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Soak up the Spanish way of life on this tour from Madrid to Barcelona through the Basque country. Explore Bilbao's cobble-street old town, discover the famous Pintxos bars in San Sebastian and wonder at the magnificent Guggenheim Museum. Sip rich-red glasses of Rioja in the oh-so-pretty medieval walled village of Laguardia and ogle Gaudi's fantasy-style architecture in Barcelona.
Explore Tour Leader
5 nights comfortable hotel
3 nights premium hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Madrid, the Capital of Spain, home to elegant boulevards, manicured parks, cultural museums and fantastic markets. It is one of those places that draws people back time and time again, either for its rich culture, great food and architecture ranging from contemporary to Medieval or simply to sit outside on a busy terraza watching the locals enjoying themselves.
For those arriving on time our tour leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and we will go out for an included drink before dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Madrid at any time. If you would like an airport transfer today, you will need to arrive at Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport (MAD), which is around 20 minutes from the hotel by taxi. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore the city. The museums are home to some of the best art collections on the planet or the vast El Retiro Park is good place for a leisurely walk, past rose gardens and statues to the boating lake. If you want to spend more time in Madrid and discover everything that the capital has to offer, we strongly recommend to book one or two extra nights before the tour starts.
Hotel Porcel Ganivet (or similar)
After an early breakfast we bid farewell to Madrid and catch the train north to the Basque Country. The train ride takes around five hours to Bilbao, arriving in the early afternoon. A port city with an industrial past, tucked into a lush corner of northeast Spain and surrounded by rolling green countryside, Bilbao is the largest and most culturally dynamic city in the Basque region.
After lunch, we plan a walk to discover the cobbled streets of the old quarter where we start to learn about the vibrant Basque culture and Euskadi. At the heart of this atmospheric part of the city are Bilbao's Siete Calles, the original seven streets that were constructed in the 1400s, and La Ribera Market is the largest covered market in Europe. Food plays a central role here, as you will discover over the next couple of days, with Bilbao playing host to many Michelin-starred eateries, buzzing Pintxo (Basque tapas) bars and family-run restaurants.
The late afternoon is free to wander and marvel at the spectacular architecture of Frank Gehry's titanium-clad Guggenheim museum. Built on the banks of the River Nervion, the building is a stylized representation of a boat and pays homage to the importance of the river, sea and boats to Bilbao.
Hotel Barcelo Nervion (or similar)
After breakfast, we drive towards San Sebastian stopping first in the coastal town of Getaria, famous for its anchovies where we visit a fishery where to learn about the importance of this small fish to the local community and how to can anchovies in the traditional way.
Continue to San Sebastian where we spend the day exploring this marvellous city. San Sebastian, known locally as Donostia, has long been one of the most famous tourist destinations in Spain, characterized by its superb cuisine. After arriving, we head first to Monte Urgull to get our bearings and stretch our legs. This hill on the headland looms above the old town and we discover the stone remains of a castle and some fine viewpoints. Back in the old town we explore a maze of grand architecture and pedestrianised alleys littered with quality bars, restaurants and smart shops.
It does not take long for the famous Pintxos bars to fill with locals and you may see some of them drinking Txakoli - a popular white wine, naturally effervescent with moderate alcohol and natural acidity - in tall, flat-bottomed glasses. The tour leader will make some suggestions for lunch and you may choose a Txacoli tasting with some selected Pintxos.
This afternoon, you can explore the old town some more, chill by the beach or in a cafe or we recommend joining the tour leader on a exploration on foot. Walk the promenade of the Playa de la Concha around the picturesque sweep of golden sand beach, passing surfers until you reach three of Eduardo Chillida's wonderful abstract sculptures being battered by the elements with fine views back across the bay. A nearby funicular ride up and down Monte Igueldo offers superb views of San Sebastian from a classic viewpoint. At the end of a rewarding day, we return to Bilbao for the evening.
This morning we travel south by charter bus to La Rioja Alavesa, a Basque corner of the Ebro Valley that has a long tradition of producing quality Rioja wines. Our first stop this morning is at a local bodega to learn more about modern life as a wine producer in Rioja and a chance to try some of the famous wines. Some vineyards have chosen modern, striking architecture and we plan to make photo stops outside two of the most emblematic bodegas in the whole region - Ysios (designed by Calatrava) and Marques de Riscal (Gehry).
We stay in a hotel just outside Laguardia - a picture-perfect walled town surrounded by vineyards. The afternoon is free for you to relax and take in the natural surroundings. Alternatively, you can join the Tour Leader for a walk in the local vicinity to explore the village and the beautiful surrounding nature.
Hotel Silken Villa de Laguardia (or similar)
Today we drive through the proudly independent region of Navarra stopping at places of interest and finally into Aragon. The Camino de Santiago, or St. James Way, is an ancient Christian pilgrimage route that leads to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia and the final resting place of Saint James. We plan to join the pilgrim route this morning from Obanos village and walk a short 2 to 3km section of the camino to Puente La Reina, a town heavily influenced by the Pilgrim's route and devotees have been crossing its medieval five-arched bridge since the 14th century. Around lunchtime, we stop at Pamplona to see its medieval old quarter and grand cathedral. The capital of Navarra is most famous for the running of the bulls in its San Fermin festival in July.
Our final stop this afternoon is to visit the historic town of Olite. We visit the luxurious royal residence and castle that King Carlos III of Navarre built in the 14th and 15th century. Part of the old palace is now a Parador hotel and the whole complex was restored in the 1900s after fire damage. Olite is the wine capital of Navarra and the surrounding countryside is largely dedicated to producing wine.
Travelling onwards, we cross into Aragon and finally reach Zaragoza, a city that was heavily influenced by the Moors, a factor wonderfully illustrated by its numerous examples of Mudéjar architecture. We have a short walking orientation tour of the town before dinner, including the impressive El Pilar cathedral.
Hotel Catalonia El Pilar (or similar)
After breakfast, we drive towards Catalonia where we first stop in the charming municipality of Agramunt famous for its chocolate making. There, we visit a traditional chocolate maker and have the opportunity to discover the artisan elaboration of stone-made chocolate and taste it.
After lunch, we continue our journey by bus to one of Catalonia's most beautiful areas, Montserrat. Montserrat is renowned for its distinctive rock formations, stunning landscapes, and the famous Benedictine abbey which is nearly a 1000 years old. Located on top of the mountain, we take a short train journey to reach the monastery and our hotel for the night. The train winds its way through the mountain's unique skyline, offering spectacular views. Through the panoramic windows you can admire the great beauty of the landscape that surrounds you on the journey from Monistrol to Montserrat. Not only is Montserrat Monastery of significant religious importance but the natural beauty surrounding the monastery is simply breathtaking.
The afternnon is left free to explore the monastery and its surrounding hills. If you are lucky, you might see the Escolania Choir - one of the oldest boys' choirs in Europe.
Hotel Abast Cisneros (or similar)
After breakfast, we continue our journey to our final destination, Barcelona. We leave Montserrat and drive for approximatively one hour. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we take a walking tour through the narrow and winding back streets of the Gothic Quarter, the offbeat and fashionable El Born neighbourhood and the seaside neighbourhood of La Barceloneta. We will try to take in some of the historical covered food markets so you have the chance to try some local specialties to whet your appetite before lunch.
This rest of the afternoon is left free to explore the city. We recommend a visit to Gaudi's Park Guell. Park Güell is an enormous garden with stunning and distinct architectural elements designed by the renowned Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí.
Amrey Sant Pau (or similar)
We start the day with an included guided visit to one of Gaudi's most famous works - La Sagrada Familia. Construction on this unique and enormous Basilica started in 1882 and continues to this day. Our walking tour continues through the Eixample neighbourhood, home to the majority of Barcelona's Modernisme art nouveau masterpieces, until we reach the grand Placa d'Espanya. From here we take the metro up to Montjuic hill for fine views over the city. Finally we end our walk back in the old quarter near the Rambla where you are free for lunch.
The afternoon has been left free with so many places to visit in this charming city. We recommend an optional bike tour to see more of the city from a different perspective.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Barcelona.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Barcelona-El Prat Josep Tarradellas Airport (BCN), which is about 30-45 minutes drive away.
Overall, spring, early summer and autumn are ideal times for a Spanish trip - though the weather varies enormously from region to region. The high central plains suffer from fierce extremes, stiflingly hot in summer, bitterly cold and swept by freezing winds in winter. The Atlantic coast, in contrast, has a tendency to damp and mist, and a relatively brief, humid summer. The Mediterranean south is warm virtually all year round. Spain's Islands the Canaries and Balaerics experience very mild winters and warm summers making them ideal year round destinations.
2 Pin Round
Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Basque
Madrid - Prado 15 Euros, Reina Sofia 10 Euros, Thyssen 13 Euros Bilbao - Guggenheim 18 Euros San Sebastian - Pintxos and Txacoli wine - approx. 27 Euros / Funicula 3 Euros Barcelona - Gaudi - ask Tour Leader for details of multi-entrance tickets If over 65 years of age, it is worth carrying a colour photocopy of your passport as many sites give reduced entrance fees.
Temperatures drop at night in Madrid and it can be cold at any time from November through April. Summer temperatures in Spain usually reach their peak between June and August. Lightweight cotton clothing is best from June to September, light rainwear may be needed at any time of year, and a warm fleece/light jacket is recommended for cooler evenings and nights especially at the beginning and end of the season.
Something you find comfortable for the walks around each of the towns and sights - good comfortable trainers or lightweight walking shoes. Sandals or similar for relaxing.
One main piece of luggage and a daypack. Remember you are expected to carry your own baggage - so don't overload yourself. Also bags will be required to fit into taxis and train compartments on a few occassions.
Bus, On Foot, Taxi, Train
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
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Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
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Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Spain: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
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You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory but Tetanus is usually recommended as a precaution. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.