Help Please - Basque Region of Spain

Old May 20th, 2006, 11:36 AM
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Wm
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Help Please - Basque Region of Spain

We will be traveling to Spain May '07 and spending three weeks. We plan to fly into Madrid, spend three full days, rent a car and spend about 8 days in the Basque region. We would like to visit Bilboa, the wine region and spend some time on the coast. We will then drive to Barcelona, spend a couple of nights in a village on the coast nearby (suggestions please) and about four nights in Barcelona. Please help with the Basque portion of our trip: Small hotels, a couple of good home bases for what we want to do, etc. We are in the early stages of planning our trip so your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


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Old May 21st, 2006, 02:27 AM
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Can't remember where we stayed [it was 20+ years ago] but the nicest place in the Basque country is San Sebastian [Donostia in Basque] which is on a superb beach with a mountain behind it, old town, etc. etc. It would make a great base for exploring the Basque country.
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Old May 21st, 2006, 09:06 AM
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<< ...spend a couple of nights in a village on the coast ...>>

San Sebastian is no village. I strongly recommend the free, essentially guidebook-quality (and style) "file" available on www.maribelsguides.com

Don't know if it will be your cup of tea or not, but we had an excellent experience at one of the <i>casas rurales</i> recommended there (but not so much a candidate for what you are seeking - - it was up in the mountains, isolated, <u>not</u> on the coast, and not particularly a &quot;base&quot; for exploring elsewhere - - just a very pleasant stay and a good, and authentic bargain).

Best wishes,

Rex
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Old May 21st, 2006, 10:07 AM
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Thanks, Rex, for the vote of confidence!

Some nice home bases in the Gipuzkoa province:
Hondarribia, where we stay every July.

There's the Hotel Obispo in the Old Quarter and the Casa Rural Iketxe, whose owners, Patxi and F&aacute;tima are personal friends.
We've also stayed at the Casa Rural Arotz Enea but prefer the friendly Iketxe.
We're renting out the entire Casa Rural Artizarra for two weeks.

In Getaria, you have the brand new and charming Hotel Saiaz and the nearby Casa Rural Landarte in Zumaia (no a/c but we love it just the same-owner Germ&aacute;n is very nice and the price is a steal)

In the Bizkaia province, just 1/2 hr. from Bilbao:

In Lekeitio our Basque friend swears by the Hotel Zubieta. We like to stay in the Urdaibai Nature Reserve with views of Llaida beach rather than in Lekeitio.
An apt.. at the Hotel Gametxo would make a good home base for exploring that coast.


For the Rioja Alavesa wine region, our favorites are the family run Villa de Abalos (technically not in Alava, but right on the border) and the Castillo el Collado in Laguardia.

Detailed descriptions and urls are in my Basque guide.
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Old May 21st, 2006, 05:07 PM
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Hi Wm.

I second San Sebastian. I was very content with the Hotel Niza but beware the 5'6&quot; beds (they drape them in vertical-striped bedspreads to appear longer)! I requested a balcony room and they complied. I felt comfortable here.

Book lunch at (Michelin 3-Star) Arzak. It will set you back three hours and $150 but it was the most amazing lunch of my life (get the tasting menu, and don't eat for 24 hours prior). The chef, Elena, is very hospitable, and will likely give you a kitchen tour if you ask.

The San Sebastian locals are serious about their tapas. Do your research first -- don't fall for the touristy tapas spots.

Sit outside on the main &quot;mall&quot;, have a drink, and watch the locals -- they are an extremely social group!

Bilbao didn't do it for me. Maybe I just didn't find the right &quot;spots&quot;. The museum is definitely, obviously, worth seeing (and hearing -- listen to the pompous English narrator on the headphones pontificate about the rigorous demands of observing modern art). The market is worth a trip as well -- but see it before 1:00 -- it closes down afterwards. Plan a picnic night for sampling the cheeses, meats, etc. from the market.

The Sheraton Bilbao is beautiful.

Re: Madrid: I loved, loved, loved my stay at the Santo Mauro (very luxurious) a few years ago and am looking forward to staying at the Hotel Puerta America -- each floor is designed by a different famous architect/designer. I booked it for 154 Pounds on lastminute.com.

Have a good trip.
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Old May 21st, 2006, 07:21 PM
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The Hotel Puerta America is quite possibly the most hideous hotel ever conceived. On a par with the EMP in Seattle and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, before it was slightly improved.
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 07:42 AM
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Any suggestions for specific wineries to visit in this region? Is the wine region a day trip away from San Sebastian?
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 08:51 AM
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The Rioja (Alta and Alavesa) are about a 2-1/2 hour drive south of San Sebastian-Donostia, depending on which route you follow.

You can head south through Pamplona and then to Logro&ntilde;o, or through the valley past Tolosa and Beasain and over the pass to Altsasu before taking the NA 120 to Estella and then to Logro&ntilde;o and Laguardia. You can also head south through Vitoria-Gasteiz and south on the A2124, which will take you over the Balc&oacute;n de la Rioja. If the clouds are not covering the valley, it offers the most spectacular view of the Rioja.
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 08:59 AM
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There are more than 800 bodegas (wineries) in the Rioja Alta and Alavesa. Some require reservations and others don't, but a number of the principle bodegas can be found in and around Logro&ntilde;o, Laguardia, Haro, Samaniego, Elciego, Labastida, Abalos, San Vicente, and Briones. There are also dozens of bodegas in Navarra that are open to visitors.
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 02:58 PM
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If you only have time for 2 winery visits in the Rioja Alavesa (and it's difficult logistically to do more than 2 per day, due to limited visiting hrs.), I would base in Laguardia and visit Bodgas Ysios for a state-of-the-art, very contemporary, Santiago Calatrava designed winery and
la Granja de Nuestra Se&ntilde;ora de Remelluri in neighboring Labastida, east of the town on the road, LG 316 to Rivas de Treviso, which is as traditional as they come and also has a small wine museum (but prior reservations are absolutely necessary).

We just visited both, had an incredible business lunch of lamb chops grilled on grape vines at Remelluri, and the settings of both are spectacular.

Ysios has scheduled tours Mon-Fri at 11, 1 and 4. Also Sat-Sun at 11 and 1, but these are extremely popular and fill up quickly.

Again for Remelluri one must reserve in advance.

For Remelluri you should have your hotel call -941-33 12 74. They're quite independent. Our visit was arranged by Tourist Board.

Also we recently toured and tasted at another legendary and very traditonal winery in Haro, in the Rioja Alta, one of two Haro bodegas with its own cooperage: Bodegas Muga
It has regularly scheduled tours in English. Mon.-Fri at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. The winery can be found by following the Estaci&oacute;n Renfe or &quot;Ruta de las bodegas&quot; signs. It and other wineries are located in the lower part of the town in the Barrio de la Estaci&oacute;n. There's easy covered car parking across the street. Closed wkds/holidays.

But either of the two Rioja Alavesa hotels I've recommended can arrange plenty of winery visits for you. The easiest way to tour is to put this in their hands. As Robert says, there are over 800 wineries in the entire Rioja. The tiny hamlet of
Ba&ntilde;os de Ebro has over 30 alone!

I have a Rioja file I made for Fodorites that you can download in PDF format at www.maribelsguides.com
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 03:53 PM
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I third San Sebastian. I spent a very happy summer there back in 1966 doing a course in Spanish at the Uni. There are wonderful side trips to be made from there up and down the coast, into France and into the hinterland.

I would give Bilbao a miss.

Harzere
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 06:55 PM
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harzer, you really need to return to the Basque Country and Bilbao. There has been a world of change since 1966.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 09:58 AM
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Thanks so much to all of you for your thoughtful suggestions. We live in Sonoma County, California, so are really excited to visit this wine region.
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Old May 26th, 2006, 12:35 PM
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Maribel, your files are amazing. All the links are useful, and you certainly have made my planning easier. Both DH and I like to spend a lot of time planning ahead...so we know a good bit about a region before we get there.

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Old May 26th, 2006, 12:39 PM
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Thank you very much for your kind words!
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