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Want help with Itinerary for Basque country + where else in Spain? 14-day

Want help with Itinerary for Basque country + where else in Spain? 14-day

Nov 26th, 2019, 11:38 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2017
Posts: 21
Want help with Itinerary for Basque country + where else in Spain? 14-day


I would appreciate your thoughts on an itinerary I am planning for family members (all adults).

We are planning a 2-week "family heritage trip" in May 2020. This is a trip we've wanted to do with family for a long time, and in fact was planned for 2017 but then health matter led to trip cancellation (see my previous itinerary inquiry re Basque country on Fodor's here).

Now we will have more time ~14 days on land and there will be 6 of us traveling. Our aim is to spend time in the Basque country, both French side (where my grandparents were from, St. Etienne de Baigorry) and the Spanish side. Because the other half of the "family heritage" is Spanish, we also wanted to spend time in southern Spain. Finally, because this will be a first trip to Spain for 4 people in our party, we thought spending 2-3 days in Barcelona or Madrid would round out the trip.

Given the distances and limited time, I'm not sure we can fit everything in. Our goal as a group will be to experience the scenery, culture, language and food of Basque country as a top priority. Then we want to include an "introduction" to some other part of Spain for those who haven't been to Spain before. I speak and understand Spanish well enough to get around in Spain, but no one in our group speaks French or Basque.

I would appreciate suggestions on possible itineraries I've been considering. Because of the time of year, our thought is to start with the busy places at the beginning of the trip (Barcelona or southern Spain) and visit the Basque country last on our trip (the highlight).

Option 1 is to visit these three 3 main areas, Barcelona, Southern Spain, Basque country: Fly in to Barcelona, spend 3 days there; train to Malaga and make that a home base for 4 days for day excursions to Granada (Alhambra), Rhonda (or similar), and Lorca (family origins); then fly from Malaga to Bilbao and make San Sebastian home base for 7 days in Basque country.
Note, we are comfortable driving in Spain and would rent a car in both Malaga and San Sebastian for touring.

Option 2 is to skip Barcelona and focus our time on 2 main areas, Southern Spain and Basque country. Fly in to Malaga and spend 6 days in southern Spain before flying to Bilbao and spending 8 days in Basque country, possibly splitting time between San Sebastian home base and Bayonne as second home base.

Option 3 is is to skip southern Spain and focus our time on 3 main areas. Fly to Barcelona and visit for 3 days, then train to Madrid for 3 days (to include day excursion to Toledo; visit the Sofia museum to see Picasso's Guernica), and train or fly to Bilbao and stay in San Sebastian for 8 days.

Your suggestions and thoughts are greatly appreciated.

papier1 is offline  
Nov 26th, 2019, 12:47 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
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The place to visit in Andalusia is Seville.
danon is online now  
Nov 26th, 2019, 02:43 PM
Original Poster
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Thank you, Danon, for your suggestion re Sevilla. My spouse and I spent time there a few years back, which is why we thought to headquarter our southern spain segment of the trip a little more eastward. Particularly since we have not been to Granada, and the town of Lorca is even further East.
papier1 is offline  
Nov 26th, 2019, 03:33 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
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Malaga is a very nice town ( if you haven’t been) ..you may have some beach time in May.
All your options have appeal ... you will probably hear from different posters with their preferences.
If you have seen Seville and Córdoba you might find 4 days sufficient for visits to Granada and Ronda.
For a completely different feel than Andalusia and BC either Madrid or Barcelona
would qualify.
danon is online now  
Nov 26th, 2019, 03:46 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,772
I think 8 days is barely enough for the area between Bayonne and Bilbao. And I would probably have two bases, San Sebastian and one in France.

With the remaining 6 days you could do either Barcelona/Madrid (very rushed but possible) or Andalusia.

BCN, MAD and Andalusia are all very popular but you might also consider instead to some places closer to Basque country. Santiago de Compostela, Burgos, Leon, or some combination. I did a 5 week trip a few years ago starting in Bayonne and going to Santiago and including Burgos and Leon (very different from the "Green" northern coast) and I had to skip a lot and you have less than half the time. The advantage through to sticking to northern/central Spain though is that you don't 'waste' a good chunk of one or two days going between regions. In fact you could rent a car once you got to Spain and keep it for the rest of the time. Trains aren't great in that area but buses are if you preferred. Some of the small rural places you need a car.

Here's my trip report from that trip - Criss-crossing the Camino: 5 weeks in Northern Spain (and a bit of France)
isabel is offline  
Nov 26th, 2019, 06:42 PM
Join Date: Dec 2006
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It really depends on what you want to see and experience, but I must admit that I would hate any of those options -- too rushed! Too little time in any of those wonderful locations!
For me,
  • a reasonable length of time for Andalusia is 10-14 days, and even if you've seen Seville, I'd still want a week to 10 days in that part of the country.
  • I felt hard pressed to see what I wanted to see in Barcelona with "only" 5 days there -- and I travel HARD!
  • I wanted 4 full days for Madrid, not counting the many wonderful destinations near it (e.g., 2 days for Toledo, time for Segovia, etc.)
Given your interests, you would do well, I think, to make sure that a week will be enough for you in the Basque areas, and if so, then you might consider the Basque areas plus
  • A week or so in Barcelona with day trips here and there (you have a ton of options)
  • A week or in Madrid with day trips (again, you have lots of options)
I didn't write a trip report to cover my time in Andalusia or central Spain, but you might find some useful information in my report on time in northern Spain (including the Basque parts) and Catalunya:
Four Awesome Weeks in the North of Spain and Catalunya

BTW, language shouldn't be an issue, at least if you and your group make an effort to learn the basic civilities like hello and thank you.
Parking in San Sebastian / Donostia could cost a small fortunate, particularly for a group of 6. (Will you and all your luggage fit in one vehicle?)

Hope that helps!

kja is offline  
Nov 26th, 2019, 06:59 PM
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 77
Its a hard one because I get the reason you want to do this trip.. my feeling is maximise your time in the Basque country, try not to see everything. If you go to Barcelona, you could fast train to Zaragoza, and pick up the car from there.
We love the city of Bilbao, and have watched it change from an industrial ship building area, to a real drawcard with the Guggenheim. Museums like this can transform a city, like MONA has done on Hobart Tasmania. If you go up this way, I would do a daytrip to Guenica.. I think its well worth it, we took the local train, beautiful countryside, and a wonderful experience. I would second the cities of Leon and Burgos.
misskdonkey is offline  
Nov 27th, 2019, 12:49 AM
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I would spend some time in Bilbao, which makes an excellent base for the Basque Country. Beach most likely will not be a good option in May (water will be quite cold, and it´s not that warm, as well as quite unpredictable weather - SS is the rainiest city in the Basque Country). Also, Bilbao would be cheaper for lodging. In any case, if you plan to spend 7 days in the Basque Country, don´t miss St Jean de Luz, Bayonne, Sare, Ainhoa, Espelette, St Jean de Pied de Port (the obvious ones in the French Basque side, or Iparralde as we call it). On the Spanish side (you´ll see Euskadi as the official name), you may want to visit Hondarribia, Getaria, Arantzazu and Loyola; also Lekeitio, Plentzia and the Rioja Alavesa (part of Rioja wine region, the Basque part), being Labastida and Laguardia the main places to visit (of course, some cellar visits would be a must).
mikelg is offline  
Nov 27th, 2019, 07:55 AM
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I too would concentrate on the Basque country, in both Spain and France.

You may want to think twice about renting a car for day trips around San Sebastián. We rented an apartment there for 8 days a couple of years ago in September and drove there from our house in France. Getting in and out of SS proved to be such a huge pain that we ended up leaving the car in a parking garage for the entire week and using buses for daytrips. Oh, and parking cost a fortune! We're going back there for a week or so this spring and no way we will drive - trains up and down the Atlantic coast are plentiful and cheap and the buses can get you to most places people want to visit.
StCirq is offline  
Nov 29th, 2019, 07:38 AM
Join Date: May 2005
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I would stay in the north. Go to Asturias!!! Easy drive from Bilbao; we spent almost two weeks there (Asturias) about two years ago and found it was one of our favorite regions of Spain. They have everything from snow-capped peaks in the Picos de Europa to glorious beaches set into rocky coves or stretching for miles along towns like Ribasedella. The seacost towns are gorgeous and untouristed by foreigners. From the sea you can be in the mountains in a half an hour. The city of Oviedo (famous for its Woody Allen statue!) has a great art museum among other draws. The food in the area is superb and the people warm and welcoming. Spend a couple of days in Oviedo and then choose a base from which you can explore the mountais and seacoast. Or two bases, one inn or near Picos de Europa (town of Cangas de Onis is lovely and famous for their Sunday market) and one in a town on the sea..Ribasedella, Luarca, etc etc. Oh my, did we adore this region!! This is not finished but you can get an idea:

CACHOPO, CABRALES & CARBAYONES Asturias..and "The Best Steak in The World"
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 29th, 2019, 11:25 AM
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Danon, thank you for the comment regarding Malaga. I'll be there for a week in February (not a tour) so will have an opportunity to check it out.

Isabel, missdonkey and kja, wish that we could spend quality time in all the places on my list (and that we had more time away). If it were just my spouse and I traveling, that would be a different trip. I am trying to balance the "wish list" of others traveling with us. I appreciate the suggestions for train from Barcelona to Zaraga; as well as where to explore in the BC.

mikelg, StCirq, we plan to spend time exploring in "hill towns" of the BC, and in particular where my father's family is from on the French side, near St. Jean Pied de Port. We thought that driving ourselves by car would be doable, and perhaps if we made another town our "home base" to avoid the parking. But good point on the parking and fees in SS!
Ideally we'd like to hire a tour guide for a day or two in the BC and then spend the rest of our BC time on our own.

ekscrunchy, I don't know anything about Asturias so will have to look that up!

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. At this point I'm leaning toward sticking with a "northern" itinerary. I'm going to update my "options" with your suggestions and then present them to our travel companions.

BTW, does anyone know of a Basque tour guide who can handily span both the French and Spanish side?
papier1 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2019, 12:05 PM
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I personally know (very well) a wonderful Basque tour guide, our own Fodorite mikelg. He's been our guide to all things wonderful in the Basque Country on both sides for many years now.
Maribel is online now  
Nov 29th, 2019, 04:04 PM
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IMO, sticking with a northern itinerary makes a lot of sense. And like ekscrunchy, I was enamored of Asturias; it's covered in the trip report I already linked in.
kja is offline  
Nov 29th, 2019, 05:14 PM
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Ditto to what kja has said regarding sticking to the north for simplicity's sake, cooler weather and for the sheer natural beauty (but you'll most likely encounter some rain in "Green Spain" from Santiago de Compostela to San Sebastián).

And like ekscrunchy, who also suggests sticking to the north, I've been enamored of Asturias for a long, long time. It has atmospheric, pretty coastal villages from west to east (Puerto de Vega, Luarca, Tazones, Lastres, Cudillero, Llanes, Ribadesella), Celtic culture and stunning mountain scenery in the Sierra del Sueve and the glorious Picos de Europa.

Just some additional thoughts...
Maribel is online now  
Nov 30th, 2019, 07:31 PM
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 77
I agree with all the above posters, and we will be in Cangas de Onis for NYE this year, so excited. We love the Picos mountains too.
misskdonkey is offline  
Nov 30th, 2019, 07:46 PM
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Have fun in Cangas on NYE!
Maribel is online now  
Nov 30th, 2019, 08:08 PM
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This may seem like criticism, but I assure you it is meant to be helpful. Even though you have been to Seville, 4 out of the 6 people on the trip have not been to Spain at all, so if you are going South, I would include Seville. Fitting 6 adults with luggage would require a larger car, so may not be practical except for day trips. Even then, you know your group, but after a day or so, I want time on my own when I travel, so consider that possibility.
Sassafrass is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 12:13 AM
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Thanks Maribel
misskdonkey is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 06:02 PM
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Whatever option you eventually choose, if you do have a large vehicle and base in San Sebastián, the least expensive, handy parking will be at Txofre in the Gros Quarter, a pleasant walk from the Old Quarter and the beaches.
This is where we park both when we go into the city for day trips and when we don't have an apartment with its own parking.
The cost is 16.5 per day for several days with unlimited in-out privileges, and you can book your parking online.
It's really not difficult to find, just follow the underground garage signs leading to Txofre when you enter the city.

If you decide to base in Iparralde (Pays Basque) in the city of Bayonne, there's surface (hourly) and underground parking, depending on where you stay and will be less expensive than San Sebastián.*
In Grand Bayonne (the main part of the city where the cathedral sits), you can park in the underground garage at Tour-de-Sault near the covered market and the river Nive for several days with a parking package. *7 days=35 euros, says the web page.
But the Bayonne web page that explains this is in French only, so you should email the tourist bureau for further details.
[email protected]

When we've based in Bayonne lately we've been car free and rely on the handy Chronoplus buses to get us to Bidart, Anglet and Biarritz (the new Bayonne-Bidart-Biarritz tram may be up and running then)*or the TER train to take us to St-Jean-de-Luz, Guéthary or even St-Jean-Pied-de-Port.*
But since you want to explore your grandparents' origins in St-Etienne-de-Baigorry, you'll certainly need the car for this journey to explore the village and surrounding towns (Bidarray, Osses, St-Jean-Pied-de-Port) and a road trip down to the highly scenic Les Aldudes valley, one of the area's most beautiful drives. *We have good friends in the Seattle Basque Club whose parents hailed from St-Etienne and from Valcarlos across the Spanish border.

I highly recommend the Monday morning market in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, when all the finest purveyors of this agricultural area sell their wares. *It's a beautiful area of Base Navarre and an Irouléguy wine growing region as well (and great chocolates at Laia Chocolaterie in St-Etienne-de-Baigorry).
Maribel is online now  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 06:53 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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And you can try a gâteaux Basque, both the one filled with black cherries (the famous cerise noire from Itxassou) and the pastry cream filled one. *They're sold at every outdoor and indoor market, both by the whole gâteau and individual ones. *I especially like the ones sold at the mill, Moulin de Bassilour, in Bidart. *I've bought the pans, bought the black Itxassou cherries and attended the cooking class at the Musée du Gateau Basque in Sare but have never summoned the courage to make one at home, since my friend makes a great one!
Maribel is online now  

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