Spanish Tourist Loop
September 1, 2019 11:40 AM   Subscribe

If a pair of older foodies were to visit Spain for 10 days at the end of October 2019, with the tentative itinerary below, what changes would seasoned Spanish visitors & residents recommend?

Arrive Madrid Tuesday afternoon, overnight Madrid.
Train to San Sebastian Wednesday morning, 2 nights San Sebastian.
Rental car to Andorra la Vella Friday morning, overnight Andorra.
Rental car to Barcelona Saturday morning, 2 nights Barcelona.
Train to Madrid Monday morning, 2 nights Madrid.
Fly out of Madrid on Wednesday morning.

I don't mind / rather like driving, for the opportunity to stop off at will along the way and/or visit places that don't merit interrupting a train journey and messing up that sort of schedule.

We don't speak Spanish or French.

Goals are to See Stuff and Eat Stuff.

Any general tips / things to know / things to avoid would be great, too!
posted by spacewrench to Travel & Transportation around Spain (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Skip Andorra, shuffle the rest around to give yourself another day in one of the other three places.
posted by parm at 1:00 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

It is not immediately clear why you are taking a long windy drive through the Pyrenees in order to spend a few hours in Andorra.

If what you are looking for is a stop between San Sebastian and Barcelona, it is easier to go around the Pyrenees either to the South or to the North. In fact you could easily overnight in Toulouse instead although it seems a shame to spend only a few hours there. I'd just zoom to Barcelona and spend more time in that city.
posted by vacapinta at 1:03 PM on September 1, 2019

one more vote for an extra night in Barcelona
posted by the twistinside at 1:13 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you want to drive through the Pyrenees that's fine, but if the purpose is to visit Andorra you should re-think that.

I'd recommend spending more time in Madrid or Barcelona, possibly making day trips to a couple of the great nearby cities if you feel like exploring further afield. Segovia and Toledo are both only 30min trips by train from Madrid. Girona, with its beautifully preserved medieval core, makes for a very nice day trip from Barcelona (only about 40min by train).
posted by theory at 1:43 PM on September 1, 2019

I can only comment on my experience on our honeymoon a few year ago when we did a two week trip to Spain. We flew into Bilbao and took a 1 hour bus to San Sebastian and spent 3 days there. We took a 6 hour train to Barcelona and spent 4 days there. Then a 3 hour high-speed train to Madrid for three days before venturing south to Granada and Seville and flying out of there.

Even though both of our flights connected in Madrid, and I imagine that's why you're looping to and from there, it's still quicker to fly to some place else and then fly back out of Madrid rather than take what appears to be a 5.5 hour train ride from there to San Sebastian.

Two days is probably a good amount of time for San Sebastian, especially if you're going in October when the beach might be less desirable.

Barcelona we spent 4 days and didn't feel like that was enough, especially if you like architecture. La Sagrada Familia is a must-see imho. Either book tickets or get there very early because the line will wrap around the block. We took a cooking class one night in Barcelona and that was a lot of fun and right up your alley as foodies. We also took a day trip to Montserrat that we enjoyed.

Madrid we liked, the food was good, but we went expecting we'd see each of the art museums every day and by that point we were "all out of awe." We only went to one.

I don't know anything about Andorra but I would Nth trying to spend more time at other places. Maybe 3-3-4 days at three places.
posted by cali59 at 1:53 PM on September 1, 2019

Response by poster: I'm a motorcyclist, so I like driving through mountains (not as much as I like riding through them, but still better than trains, planes and buses). But the other reason for the drive is to see more countryside, stop easily for lunch in random towns, etc. If there's not much of that anyway, then maybe an overnight in Toulouse would be a good alternative.

Good point on the train to San Sebastian, maybe we can just connect to a local flight when we get into Madrid, rather than running into the city overnight. That would free up another night that we could spend in Toulouse.
posted by spacewrench at 2:14 PM on September 1, 2019

Best answer: I'm going to suggest skipping Andorra and spending another day in the glorious Basque Country, especially if eating well is one of your goals.

In San Sebastián proper, you should do a pintxos crawl - I can share my route if you're interested! Just go in and ask for "el mejor pintxo de la casa" and "un txakoli" (incredible, effervescent Basque wine) at each stop and you'll be good to go. Also in San Sebastián you should consider the traditional Basque lunch at Juanito Kojua, get burnt cheesecake at La Viña, and indulge in churros y chocolate at Santa Lucía (all of these are in La Parte Vieja of San Sebastián).

While there are several renowned restaurants in and around San Sebastián, my favorite is Azurmendi, near Bilbao. The experience is unique (picnic, garden "tour," kitchen visit, and then into the dining room overlooking the beautiful countryside. Make a reservation for lunch and settle in for a three-hour feast!

You should also spend a day in the fishing village of Getaria - stroll the streets, visit the Balenciaga Museum, and order a grilled whole fish at any number of the local restaurants (though my favorite is Txoko).

Other stops to consider would be the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Chillida Museum in Hernani. You could also do a day trip into Rioja for wineries (Bodegas Muga has a great tour; Bodegas Ysios is a stunning building). If you get that far south, I would recommend lunch in Ezcaray at Echaurren Tradición.

Let me know if you want more information. This is literally my favorite place in the world.
posted by tmharris65 at 4:01 PM on September 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

Skip Andorra. The food is not wonderful, (and is tourist trap priced), Catalan is the main language and there are 2 things to do there: shop duty free or ski. The shopping is not great if you are used to North American prices.

Madrid was my home for 4 years and deserves more than an overnight stay. Besides the 3 great art museums, you can visit the Palace, a tapestry museum, convents, and there's superb shopping. The food is good and there are options from street cuisine on up.

I love going to the Sunday flea market in Madrid, if only for the people watching.

Madrid is close to Toledo, which, while hilly, is walkable and has a ton to see. Aranjuez is nearby and is a nice day trip from Madrid.

I'm also fond of Segovia, which has the three-tiered
Aqueduct and Alcazar castle. You can go through the mountains to get there, if you want to scratch the mountain itch. Segovia is only a couple of hours from Madrid.

I would also suggest looking into staying at a parador, which are state owned hotels, often in castles.

Barcelona is gorgeous and worth the time and effort to get there. All the Gaudí architecture is swoon worthy. My experience in speaking Spanish in Barcelona was not great. I am fluent in Spanish, but do have an accent. Also I'm red-headed and freckled. Yet everywhere in Barcelona people would respond to my Spanish by answering in Catalan.

I'm married to a madrileño and besides living there, have gone back many times to visit family.

Enjoy your trip.
posted by daneflute at 4:11 PM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wow, that initial itinerary is biting off an awful lot. It's one day in San Sebastian, one day in Barcelona and one day in Madrid, with six more days chopped into pieces with travel; I'm sure you'll see some stuff on those days, but don't underestimate how much time this schedule has you going from train stations to hotels, checking in, getting your bearings and so on. I highly recommend editing this down a little, and go to two of the three areas you are thinking of.

Logistic-wise, it would be easier if you could fly open-jaw rather than into and out of Madrid, even if it's a little more expensive.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:14 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a motorcyclist, so I like driving through mountains (not as much as I like riding through them, but still better than trains, planes and buses). But the other reason for the drive is to see more countryside, stop easily for lunch in random towns, etc.

You don't drive along the Pyrenees because it's painfully slow, you would drive along the highways to Pamplona to Jaca to Huesca to Lleida to... well, I'd rather see Girona or Olot rather than Andorra. If you want to see the Pyrenees, you can go for a detour, but honestly it's not worth it to travel mountain up valley down for days. Take a detour to the Roncal valley (they've got great cheeses), or go from Jaca to Canfranc/Candanchú or Panticosa, or go on a hike through a national park where the views are really scenic, or drive around Montserrat.
posted by sukeban at 1:40 AM on September 2, 2019

I've done pretty much this trip in reverse (including the quite tight timelines), except went in and out of Barcelona. If you really really want to do Andorra, what you've planned is completely doable, but nthing that Andorra isn't that interesting but I definitely didn't regret visiting, and it is a nice little place to spend an afternoon/evening. The fastest way from Andorra to San Sebastian v.v. is usually through France rather than Spain though, unless you specifically want to stay in Spain, in which case you'll be backtracking on part of it.

If your aim is to drive in the mountains, basically maybe only two hours max of the total drive is in the mountains proper if you're going via France, but the majority of the more mountainous part is in northern Andorra/France, as opposed to on the Spanish side of Andorra, which is less spectacular.
posted by ryanbryan at 3:58 AM on September 2, 2019

I can't speak to most of your itinerary but one of the best evenings I had during the last Spain trip I took was to go on a tapas crawl in Madrid, led by Madrilenos. We went to five brilliant bars in very untouristy areas and learned all about local food and drink with hosts who spoke great English and answered all our questions. I did this one. It's not cheap but if you're not in Madrid for long, I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by finisterre at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again, everybody. We were able to tag on a one-way flight from Madrid to San Sebastian after we arrive from the US, so we won't have to waste the first night in Madrid (arrive late, leave early the next day for a 6-hour train ride). And we swapped Toulouse for Andorra la Vella. has a ton of tasty-sounding stuff about San Sebastian; I can't wait!
posted by spacewrench at 10:44 AM on September 6, 2019

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