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Sep 28th, 2012, 12:36 AM
  #1
THR
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Itinerary review: Spain/Italy/France

Hi all,

I was hoping to ask your advice and recommendations on part of our proposed trip itinerary. I know it's still a few months away (too many months away!) but we are looking to book early bird fares, so would like to get some advice on our trip planning.

Proposed itinerary is available here: http://imgur.com/hc5kE

My questions in particular relate to our Spanish leg of the journey. So far it entails Barcelona, Sevilla, Madrid and San Sebastian. We were also considering Granada - but think we would need to sacrifice another location, not reduce the amount of time we are spending in the existing locations.

I would appreciate any advice as to whether:

1) We should reduce the number of places we spend time at in Spain (and increase the amount of time spent in the other locations), and

2) Which locations we should/shouldn't be going to (e.g. if some of them are very similar, and one is preferable to another)

3) Whether the proposed order makes sense (we are keen to fly into Rome and out of Paris as it makes a lot of logistical sense for flight timings).

Any information greatly appreciated!!
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Sep 28th, 2012, 01:37 AM
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Sep 28th, 2012, 01:52 AM
  #3
THR
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Thanks - not sure what happened there. Try this one http://imgur.com/DCO6s !
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Sep 28th, 2012, 02:21 AM
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A great Spanish part of your trip, four fantastic and very different cities.

Barcelona and Madrid are the two metropolises of Spain but as different as they can be. Barcelona is capital of the Catalan region which now seems to be closer than ever to seek independence from Spain (read Madrid "domination"), while Madrid is as "Spanish" as it gets. Barcelona is cutting edge architecture, culture, food , the large medieval Gothic quarter, strong regionalism etc etc., while Madrid is world class museums, majestic buildings and squares, and loads of differnt districts giving a kind of small town feel even to the center of town. Fabulous tapas bars, restaurants and nightlife. The Cats (Los Gatos) - as the madrileños are called - don't go to sleep at night.
Great site on Madrid: http://www.esmadrid.com/en/portal.do
and on Barcelona: http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/

Sevilla is the undisputed queen of the cities in Andalucía with a rich Phoenician, Roman, Christian, Jewish, Moslem and Gitano history and culture. Embodies what many foreigners think of as "Spanish" (flamenco, bullfighting etc), and even if this is very much present, Sevilla is a beautiful, diverse and fascinating city where old and new meet almost everywhere.
http://www.andalucia.com/cities/sevilla.htm
http://www.exploreseville.com/

San Sebastián is the culinary capital of Spain if not all of Europe, some of the finest city beaches on the continent, beautiful landscapes, a local culture that people take great pride in and European Capital of Culture in 2016. http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/08/07...tin-spain.html

Acciording to Ferran Adrià, the world's leading chef of the past decade, San Sebastián is the best place to eat in the world "in terms of the average quality of the food, in terms of what you can get at any place you happen to walk into".
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandsty...rink.shopping2

Four totally different cities with very distinct cultures and identities, but - in my mind - all very Spanish.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 03:26 AM
  #5
THR
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Wow, thank you so much for the detailed response. I shall start reading! I appreciate your time and effort!
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Sep 28th, 2012, 04:25 AM
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In my view, the Alhambra is one of the great all time sights in Europe. It has very few -- if any -- surviving equivalents, not only with respect to its history and the sheer glory of its design, but also simply when it comes to "does it repay the effort to get there as a destination?" The Alhambra astonishes. I will say the same of the mosque in Cordoba, which is easily seen as a daytrip from Sevilla.

Personally, were this my trip, I would cut the time from Barcelona and Bordeaux and cheat down the time in San Sebastian, to eke out another 2 nights to include Granada. Another possibility would be one less night in Madrid and then squeezing on Bordeaux and San Sebastian if you have long agenda of sights in Barcelona (not a huge fave or mine, so I'm always willing to spend less time there).

Were it not for the present political situation in Catalonia -- which is fascinating and important -- I would recommend targeting Barcelona for total elimination if you'd rather not squeeze but elminate instead. So eliminating Bordeaux would be my next target if you want to keep Barcelona and add Granada.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 04:27 AM
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PS: I think I would have found it hard to understand Spain as a country without having seen the Alhambra and Toledo in addition to the other destinations on your itinerary.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 04:44 AM
  #8
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Great, thanks for that information. Bordeaux was one of my 'iffy' destinations and I don't really think spending a couple of days in France is justified (might as well do that as part of a separate trip).

On that basis I've modified slightly to include time in Granada at the expense of Bordeaux and an extra day and Paris... which means we will attempt to leave a day earlier (time off work being the biggest issue there!). Update here: http://imgur.com/iJY6P

I may be prepared to also drop a day off Barcelona or Madrid but I am quite keen on retaining all the time at San Sebastian (from what I have read about it) and Sevilla. Also, trying not to do too many short trips and spending at least a couple of days in each location.

So many decisions! Thank you so much for your input!
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Sep 28th, 2012, 04:56 AM
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That looks beautiful to me. If you can live without the extra time in France and save it for another trip, really perfect.

A night tour of the Alhambra is really very atmospheric, and most often very lightly touristed, and it is fabulous to be inside those incredible rooms almost by yourself. I highly recommend including it as part of your trip to Granada. I was fortunate to be able to stay in the parador in the Alhambra, right on the grounds, but there is another hotel up there called America that, last time I checked, got good reviews. If you are only coming into Granada to see the Alhambra, it is can be convenient to stay right on the Alhambra grounds. I enjoyed it.

I too would be reluctant to have pared time off your Spanish destinations, but I do urge you to make the time to see the mosque in Cordoba while in Sevilla. I also enjoy San Sebastian, but i will also point out that if for some reason you find yourself feeling you completed your mission in less days than 3, it's very easy to make an earlier departure from there, and have a meal in Bordeaux en route to Paris or get to Paris earlier.

I want to add that I usually try not to persuade people to add on a destination I adore. But in a lot of travels in Europe, seeing a lot of delightful things, I feel I learned the most about Spain and all of Europe, and a whole different aesthetic world, but visiting the Alhambra and the mosque in Cordoba. They are very eye-opening, thought provoking places, and purely enjoyable on their own terms. All your other destinations are terrific too.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 05:10 AM
  #10
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Thank you once again. I am always keen to hear recommendations from people who really enjoyed and appreciated a place. It clearly helps in designing our own schedule. I had heard so many good things about the Alhambra but you have confirmed that it is something that we must do (it is likely we won't return to that region!). So it's on the list of must-do's.

I will also try and squeeze in Cordoba as a day trip from Sevilla; on researching it (briefly) just now I can understand why you recommend it. It looks beautiful.

Do you think two days (or an evening and a full day, so two nights practically when you take travel into account) is enough in San Sebastian? We do tend to book most of our tickets in advance (hence the early planning) so unfortunately we will be unlikely to be able to just leave early/buy tickets (without forgoing what we would have already paid)... my gut feel is I'd sooner lose a day from Barcelona or Madrid.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 05:42 AM
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The Spain and Italy portions of your trip look good. However, if you are cutting Bordeaux out and allowing yourself only 2.5 days in Paris, I would consider doing one of two things - 1.) finding 2 days from your trip to add to Paris or 2.) dropping Paris entirely and adding the 2 days to somewhere in Spain or Italy. I think I would take the time from Bordeaux and a day from Rome and add it to Paris. It makes no sense to go such a distance from Spain to Paris for 1.5 days
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Sep 28th, 2012, 05:49 AM
  #12
THR
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Thank mamcalice. So many revisions - I've just made an update to drop a day off from Barcelona to add to Savilla: http://imgur.com/tdh4l

Also, I had added a day to Paris so that it is 2.5 days. I know that doesn't do Paris justice but we were in Paris June this year (spent three weeks in Rome, Florence, Paris, London, Amsterdam, and we wanted to return to Rome and Paris for a bit more time).

I agree that 1.5 days would be pointless but the flight from Paris means we can catch both legs on the A380 (silly reason, perhaps); so I've made it 2.5 days now...
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Sep 28th, 2012, 05:57 AM
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THR,

Are you traveling to Sevilla by train through Cordoba? You might be able to leave your luggage at the Cordoba train station and visit the mosque en route -- or on your way out of Sevilla en route to Madrid. You can complete the visit to the mosque in 2 hours from train station-mosque-back to train station, and less if you take a taxi.

Re San Sebastian, People take very different views of this, and I don't know whose view is more like yours.

To me, the food in San Sebastian and the prettiness of the beach promenade is the sum total of the enjoyability of San Sebastian as a destination. If it is raining a lot, that cuts the enjoyment of being there almost by half, although the spectacular food does compensate for a lot.

To others, San Sebastian has nooks and crannies and small museums and it is more than just the beach, plus people frequently go to Bilbao for a day to see the Guggenheim. They are adamant that all the time you can give the place is rewarding -- and certainly if you are a SUPER BIG TIME foodie, you won't get bored being there.

More than once you've stated that you are really intrigued by the prospect of going there, and don't want to cut it too short. I'd hate to think you took my advice and regretted it. It is right at the end of your trip, with no chance for a re-do about the itinerary you've already completed anyway, so I'm inclined to say "go with your gut feeling," invest the time in SS like you planned, and if you're a bit "hmmm-what else?" when get there, you can get out of town for a day trip (my pick would be a wine tour in La Rioja, or a drive down the beautiful basque coast) -- or you might even be able to switch that train ticket with no penalty. Really wouldn't sweat it.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 06:08 AM
  #14
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We love nice food, that's for sure - so it's the primary attraction. We're not really beachy people but we like nice surrounds (who doesn't). And it will probably be a point at the trip where we will just want to chill for a few days, even if that means not doing a lot.

We loved the Cinque Terre and only spent two nights there. I know they're not directly comparable but I think I'd sooner not enjoy it and have more time than enjoy it and not enough.

But you're right - if we do get bored or the weather is less than favourable we can do a day trip, hire a car and go for a drive etc.

As to your question about Cordoba, I hadn't thought zbout it to be honest. Although now you say that I do recall reading you can do it on the way elsewhere, so perhaps that is what we will do when going from Savilla --> Madrid.

I haven't got into the specifics of what to do at each destination; more trying to ensure our book-ends of flying into Rome and out of Paris are feasible and ideal, and then start bedding down days/locations so we can research that detail (plus know to look out for specials and book accommodation in advance). I think I'm pretty happy with this itinerary now though - based on all the feedback. It seems the right mixture of places and time spent in each location.

You're incredibly knowledgeable, by the way!
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Sep 28th, 2012, 06:39 AM
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In my opinion a close to mortal sin to cut a day from San Sebastián, my favourite city on the planet since the late 80's, and my "mission" is yet far from completed

Posted this some days ago:

You have of course the food, the beaches, the parks, the museums, the aquarium etc, but Donostia/San Sebastián is perhaps first and foremost a city celebrating the fascinating Basque culture with much intensity, all kinds of festivals and events in and around the city all the time.

The city is also very much influenced by hosting one of the best jazz festivals in Europe (since 1966) and one of the oldest and most prestigious film festivals in the world (since 1953). San Sebastián thus is a jazz and cinema city, many of the traditional bars originated as "cinema-bars" early in the 20th century, and there are several excellent jazz clubs here attracting top artists. Three great thetaers/concert venues in town, Old world Victoria Eugenia, charming Teatro Principal in the Parte vieja and the huge and modern Kursaal by the Zurriola beach across the city river Urumea.

I love the churches in San Sebastián, especially the Basílica de Santa María del Coro at the end of Calle 31 de Agosto in the upper part of the Parte vieja (the only street of the Old town that was intact after the storming and burning of the city by British troops on August 31, 1813). In here there are often musical events, and if you're really lucky you can hear the plain fantastic city choir Orfeón Donostiarra here. http://www.orfeondonostiarra.org/es/

San Sebastián is a city built on all kinds of societies and clubs. The traditionally men only gastronomical clubs are the most famous. Here men from all levels of society have met on equal footing in the kitchen and around the table for a couple of centuries. http://www.basquestage.com/2011/07/2...nomic-society/

The city pride Real Sociedad play in the same league as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. That means that every second week most of the year, some of the best football teams on the planet visit the city. http://www.realsociedad.com/

San Sebastián is in general a very "sporty" city: Football, tennis, cycling (Clásica de San Sebastián is one of the major one day rides of the year for the professionals), horseraces and lots of traditional Basque sports such as pelota/jai-alai and fierce rowing comeptitions.

San Sebastián is also a "walking city", everybody seems to be walking all the time, either along the beautiful La Concha beach promenade or on the beach itself, along Paseo Nuevo (stunning if the weather is a bit rough) or up at Monte Urgull towering over the Parte vieja (Old town). Several beautiful parks such as Miramar (used to be the kings summer residennce, know the seat for The Society for Basque Studies and the Basque Academy of Science), Aiete, Cristina Enea, Urgull etc. etc.

Every year the Universidad del Pais Vasco and The Society for Basque Studies arrange high quality summer courses, seminars and conferences in a very wide range of topics. Goes on from mid June to mid September. Have atttended several times, and I can reccomend it very much. The courses attract top quality academic and business expertise. http://www.sc.ehu.es/scrwwwsu/index.htm

Last, a vivid expression of the San Sebastián spirit is the annual Tamborrada (drum festival) celebration in mid winter. Here is the city choir Orfeón Donostiarra leading the crowds on the main square in San Sebastián's Old town singing on the occation of the 75th anniversary of one of the city's most famous gastronomic societies (Gaztelubide) during the Tamborrada in 2008: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhncDjXMeQ4

---

I always take first time vistors to the area to a lunch in pictoresque Donibane/San Juan some 5 km east of San Sebastián. Excellent seafood restaurants at the waterfront with great value three course lunch menus with wine included for some 15-20€. The local fish soup is to die for. The bus leaves from Plaza de Guipúzcoa in Central San Sebastián about once an hour and takes some 30 mins. You can also walk here in a couple of hours along the coastline, includes a smalll boat ride from San Pedro to San Juan, takes 2 mins and leaves all the time. http://www.euroresidentes.com/eurore...s/san-juan.htm

Restaurante Txulotxo: http://www.restaurantetxulotxo.com/index.html

All six restaurants in Donibane: http://www.etxekar.net/donigastronomia.html#

--

Good idea to include Granada!

When you see marvellous Alhambra, you should also see the huge and powerful Cathedral, built for the so called Reyes Católicos/Catholic kings (Isabel and Fernando) after they took Granada from the last emir of Moorish Spain in 1492 and ordered the expulsion from Spain of all Muslims and Jews. The same year Columbus sailed overseas on a mission from Isabel and "discovered" the New World. Isabel and Fernando are buried in the adjoining Capilla Real/Royal Chapel together with their daughter Juana la Loca (The mad), her husband and their infant son. Few monarchs have had such impact on history as Isabella (especially she) and Ferdinand. The Cathedral leaves no doubt that they meant business!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_I_of_Castile
Capilla Real: http://granadamap.com/capillareal.htm

You could easily see Alhambra and the Cathedral as two parts of the same story.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 08:35 AM
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I think the weak point of your current version is the 2.5 days in Barcelona. I absolutely adore Barcelona and in January return for a fifth trip in 2.5 years (9 weeks total). So of course this advice is from one a bit obsessed.

2.5 days is just not enough time to see Barcelona let alone experience it. You'll not have enough time to enjoy the key sites, and you'll really have no time to roam the wonderful old city (one of my favorite ways to spend part of a day in Barcelona). You'll also be quite limited on time to enjoy the fantastic food of Barcelona. Of course you'll eat incredibly well in San Sebastian, but Barcelona also has much to offer for food lovers. If you cannot add days back in (completely understandable; you have a list of great destinations to prioritize), I would just delete it from this trip. Add the days elsewhere and save Barcelona for another trip.
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Sep 28th, 2012, 09:34 AM
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Well - I'm not a big fan of Madrid so I would cut time there. And while San Sebastian is charming, and everyone seems to love Barcelona (OK, but not my favorite) I would rearrange your dates.

IMHO by far the best part of Spain is Andalusia and doing Seville, Granada and Cordoba is the absolute minimum. I would do these in preference to SS and think 2 days in Madrid is plenty. (It's the only place I've been in europe - in more than 90 trips - that I wanted to leave early.)
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Sep 28th, 2012, 10:34 AM
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I am so happy you included Granada; the Alhambra is magical and absolute must see.
I visited all locations on your itinerary but San Sebastián. We just returned from our second trip to Spain few weeks ago. I think if you need a day to add to Paris you can take one from your stay in Barcelona. I know it’s not a popular opinion at Fodors. I use to be in love with Barcelona, but found it dirty and tired, not the bright and cheerful city I visited before. Some fountains don’t work (recession?).
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Sep 28th, 2012, 10:58 PM
  #19
THR
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Thanks everyone for your responses. I am absorbing all this great information. As with all trips, it's a bit of a juggling act. I think we're quite close to where we want to be now though; just really need to confirm with myself whether Paris is a necessity or whether we fly back out of Spain.

And as is to be expected, there are many differing views on Barcelona and Madrid.

You have all been so helpful!
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Sep 29th, 2012, 01:54 AM
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And late June in San Sebastián is as good as it gets, summertime and just before the thousands of holiday visitors flock to the city.

Past 16 years statistics says daily highs at 66-74F and 6 hours sun pr. day. The predominantly afternoon and often, sudden and heavy rainshowers add to the San Sebastián experience. People gather under the archways and rush into bars, and from one minute to another the atmosphere changes completely and in very good ways.
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