Road Trip Across Northern Spain
Spain is a perennial favorite with Andrew Harper members, and with good reason. I always feel excited to have an excuse to return. Most travelers focus on Madrid, Barcelona and Andalusia in the south. But this time I turned north to Galicia, a Celtic region that in some ways has more in common with Brittany or Ireland than it does with the rest of the country. I’ve lost count of my visits to Spain, but this trip still felt like a journey into the unknown.
The 14-day itinerary below makes for a delightful road trip across northern Spain, one that partially intersects with the 500-mile-long Camino de Santiago, one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage routes. It also encompasses the dramatic coast; the magnificent cathedral cities of Santiago de Compostela, León and Burgos; and the great wine region of Rioja.
In order to break up a long drive, I’ve included a stay at the Parador de León, a historic palace that does not meet my standards in some respects. If you prefer to avoid the overnight there, it is possible on Friday afternoons to fly nonstop from Santiago de Compostela to Bilbao. The airport is a 90-minute drive from the Hotel Viura, where you can continue the itinerary as written. Indeed, the entire itinerary below is merely a recommendation, and it can be easily customized to precisely suit your requirements.
Day 1 : Madrid
Arrive in Madrid this morning. Change planes and take a short flight to Vigo.
Rent a car and drive 45 minutes to the Parador de Baiona, contained within the crenellated medieval walls of the Castillo de Monterreal. Its location on a rocky promontory affords memorable views of breakers crashing on the rugged coastline. Book one of the property’s three Unique Rooms — 201, 242 or 323 — since they’re larger, more distinctively decorated and come with jetted tubs.
Before dinner in the parador’s fine restaurant, ask the staff to prepare a picnic for tomorrow’s excursion.
Day 2 : Islas Cíes
Take the ferry from Baiona to the Islas Cíes, three islands off the coast that became part of a national park in 2002. There, you can spend a blissful day on the Praia das Rodas, a crescent of soft, pale sand fronting an expanse of calm, clear sea.
Day 3 : Santiago de Compostela
Depart Baiona at noon and drive 45 minutes north to the Michelin-starred Casa Solla, set just outside of the town of Pontevedra, for lunch (closed Mondays).
After your meal, continue an hour north to Santiago de Compostela, a gracious and unspoiled university city best known as the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.
Check into either the Parador de Santiago de Compostela, housed in a 15th-century building right across from the cathedral, or the smaller A Quinta da Auga, which has a less-convenient location just outside of town but superior accommodations, a pool and a spa.
Palatial hotel in a 15th-century convent on
the Praza do Obradoiro facing the cathedral.
Intimate family-owned hotel set in an 18th-century former paper mill on the River Sar, three miles west of downtown Santiago de Compostela.
Day 4 : Explore Santiago de Compostela
Spend today exploring Santiago de Compostela. The city’s focal point is its magnificent granite cathedral, construction of which began in 1075. Regardless of whether you’re staying in the parador, I recommend having a meal in its Restaurante dos Reis, which occupies some vaulted former stables.
Day 5 : León
Depart Santiago de Compostela and drive 90 minutes to Lugo, the only city in the world that is surrounded by completely intact Roman walls. The road there runs parallel to the Camino de Santiago, and you’re likely to catch sight of pilgrims striding along determinedly.
After circumnavigating Lugo’s walls, which reach a height of 50 feet, continue on to León, another two and a half hours to the east.
Check into the Parador de León, which occupies a spectacular 16th-century palace that was built as the western headquarters of the Military Order of Saint James. Be sure to request a room in the original palace, not the modern annex, and reserve as large an accommodation as possible. I found the furnishings here to be worn, but unfortunately León doesn’t have a better option.
Take a 20-minute walk through the old town to the spectacular Gothic cathedral, which stays open until 7 p.m.
Where to Stay
Day 6 : Burgos
After breakfast, drive two hours to Burgos, again paralleling the pilgrims’ route for much of the way. The focal point of this elegant little city is another magnificent Gothic cathedral, which here contains the tomb of the legendary 11th-century warrior El Cid.
The best available choice in Burgos is the NH Collection Palacio de Burgos. Alternatively, continue for another 90 minutes east to the Hotel Viura. Designed by architect-owners Joseba and Xabier Aramburu, this 33-room property has a bold, modern design composed of fancifully stacked concrete cubes, as well as a superb restaurant.
Where to Stay
Contemporary hotel created by architect-owners Joseba and Xabier Aramburu featuring an avant-garde design.
Day 7 : La Rioja
Spend today exploring La Rioja. Perhaps start with a visit of the outstanding Bodega Luis Cañas, a 10-minute walk from your hotel.
Day 8 - 10 : Valladolid
Check out of the Hotel Viura and drive 20 minutes to the Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture. This may be the single-best wine tourism experience in La Rioja. You can visit the museum without a guide at any time during operating hours, but advance reservations are required to tour the adjacent winery. (On most days, both open at 11 a.m.).
After your museum visit, drive 45 minutes south to Echaurren, and have lunch in its Michelin-starred restaurant, El Portal.
Continue south another two and a half hours to the 1,730-acre Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine estate, an exceptional 30-room hotel created from a former 12th-century Cistercian monastery. Be sure to take a guided tour of its winery. Additional amenities include an outdoor pool and a spectacular 10,000-square-foot spa featuring vinotherapy treatments using grape extracts. The resort also offers a full range of activities such as horseback riding and golf.
WHERE TO STAY
Day 11 : Madrid
Depart Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine and drive an hour south to the fairy-tale city of Segovia. The romantic towers and crenellations of the Alcázar de Segovia punctuate the western edge of the hilltop city. In the middle rises the honey-toned bell tower of the late-Gothic cathedral, and an immense two-tiered Roman aqueduct leads away from the eastern end of the old quarter.
After taking some time to explore and have lunch, continue another hour to Madrid’s airport and return your rental car. Take a taxi into the city center and check into the hotel of your choice.
Where to Stay
Charming boutique hotel occupying a 19th-century mansion on a peaceful side street in an exclusive neighborhood 10 minutes from the city center.
Gracious hotel in a landmark 1910 Belle Epoque palace, offering Old World charm and flawless service.
Handsome hotel in an up-and-coming neighborhood with one-of-a-kind boutiques, excellent restaurants and local atmosphere, just a 10-minute drive from the Museo del Prado.
Day 12 - 13 : Explore Madrid
Spend two days in Madrid, visiting its world-class art museums and boutiques. The Prado claims one of the world’s greatest art collections, and numerous smaller museums such as the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza contain masterpieces as well. The lesser-known Museo Cerralbo and Museo Sorolla, housed in former private homes, also merit visits.
Day 14 : Return home
Return to the airport, and depart on your flight home.
Road Trip Across Northern Spain
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