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itinerary critique: Spain, 2012:Andalucia to Basque country

itinerary critique: Spain, 2012:Andalucia to Basque country

Oct 3rd, 2011, 07:07 AM
  #1  
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itinerary critique: Spain, 2012:Andalucia to Basque country

Hello, all - I've been poring over all things Spain on the Forum for 7 months now, and have about locked in the trip. (and note to self: I *will* make a daily-log trip report as thanks for the help I hope is coming my way!) We (retired couple, mid-60's in age, honeymooned in Spain 20 years ago, some Spanish spoken, non-hikers!) leave April 9th, and don't return til May 3rd - cannot believe our luck at the length of the trip, and hope you knowledgeable Spain travelers will tell me now if I need to rearrange some days!
Even with this much time, we're having to sacrifice and cut what we can get to (you'll see that one week is locked in, due to DH's golf week that started this ball rolling!) Here we go:

Monday, April 9th, 2012: fly from Philadelphia (2 FF tickets!)direct to Madrid (day after Easter)
Tuesday, April 10th: arrive Barajas airport/Madrid, head immediately to Toledo for first two nights. Booked at Hotel Palacio Eugenio/Fontecruz (used Trip Advisor for most hotel picks) in Toledo Tuesday, Wednesday, no rental car so just enjoy the town for a day and a half, get thru jet lag
Thursday, April 12th: take the train to Sevilla (hotel is Casa 1800) -Thursday, Friday, and Saturday here, enjoying Sevilla AFTER Holy Week, one of the days take the train to Cordoba (touring + lunch)

Sunday, April 15th: take the train to Malaga, pick up rental car, and join 5 other couples at the golf portion my DH put together. Villa rented that looks very nice in the hills of Puerto Banus/Marbella. They'll play only 3, maybe 4 days of golf, allowing time to get to Ronda, Antequera, Arcos, Malaga, and all the other spots we women are planning to see. (note: DH is retired Navy and flew in and out of this area quite a bit back then. Any recommendations for specific spots/restaurants appreciated.) This is the part that's locked in - it will be nice to sit and enjoy the surroundings and good friends. And the pricing is phenomenal - lovely house for about $750/week/couple.

Sunday, April 22nd: leave southern Spain, and get to Pais Vasque! looks like we'll be on our own, although one other set of friends are considering joining us, while the others head back to the States. Having fallen in love with Mikel's blog found here on Fodors, and read extensively, north is where DH and I are headed. Had to sacrifice: Barcelona, to hopefully pick up on another trip.
Sunday night/Monday/Tuesday: booked in Bilbao (splurging on Gran Hotel Domine, with a view of the Guggenheim!) planning on Bilbao, the museum, Guernica, and the Cantilla caves.
WEDNESDAY, 4/25: STILL UNBOOKED, trying to figure out where to position ourselves/where to add a day. Suggestions desired!
Thursday morning, 4/26 until mid-day Sunday, 4/29: San Sebastian (booked a recommendation from Maribel: Hotel Londres y de Ingleterra. Since I think it's just the two of us, I splurged on this part of the trip.) it's only 3 days - aside from enjoying the food and the town, we hope to drive one day to Pamplona to just see where those crazy guys run with the bulls each year, AND would love to cross the border to France for one of the days, also.
Sunday, 4/29: take the high-speed train to Madrid. Stay there 4 nights, flying home Thursday, May 3rd. (we'll celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in Madrid on the 2nd - and Madrid + Costa Blanca was where we honeymooned in '92!) Booked Hotel Preciados.

So:
Have we made some mistakes that you guys see? some areas we could switch around for better timing?
Hopefully, the north of Spain in mid-April is warm enough to be really enjoyable??? We're not heading there to sit on beaches, so I think we'll be fine, but haven't found data.
My currently unbooked night (Wednesday, 4/25): should I add it to the Bilbao portion, or the San Sebastian? Is there someplace else nearby, say: Rioja area, that's a better choice?? Does anyone think that we've really misallocated our time?

AM I CRAZY?? My plan is to spend Sunday, 4/22, taking the high-speed trains from Malaga to Madrid, and then on to Bilbao. Is this beyond crazy, and should we just fly Iberia? We'll have bags and DH's golf clubs and I hate to risk losing luggage (too much business travel for two decades make me overly cautious/perhaps paranoid). Are the trains pleasant enough with scenery that it's okay to take that route?

Sorry for so much info - and really appreciate any and all responses!
Thanks!
jo_ann is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2011, 12:09 PM
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The Hotel Palacio Eugenio/Fontecruz looks like a good choice for Toledo.

On the 12th you'll have to return to Madrid in order to take the AVE to Sevilla.

There is only one Sunday train from Madrid to Bilbao, so you'll have to take the 12:05 train from Malaga to Madrid, about 10 hours total travel time. Flying is an option. Iberian shows a few flights through Madrid, the fastest connection would take about 3 hours. One flight departs Malaga at 1:40 pm.

When you take your day-trip to Pamplona, be sure to drive through the Baztan Valley on the N-121A. It's a beautiful drive. You can return by way of the Pays Basque, taking the N-135 over the pass at Roncesvalles. It will take you to Pied-de-Port. From there it is only a short drive to Biarritz and then back to San Sebastian on the highway.
Robert2533 is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2011, 12:22 PM
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Robert - thank you! I had seen an earlier train from Malaga on renfe.com, also, but I bet I wasn't using a Sunday date. Looks like that just shortens the layover in Madrid. I am beginning to think I should just look at the airlines - I'll mull that over.
And mega-thanks for the info for driving to Pamplona! That will go into my trip info folder immediately - I was a French major decades ago in college, and recall "The Song of Roland" and the Roncevalle pass! you've just struck a happy memory for me, and I'll be rereading my history to prepare for that part of the drive. Sounds gorgeous, and accomplishes our goals!

Any other ideas?? should my extra day up north be spent Bilbao or San Sebastian?
jo_ann is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2011, 01:16 PM
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If you're going to have a car, then I'd add the extra day to San Sebastian-Donostia. It will give you time to drive along the coast to Getaria, Lekeitio, Elantxobe and then down to Gernika for lunch at Zallo Berri (www.zallobarri.com), one of my favorite restaurants in the area. You also might have time to stop and see the Painted Forest before heading back to San Sebastian. It makes a great day-trip.
Robert2533 is offline  
Oct 4th, 2011, 04:53 AM
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Robert - you've sketched out the perfect day! thank you - and thanks so much for the particular restaurant recommendation. I'll post on our return about it!
jo_ann is offline  
Oct 4th, 2011, 08:21 AM
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Robert is right!
Egbert is offline  
Oct 4th, 2011, 02:42 PM
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The restaurant is run by the Ordorika brothers, Iñigo, who is the chef, and Gorka, the sumiller. We first met them about 10 years ago through another Basque chef friend of ours. Iñigo is rated one of the top chefs in Bizkaia although the restaurant has yet to receive its first Micheline star.
Robert2533 is offline  
Oct 11th, 2011, 12:57 PM
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Sorry for the delay in the response. You are in for such a treat - 2 of my favorite areas in Spain.

I'd add the day to San Sebastian and spend the day as suggested visiting Lekeitio, Gernika and the painted forest or perhaps even consider spending the night in Lekeitio. It's a quaint and typical fishing village and would make the day less rushed - but it is a 1-nighter which I try to avoid. I might even consider cutting a night out of Madrid and adding to the Basque Country.

It may not be possible given the timing of the arrival and the golfing but I'd try to spend an additional night in Sevilla. As it is now you only have 3 nights. You won't arrive until at least mid-day the first day and then have another day planned to visit Cordoba. So that's not alot of time in Sevilla itself unless you are leaving in the late day on the train to Malaga.

I wouldn't worry about the weather. It shouldn't be bad in either of these places. Weather is always unpredictable. I was in Andalucia during Semana Santa and the following week this year where it rained almost every day and was in the 60's. I just returned from the Basque Country where we had sun and 85 degree temperatures for 2 weeks! So, you never know.
CathyM is offline  
Oct 11th, 2011, 06:22 PM
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Robert - I've now gotten a Rand McNally map of just the Pais Vasco and marked your suggested route so I cannot lose it by April - thank you!
CathyM: I know! I really regret so little time in Seville, but wanted to see Toledo, and am trying to do both. Should I cut Toledo?? and unfortunately, the golf is what got this whole trip going (and DH is the one who set it up, so we will want to be on the early side arriving at the villa and therefore, I'm thinking about a 9:30 a.m. train. So, I agree: very little time in Seville itself. Plus, it's the week after Easter - I'm assuming there will be loads of tourists, a further crimp in enjoying the city.
It's amazing to me that we've got 3 1/2 weeks in Spain, and we're still making sacrifices!
I also love the idea of staying in Lekeitio - I'll start looking at hotels there tomorrow. That would make for a very different evening, and would be great fun!
And a big thanks for the weather info - sounds as unpredictable as Ireland!

Any other ideas??
jo_ann is offline  
Oct 11th, 2011, 07:35 PM
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With 4 nights in Madrid at the end I'd probably visit Toledo as a daytrip from there and either add both nights to Sevilla or 1 to Sevilla and another to the Basque country. It makes for a longer day (2.5 hours by AVE train) but it's not too bad if you just head straight to Sevilla at the start of your trip. I do it from the West Coast of the US and it's not that bad - I just take it easy the first night. It's a sacrifice giving up 2 nights in Toledo though - many people do visit as a daytrip but I've actually done as you have planned and spent a couple of nights at the beginning of my trip there. It's a different city after the daytrippers have left. But it's your personal choice on which you prefer to give up - time in Toledo or time in Sevilla.

I wouldn't worry much about the crowds the week after Easter. I've visited Sevilla during Semana Santa almost every year since 2003 - most people will leave on or just before Easter Sunday. It should be a good time to visit as you'll probably see some of the paseos still decorated and on display in the churches.

I have 2 hotel recommendations in Lekeitio:

Hotel Palacio Oxangoiti
http://www.oxangoiti.net/
Excellent hotel located smack in the center of it all. You can even request a room overlooking the main square and church. This place is a gem - I've stayed there the last 2 years when I visited Lekeitio. Only 7 rooms and the family that manages the hotel also lives there.

Hotel Zubieta
http://www.hotelzubieta.com/
Another great choice just a 5-10 minute walk from the center. (But the city is small so it's all relative). Very atmospheric with friendly staff. A little larger with 24 rooms.

You can see reviews on trip advisor for both of these places.
Lekeitio has some cute little restaurants along the shore that offer incredible lunchtime bargains - 11 euro for a menu del dia including beverage with seafood as entree choices that can't get any fresher.

I'm glad to see you're spending time in Bilbao - so many people just visit as a daytrip. I love walking along the river at night watching the lights come on throughout the city - and the Guggenheim is gorgeous at night. I wouldn't miss the Puente Vizcaya and a visit to Portugalete - it's a World Heritage site and an easy subway ride from Bilbao center.

http://www.puente-colgante.com/en/principal.html

I assume you have read mikelg's blog and downloaded Maribels guides - they are my essential tools whenever I visit the Basque region.

maribelsguides.com
http://www.blogseitb.us/basquetourism/

Yes, 3.5 weeks can go very quickly - but I think you've done a great job in resisting the temptation to try to squeeze in way too much. Your itinerary is well paced.
CathyM is offline  
Oct 12th, 2011, 06:04 AM
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Málaga city is excellent, and I think you should at least have a lunch or spend an evening here while staying in Marbella/Puerto Banús. Genuine Andalusian atmosphere, very friendly.

Have the freshest fish and seafood together with predominantly locals in Pedregalejo just east of the city center, taxi around 10€ from central Málaga. Some 15 restaurants along the beach, affordable, high quality and very popular. They've been around for decades. http://www.google.no/imgres?q=Pedreg...1t:429,r:3,s:0

In Málaga city itself (the central area is very compact and walkable), start out with a Málaga wine by the barrel at Antigua Casa de Guardia from 1840. http://www.antiguacasadeguardia.net/home.html

Lots of great tapas bars around. I especially like La Campana just off the central Plaza de la Constitución in Calle Granada (fabulous seafood), and traditional Cortijo de Pepe downstairs in close by Plaza la Merced, 2. http://11870.com/pro/la-campana-malaga/media

Both innovative and traditional tapas at extremely popular Tapeo de Cervantes, just outside the Teatro Cervantes: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Andalusia.html

Casa Aranda, also in the very city center, is one of the two three best and most atmospheric cafés I've ever been to: http://www.casa-aranda.net/

When in San Sebastián, be sure to try out some of the pintxos bars in the Gros area across the city river Urumea. Some of the finest places in town are found in this area. Suggested route: http://www.todopintxos.com/ruta/ruta...cha_rutas&id=6

At least visit legendary Bar Bergara and have the shark pintxo at Garbola (they also do great coctails): http://www.pinchosbergara.com/
http://www.todopintxos.com/bares/bar...ista_bar&id=83

The weather is highly unpredicatable in San Sebastián at this time of year, but in general I would say it's a great time to go. Some of the charm of San Sebastián is the changing weather, and even though you are probably in for the whole package, it will definitely be spring in the air. Past 15 years statistics for the last week of April says daily highs from 13-19C, rainfall four days pr. week and an average of six hours sun pr. day.http://www.wetteronline.de/Spanien/SanSebastian.htm
kimhe is offline  
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