''northern'' Spain...questions !

Old Jan 25th, 2024, 07:21 AM
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''northern'' Spain...questions !

Hi !
We are planing our annual summer trip. We are 2 adults with 2 teens (12 ans 16 years old). We will have around 27-32 days of travel budget/time. The trip would be in July.
Our idea was to get flight in France (Bordeau, Toulouse or Marseille), rent a car and head to the road ! The choice of our flights will depend of the price. Right now a mix of the three options are the same prices (toulouse-bordeaux or Marseille-Toulouse or Toulouse-Toulouse ...)
We would keep 7-10 days for the France part.
In Spain we want to :
- Pyrénées (We know it's also in France and that part is exclude from the France days)
- North Coast (San sebastian, Bilbao, Oviedo, to St-John)
- Madrid and Segovia then head back to our departure

So we got around 20-24 days for the Spain part. We already been in Catalognia (Barcelona and around) so we dont feel the need to go back there.

What should be on our list ?

Is it enough (or too much) time ?

We dont want to go in Pamplona in early july because of the San Fermin. Are other part around Pamplona also affected by massive crowds during San Fermin ?

Thanks !
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Old Jan 25th, 2024, 07:47 AM
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Regarding Pamplona & San Fermín,
Other cities/towns in Navarra, to the north, to the south or to the west of Pamplona (Olite to the south, Elizondo in the Baztán Valley to the north, Puente la Reina / Estella on the Road to St. James to the west) are not affected from July 6-14, except for towns very close to Pamplona, as in within commuting distance, which will have hotel rates highly elevated during the festival. (I know this from 20+ years of experience)

If your itinerary includes San Sebastián/Donostia & Bilbao in the Basque Country + Oviedo in Asturias and Picos de Europa, ideally the closest French airport would be Biarritz; alternatively, Bordeaux.

I'm not sure what you mean by St. John. Is it St-Jean-de-Luz, St-Jean-Pied-de Port in France? Or do you mean Santiago de Compostela (St. James) in Galicia?

If you're planning to drive from San Sebastián all the way to Santiago de Compostela on the coastal Cantabrian Sea route,
it's a beautiful drive but plan on plenty of time to do this in July at a relaxed pace, as there are wonderful stopping points, and it´s a very popular route in summer (very much high season) and one must reserve lodging far in advance, as the northern coast has become extremely popular with Spaniards from other parts of Spain looking for a "retreat from the heat", especially in July and August!.

Where do you plan to depart for your trip down south to Segovia? Do you plan to end your journey in Madrid and then fly back to your French airport of departure for the return?

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 25th, 2024 at 08:36 AM.
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Old Jan 25th, 2024, 09:22 AM
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Thanks for that answer !
Sorry about the St-John....I've tried (very poorly) to translate St-Jacques-de-Compostelle (french is my daily language !)

We are in the very beginnig of our planing, we dont want to fly back from Madrid to our french departure airport because we will have a frenche car rental that we have to bring back. We would make a one or two nights stop between Madrid and Bordeaux (or Toulouse).

Are we too late for reservations ? I guess it will be very expensive at that time of year......My guess is taht it would still be less expensive than Uk or some other european countries.
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Old Jan 25th, 2024, 09:52 AM
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I that's perfectly ok. I thought that you meant St-Jacques!

No, you're not too late for reservations, but I would secure them as soon as you can.

I would fly into and out of Bordeaux, rather than Toulouse for the itinerary that you are proposing. It's a long drive from Madrid to Bordeaux (I know!), so I would definitely plan to stop for 2 nights along the way.

Or better still, fly in and out of closer Biarritz, but I sense that for many reasons that isn't an option.

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 25th, 2024 at 10:08 AM.
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Old Jan 25th, 2024, 10:13 AM
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Thanks Maribel ! Google says a 7 hours ish drive between Madrid and Bordeaux. We are use to do that kind of driving, but still, we will look for one or two nice stops.
Do you think that 18-22 days for the Spain part is enough ?

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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 04:27 AM
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tostaky,
Coming in all the way from Bordeaux to the Basque Country, then across the Cantabrian coast to Santiago de Compostela (lots of great things to stop & see on this route, 678 kilometers), then from Santiago down to Segovia and Madrid, then all the way back up to Bordeaux,
I think is just too much for 18 days, especially if you want to spend 3 or 4 nights in Madrid at the end (where it will be very hot!)

On the Cantabrian coast I like to stop and look around at the many picturesque villages on this route, some designated as the "prettiest villages in Spain". Santillana Del Mar, Comillas, San Vicente de la Barquera, Llanes, Ribadesella, Cudillero, Puerto de Vega, Luarca, etc.

Maybe for 22, but ideally I would add a few more, especially since the drive from Santiago de Compostela to Segovia will take about 6 hours. (But I like a slower pace and have the luxury of time.)
On that route, Santiago-Segovia, we always stop midway, for example, at the Parador in Benavente.

The Segovia to Madrid part is an easy 1.5 hr. drive.

From Madrid back up to Bordeaux (I think it will take more like 7 hrs. 30 min.), you'll definitely want a stop or two (Burgos & Vitoria, for example) because there is so much heavy truck traffic on those autoroutes. We just drove last week from Madrid to San Sebastián with an overnight in lovely Vitoria. When we came back we stopped for an overnight in the Burgos area. Both cities have magnificent cathedrals and great evening tapas (pintxos) bar scenes.

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 26th, 2024 at 05:03 AM.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 05:20 AM
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Many thanks for that answer and those stop ideas Maribel ! ! We can skip Galicia if it suits our plan better, we still have to decide what our itinerary will be. For now we have a hard time figuring waht can be miss and what can't be !

We realy want to go to Madrid, I know it will be hot, but we love to go to at least one or 2 big cities in our one month trips.

Right now we still have to decide which flights is the best. All those options are the same prices/dates
1) Bordeaux - Bordeaux
2) Marseille - Bordeaux
3) Toulouse - Bordeaux

Those flight would allows us 28 nights for that trip.

Are those Pintxos/Tapas bar allowed kids (ours are 12 ans 16 years old) ?

Thanks once again !
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 05:27 AM
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Yes, yes, yes, pintxos-tapas bars are very kid friendly, a place for the entire family to "hang out" and socialize with friends.

I remarked to my husband this past weekend that in a tapas-pintxos bar, as crowded as it may be, there´s always room for a baby carriage (or 2!).
While we were having a pintxo at the very popular bar of Casa Urola in San Sebastián, a carriage/stroller came in, sneaked behind us, out came the little kid, grabbing onto my husband's legs to steady himself to get to the table behind us, kid propped up at the table with parents and the patrons around the carriage used it as a coat rack. These are places to have breakfast, a mid-morning, snack, lunch, an aperitif before dinner, always for the entire family.

I would certainly opt for 1) Bordeaux-Bordeaux

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 26th, 2024 at 05:32 AM.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 05:53 AM
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I'm already seeing ourselves having (too many) Pintxos and some glass of Rioja.....

If we choose Marseille that would allows us to see some sights between there and norther Spain....My guess is that there's more (and better) to see around Marseille than around Bordeaux.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 06:04 AM
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Near Bordeaux you have the incredible Dordogne and the river Vézère, where you will find beautiful castles and plenty of prehistorical caves to visit. Northern Spain and this area are know as the Sixtine Chapel of cave art in the world. May I add to the great recommendations of Maribel the town of Villaviciosa in Asturias, a paradise for (natural) cider lovers (nothing to do with cider in the US, by the way)
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 06:17 AM
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I'll second Villaviciosa, the Asturian cider capital, and especially the lovely inn, Casona de Amandi, where we stayed for 4 nights (in the family room Indiana), just outside of town and right on the Camino del Norte. Lots of great touring can be done from that central base, both east and west.

If you do enjoy cave art, make sure to plan a visit to the Palaeolithic Caves of Tito Bustillo in Ribadesella, Asturias, on the coastal route. The visit requires a reservation. The "neo cave" in Santillana Del Mar, Cantabria, is a replica, more of a museum, as the original cave is closed to the public. I actually was able to see the original way back in the day, as a kid, right before it closed on an art history trip. I have photos from inside, heaven forbid!

And there´s Las Monedas and El Castillo, a bit of a detour south, in Puente Viesgo, Cantabria (another lovely town, btw)

If you decide not to go as west as Santiago and want to see two more glorious cities of Northern Spain, I would spend 2 nights in León and 2 nights in Oviedo.

León, on the Camino de Santiago, boasts one of Spain's most majestic Gothic cathedrals with spectacular stained glass windows, a lively tapas bar scene in both the Barrio Húmedo and Barrio Romántico, the medieval Hospital de San Marcos, now a government-run Parador, beautifully renovated, the Casa Botines, the work of Gaudí that can be toured, and most importantly for art lovers, the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque Art (frescoed ceilings), the Real Colegiata de San Isidro.

The surroundings of Oviedo have lovely pre-Romanesque churches, and the city is just a great place to be, to relax and has a lively Cider House Row, El Bulevar de la Sidra, on Calle Gascona (there we like La Finca Agrobar) and great pastry shops, like Rialto for its moscovitas and the jewel-like Camilo de Blas for its carbayones (the people of Oviedo have quite a sweet tooth).

I really think you'll need 24 nights and will want to fly into and out of Bordeaux.

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 26th, 2024 at 06:52 AM.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 06:33 AM
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Originally Posted by mikelg
Near Bordeaux you have the incredible Dordogne and the river Vézère, where you will find beautiful castles and plenty of prehistorical caves to visit. Northern Spain and this area are know as the Sixtine Chapel of cave art in the world. May I add to the great recommendations of Maribel the town of Villaviciosa in Asturias, a paradise for (natural) cider lovers (nothing to do with cider in the US, by the way)
We have been to Dordogne for 7 nights last summer. It was great ! So we dont need to go back. And for Cider we also been to Normandy and Britannt last summer to find out that Cider is a big meh for us ! We enjoy craft beer a lot more, but of course it's not a spanish speciality !
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 06:39 AM
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Yes, craft beer is actually another specialty of San Sebastián! It has a thriving craft beer scene. Go to the craft beer pubs in the Gros quarter---Mala Gissona on Zabaleta or Akerbeltz on calle Mari or Basqueland Izakaia on calle Peña y Goñi. If you spend any time at all on the French side, the Pays Basque, another craft beer that is excellent is Bob's Beer, based in Hasparren, but found in many specialty shops.

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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 06:41 AM
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I second the recommendation for a couple of days in Oviedo. We were pleasantly surprised that we loved their city so much and found so much to do there. For one thing, there is a wonderful art museum.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by tostaky
We have been to Dordogne for 7 nights last summer. It was great ! So we dont need to go back. And for Cider we also been to Normandy and Britannt last summer to find out that Cider is a big meh for us ! We enjoy craft beer a lot more, but of course it's not a spanish speciality !
Brittany, Normandy,,,,,,, cider have nothing in common with Asturias and Basque cider. For one thing, it´s not carbonated and it´s naturally kind of sweet, very refreshing and very easy to drink. Nothing like you´ve tasted before. And a 75ml bottle costs around 3eur. Plenty of excellent craft beer in the Basque Country and many other areas of Spain, you´ll be pleasanty surprised.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 06:57 AM
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If you can find a copy of the current DK Eyewitness Guide to Northern Spain, it will give you far more ideas than you have time to see, and some nice photos to tempt you.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 07:20 AM
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Many thanks once again ! It seems that we will have a lot to read and think about !

So I guess most of you would says to keep the france part to a minimum (after all we are on a Spain thread !) ?
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 07:37 AM
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I can't advise you about the France part since I don't know how important it is to you. I can only recommend that for a more complete visit to Northern Spain, which is huge (without venturing over east to Aragón and Catalunya), that you dedicate most of your time to it, if it's the primary goal of your trip.

If you want to visit the Spanish Pyrenees, you have them in Navarra (Roncal Valley or Aezkoa for example) but not as dramatic as those in Aragón (Benasque, Bielsa, Tena Valley) and Catalunya (Val d'Aran, Val de Boí, Alt Urgell, Cerdanya, etc).
Aragón and Catalunya (both French and Spanish Catalunya) for me alone would make (and has made) a great 3-week trip.

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 26th, 2024 at 07:45 AM.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 11:03 AM
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Once again Maribel...many thanks ! Of course we can always choose a small portion of a country and fully enjoy it for 3 weeks. But since we are coming from Canada we cant come every year ! We would keep a full visit of Provence for another trip but yes seeing Camarge, Arles, Nimes is soemthing we are lookinf for. We would do 5 days around Arles, one night in Carcassonne and then go to Spain (through Pyrénées).

From Toulouse we would go to Ainsa (or something around). And stay in Ainsa 3-4 nights. Is it a good location ? We want to see mountains and do small easy hikes . From Ainsa we could go to San Sebastian....

As it is we would leave out Galicia....(the farthest we would go is Gijon or Luarca maybe). Are we missing something we shouldn't miss by doing this ?

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Old Jan 27th, 2024, 12:38 AM
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If you want to see the Camargue, Artes and Nimes, it makes no sense at all to fly into the Bordeaux airport.
I didn't realize that those sections of Provence were a priority.

So... it doesn't make sense to do the Cantabrian coastal route of S.S. through Asturias, Cantabria and Galicia to reach Santiago de Compostela, or to go south to León or Burgos, Segovia and Madrid by starting in Provence. You just wouldn't have the time. That's a huge chunk of territory.

So let's start over:
If hitting a large Spanish city is a priority, it should be Barcelona rather than Madrid if starting in Toulouse or Marseille. (to include Arles, Nimes, Camargue).

If starting in Toulouse you could head south into Spain and traverse the Spanish Pyrenees going west or go in and out of the French/Spanish Pyrenees all the way to San Sebastián, hitting some of the pretty towns of the Pays Basque (Sare, Ainhoa, Espelette), that train ride up to La Rhune (many train up, then walk down), the city of Bayonne, St-Jean-de-Luz, then head back to Toulouse.
but... the autoroute A 64 through Pau and Tarbes back to Toulouse I find not scenic and rather boring,
but.... you wouldn't go east to Provence.

As posters have suggested in your other "Southern France + Spain" thread, starting from Toulouse you could enjoy Cauterets, the catalán Val d'Aran (directly south from the Toulouse airport), the Spanish Pyrenees' Tena Valley for a ride on the Petit Train Artouste and two national parks: the Aigüestortes park in the Val d'Aran (Catalunya) and the Ordesa park (Huesca, Aragón).

I´ve been to Ainsa in the Sobrarbe of Aragón, and it's a beautiful little town popular with hikers.
Vielha or prettier Arties in the gorgeous Val d'Aran, just east, is another option. The driving distance between the 2 is about 2 hrs. 30 min. or more and it's slow mountain driving.
The stone and slate towns of the Val d' Aran (Escunhau, Salardú, Tredós, Unhau, Bagergue) are charming (great food as well) and the mountain scenery glorious. It´s Spain´s premiere ski area in winter (Baqueira-Beret), but I prefer it in summer.

If you can get hold of a France/Spain atlas, you'll see that by flying into Toulouse, you wouldn't be close to Nimes, Arles, Camargue, as it isn't your closest intl airport.
If your primary priority is the Camargue, Nimes, Arles, you should fly into Marseille and head west as far as Barcelona, if you want to hit a major Spanish city at the end.

Last edited by Maribel; Jan 27th, 2024 at 01:08 AM.
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