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Spain Trip Report and Itinerary (16 days)

Spain Trip Report and Itinerary (16 days)

Old Feb 11, 18, 9:22 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2013
Location: LAX adjacent
Posts: 68
Spain Trip Report and Itinerary (16 days)

Spain Trip Report and Itinerary (16 days)

Note: Unfortunately, images do not display in this forum, so I've changed them to links if you're interested.

This site is such a great resource for trip planning, that I wanted to share our recent trip and itinerary as inspiration for others. I love Spain, and wanted to make a return trip with my partner. There is so much to see in the country that we couldn’t even fit in any Madrid time over two weeks. The trip spanned 16 days between October 13 and October 28, 2017.

The primary impetus for our trip, other than Barcelona, was to hang with the pigs. Black Iberian pigs are the famous and delicious black footed pigs, used to produce the incomparable jamon iberico, and are raised in the Spanish dehesa, oak forests in South / West Spain. By law, the pigs are allocated ~ 4 acres of land each, and forage on several types of acorns during the winter months. The acorn diet imbues their meat with an umami unique around the world. The fat from these pigs indeed tastes like acorns, and contains over 55% of the healthy oleic acid (the same found in avocados).

The first week was a whirlwind tour of the Spanish countryside and many memorable stops. The second week was all Barcelona. While it was nearly as busy as our first week, we almost always remained in walking distance of the hotel for a quick siesta. I would typically shy away from such a busy trip, but for us this ended up just about perfect, and included a nice long stay in Barcelona.

Trip Theme Song: Castle on the Hill (Ed Sheeran) – For all our trips, we try to pick a song which personifies time and place, and it becomes a staple of our trip playlist. This song is particularly apropos.

Day 1: Fly LAX to BCN, Norwegian Airlines Premium Class
Nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Barcelona. Norwegian had by far the least expensive Premium / Business prices at the time, which included Priority airport security and access to VIP lounges at the airport. Overall, Norwegian Premium seating is comparable to domestic First Class. Comfortable seats with a nice recline and very good leg room, but no lie flat seats and just passable food. The cost was a bit more than twice coach, so for the price this was a very good compromise on these long hauls.
Day 2: Arrive BCN, Fly BCN to AGP (Malaga)
Ideally, we would have flown to Barcelona to Granada, but the only available flight was too late to rent a car. Instead, we flew into Malaga, rented a car from Hertz, and drove along the autovia above the Costa del Sol to Nerja. It was a quick stay at Parador de Nerja, which was nice with beautiful views along the coast, but our room didn’t have a view that most others did. The included breakfast was excellent, and was a nice kickoff to the trip. Upon check-in, we picked up our WiFi hotspot that we’d rented from WifiVox. Having good WiFi access 24/7 for our entire trip is a requirement on our vacations these days, and the WifiVox rental was easy and affordable.
Day 3: Niguelas / Granada
A highlight day of our trip. A quick drive from Nerja to Niguelas brought us to the Olive Oil Tour (oliveoiltour.com/) in Niguelas. The tour was very informative and included a brief walk through the olive groves, discussion around historic olive oil processing equipment, plus a tasting with a handful of different local olive oils. The tour was a bit expensive, as it included transportation from Granada that we did not avail, but for someone without a car and interested in olive oil production, this would be a nice stopover.

Historic olive oil processing equipment

After the olive oil tour, we drove to Granada and checked in to the Parador de Granada, which is situated within the Alhambra walls. The Alhambra is palace complex which resides above the city of Granada, and is unique in that is contains architecture which span a millennium of time and conquerors, and has on display an intertwined mix of Moorish, Catholic, and Renaissance architecture.

As we were checking in to the parador, an Alhambra walking tour opened up that started immediately, so we dropped everything. Normally, you need to book weeks in advance, so we did not hesitate. The tour lasted 3 hours, and included entrance to the Nasrid palaces. The tour also took us through the Alcazaba and the Generalife grounds. Our guide Sergio was simply outstanding. He brought the walls and grounds of the Alhambra to life, and made this tour the best of our trip. A tour of the Alhambra should be on most everyone’s must do list.

View of the Alhambra from the Generalife

The Generalife grounds

Inside the Alhambra

Our amazing guide Sergio

Along with the tour, our stay for the night at the Parador de Granada was truly magical. The parador is housed in a former Catholic convent, built in the 15th century. The rooms were tastefully decorated to combine a period feel along with providing comfortable modern conveniences. Our stroll after dinner is what also made this stay particularly magical. Stepping outside the front door of the parador at night, you are transported into a private fortress of your own, devoid of tourists, and lit up to highlight the varied architecture on display. You can walk around the Alhambra grounds, unfettered by swarming crowds and simply take in the stunning beauty of one of Spain’s treasures.

Secret tip: Even if you are just visiting the Alhambra for the day, you should stop by the restaurant of the parador for lunch. It’s a really nice break from what can be a long day of sightseeing. This restaurant is outstanding, and should not be missed. All of our dishes were exceptional, and highlighted by the paella and cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig).
Day 4: Granada / Jaen
In the morning, we took a self-guided tour of the Catedral de Granada and a brief exploration of the city. The Cathedral was beautiful and well worth the visit.

Catedral de Granada

We then made the quick drive to Jaen and visited the Santa Catalina Castle, adjacent to the Parador de Jaen and on a hill high above Jaen. Another castle on the hill! While the structure is only partly remaining, the castle has a lot of history, and amazing views of the city and countryside. A short stroll from the castle lead us down to Santa Catalina’s Cross for more breathtaking views of the surroundings. We spent the latter part of the day strolling the streets of Jaen near the Catedral de Jaen.

View of Jaen and Santa Catalina’s Cross from the castle

We had dinner and spent the evening at the Parador de Jaen. Another lovely stay at a parador, with views of the surrounding countryside from our balcony. Dinner at the parador was forgettable as unfortunately our restaurant of choice down the road was closed that evening. Wish we could have also spent time at the UNESCO heritage cities of Ubeda and Baeza in the region.
Day 5: Badajoz / Cinco Jotas Tour - Iberico Ham
In the morning, we embarked on our longest drive of the trip, a 4-hour jaunt which led us into the heart of pig country. Thus began our quest for all things jamon iberico, another highlight of our trip! After checking in at Molinas de Fuenteheridos, a lovely country house in the heart of Huelva province, we headed directly to Badajoz for our afternoon jamon tour with Cinco Jotas. While there are a fairly large number of jamon iberico producers, Cinco Jotas stands out as not only one of the very best, but also one of the very few USDA certified to import into the United States.

Cinco Jotas only produces jamon iberico de bellota, which are made from pure bred black Iberian pigs raised in the dehesa (oak forests). The Cinco Jotas tour, led by Marco, gave us a high-end, high-level overview of jamon iberico production, and was highlighted by our ham tasting and a visit to the dehesa to stroll among the pigs. The ham tasting was particularly informative, as we got to taste each of the four primary cuts of a leg (maza, contramaza, babilla, and punta). Each cut had a distinctive taste and fat content, so it was a treat to compare them all together. Our visit to the dehesa was particularly memorable, as it had just rained that morning and the pigs were so stuffed from eating fallen acorns that they were downright friendly. We got to see the pigs in their natural environment, learned a ton about the dehesa ecosystem, and gained a true appreciation for the care and raising of the black Iberian pigs.

Cinco Jotas hams

Black Iberian pigs after a long day of foraging

Baby black Iberian pigs, so cute!

We had hoped to dine at the highly recommended Restaurante Atrio for dinner in nearby Caceres, but alas, it was closed that evening. Our overnight stay at the Molinos de Fuenteheridos was excellent, and we were treated so kindly by the manager Gelu, his wife, and the staff. The breakfast included a huge spread of regional foods and made-to-order eggs and is highly recommended. Wish we could have spent more time here as well, as it was an idyllic retreat from the cities.
Day 6: Aracena / Plasencia
After breakfast, we headed over to Aracena for a surprisingly fantastic tour of the Gruta de las Maravillas (the Cave of Wonders). I’d previously toured caves in Vietnam, so didn’t have particularly high expectations of this cave, but the size, natural caverns and water features were outstanding. Definitely recommended if you find yourself near Aracena and looking for a change of pace. After the tour, we headed up the autovia to Plasencia for the evening, and checked into the Parador de Plasencia (See a trend yet?). While not a castle, nor truly on a hill by itself, the parador certainly fit our trip theme, as it is a converted 15th Century monastery in the heart of Plasencia. This stopover gave us another day to experience historic towns in central Spain. The parador has a lot of history to explore, and most tours of the city include guided walkthroughs of the hotel itself. We had time to wander the streets and back alleys and immerse ourselves in Spanish culture.

Gruta de las Maravillas
Day 7: Guijuelo / Julian Martin Tour - Iberico Ham / Segovia
Day 7 commenced with our second tour of jamon iberico processing facilities on this trip, and a stop in Guijuelo and the Julian Martin factory. Some of you may be thinking, “that’s a lot of ham focus for one trip.”, but for us this was perfect. Thankfully, we were able to schedule two different jamon tours that coincided with our stays in the region. The two tours (Cinco Jotas and Julian Martin) ended up being perfect complements to each other. While the Cinco Jotas tour focused on the sustainability and uniqueness of jamon iberico, our Julian Martin tour enabled us to see the inner workings of a jamon factory and watch all the steps involved. From a 3-day salt cure to a 3-year open air drying cycle, the making of a jamon iberico is a true labor of love, and the end result is special.

Our guide for this tour, Juan, provided so much information about the processing and packaging of many different ham products that Julian Martin produces, and was willing to answer all the questions our group had. This up-close tour of the facilities really helped inform our knowledge of how a ham is made. Lastly, Juan treated us to a very nice tasting of Julian Martin jamon products, local cheeses, and wines, and a seemingly endless plate of jamon iberico de bellota that he sliced on demand. At both Cinco Jotas and Julian Martin, we picked up several packages of jamon iberico de bellota for the remainder of our trip, so this remained a staple of our lunches during our stay in Spain.

Julian Martin hams

Julian Martin jamon iberico de bellota before consumption

After lunch, we headed to Segovia for a rare two-night stay, and checked in to the Parador de Segovia, a (not castle) modern parador on the hill overlooking the city. The parador itself, while clean and had more breathtaking views, was missing the charm of true historic buildings that we’d become accustomed to. After a brief rest, we headed into Old Town Segovia for dinner and a stroll. Dinner in Segovia would be remiss without a dish of cochinillo asado, and Restaurante Jose Maria was the perfect stop for the evening. The cochinillo was crackly and succulent, the end result of crisping the skin while roasting a 21-day milk-fed suckling pig. This dinner was one of the highlights of our trip of mostly excellent meals.
Day 8: Segovia
Our second day in Segovia afforded us the luxury of exploring Old Town, including the still standing stunning Roman aqueduct, the Alcazar, and strolling the streets of this beautiful city. The Roman aqueduct, completed in 112 AD, is an architectural and engineering marvel. Segovia is a popular tourist destination, so many visitors still crowded the streets even in mid-October, but the city has an enduring charm and history well worth visiting.

Roman aqueduct of Segovia

The Alcazar de Segovia
Day 9: Segovia / Toledo
An early morning start allowed us to drive to Toledo and get a full day visiting this next beautiful city, Toledo. Toledo is built on a steep hill, and is surrounded on three sides by the winding Tagus River. This makes for stunning views of the city when approaching via car or viewing from the opposite bank of the river. We parked our car for the day in the city outskirts, and hiked the steep climb up the hill, under the massive fortress walls, and through one of the famous gates which allow entrance to the city center. One day was not nearly enough time to explore this UNESCO World Heritage city, but we enjoyed our strolls through the rambling cobblestone streets and historic churches and synagogues. In the evening, we checked into the outstanding (also not a castle) Parador de Toledo, which affords some of the best views of the city from across the river.
Day 10: Toledo / Barcelona
Day 10 started with a quick drive to Madrid to drop off the rental car and a 3-hour AVE train to Barcelona. I clocked the train using a speedometer app on my phone as averaging 165 mph, which rivals the Japanese Shinkansen for speed and comfort. We checked in for the remainder of our stay at the (not parador) H10 Cubik, a lovely hotel near the Placa de Catalunya. This would be our headquarters for the next week, and was the perfect combination of size, price, comfort, and location for our needs. Plaza de Catalunya is centrally located at the crossroads of three of Barcelona’s central districts, the Gothic Quarter (including La Rambla), La Ribera (including El Born) and Eixample.
Day 11-15: Barcelona
A whole week in one spot gave us the opportunity to more deeply explore a Spanish city, and I couldn’t think of a better place than Barcelona, which was certainly another highlight of our trip. Gaudi’s imprint on the city is unmistakable and inspiring. Requisite visits to Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, and Parc Guell never disappoint. Gaudi’s greatest achievement, La Sagrada Familia, was even more spectacular on this visit. Construction marches closer to completion, more of the planned towers have arisen (now 8 of 18) and many of the windows built into the design have begun their final transformation into a stained-glass explosion of light and color that is hard to convey. Completion of the church is scheduled for 2026, 100 years after Gaudi’s death.

Casa Mila

Casa Batllo

Parc Guell

La Sagrada Familia

As you explore, you realize that Barcelona is also so much more than the vision laid out by an artistic, architectural, and engineering giant. Barcelona is a city to explore at your own pace, and its beauty envelops you the more time you spend here. Stop by the Picasso Museum for an in-depth exploration of the artistic transformation of a different artist, from his early master painter teens through to his blue period and later years.

No tourist visit to Barcelona is really complete without a walk down La Rambla or a visit to the numerous food stalls in La Boqueria. A quick turn, however, will lead you into the narrow streets and alleyways of the Gothic Quarter and El Born, where you will stumble upon myriad shops and squares that seemingly come out of nowhere. You could feel at peace here, in a city abuzz with throngs of residents and tourists, when you stop by a local tapas bar for a quick drink and snack before the evening takes hold.

A full week in Barcelona also gave us the opportunity to try out numerous cafes, restaurants, and bars, most of which were very good or excellent. We had excellent meals at some of the more popular Boqueria stalls, including El Quim de la Boqueria and Ramblero Boqueria. We had a fantastic meal at Isla Tortuga in the Barceloneta area, and an unforgettable dinner at the expensive but memorable Estimar. We had very good tapas at El Xampanyet, Re-Pla, and Paco Meralgo. To close out our week, and the trip, we even finished with a lovely dinner at the Cinco Jotas restaurant in the Eixample. Sometimes, however, you remember the unexpected. Hungry for a mid-morning snack, we stumbled upon Churrerua Laietana, an unassuming and amazing churro and hot chocolate stop on Via Laeitana that we can still taste to this day.

Shops of La Boqueria

On Friday, October 27th, as we strolled through the myriad alleys of El Born, we encountered a loud roar emanating from a crowd not far away. Unaware of any planned activity within the city, we meandered towards the ruckus, only to find ourselves in the middle of hundreds of thousands of Catalonians with eyes transfixed on several massive TV screens at the edge of Parc de la Ciutadella. On screen were proceedings of the Parliament de Catalunya. Amidst heated speeches, we realized that the Parliament was about to take a vote for Independence from Spain, in the building adjacent to where we stood. The crowd was massive, filling every street as far as the eyes could see, and somehow, we were in the middle of it all. Once the results of the vote were announced, the crowd erupted into a predominantly pro-independence chorus of support. The energy, flags, cheers, and tears we observed that day were what make travel both memorable and unpredictable. We all know what has transpired in Spain since that day, and we wish both Catalonia and Spain the best in working through their disagreements, but none of that takes away from the lasting memories it created for us on this trip.

Parliamentary Vote for Catalonian Independence
In the end, we didn’t even scratch the surface of all that Barcelona has to offer from a culinary or sightseeing perspective, as that could take years. So, when you go, it’s good to have a plan in mind, but remember that there are hidden gems around every corner in this amazing city for you to find on your own.
Day 16: Return Home
An early morning wakeup on our last day meant this trip was coming to a close. We dropped our WiFi hotspot off at the front desk, said our goodbyes to this beautiful city and headed to the airport for our trip back to the US. The return trip included a stopover in Stockholm before we could get in Premium Class for the longer leg.

Goodbye Barcelona, goodbye jamon iberico, goodbye Spain, for now. Can’t wait for our return.
michelin and Prospero like this.

Last edited by BeachRat; Feb 13, 18 at 12:23 pm
BeachRat is offline  
Old Feb 19, 18, 2:40 pm
Join Date: Jun 2006
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Excellent trip review and some good ideas. Thank you
keisari is offline  
Old Feb 20, 18, 8:35 am
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Thanks for sharing such a detailed report. Sounds like you had a terrific time, and you were really able to explore different regions. Plus you went to a few of my favorite Barcelona restaurants in Paco Meralgo and Re-Pla!
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spainlover is offline  
Old Mar 17, 18, 3:18 pm
Join Date: Dec 2003
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Thanks for the great tr and information. We are going for the first time in the middle of May.
jmj9905 is offline  
Old Mar 17, 18, 4:42 pm
Join Date: Apr 2015
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My wife and I travel to/in Spain once a year, sometimes twice, Spring and Fall. We always do driving (renting with Hertz, for trustworthiness) loop trips, sometimes starting in MAD, sometimes BCN. We choose a one-week or so route, selecting interesting (historical) Paradores as the end-point every day, half-board to enjoy the wonderful dining rooms and local cuisine. I enjoy the planning AND the result. We have covered northeast, north, northwest, southeast and southwest, sometimes crossing into Portugal to do the same in Pousadas. It's best to join Amigos (Paradores) for nice discounts and excellent treatment.
catcher1 is offline  
Old Apr 1, 18, 8:54 am
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You forgot to stop in Seville, any reason?
trebol42 is offline  
Old Apr 1, 18, 9:23 pm
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Originally Posted by trebol42 View Post
You forgot to stop in Seville, any reason?
Heh, we wanted to go but ran out of time. The pigs took precedence. I've been before and loved it, so we'll be back.
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