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12 Days of Spain

If I only have 12 days to tour around Spain, what are the places I should not miss going to? My name is Erik Matti. Me and my partner are going to Spain this March 30, 2012. I will be travelling from March 30 to April 21. My first stop will be Spain and then my last leg of trip will be in France. We were thinking of going around Spain for 12 days. We're landing in Barcelona and maybe spend 4 days there. I am looking at going to San Sebastian and then Madrid. From there I could take the train to Paris. But I also want to go to Valencia. But that would mean going to 4 places in Spain which could be tiring.

We are foodies and we'd like to visit tapas bars, pintxos. We'd also want to see a bullfight, maybe some cheesemaking factories, black pig farm, truffle hunting. Anything food and fun. I need advice. Because right now, I just want to visit every town and city in Spain that is listed on the map! And I know that's just not possible.

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  1. I think you need to research more and be realistic about what you can possibly experience in 12 days. Compromise.

    Black pig farms are not that near any of the cities you named. Yes, it would be cool to see them 'live' but it might be several days to get there and back. Consider doing a jamon tasting instead. Jamonisimo is in Barcelona and it supplies to some world-class chefs including Ferran Adria.


    It's one of my many dreams to visit the 5J facility in Jabugo. You can see from the website linked below that it's more than a hop and a skip from Seville. The various tour organizers will charge up to 200 euros per person to take you there or you can rent a car and drive yourself.

    To visit Valencia, you could take the train from Barcelona for 2 days. From Madrid to Paris, it can be faster and cheaper to fly. You'll get lots of good food ideas from Chowhound but it sounds like you need transportation advice too. Go to Lonely Planet or Tripadvisor for that.

    1. Wherever you go, don't just eat in restaurants---buy some fresh fruit. I have never anywhere or ever in my life had better strawberries or melon. Also there is a little fruit called the medano, sort of like an apricot, that was perfect. A foodie should never pass up a market. Also, if you cook at home, look to buy saffron in Spain as it is MUCH cheaper than in the States.

      1. While in Madrid and taking your day trips to Toledo, El Escorial, and Avilla, do not buy the saffron at any of the kiosks. They are normally floor sweepings or dried out left overs. Get the fresh stuff in a store.

        And yes it is touristy, but do the tapas in Plaza Mayor. A fun time.

        1. Personally, on this trip, I'd skip Valencia. Had a great time there, but at night it was DEAD compared with Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. Besides, they are all on the AVE high speed train line and make convenient connections if you choose those three. Spain is by far my favourite country in Europe that I've been to and personally feel that what it has to offer food wise is comparable or better than France, Italy or any of the others.

          For me, Spanish food is just like the culture, very passionate. Flavours are almost always sharp and pronounced. Most likely due to the moorish influence (see Lebanese cuisine for example) not typically mellow flavours.

          3 Replies
          1. re: currycue

            Thanks for the replies. I just want to take advantage of my trip in Spain and Paris. So, is it recommended that I only go to two places in Spain in the 12 days I'm there? I definitely would do some jamon tasting! Barcelona is already on my list since I'll be arriving there but I want to explore Spain a little more. I would also love to go to Logrono, La Rioja for that Tapas bar strip. Is it a good Idea?

            1. re: katumbal

              I think you can do 4 days in each place, as long as the connections are easy. From Barcelona, you can fly cheaply to San Sebastian (Vueling or Iberia) if you buy tickets in advance. I have a r/t ticket from Iberia for 100 euros.

              "Tapas bar strip"? Do you mean going somewhere for a tapas crawl? I don't think you need to go to Logrono to do that. Of the 2 cities you already have in mind, Madrid and San Sebastian have areas where you can do a very nice tapas crawl.

              Here's a link to todopintxos. It has great info on tapas bars in San Sebastian.

              1. re: katumbal

                "is it recommended that I only go to two places in Spain in the 12 days I'm there? I definitely would do some jamon tasting! Barcelona is already on my list since I'll be arriving there but I want to explore Spain a little more. I would also love to go to Logrono, La Rioja for that Tapas bar strip. Is it a good Idea?"

                Do you really want to experience Spain, enjoy Spain, or is it more important for you to achieve the biggest number of places visited?

                Remember every time you change cities, you lose half a day in commute if the destination is nearby, or most of a day if the destination is far.
                For your 12 days, if you go to, say, 4 not too far-flung destinations on your 12-day trip, your commute time - under the best circumstances with a miraculous lack of any type of delay, - will occupy 2 to 2.5 of the 12 days. If some of the destinations are far flung, which seems to be your desire, it may take up 3 whole days. Is that really how you want to spend your short holiday?

            2. In a way Spain is like what the US used to be. Full of interesting nooks and crannies. Full of great regional cuisines, wines and different as well. I always prefer to see 1-2 regions in depth instead of seeing bits n pieces. So, assuming no car. Pais vasco, San Sebastian is a must, and there's some interesting art there as well From there it's an easy bus/train ride to Bilbao for 1-2 days and the fish market in Bilbao is great, worth a detour. Galicia has great food, the scenery (outside the coast) is nowhere near as nice as Asturias (except for the Ribera Sacra). Pontevedra has a great little tapas scene and from there it's an easy hop to some vineyards if you can rent a car for a day or two.
              Asturias is tough as (for me anyway) it's all about nature and small towns.

              Madrid, well, you can spend all 12 days there and not be bored, plus Barcelona is 2-3 hours by AVE train, so a surf n turf combo is so easy.

              Andalucia that time of year is probably very nice, AVE to Sevilla from Madrid real easy.

              But all in all to get to small towns, vineyards where some of the best stuff is, requires a car.

              My choice would be Madrid (barrio Retiro, La Latina etc) for 3-4 days, then Barcelona for same, then fly to Sam Sebastian and stay put. You wont come away unhappy or famished.

              1. I've been to Spain only once and miss it dearly. We arrived Madrid (4 days), Pamplona (San Fermin, 5 days), San Sebastian (4 days), into France & Pyrenees (2 days), return.

                I certainly understand wanting to visit every region and every town, but as others say, perhaps plan less stops and enjoy more.
                Although we were impressed with the food everywhere, San Sebastian (cut to close-up of misty eyes) was the crown jewel. Not only of our Spain trip, but of all our trips.
                Skip whatever you want, but keep San Sebastian on the list.
                The tapas bars of parte viejo are phenomenol.
                Food culture is sublime.
                If that ain't enough, they also have a gorgeous beach.

                1. Thank you all. You have been such a great help. Ok, here's the plan now:

                  March 30-April 4 Barcelona
                  April 4-April 9 San Sebastian
                  April 9-April 14 Provence
                  April 14-April 21 Paris

                  I get tired moving from one place to the next so I'm keeping Parigi's advice of less transfers and longer stays. And yes, Aleta, San Sebastian and Barcelona have enough tapas bars to last a lifetime. No need to go to La Rioja! Morekasha, Madrid was initially on our list but I can't pass on San Sebastian after watching Bourdain and Jose Andres doing their food trip there.

                  Do you guys recommend getting France-Spain rail pass to get around these places? Is train the only option for these routes or do I mix planes with trains? Hope you could help me with this dilemma. Thanks!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: katumbal

                    A tapas and pintxos map of Barcelona.

                    As I said above, from Barcelona to San Sebastian, the fastest and cheapest way is to fly by Vueling.

                    Keep in mind that many upscale places are closed on Sundays and Mondays.

                    1. re: Aleta

                      Also realize that the weather will be atrocious. Plan on wet and chilly, rather than a sunny spring. Plan on inside seating, especially in Provence. Search the net for time and location of markets. The locals don't let the weather slow them down, so neither should you.

                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                        The weather might not be atrocious everywhere. I've spent the last three Three Kings Days (Jan. 6) sipping cava on the beach in Barcelona. Nothing is that predictable - it's going to be 60 degrees and sunny tomorrow in San Sebastian.

                        1. re: caganer

                          I agree with Caganer The weather will turn out to be just like the usual weather for that period, or it will be somewhat like it, or nothing like it.
                          Conclusion: Weather happens. Don't worry. Just come and enjoy it all, rain or shine.

                    2. re: katumbal

                      Keep in mind that most of your time in Spain is going to be during Semana Santa--the week leading up to Easter. Not necessarily a bad thing, but this means that many people will be on vacation and some places may be closed or have different hours--so you'll need to plan ahead with travel and reservations more than usual. The train trip from San Sebastian to Provence would be quite an odyssey--but, as far as I know, it's not so easy by plane, either... From a logistical standpoint, doing it in this order San Sebastian-->BCN--> Provence--> Paris might make the connections simpler (pray there are no strikes). Or even Paris-->San Sebastian-->BCN-->Provence--> Paris.

                    3. Thanks all. Holy Week scares us. I don't want to miss out on places just because they're close on those days. Butterfly is so right. We were looking at travel options for San Sebastian and Provence, we will almost lose a day just on travel alone. Grrr! This Spain-France thing is really a major planning hurdle!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: katumbal

                        There's always the night train between Madrid or Barcelona and Paris. A private first class cabin isn't that much more expensive than plane tickets and a night in a hotel - and it's an adventure.

                        1. re: caganer

                          I have taken the Paris-Barcelona night train 1st class. Very comfortable, very well designed. Great experience. And a wonderful time-saver. You go to sleep and wake up in another city, really IN another city, city center, not some airport inferno.

                        2. re: katumbal

                          I am going be in Barcelona and San Sebastian from April 3-12 and have come across a couple of restaurants on holiday during this period. Mugaritz will be closed during this time and El Celler de Can Roca is closed until April 10 too.