Northern Spain Itinerary Help

Old Feb 20th, 2024, 10:21 AM
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Northern Spain Itinerary Help

Hi all,

This forum is great. I see so much on Southern Spain, but we are planning a trip to Northern Spain, and I was hoping for some feedback on the itinerary I am proposing. Some background information – My husband and I are coming to visit my son, who will be working as a student teacher in Avila. He is done on May 31st, so we thought we would do a week of traveling without him, pick him up in Avila and then travel another week all together. We love to take road trips, so driving is a pleasure, not a chore.

Two years ago, we spent two weeks exploring the Azores – hiking, eating and just exploring the little towns all over the islands. We climbed to the top of Mount Pico and then rewarded ourselves with lots of wine tasting and food 😊 We loved it, and we feel exploring Northern Spain will be a similar adventure – cooler and less crowded with ocean, mountains, and lots of beautiful nature.

The itinerary I am proposing has a lot of moving, but not long distances each day. I would be happy to get feedback on the overall itinerary, and particularly the second half of the trip.

We would like to rent a car and make the following stops:

Fly into Bilbao on Saturday, May 25 - drive to San Sebastian

San Sebastian (2 nights)

Haro (2 nights)

Salamanca (1 night)

Avila (3 nights May 30 - June 1) – pick up our son. Take a day trip to Segovia

This is where I would really like some guidance:

Leon/Oviedo – would really like to see both places. In Leon we would like to see the cathedral and have dinner in the historic district. Is one night enough if we leave Avila in the morning? We also want to visit Oviedo. Should we skip Leon? Or stay one night in Leon and 1 night in Oviedo?

Then we aren't sure if we want to stay in Ribadesella or somewhere nearby for a couple of nights. We would like to do the Lakes of Covadonga Hike, the Ruta del Cares (one way) and canoe down the Sella, so we think Ribadesella may be the best place to stay, but we are VERY open to suggestions and recommendations in this area. Oviedo seems a little too far away. Most of the tours meet in Arriondas.

Bilbao (June 7 & 8)

Fly out Sunday, June 9

Any thoughts or recommendations you would be willing to share would be very much appreciated.

Thank you so much!!!


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Old Feb 20th, 2024, 11:40 AM
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May 25--are you arriving on a short European flight or coming over transatlantic?

I ask because...have you considered flying into Bilbao and taking the Pesa bus from the airport to San Sebastián (1 hr. 20 min.) and be "car free" for your 2 nights in San Sebastián? www.pesa.net. Perhaps the bus schedule doesn't work with your flight arrival?
Even though it's a fairly easy drive, we haven't wanted to do it after flying in from the US crossing several time zones with a plane change or two. Jet lag quickly sets in although it's only an hour, 15 min drive on the busy, heavily trafficked AP-1 toll road from the Bilbao airport to the center of SS. But perhaps you're coming in on a short European flight???

We were very recently in SS (we go every year or twice a year) and can assure you that street parking is virtually impossible in all neighborhoods (except by the U. which isn't handy), and garage parking will cost 25-30 euros/day. We just gave in and paid for garage parking at our hotel only because we drove from our new Madrid home to S.S. and had 2 overnights going and coming, a road trip.

If you were to take the bus to SS you could pick up your rental car upon leaving SS for your drive to Haro (it's a closer drive to Haro from Bilbao but for the same reason, I wouldn't recommend flying into Bilbao and then immediately driving south to Haro unless you arrive on a short European flight with no jet lag).
The SS to Haro drive will take, w/o stops, about 2 hrs. or a little less.

Haro to Salamanca---is the reason you're including the Castilla-León cities of Salamanca and Avila in your Northern Spain itinerary so as to pick up your son in Avila on May 31? And to do the Segovia day trip?

The drive from Haro through Burgos and Valladolid will take about 3 hrs. 30 min. Are you going to Haro specifically for wine touring? If so, you have several centenary wineries to choose from in the Barrio de las Bodegas in the lower town (with parking)----Gómez Cruzado is a personal favorite. There and at Rioja Alta, also a favorite, one doesn't need to take a lengthy 2-hour tour but instead can sample wines at their wine bars or on their outdoor terraces, if you hit a beautiful day.
The Eurostars Hotel Agustinos in the upper town does offer parking in an adjacent garage for 15/day, says the web site.

For me it would be a shame to spend only 1 night in gorgeous Salamanca (where I was a student) but.... it can be done since the distance between Salamanca and Avila is fairly short, a little over an hour (I've driven it). And the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca is magical at night. When we drive from our home here to Salamanca we stay at the Hospes Palacio de San Esteban, which is easy to reach and has garage parking.

For me (and this is not my trip!) both León and Oviedo deserve 2 nights each. But... it seems that you are fine with traveling at a much faster pace than I am, so ignore that!
Since I have a car in both cities there are so many interesting excursions to take in the surrounding area but I'm not limited as to time.

Yes, you can see León's cathedral and the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque Art, the San Isidro Royal Colegiata, in one day and at night have tapas in the Barrio Húmedo or Barrio Romántico (both have atmospheric tapas bars---León is another city of the "free tapa" with each drink ordered).
With a car you'll need a hotel that's easy to access with garage parking. We've stayed both at the newly renovated historic Parador (a dream of a Parador and a national monument) and when it was closed for renovation, the NH Collection on the Plaza Mayor in the Barrio Húmedo, both with parking. The Parador is far easier to access in a vehicle.

You can visit Oviedo's Mercado Fontán (fishmongers' stalls are amazing!), the Campo de San Francisco city park, the cathedral and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Oviedo in one long day, but there are also 2 majestic pre-Romanesque churches outside of town and one within the city limits that you might want to see.
But again, if you enjoy a fast pace, it's doable although you would need 1 full day.
In Oviedo I highly recommend that you spend the evening on the lively Calle Gascona, the "Cider House Row", or the Bulevar de la Sidra, to see how the locals enjoy the cider drinking and tapas evening ritual there. There will like La Finca Agrobar.

Please do NOT base in Oviedo to accomplish all of that on your wish list in the Asturian side of Picos de Europa. I've done the (rather boring) Oviedo to Cangas de Onís drive several times, it´s not scenic, and it's just much too far to use as a base.

I know the Picos well and have done the Cares Gorge. Hiking is a dream in the Picos (much more extensive than around Oviedo).
One way in the gorge will take a good chunk of your time, even though it's only 11 km. but it gets crowded and you´ll have to arrange transportation from the end at Caín de Valdeleón (actually in the province of León) back to the beginning in Poncebos, to the east of Cangas.
I've also done the Lakes (drive up is hair raising) several times but haven't done kayaking in Arriondas (yes, that's where the companies are based).
You would be far better off staying in Cangas de Onís to accomplish 2 if not 3 of these goals. You can't accomplish this from Ribadesella as it takes too long to get down to Arriondas and Poncebos from the coast to do these outdoor activities. When I did the Cares and the Covadonga Lakes with a walking/hiking tour company, we based at the Parador outside of Cangas, but we had a support van to facilitate all this so it went very smoothly.
Cangas de Onís has several hotels in the center of this busy market town and taxi companies to help you with transport for the Cares gorge since you hope to do it only one way. Some jeep companies that do the Cares gorge transport--
https://www.vivepicos.com/en/
https://fronteraverde.com/actividades/ruta-del-cares/

It´s very happy that you have your final 2 nights in Bilbao, as it´s a wonderful, vibrant city with lots to see and do, as our Bilbao native, mikelg, will tell you.

Last edited by Maribel; Feb 20th, 2024 at 12:34 PM.
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Old Feb 20th, 2024, 12:11 PM
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Just back from Oviedo and Cangas de Onís, this last town makes the perfect place for all the activities you plan to do while in Asturias. I also stayed in beautiful León last November as a weekend getaway (I live in Getxo near Bilbao), and stayed at Hotel Spa QH, right (very) next to the roman walls and next to a big outdoor parking lot where we parked for 3eur per day. And with a free Spa for guests!

As per the rest of the infos requested...just follow Maribel´s sound advice!
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Old Feb 20th, 2024, 12:19 PM
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Great, mikelg, I'm putting the Hotel Spa QH in León on my list. Thanks!
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Old Feb 20th, 2024, 02:48 PM
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Mirabel,

Wow! This is SO much great information and exactly what I was looking for. We are coming over from Montana - so we do have a lot of flying prior to landing in Bilbao. The bus is a good suggestion. I was hoping we could see Getaria, but we could always see it on our last day there, after we've picked up the car. Thank you for your suggestions in Rioja. We are hoping to sample the different wines of the area, but don't necessarily need an extensive wine tour. The Bodega's sound perfect.

We are going to Castilla-Leon to pick up my son in Avila. I was thinking that he would have probably already visited Salamanca (which is very high on my "to be seen list") and would not want to go with us, so I was trying to fit it in prior to picking him up. His last day of teaching is May 31, so we thought we might get to Avila the night before and stay one night after. I would really like to be able to spend two nights or more at all the stops, but we have about 15 days, and I have had so much trouble deciding what to keep and what to bypass. Do you think it would be better to try to do 1 night each in Leon and Oviendo or skip one and stay two nights in only one of the locations? Actually, I'm thinking... maybe we can do one night in Leon and 2 nights in Oviendo then 2 nights in Conga de Onis. These are very hard decisions!!! I would like to get to Bilboa with time to see the Gugenheim and explore the old district just a bit. Our flight leaves early Sunday morning.

It looks like Zenit Experiences can coordinate the Caras Gorge hike and the kayaking - I was hoping to work with them to do both. And then take the bus up to the Covadonga Lakes hike, which I think we can catch from Congo de Onis.

Your suggestions have been very helpful. I wish I had a month for the journey, but my boss would be very unhappy with me being gone that long.

Thank you so much.

Annalee

Tentative Itinerary:
Bilbao/San Sebastian
San Sebastian
Haro
Haro
Salamanca
Avila
Avila/Segovia
Avila
Leon
Oviedo
Oviedo
Conga de Onis
Conga de Onis
Bilbao
Bilbao
Depart


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Old Feb 20th, 2024, 02:55 PM
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Thank you MikelG! I am wondering if we have to choose between either Leon and Oviedo or Oviedo and Cangas de Onis. Such a hard decision!
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Old Feb 20th, 2024, 10:38 PM
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Careful with the spelling, as you may be using Google Maps or other navigator and some people have told me they did not find the place: Cangas de Onís, Bilbao and Ruta del Cares (for your hiking in Picos de Europa). Oviedo is very nice, León is equally great, so both cities should be on your list. I love Villaviciosa as well, on the way from Oviedo to Bilbao. And in Bilbao, do not miss the old quarter, the obvious Guggenheim, the funicular of Artxanda, amazing Azkuna Zentroa, the center of the city and its beautiful arquitecture (in Gran Vía, on the pedestrian area, there´s a statue dedicated to John Adams, as he came to Bilbao in 1780 with John Quincy and Richard, his two sons, on his way to Paris, and stayed a few days). Outside the city, the unique Puente Bizkaia (aka Hanging Bridge) is a must, UNESCO World Heritage Monument.
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Old Feb 21st, 2024, 01:23 AM
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Yours will be a very long flying day from Montana with multiple plane changes and over many time zones, so I would certainly consider the bus to SS.
See the schedule from the Aeropuerto Bilbao to Donostia-SS here.

I agree with my friend mikelg that both cities are wonderful to visit, so do both.
Pick up some "Moscovitas" (chocolate covered almond cookies) at the Rialto pastry shop in Oviedo (or in Cangas) and in Oviedo visit the exquisite pastry shop of Camilo de Blas for carbayones (almond boats), featured in José Andrés & family go to Spain, along with the cider house on the Bulevar de la Sidra, Calle Gascona, where the family got together with their relatives.

If you had 2 nights in Oviedo, you might have time to visit the wonderful pre-Romanesque churches of Santa Maria del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo, just outside of the city.
For Oviedo lodging you'll need one with a garage, like the venerable Eurostars de la Reconquista or the neighboring Barceló Oviedo Cervantes or the Soho Boutique that has parking 100 meters away for 11/night (mikelg may have another, better option)

Yes, your son will no doubt have already visited Salamanca from Avila.

Regarding small Getaria, which is charming, you could see it after you pick up your car in SS. Park your car down by the pier and fish canneries (paid meter parking) and go up the stairs and take a walk around. There are several gourmet shops selling the local tinned anchovies and txakolí (the Basque white wine from this area), restaurants with their special fish grills outside, a beautiful church (Iglesia de San Salvador), pintxos bars..It was the home of costume designer Balenciaga (with costume museum to his name) and navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano.

The Alsa-run bus is a much better way to get up to see the Lakes of Covadonga. Here's the schedule. And private vehicles are not allowed to go up to the lakes during certain periods (see mikelg's posting below)

Coming from Montana, I think you'll fall in love with the majestic beauty of the Picos de Europa National Park. And this area has a Celtic feel (witches, bagpipes and all--the music of bagpiper José Ángel Hevia).
Stop in at the beautiful gourmet shop, La Barata, on the Main Street of Cangas de Onís to see the bounty of local products, especially the Picos cheeses, orujo, sausages, fabada beans, etc. This lovely decorated shop is a delight. Sunday morning is market day here.

From Cangas de Onís (not Oviedo) to Bilbao you won't be passing the cider capital of Villaviciosa (too far to the west).
From Cangas de Onís to Bilbao (under a 3-hr drive) I see 3 possibilities for a stop, considering that you'll want to get to Bilbao to start enjoying seeing places on mikelg's fine list:

On this direct coastal route, Cangas de Onís to Bilbao, you could
1. take the short detour north off the autoroute to Ribadesella (there's parking near the lonja that's usually easy)
2. or instead in stop in Llanes to a look around (parking is tough, though)
3. or San Vicente de la Barquera in Cantabria (easier to negotiate), where we've stopped for lunch at Las Redes and a walk along the beach up to the castle, Castillo del Rey
(Santillana Del Mar for me is extremely touristy during the day and best seen at night, more atmospheric, when the bus tours have gone and the souvenir shops closed up but the Colegiata cloister is beautiful)

Zenit Experiences is a company I'm not familiar with but it looks like it can take care of all your Picos activiities.

Hope this gives you more ideas.

Last edited by Maribel; Feb 21st, 2024 at 01:53 AM.
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Old Feb 21st, 2024, 01:31 AM
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Also, take into account that private vehicles have been banned from driving to the Covadonga Lakes in high season due to massive traffic issues in a protected area (June 1st to Sept 30), and also on these dates:

Holy Week: April 1 to 9, May 1st,October 21,22,28,29,30 and 31, November 1st, December 2nd to the 10th,July 25 (Shepherd's Day) and September 8 (Asturias Day).
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 06:18 PM
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Mikelg,

Do you mind if I ask where you stayed in Cangas de Onis and Oviendo?

Thank you!
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 06:25 PM
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Updated Itinerary

Thank you so much for ALL of the great information. Based upon your feedback, we have added several days to the overall itinerary.

Updated itnierary is:
San Sebastian - 2 nights
Haro - 2 nights
Salamanca - 1 night and a late departure the following day
Avila - 3 nights with a daytrip to Segovia
Leon - arrive early from Avila and stay one night
Oviedo - 2 nights
Canga de Onis - 2 nights
Ribadesella (or somewhere in that area) - 3 nights to relax, see the caves and enjoy the ocean
Bilbao - 2 nights

With such a long (and expensive) flight, we decided it was just worth it to stay a little longer and have time to enjoy the area. Thank you so much for all your feedback and suggestions. I can't tell you how helpful it's been.

Annalee
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 09:33 PM
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Originally Posted by amccarthy844
Mikelg,

Do you mind if I ask where you stayed in Cangas de Onis and Oviendo?

Thank you!
No problem at all. In Cangas it was a small hotel, El Torreón, simple and clean and central. In Oviedo, I´ve frequently stayed at Hotel Fruela and it´s been very good, also very centrally located.
Spa available at its sister hotel right in front, Hotel Munia (a bit higher class).
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 06:03 AM
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If you need lodging in Haro you may want toconsider the 3-star Hotel Plaza de la Paz right on the main square in the upper town. It has a parking garage options not too far away.

I love Ribadesella on the coast, and it's nice that you've added 3 nights there to relax and especially to see the Tito Bustillo caves, which are the REAL deal!. Great dining there as well in all price ranges.
We've stayed at the Villa Rosario palacete at the beach, but friends have loved a Casona Asturiana member, La Raposera, not far away in Caravia, where on this road you'll pass by many of the elaborate indiano mansions. It gets great reviews and is moderately priced--and like the Villa Rosario, it's an indiano mansion (much smaller and less ornate) with lots of charm.

In Avila you definitely will need lodging with ease of parking, as I'm sure your son has told you! Parking in the historic quarter can be a nightmare (recently done that!)

Last edited by Maribel; Feb 26th, 2024 at 06:28 AM.
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Old Feb 29th, 2024, 07:32 PM
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Many years ago I stayed for a couple of days in the lovely Parador in Cangas de Onis and did the Covadonga Lakes by bus.
If you can stop for a day or two in Ribadesella I highly recommend Villa Rosario, what a lovely place!
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Old Mar 1st, 2024, 07:49 AM
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If you're considering the Villa Rosario Palacete, be sure not to book the modern annex that has been added fairly recently. The original manor home has all the charm, and now even has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Ayalga. It may be out of your price range, but there are other lodgings on the very same street, such as the Don Pepe.
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Old Mar 1st, 2024, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Maribel
If you're considering the Villa Rosario Palacete, be sure not to book the modern annex that has been added fairly recently. The original manor home has all the charm, and now even has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Ayalga. It may be out of your price range, but there are other lodgings on the very same street, such as the Don Pepe.
For sure make sure is the Casa de Indiano, not the annex. didnt try the restaurant for dinner but the included breakfast was very good, had the best arroz con leche Ive ever had
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Old Mar 1st, 2024, 09:14 AM
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cruiseluv,
Another great place to dine in Ribadesella in the same neighborhood is Quince Nudos, if you are a fan of rice dishes for which the chef, Bruno Lombán excels. It has a Guía Repsol recommendation. Closed Tues.

Meant to add the Villa Rosario has added a new lodging, the Chalé Antiguo de Zabala. Another indiano mansion.

Last edited by Maribel; Mar 1st, 2024 at 09:48 AM.
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Old Mar 1st, 2024, 04:23 PM
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Gracias Maribel, I might be in Ribadesella in May for a hiking trip , will keep this recommendation in my file!
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