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Trip Report: 17 glorious days in Northern Spain

Trip Report: 17 glorious days in Northern Spain

Old Sep 1st, 2008, 09:07 AM
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Trip Report: 17 glorious days in Northern Spain

My husband and I spent a glorious 17 days and nights in Northern Spain between the 5th and 24th of June. I had been working up to this trip for some 5 years or more keeping notes and files, reading posts, casting and recasting the itinerary and all the effort paid off with a terrific trip.

As everyone else from this board who travels anywhere in Spain, I too must thank first and foremost Maribel, our Spain specialist whose advice was worth its weight in gold. I also need to thank some unknown poster (I print off posts and reports and then take with me only the parts pertaining to my itinerary and try as I may, I cannot find where this one came from) and give credit to "the pilgrim who walked the Camino del Norte," whose brief impressions of various villages along the coast caused us to detour and see many perfect little places. Thanks also to Bobthenavigator who steered us to Viana do Castello in Portugal, DH's favorite town of all. Just wish Bob had had the great weather we got when we went there a week or two after he did. And thanks to all the rest of you whose posts I read and clipped and took with us whose info and insights saved us countless snafus and unveiled much beauty-and good food.

Report organization
Because my reports always get long, I'm going to try to break this up a bit and label so those of you reading can find what interests you and skip that which doesn't. I intend to provide info on:
- Places, sights and scenery
- Lodging
- Dining
- Observations, insights and possibly useful information.
So, before I lose my ambition, here is my report of our trip to Northern Spain.

Places, sights and scenery

In all we traveled 2741 km by car, stayed in 7 places, and made stops of some duration in 45+ places, flying in and out of Madrid and from Vigo back to Madrid, and parceling out the time as follows:
Rioja area with winery visits- 3 nights
Santandar and Cantabria- 3 nights
Ribadesella and Asturias- 2 nights
Ribadeo- 1 night
Santiago de Compostello- 3 nights
Galician coast and a snippet of Portugal- 3 nights
Madrid- 2 nights

I'll stay with these groupings as I provide info about stops along the way. FWIW, we thought the groupings and the amount of time in each place worked out quite well. And I would recommend the basic outline to anyone with similar time to spend.

Rioja area

I'd once planned to do a whole wine tour of Spain, moving from cava country in Catalonia to Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Galicia for the albarinos (forgetting sherries of which we're not fond) and I'm glad we didn't do it that way. That would be just too much. But the three days we spent in Rioja with a bit of Ribera del Duero thrown in was just right. In fact we're now convinced that the area has it all over Napa and Sonoma for beauty of scenery and of wineries and compares more than favorably for actual product.

We flew into Madrid and immediately picked up our rental car and headed to Aranda del Duero. We found the scenery enroute attractive and loved the red poppies by the side of the road, ala Tuscany in the spring. Enchanting. We got off to a bad start with the town, however, and couldn't find the charm of the place, so we moved on to the outskirts and the lovely Hotel Torremilanos for lunch. Thereafter the scenery started to become even more beautiful with blue grey mountains in the distance pointing to pouffy white marshmallow clouds, yellow and green fields undulating over hilly terrain, and periodic spurts of blue flowers along with the vivid red poppies. This was to be the pattern in Rioja as we moved from vista to vista, each more beautiful than the last.

A word here about Rioja tourism. This region of Spain has a terrific tourism department. They publish wonderful, classy, useful guides to wineries, to hotels, to restaurants. Maribel told me to write/e-mail ahead for them and they were the best. I think them far better than those distributed by the national tourism office of France, as a comparison. I urge anyone traveling to this area to read Maribel's response on my post inquiring about Rioja wine tourism. Search on the title Spain wineries--Ribera del Duero and Rioja (my apologies for still not learning how to insert searchable links in posts)

Towns and places we saw in Rioja

First the "also rans":

Azofra- a pitiful little town on the pilgrim path, only spent time there because it was the site of our hotel for the first three nights.

Casalarienna- site of a restaurant we went to. Cute enough for a walk through while waiting for the restaurant to open on our first tired night in the country. Saw our first stork nests there. They have as many or more in this area on the roof tops of churches and other tall buildings as we saw in the villages of Alsace.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada- Nice enough medieval village with narrow streets and old, old buildings (but very much in need of repair if they are to become a big time tourist destination) and not just one but two paradores. Church where they have the chickens (long story about the crowing of a rooster saving some poor soul's life) was overwhelmed with tourists and they didn't allow photography so we only saw the exterior.

Najera- a nice little town spanning both sides of a river with a beautiful, over the top small church, Santa Maria le Real, with gold leaf covered altar and magnificent tombs, and a graceful, delicate cloister.

Fuenmajor- Location of another restaurant where we dined. It has a very nice large church fronting a large square with a fountain with a grape sculpture denoting its reliance on wine to support their economy. The square being put to good use by the local populace as children played and the grown ups gathered at a windowed bar set right in the square itself. Felt neighborly and homey.

San Vicente de la Sonsierra- also a nice little town with an interesting central square and fountain with swans and grapes. Balconied houses brimming with flowers.

Abalos- We investigated this cute little place because Maribel stays at the cute little hotel just up the street from the cute little local church which is tended by a cute little bent old lady who speaks no English but offers her services. After hilarious pantomiming by her and me we concluded that she was offering to turn the lights on in the church to illuminate the altar for pictures for a small, voluntary donation. Nice service.

Samaniego- Site of Bai Gorri winery and nothing else to my recollection

Elciego- Site of two wineries, the under construction Antion and the highly acclaimed Riscal, designed by Frank Gehry. Town itself seemed to offer little/nothing in the way of scenery or services.

The very good and the best:

While we found most of the above worthy of the visits we paid them, we found the following even more interesting and I would recommend them more highly if you have limited time.

Haro- Scene of a swell uphill town square with our first sighting of banks of glass balconies and home of three nice wineries we photographed, Heredia, Penalbe de Lopez, Muga and Bilbanio.

Briones- an almost Disneyesque small town over looking the largest wine museum in the world, Dinastia Vivanca. The town was preparing for a festival and so was filled with wine barrels and old carts in appropriate places, making it all the cuter and more appealing. Two wonderful churches with gold leaf trimmed altars. Great views of the Rioja valley from its vantage point on a hilltop.

Logrono- I believe this is the largest city in Rioja. It has a modern shopping district, lovely municipal parks and then an old town with narrow medieval streets and great tapas bars. We were there for lunch on a Saturday and though we were, as usual, early for lunch, the streets and bars were already starting to pack up with locals and tourists and street musicians. I can only presume that the carnival atmosphere continues throughout the day and reaches some kind of crescendo in the late evening/early morning. Even at late morning it was fun and the tapas was fantastic. Calle Laurel and the surrounding streets are lined with bars each serving their special brand of tapas, and some good and some very bad wine, but lots of fun.

Lagaurdia- actually a Basque rather than Riojan city, is the center of more wine production in the area. It is near several wineries, most notably Vina Real and Ysios, the Calatrava beauty that captured our hearts and our eyes. The city itself is walled with narrow streets, nice flower-covered balconied houses and great views down over the valley if you step outside the walls.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2008, 09:13 AM
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Wineries and our experience with Riojan wine touring

We were wowed, blown away by the beauty of the area. We were also stunned by the beauty of the wineries themselves. These people are really investing in winery architecture and it’s incredibly exciting.

We have sightseeing ADD and are really bad at guided tours. We’ve also already done a winery tour or two and know how wine is made, etc. so we were not hot to take guided tours in order to see wineries and taste the wines. We wanted to photograph the exteriors (and interiors if possible) and move on, not spend hours at each place. We were afraid that wouldn’t be possible, but except for Vina Real, we were able to get our photos and even a tasting or two without being roped into a 2 hour or more tour. Some of that was probably pure luck—and the kindness of strangers, but I think our experience may be repeatable by others who don’t want to spend hours and hours touring wine caves.

All in all we saw up close or from a distance 10 wineries—11 if you count Torremilanos where we dined in Ribera del Duero.

By far the most exciting was Ysios, the Calatrava designed enormous place near Laguardia where the undulating roof is supposed to represent the surfaces of barrels stacked on their sides, and also seems to mirror the shape of the mountains against which it stands. My description will not do the place justice but it appears that the roof is made of silver or aluminum squared but hollow tubes piled sideways against each other to cover the structure. The central area has copper colored accents around the cathedral glass that reflects the surrounding vineyard-covered terrain. Somehow the squarish roof tubes that face you as you see the building full on, make it look in real life as in pictures as if you’re viewing something with very large pixels that don’t let you see the smoothness of the roof. That’s it. It’s not smooth. It’s like squares piled next to each other. I give up. It’s just fabulous. You must see it.

When we saw it, the winery itself was closed. But we parked, and walked through the open vineyard toward the place and watched it reveal itself increasingly at every step. It was phenomenal. I would certainly have liked to have been able to see the interior as well, but the exterior alone was worth the trip—not just the day trip to see it, but the whole trip to the Rioja area. It’s that spectacular.

The other wineries where we spent most time walking around and checking things out were:

Heredia Penalbe de Lopez in Haro—which was also closed. However, again we parked nearby, walked about the paved grounds and photoed the elegant old buildings. We also pressed our noses to the glass of the new tiny glass tasting room designed by Habib, the Iraqi woman architect who’s starting to get big time recognition worldwide. As we looked longingly inside, the young lady who was cleaning the place came out and asked if we’d like to step inside to take some pictures. Would we ever!!! And we did. Interesting modern space incorporating an old art nouveau bar with wooden canopy. Great stuff.

Darien—newly built, all white—inside and out—multi-angled concoction atop a hill near Logrono. We missed the tour—oh, shucks—but the nice young girls in the lobby said we could stroll about the display of wine amphora and even invited us into the sterile tasting room for a taste. This tasting room is incredible. It’s also all white and set up like a classroom complete with individual sinks and a light next to each tasting station so you can see the color of the wines to advantage. It’s way cool. We purchased some of their very reasonable wines which were very beautifully displayed in their entry room.

Dinastia Vivanca—is the largest wine museum in the world, located just outside the cute little town of Briones. Here we did the tour, but luckily for us, it’s self guided and we could go at our own pace. Everything is top drawer--movies, displays of everything wine, from corkscrews to esoteric wine-making equipment, and a garden of the various vines for the grapes that Spanish wines are made of. There is a beautiful gift shop with wonderful wine books and a nice tasting area as well as a restaurant. Two of the most interesting things there were outside—the entrance sculpture of a hand holding a bunch of grapes next to a brick wall with a cut out that frames a real life picture of the Riojan vineyards with an ancient church in the background and a children’s play sculpture fashioned to look like a bunch of giant purple grapes to crawl through with a yellow slide for a stem.

Muga in Haro was also closed but we were able to park and take pictures of the place which is a nice blend of old and modern with interesting horse sculptures at the entry.

Bilbanio, near the train station of Haro, made for colorful photos, as did Antion in Elciego. We couldn’t have gone into the latter even had we wanted to. It’s not yet finished.

Bai Gorri outside Sameniego is an amazing piece of minimalist art. Like the Johnson Glass House, this is the Glass Winery. The top floor is completely glass. You can see through it from every angle. And there’s nothing inside. It’s strictly an enormous entry to the actual working, seven story, gravity flow winery which lays beneath. The only ornamentation is the story-high lettering of the Bai Gorri name on all sides of the glass building. We walked around it to photo from various angles and drove to the vineyards below to get a feel for the height and gravity principle of the place. Magnificent.

Vina Real, we were able to see only from a distance. They post guards and permit admission apparently only for those with appointments.

Marques de Riscal was both a highlight and a letdown. To assure ourselves the opportunity to see the Frank Gehry designed hotel, we obtained reservations for lunch there. The place has lovely grounds, a very nice garden and is more set up for tourism than other places we visited. The look of the hotel is arresting with its pink, silver and light gold titanium swirling sheets that look like they’re flying every which way. But after the initial excitement you realize that it is pretty much just Bilbao Guggenheim light—a variation on an earlier idea, not something completely new and matched to the surroundings like Calatrava’s Ysios. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun experience. It just wasn’t something totally new and different. And the front view of the place is marred by long, narrow parking lot filled with cars leading up to it making it hard to get a good camera angle on it.

The interior is appropriately lovely though it also felt a bit empty. As a hotel, you’d expect to see a few folks coming and going. We only saw one other couple and a couple of staff. We stopped in their two story wine bar before our lunch reservations but I found it a bit stark without even wine bottles in evidence, just a stripped down blond wood bar, some banquets, small tables and steel chairs. There is a patio outside the winebar with nice views of the small old church in Elciego, making for good contrast with the modernity of the hotel. And the restaurant where we dined —1860, their more casual place—was very nice. See dining section of this report-- as soon as I finish it. All in all, the place is certainly worth seeing. It just didn’t knock my sox off the way I was expecting it to—and the way Ysios did.

To sum up the Rioja wine touring experience, I say again, the place overall is fantastically beautiful both naturally and architecturally, and there are many charming small villages that would be well worth a visit even if there were not a single grape around. Go.

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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 09:15 AM
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Cantabria and Santander

We spent three days in Santander, using it as our base to explore Cantabria. The first day was spent driving from Azofra to Santander. I’d hoped to return to Basque country and do some stops along the coast east of Santander but wet weather, slippery roads and major parking problems in Castro Urdiales and Laredo foiled my plans. We arrived about noon and explored the main area of town before returning to the hotel for naps as rain continued. We stayed in the Puerto Chico area right on the harbor which was a nice central location with good views and proximity to good restaurants. Much more about them in the dining section of this report.

Day two was June 10 and the peak of the Spanish truckers’ strike. We kept hearing reports of blockades in Barcelona and other cities, but saw nothing of it in Santander and so took off for a day of sightseeing.

Suances—was our first stop outside Santander on the coast. We saw there the adorable, flower bedecked hotel I’d first thought to stay at but was glad we hadn’t when I saw what a distance it was from either the town or the beach. What a shame. My discarded hotel aside, Suances is an attractive little beach town that I can feature jammed in July and
August, Cantabria’s major tourist months and apparently the only months warm enough for swimming.

Santillana del Mar—another place we’d thought to stay and been dissuaded from based on helpful advice from this forum. It’s a wonderful place to visit but I don’t think it would be as nice to stay three days in as Santander was. As advertised, it’s a very touristy town. Cute, medieval but very hard to walk in for all the ancient cobblestoned streets. Before entering the city we were cursed by a gypsy beggar to whom we denied the coinage she felt she deserved. Nonethless we had a pleasant time exploring the town with its many touristy shops and seeing the cloisters of the ancient church. The place is supremely colorful with pots of flowers on every balcony and brightly colored washing hung almost strategically here and there as if commissioned by the local authorities to improve the scene for the picture-taking tourists.

Comillas—afforded us a Gaudi fix. We parked and trudged up a small hill to El Capricho, one of his first commissions. It has turrets and is covered in ceramic tiles primiarily in green and mustard with sunflower designs. It’s now a restaurant but unrecommended for food, so we contented ourselves with photoing its exterior. Nearby is the Palacio Sobrellano, home of the Marques of Comilla with Gaudi designed interiors which we could only see by shameless window-peeping as we arrived during the lunch time closing. It too is a fanciful place with great gothic arches and tracery. Nice views down the hill to the town.

San Vicente de la Barquera—is a nice port with a fine plaza major and a great stop for lunch recommended by Maribel. You know, I’m starting to recognize how much time we spend eating during our travels. As I look back through my notes for information on sightseeing, I’m finding it far less voluminous than information on our dining.

More Santander
Day three in Santander had been planned for a return to the Basque seaside, fishing villages that we missed on the drive up from Azofra, but the gas shortages looming from the truckers’ strike caused us to rethink and spend the day in Santander itself. Not a bad decision. There’s plenty to see in Santander. For starters it has a great covered market—with meat, cheese and veggies on the upper floor and fish below. We were afraid that the simultaneous fishermens’ strike we were hearing about would have left us nothing to see on the fish floor, but au contraire, or whatever they say like that in Spanish. There were plenty of fish, causing us to wonder if the strike was over or if Santander was filled with scabs who were boycotting the strike. We never figured it out, but we were selfishly (sort of an appropriate word) glad that whatever the reason we’d have plenty of fish for dinner.

We shopped the pedestrian streets, took in the only statue of Franco still standing in Spain, checked internet messages, ate, napped and then drove over to El Sardinero beach area for a late afternoon walk about. El Sardinero is actually a part of Santander but apart from the shopping and harbor areas. It’s parklike with beautiful condos and apartments lining nice beaches (that are posted with overpowering signs filled with “shouldn’ts”—you can’t do this, you can’t do that, etc, etc.) The signs are tastefully designed but a trifle off-putting and create a kind of unfriendly feeling. The beaches themselves are, however, pristine and beautiful and the homes across the street give the area a sort of Deauville quality. There’s a lovely park at the end of the peninsula called Magdalena beach. There is a great castle built in 1908 where the royalty came for the summer. It’s surrounded by hydraneas giving it a Nantucket-like feel. Before you get to it, however, you’ll pass an area with sea-lions and old ships that would surely interest children even as it interested us. There’s also a nice conference center a short distance from the castle. All in all, a lovely place for an afternoon walk.

In summary, we found Santander to be a nice, larger city to contrast with the small towns we’d been in in Rioja. Its position on the sea, and our hotel’s position on the harbor was also a nice contrast to the hills and vast expanses of Rioja. We liked both.

More to follow as soon as I rest my weary fingers.
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 11:14 AM
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just read your notes on Santander . Thanks , we are going there in 3 weeks !
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 11:43 AM
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Danon, glad for you. I'll try to hurry my report along and give you some info about restaurants there. It's a great city. Enjoy.
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 12:24 PM
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Great start Julie---I love the format and have always liked your travel style.
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 12:37 PM
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Asturias with Ribadesella and Ribadeo

We drove through tiny Andrin enroute to our Asturian base of Ribadesella but I was sad not to be lucky enough to see the blow holes that my northern pilgrim had spoken of. We did have a beautiful view of the ocean with rolling waves but I’d sure liked to have seen the blow holes.

Llanes on the coast was one of our favorite stops. It feels like a larger city, has wide streets even in the old inner city, a 14th century church, nice art nouveau style post office, a very nice wine bar right in the middle of town and plenty of nice looking restaurants. It also has a nice harbor. (Perhaps, I’m beginning to overuse the term “nice.”) Only problem was parking. Not sure if the place we found was legal but we got in and out without difficulty and I was grateful for that. DH is an impatient driver and an even worse parker, so if there’s not parking immediately available, we may leave town without a stop. That’s what happened to Castro Urdiales and Laredo enroute to Santander.

We moved on to our base for the next two days—Ribadesella. I’d read mixed reports about the town. We are on the side of those who are positive. In fact, we liked it a lot. I wish it were in a more accessible area so we could visit often. We loved our hotel. (More raving on that to follow) but we also liked the town. It sits astride a river, with resorts on one side and the downtown, commercial area on the other. In the hot sun, the walk from our hotel on the resort side to the other part was more than I wanted to tackle so we drove, but it would be walkable for the less faint of heart. The resort area had a lovely promenade directly on the sheltered bay surrounded by hotels and mansions of the fanciful type called Indianos—multi-story places with towers, etc. built by locals who made their fortunes in the new world and brought the money back to build their dream houses in their native land. We felt completely at home in the commercial area of the town. It’s small and infinitely walkable, has a large square at the center where the local kids play ball and adults take coffee and drinks at the surrounding bars. There are also plenty of places for eating and imbibing facing the water and the resort area on the other side. Nice little shops, well kept and cared for.

Day two of our stay in Ribadesella was devoted to exploring the interior and the Picos de Europa. We liked it, though I have to admit we probably didn’t do it justice. Others have written about spending days in the area. We were content with one. We are more sea than mountain people. That’s just how we are and what we like. While we’d intended to drive beyond Covadonga to the two mountain lakes, we gave that idea up and spent time only in Cangas de Onis and Covadonga.

Cangas de Onis held a bonus for us. It was the festival of St. Antonio, the patron saint of the town. Many of the local women (and even a few men) were attired in typical Asturian costume, the women in black beaded scarves and men in appliquéd outfits. Very colorful. By 9:30 a.m. there was already a group that had been drinking at the main street bar for a while. We observed the locals for a while, got a few to pose for us, then took pix of the Roman bridge with the alpha and omega cross having from one of the stone arches, and also of the hermitage on the edge of town and then moved on.

Covadanga is a mountain church where the faithful are bussed for mass even on weekdays. As you approach the church, you see a smaller church/hermitage with waterfull built into the rocks where the virgin appeared to tell the warrior Pelayo to take a stand and fight the Moors. Below are two stone lions in peaceful pose like the one carved in the rock at Lucerne to honor the Swiss guards. The larger church is quite grand and makes for a nice stop, possibly for a prayer for safekeeping on the further ascent up the mountain. While the scenery was quite spectacular, the weather was a bit foggy and overcast so we gave up our quest for more elevation and descended to a one star restaurant in the middle of nowhere that I’d nonetheless hoped to find. More on that later.

I expect that my brief time in the Picos de Europa (and my even briefer review) will disappoint those who urged us to go there. We did enjoy the bit of it that we saw and we’re glad we went, but we’re also glad we reserved the bulk of our time for seaside pursuits.

Villavicosia—was, however, not one of the better seaside towns we pursued. Unable to find the charm, we moved on to strike paydirt, scenically speaking at……

Cudillera—We loved this town. It reminded us of Vernazza on the Cinque Terre, at the base of a long drive down to the sea with delightful restaurants and bars clustered at the bottom of a steep hill, just inviting you to stop, eat, drink, make merry and enjoy. Luckily we scored a parking space, in a town where they are in very short supply. This place is a poster child for the kind of colorful fishing villages that we love. Truth to tell, there’s not a lot there. But you just want to sit down, relax and be a part of it all.

Luarca—was another, nice seaside fishing village kind of a place. It being Saturday and springtime, there was a wedding at the town church and though we didn’t get a glimpse of the bride and groom, we were treated to the guests in all their wedding finery assembled at the church door waiting for the presumably happy couple to emerge from the signing of the papers. Apparently Spanish women really dress for these occasions. There were lots of long dresses, super big hats, long dangly earrings and hooker shoes all over the place. Great people watching. Fun bars lining the harbor with colorful boats here as well.

Ribadeo—was not our favorite, town or hotel. It did, however, afford us another opportunity for people watching as a wedding was also in full swing at the parador where we stayed. This one was a bit more sedate than the one we observed in Luarca—until about 3 a.m. when the reservation faded away and the noise continued.

The town of Ribadeo appeared sad to us, faded and in need of rehab. Case in point, the 1905 built modernist building with a fabulous copper colored tiled roof and seemingly no upkeep whatsoever. The building could/should be a showpiece, facing the central town park. Instead it’s a run down, bedraggled orphan badly in need of repair. This is a town of potential, but apparently completely unrealized.

Praia de Catedral—just outside of Ribadeo, further along the coast, is a beautiful, area of natural cliffs on a par with those in Etretat, but if anything higher and more water-carved. Made the stop in Ribadeo almost worthwhile.

Our guidebook raved about Viviero and Ortiqueira along the Rias Baixes. We found them ok, the former with a decent pedestrian street and an ok promenade along the biaxes, but not overwhelming. We did, however, enjoy very much the beautiful scenery as we drove along. Hydraneas everywhere, reminded us of Normandy and Brittany, beautiful tall pines and umbrella palms, and estuaries of water and swamps and greenery everywhere caused us to finally understand the meaning of “Green Spain.”

In that vein, we loved Cedeira—a place with a nice harbor and large central square where lots of townspeople were assembled for Sunday lunch at the various restaurants surrounding it. Nice park areas as well.

Tomorrow Galicia and Santiago de Compostela.
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 01:02 PM
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Hi Julie,
You're doing your usual wonderful job with this great trip report! I'm enjoying every word, of course!

The Asturian blow holes are in Puerto de Vidiago to the east of Andrín (a nice walk down to them from the Casa Poli restaurant) and also at Gulpiyuri, a beach in the middle of a meadow!, to the west of Llanes, which is an amazing sight. For your next trip, I'll give you detailed directions to reach both, as they're just very hard to find, with really poor signage!

Love that you found Cudillero to be like Vernazza. It has always reminded me of a CT village.

And I completely agree about Ribadeo-the town has so much potential but its architectural treasures are really run down.

Looking forward to your next chapter!
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 05:16 PM
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Thanks for a great report. We enjoyed Cudillero and Ribadesella and it was great to read about them again. We too followed Maribel's advice and had a great time.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 06:31 AM
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Sorry to be pedantic, but Viveiro and Ortigueira are not in the Rias Baixas. Yes Ribadeo is quite run down. If only you had come inland a few km you could have seen other treasures which in my opinion should not be missed.

BTW Ortigueira has a great Celtic music festival and you should go there for that.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 08:55 AM
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Rebeirasacra, you're quite right, of course. Thanks for the correction. And thanks for reading, your posts were among the many I read to prepare for this trip. Thanks for your guidance.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 08:57 AM
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Santiago de Compostela

I just realized that I’m sort of mixing up my geography in this report. A purist would have covered everything after Ribadeo in the Galician part of the report, since it is in Galicia not Asturias. Forgive me. So, having confessed, I can move on to Santiago de Compostela hopefully washed of my sin. What a little gem of a place. Not only is the Cathedral beautiful, but the several other churches are as well and the town itself is wonderful—at least the old town where we spent most all of our time. At night the place is haunting and wonderfully lovely. I don’t know why it took us so long to finally get there and I hope we’ll return.

The church itself is fantastic, airy but gold laden with nice quiet chapels and real worshipers, and best of all complete freedom to walk about and take pictures. DH is in heaven—or as close as he’s likely to get. On the frequently debated issue of if and when the botefumeria (sp?) swings daily or only on special days, we were informed by our hotel concierge that the latter is true and that it wouln’t be swinging while we were in town. Too bad though DH would probably never have been able to stand the long seated wait to see it if it had been swinging, so it may have been just as well for us. The church itself was plenty to take in.

But fantastic as the interior is, the exterior is probably even better and is endlessly photographable from all its many angles and in every possible light. We probably have more pictures of this church than any we’ve ever been in save Notre Dame, the latter not for the church itself but for its location overall.

The streets near the cathedral are wonderful as well, surrounded by ancient medieval buildings and even a cute little mini-park or two and wonderful tapas and other restaurants. As I write this I recognize that my recording skills are not what they should be. We saw much more in Santiago than my notes permit me to recall, perhaps I was just too happy looking to spend much time recording. Trust me, it’s a lovely city which will take your breath away as you round the corner to the cathedral and the main square in front of it.

One thing I do recall quite vividly, the tunas. We were lucky enough to see a group of about 5 of them playing various medieval (and some not so medieval) instruments and singing in their colorful costumes with their colorful ribbons and black capes in the arcaded areas beneath the building across the square from the cathedral. These are roving bands of troubadours representing the various schools of the university in Santiago. I think the night we heard them Spain had just won another round in the soccer tournament they were in so they were probably even in better form than usual. We bought our CD of tuna music from a delightful old gentleman I shall forever think of as Charlie Tuna, who roams the streets alone in full tuna regalia selling them. He’s a real old world gentleman hand kisser whom I just couldn’t resist.

Day trip from Santiago

Though our destination for the day was the large portside city of A Coruna, we made a couple of intermediate stops.

Betanzos—was tough to get into since half the town was torn up for sewer renovation or somesuch but when we finally spotted a parking spot and got to the main street, we found a very charming main square, nice main street and lovely churches. We stopped for coffee and orange juice on the pedestrian main street where a group of developmentally disabled young adults were likewise stopping for a snack.

Maybe it’s just that we’re more often in walking mode when in Europe than in the US that this happens or maybe there truly is a difference in approach between here and there, but I’ve often been struck by how much more humane the European approach to the developmentally disabled appears to be. We’ve often run across groups with their caretakers taking walks and even stopping for drinks (yes, even alcohol to all appearances) on their outings—something we seem to see far less of in the States. The European elderly seem to remain much longer in the mainstream than they do in the US. Now I’m also thinking they have a more integrative approach to the mentally challenged as well.

Sada—on the coast between Betanzos and A Coruna is home to a weird modernista building covered with decorations that look like lyres--strange, nice parks and a couple of harbors. It provided us a nice stop for drinks accompanied by a pleasant little tapas of bean stew.

Meidras—wasn’t to be. Supposedly it has a palace built for a Galician writer and lived in by Franco and now owned by his relatives, but it’s only to be seen as a glimpse during a drive by.

A Coruna—is a large city of some 230,000, like St. Paul, MN, where we lived for a long time. It has lots of industry, much of which is port-centered. We were lucky enough to find parking and walked past a nice park and an art nouveau-like casino and then into the pedestrian town center. The main square is named for Maria Pita, the local heroine who saved the town from Sir Francis Drake and his boys. I’d say it’s a pretty fitting tribute, one of the largest squares we encountered on this trip, surrounded on three sides by restaurants (now it was I who was in heaven) all with tented annexes directly on the square itself. The fourth side of the square is taken up by the 1908 Palacio Municipal with beautiful, shiny copper tiled turrets. It made for a lovely view for our lunch on the square.

After lunch we walked along the port viewing and taking pictures of the glass balconies on the buildings for which the city is so famous

More Galicia

We left Santiago de Compostela after three wonderful days there and took off for our next three day destination of San Vicente do Mar, in the vicinity of Pontevedre. Our stops in this area included:

Vilagarcia de Arousa—a port but not a lot else. (Perhaps we’d become jaded.)

Cambados—this, however, was a true favorite. It’s on the sea with a nice harbor but also has a cute old town, sweet actually—except for the bar named “Coyote Ugly” which added something of a balance to the scene overall. It has nice squares—one at the end of the main street with a great old wine bar and the old local church, houses with geraniums falling from the window baskets, a market that snakes along the entire harbor (a market and a harbor—my two favorite sightseeing items right together, perfect.) There was also a very utilitarian indoor fish market with an expert sardine gutter whom I could have watched all day. Skill is a wonderful thing to observe.

We also observed many other skills being practiced when we returned to the town for dinner one evening. Arriving early, we walked down the street from the restaurant to one of a couple of squares in the town. It being a Friday evening, everyone in town had come out for a snack and the tableau was fantastic. There were waitresses and just strolling women dressed to kill (or at least to achieve something that evening), parents watching their young offspring toddle and fall and toddle some more, school age kids squabbling and finally coming to fisticuffs over a ball, adolescents doing that adolescent mooney thing, and old folks—like us—just drinking their drinks and taking in the scene. Could have watched this all night. Great street theatre.

O Grove—colorful fishing port lined with fishermen’s nets in large piles.

Viana do Castello—provided the destination for our foray into Portugal. This turned out to be DH’s favorite small city. So glad Bobthenavigator and Maribel recommended it. It’s vibrant, happening, and colorful. Unlike Ribadeo that looks like the city fathers give not a care, this place looks like it must have a terrific local government and chamber of commerce that are moving the little place along on all the right tracks. They were gearing up for a 750 year anniversary and the place was full of flags as bleachers lined the streets awaiting a major parade. The old town area is very cute with lots of interesting buildings, a couple of nice churches, a museum, nice squares, some interesting and colorful modern sidewalk art, lots of sidewalk cafes and a couple of ports.

Pontevedre—is a large city between Santiago and Vigo with a nice old town, cute square, nice churches, buildings with heraldic symbols embossed on them. Again, we observe some street theatre as we stop for a mid-morning break next to a small square where the local grade school takes recess. All the elementary clichés are there in full view—the circle of the pretty little girls, some with Barbie dolls, the chubby little girl by herself away from the rest and pretending to be studying, the boys playing soccer while another little boy watches some crawly critter intently oblivious to the hubbub around him. Interesting, and a little sad.

Vigo—we see only enough to get to the airport but don’t feel bad to miss it since it’s billed as a very industrial city lacking in charm. The airport, however, is entirely serviceable, if small, and we have no problem whatsoever, dropping our car and catching our plane to Madrid where we spend our last two nights before flying back to the US.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 09:56 AM
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We flew Air Europa from Vigo to Madrid. It was just swell. Loaded easily, arrived early, no luggage problems. I love low cost flying within Europe. DH hates it (especially the EasyJet cattle call loading, etc.) but this went some way toward changing his mind. It sure made the whole trip a lot easier than if we’d have had to drive back the 7+ hours from the Galician coast or even take the 9 hour train. We were there in 45 minutes.

Madrid was HOT. We’d become spoiled with the near perfect travel and sightseeing weather we had on the coast so when we encountered the 35 degree Celsius (95 F) that awaited us in Madrid, we wilted. The sun shone mercilessly on the Puerto del Sol and we turned crabby, ate a quick lunch and returned to the hotel for AC, cold showers and naps.
The temperature had decreased to around 80 by the time the sun was fully down and we were able to walk to dinner and have drinks on the patio just off the park across the street from the Royal Palace where a free concert was held later in the evening. This experience with Madrid heat helped me understand a bit better the heretofore considered strange late night dining of the Madrilenos and other Spanierds.

We were up and on the street the following morning and our last day in Spain by 8 a.m. This time the temperature in the Puerto del Sol was tolerable but the stench of public urination from the Saturday night crowd was hardly so. Indeed some of that crowd remained. We took off for the Fountain of the Cybelines and the Palace of Communication and walked the wide boulevard that passes the Prado down to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

This was one of the very few museum stops we made during this trip and it proved very worthwhile for our tastes, heavy on more recent works rather than old religious masters with a good collection of impressionists. But my favorite pictures were the two enormous portraits in the museum lobby—a stately and very attractive, classy looking King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia, likely painted for the opening of the museum, and the other of the Baroness. (I can’t recall whether it was just her or if it included the Baron, but plainly she was the major attraction.) She is attired in a long dress with a floozy collar of flounces, holding her poodle. The only thing missing to have made it the quintessential portrait of the young(ish) society wife of a very wealthy man was a long handled cigarette holder. Money doesn’t always ensure good taste, at least not in personal attire. Catty as those remarks are, I can’t fault her taste in art. There are some wonderful paintings in the collection.

We toured the also relatively modern Madrid cathedral, one of my favorites in all of Europe with its brightly colored murals and painted ceiling. The rest of the time we just walked about very slowly to remain as cool as we possibly could and stopped often for my latest favorite drink—zummo naranja fresca, fresh squeezed orange juice. This is one of the things I really like best about Spain. There is almost nowhere that you can’t get a great fresh orange juice, squeezed by those nifty automated zummo machines that pull the oranges in, cut them in half, and squeeze the juice out of them before dumping the rinds in a garbage receptacle. Love it.

Had we been true soccer fans we could have joined the hordes of locals making their way to various spots around town kitted out with enormous screens on which to view the championship game of the soccer tournament (I’m embarrassed to say I can’t recall what the name was. I know it was not the world cup, but it was a big deal nonetheless.) Based strictly on concern for personal safety I couldn’t decide whether to be hopeful that the Spanish team would win or lose. I feared pandemonium in any event. As it turned out they won, beating Italy, a long time rival, and we survived. In fact we even made it to the airport through the city at 3:45 a.m. to catch a very early flight back to the states, having our own mini-Diana moment as our car came across an accident in a nearly empty tunnel which we took for nearly the entire length of the city. Luckily the motor cycle accident had already attracted the police and an ambulance so we could be on our way.

Overall, we enjoyed this trip immensely. The sights were wonderful and we were lucky enough to have great weather in which to explore them. We also stayed in a series of great hotels and ate many wonderful meals about which the rest of this report will speak at even greater length—if you have the patience, and the stomach, for more.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 01:31 PM
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Lodging in Northern Spain

We stayed in 7 different hotels during this trip, most for 3 nights each, with a wide range of variation in style but all relatively reasonable in price. All were very acceptable and one or two rank with some of my favorite places anywhere.

Real Casona des Amas in Azofra, Rioja

I booked this place for its location enroute from Madrid to the coast but still acceptably close to the sights of Rioja. They required an upfront deposit only partially refundable so when I started having second thoughts I realized I was stuck if I didn’t want to forfeit a sizable chunk of change. As it turned out the place was fine but it did have a number of drawbacks that make me unable to recommend it to others even as I dispute some of the reviews that caused me to have second thoughts in the first place

For starters the town it’s in, Azofra, is not just minimal, it’s miserable. Nothing there except a couple of bars and a square if you can call it that. And the exterior of the hotel is so understated that we drove by it twice before finally finding the entrance which requires that you ring the bell. That alone was completely symbolic of the place—unapproachable and certainly not inviting.

The place has terrific basics, just bad management who are anal about the care—not of the guests, but of their investment in the furnishings. There are no mini-fridges in the room and indeed no drinks of any sort (except the clear water provided) are even allowed in the rooms, even if you purchase them at the bar downstairs. (We felt like school kids sneaking our bottles of wine in in my purse.) There are only two places in the room to put non-hanging clothes, a single drawer in the bottom of the wardrobe and a small drawer in the writing desk. The giant bathroom which sports lovely hand-painted fixtures has no hooks to hang clothes on. Everything has been thought of and no expense spared to decorate the place, but no thought has been given to the comfort and convenience of the guests. Even the parking lot was roped off (too pretty to drive on?) and guests were expected to find street parking—not a hardship since no tourists were visiting this beauty forsaken town.

The room itself was lovely, with purple and green furnishings (better than that sounds) and a purple canopy over the bed, 400+ thread count sheets and a nice deck with table and chairs—where you couldn’t sit and drink anything except clear water. There’s even a nice, small swimming pool. The dining, sitting, bar, breakfast room was beautifully decorated including lovely tear drop lamps. There was a nice courtyard with a lovely garden and tented pavilion where I asked about being served breakfast. Of course not, only indoors, apparently too much work to treat the guests to outdoor dining. I swear I would have carried the trays myself.

Too bad. Had the place shown even the slightest bit of generosity of spirit and hospitality the town could be overlooked. We weren’t there all that often and the drive through back roads to various Rioja destinations was so beautiful as to make the distance not only bearable, but actually a treat.

I take issue with the Trip Advisor reviewer who caviled about the breakfast. We found that excellent even if they force you to eat it inside to save themselves some steps. Nice course ground salami that seemed locally made, ham slices and cheese with toasted bread and cake with jam and some more of that wonderful fresh orange juice was all served on beautiful table linens with lots of color beneath the orange lamp-shades with glass teardrop pulls. Classy, just too bad about the aloof, “don’t touch” attitude. As Forrest’s mom always said, “Pretty is as pretty does.”

To make matters worse, this lovely but inhospitable setting was our most costly hotel with a price tag of 200 euros per night. You can see it at époque hotels.com but there’s really no use looking. Take some of Maribel’s other suggestions for lodging in the Rioja area.

Vincci Puerto Chico in Santander

The place we selected in Santander might be seen as just your typical business hotel and I guess it was. But it sure was nice and the breakfast might have been the best on the trip.
We wanted to stay near the water, so I selected this hotel for its location directly on the yacht harbor Puerto Chico, rather than a place in the commercial heart of the city or even on the beach at El Sardinero. Glad we did. We thought the location perfect, with views across the street to the harbor and close enough to the commercial heart that we could walk it easily. We’d not have liked staying in El Sardinero where we’d have needed to drive back to town in order to see the majority of sights. The harbor was more clean kept than I’d envisioned—no cute, colorful fishing boats with nets draped over them and cats sleeping beneath them as I’d have preferred—but a nice picture out the window.

Our room, one of 52 in the hotel, was business-like serviceable but had a chair with reading lamp right by the window and a nice bathroom with good shower and tub. The entrance to the hotel had a small bar and tables spread with newspapers and there was a small sidewalk café outside.

We were able to find parking (for which there was an additional charge) in the municipal garage beneath the hotel and to exit the garage by foot just steps from the entry to the hotel. Nice in a larger city.

Breakfast was served buffet style on the second floor in a modern room. For 13 euros if I remember correctly, they offered two types of tortilla omelet, one with and the other without meat and both very good, fresh fruit, pastries, cheeses, breads, tomatoes, eggs, bacon, ham, and coffee. Nice as it was, this was one of the few places that did not have fresh oj. In all other respects, you couldn’t ask for a better tasting breakfast.

I would certainly recommend this place to others, and I would book there again myself. I never saw another hotel in the city that looked better for my needs. It’s a member of the Vincci hotel chain and I liked it well enough that I would look for others in the chain elsewhere. In fact, we checked one out in NYC on a recent trip. Seemed nice enough. The one in Santander seemed very reasonable at 115 euros per night double. I found it on Booking.com which I find a very good site for hotel shopping.

Villa Rosario in Ribadesella

This was my favorite hotel of the trip and right up there with my top 5 or so all time favorite hotels. The exterior is just plain arresting, fanciful, pleasing and even beautiful in a quirky sort of way. It’s one of those Indianos places that the local aristocracy built after returning from the new world with their new fortunes. It’s grey with white gingerbread trim and a turret, facing the boardwalk and the bay beyond that with a modern glass restaurant as an appendage. It’s 3 or 4 stories with a nice homelike feel as you enter the “living room” which serves as the concierge desk.

Our room which had views of the sea from the room and the bathroom (love a bathroom with a view) was appointed in royal blue and red with modern furnishings and the bathroom had nice white and blue ceramic tiles. Comfortable, with a couch and desk as well as an entry that provided plenty of closet space and nice modern art on the wall.

We had one nice, highly competently prepared dinner and three lovely breakfasts in the glass enclosed dining room facing the sea. Great views. Fun people watching.

You can see this place at www.Casonasasturianas.com/villarosario. Be sure to click on the spot that allows you to see more pictures of the place. (Again a thank you to Maribel who turned me onto this website. Most of the places on it looked nice and all seemed very reasonable price wise.) The exterior looks blue on the website but in reality it is grey. Regardless of the color it’s wonderful, especially for the mere 105 euros per night we were charged in June which is still low season there. Very probably the best value accommodation I’ve ever found.

Villa Rosario was built in 1904 by a warehouseman in the tobacco industry in Cuba and has been lovingly cared for throughout. It’s a gem. I said a heartfelt, profuse thank you to the woman tending the front desk and told her how much we’d enjoyed our visit. She asked if we might be returning next year. I felt sad to say that would be unlikely (northern Spain is less accessible to us than say, Normandy, which affords similar opportunity to be on the sea in small towns) but I promised that I would tell others about her wonderful hotel and urge them to book it if they are ever in the vicinity. Promise fulfilled.

Parador at Ribadeo

As far as I can recall, this was probably only the second parador that we’ve ever stayed in (the other being the modern one in Ronda which we liked very much), though we’ve eaten in several more. It was nice enough but something of a letdown after the wonderful Villa Rosario. It’s starting to fray a bit about the edges and could use some freshening up, especially in the rooms where floors could use resurfacing. The amount of space OTOH is amazing. For 154 euros including tax and breakfast on a “Golden Days” special promotion based on our age—how discriminatory but I’ll take it, we had not only a bedroom but also a very large living room, a walk-in closet room, a sun porch with windows onto the estuary and two full bathrooms. Food in the dining room was ok but nothing to write about. Breakfast there was plentiful but not as good as Vincci Puerto Chico in Santander where the tortilla was head and shoulders better.

Hotel Monumento San Francisco in Santiago de Compostela

The small Villa Rosario was my favorite hotel of the trip. This large, far more impersonal place, was, however, my second favorite. It had what I took to calling “ascetic chic” and it provided a wonderful sense of calm. It had been a monastery then a convent and most recently a hostel in previous lives. It was newly remodeled in 2005 but it felt like they’d just opened. Everything looked new. Everything is stone walls, dark wood and tile, with grey and brown linens. Easy upkeep. Maximum style. Soothing. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

With 76 rooms, the place seems to do a big tour bus and convention business, at least that’s what we surmised when we took breakfast one morning in the refectory. It may also host lots of weddings and group dinners, but we never felt crowded or adrift among the other tourists. There is a pool and a spa. The place now has everything denied to the monks and nuns who once inhabited it.

Prices vary by the day, but our Sun to Tues. stay worked out to be 155 euros a day without breakfast, but with free parking, again a good deal for a tourist mecca like Santiago de Compostela. See it at www.sanfranciscohm.com

Mar Atlantico in San Vicente do Mar

This was perhaps the hotel selection I most agonized about. I wanted to stay on the coast somewhere in the vicinity of Pontevedre to give us maximum opportunity for good day trips. I also wanted to be in a place where there would be enough to do to keep us interested but without being in a resort area overrun with tourists and high rise buildings. In the end the thing that sold me on this place was the red bird symbol denoting peace and quiet that Michelin uses in its guides. We got lucky. Though we bought a pig in a poke, or rather a bird on a limb, it all worked out just great.

The hotel lived up to its symbol. It was not directly on the sea, but rather set above it about 500 meters, giving us views from our second story window over the pines and onto the sea with a waterfall below our balcony overlooking the hotel’s lovely garden. It was idyllic. The grounds overall were nicely landscaped, with a small version of one of those small graneries on stilts that Galicia is famous for, right next to the outdoor pool set in another nice garden. The hotel had lovely home like public rooms, a nice bar, a sundeck, and a spa. It also had an excellent restaurant where we had one of the better meals of the trip. No wonder so many of the guests appeared to be staying on half pension terms.

Our room was pleasant with a nicely appointed bathroom and a balcony with two chairs and a table from which we could view the sea and the garden.

The only downside to the place was the lack of a decent town in the vicinity. Again, no wonder so many folks were on half board terms. But at 105 euros per day it seemed like a small quibble. We would certainly stay there again and I recommend it to others with only the reservation about the lack of close by towns.

Room Mate Laura in Madrid

My taste in hotels is eclectic. While I most prefer small places of charm and character like Villa Rosario, I also like larger places of stripped down asceticism like Monumento San Francisco, and even utilitarian places like Vincci Puerto Chico. And I even like super modern, trendy, hip and youthful—which is what this place was.

It’s a member of the Room Mate chain which originated in Spain and has expanded rapidly including one of their newest, Grace, in NYC, and another, Waldorf Towers in south Beach, Miami. Madrid has four of them, though at the rate they’re expanding it may be more by the time I post this. The magazine they left in the room said they were building 25 more in the next year.

Laura is located up a hill slightly behind the opera house and it’s the location that’s the most off putting of any aspect of the place. The surroundings seem dodgy and they’re certainly not attractive, and not very clean—of course, neither is a lot of Madrid. Recall my Sunday morning experience in the stinky Puerto del Sol.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty interesting place. You enter up a flight of stairs and most everything is orange—my favorite color. What’s not orange is either black or white. The furnishings don’t appear selected to last but they’re interesting while they remain around.

Our room was a two story affair, with couch and table and chairs plus main bathroom/shower downstairs and bed with (thankfully) a second mini-bathroom upstairs.
Even the stairs themselves are interesting. Each is a half step, alternating the place where you must put your foot from the left to the right—not good for a person like myself with problem ankles and knees who most often ascends, and especially descends, one step at a time, placing both feet on the same riser at once. I told you, didn’t I that this is a trendy, youthful kind of place. Oldies take note. I’m pleased to say I survived all this without mishap, but I admit I’d not knowingly book similar digs again, even for the flaming orange accents.

The headboard for the bed was actually the wall itself, cut back in concentric rectangles with an orange lighted picture of Queen Elizabeth—the first. No clue what that was all about, but it was arresting. What I didn’t like was that this loft bed, was by virtue of the small amount of space available, pushed next to the wall causing me to have to shimmy in and out of bed if I didn’t want to wake my DH to let me out like a regular person.

Bathrooms follow the white minimalist formulaic pattern with stainless steel small vanities and black bubble floors that can be laid of a piece. You have to do somethings simply if you’re going to erect 25 new minimalist places in the next year in parts unknown.

The breakfast room and the breakfast were very nice with more pix of QE1, orange, black and white décor, Chilewich placemats and all the standard offerings, all of which were included in the standard room rate which turned out to average 155 euros per night, though higher one night and lower the next. Truly not a bad rate for a clean, interesting hotel in the center of a major city. I’d not return, but that has more to do with me than the hotel. For young, hip, agile under 50 somethings, I’d say it’s a pretty good deal. But I’d investigate the Madrid locations of the other members of the chain before booking this one. It may be that the others are in better neighborhoods and still afford the same trendy vibe. See for yourself at www.room-matehotels.com.

Summing it up

None of the hotels we selected were bad. Some were wonderful. Most I would return to. And best of all, I can say unequivocally that Spain gives you much more for your lodging euro than most other European countries. Again, go!!

Oof da, as we used to say in Minnesota. If I’ve spent this much time and space on hotels, what will happen when I try to provide succinct comments about the places where we dined?!! That will have to wait until tomorrow. For today I’m typed out.

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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 01:36 PM
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We stayed at Villa Rosario and loved it too. Can't wait to read where you ate!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 01:45 PM
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Good job Julie !
Where is your next trip?
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 02:00 PM
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Marija, I could go on and on about Villa Rosario. It's such a gem. Glad to hear from another fan. And thanks for bearing with me so far. Plenty of info coming up about food. I even ate percebes I'm proud to say. And I'm even prouder to say that I really liked them. Now to afford them.

Bob, glad to have your kind attention too. I needed to get this report done so I can leave the country with a clean slate in a couple of weeks to fill it up again with info from Vienna, Prague and Germany's romantic road returning early October. Then we'll be back in Barcelona for the time between Christmas and New Years staying in a apartment for the first time ever and hopefully doing a day trip by plane to Mallorca. How about you? Where to next?
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Thanks so much for your very thorough review of the Real Casona de las Amas.
Your description both of the rooms and the attitude of the staff was what I had feared (and what my friends had told me) and the reasons it didn't (and won't) appear in my Rioja guide. Along with the fact that it's simply not at all a good value.

For your next trip, I think you would enjoy the originally decorated Hospedería Señorío de Casalarreina if you'd like to be near Haro-although Casalarreina as a town is no great beauty, but somewhat prettier than Santo Domingo and certainly offers more than Azofra, including 2 fine restaurants:
Vieja Bodega
La Cueva de Doña Isabela

The rooms are beautifully decorated but with the guests'comfort in mind, and the bodegas of Haro are just minutes away.

Or the Villa de Abalos if you don't mind staying in a very, very tiny (but cute) hamlet that has zero night life in a small inn. Merce's breakfasts are yummy and dinners (for guests only) divine and gently priced. And they produce their own wine.

And you have confirmed everything that my friend who runs Camino bike tours says about the Hotel Monumento San Francisco where her guests stay.

I agree completely with your comments about the location of the Laura and the "for those under 50" vibe. Although I'm not thrilled about the new Room Mate Oscar's location, I do think the overall room comfort is greater there (particularly in the executive rooms), and the Room Mate Alicia has a fine location near the museum triangle, but I recommend the jr. suites there for spaciousness. And if the Room Mate Alicia is booked, there's the 4 star Vinnci Soho right below on Calle del Prado, although it's not so competitively priced.

I'm so happy you enjoyed the Villa Rosario and was hoping that it would be one of your favorites!

Great, candid and balanced hotel reviews, Julie!

Now, I'm eagerly awaiting the much anticipated dining chapters!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 02:22 PM
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Thanks, Maribel. Good advice. We did spend time in Casalarienna, eating at the Vieja Bodega based on your recommendation. It was one of our favorite meals. I think I'd stay in the Hospederia that you recommend there. We made a special point to see the cute little hotel in Abalos but I'm afraid that the town itself would be too small to keep us happy for anything more than a one or two night stay.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 03:27 PM
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Yes, Julie,
I think the Hospedería Señorío de Casalarreina would be a nice and better fit for your next visit. And it's a member of Rusticae. If you liked the Casonas Asturianas, several of them are also Rusticae properties.
We're quite fond of these inns as well as the Casonas Asturianas and Club de Calidad Cantabria.

In fact, this summer we took our Club de Calidad Cantabria Infinita guide with us to "inspect" (for business purposes and our future trips) as many as we could, and we managed to visit every one of the 52 properties except for three. Whew! So if you're interested in any of them for future visits, I did take some good notes that I'll write up as reviews.

Now, on to the dining!!!
Maribel is online now  

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