Tailormade tour Basque country to Catalonia fly-drive tour Spain

10 nights/11 days

Bilbao • San Sebastian • La Rioja • Zaragoza • Lleida • Montserrat • Girona • Torrent

Travel on a coast-to-coast tour of north-eastern Spain. Start on the Bay of Biscay and make your way from the Spanish Basque Country, through La Rioja and Aragon to arrive in Catalonia before flying home from Barcelona. This touring holiday takes you to picturesque coastal towns, beautiful vineyards, ancient cities, hilltop monasteries and rural villages. It is possible to add a stay in Bilbao and Barcelona at either end of this trip. Flights into Bilbao and out of Barcelona are included with a hire car between.
Holiday price guide

Available year-round subject to the opening period of the hotels, from about £1,920 per person.

Luxury fly-drive touring holiday from the Basque Country to Catalonia visiting La Rioja and Aragon

Highlights

Bilbao • Guggenheim • San Sebastian • La Rioja vineyards • Villabuena de Alava • Zaragoza • Lleida • Montserrat Monastery • Torrent • Pals • Girona • Barcelona

Day by day

Start your touring holiday by flying with British Airways from London to Bilbao. Pick up your hire car on arrival and drive west to San Sebastian. If your flight arrives in the morning you might like to visit the Bilbao and the Guggenheim museum before starting your journey in earnest.

You have two days to enjoy San Sebastian. Spend your time here exploring the delights of the city, with its beautiful sandy beaches, grand architecture and renowned gastronomic dining scene. The long Playa de la Concha beach is a long stretch of sandy beach and gentle water whilst surfers can often be seen on the powerful waves at Playa de la Zurriola. Head up Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo to enjoy some of the best views over the coastline, or take a boat out to the Isla de Santa Clara for an afternoon getaway. Back in the city centre, spend the hours discovering the elegant art nouveau buildings, beautiful parks and plazas and ornate bridges. Continue your wanders into the cobblestone streets of the Old Town before returning to your hotel to relax. You might like to consider using your hire car to visit more of the surrounding area as well as the city. The Guggenheim Museum is Bilbao is a must-do for anyone with an interest in modern art whilst driving for around 40 minutes westwards will take you across the French border to the charming resort town of St Jean de Luz. Closer at hand, you will find the nearby towns of Zarautz, Getaria and Zumaia offer a glimpse of life in this area away from the crowds. The Villa Soro does not have its own restaurant; however, the choice of venues is practically limitless. Food is truly an artform here whether you’re enjoying a light bite of fresh oysters and local txakoli wine by the beach, indulging in a decadent tasting menu in a Michelin-starred dining room or touring the pintxo bars are liberally scatter through the streets of the Old Town. First-rate ingredients from the coast and countryside are combined with the culinary creativity of Basque chefs to give an experience unlike any other.

Today you drive from the coast, heading south-west and inland to the region of La Rioja. For the most scenic route, you might like to travel via Beasain which will take you through the Natural Parks of Aizkorri-Aratz and Aralar. For those with a greater interest in history over scenery, it is also possible to take a slight detour and visit the city of Pamplona on the way. As you approach the Ebro valley the landscape opens up and you approach your hotel through a sea of vineyards that reach to the far hills.

Villabuena (Eskuernaga in the Basque language) is a traditional wine village in the heart of La Rioja. The village sits on the banks of the River Herrera and has several interesting buildings such as the parish church of San Andrés and the hermitages of San Torcuato and Santa María. Visit the village on the 15th May or 30th November to see the festivities of these local saints’ days. Villabuena is famed for its production of top-quality wines and there are 48 wineries found here, giving the town a claim to having the most wineries per inhabitant of anywhere in the world. Your hotel can organise a walking tour of some of the local wineries, giving guests the opportunity to samples these excellent vintages whilst learning more about wine production and life in this region. The nearby village of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, situated on the Saint James Pilgrimage Route to Santiago de Compostela, has numerous quiet streets and peaceful plazas that make for a thoroughly relaxing few hours excursion. For a taste of the more lively nearby towns, Logrono makes a very fulfilling day out. We recommend visiting the Concatedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda, whose main façade was designed to resemble an altarpiece. The two front towers, known as Las Gemelas, or ‘the twins,’ were built in the Baroque style, and inside, there is a painting of the crucifixion by Michelangelo. The Santo Sepulcro in one of the cathedral’s chapels is unusually detailed in tortoiseshell, silver, and wood. This stay in Villabuena de Alava offers an insight into a pocket of culture that forms and maintains one of Spain’s most famous industries.

Today you follow the River Ebro past Logrono, and skirt the border with the neighbouring region of Navarre to reach Tudela. The most direct route to Lleida continues into the region of Aragon, a medieval kingdom with crusader-like castles and Romanesque churches. We recommend stopping for lunch in the region’s capital city, Zaragoza. Overlooking the Ebro River, the iconic Nuestra Senora del Pilar draws pilgrims and tourists alike to worship and admire the multiple domes of this grand, baroque basilica. Evidence of the region’s turbulent past can be seen in the Mudéjar-style landmarks which showcase a unique combination of Islamic and Gothic architecture. Perhaps the best example of this is the Aljafería, the 11th century Moorish Palace and the Cathedral of the Saviour which dates to the 12th century. Aside from its stunning monuments, Zaragoza also has one of the best tapas and bar scenes in the country and is an ideal stopping point for lunch. Continue your journey this afternoon to arrive in Lleida.

Lleida is one of the oldest towns in Catalonia and original settlements here date back as far as the Bronze Age. Over its long history the town has been ruled by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors before being conquered by Barcelona in 1149. Your stay here gives you a chance to explore more of this eclectic history and the marks left on modern-day Lleida. The Parador is exceptionally-well located for your time here, with a pedestrianised street on one side and access to the garage on the other. A short walk of up to 10 minutes will bring you to the Old Cathedral (La Seu Vella), the “New” Cathedral and the twisting streets of the Old Town. La Seu Vella stands sentinel over the city and is well worth a visit to learn more about its history. Originally the site of a Visigothic cathedral, it was rebuilt in 832 as a mosque under the Moors. In 1149 it was then re-consecrated as a cathedral and began a significant expansion. Part of the complex, the King’s Castle, is particularly important as it has played host to many key episodes in Catalonia’s and Spain’s history over the years. The structure has almost no evidence of Islamic architecture now but has beautiful Gothic features as well as offering fantastic views over the city. Back in the main town, spend the rest of your time exploring the Eix Comercial de Lleida pedestrianised street with its shops set inside striking buildings. Spots worth visiting include the Plaza de la Paeria where you will find the 13th century town hall and Cathedral square with the “new” neoclassic cathedral and Hospital de Santa María convent. For those looking for a break, take a stroll along the quiet riverbanks or the tree-lined Rambla de Ferrán.

Drive east from Lleida and head further into Catalonia. We suggest visiting the Monastery of Montserrat on the way to your final hotel. Taking its name from the jagged mountain on which it stands, this Benedictine monastery holds a special place in the hearts of Catalans. Here you will find the shrine of the Black Madonna of Montserrat, patron saint of the region. The exact date of the founding of the monastery is unclear but religious life here certainly reaches back as far as the ninth century when hermit monks lived in solitary chapels here, one of which still exists in the monastery’s garden. Montserrat draws visitors of all faiths and none and is highly recommended to people of all interests. Many pilgrims visit the mountain as a spiritual experience to see the Madonna, the Santa Cova and attend mass. However, just as many visit to hear the famous boys’ choir, learn about the flora and fauna of the natural park and enjoy the walking trails over the mountain. The choir usually perform two times each day and there is also an art museum and audio-visual museum with more information about Montserrat. It is a further 2-hour drive from here to your hotel where you arrive in the evening.

Your last stop on this trip is the Mas de Torrent, a haven of rustic tranquillity in a luxurious converted farmhouse. From arrival, guests will notice the very special ambience created by the lovely grounds, where cypress trees climb upwards and bougainvillea blossoms add a fresh vibrancy to authentic architecture. The main building dates from 1751 and is the heart of the estate, with its original facade, interior arches and sloping rooftop. The hotel has bikes that guests can use to explore locally, visiting the unspoilt towns and villages that are scattered across the Emporda region. The town of Pals can be reached in 10 minutes’ by car or by bike for those feeling more energetic. Pals is a medieval walled enclosure which has been lovingly restored and visitors can still admire the Torre de les Hores which remains from the old castle. Pals has regular markets, festivities, fairs and concerts as well as an amazing living nativity scene in the Christmas period. A drive of about 15 minutes from your hotel heading westwards will bring you to the Catalan coastline where rugged cliffs hide beautiful sandy beaches and coves. For those wanting to squeeze a bit more in then the nearby city of Girona is worth a visit. Girona is not only known for its ancient architecture and museums but it’s also great for shopping with a host of markets and craft fairs. Visit El Lleó, the city’s food market, to try local produce from fresh seafood to fruit and cheese. If visiting on a Tuesday or Saturday then the Ribes del Ter market is a must-see. Located in Devesa Park this open-air event is the perfect place to pick up souvenirs.

Say goodbye to your hosts after breakfast and make your way south to Barcelona for your flight home. If time permits, you might like to take the slower road along the coast, perhaps stopping for lunch in one of the many towns and villages you pass through. Drop off your car at the airport and fly back to the UK. Additional nights can be added to this holiday in central Barcelona for those who would like to explore Catalonia’s capital.

Holiday price guide Prices from £1,920 per person based on two people sharing a double or twin room.

Holiday Code SNFD14

Luxury fly-drive touring holiday from the Basque Country to Catalonia visiting La Rioja and Aragon

Holiday price guide Prices from £1,920 per person based on two people sharing a double or twin room.

Holiday Code SNFD14

Our prices include ● Scheduled flights with British Airways from London to Bilbao, returning from Barcelona to London
● Hire of a Group C car for the duration of your holiday
● 3 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Standard double room at the Villa Soro in San Sebastian
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Standard double room at the Hotel Viura in La Rioja
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Standard double room at the Parador de Lleida in Lleida
● 3 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Garden suite at the Mas de Torrent in Torrent
● Concierge service and Expressions Holidays regional helpful hints

Our prices do not include ● Early check-in or late check-out at any hotels (although we can arrange this on request at additional cost)
● Any other services not mentioned above, such as car parking, transfers and meals except breakfast at hotels
● Personal holiday insurance. This is essential and cover should be in place from when you book the holiday.
● Local tourist tax, usually between Euros 1 and 3 per person per night, and payable locally to the hotel

Additional information Driving times for this touring holiday
Bilbao to San Sebastian 1 hour 15 minutes
San Sebastian to Villabuena de Alava 1 hour 50 minutes
Villabuena de Alava to Lleida 3 hours 25 minutes
Lleida to Torrent 3 hours
Torrent to Barcelona 1 hour 45 minutes

Holiday price guide Prices from £1,920 per person based on two people sharing a double or twin room.

Holiday Code SNFD14

Luxury fly-drive touring holiday from the Basque Country to Catalonia visiting La Rioja and Aragon

Cultural highlights of Spanish Basque country

Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, a Frank Gehry-designed landmark which transformed the city. The charming old town of San Sebastian, located between the beach and the river. Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country which is home to a mediaeval old town and two cathedrals. Guernica, a small town which was bombed during WWII and inspired a famous painting by Picasso. Fishing villages between Bilbao and San Sebastian including Bakio, Bermeo, Zumaia and Lekeitio, some of which are home to wonderful beaches and are also popular surf spots. Hondarribia, a historic town situated on the border with France. Pelota, a traditional ball game which is played throughout the region on a two-walled court. Numerous bars across the region which serve ‘pinchos’ (a Basque version of tapas), including those in Logroño. Wine-producing towns across La Rioja where visitors can enjoy cellar tours and wine tastings, which can also be enjoyed at the luxury vineyard hotels which we feature. Yuso and Suso Monasteries, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in La Rioja. The fortress city of Pamplona, renowned for the annual bull running festival.

Gastronomy of Spanish Basque country

The Basque Country is renowned for its varied and innovative cuisine, with numerous Michelin-starred restaurants found across the region. San Sebastian alone is home to eight Michelin-starred restaurants, two of which have been included within the top ten of Restaurant magazine's list of the world's 50 best restaurants. Wine is of course an incredibly important product, primarily in La Rioja which is known for its high-quality reds as well as a number of good white and rosé wines. A regional variation of tapas called ‘pinchos' can be found throughout the Basque Country and Navarre, frequently eaten as a snack in bars. Regional cooking varies according to location, with plenty of fresh fish and shellfish to be found along the coastline and a greater use of meat and game further inland. Local dishes include ‘Bacalao' (salt cod), ‘Marmitako' (fresh tuna stew), ‘Cordero al Chilindron' (spicy lamb stew) and ‘Txangurro relleno' (stuffed spider crabs).

Festivals in Spanish Basque country

19 to 20 January: San Sebastian Drum Festival, 29 June: Haro Wine Festival, 6 to 14 July: Los Sanfermines Bull Running Festival (Pamplona), July: San Sebastian Jazz Festival, 4 to 9 August: Festival of the Virgin Mary (Vitoria-Gasteiz), August: Bilbao's Big Week, September: San Sebastian International Film Festival, September: San Mateo Wine Festival (Logroño).

Climate in Spanish Basque country

The Basque Country's climate is generally quite mild and wet, although there is some variation between coastal and inland areas. The Basque coast experiences relatively high levels of rainfall, cold winters and warm summers where temperatures regularly reach 25 degrees, whilst some areas further south enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and little rain.

Luxury fly-drive touring holiday from the Basque Country to Catalonia visiting La Rioja and Aragon

Highlights of Catalonia and Eastern Spain

Barcelona's Gothic quarter, a maze of narrow streets and plazas which is home to historic buildings including La Seu Cathedral. Modernist architecture throughout the region, particularly in Barcelona where Gaudí­ designed works including the Sagrada Familia church and Park Guell. Green spaces within Barcelona such as Montjuic, a fortress-topped hill, and Parc de la Ciutatella, a popular park with a zoo and several museums. The City of Arts and Sciences and the Fine Arts Museum in Valencia. Historic monuments within Valencia including a 15th century silk exchange and a Cathedral, home to a Holy Chalice which is said to be the Holy Grail. The Monastery of Montserrat, a religious complex in a spectacular setting atop craggy mountains with chapels, hermits' caves and numerous nature trails. Wineries in towns such as Sant Sadurní d'Anoia and Vilafranca del Penedès. Tarragona, a port city with fascinating Roman remains. The ancient walled city of Girona. Vic, a quintessentially Catalan town with an outstanding market. Cardona, a picturesque town with an impressive fortress. The renowned Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres. Charming towns along the Costa Brava such as Cadaques, as well as those further inland such as the colourful town of Begur. Pretty villages in the Pyrenees, where visitors can also hike and partake in mountain activities. Wildlife in the wetlands of the Albufera Natural Park.

Festivals in Catalonia and Eastern Spain

March: Las Fallas festival of fire (Valencia), 23 April: Celebration of Catalonia's patron saint, April: Barcelona April Fair, May: Girona flower fair, 23 June: Midsummer's Eve Festival, July: Valencia July Fair, July/August: Begur Music Festival, August: La Tomatina tomato throwing festival (Buñol), 11 September: National day of Catalonia, September: Celebration of Barcelona's patron saint, September/October: Human tower festivals (near Tarragona).

Gastronomy in Catalonia and Eastern Spain

Cuisine in eastern Spain takes inspiration from both nearby France and from central Spain whilst making use of local ingredients available including seafood, fresh vegetables, meat and game. Paella, the rice dish which is known the world over originated in Valencia. Barcelona is home to some of Spain's best restaurants, with gastronomic chefs creating innovative cuisine and over 20 boasting at least one Michelin star. Typical dishes include unusual ‘sea and mountain' combinations which use both meat and seafood, ‘Pa amb tomàquet' (bread with tomato, oil and garlic), ‘Fideuá' (a variant of Paella with pasta), ‘Zarzuela' (a seafood stew), ‘Escudella’ (a stew containing vegetables, meat, rice and pasta) and ‘Crema Catalana' (a Catalan version of a Crème Brûlée).

Climate in Catalonia and Eastern Spain

Eastern Spain enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate, although mountainous areas are somewhat cooler. Late spring and early autumn are great times to visit coastal areas as the weather is warm with temperatures of around 20 degrees centigrade, although some rainfall can be expected. Summer in the cities can be unbearably hot, but the coastline is cooled by sea breezes. Winter is generally mild with occasional rain and average temperatures of 10 degrees, whilst temperatures regularly drop below freezing in the Pyrenees and snow often falls.

Luxury fly-drive touring holiday from the Basque Country to Catalonia visiting La Rioja and Aragon

Highlights of Navarre and Aragon

The Gothic cathedral in Pamplona (Iruña), a major stop on the Way of St James pilgrimage route through northern Spain, as well as the opulent Palacio del Gobierno de Navarra. The town of Tudela with its 13th century bridge across the River Ebro and beautiful old town, in addition to the otherworldly landscape of the nearby Bardenas Reales National Park. The charming town of Sos del Rey Católico, birthplace of Fernando of Aragón, with the grand Palacio de Sada and Church of San Esteban. The riverside Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, the second largest church in Spain, celebrated for its eleven brightly coloured domes and elegant Baroque façade. Classic examples of Mudéjar architecture which combines Gothic and Islamic elements, some of the best examples of which are in the high-altitude town of Teruel in southern Aragón. Tranquil religious houses including the Cistercian Monastery de la Olivia and isolated Monastery of San Salvador de Leyre. Perhaps the most unique of these buildings is the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in Aragón; set under an overhanging rock, this monastery was a supposed guardian of the Holy Grail. Formidable castles such as the Castillo de Loarre where visitors can explore the ramparts, dungeons and keep. The medieval old town of Huesca topped with its impressive gothic cathedral and nearby Castle of Montearagón. The stunning landscape of Ordesa National Park draws guests with its well-marked hiking trails, native wildlife and scenic “Horse’s Tail” waterfall. The small village of Torla is the gateway to the park and is a popular stopping point for visitors. Historic towns and villages, unspoilt by mass tourism, such as Estella (Lizarra), Olite, Albarracín, Ujué and Calahorra.

Festivals in Navarre and Aragon

January: Festive processions on the 5 January, marking the arrival of the Three Kings with huge floats. February: Festival of Santa Águeda in Alsasua. February/March: Carnivals celebrating the start of Lent, one of the best is in the town of Bielsa. March/April: Easter celebrations such as Las Tamborradas in the Aragonese town of Hijar and El Volatín in Tudela. Festival of Dance with performances throughout spring weekends in Pamplona. April: Traditional pilgrimage of San Marcos in Ujué on 25 April. July: San Fermín, the famous bull-running festival in Pamplona. International music festival of Navarre and also another in the medieval castle at Aínsa. Traditional Romero pilgrimage in Yebra de Basa. Tudela’s festival in honour of their patron saint, Santa Ana. July/August: Pyrenean Folk Festival in Jaca. Pyrenees South International Festival of Cultures in Huesca. Classical Theatre Festival in Olite. August: Medieval festival in Olite with market and historical demonstrations of trade and fashion. September: La Morisma, a re-enactment of an 8th century battle between Christians and Moors in Aínsa. October: Fiestas de Pilar in Zaragoza, a week-long celebration in honour of the city’s patron saint. November: Cinema Festival in Pamplona. December: El Olentzero - Christmas Eve celebrations across Pamplona and Navarre include this traditional Basque character who comes late at night to drop off presents for children.

Gastronomy in Navarre and Aragon

Cuisine across these regions is varied with tastes to suit everyone’s palate, thanks to the vast landscape and products grown here. Whilst there is no coastline, there is great choice with plentiful meat and game, locally grown crops and vegetables and fresh-water fish. Cuisine is based on traditional recipes which have been handed down through generations and modernised. In Aragón you will find menus featuring stews, ternasco (roasted lamb) and jamón from Teruel. Not all Aragonese cooking is based on meat with river-caught fish like trout and eel also used. Try local olive oil from Empeltre, asparagus from the banks of the Ebro and sweet onions from Fuentes. Fruits grown in Aragón include pears, apples, cherries and plums and are exported throughout Spain. The gastronomy in neighbouring Navarre is not dissimilar yet offers additional treats such as black truffles from the Allín valley and woods of the Lóquiz mountains. Dining out in Pamplona is a treat with restaurants to match all budgets and styles, from local bars to Michelin-starred destinations. Whatever your choice, be sure to try the local wines as well as the Navarran spirit pacharán, made with sloe berries and anise.

Climate in Navarre and Aragon

This part of Spain has a mixed climate which is inextricably linked with the contrasting landscape. The northern areas are amongst the coldest in Spain with the winter months of November to April often bringing freezing temperatures, snow and making mountain roads impassable. On the other hand, the arid plains of southern Aragón can be very hot in the summer months with residents and visitors alike spending the warmest hours relaxing inside. Rain falls throughout the year in the northern areas, although with less frequency throughout the summer. We recommend speaking to one of our Personal Travel Specialists about your interests in order to suggest the best time for your visit.

Luxury fly-drive touring holiday from the Basque Country to Catalonia visiting La Rioja and Aragon

Highlights of La Rioja

Wine-producing towns across La Rioja DOC region where visitors can enjoy cellar tours and wine tastings, which can also be enjoyed at the luxury vineyard hotels which we feature. La Rioja is subdivided into three zones; Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Follow the wine routes of each of these areas. The beautiful Iglesia de San Bartolomé and cathedral in Logroño. The Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, stopping point on the Saint James’ Way pilgrimage route. Numerous bars across the region which serve ‘pintxos’ (a Basque version of tapas), including those in Logroño. The attractive old town of Haro. The Museum of Wine Culture in Vivanco. San Millán Yuso and Suso (Upper and Lower) Monasteries, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in La Rioja, known for their role in the early development of the Spanish language. The hilltop walled town of Laguardia. Walking and nature watching in the Sierra de Cameros Natural park near Soria. “El Barranco Perdido” paleontology-themed amusement park. The pretty village of Ezcaray in the Oja River Valley, made wealthy by the wool trade, is popular with visitors for its outdoor pursuits and host of tapas bars.

Festivals in La Rioja

April: “Los Picaos” Easter procession in San Vicente de la Sonsierra. May: Saint’s Day festivities in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. June: Festivities of San Bernabé in Logroño, Haro Wine Festival and the Battle of Wine, Briones Medieval Festival. August: Bread and Cheese Festival in Quel. September: San Mateo Wine Harvest Festival (Logroño).

Gastronomy in La Rioja

La Rioja is best-known for its high-quality reds as well as many excellent white and rosé wines. A regional variation of tapas called ‘pintxos’ can be found throughout La Rioja, frequently eaten as a snack in bars. Enjoying pintxos like a local means visiting several bars and trying one or two small dishes in each, accompanied by local wines. Regional cooking varies from place to place but the key flavours and ingredients are simple and wholesome with high quality products from the region. Of particular note are the traditional stews made with fava or caparrón beans and a wide array of vegetables and pulses. Christians and Muslims have each left their mark on the region with pork and lamb forming popular bases for dishes, whilst fish caught from the Ebro also appear on the menu.

Climate in La Rioja

La Rioja is one of the colder regions of Spain and tends to have fairly mild summers and wet winters. The preferred time for visitors tends to be from June to September with most tourists avoiding the winter months of November to March. This part of Spain escapes the fierce summer heat found in the centre and south of the country with pleasant temperatures of around 20-25 degrees typical.

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