Northern Spain in April

Dec 27th, 2007, 05:59 PM
  #1  
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Northern Spain in April

My husband and I will be traveling to N. Spain in the last two weeks of April. We're flying in and out of Madrid, and will plan on spending some time there. We'll also spend 4-5 days visiting friends in Barcelona.

I have a couple of questions. First, though we love art, music, food, and architecture, we also love to be outdoors hiking and biking. We spent a week in Provence a few years ago (based in a small town, Lourmarin), and we absolutely loved experiencing life in the French countryside. We have considered doing something similar in Spain, perhaps in Rioja.

We'd like to rent a small flat, or house, where we would have access to appliances for preparing simple meals with local goods. I'm having difficulty locating rental properties, and would appreciate any help on this matter. Also, I'd love some suggestions on what to do and see in the countryside, including suggestions about what vineyards to visit.

In addition, I would like some suggestions on spending time in Madrid. Again, I'd love to rent a flat...we did this in Paris and really preferred this mode of lodging over a hotel. Specifically, I'm wondering how much time to dedicate to Madrid, and what sites to see while we're there.

Any assistance would be much appreciated, as this will be our first Spanish adventure!
lauraslp is offline  
Dec 27th, 2007, 06:16 PM
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First of all, why not consider flying into Barcelona to visit your friends and leaving for home from Madrid, thus saving have to backtrack on your final day in Spain. After all, you only have two weeks.

Madrid can easily consume 4 or 5 days without any problems.

The Rioja is good for another 4 to 5 days if you really want to spend the time exploring the area. The only accommodations available in the Rioja are small rural hotels in the Alta or Alavesa, or the larger hotels in Logroño

I suggest you take a look at Maribel's Guides for a better understanding of these areas before you make your final plans. You should find the guides useful.
Robert2533 is offline  
Dec 27th, 2007, 06:39 PM
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If you love art, food and architecture, you will love both Madrid and Barcelona.
You can easily spend a week in each city with a few side trips.
In Madrid we rented a place from Spain Select.
danon is online now  
Dec 27th, 2007, 07:17 PM
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For the first trip to Spain, I would not spend a week in the country. Enjoy Madrid and Barcelona and some of the surroundings towns and the time will pass quickly.

If I were to spend a week at one spot in Spain it would be on the coast in the North.
Aduchamp1 is offline  
Dec 27th, 2007, 09:33 PM
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Northern Spain encompasses a pretty huge area, and I can hardly think of only one perfect spot to stay in.
My preferences would tend towards Galicia/ Santiago de Compostela, but you could as well praise Bilbao and the Basque Country.

The North gets far less visitors from abroad than Madrid, Barcelona, or the South (or Provence in France) -- so some basic command in Spanish will help. This will be especially the case when you rent a rural finca or similar and don't have hotel personnel to ask or to turn to for assistance.
Cowboy1968 is offline  
Dec 27th, 2007, 10:08 PM
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Download for free The Maribel's Guide to Basque Country & Rioja. It's very helpful.
http://maribelsguides.com/mg_pais_vasco.pdf
Revulgo is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 02:02 AM
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Two weeks less 4-5 days visiting friends in Barcelona and 3-4 days (minimum) for Madrid (w/Segovia and Toledo) don't leave you much slack for Northern Spain. Santander (aka la Montaña) is my favorite destination on Spain's north coast. Nearby there's Comillas (Gaudi's Caprichos), Santillana del mar, Limpias & Bilbao and Potes, Capital de Liebana.

You may not be staying in one place long enough to merit renting a 'small flat or house.' There is a program: 'Casas Rurales' where you stay in a house on a 'working' farm. Google: Casas Rurales for more info.

When I visited the Mercado central in Bilbao, I promised myself that if I go back I would rent a place with kitchenette to prepare some of those great Chorizos & Morcillas that I couldn't bring back with me.
NEDSIRELAND is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 06:23 AM
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I also like staying in apartments - but had a very hard time finding anything in Northern Spain. There are some rentals in the coastal areas but not a lot inland.

I did manage to find an apartment to rent in Haro, in La Rioja. We did not stay there, but now I wish I had. We stayed in one of Maribel's recommendations and while it was an OK place, it was just that - OK.

Here is the link for the Haro apartments if you want to check it out:

http://www.destinorioja.com/restauracion/default.html

There are a lot of wineries in the town of Haro.

I could spend weeks in Madrid - spend at least four or five days there. There are lots of rentals available in Madrid, fortunately.
rialtogrl is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 07:29 AM
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rialtogrl, where did you stay in the Rioja that was just "OK"? We've stayed at several places in the Rioja that where fairly nice, for the price, and would recommend them all.
Robert2533 is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 07:53 AM
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The Picos of Europe, has you considered this. We had such a loely time in Hotel del Oso, Cosgaya, near Potes.
They are indeed spectacula.This region is heaven for mountain climbers .The Oso is absolutely charming its cuisine is so famous people como from all over Spain just to eat there. It is not expensive, the matter in fact it is inexpensive but of high quality. It is a family run stablisment, it has an annex which is even better for me.

Graziella5b is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 08:32 AM
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Robert, I am hesitant to post the name of the hotel we stayed in as I really feel that our less than stellar stay there was more due to personal preference than the hotel itself, and I am not giving the hotel bad marks for this. It simply was not our cup of tea. I wrote a good review of the place on slowtrav, even though I didn't like staying there too much. While it was "just OK" to me, it would be great for other travelers. I'll send you the link to the review if you want.

I agree with Graziella about the Picos - for hikers, I can't imagine a better place, and I loved the town of Potes.
rialtogrl is offline  
Dec 28th, 2007, 05:02 PM
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I' m not sure what your priorities are, but based on what you've said, I arrive Madrid, do Madrid [2-5 days], fly or train to BCN [2-5 days] and then rent a car and drive to San Sebastian, Bilbao, etc. Then fly back to Madrid for trip home.

The Picos are sensational but trying to fit them in with Madrid and Barcelona in limited time is a bit of challenge. However. should you get there, you can jump between the mountains and the coast. It's probably time to put some transit time in your planning.

Check my writeup of San Sebastian at http://marshlands.blogstream.com/

You really can't lose wherever you go. Just don't go crazy getting from place to place.
weber6560 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 11:36 AM
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For nice, cheap, cozy and warm accomodation in the rural Basque country, try www.nekatur.net, a great way to stay in this beautiful area
mikelg is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 06:20 PM
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Thank you all for your suggestions. It's given me alot to think about. I have a few further questions...

I have been looking at options about how to get from place to place and I'm thinking that flying is the way to go on my way from each major stop to the other (i.e. from Barcelona to Madrid, etc.). Just needed some confirmation on this, as we've relied on train travel during past European vacations.

Also, Rialtogrl, I saw that apartment during earlier searches and was a little suspicious b/c it seemed so great for such a reasonable price. Any thoughts on that?

I will definately consult Maribel's guides for further information on these regions.

I would appreciate any continued advice on others' favorites in these areas.

Thank you all for your help! Happy travels to all!
lauraslp is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 07:41 PM
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Hey Laura,

I don't think the Haro apartments are especially cheap - the price seems about right to me. One thing I don't know is, where exactly the apartments are - it would be really cool if they are within walking distance to the town square and restaurants.

Maybe someone who is very familiar with Haro can answer this question, or you can ask the renters.

You won't be able to fly there though.
rialtogrl is offline  
Jan 4th, 2008, 01:34 PM
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Hi lauraslp,
Just a few thoughts about all that has been suggested above-

As Cowboy1968 says, you can't go wrong anywhere in northern Spain.

However, given your time frame, I also agree completely with weber. Yes, Santiago de Compostela in the far west is enchanting, as are the central Picos de Europa, but trying to fit in either would be a challenge and not the best option for your alloted time.

The two areas that would fit best into your itinerary are those closer EAST:
the Rioja or the area around stunning San Sebastián.

I do know Loumarin in Provence. The two villages in the aforementioned areas that would be similar in "countryside feel" (if not in look) that you enjoyed in Loumarin would be:
Laguardia in the Rioja

(population: 1,545), a fortified bastide town with the Sierra de Cantabria as its backdrop, surrounded by vineyards, with plenty of both avant-garde and traditional wineries to visit.

Hondarribia on the Basque coast

(population: 13,974), a highly picturesque fishing village near the French border-a 20 min. drive from San Sebastián.

Both are accessible in one day from Barcelona by car (a 5 hr. drive to Laguardia, 6 hrs. to Hondarribia) or by air.

To the Rioja, you could fly to Logroño's airport, but there is only ONE daily non-stop arriving at 8:40 p.m. I would drive from Barcelona.

The airport serving San Sebastián is located in Hondarribia, with 5 daily non-stops. Iberia is the carrier for both.

Train service is not best for the north.

Regarding flat or house rentals-

Unfortunately, none in Laguardia but two, new, small houses are available in smaller Elciego, an 8 min. drive away. Elciego is home to the new Frank Gehry City of Wine for the Marqués de Riscal winery.

The "Txoko del Inglés"
http://tinyurl.com/228g52

and "La Cueva"
www.turismorurallacueva.com

I do know Haro well. It lies 35 min. west of Laguardia. I personally find medieval Laguardia more charming, attractive, atmospheric, but Haro does offer the apartments. I have listed them in my revised Rioja guide but have yet to inspect them. I shall in March.

These new Señorío de Haro loft apartments are located in town (not down by the wineries), a 5 block walk from Haro's central square, Plaza de la Paja.
They were done by Pedro Ortega, the antique restorer and designer of the Hospedería de Casalarreina and Hospedería Señorío de Briñas, two B&Bs nearby, members of the Rusticae group of charming hotels. The tariff is indeed inexpensive for the amenities provided. They have yet to be reviewed (only listed) on
www.toprural.com

But again, I personally prefer to base in a hill town encircled by medieval walls, surrounded by vineyards, with mountains at my back, rather than in the hard-working, early-to-bed town of Haro on the plain. Laguardia does have grocery stores, wine shops, bakeries, bars, restaurants (Mayor de Migueloa, Castillo de Collado, El Medoc Alavés) and 4-5 hotels. Elciego, 8 min. away, is much smaller, with limited shopping and *extremely* quiet at night.

In Hondarribia, the Hotel Jauregui in the town center has fully equipped apartments (daily cleaning, WiFi)
www.hoteljauregui.com
Or a Basque farmhouse, a 5 min. drive from town in the hills on the road to Mount Jaizkibel (hiking, biking) has
an apt. with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, kitchen, living room with TV and WiFi. This is an example of the "Casa Rural" that NED mentions and a member of NEKATUR, recommended by mikelg.
www.tzxenduneabe-azpi.com
Hondarribia has a lively pintxos (tapas) bar scene in the evenings, and you can travel to S.S. by local bus.

All of the above properties can be rented by the day in April.

But as Cowboy1968 says, a basic command of Spanish is very helpful.
As you see, their web sites are in Spanish, not English.

Now, having said all that (!!), if you would consider adding a third (small) city to your itinerary, logistically San Sebastián, the jewel of the northern coast, would be the best fit. Some of the world's best food, lively nightlife, beautiful expansive beaches. And Friendly Rentals and Perfect Places offers apartments/villas.

Fly immediately from Madrid to Barcelona, visit your friends, fly to S.S. (Hondarribia airport), stay in S.S. for 4-5 days (no need for a car), fly back to Madrid and end your vacation there.

Just a few options to consider...
Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2008, 02:04 PM
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Oops, sorry weber, that was you who so rightly said you can't go wrong wherever you go in Northern Spain. I wanted to tell you that I just loved your extremely well written description of San Sebastián, my very favorite Spanish cityˇ
Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2008, 03:44 PM
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lauraslp,
The proper url for the Nekatur casa rural in Hondarribia should be:
www.txenduneabe-azpi.com

These Basque names give me fits!
Maribel is online now  
Jan 4th, 2008, 06:59 PM
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Miribel: Thanks for your comments on my San Sebastian write-up. You made my day, week, year! Thank you. Sanse is truly special.

El Pais Vasco reminds me in many ways of my childhood in Southwestern Louisiana in the US in the '40's and 50's. "Language, heritage, and cuisine'. There was the local language, "Cajun French" but that was frowned upon. There was a fabulous cuisine but since it involved crawfish, gumbo made of local animals,, and spicy etouffee, it got no respect out the area. However it was not as difficult as the Basque county - nothing was ever outlawed and people did not die. However, like the Basque ways, it is now making a comeback. French is now taught in the schools and the old folks are passing it on. Mardi Gras in the "country" [as opposed to the debacle in New Orleans,] is based on the customs of 150 years ago. The music is entirely in French [ala Cajun]. In the little town of Eunice [pop 2,000] 500 mounted riders in full costume tour the countryside on the "Courir" reenacting the old tradition of the poor asking the landed to give them something to eat.That has evolved into a delightful scene of well-oiled riders diving off of horses to chase live chickens thrown from the houses of the 'rich". [Duespues de 3-4 horas of cerveza and vino, los caballeros no estan muy agil. Es muy comico!] But the important thing is that here is a people who are fighting for their language, their cuisine and their customs. You are immediately captured. [I found it to be much the same with the Maya in Guatemala altho they are losing the battle.]

As an old man, my typical travel is two weeks of study at a Spanish school. In San Sebastian it was Lacunza, staying with a local family [26 Boulevard was not a bad address in SS] and then I head out for another two weeks doing one day at a time. This last trip, Belen, at "Totally Spain" was indispensible. I'd call when getting on the the train and when I arrived I call again and she would have the reservation for me. Her personal experience as a native of the Bilbao area, of living in
Boston, managing a major NGO, and speaking more languages than I would ever hope to attain was invaluable. She is a treasure.

However, I suspect no one has done as much to educate people on Spain as you have. Bless you! [And Penelope Casas as well!]
weber6560 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2008, 07:14 PM
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Hi Weber,

I also enjoyed your writeup of SS tremendously! It makes my desire to visit it even stronger!

I also want to second your comments about Maribel. Although I have only begun to scratch the surface, she has been such a big help in my travels!
cruiseluv is offline  

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