When you think of the north of Spain you think snow-capped peaks, lush green valleys, and undulating hills which roll down to rugged coastlines with quiet Sandy coves dotted with quaint fishing villages.
Known as the West Country of Spain it is as pretty as can be and always with a stunning alpine back drop to each picture postcard view. Honeycoloured mansions with suits of armour, imposing castles and ancient Monasteries dot the landscape that was crafted by the Catholic armies as they pushed south, containing The Moors as they took back their celtic land – each historical building a monument to catholosism as they gathered strength against the retreating invaders. This journey takes you from the Basque country at the French border, along the Cantabrian coast to the ancient Kingdom of Asturias; down to Castile and Leon with a dip into La Rioja. Strong cheeses, hearty stews and fresh fish are on the menú served with the local cider and Rioja wine and offered with pride by the locals who warmly welcome visitors who go the extra mile to explore their magical land.
This tour starts in Bilbao which has an international airport and ferry port and can start on any day that suits you.
Day One - Arrive Bilbao and transfer to your hotel for 2 nights
Bilbao is the largest city of the Basque country and is surrounded by untouched Natural Parks, dramatic coastlines and magical landscapes. It is known as the culinary capital of Spain with many world class innovative and Michelin starred restaurants/chefs serving the regions take on nuevo cuisine “nueva cocina Vasca”. If fine dining is not of interest then the city is also renowned for its tapas bars and a walk through the old town is the best place to find an array of delicious small dishes as an introduction to the local fare.
Day Two - A visit to The Guggenheim Museum
Frank O Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum has been described as “the greatest building of our time” and holds an unparalleled collection of 20th Century Modern and Contemporary Art which along with thematic exhibitions, the permanent collectionrotates between the foundations other museums in Berln, New York and Venice.
In the afternoon you will be free to explore Bilbao and take in the compact Casco Viejo – the atmospheric old quarter who’s charming streets are full of independent shops and quirky bars. At the centre of the old town are the original seven streets “Las Siete Calles” that date from the 1400s.
Day Three - Collect your hire car and transfer along the Cantabrian coast to Santillana Gil Blas for 2 nights
Your drive today will take you along the rugged Cantabrian coast, following rivers full of salmon and trout through green valleys and fishing villages; all set to the stunning back drop of the Picos de Europa mountain range. This area is steeped in historical finds even back to pre-history with some of the best examples of Upper Palaeolithic cave paintings in Europe and the most famous caves of Altimira have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Romanesque, even a few rare pre-Romaneaque churches are hidden within the small, rural villages that seem untouched for hundreds of years. You then reach your base for the night; close to the chocolate box village of Santillana del Mar; known as the prettiest village in Spain it is a delight to wander the medieval streets lined with honey coloured mansions and quaint churches - your hotel for the night is a converted monastery in Santillana Gil Blas.
Day Four - A free day to explore the city
Today we will give you a suggested itinerary to follow as you explore the nearby villages of Cóbreces, Suances and Comillas, the pretty fishing coves and lush Natural Parks. Many treasures are to be found along the way including a powder blue neo-Gothic Abbey where you can buy cheese made by the monks, a gingerbread like Gaudi designed villa and a town marooned on both sides by the sea, entered by a long causeway which local legend says that if you hold your breath all the way across the bridge your wish will come true. Lunch and dinner in this área is to be savoured over; hearty stews, slow roasted meats and tasty, locally produced chorizos. From the nearby coast comes fresh fish and seafood from the Bay of Biscay and the cheese is divine with up to 14 different varieties just in Santillana itself.
Day Five - Transfer to Cangas de Onis in the Ancient Kingdom of Asturias for 1 night
Today you will drive further West along the coast as the scenery becomes more and more rugged as you enter the Principality of Asturias you will head inland to the edge of the Picos de Europa mountain range. Today is all about exploring the countryside; absolutely stunning scenery and incredible mountain views. You can either have a day in the car driving through the National Park or explore on foot some of the well trodden trails that have welcomed walkers and hikers from all over the world for many years. One particular walk is the Cares Gorge a 1000ft deep cleft that separates the central and western massifs. A flat section of the walk can easily be done to get a taste of the terrain on a well maintained footpath that has been hacked out of the cliff face.
Day Six - Transfer to the pilgrimage city of Leon for 2 nights
Once the old Christian capital; Leon and Castile spearheaded the war against The Moors and the 13th Century was the period of Leon’s greatest power. Its Gothic cathedral dates from the end of this period and its stained-glass windows are a stunning kaleidoscope that rival any in Europe. Leon is a resting site for pilgrims following the Camino de Santiago.
Day Seven - Private guided morning walking tour of the city
Leon is a city compact enough to explore on foot and for this morning your personal guide will meet you at your hotel and take you on a fascinating tour of the cities main monuments including the cathedral, The Royal Pantheon, Casa Botines (a modernist building designed by Antoni Gaudi) and the Monastery of San Marcos where pilgrims, upon presentation of official documentation, were allowed to rest and regain strength before the gruelling mountain stretch to the west.
In the afternoon we would recommend you take a short drive following the pilgrimage route to the town of Astorga. The town was first settled by The Romans, sacked by The Moors and later endowed with hospices and monasteries. The main sight is the Bishops Palace; designed by Antoni Gaudi it is surrounded by a moat and houses an interesting museum devoted to the pilgrimage route through the ages.
Day Eight - Transfer to Santo Domingo de Calzada in La Rioja for 1 night
Today you will journey back along the “camino” through the land of jousting tournaments the región of Castile and Leon; past the hundreds of crumbling castles that conjure up scenes of Don Quijote and maidens in distress with towering turrets and deep moats that were the stronghold of the Catholic crusade. Finally you will arrive to your destination in the small province of La Rioja – taking its name from the River Oja and naturally the area that produces the most famous wines of Spain. The village of Santo Domingo de Calzada was an original pilgrimage village where a man named Domingo had the foresight to see the popularity of the camino and built a hospes (which will be your hotel for the night) and a well that has been conserved in the hotels courtyard. The town and the Saint have always been known for their hospitality and the food here is only outdone by the quality of the wine.
A guided visit to a Rioja bodega
Your hotel has a professional Rioja wine waiter and your time here will also include a visit to one of the many bodegas with a tasting and a chance to purchase direct from the vineyard.
Day Nine - Transfer back north to San Sebastian for 2 nights
San Sebastian (Donostia) is a picturesque city that for many years has been a Royal retreat from the summer heat of Madrid. The town is set around the bay of “La Concha” and surrounded by dramatic green hills with lush vegetation. The old part of the city is crammed with lively cobbled streets that are bursting with shops, café and bars which lead down to the fishing port where you can sample freshly caught Shellfish from the street vendors.
Day Ten - A visit to a Cider house “sidererías” and a guided Pinxos tour
Cider is one of the oldest traditions in the Basque country – up until the civil war almost every farm house produced its own and was used for barter. Cider drinking is a ritual and has to be poured in the traditional way from above your head in to a glass held down at arms length.
Pinxos (also known as pinchos or “basque tapas”) are a northern Spain culinary culture that delights all visitors that spend time in San Sebastian. For your last evening, enjoy a guided tour with a local expert visiting the best bars and sampling the local specialities.
Day Eleven - Depart San Sebastian back to Bilbao (deposit your hire car) and say farewell to “El Norte!”
Designed by the fashion designer Antonio Miro, your boutique hotel in Bilbao is perfectly located opposite the Guggenheim Museum…
Your hotel is set in an 8th century town in the mansion of the Barreda-Bracho family, the architecture is typical of the area with cozy spaces, wood floors and traditional decoration…
A hotel in an absolutely stunning setting, surrounded by the Picos de Europa in a spot of incomparable beauty…
Your hotel in Leon is one of the most extraordinary in Spain, once built to house the Military Order of St. James…
Your hotel in Santo Domingo occupies a former 12th Century hospital, close to the catherdal, it was built by St. Dominic to take in pilgrims...
from 1795.00 Euros per person *
* Price per person, based on two people sharing a standard double or twin room:
Please note these prices do not take in to consideration local and national holidays which may increase hotel rates for certain dates throughout the year, particularly Semana Santa (Holy Week) which in 2021 is from Sunday 28th March to Monday 5th April 2021.
Please enquire for an exact quote for your required dates and particular room requirements.
We have safely returned home after another excellent trip. Thank you so much Nicola, once again, for your excellent organisation and for the detailed information you provided. We certainly enjoyed the different cities, despite rather unreliable weather! Luckily, we had taken umbrellas and waterproof jackets as well as sunhats!!
Hi Nicola, I can't thank you enough for the arrangements you made for me.... if I was there I would hug you! Everything was completely thorough and above my expectations. The hotels were lovely, paper work organized beautifully and the guides were fun. Whenever someone asked about the type of travel I was doing I recommended your services highly.
Just thought I'd let you know how much we enjoyed our holiday. All the arrangements you made for us worked out perfectly. We were very impressed by how easy it was to navigate the Spanish rail system and by the comfort and punctuality of the trains. The information booklet you prepared for us was really helpful and we were soon referring to it as "Nicola's bible". We ate at a number of the restaurants suggested in it and enjoyed the food in all of them. The guided walks also really added to the holiday experience. Thanks for creating such a stress-free holiday for us; we will be recommending you to our friends and family and we also hope to return before too long.
We arrived home a week ago after having a wonderful holiday. This was partly due to the fantastic organization by you of the Spanish section!! Thank you so much for the arrangements you made for us in all the parts of Spain that we visited. The Hotels, their situations, and the detail you provided for us was just fantastic. We could not have asked for anything better!! We had a marvellous time, thank you!
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