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Jun 20, 2011 12:22 PM

10 Days in Spain - Where to go?

Hello everyone,

I have been reading through a ton of threads here and decided that Spain will be my next vacation. Luckily I am able to travel for 10 days using starwood points for my hotel. The only catch is I must use them in 5 day blocks (because of a promotion). Because of this, what two cities would you recommend visiting?

I know this is a hard question, so here is what we like to do when in Europe:

- Wake up and get a leisurely breakfast
- Walk around the city and do something for a few hours (site seeing, beach, etc.)
- Have a long lunch with a glass of wine or two
- Walk around a bit more and maybe go shopping
- Nap
- Long dinner
- Drinks after at a low key bar

As you can guess, food is huge for me. I am a classically trained chef (but not in the profession) and my wife and I like to base a lot of vacations around eating well. Ambiance plays a huge role as well.

We like 3 star places, but love to dig into the local restaurants where we can get some really authentic food. We also are on a bit of a budget, so 3 stars all the time are not an option.

Because of this, I am thinking the two places I should go to are San Sebastian and Madrid, each for 5 days.

Does anyone think the is a great/terrible idea? Are 5 days too long for San Sebastian?


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  1. I think your basic itinerary of 5 days in one city and 5 days in one area is the way to go. If it is your first trip to Spain, pick either Madrid or Barcelona for big city, then either San Sebastian and the Basque or Seville and Andalusia for the other 5 days. Since sightseeing, beaches and shopping (except for food related) are off limit on this sight, will keep it very brief.

    City: Madrid has imperial Spain, great national museums, wonderful neighborhoods, the best nightlife and a bit more gritty and soulful than Barcelona. It has great food from all over Spain with the best seafood restaurants, excellent tapas eating, some old traditional restaurants as well as cutting edge cooking. Barcelona is more glamorous, more beautiful in a outwardly way, the great modernista architecture, the old Gotic neighborhood, beaches and water. It has some of the best and reasonably priced modern Catalan restaurants as well great bars for eating and drinking but lack the variety of Spanish restaurant compare to Madrid. Just outside of Barcelona are some of the best high-end restaurants.

    Area: San Sebastian and the Basque has the best high-end restaurants as well as the best pintxo eating where it is originated. The beaches are fine but for me, the draws of the Basque are eating and the Guggenheim rather than shopping and sightseeing. Seville and Andalusia has the great Moorish architecure, history and the best tapas (where originated), eating in Spain. It cannot match San Sebastian for highend eating but the the interesting food influenced by the many different cultures makes up for it. Seville as well as the nearby small cities such as Granada and the white towns are a pleasure to stroll and spend the afternoon. The beaches of Costa del Sol is not far away. For me, Andalusia "evoke" what I love about Spain: flamenco, bullfighting, the warm climate, the vibrant colors, the smell of olives and oranges, the informality and friendliness. Other than Barcelona where I have friends and eating in the Basque because I love Arzak, for shear enjoyment, Andalusia is the area where I returned most often.

    Spain, like most of Southern Europe, breakfast is not complicatedl, mostly coffee and pastries but it can be leisurely in any area of Spain. shopping? what are you looking for? high fashion and designer goods (best in Madrid and Barcelona), Zara, food product,? Spain is practically surrounded by water, therefore, take your pick.

    There was an earlier thread comparing Madrid to Barcelona on this board. It might take a little effort to find it because it is couple years old.

    2 Replies
    1. re: PBSF

      Thanks for the response. When I say Shopping, I basically mean strolling around and just enjoying the city.

      I noticed you said San Sebastian and Basque. The only thing about that is I am not sure if i would like to drive around. While on vacation I tend to enjoy walking to places and driving in a foreign country just stresses me out..

      Can I hit the Basque area without renting a car? Is La Rioja worth the trip?

      1. re: Mjstout

        Since traveling logistic is off limit on this board, will keep it brief. The bus system (better and faster than the train) is very good getting from town to town such as San Sebastian to Bilboa, etc. A car allows for more freedom to explore but driving and parking in the cities is a big pain. I have done both but I have a bit of inertia and much prefer to stay put and stroll. As for high-end dining, Arzak is in San Sebastian (inexpensive taxi and I have even walk there from the old town). Can taxi to Akelare and back without breaking the bank. Taxis to Etxebarri or Mugaritz is too steep for me. Culturally, I find the area pleasant and mostly return for the food.
        If one does not want to drive and skip high-end dining, I would definitely choose Andalousia because it is more interesting culturally and I love the lifestyle. Use Seville as a base and take day trips to Granada, Cordoba, etc by bus. There would no problem filling 5 days. Amazing sights, pleasant"shopping" as in strolling, sitting around the open squares sipping coffee or sherry, etc. Tapas eating goes hand in hand with this part of Spain. For fine dining, Abantal in Seville is excellent. Getting to the beaches of Costa del Sol without a car would require much more planning and probably not worth it with only 5 days.
        As for Rioja, wouldn't do it without a car though I love wine. I would not consider it with Andalusia and Basque as other options. Sorry that I can't go into more detail about logistic, cause, they will boot me off and delete this post. A good guidebook would provide more details.

    2. What time of year? That makes a pretty big difference. Sevilla in August is hell on earth, for example. (However, Cádiz is very nice.) A winter trip from San Sebastian to Madrid in the dead of winter could be tricky if you are driving or taking a bus. Pretty much all decent sized Spanish cities are good for strolling around, so I think you'll want to do research on what's going to be going on during the season while you are here to narrow things down.

      1. We just got back from 10 days in Spain with stops in Catalunya, Barcelona, Rioja and San Sebastian. It was probably our best food trip ever and that includes comparisons to trips to Italy and to Napa Valley with the French Laundry. For Catalunya and Rioja you do need a car but it was not stressful to drive around. Interestingly we stayed in two Starwood hotels (Marques di Riscal in Rioja and Maria Cristina in San Sebastian) and they were both great. For leisurely strolling, beach and great food, San Sebastian sounds like the perfect order. After that I would say Rioja, but again you would need to drive.

        1. If you decide to go to San Sebastian it's not a long drive into the Basque region of France.

          One of the best and unforgettable meals I ever had was here:

          1 Reply
          1. re: Quimbombo

            I second Olhabidea. And the setting is enchanting.