ES1 Northern Spain

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TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Barcelona: Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance; Santiago de Compostela: Place of Pilgrimage; Bilbao's Guggenheim; Arab, Jewish, Christian, Roman, Visigothic legacies

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrival in Spain
Welcome to Spain! Arrival in Santiago de Compostela, one of Spain's most beautiful cities, built of golden granite and declared a national monument in its entirety. It's a wonderful place to walk with its arcades and flagstone streets.

Overnight in Santiago de Compostela.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Santiago de Compostela: City Tour
This morning we have a walking city tour of Santiago, a UNESCO World Heritage city. Our tour begins at Obradoiro Square where some of its more prominent monuments can be seen: the Archbishop's residence which preserves some 12th century lounges; the Town Hall, former Raxoy Palace, with its classical facade; the San Jeronimo College, whose facade shows Roman influences.

We also include the city's famous cathedral, a truly grand building adorned with many statues of St James in his familiar pilgrim guise with staff, broad-brimmed hat, and scallop-shell badge. The cathedral's highlight is the Portico de Gloria, with its striking Romanesque sculpture of a host of figures. Christ presides over the main door, flanked by his Apostles, and surrounded by 24 Elders of the Apocalypse playing music. Saint James sits on the central column beneath Christ. So many pilgrims have prayed at this spot with their fingers pressed in to the roots of the marble Tree of Jesse below Saint James that five deep holes have been worn into the marble.

We also visit the Cathedral Museum, the Cloister and finally, the Platerias Gate, the only Romanesque one that is still preserved; and we take a guided tour of the Cathedral roofs, which allows us to climb to the very top of the building and look out over the historic centre from the heights. To do so we make for the Gelmirez Palace, located to the side of the Cathedral in the Plaza del Obradoiro square. We pass through the interior of the Gelmirez Palace, past the Cathedral gallery (above the Gloria doorway) and up to the roof of the cathedral for a stupendous view -- definitely a highlight of our day.

Overnight in Santiago de Compostela.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Santiago de Compostela - Leon
This morning we take the train (2nd class) to Leon.*

On arrival in Leon we visit the San Isidoro Collegiate Church, an important piece of western Romanesque, where 23 kings and queens are buried. The cathedral was built in the middle of the 13th century in a gothic style similar to the French cathedrals and is famous for the beauty of more than 100 glazed windows. Our Leon sightseeing continues with the old quarter of the city, which conserves a large part of the medieval wall and some remains of the original Roman wall. One can also find the Casa de Botines, a neo-gothic building and an excellent example of the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.

* NOTE: We use the rail system quite extensively on this tour. YOU MUST BE ABLE TO MANAGE YOUR OWN BAGS ONTO / OFF TRAINS AND IN TRAIN STATIONS. Packing lightly is essential.

Overnight in Leon.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 4 Leon - Cave of Altamira - Bilbao
Today we travel by road to Bilbao, via a stop at the museum connected with the Cave of Altamira. Dating from 12000 BC, the caves are full of prehistoric paintings of wild animals and impressions of human hands. When discovered in the 1870s the vivid and evocative paintings were nearly perfectly-preserved. Even Picasso commented on the paintings here: "After Altamira, everything is decadence."

We continue deeper into Basque country and toward Bilbao, tucked into the deep lush folds and clefts of Euskadi's coastal range. The name is "Bilbo" in Basque, but its inhabitants prefer to call it the "botxo," Basque for hole, or orifice. The orifice was originally a scattering of fish hamlets, huddled on the left bank where the hills offered some protection from the Normans and other pirates.

Overnight in Bilbao.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Bilbao: The Guggenheim
Today we explore the Old Town of Bilbao on a walking tour. We travel back in time to Medieval Bilbao with its cobbled streets, charming corners and squares, and trace its development through the centuries.

The major highlight today is our visit to the newest and biggest attraction in Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum. The 31 329 sq m (349,000 sq foot) colossus is one of the focal points of a $1.5 billion redevelopment plan for the city. The Frank Gehry design features a 50 m- (165 foot-) high atrium, more than one-and-a-half times the height of the rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum is devoted to American and European art of the 20th century, featuring (on rotation) the works of such renowned artists as Kandinsky, Mondrian, Picasso, Ernst, Pollock, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Serra, and others.

Options for your free afternoon include: remain at the Guggenheim on your own, the Basque Museum, Fine Arts Museum, a guided boat tour of the estuary, etc. Your Tour Leader can help you plan your afternoon.

Overnight in Bilbao.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 6 Bilbao - Barcelona: City Tour
Today we fly to Barcelona.

Barcelona, located on the Mediterranean Sea in the very north of the Spanish coast, is certainly the most cosmopolitan and economically active city in this country. Of course, Barcelona has an long history, and there are monuments of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance periods and before, but most characteristic is what has been built during the last 100 years.

We are aiming for the morning flight so that we might embark on the guided portion of our Barcelona sightseeing upon arrival (mostly on foot - leisurely pace). Our first stop is Parc Guell, a beautiful place in the morning. We have time to visit the Casa Gaudi with its collection of Gaudi-designed furniture. We'll walk through the Parc, ending up at the main entrance to visit the terrace and pavilion unit and Doric columns. Then it's on to the Picasso Museum for a +/- 60 minute visit.

Overnight in Barcelona.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 Barcelona: City Tour
This morning we travel by bus to Barcelona's most famous and most photographed attraction -- La Sagrada Familia Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Family), an amalgam of fantasy and Gothic impulses, and Gaudi's most unique piece of architecture. Our bus stops on the side of the Nativity facade (north) from where we walk around to the Passion facade. We explore the interior and also visit the cathedral museum during our stop.

We also stroll down the avenue of Las Ramblas, the exotic "spine of Barcelona," with a stop to look at Palau Guell, another Gaudi creation. We continue to Placa Catalunya and Placa Reial via the central market, Bequiria; a very lively place, crowded with stalls selling caged birds and lush plants and the constant clamor of people haggling and selling.

We then walk into Barri Gotic, a densely-packed area of narrow lanes with a fascinating mixture of medieval and stately Renaissance buildings.

Overnight in Barcelona.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 Barcelona: Montserrat & Leisure Time
This morning we include a half-day guided tour of Montserrat, one of Spain's most sacred sites, set in beautiful mountains about 1 hour's drive from Barcelona. Long before we reach Montserrat, we will see the jagged silhouette of the great peak, and understand how it got its name ('serrat' means 'serrated). This massive rock fortress is dotted with paths, stairs, caves, chapels and hermitages. We drive through the Montserrat Natural Park and up to the Sanctuary, around 725m (2,380 feet) above sea level. On a clear day you will see breath-taking panoramas of the Pyrenees.

We will arrive at the Sanctuary, where we can visit the Royal Basilica and the Chapel of Our Lady of Montserrat. Inside the Chapel is the famous 12th century Romanesque carved wood statue of La Moreneta (the Black Virgin). La Moreneta is the patron saint of Catalonia, and is a presence strongly felt and revered. This celebrated statue has made The Royal Basilica one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Spain. The tour also includes entrance to an interesting audiovisual exhibition ("Montserrat Portes Endins"), and the chance to taste four locally-produced liquors.

We return to Barcelna with time at leisure.

Overnight in Barcelona
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 9 Barcelona - Madrid: Royal Palace
Today we travel to Madrid by fast train (+/- 3 hours).

This afternoon we include a tour of the Royal Palace where we see, among other things, its principal staircase, throne, gala dining room, museum of silver, and principal courtyard. This is the official residence of the royal family, but today it is used only state ceremonies. Otherwise known in Spanish as the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace was built during the 18th and 19th centuries, and is a monumental building. It replaced the former medieval Alcazar, which was burnt to the ground in 1794. The present day Royal Palace of Madrid was decorated to the tastes of Charles III, and is extremely lavish inside.

Overnight in Madrid.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 Madrid & The Prado
This morning we have a panoramic tour of broader Madrid, terminating at the Prado Museum for a guided tour. Our route to the museum likely takes us past Plaza Espana point and the Cervantes Monument.

Originally opened to the public in 1819, the Prado houses all of the finest works collected by Spanish Royalty as well as Spanish paintings gathered from other sources over the past two centuries. The Prado is one of the most important repositories of art in the world, including a vast collection of Italian paintings. For the purposes of our visit, however, we will concentrate on works by Spanish masters -- Velasquez, Goya, Ribera, El Greco, Zurbaran, to name a few.

After our tour, we'll head off on foot for an informal stroll up Gran Via and into the old quarter of Madrid. You'll then have free time for lunch and an afternoon of independent exploration. Your Tour Leader can help you plan your free time, with recommended shopping, other historical sites and galleries. You may want to visit the nearby Reina Sofia for the important modern art collection, including Picasso's masterpiece, "Guernica." Or visit the Museo Naval, one of the world's most important Navy Museums, to learn about the history of the Spanish Armada.

Overnight in Madrid.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 11 Madrid - Toledo - Madrid
This morning we travel to Toledo, a city with a unique blend of Arab, Jewish, Christian, Roman, and Visigothic elements. Toledo sits on a rocky promontory isolated on three sides by a looping gorge of the Tagus River. The history of several different cultures is contained within this region, represented by the houses, synagogues, churches, and mosques.

Our excursion includes a visit to the Cathedral, as well as the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, which shows the influence of the Granada Moors. It has an ornate ceiling and carved arabesques, not in Arabic, but in Hebrew. The most elaborate Mudejar interior in the city is hidden behind the deceptively humble facade of this former synagogue, built in the 14th century by Samuel Ha-Levi, the Jewish treasurer to Pedro the Cruel. The interlaced frieze of the lofty prayer hall harmoniously fuses Islamic, Gothic and Hebrew geometric motifs below a wonderful coffered ceiling. Adjoining the synagogue is an interesting museum dedicated to Jewish Sephardi culture.

We also see one of Toledo's most outstanding attractions, El Greco's masterpiece "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" located inside the Church of Santo Tome.

After lunch and some free time in Toledo, we return to Madrid.

Overnight in Madrid.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 12 Departure
Departure from Madrid.

BUEN VIAJE!
Meal plan: breakfast


ES1 TRIP DETAILS

DURATION12 days

TOUR STARTSantiago de Compostela

TOUR ENDMadrid