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abbondanza Dec 30th, 2010 04:28 PM

Spain Itinerary Help, Much Appreciated & Needed
Hello Fodorites and an early Happy New Year,

I’ve been reading all the excellent posts and going through travel books on Spain. I'm overwhelmed now, eh?

We are planning our first trip to Spain in September or October (leaning towards end of Sept. through early Oct. 2011). We are celebrating our 30th anniversary. We’ve traveled to Italy, France, Switzerland and England but never to Spain.

We will have approximately 14 days on the ground. We want to visit Barcelona, San Sebastian and other villages and towns. We love good food & wine, art, scenery, shopping, snooping around, bits of history, and just getting acquainted (hanging out) in the various towns, cultures, etc.

I can’t get the geography and logistics straight. HELP, PLEASE…..What can we cover in 14 days? What are your favorite towns/villages, where should we drive vs taking public transportation, what would be the best logical order for our itinerary? I'm sure it's a bit of mess right now.

Fly to Barcelona – 4 days
Fly to Bilboa – 1 or 2 days
Drive? to Spanish Basque – # of days? (Lekeitio, Getaria, Hondarribia, Bayonne, St. Jean de Luz, Biarritz)
Drive? to French (Pays) Basque Villages - # of days? (Ascain, Ainhoa, Espelette)
Drive? to San Sebastian - 3 to 4 days
Train to Bilboa – depart for home

Thank you so much.

CathyM Dec 30th, 2010 04:48 PM

If you have 2 full weeks you should have adequate time to visit both Barcelona and the Basque country. It will be a little rushed (I could easily spend 2 weeeks just in the Basque country) but not too bad. If you are starting your trip in Barcelona I'd probably budget 4-5 nights considering one day needed to overcome jetlag. I'd then get a flight from Barcelona to Bilbao or San Sebastian (I think it may be less expensive to fly to Bilbao). Once in the Basque country I'd spend at least 3 nights in San Sebastian, 2 in Bilbao, 2 in a fishing village (Lekeitio is my personal favorite but Getaria and Hondarribia are quite nice). That still leaves 2-3 nights for the French Basque country. I've only visited the French side for an overnight one time so I'm not much of an expert on it. But I really enjoyed Bayonne and the fishing village of St Jean de Luz. With 2-3 days you could probably see a bit of the coastal cities and villages. This area can get quite crowded in the summer but my trips have been in late September and I find this time ideal - not crowded and the weather is usually quite nice. If possible you could fly home from Bilbao with a connection in Paris/Madrid avoided having to backtrack on your own.

For the time in Barcelona, San Sebastian or Bilbao you really won't need a car. Parking can be a hassle (and expensive). We've had a car in Bilbao and San Sebastian though as the expense of turning the car in and then rerenting was more expensive than parking the car for a couple of days. I'd suggest a car for the French side as public transportation to the interior villages can be challenging. It would also be nice to have a car on the Spanish side at some point to drive along the coast and also visit some of the interior spots (Gernika, Oma forest).

If you haven't seen Maribel's guides they are fantastic for this area.

abbondanza Dec 30th, 2010 05:54 PM

Hello Cathy,

Thanks so much for sharing you insights!!! I will print your response and make some updates to my itinerary. In the meantime, do I have my French and Spanish Basque delineations correct? Would you recommend visiting the Spanish Basque 1st and then moving to the French side. I was looking at the map, very deceiving though, could you criss-cross back and forth from Spanish to French or would that not be recommended? Sorry, I hope my questions aren't too stupid. Just trying to get as many thoughts and ideas out there as possible so I can review and compare notes.

1. Spanish Basque San Sebastian – 3-4 days of days

2. Spanish Basque - Bilboa - 2 days

3. Spanish Basque - # of days? - (Lekeitio, Getaria, Hondarribia, Bayonne, St. Jean de Luz, Biarritz)

4. French (Pays) Basque Villages - # of days? (Ascain, Ainhoa, Espelette)

abbondanza Jan 1st, 2011 08:30 AM

Happy New Year everyone. The below is very rough. I'm not sure about the sequence below or what is practical. Any input on what I should change, move around and what towns we should visit in the Basque Country or French Basque. Again, I'm not sure what is realistic and where we go 1st, 2nd, etc.

Thanks so much!

Sept 25 Sun Travel Day
Sept 26 Mon Arrive in Barcelona
Sept 27 Tues Barcelona
Sept 28 Wed Barcelona
Sept 29 Thurs Barcelona

Sept 30 Fri Fly to Bilboa or San Sebastian (Bilboa may be less expense to fly into)
Train or drive to San Sebastian
Oct 1 Sat San Sebastian
Oct 2 Sun San Sebastian
Oct 3 Mon San Sebastian (day trip to Hondarribia or visit on the way to the Basque Country)

Oct 4 Tues Drive? to Spanish Basque Coast (Lekeitio, Getaria, Hondarribia, Biarritz)
Oct 5 Wed
Oct 6 Thurs
Oct 7 Fri Drive? to French Basque Villages (Bayonne, St. Jean de Luz, Ascain, Ainhoa, Espelette)
Oct 8 Sat
Oct 9 Sun
Oct 10 Mon Bilboa
Oct 11 Tues Fly out of Bilboa for SF

yestravel Jan 1st, 2011 11:30 AM

I think this looks pretty good. I agree about not wanting a car for Bilbao or San Seb. You dont need a car while in either city. Bilbao was not too bad and parking was reasonable, but can't say the same for SS. It was very expensive to park in San Seb and the traffic was a zoo. Also they kept closing roads for races and such making it even more problematic to get around. The one thing I would add is to try and take a trip into the hills--its is so different from the coast and rather interesting.

I would suggest picking up a car as u leave SS and driving thru the villages on the French side -- they are just charming and the scenery is fabulous.

What u might consider is going to see French Pays Basque and then driving back to Bilbao checking out the coast along the way. That way u would consolidate the time with your car. Having it in French Pays Basque and for the Spanish Basque coast is useful.

abbondanza Jan 1st, 2011 03:00 PM

Hello yestravel, thank you so much. It's pretty been quiet out there in Fodor Land. I know it's New Years though.

I like your idea about driving into the hills outside of San Sebastian. I will do some research but thought I would ask you if you had a favorite spots or areas.

I think I'm still a bit confused as to the best order to visit the French and Spanish Basque areas. Would you recommend driving from San Sebastian to French Basque then Spanish Basque and back to Bilboa? In my original post, did I match the right towns to the French and Spanish Basque regions? Sorry, I seem to have so many questions right now:-).

Thank you again...

ourstar Jan 1st, 2011 03:33 PM

You will find Spain fascinating. We were confused with the many choices as you may be, but decided to follow tour outlined by Rick Steves' Andalusia; however, started with 6 nights in Madrid for jet lag, the museums, bulls, restaurants and city highlights. Drove to Toledo for 2 nights (don't miss this) and drove the rest of the way ending in Sevilla; train to Madrid. 18 days late May. Excellent roads; only 1 toll.

iris1745 Jan 1st, 2011 03:38 PM

You may already have this web site, but if not you will find very good downloads.

yestravel Jan 1st, 2011 04:22 PM

Maribel's guides are great to give u an idea of what can be seen in the various areas in which u r interested.

I suggested the order of Bilbao, bus to San Seb, then pick up a car and go
east into Pays Basque. Then circle back with your car to the Coast and hills and end in Bilbao where u said u r flying home from. Doing this saves u from having a car in either Bilbao or San Seb where u don't need one.

I think u properly matched the towns with the parts of the Basque countiry.are in. perhaps looking at a map would give u a perspective of the different villages and their respective locations. Also, pls note that is BilbAO -- will need the correct spelling as u look for information.

We stayed several days here and did some nice day trips from the hotel. The owners were great giving us places to check out.

kimhe Jan 2nd, 2011 07:53 AM

Normally much cheaper to fly from Barcelona to Bilbao. Direct bus from Bilbao airport to San Sebastián in 75 minutes with PESA:

abbondanza Jan 2nd, 2011 11:37 AM

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for your comments and suggestions. I have bookmarked the Maribel Guide and will devour that:-). Really appreciate the recommendation, yestravel, on the order/sequence of towns to visit. Thanks also kimhe on the flight and bus tips. I'm feeling like things are starting to take shape and make a little more sense. I need to get a better map. I have the Fodors guide to Spain but the maps are a bit deceiving.

I've been reviewing other posts looking for hotel and restaurant recommendations. I have a good list of restaurants in the Basque regions. Does anyone have recommendations for good restaurants in Barcelona. Also, any hotel recommendations in Barcelona. What area would be most central and desirable to stay in?

In my country...we say mille grazie:-)

danon Jan 2nd, 2011 11:58 AM

The very center of Barcelona is Plaça Catalunya (or Plaça de Catalunya) , most hotels not far from it would be
One's budget might limit the choice of a hotel.

yestravel Jan 2nd, 2011 01:32 PM

This trip to Barcelona we stayed in the elBorn area and were very happy there.

For trip planning I use google map alot and it helps me to get the perspective of where different towns are and how far they are from one another.

oopsy Jan 2nd, 2011 05:01 PM

We did not have a particularly "foodie" vacation in Barcelona so I don't have a great set of recommendations for you. We did a lot of eating some place near wherever we were when we got hungry, and often had small dinners in our apartment. Maribel's guide will have a lot of information on restaurants. Barcelona also gets a good bit of attention on the Chowhound Spain/Portugal board:

Two non-restaurant but food recs for you: Formatgeria La Seu, a phenomenal Spanish cheese shop with excellent and affordable cheese tastings, wine, vermouth, and fabulous cheese ice cream. Bar Zim is owned in part by Katherine, the owner of Formatgeria la Seu, and is just a couple of doors down. It's a very, very tiny but lovely wine bar with selections of Katherine's cheeses and embotits. It's a lovely place to stop in before going out for dinner.

abbondanza Jan 12th, 2011 11:15 AM

I’m back and unfortunately, still somewhat confused. I’m also feeling the pressure to get this finalized sooner than later as I know hotels, etc. book quickly. We will be traveling in September 2011. We are planning to spend 4-5 nights in Barcelona and 6 nights in the Basque Region. We know we want to spend some nights in SS but don’t know if we should make that our home base for the entire 6 nights or split it up between by staying in the French (Pays) Basque Region.

My other dilemma is that I’m not sure where and when to pick up and drop off a car, or if we should. Based on previous recommendations we don’t want a car in SS. Arrrggghhhh, your input is so appreciated and needed.

We will fly from San Francisco and thought we would start in SS but don’t know what makes sense in terms of the car, etc. We aren’t thrilled about taking a bus from Bilbao to SS but not sure if there are any other options. I’m guessing we will fly out of Bilbao to Barcelona, stay for 4/5 nights and then back to SFO.

Some of the towns we thought we would like to visit (too many to see, on one trip) are listed below. In terms of different sights and scenery, distance, priorities, what would you recommend we do as day trips or over-nighters and in what order so we aren’t backtracking.

Pasajes De San Juan (6 miles from SS) – tiny, picturesque fishing village
Hondarribia (Fuenterrabia) 20 min from SS – (One of the most beautiful villages in Spain)
Lekeitio – how far from SS? (charming fishing village)
San Jean De Luz, Biarritz? Sare/Sara

Thanks in advance!!!!

abbondanza Jan 12th, 2011 11:20 AM


CathyM Jan 12th, 2011 12:36 PM

It looks like your trip has shortened from 14 days in Spain to 10-11 days. Is this correct?

If so, you're going to have to cut some of your original plan for the Basque country.

With 6 days personally I'd stay at least 3-4 in San Sebastian. The bus from Bilbao to San Sebastian isn't bad at all - it runs hourly and takes just over an hour. You could easily stay the entire 6 days in San Sebastian using it as a base. Or you could take a couple of days and stay in a smaller village. It will be pretty quiet in the villages in September (when I usually visit). Another option would be to spend 1-2 nights in Bilbao. It's a great city and beautiful at night. A car wouldn't be essential but it would be nice particularly if you wanted to venture along the coast or into the French side.

abbondanza Jan 12th, 2011 01:12 PM

Hi CathyM! Thanks for always being there...My mistake. We are still looking at 14 days. Don't know what I was looking at or thinking. OK, sounds like the bus is the way to go and not so bad. Thanks. Should we make SS our first stop or not? Would you recommend day trips from SS via public transportation or just stay visit SS, rent a car (where, in SS) and then visit the smaller villages and towns. Drop the car back in SS and bus back to Bilbao? I'm not sure what makes logical sense logistically and when and where to pick up and drop off the car. Sorry to be some dense..

yestravel Jan 12th, 2011 01:44 PM

I would rent a car to visit the villages. It's much easier to go from village to village at your own pace which a car would allow u to do. I would not spend the entire time in SS. Why not go into the French countryside and spend a couple days there. Otherwise stay a couple nights in Bilbao which I also really enjoyed.

abbondanza Jan 12th, 2011 04:02 PM

Thanks yestravel! Any recommendations on where to rent a car? I know that sounds like a vague and stupid:-) question but if there are recommendations for one place over another that would be great. I guess we would pick it up in SS and then drop it off there?

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