One Perfect Week in Spain
by, 03-26-2014 at 01:33 PM (5338 Views)
With its vibrant, historic cities in close proximity to each other, and efficient transportation options connecting them, Spain is an ideal country to visit on a one-week, multi-stop vacation. Here’s our ideal itinerary to capture the spirit of Spain, with some hotel recommendations to match.
As Spain’s main international hub, most visits start and/or end in the capital city of Madrid. Perhaps no other European city (yes, even Paris) boasts a greater collection of world-class art than Madrid, most housed in its three grand museums. Many first-time visitors start at Museo del Prado, displaying about 1,300 works created between the 12th and early 19th centuries by renowned artists including Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez and Titian. You could easily spend an entire day wandering the Prado’s cavernous halls, but also beckoning is the adjacent Parque del Retiro, where Madrileños come to play, picnic and simply stroll.
On another day, choose between the other two members of Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art: Museo Reina Sofía primarily highlights Spain’s 20th-century masters like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, while the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza fills in the gaps of its sister galleries with Renaissance pieces from across Europe, plus impressionist and expressionist paintings from the latter 20th century.
Madrid is also the perfect training ground for that most Spanish of dining traditions, the tapas crawl. Saunter between lively bars in the compact city center, sipping the best tempranillos of the Rioja region and choosing from the inventive small plates on the menu (or sometimes on display). Octopus and salt cod-based dishes are popular, along with seemingly infinite varieties of ham.
Hotel recommendations in Madrid: Hotel Ritz by Belmond for classic baroque opulence just a stone’s throw from the Prado, or Gran Melia Fenix for a modern, vibrant-chic vibe in the trendy Salamanca neighborhood.
If Madrid is all about art, then Barcelona is all about architecture. Whisk from the capital to the Mediterranean coast in under four hours via the AVE high-speed rail line and begin your tour of Antoni Gaudí’s Modernist wonders from the late 1800’s: the imposing and still-unfinished La Sagrada Familia cathedral, the beguiling-yet-relaxing Parc Güell overlooking the entire city and the out-of-this world La Pedrera (which may hold special appeal for Star Wars fans).
Gaudi’s contributions to the Barcelona cityscape are actually fairly recent, as this is an ancient city with the Romans arriving in the first century BC. That history is most evident in the maze-like narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, which empties onto the famous pedestrian thoroughfare Las Ramblas. Amble past street performers to Barcelona’s port and beaches, or take an aerial tramway to the top of Montjuic, home to a 17th-century castle and some fabulous museums including one dedicated exclusively to the works of Joan Miró.
As you may have gathered, Barcelona is a city for walkers, and all that exploring is bound to work up an appetite. Paella is everywhere, but make sure you’re indulging in the authentic, slow-cooked variety that’s sometimes elusive. Ask your hotel concierge for recommendations, and observe the golden rule of avoiding any restaurant “proudly” advertising photos of its paella.
Hotel recommendations in Barcelona: We’ve talked about the old, and our hotel suggestions all about the new. The stylish, five-star Claris Hotel outfits its huge junior suites with Italian marble and the latest tech gadgetry, lying steps from fabulous shopping on Passeig de Gràcia. Meanwhile, The Level at Melia Barcelona Sky is an architectural wonder in its own right, with its sleek 24-story tower emphasizing right angles overlooking one of the city’s best beaches.
After spending the start of the week trapezing through two of Europe’s most celebrated cities, end you Spanish holiday in the country’s beautiful and verdant northeastern reaches. The semi-autonomous Basque Country – Pais Vasco in Spanish or Euskadi in Basque – is accessible via a short one-hour flight from Barcelona, or scenic eight-hour train journey for those on a more relaxed itinerary. Visitors will want to focus on two areas: funky, art-loving Bilbao, and the relaxed seaside resort city of San Sebastian.
Bilbao burst onto the international arts scene in 1997 with the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which dominates much of the cityscape along the Nervión River. Inside this undulating titanium behemoth you’ll find works by influential modern artists, plus large-scale art instillation. Then make your way to Bilbao’s atmospheric Casco Viejo (Old Town) to shop at independent boutiques and mingle with gregarious locals at any number of bars. Try the local cider, poured dramatically by bartenders in a high arc to ensure maximum fizzyness… and flavor!
An hour’s drive east, prepare to have your jaw drop and stomach rumble in San Sebastian. Centered around crescent-shaped Playa de la Concha and flanked by two towering hills ripe for hiking, it’s nearly impossible to take a bad photo anywhere in the city. Bounce between the beach and streets of the nearby Parte Vieja where tapas (or pinxtos, as the Basques call them) are an elevated artform. However, don’t completely fill up on these bite-sized morsels of perfection, since San Sebastian is also home to more Michelin stars per square meter than anywhere else on Earth… with three legendary restaurants holding the highest three-star honor: Arzak, Akelarre and Berasategui.
Hotel recommendation in Basque country: Luxury Link’s first partner hotel in Bilbao is the Silken Gran Domine Bilbao, adjacent to the Guggenheim and an art gallery in its own right, home to a 90-foot sculpture in its sky-lit atrium.
Thoroughly sated, enriched by world-class art and architecture, and with slightly-worn shoes, board a short flight back to Madrid for your connecting trip home, knowing confidently that you've explored the best of Spain in one unforgettable week…