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Feb 12, 2012 04:29 PM


I would greatly appreciate any/all of your input and advice regarding my upcoming plans to visit Spain. My wife offered for us to travel to a location of my choice for my 40th B-day gift and as I am a foodie Spain was one of the top 5 on my list.

Our itinerary is as follows:

Friday May 11th – Madrid – lunch, relax, tapas tour

Saturday May 12th – Madrid – Prado, Old Madrid, lunch (where?), relax, dinner, go out to a bar/club for the night.

Sunday 13th – Madrid (day trip to Toledo), come back and catch some flamenco (where?)

Monday 14th – Rent car and drive t(lunch on the way, where?) o La Rioja to Marques de Riscal in Elciego, go out for dinner or pinxos in Logrono or Laguardia.

Tuesday 15th – Elciego – relax and enjoy the premises till 2pm, then tour nearby and have winery tour and dinner at a yet to be decided winery.

Wednesday 16th – Check out and drive to San Sebastian, lunch in San Sebastian or on the way (nowhere fancy, just good, where?), enjoy the city and have a nice dinner at one of the starred restaurants not sure which one yet (all the names that have been mentioned at previous discussions).

Thursday 17th – San Sebastian – drive and independently tour the region – Lunch already reserved at Extebarri (really looking forward to this) take a long walk to work lunch off, then come back and have pinxos in town.

Friday 18th – check into hotel in Bilbao (due to7am flight next morning) – drive the coast maybe lunch at Elkano or another real good special place (looking for something not too expensive but still real good by the ocean somewhere). Take in the towns and sights, return car and dinner in Bilbao

Saturday 19th – Early flight back to US.

Here are some of my questions that I could really use some insight on.

1. In Madrid on our first evening there, I would like to arrange a private guide for a tapas/wine tour. There are several main guides that offer this service but as they all look good online, I cannot tell the difference. My goal is to get an authentic experience that does not just cater to the common denominator with someone who knows where to take people who are actually serious about their food.

2. I am thinking about having dinner in Botin, specifically for their suckling pig and the old world atmosphere. Is this too touristy and is there a better place for this type of dish and atmosphere in Madrid?

3. We are possibly going to take a side trip via AVE to Toledo and I would love to get some opinions as to where to have lunch when we are there. Also if you know any good guides while we are there to give us a private tour that would be great.

4. I read in Chow that in Madrid there is a Galician seafood restaurant called Marisqueria Ribeira do Mino for a real good meal. What are your thoughts regarding this place and is there another place that you would recommend instead.

5. Please sound off on some quintessential places to have lunch while in Madrid.

6. Where would you go for dinner in La Rioja

7. I would love to have a tour of an old world winery and then a dinner at that winery while in La Rioja, any suggestions?

8. Heading to San Sebastion, I am not sure that given my itinerary above that San Se is the best place to be based out of. Without a doubt I will be having pinxos there at least one evening. However, I would love to find a hotel with some character overlooking a profound vista that is at the same time comfortable (my wife likes to get her sleep in on vacations) and accommodating. Perhaps San Se should be a side trip from that place, or perhaps I would be missing out on something wonderful by not staying in San Se. Please, please weigh in. I am struggling with that one. Don’t want to just have a stay in a nice hotel (no matter how nice) as I am looking for a place with character and awesome views also.

9. I would like to find a few good suggestions for real home cooking in the Basque region. If I stay in San Se, I will most likely have dinner at one of the starred restaurants as it would be a shame for a foodie to miss that experience. But I would also like to have real authentic home cooked meal (ideally in a local person’s home or a hybrid home/restaurant) in a relaxed setting. Any suggestions?

10. Finally, I realize that the itinerary above is personal choice, but if anyone could add their insight into these plans (is it too much, would I be getting a better experience staying in Ribera Del Duero instead of La Rioja to relax and interact with wine production, etc.) that would be great. My flight does arrive in Madrid, but I can leave out of anywhere in Spain.

As my wife and I do not get to travel alone too often, I want to maximize our experience and I am very thankful for any of your input.


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  1. girdev - I haven't been to Madrid yet, but will actually be there the same weekend as yourself (either celebrating my engagement with my girlfriend or drowning my rejected sorrows away). I thought I'd share some of the research I've done so far on my own trip:

    - The most popular flamenco places seem to be: Corral de Moreria, Cardamomo, Cafe de Chinitas, and Casa Patas.

    - The most oft-cited alternative to Botin is Posada de la Villa. Reviews seem to imply both are fairly touristy.

    - Not necessarily a reason to reschedule your day, but the Prado is free 6-8pm Monday-Saturday. Otherwise, normal admission is 12 EUR per person.

    Can't tell if this is your first time to Spain, but I'd recommend you make reservations and plan ahead of time (as I found on my first trip to Barcelona). Restaurants are open somewhat limited hours, don't have that many seats, and tables turn over slowly. Also, commercial establishments seem to follow their own logic (e.g. all of the Michelin-starred restaurants are closed Saturday lunch, all-day Sunday, and many of them all-day Monday), so you may find yourself searching fruitlessly for a quality meal if you play it by ear.

    Safe travels!

    1 Reply
    1. re: liucipher

      liucipher - thank you for your input. This is my first time in Spain and I appreciate you sharing you research with me.

      I hope you will be celebrating with your future wife rather than having rejection sorrows. But then again, not a bad place to have them!

      Best regards,

    2. Which is your hotel in Madrid? Which area?

      8 Replies
      1. re: JuanDoe

        JusnDoe- I have booked three separate ones in hopes of learning more about then and then canceling two in the next few weeks. The first is Alicia which is three star and least expensive. The second is Preciados which is 4 star but I read mixed reviews due to its location. However I booked a room with a terrace, which from online photos looks like it has a great view for siesta time when my wife naps and I want to enjoy a cigar and read a book or have a sherry.
        Then as a safe bet I booked the Westin. But it is a bit pricey given that I will be staying at pricey places in La Rioja and potentially Basque I wanted to maybe not spend 350 euro plus in Madrid.

        We want a safe place in a good location that will have very clean room and we would like to be able to sleep with little noise when we want to.

        What are your thoughts.

        1. re: girdev

          Since I live in Madrid never sleep in hotels :-) don't know about a siesta there…
          The Westin is obviously the more upscale of the three and its location seems also the quiet one by night.
          Room Mate Alicia, the trendiest of them, is located in the center of the action.
          Preciados has excellent reviews in Trip Advisor…
          I'd choose… the Preciados, the closest to 2 Metro stations (Callao and Santo Domingo).

          1. re: JuanDoe

            Thank you JuanDoe. That was my instinct as well. Thanks for the reaffirmation.
            Do you know anyone local who conducts a real tapas tour and not just the touristic type?
            I have a feeling that most of the tours take tourists to places that they have relationships with and do not concentrate on the actual food and tapas experience as much as a real foodie would like.


            1. re: girdev

              Again, as a local, I never book tapas tours :-)
              I have not experience on WalksOfSpain by myself, but they have good reviews in Trip Advisor.

              1. re: JuanDoe

                Thank you JuanDoe. What are some of your favorite authentic places for tapas as a local?

                1. re: girdev

                  These are good --and rather upscale-- tapas bars off the tourist track (Saturday at mid-day?)


                  But I really enjoy the unpretentious venues like some of these bars (Saturday at evening?)


                  1. re: JuanDoe


                    I cannot believe how helpful and willing you have been. I live in the Philadelphia PA area and if I can ever return the favor, please turn to me.

                    Muchas Gracias.

                    1. re: girdev

                      You're welcome, enjoy Spain.
                      BTW, don't miss a tapas crawl on Calle Laurel, Logroño.

      2. Friday (arrival day). Something for nibbling at mid-day nearby the Preciados. Head to Calle de Veneras (round the corner). Appetizer for free, no fancy tapas and local atmosphere. "La Alegría" (# 7) a tiny old tavern for tortilla or lacón, "Mareas Vivas" (# 3) appetizer for free, "EL Labriego" (# 4) for pulpo and bacalao and "El Zagal" , appetizer for free and tapas, on Calle Trujillos 7.

        Saturday morning. Breakfast at Chocolatería Valor at Postigo de San Martín corner with Navas de Tolosa. Café con leche or chocolate with churros.

        Sunday lunch in Toledo on Calle Alfileritos 24.

        Nightlife: Café Berlín Jazz on Calle Jacometrezo 4 (nearby the Preciados).

        Costello Café & Nite Club on Calle Caballero de Gracia 10, near a "red light street" (Montera).

        Areia Colonial Chillout on Calle Hortaleza 92.

        Area Plaza de Santa Ana: Café Central on Plaza del Angel, Populart on Calle de las Huertas 22, Villa Rosa --flamenco show-- on Plaza de Santa Ana.

          1. re: JuanDoe

            JuanDoe, Thank you so much for your tremendous effort in assisting me with researching this trip. I am extremely excited to come to Madrid and experience your city from a culinary perspective as well as other perspectives.

            In the past several days, my itinerary has taken a complete turn. For business reasons, I need to head south after Madrid and I think given the time I have I will not be able to go to Northern Spain and experience my original itinerary. Therefore, if you have any advise, here is my new and final itinerary:

            May 11-13th Madrid - all the original information still applies.

            MAY14 - Drive down to Casares (Malaga) with a stop for lunch and a tour in Toledo

            May 14 - 16th - Casares (relax and spa) Dinner in Tragabuches one evening. We will be staying away from the resort towns with tall buildings for the most part as this is not the type of experience we are looking for.

            May 16 - 19th - Seville (and touring surrounding areas including Jerez

            May 20th - Fly back home.

            This is a completely different turn of events, but, I figured that in Spain there MUST be good food in every region (I need to research this as well). Although now it maybe harder to find those little food treasures as it would have been in La Rioja and San Se.

            I am most grateful to you for your help and I have copied all of the features you wrote about in response to my request. Thank you so much and if you still have some patience with me, please provide me with more information.

            I am looking for those little advertised/known places that provide a great food experience that are also not pretentious as there are plenty of high-brow places that I am sure we will experience one or two of them (such as Tragabushes??).

            Then later when my kids are a little older, we will come back and do the Basque Country and North Spain with them.

            Best regards,

            1. re: girdev

              Touring Toledo and a trip to Casares on the same day? It's too busy, IMO. You only could do a stressed tour around Toledo with a break for a sandwich. I'd consider the AVE (high speed train) from Madrid to Málaga. It takes 2.5 hours for 320 miles distance. In Málaga you can rent a car to Casares. Tickets:
              Never been to Casares, I can't help you on this. BTW, 'Tragabuches' -- not 'Tragabushes' -- was the nickname of a famous bandit who lived in the early 19th century. This word -- tragabuches -- might mean something like "swallower bird's crop" or "swallower belly".

              Not to miss in Seville & Jerez:
              * Sherry wines. You have the opportunity to taste several types of Sherry: Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado, Palo Cortado…
              * Pescaíto frito (fried fish). Try the 'cazón en adobo' aka 'bienmesabe'.
              * Gazpacho (cold tomato-based soup) or salmorejo (thicker gazpacho).
              * Jamón and cheese washed down with Fino sherry, manzanilla or chilled Barbadillo white wine.
              * Rabo de toro, literally "bull tail" but it is really veal tail.
              * Lomo. If you read 'lomo' you must understand 'pork loin'.
              * Alcauciles (small artichokes) and other grilled vegetables.

              Some recs in Seville:
              BAR ESLAVA on Calle Eslava 3. Tiny tapas tavern to feel the local atmosphere. Always packed. What to order : costillas con miel (pork ribs with honey).
              COLONIALES on Plaza del Cristo de Burgos. Small tavern. What to order: solomillo (pork tenderloin).
              EL RINCONCILLO on Calle Gerona 40. Founded in the 17th century. Assorted tapas.
              VINERÍA SAN TELMO. Catalina de Ribera 4. Wines and tapas.
              LAS PILETAS on Calle Marqués de Paradas 28. Tapas in a bullfight decorated tavern.

              1. re: JuanDoe

                Sorry for the misspelling and once again thank you so much. We were planning to go to Jerez for a sherry tour at a bodega or two to sample the various types of sherry so I'm right there with you on that one.

                I will look into the Toledo to Casares plan as it may very well be too much in one day and I have never driven in Spain before. I really appreciate you pointing that out to me. One of the reasons I wanted to go to Toledo was to tour the old Jewish sites, but I can do that in Seville and Cordova as well. Also the suckling pig or lunch would have been great, but I will fit that in when I am in Madrid and I may be able to find a good version down south somewhere also.

                Asador type meals are my favorite but,due to the change in plans I will have to find the food at my locations as opposed to traveling to the various food locations first. I guess that will need to be the second return o Spain.

                As my wife and I are not very sophisticated when it comes to Spanish food and culture (sure we know the basic history) would recommend any books that we should read before our trip?

                Again, I am very grateful for your time and effort!

                  1. re: JuanDoe

                    Sorry for the misspelling again. On one of the maps it was spelled that way. Thank you so much for the link. I will read it immediately.

                  2. re: girdev

                    Don't worry about misspelling and be lenient toward my English :-)
                    Books, something for Madrid: "A Load Of Bull" by Tim Parfitt

                    Something for Andalusia: "Driving Over Lemons" by Chris Stewart

                    1. re: JuanDoe

                      Thanks JuanDoe,

                      Ordered A Load of Bull a few minutes ago, sounds like a good read about Madrid.

                      1. re: JuanDoe


                        A Load of Bull was a great book to read and certainly laugh with. I myself came to the US from a different country and can identify with Tim.

                        I think eating may be a little more challenging then I expect in Madrid :))

                      2. re: girdev

                        Another important matter: have you thought of manual driving? It's hard and expensive to find automatic cars in Spain.

                        1. re: JuanDoe

                          Once as a young man I had the chance to learn on a friend's mother's car, but I caused it so much damage that I was always afraid to re-learn on other's cars.

                          I have budgeted for automatic as it is very important to me to be able to drive around some spots in a new country, especially in the mountains of Andalusia.

                          One of my food wishes is to drive into a remote village or outpost and have lunch at a small relatively unknown (by tourists) places, cooked by a very talented and caring cook, that will be really really good.

                          I did this in Tuscany in 2003 and it blew me away. I can still taste the perfectly roasted potatoes which I had with amazing veal in a woman's home who opens up her kitchen once in a while to guests. I had a guide with me who knew her, so that helped of course. But I did not have Chowhound at the time :)

                          Or, the time when my wife and I were in St. Martin Island and amongst all the great French restaurants (and we visited quiet a few) was a little hut with a man and a grill who was grilling chicken and fish on an open flame. What a meal that was!! I still remember how it tasted after 12 years. That was my introduction to curry and since then I have had a lot of various curries from different locations. The French restaurants were great, but I only remember one dish from them from 7 days of eating around.

                          Those types of experiences are one of the highest food joys to me. Don't get me wrong, restaurants, simple and high-end, are also amazing experiences and I will make sure I have my share of them. They are around and can be found with a little effort.

                          Its the people's cooking done by the people that I am most interested in and cannot wait to experience in Andalusia.

                          Now that I made myself hungry writing this I will go and take a break for lunch :)

                          1. re: JuanDoe

                            JuanDoe, although we are not planning to wear shorts and t-shirts, what is expected as far as typical dress for the various restaurants and tapas establishments in Madrid and Andalusia. Obviously for very high end places, we will wear appropriate dress up cloths, but I was hoping that I did not have to pack a suite for this trip if one was not needed.


                            1. re: girdev

                              Smart casual is OK for restaurants, a jacket for upscale restaurants and a tie only for top upscale restaurants. The most important thing for restaurants and the nightlife is the footwear. Do AVOID sneakers, sandals and WHITE socks. The best is black or brown shoes and black socks. Casual wear for bars and non-upscale venues. Blue jeans are OK. Avoid the shell-suit or tracksuite look.

                              1. re: JuanDoe

                                Thank you. That's kind of what i figured and the way we dress here.