Adorable villages, endless beaches, incredible food, cheap and plentiful wine....what more could a gal ask for? Certainly more than 3 weeks are needed to explore the many nooks and crannies of this passionate country, but i'm here to give you an overview and starting point itinerary, to get a taste for where you would like to return in the future.
First off, they speak Spanish in Spain. If this is not a language you are familiar with, my suggestion is to get a few phrases which easily roll off your tongue, BEFORE you arrive. You can certainly do this itinerary in any order, but I am going to begin with Malaga. Why? Because it is a relatively small and easily accessible airport. This along with the fact that a large number of expats live in the Andalusia region of Spain, will make your acclimation to the language and culture a bit easier. You will need a vehicle for this portion of the trip as well, and the less congested nature of the cities and towns, makes this aspect that much easier for a foreigner to approach. Then we will move on to Madrid, Barcelona and Seville.
Malaga: Though this city has much to offer, the reason you are beginning your journey here, is to get out of the city and explore the adorable coastal communities and mountain villages which are all easily accessible in short day trips. Therefore a vehicle is key to hire upon landing. I recommend the smallest car possible, as many roads are quite tiny, and that you are prepared to drive a standard. Automatics are available, but come at a much steeper price. Directly from picking up my Fiat, I got on highway 1A which many times merges with highway 1, and headed South towards the next big town, Marbella. This region is referred to as Costa del Sol, and the never ending shoreline is dotted with quaint seaside communities, each of which has it's own flavor, many of which are quite "resorty". Not being a resort girl, I opted for a lovely studio apartment about a 90 minute drive South of the Malaga airport. With ample parking, a plethora of eateries and grocery stores, a lovely pool and well manicured building, right off 1A, this was my perfect base camp. From here it was easy to explore Mijas and a number of other "white villages" as well as Ronda, with it's incredible roman bridge, as well as the many beaches of the region, which go on as far as the eyes can see. None of these day trips lasted longer than 6 hours, and included spectacular mountain vistas, authentic rural pueblos, fabulous food and a thousand reasons to return. Time flew by, and soon I was back in Malaga returning my vehicle and using GoEuro, had booked my bus ticket to Madrid.
Madrid: I decided to save money, by taking the bus. Clean, efficient and at 17 euros, easy on the pocket book. With wifi and even a stop for lunch and bathroom break, this 6 hour trip was quite accommodating. From the bus / train station in Madrid, I found a taxi to take me and my assorted luggage to Hostel Machin. Though difficult to find at first, this spotless private room, with private roof top patio, was a winner. With easy access to the vast majority of what the capital has to offer, my accommodation was definitely in the thick of things. Bustling at all times, day and night, Madrid is magic. Easy to negotiate and access metro lines, regardless of your Spanish language ability, vast parks and incredible museums.... thousands of fabulous eateries, art exhibits, shopping. To me, it is an exotic version of New York City, but cleaner and with nicer people, not to mention, much less expensive. I was on a mission whilst visiting, and it meant taking a number of metro lines to the outskirts of the city. Everywhere I went, was absolutely lovely and easily negotiated. With a little more than 3 million residents, you felt at ease and at home, everyone friendly and with a youthful vibe. Though in Spain now for going on two weeks, I was still not used to the local custom of eating dinner near 10 pm, or I would most likely have even more stories to tell of the vitality of the region. While here be sure to include the Royal Palace, even if you choose not to take a tour, but just look at the crowds and the outside. Also spend time at the Temple of Debod and the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are linked with the Prado Museum, and across the way from Buen Retiro Park. There is a hop on hop off bus, which I recommend to get a lay of the land, but I found the areas around Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, to be within walking or one or two metro stops, of the heart and soul of the city. This is a city you can easily lose yourself in for a few weeks or a lifetime. Next stop, Barcelona via train through Valencia...just a few short hours away.
Barcelona: With such affordable and easily accessed trains, I figured a stop in Valencia on the way to Barcelona, was the thing to do. Don't get me wrong, with thousands of fields of small round oranges, Valencia should have been amazing. However, I was delighted to be departing less than 24 hours later. Not thrilled with my accommodation, nor the food, nor the location. The city seemed dirty upon arrival, what I saw of the shoreline did not entice me to take a longer look, locals seemed cold, buildings were run down and dilapidated. I am not saying this is the true Valencia, I am simply saying, my location near the train station, did not tickle my fancy and I was looking forward to leaving almost immediately upon arrival.
With that said, another short train ride along the spectacular coast and vineyards of Catalonia, brought me into Barcelona early afternoon the next day. Though much smaller than Madrid, Barca as the locals refer to it, seems much more chaotic and large. The metro may have been the reason behind this feeling, as it is very confusing. Certainly it did not help, that I arrived during the potential split of Catalonia from the rest of Spain. Elections had just been held, residents were taking to the streets with flags and chants. Getting a proper hotel room in Barcelona can be pretty expensive, and with the current political climate, difficult. Additionally, from this point forward, my son would be joining the trip. Mollet de Valles looked to be a short distance from El Centro and offered a lovely room with a hostel type rate, so Porta de Gallecs is where we would stay for the next week. It was perfect. With an in town shuttle which took you to the metro station, this residential community had lovely restaurants and parks, affording a quiet nights rest in a private hotel room with an uber comfortable bed, at hostel pricing. We would head into the city daily, taking about 20 minutes once on the train, which ran regularly, and it was never inconvenient to return to Mollet de Valles, regardless of the time of night.
Barcelona Sants Station is a hub of activity and the best location for getting on any train you might need to take you anywhere. It is also centrally located to be able to walk to the beach, parks, shopping and marina. Once again, there is a hop on hop off bus, which can help you acclimate to the cities layout. If Football is your thing, get a tour of Camp Nou. It was so totally cool. We would end up watching a match in Sevilla, but to get a tour of one of the most highly regarded teams and third largest stadium in the world, was quite fascinating. Sants Montjuic, one of ten districts within the city, is a must. With a castle, museums and extensive parks, including the remnants of the 1992 Olympic games and offers incredible views, easy access from the metro and bus lines, you can easily spend a whole day here. With so many fascinating places to wander: beaches, museums, galleries, the waterfront, endless amounts of art and fountains, Barcelona can undeniably keep you entertained for weeks on end, if not longer. Just south is a lovely seaside community called Sitges, which would be another must do for a day or more. The train has easy access every hour and only takes 30 minutes to arrive into a fairy tale of adorable buildings and colorful shops alongside the Balearic Sea.
Sevilla: With a late night departure, our arrival was close to midnight, though the flight was quite short at about 90 minutes. It was beautiful arriving this time of evening, with still so many folks out wandering the river and brightly colored streets. We hosteled it this time, dead center with a number of amenities right outside our door, Plaza Nueva. Within walking distance; Cathedral de Sevilla, Maestranza Bullring, Royal Gardens, and endless displays of incredible architecture. Citizens of Sevilla eat late, probably the latest in all of Spain, with incredible tapas locations and endless wine bars, a food lovers mecca. Marcado Lonja del Barranco , a great example of casual food stalls showing off all that Spain has to offer. Typical of the rest of the country, most locations will be closed from around 1 in the afternoon to 4 or 5 pm, for afternoon siesta, and will be bursting at the seems by 10 at night. Though we never took the tram or train, both seemed to be easily accessible. Busses were plentiful and the city quite walkable. If you have a chance to attend a Football match, this was a highlight. Sevilla has two teams, we went to Real Betis vs Valencia. Though "we" lost, the crowd was alive and passionate for their team, and you couldn't help but get caught up in the singing and chanting. Villamarin stadium can fit over 60,000 people and it was filled to the brim. With so many fans, we got caught up in the masses and ended up walking all the way back to our accommodation, over 3 miles away, within a huge wave of people heading home after the game. Unlike anything I have every experienced with American Football. Another highlight was the controversial bullring. Spanish tradition for kings to train their military to be fearless, when this sport began, thousands of years ago. Few locations continue with what many define as brutish behavior, most of which are in Spain and neighboring Portugal. Regardless of how you feel about this iconic cultural history, getting a tour of Maestranza was chilling and a complete eye opener on both the matador and fans.
From Seville we left for Lisbon for 3 days, yet another adventure to follow.
Spain is magnificent, we are heading back this December to spend a few more months exploring.
Tasty bottles of wine for less than $5, a wide range of tapas, warm and friendly locals, incredible history and stunning architecture,
make for a perfect holiday. I can't tell you which location is right for you, and there are so many more to explore!
Regardless of where you decide to go, if I can help with logistics, in anyway, please do not hesitate to give a shout Hello@AccordingtoUna.com
Travel. Explore your world. It will change your life forever. Have FUN!