What's your favorite off the beaten track place in Spain?
October 16, 2019 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Traveling to Spain in mid/late April 2020 for ~ten days. Plan is to fly into Barcelona and out of Madrid as it's surprisingly cheaper than the reverse and less dead time than circling back. Assume we're familiar with and planning on the main sights. What else shouldn't we miss?

Pretty much what it says. In Barcelona we're planning to do all things Gaudi. We're aware of/sensitive to the overtourism issues, but don't want to skip the city entirely. In/around Madrid we'll do Toledo, Avila and maybe Segovia and/or el Valle de los Caidos.

We are mother/daughter of 40, early 70s (crazy flashback to one of my first questions) both active, but not to the extent that we'd want to hike El Camino even if we had the time.

I've spent significant time in Madrid, neither of us has been to Barcelona or anywhere else in Spain. Speak decent Spanish, don't speak Catalan. Current thinking is Sevilla or Granada as I don't think we can do both, personally leaning Granada.

Besides the iconic must see sights in those four cities, anything else we shouldn't miss? We're art nerds so will probably hit the museums. Particularly excited about seeing Guernica. Sights, restaurants, or anything else you think of welcome. No dietary restrictions. I've read everything tagged Spain. Also, should we take the train domestically or drive?

Thank you
posted by TravellingCari to Travel & Transportation around Spain (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Also, should we take the train domestically or drive?

At least for the Barcelona-Madrid leg, take the AVE, it's awesome going that fast. You can take the train to Tarragona from Barcelona and it's a really nice place to spend the day, especially if you're into Roman history.
posted by asperity at 9:58 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

We rented a car and drove in Spain. It was wonderful and painless. We drove Madrid - Granada - Valencia - Barcelona. I would really recommend the Alhambra in Granada; book a tour so you can get the scoop (booking a tour may be mandatory, don’t remember.)

Guernica was a huge highlight for me! The botanical garden in Madrid is great and has resident kitties. Drink lots of gran reservas, eat jamon and tapas!
posted by some chick at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you actually want to get off the beaten track, I'd just pick one out of Toledo, Avila, and Segovia, and consider heading north rather than south to Granada. I would also definitely skip the Valle de los Caidos because that's for fascists these days. Instead, you could head up north and see the actual town of Guernika, see the Bilbao art museum, hang out in a lesser-known regional capitals like Zaragoza or Burgos, or check out wine stuff in Logrono on the way.
posted by schwinggg! at 11:12 AM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Do you guys drive stick? If so, driving between cities is fairly painless. But if you need automatic, your car rental options will be more limited -- we only knew how to drive automatic, so we ended up in a giant SUV crossover vehicle that got scraped to barely metal trying to get out of a hotel garage that was sized like the root cellar it had been until modern times.

(Thankfully, we had the Amex extra car rental insurance, so it paid for the $800+ repair cost.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:26 AM on October 16, 2019

The Alhambra is a really wonderful site to see. Truly memorable. So I would encourage you on that path.

However, Andalusia is not really off the beaten path Spain. It’s beautiful! But if you are looking for something much less touristy I would go north. You can eat allll the pintxos in Donostia/San Sebastian, surf or watch a local football match. The area around Oviedo, the Picos de Europa, is like being in Spain and Switzerland at the same time - mountains, greenery, mist, cows, hiking, but the food and prices and people are Spanish.

Anyway, you’ll have a great time north or south!
posted by Concordia at 1:17 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Around Barcelona, there's the art museum in the mountains featuring an impressive an eclectic collection at the Museum of Montserrat.

There's also a charming seaside town north of Barcellona where Dali's home is now a museum (Port Lliget/Cadaques- they're walking distance apart. Cadaques is a bit bigger and has a very pretty harbour).
posted by hotcoroner at 2:13 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Typed up an answer and then realised that hotcoroner had said what I intended to. I can definitely recommend the Dali House and the town of Cadaques. Montserrat also very good.

If you are a big Dali fan, then his museum in Figueres could be worth a shot. These are all a reasonably short journey from Barcelona.
posted by Pink Frost at 5:20 PM on October 16, 2019

When I was in Madrid I really enjoyed visiting the intimate Museo Sorolla.

The Spaniards seem to have really ample amounts of cultural events to go see. In every town I went to I found interesting concerts, plays, lectures or zarzuelas to attend. I don't recall whether the listings for these I saw were online or in the newspaper, but definitely worth investigating such local cultural offerings wherever you are.

(I did a Madrid + the north trip, through Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca and Bilbao, all of which were unique and fun to explore. I particularly enjoyed the old academic architecture and vibe of Salamanca.)
posted by bertran at 7:05 PM on October 16, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks schwinggg!, my Valle.. experience is almost 17 years old at this point and while I know its history, I hadn't thought of it through the contemporary lens.

joyceanmachine, mom had a similar but luckily not as expensive issue driving in Italy with the size mismatch. She can drive stick. I can't, but am not a frequent enough driver that I'd feel comfortable driving in a foreign country

Thanks all. Super helpful food for thought as we sketch this all out.
posted by TravellingCari at 7:09 PM on October 16, 2019

Oh, also, when I was in Burgos the person who was hosting me took me to a pub where the patrons sat around playing guitars and singing songs for each other. I have no idea now what the name of the pub was there, but it felt gratifyingly authentic, and it would be worth asking the locals in the cities you do visit whether there are any such taverns around, if such a thing intrigues you.
posted by bertran at 7:16 PM on October 16, 2019

We loved the food tour of the Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona offered by Culinary Backstreets. An accessible and interesting look into real life in an area a bit removed from the touristy hub.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2019

If you're driving around Aragon, I'd suggest Jaca (Romanesque cathedral, a very old star fort), San Juan de la Peña (scenic medieval royal pantheon that once hosted the Holy Grail that is now kept in Valencia), Zaragoza (Muslim palace, two cathedrals, Roman remains of the forum and a theater), Alcañiz (historic center) or visit some stops in the Mudéjar Route like Teruel.

I would also definitely skip the Valle de los Caidos because that's for fascists these days.

Right now it's closed because they're going to take out the trash in the next weeks. That is, they're going to move Franco's corpse to his family crypt. No, seriously. This time for real.
posted by sukeban at 10:27 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don’t bother with Barcelona. It’s gross, expensive, and overrun with tourists. Stay there long enough to see the things you want to see, and then go someplace more interesting. Check out Tarragona if you really want to see Catalonia. Order the xato salad.

Spend more time in Madrid than you originally planned. Whatever you planned, add at least a day. You’ll be glad you did. There is SO MUCH TO SEE there, and no matter how long you stay, you won’t have time for it all.

Go to Toledo and stay overnight. It’s like no place else on earth. You’ll feel like you’re Indiana Jones or something. Also tons of El Greco, if you’re into him (I am)

Visit the south and spend a lot of time there. Especially Granada. Spend as much time there as you can. Go to the Alhambra. Spend all day there. Enter is timed, but you can stay as long as you like. Prowl the Moorish Quarter. Make the trek to the Roma neighborhood and take in their distinctive style Flamenco. Spend as much time as you can at the tapas bars. Everything in the south is cheap. You’ll live like a king.

Also spend a couple days Sevilla. It’s a city of music and dance and architecture. Also horses, they like horses there. Beautiful majestic horses.

But really, you have to see Granada.

Go to Granada.
posted by panama joe at 10:38 PM on October 16, 2019

* Easter week will fall on early April next year, but Sevilla will be overrun with people with the Feria de Abril at the end of the month, so take that into account.
posted by sukeban at 10:42 PM on October 16, 2019

Response by poster: panama joe:
Go to Toledo and stay overnight. It’s like no place else on earth. You’ll feel like you’re Indiana Jones or something. Also tons of El Greco, if you’re into him (I am)

I first went to Spain as a high school exchange student in 1996 and our hosts lived in Fuenlabrada. Toledo was our first day trip and is where I truly fell in love with Spain. And El Greco. It's the must-see and probably why I'm OK with violating mom's and my "somewhere we've never been" rule.

sukeban: part of why we're doing late April is to avoid peak Santa Semana but still get a little Feria. Such a magical experience, but yes overrun.

Thanks again all. Trying not to threadsit, but so much great info.
posted by TravellingCari at 2:27 PM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

panama joe:
Don’t bother with Barcelona. It’s gross, expensive, and overrun with tourists.

As with many large, famous, highly touristed cities, this is true with regards to a relatively small area close to the center, and not at all true for the other 99% of the city. You get out of it what you put in.
posted by conifer at 2:20 AM on October 18, 2019

When you do the museums in Madrid, second that you should include Museo Sorolla (it's a museum/small house around just one artist).

Bilbao and Santiago were two of my favorite cities in Spain if you go the northern route.
posted by typecloud at 8:40 AM on October 18, 2019

I was just in Madrid last week. If you have the time to see all three of the big art museums (Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemizsa) you can purchase a pass online that gives you access to all three. It saves you some money and also lets you bypass the ticket lines.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 12:56 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

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