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First time to Europe, going to Spain! Please help with itinerary!

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Mar 1st, 2010, 02:26 PM
  #1
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First time to Europe, going to Spain! Please help with itinerary!

Hi Everyone!
I'm so excited! My family has been saving every nickel and dime and we're finally going to go on our dream vacation--- Spain! Of course, we'll be traveling in July (the only time we can because of kids' school and our work) but that's ok. What do you think of this itinerary (our goal is to see art, architecture, Andalusia Spain and give the kids time at the beach to relax at the end):

Saturday, July 10: Madrid
Sunday, July 11: Madrid
Monday: July 12: Day trip from Madrid to Toledo, sleep in Madrid
Tuesday, July 13: Leave by train to Seville
Wednesday, July 14: Seville
Thursday, July 15: Seville
Friday, July 16: Day trip to Cordoba, sleep in Seville (leave by car rental)
Saturday, July 17: Granada
Sunday, July 18: Granada
Monday, July 19: Granada
Tuesday July 20, Wednesday 21, Thursday 22: Marbella or other beach resort
Friday, July 23: Travel back to Madrid by train, sleep in Madrid near airport
Saturday, July 24: Leave to the States

Questions:

1.) We are a family of 5, approximately how much will train tickets cost us? Should we book them online in advance of our trip?
2.) Thinking about renting a car in Seville but dropping it off somewhere else so we can take public transportation back to Madrid. This depends on if there's a hefty drop off fee or not. How's driving in Spain?
3.) Is Toledo an easy day trip to do alone or should we use a tour group? What's the best and economical way to get to Toledo from Madrid?
4.) Should we consider another beach place other than Marbella? Which is better Marbella or Nerja?
5.) Any hotel recommendations for the above places that have family rooms?

Thank you!
layanluvstotravel is offline  
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Mar 1st, 2010, 03:10 PM
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If you don't mind, and unless your itinerary is already set in stone, I would try to reconsider Madrid for Barcelona and/or Valencia.
As you probably have guessed already, July will be hot, and I find it easier to bear on the sea (others prefer the drier climate of Madrid, though).

2)
Usually no drop-off fee nationwide, but check your rental car company's fine print. Some smaller companies may have only a few drop-off locations w/o surcharges.
I find driving very easy. Expect a dense network of US-style freeways around the major cities like Madrid or Sevilla, moderate traffic on "interstate"-style motorways in the countryside. Whereever motorways are tolled, you will probably find heavy truck traffic on (toll-free) highways which run close to the motorway. Also minor highways are usually in very good condition. Driving in the cities makes some people freak out, others don't find it too exciting. It pays off to ask any hotel for a good description or map, or take a hotel at the edge of any old town and walk 10 minutes than driving through a one-way maze even if the hotel says it's accesible. Having a car only in Andalucia after you left Sevilla is a good idea.

4)
Marbella or Nerja? Good question. Marbella still thrives on its glory as the jetset resort on the Mediterranean, while Nerja is also for tourists will less money to spend. Neither one would be my dream location, but I'm a bit biased against the Costa del Sol resorts, so don't take my judgement too seriously. In hot summer, I find the Costa de la Luz a bit breezier, if there is such a word.

5)
None at all. I always rented a house. Usually costs less than a hotel, plus you have more space and privacy. If you stay at a rural finca (often just 10-15min away from the beach), you will find places that have just 2 or 3 units but their own pool, BBQ, etc. Matter of taste if you want to trade that for a "full-service" hotel.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 06:04 PM
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You need to understand that in summer southern Spain is hot as hell- the highs are often more than 100 degrees for days at a time. So, you need to be sure you have hotels with good AC (not all have it) and a pool - so you can tour in the am and pm and relax in the afternoon. Also be sure to always carry your own water to stay hydrated and limit beach time and use sunscreen religiously.

Driving in Spain is esy - and I would definitely rent a car leaving Madrid and keep it for the rest of the trip. Much more convenient than waiting for trains -esp with kids who might not have unlimited patience in the heat.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 06:28 PM
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You might be used to hot and humid but if not you may have a problem. We were in northern Spain in July and it was so hot and humid that I walked into a barber and had my hair cut to 1 inch.

But, if that is the only time you can go, you MUST have a pool and air conditioning would be a great help.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 06:40 PM
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If you have to go in July ( I understand, I did it in August) you have done well to break up your supremely hot portions - Seville and the Costa del Sol. They will be Arizona desert hot and suck the energy from you just like a walk through Tucson at 2:00 p.m. Granada will be a little better but we are still talking LA heat until the sun goes down anyway.

Toledo is so close and easy to get to from Madrid (35 minutes) that it probably does make sense to do it as a day trip even though it is on the way to Seville the next day after you visit. I would not, however, do Cordoba as a day trip from Seville only to go to Granada the next day.

Do consider renting your car when you leave Madrid and seeing Toledo on the way to Seville, and Cordoba on the way to Granada. Start out really early and you beat the heat and can enjoy the better art of a day on your way to the next sleep. Driving in Spain is a cinch, and you will always have an AC box to hide in - lol.

The C d S is an icky concrete jungle for the most part - outside of the old city cores. Listen carefully to others who have more experience in the area and do your research to find a decent place with some character left.


It's a good plan with 3 days per stop and no backtracking - just think cold.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 06:49 PM
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You know what you wish to see, but Northern Spain (beautiful coast) is much more pleasant in the summer.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 09:20 PM
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Ok given your existing plan:

I would not return to Madrid, rather leave via Malaga.
In fact you can stay there one night prior on the 23rd. The main city has a beautiful cathedral and lots of great tapas bars. Then you can leave the next morning from there.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 09:21 PM
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Oh and you can return the car to Malaga airport that way..
We did it was a cinch.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 11:01 PM
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One annex re. heat.
I got the impression that the OP is aware of the hot climate in summer, esp. in Madrid and the lower elevations of Andalucia. Nevertheless, people go there in huge numbers in summer from all over Europe, but mostly for a beach vacation. Adjusting to the Southern lifestyle works best if you have a cool place during the midday heat from 2-5 for a nap. That siesta wasn't "invented" for nothing. The heat is also easier to stand in historic buildings with thick walls, tiled floors, and a patio. After all, Andalucia is Europe's hotspot, and many people on this continent are quite happy that there is at least one region where you have lots of sunshine.
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 06:29 AM
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Yes I agree she clearly aid it has to do with school vacation schedules. She also said it was her dream vacation. So we should indeed help her with the plans to the area she is dreaming of...I have been to Andalucia in July and made it out fine, (but yes it's hot) And that was BW (before all the water bottles...lol) Cowboy makes good points as usual.
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 07:28 AM
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Your first trip to Europe - be prepared to be blown away! Also resolve yourself to the fact that at somewhere in the trip you will get totally lost - we've been going to Europe for many years, and we still get lost at some point! Driving in Spain is fairly easy, there are lots of traffic circles, so you can easily recircle if you're not sure what turnoff to take. You itinerary sounds fine, but you might want to spend a night or two in the beautiful Andalucian countryside (a nice break from the hot cities).The white villages perched high in the mountains, are stunning, and may be the highlight of your trip. Check out rusticblue.com for some ideas.
Taking the train from Madrid to Seville is a good idea. The train is very comfortable, and the drive would be hot and not particularly scenic. Getting an 'open jaw' flight into Madrid and out of Malaga is a very good suggestion. That's what we did, and it is well worth the extra few dollars in airfare.
We spent a few days in Nerja and loved it. Stayed at the Paraiso del Mar - very, very nice, but I suspect the summer price will be high. The east half of Nerja is a little nicer than the western end of town where the high rises dominate.
One last comment - be prepared to eat lots of ham and olives. These are the mainstays of the Spanish diet!
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 07:59 AM
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I see no reason to rent a car unless you are stopping somewhere en route. Driving on the highway may be fine, but not so much driving in cities and parking. I would also prefer to book rooms where I do not have to worry about parking. You will just have to compare cost of 4 train tickets (buses are comfortable too) with car rental (including parking costs). Someone here can probably give you the rundown on the renfe site (train).

I suggest you play it be ear on the Toledo day trip. You already only have 3 days in Madrid, including your jet lag day.

I do not know Marbella and Nerja. I do know there are nice beaches more to the southeast (near Cadiz), so if you decide to go that route you might want to visit Granada first, then Sevilla, then it's an easy trip to the coast. This should be your priority--choosing your beach and finding accommodation asap (lots of things may be booked already). Unfortunately booking apartments less than a week may be difficult, but I would check. I rented an apt in Sevilla for 3 nights.

Sounds like a fabulous trip, you are nice parents!
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 08:10 AM
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I like Nerja very much (pop 20 000), although there are lots of tourists it has retained a local character and is still very much a Spanish city. Great beaches. Various concerts with top artists in the famous caves just outside town around the 20th of July every year (Festival Cueva de Nerja):
http://www.andalucia.com/nerja/caves.htm

Great tapas scene; free tapas to chose with every glass of wine, beer, coke etc. in most places around town. About 1,50€ almost everywhere.

If you are into fish and seafood, I highly recommend these two excellent restaurants/tapas bars. Both are very popular with locals.
La Marina (my #1 choice in Nerja):
http://www.nerjatoday.com/nerjatapasguide/la-marina/
El Pulguilla:
http://www.nerjatoday.com/nerjatapasguide/el-pulguilla/

Among the traditional Spanish restaurants (they also serve tapas at the bar), I will recommend
El Niño (private photos of the legendary flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla on the walls):
http://www.nerjatoday.com/barsandrestaurants/el-nino/
Mesón Pata Negra: http://www.nerjatoday.com/barsandres...ts/pata-negra/
and Mesón Antonio (Here I've had the best Iberian ham/ Jamón Ibérico in Nerja)
http://www.nerjatoday.com/barsandres...on-de-antonio/

Two more tapas bars/restaurants that must be added for great atmosphere and a wide selection of tapas:
Sevillano:
http://www.nerjatoday.com/nerjatapasguide/sevillano/
Los Cuñaos:
http://www.nerjatoday.com/nerjatapasguide/los-cunaos/

Lots of info about Nerja on this site:
http://www.nerjatoday.com/
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 08:42 AM
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First of all did anyone mention that Spain is freakishly hot in July (excepth the North coast)? Be prepared to handle 105 degrees and extremely bright sunlight. 1) Train tickets are about $75 per person from Madrid to Seville. Renting a car may be cheaper for 5 but if you can afford it I would train it. It's a long boring drive. Second, there is no drop off fee and driving is easy in Spain. A car is a major hassle in Seville, Madrid and Granada. You don't need one. Marbella or Nerja? I would say neither but if I had to it would be Nerja. The Costa del Sol was a major letdown for me. I do love Malaga though. If you're expecting nice beaches and clean water you'll be disappointed. The beaches and water are much better on the Cadiz side. Toledo is an easy day trip, the train is always better but buses in Spain are suprisingly comfortable. Other than all that it's a great itinerary, a perfect first trip to Spain. Granada is one of my favorite places in the world but for most people 2 nights is enough. Now if this was your second trip I would push you to San Sebastian, Santander and Santiago for the perfect summer beach trip to Spain.
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 09:03 AM
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 10:23 AM
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You didn't tell us the ages of your children and I think that might make a difference in some of the advice you'll receive here, for example, I would not take young children on a group tour. Also, meals are served at very different hours in Spain than your children will be used to. You can work it out, but it will take a little advance planning and maybe some adjustment in their regular routines.

We drove all over Spain and Portugal for 6 weeks and had no real problems with that. Although the older cities have some narrow streets and you might need to park at a lot or on a street that is not right by your hotel.

Congratulations on your first trip to Europe! I think you'll love Spain in spite of the heat.
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Mar 3rd, 2010, 03:17 PM
  #17
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Thanks so much everyone! I'm printing this and going to digest it on the weekend. My kids are 11,11 and 13 by the way. We've been to other areas that are super hot in the summer (namely the Middle East). Personally, I can deal with the heat as long as it isn't humid (please tell me it's dry heat?!).

Maybe I should ask--- what beach in Southern Spain would be best for us? My kids love to swim, I like a clean beach and we all like having a place to walk around when we get sick of the water. Any suggestions?
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Mar 3rd, 2010, 08:26 PM
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Yes it's dry heat and the beaches around Cadiz are the best in Southern Spain. If you can take the heat you will have a great trip as it's a great itinerary.
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Mar 4th, 2010, 12:47 AM
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Great, wide and windy beaches around Cádiz, but the Málaga region has got twice as many (8) top quality rankning beaches (the Q-mark set up by the Calidad Turística Española (ICTE) bureau) by 2008. Two of the ten beaches in and around Nerja with this distinction as well as with the international Blue Flag based on criteria dealing with water quality, environmental management, safety and services.

About Nerja beaches:
http://www.spainaway.com/nerja-beach-guide.html

List of beaches in Southern Spain with Q-rankning from the Calidad Turística Española bureau (2008):
revista.destinosur.com/pdf54/playasq.pdf
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