On June 1st, 2019, we traveled to Spain where we stayed most of the time, although we also visited a few remarkable towns in France.
Come with us because this was an amazing trip and very well planned (yeah, modesty is not one of my qualities…) 🙂
We flew Air Canada from Vancouver (YVR) to Toronto (YYZ) where we got a connecting flight to Madrid (MAD).
We got in Madrid on June 2nd very early in the morning and took a cab to our hotel. We left our luggage at the reception desk and went out for breakfast and to get to know the neighborhood.
The weather was pleasant and not too warm, as people say it gets in June. We were lucky!
During my planning I read several articles about Madrid and most of them were against going on a “hop-on hop-off bus”. The articles emphasized that the attractions are close to each other and that the traffic is chaotic, so the best bet would be using the shoes than getting trapped in traffic jams. We did everything by foot and it was really easy and, like the weather at the time we were there, it was really pleasant.
How long we stayed:
Two full days. We found it ideal, as we were able to cover the main sites.
Attractions we visited:
Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande – We were able only to see the outside of the chapel as it was closed at the time we were there. I would recommend searching online the visiting hours as the reviews say it’s interior is stunning.
Outside the Basilica there’s a beautiful garden with a beautiful view of Madrid’s outskirts. From this garden we walked down to the lower part and while circling a nice garden.
Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral) – Located adjacent to the Royal Palace, this cathedral took more than one hundred years to complete. The cathedral looks much older than it is, as it was declared completed in 1993. The cathedral was consecrated in 1993, by Pope John-Paul II and a statue of the Pope can be seen outside.
Palacio Real (Royal Palace Madrid) – This is one of the top tourist attractions in Madrid as it’s the official residence for the Royal Family, although they don’t live there. The Palace is used only for state ceremonies.
We didn’t buy our tickets online and I don’t see a reason for doing so. There was a small line to buy tickets (almost shorter than the line for those with tickets).
We were able to visit many rooms, including the banqueting halls. The decor follows the tastes of Charles III and there are great artworks, including a beautiful ceiling painted by Tiepolo.
Mercado de San Miguel (Market of San Miguel) – We have something similar in Vancouver (Granville Public Market), although there’s more food variety in Mercado de San Miguel and better yet, it’s possible to drink cold beer and wine there (in Vancouver it’s not allowed).
This market is beautifully ornate with glass and cast iron and is a popular stop for visitors to Madrid. Close to Mercado San Miguel is Plaza Mayor, another landmark of Madrid.
Plaza Mayor – It’s a very touristy place, with souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants (the kind that when you look the reviews on Google Maps you decide to go somewhere else). The Plaza dates back to 1617 and a statue of Phillip III on horseback can be seen there.
Puerta del Sol – Madrid’s kil0meter zero. Live place with dozens of restaurants and cafes. It’s always busy with tourists.
Prado Museu (Museo Nacional del Prado) – One of Madrid’s most famous museums, is a “must see”. The museum contains more than 8,600 paintings and more than 700 sculptures. Among the most famous works featuring several works of Velazquez (including “As meninas”), Goya, El Greco, etc
Close to Prado Museum we saw this beautiful garden wall. I guess it’s the prettier one I have ever seen!
Parque del Retiro – One of the largest parks in Madrid. There’s a lake (man made) where visitors can sail after renting small boats.
Plaza de Cibeles – It’s considered to be the most famous plaza in Madrid. Located at the intersection of Calle de Alcalá and adjacent to Paseo del Prado, the plaza is famous for its architecture. The main building in the Plaza is Cibeles Palace, that serves as Madrid’s City Hall. The plaza’s fountain features the Roman goddess Cybele.
Bairro de La Latina – It’s a maze of narrow streets filled with tapas bar and cantinas. On Sundays there’s a flee-market selling clothes, artisan work and food. It gets very busy there.
Gran Via – Buildings with wonderful architecture and beautiful stores along approximatelly 1 mile..
Where we ate:
Inclan Brutal Bar – This was the beat meal we had there. Delicious food, great service and reasonably priced.
Mercado de San Miguel – We had several tapas, including “cod fritters” and everything we ate there was delicious. It’s tough to find a place to seat, but after we found, one of us remained taking care of our places while the other (usually me haha) went to check the stalls in order to buy different tapas, croquettes, etc. There are several kinds of beer and we found ours delicious as it was served very cold.
In my opinion, Mercado San Miguel is an incredible place to hang out and taste authentic food.
Matilda – This is a very simple place with few tables and tasty food. We discovered it after leaving Prado Museum, as we were starving and I searched Google Maps for a nearby restaurant / cafe with good reviews. Matilda was the choice and it was ok.
Algarabía – This was a total waste of time. I booked this restaurant because the reviews on Google Maps were wonderful. They must have been written by friends of the owners. The place is out of the restaurant’s area, located on a hilly street and hard to find. Although the reviews I read said “must book way in advance” etc (and that’s the reason I booked away in advance), there was only one occupied table besides ours. The food has no taste, the presentation is poor and the prices are outrageous. I regret having gone there instead of tasting good food at a good restaurant.
Leaving Madrid. On our way north.
After two full days in Madrid we went to Hertz to pick-up the car that was already booked and that would be our companion during the following weeks. It was a brand new BMW that was a pure delight to drive.
We drove from Madrid to Logroño and stopped for lunch in Soria, where we ate one of the beast meals of our trip at Restaurant “El Ventoro”. Excellent service and delicious food (the cod was to die for!).
From Soria we continue driving to Logroño and went on a quick stop at “Monastery of San Juan de Douro”. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit the Monastery as it was closed when we got there and we didn’t want to wait for the afternoon re-opening. The Douro River margins the Monastery and the pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela follow a beautiful trail along the river.
We got to Logroño in the afternoon and couldn’t be happier with my choice of accommodation! Hotel Calle Mayor is undoubtedly the best hotel in Logroño. It’s located on a charming street with a contemporary decor by Phillipe Stark. There’s a parking garage less than 50 meters away. We stayed on the super comfortable suite located on the top floor (3rd floor).
From Logroño, where we stayed during four days (3 nights at the hotel) we visited several wineries and nearby attractions.
After checking-in we went to walk along the beautiful town. Logroño is the capital of La Rioja, a charming region four hours north of Madrid. Famous for its red wine and for being a stopover on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage that cuts across the northern Spain.
Luckily, Logroño wasn’t affected by the mass tourism that has swept across Spain in the past few decades. Logroño feels like a traditional Spanish village with contemporary architecture in several establishments (like our hotel and a dozen restaurants).
Modern gastro-bars and old taverns are located side by side in and around the Old Quarter. There are hundreds of pincho bars to choose from. The most famous street for pinchos is “Laurel Street”, an intense live street where we can jump from one bar to the other. It’s really amazing!
La Rioja is the biggest wine producing region in Spain and we chose to stay in Logroño as a “central base” in order to visit La Rioja most famous wineries.
After a glorious night of sleep, we had a delicious breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast room is cozy, with ancient walls, a glass on the floor showing the stones used in the construction with modern Philip Stark curtains, silverware and furniture.
Towns we visited during our four days staying in Logroño:
Laguardia is the capital of La Rioja Alavessa and is also one of the most well preserved medieval villages in Spain. Located in Rioja wine country, it is surrounded by an ancient walls.
Laguardia Attractions: Historic Town, Plaza Mayor, “La Torre Abacial”, Church of Nuestra Señora de los Reyes (with a polychrome portal from the 14C) and St. Juan Baptist Church
From Laguardia we went to visit Ysios Winery (Bodegas Ysios), a remarkable project from Santiago Calatrava. We didn’t take a tour there but we went walking around the property. The weather wasn’t cooperating, so we couldn’t see the mountains that lie behind the property.
We didn’t have time to spend at Ysios because we had lunch reservations at Bodegas Baigorri. We have booked the “Menú Maridaje Clássico” weeks in advance.
Before lunch we had a complete tour of the winery. The architecture by Iñaki Aspiazu is pretty amazing, as the main building goes 35 meters underground, making it the unique winery where the elaborating process occurs “naturally” (using gravity). Gravity is the main protagonist at Bodegas Baigorri, allowing the grapes to be fermented completely intact. It’s a vertical process, avoiding use use of mechanical methods of any kind.
This is one of the most remarkable buildings in Rioja Alavessa. Basically what you see from the street is a glass box, where we wait for the tasting tour while admiring the surrounding vineyards in all their splendor.
It was raining when we left Bodegas Baigorri but it didn’t intimidate us. We continued on our way to Elciego, where we visited Marqués de Riscal, designed by Frank Gehry.
Back to Logroño, after this busy day, we went for a walking around the old town, once more absorbing this magical place.
Dinner was in Logroño, at a fabulous restaurant called “La Cocina de Ramon”. Absolutely gorgeous, from decor and service to the creative menu and tasty food.
After a great night of sleep at Hotel Calle Mayor, we went to Haro, a charming town close to Logroño that is also famous for its wineries.
Our first visit of the day was at Bodegas Muga, where besides the tour & tasting we had opportunity to learn how the wood barrels are built and also see that the egg’s whites are part of the wine process!
From Muga we kept moving to other famous wineries in the region, like “Lopes de Heredia Viña Tondonia” , with beautiful contemporary architecture side by side with the old buildings. Beautiful work of Zaha Hadid.
We drove back to Logroño and another magical night exploring the old town (and eating dozens of pintxos).
Igreja de Santiago El Real in Logroño. Thousands of pilgrims come to this beautiful church while walking “El Camino” .
Logroño was once a walled town. There is only a small part of the walls remaining. The picture below shows the small part that is still intact, the way it used to be on the XVI century when they walls were built.
Logroño was once a walled town. Theres only a small part of the walls remaining. This is the most preserved part of it.
After four days, it was time to leave this beautiful region and move north. Our destination was San Sebastian and we stopped in Getaria along the route.
Getaria is a small fishing village with beautiful architecture and amazing places to eat. We wish we could have stayed there one whole week in order to taste all the great restaurants there. Elkano Restaurant has one start from Michelin Guide and must be in your list if you visit the area.
The drive to San Sebastian was beautiful and we really enjoyed the ride.
San Sebastian – Donostia
We arrived in San Sebastian around 6pm and parked our car in a huge parking garage with several floors located underground. It’s was a 10 minutes walking to our hotel but a pleasant one, along the beach.
Time was short as we had reservations for dinner at one of the best restaurants in town. Kokotxa is a great place to eat, and for 85 Euros each, excluding wines and liquors, you will taste several interesting dishes, although in very small portions.
San Sebastian is a marvelous place to visit and we were very lucky with the weather.
If you like to ride a bike, this is an awesome place to rent a bike and go exploring. We rented our bicycles from Basque Epic and were really glad with the bikes and the information provided.
I don’t need to comment that we biked a LOT while there and wouldn’t be able to cover a quarter part of what we saw if we were by foot or by transit. I recommend avoiding drive there, as it’s really not a “friendly town” for cars.
San Sebastian is such a great place to bike that you will easily notice that everywhere you go!
Another good place to eat during lunch time: Elosta.
Dinner was at “La Vina Restaurant“. Great food and the best cheese cakes on this planet. Go to La Vina and eat as much as you can. Everything there is good but the cheese cakes are TO DIE FOR! You must make reservation if you want to have dinner there. If you are only for the cheese cakes, you can eat them while standing.
You will see the lines!
Day Trip to Bilbao
While staying in San Sebastian we went on a day trip to Bilbao. Instead of driving there we opted to take the bus.
We visited the Guggenheim Museum and loved everything there.
Back to San Sebastian at night, we went to a great restaurant to have dinner: “La Cuchara de San Telmo“. It’s unbelievale the late hours we can go out in Spain in order to have something to eat. We got to this restaurant at 10.40pm and it was live with the waiters happy to get more customers arriving! What a difference from Canada and the United States! 🙂
On our third day in San Sebastian we went to another day trip. This time we drove East, fo visit Chateau d’Antoine Abbadie (this is already in France but very close to the border) and Hondarribia.
Hondarribia is a beautiful medieval town in the Basque Country, with cobbled streets and preserved architecture. Hondarribia has a charming fisherman´s quarter with tall, colourful houses and great little restaurants. Situated on the mouth of the Bidasoa Estuary, Hondarribia looks across at Hendaye in the French Pays Basque.
It’s hard to find a more picturesque place than Hondarribia!
We started our day in Hondarribia, and as it was Monday, several restaurants were closed, including “La Hermandad de Pescadores”, that was in our plans.
Anyway, we found delicious food , wine and sangria at “Bar Ondarribi”.
After returning to San Sebastian we went to have dinner at Restaurant Gandarias where we ate occtopus and fish (my choice) and steak with fries (hubby’s choice).