seeing the “Update Flash Player” pop-up ads because you are either infected with adware or another web site is redirecting you to them.
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 08:02 PM
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Thanks for sharing what you learned, Suzanna! Hope your problems are now / will soon be resolved.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 08:30 AM
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Since I can be on the website only for short times (until the problem is resolved somehow),do you know of a way to get a "clean" printout for a thread? Unless I missed it, I didn't see a print function associated with a thread and normal printing creates kind of a mess (and a waste of paper and toner). I would like to read "off line" the threads, if possible. Thanks.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 10:41 AM
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Not I!
Maybe download it and then edit to something more amenable to printing?
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Old Dec 23rd, 2019, 03:15 PM
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Thanks, for me unfortunately the website is not usable.

I just got a reply from Fodor's system staff: "We are aware of this issue and hope to have a solution early in the new year. We apologize for the inconvenience."....

In the meantime, I hope that you all have virus protection, as the attack can be quite dangerous.

Happy Holidays and thank you all for the help I got to-date!
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Old Dec 23rd, 2019, 03:54 PM
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There are a couple of threads about this on the Help forum . . .

https://www.fodors.com/community/for...-scam-1675030/
https://www.fodors.com/community/for...posts-1674981/

Apparently they are 'working on it' -- happens to me several times a day but I just close the page and resume where I was (I've learned to copy most posts every few sentences so I don't lose everything)
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Old Dec 23rd, 2019, 04:20 PM
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Thanks, at least I know that it is not "my problem". I was wondering how come only I experience it. There is a little bit more to it than just the annoying pop-ups. If you don't have Norton or something similar, it can infect your computer even if you close the tab.
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Old Dec 24th, 2019, 12:10 PM
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I asked the Admin re. way to Print a Thread. As it turns out, at the top of the Thread there is a drop down box with an option for Show Printable Version.

Now at least I can print and will be able to read your many very helpful replies and kja’s old but very useful threads.

Until the website issue is fixed, I am creating a reply before I go to the website and then quickly copy/past before I am thrown out. Luckily Norton protects me from the malicious attack.
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Old Dec 24th, 2019, 01:25 PM
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Hopefully you'll get the problem resolved.

Here's the link to my trip report to the areas you are considering, I think it will have some useful information in it. Criss-crossing the Camino: 5 weeks in Northern Spain (and a bit of France)

Here is the same report with photos on my blog site - you don't get the fodorite comments but in some ways it's easier to read (especially if you are having trouble with fodors site)
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