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Galicia, Asturias, Spain, Toulouse, France, Pamplona, Oviedo, San Sebastian

Road trip across Northern Spain - SW France?

With an initial base in San Sebastian-Donostia, we will spend three weeks this Sept. 2014 exploring northern Spain and Southwest France. Any suggestions on towns/experiences if we took a leisurely two week road trip across the region? Our style leans toward quieter, immersive travel rather than greatest hits.

4 Answers

top answer by
Eric from Seattle

So, thought I'd share what we ended up doing so folks have more info. We started out with a week in San Sebastian staying at a rented apartment. Just enough time to savor it all and start feeling like locals. If food is your thing, I highly recommend La Cuchara de San Telmo and Atari Gastroteka. We also decided to splurge a bit and eat at three Michelin-starred Akelare and at one Michelin-starred Asador Etxebarri - the drive to and experience at the Asador was unforgettable. From there we drove to Asturias and used Abandames as our base for a few days - staying at Hotel Palacio La Cajiga. This was an 8 room hotel in an old building in a town of no more than 100 people. Recommended. We explored Picos de Europa and had cheese at Arenas de Cabrales before moving on to Oviedo for a night. After that we drove to Santiago de Compostela with a 2-3 hour stop at As Catedrais beach - great natural formations at low tide. We then doubled-back and spent a night in León - gave us a good sense of the more traditional, "central Spain" lifestyle before returning to the País Vasco Two nights in Bilbao rounded out the trip. Bilbao was surprisingly engaging and compelling to me.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Sebastian (city)
  2. La Cuchara de San Telmo (restaurant)
  3. Atari Gastroteka (restaurant)
  4. Akelare (restaurant)
  5. Asador Etxebarri (restaurant)
  6. Asturias (attraction)
  7. Abandames (attraction)
  8. Hotel Palacio La Cajiga (hotel)
  9. Picos de Europa (attraction)
  10. Arenas de Cabrales (attraction)
  11. Oviedo (attraction)
  12. Santiago de Compostela (city)
  13. As Catedrais beach (attraction)
  14. León (attraction)
  15. País Vasco (attraction)
  16. Bilbao (city)
4 thankscomments (2)

answered first by
Emily from Otavalo, Ecuador

San Sebastian is supposed to be a gorgeous place! I didn't make it there when I was there, but I've heard only good things! If you are looking to spend some time in Asturias (which I highly suggest) definitely make a stop in Oviedo. Its a beautiful city, small, but there are some gorgeous plazas. The old part of town is just amazing. Maybe spend 2 days there, depending on how leisurely you want to take it. Calle Gascona is a must if you go. That's were you can try the traditional drink called Sidra and get some tapas. You can also travel up to the coast, about 30 minutes from Oviedo, to a town called Gijon. It may be a bit chilly for the beach, but you can see the coast, and the town is also pretty cool! You can try sidra there, too. There are old Roman bath ruins right next to the beach that you can check out. Most of what you do in Asturias is going to be leisurely. It's not a very touristy place. If you can make it up to Cabo Peñas, you should. There are some beautiful views, but be careful. It can get pretty windy up there. Covadonga is also a really cool place to visit. You can visit the church if you'd like, and there are two lakes you should definitely try to see there: Lago de Enol and Lago de la Ercina. You can park at one and walk to the other. There is also a really nice place to get lunch, I believe its next to Lago Ercina. Again, amazing views and it would make a really easy day trip! Llanes is a really nice sea-town as well. There, you can see Cubes of Memory. Its a really pretty art exhibition right next to the water. Also, there is a small fishing village called Cudillero that has a beautiful view from a lighthouse. You could probably do that and Cabo penas in the same day. Those are both just cute places to stop and see things. Cudillero has some places you could stop to for lunch or something. Those are just a few ideas. If I think of anything else, I'll make sure I add something!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Sebastian (city)
  2. Asturias (attraction)
  3. Oviedo (attraction)
  4. Calle Gascona (attraction)
  5. Gijon (city)
  6. Cabo Peñas (attraction)
  7. Covadonga (attraction)
  8. Lago de Enol (attraction)
  9. Lago de la Ercina (attraction)
  10. Llanes (city)
  11. Cubes of Memory (attraction)
  12. Cudillero (attraction)
2 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Eric from Seattle

Answering the request in the comments to expand on attractions in Bilbao and San Sebastian.

Second, San Sebastian:

Beaches 101:

Playa de Ondarreta has areas with calmer waters that attracts families with children. 

Kontxa Hondartza is the most popular stretch of sand because it is central and has easiest access to the center of the city. It is THRONGED during high season.

La playa de Zurriola is about a 10 minute walk away from the central area in the more workaday neighborhood of Gros. This has rougher waters and is a prime surfing location in the area.

Other than beaches:

Take the funicular up to Monte Igueldo - not only does it have great views, but it has a very old school, borderline decrepit amusement park with a very scary looking roller coaster. It's just an odd yet beautiful place.

We stayed in a neighborhood called Antiguo - very enjoyable slice of life that also includes the universities. In particular, walking up and down the Matia Kalea street to get a sense of the place and stop at bakeries and eateries.

Of course, the usual suspect of going to the Parte Vieja with all the pintxos bars should not be missed (though try a time without the throngs). In particular La Cuchara de San Telmo and A Fuego Negro.

If you have the time and a car - exploring the Basque countryside and seaside between Bilbao and San Sebastian is quite rewarding.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Sebastian (city)
  2. Playa de Ondarreta (attraction)
  3. Kontxa Hondartza (attraction)
  4. La playa de Zurriola (attraction)
  5. Monte Igueldo (attraction)
  6. Antiguo (restaurant)
  7. Matia Kalea (attraction)
  8. La Cuchara de San Telmo (restaurant)
  9. A Fuego Negro (restaurant)

answered by
Eric from Seattle

Answering the request in the comments to expand on attractions in Bilbao and San Sebastian.

First, Bilbao:

Take a leisurely, aimless stroll through Casco Viejo where you will find atmospheric alleys and plazas. In there, linger at the Plaza Nueva and have a wine and pintxos at Zaharra

Explore the Abando neighborhood, especially around the Albia Lorategia to get a sense of the turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th) feel of the city.

For a sense of how typical Bilbao residents spend their days, the Indautxu neighborhood provides a good feel -- it also has a large number of interesting options for shopping and eating.

Other than that, the usual suspects are always options: Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and the Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Bilbao (city)
  2. Casco Viejo (attraction)
  3. Plaza Nueva (attraction)
  4. Zaharra (restaurant)
  5. Abando (attraction)
  6. Albia Lorategia (attraction)
  7. Indautxu (attraction)
  8. Museo Guggenheim Bilbao (attraction)
  9. Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar (attraction)

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