What should we do in Spain/Andorra/Northern Morocco... in the winter?
July 25, 2013 7:37 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I plan to go to Spain, leaving Christmas day and coming back a few days after New Years. We are interested in both activities and places it's just nice to be for a while. Spain is the primary destination here, but we're open to side trips into Andorra and/or Morocco. And, hey, how about the Baleric Islands?

Andorra: We'd like to go, but the caveat of no skiing seems to limit things in the winter time.

Morocco: ???

Islands: Find a beach and be?

Spain: Our only concrete goal as of now is to go to Girona to see the Dali museum and, if we can be there long enough and get a reservation, eat at El Celler de Can Roca. With no more El Bulli, these are the only two restaurants of this kind that either of us have any sense of. We're open to recommendations on that front. I guess we can't really go wrong if you toss a few Michelin stars in there, but experienced voices are welcome.

How/can/should we rent a car in Spain?

We're not necessarily looking the the biggest New Years party in the country, but is there anywhere especially cool to be then?

Steer us clear of especially touristy/resort-y things please.

This question will help, but it's the wrong time of year and we're going in snowflake season.
posted by cmoj to Travel & Transportation around Spain (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've said it in a few other questions about Spain but it bears repeating: if you're familiar with American road systems, driving on the highways in Spain will be a cinch, but trying to find where you're going in a city, or even a village, will drive you insane. Street signs aren't as clearly readable, and given that most of the towns date from the middle ages, the street layouts don't make intuitive sense for someone used to grids. Barcelona is one of the few exceptions to that, but it has a world class subway so trying to drive around town and deal with parking is silly anyway. If you're OK with that, you can easily just rent a car from any of the major US agencies, which have branches in the airport at Madrid and probably Barcelona. If you're looking to go to Morocco, were you planning on taking a boat from Barcelona?
posted by LionIndex at 7:48 AM on July 25, 2013

Christmas and New Year's are pretty fun in the big cities. Madrid has plenty of great things to do and there are Tunas singing in the streets. There are grand Belens to be seen in various cathedrals. New Year's celebrations are huge all-night parties.
posted by JJ86 at 8:29 AM on July 25, 2013

The Balearics will be empty in the winter, from what I have heard. To be honest, you're only going to be there about a week. You could spend the whole week in just Madrid or Barcelona and not see everything. Trying to go to morocco or Ibiza means you're going to lose a lot of time travelling there and back, and spend a lot of money on travel costs. Do you really want to spend an extra 8 or 9 hours in airports?

If I were you, I'd focus on really getting the most out of Catalonia. Spend a few days in Barcelona, go to the beaches near there, if you want to see the Mediterranean. Grab a lonely planet book, they have a lot of recommendations for out of the way places in Spain separated by region.

Don't schedule too much. Take your time. There's a lot to be said for just walking around a place and taking in the atmosphere. Vacations are supposed to be about relaxing, not ticking off a list of sites.
posted by empath at 10:33 AM on July 25, 2013

For what it's worth, I've flown a couple times on Christmas day; not internationally, just domestic, but it's a madhouse. Ditto Christmas eve, New Years Eve and New Years day.
posted by easily confused at 10:35 AM on July 25, 2013

I'd skip Andorra. It's tiny, fully tourist / commercial, and boring. Skiing there would be fun but if you're not into that, skip it. The Basque region on the Atlantic Coast would be an interesting alternative to Andorra.
posted by Nelson at 3:57 PM on July 25, 2013

Christmas is very much a quiet, family day in Spain. Not much will be open, so plan around that. Smaller museums may be closed the entire week between Christmas and New Year's. I lived in Madrid and love Madrid, so my recommendation would be to spend the week there. I love love love the display at the department store El Corte Ingl├ęs at Plaza de Sol and always make time to go see it. It's a big display on the outside of the building, around back. There are 3 world class art museums in Madrid, a great flea market on Sundays, a stamp and coin market also on Sundays, although right before Christmas creche figures are sold there.

Day trips near Madrid - Toledo, Aranjuez, Segovia. But really there is enough to do in Madrid to last a week.

The subway and trains in Madrid are quite easy to use and I recommend them over trying to drive and even harder, to park, in Madrid.

Do not drive on Christmas Day if you can help it. My experience is traffic jams and not much fun.

I agree - skip Andorra. Its draw is the duty free prices, but not cheap compared to American prices.

Barcelona has stunning architecture and a completely different feel than Madrid. It also has a great subway system and is close to Girona. It will be easy to find a bus to go to Girona and back or you could day a tour bus.

Pick a place and spend a week exploring that one way. There is way too much in Spain to savor and rushing around will just wear you out.
posted by daneflute at 7:04 PM on July 25, 2013

I love Spain. When I was younger and wilder, I went to Spain for a 3 week vacation and end up staying for two years. (Two of the best years of my life.)

Christmas week is a good time to enjoy Spain - a festive time.

Spain is a religious place though, and Christmas is also a serious religious event. It is not party time like during Carnival or San Fermin. Christmas celebrations in Spain start on Christmas Eve and go until Jan 6, the Feast of Epiphany. Christmas day is a serious religious day, the festivities coming after. Dec 28 is the Feast of the Innocents, and it is like our April Fool's Day.

Then the big party is New Years Eve. Every city and village in Spain will be jumping that night. Everyone eats 12 grapes exactly at midnight. A smaller city might be a nice place to pass New Years.

Spanish kids get their gifts on the Eve of the Epiphany (Jan 5), and not Christmas day. The Three Wise Men bring the gifts on the night of Jan 5, and the next morning Christmas celebrations are over. There is no Santa Claus in Spain.

Actually, most Spaniards find Santa to be really weird. Santa is the feminine version of the word Saint. San is the masculine. San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Why do Americans have San Nicolaus (St Nick) use the feminine Santa, and how did the Americans get the name Claus from Nicolaus? And what is up with the freaky elf costume?

A few random suggestions. In Madrid, go to eat in El Botin one night. It is right behind the Plaza Mayor. It is the oldest restaurant in the world, and the recipes for the food date back to medieval times. They have great Sangria.

If you can afford it, stay in as many Paradors as you can. Parador's are state owned buildings that have been renovated into hotels in order to raise money to preserve the building. Some of them are castles, or medieval manors, or ancient monasteries. Staying in a Parador is amazing - they are a bit pricey, but it is the cheapest night in a real castle anywhere in Europe. Investigate the paradors along your route. Even if you are on a tight budget, try to stretch it to stay at least one night in one parador. It is worth it.

However, do not stay in the parador in Toledo, it is outside the old city wall. You have to stay at least one night INSIDE the old city of Toledo. Seriously, plan to stay one night in Toledo.

Also, go to Granada. The Alhambra is one of the great buildings of the world.

I would also recommend the city of Ronda. It is a smaller city, of the beaten trail. But it is a wonderful place, especially if you stay in the old part of the city. I bet it would be a cool place to be for New Years.

If you are not skiing, skip Andorra. It is nice to hike there in the summer, but the only thing there in the winter is skiing. In the winter, the country is a big ski resort.

If you are just doing a day trip to Morocco, then skip it. The port cities are underwhelming with things to see, and overwhelming with people hawking stuff to tourists. The day trip on the ferry to Morocco is a waste, unless you goal is simply to say, I did it. If you go to Morocco, give the place at least two days, and have a set destination beyond the port area, like Rabat maybe.
posted by Flood at 7:04 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

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