Discover the beauty and culture of Northern Spain, from the Basque gem of Bilbao to historic Santander on the Bay of Biscay. Then explore Orviedo, the heart of Asturias. With included tours, visits to medieval villages, and time to explore on your own, you’ll enjoy a rich array of perspectives on three of Spain’s most fascinating cities.
- It's Included:
- Accommodations for 3 nights Bilbao, 2 nights in Santander, and 2 nights in Orviedo
- 12 meals—7 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 2 dinners
- 6 small group activities
- Services of an OAT Trip Leader
- All transfers
We transfer overland to Bilbao, the heart of Basque country. The largest city in Basque Country, with a million citizens, Bilbao is one of the five biggest urban areas in Spain. Now famous for its Guggenheim Museum, designed by the architect Frank Gehry, Bilbao has been an important commercial center since the 14th century, when it began trading iron. (Shakespeare references swords made of Basque iron as “bilboes” in Merry Wives of Windsor.) With its locale on the Iberian Peninsula, overseeing the Bay of Biscay, Bilbao retains a maritime flavor, as well as a strong affiliation with Basque identity.
After we settle into the hotel, across from the Guggenheim, enjoy a Bilbao city tour. We'll make our way through the “Seven Streets,” the Old Town of Bilbao, witnessing the 19th century el Arenal bridge, the Saint Nicholas Church, and the Ribera Market, the largest covered market in Europe. Continuing on to the Ensanche, a newer part of the city from its expansion at the dawn at the 20th century, we see Flemish-style Chavarri Palace, which anchors Moyua, the public square.
We enjoy an included dinner together this evening.
This morning, we discover nearby San Sebastian. The “Pearl of the Ocean” on the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian is a magnet for Spain’s sophisticated travelers, who come for the world-famous film festival, fine dining, and resorts. Strolling through Parte Vieja, the Old Town, we’ll see the 1774 Church of Santa Maria del Coro, with its twin towers framing an altar-like entrance, and cross Constitution Square, the arcaded plaza at the heart of the city. Once the home of bullfighting competitions, watched from numbered balconies, Constitution Square is still home to many of San Sebastian’s most important celebrations.
After an included lunch here, we return to Bilbao. Perhaps you’ll use time to stroll over to the Guggenheim. Depending on the angle, the museum looks like metal waves crashing upon one another or a stylized flower unfolding. Made of titanium, glass, and limestone, the Frank Gehry’s masterpiece was praised by architect Philip Johnson as “the greatest building of our time.”
Today, we discover wine culture old and new on an optional tour that begins at the ethereal Bodegas Ysios, a masterpiece of contemporary architecture designed by celebrated architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001 as a “temple to wine.” With the Sierra de Cantabria mountains for a backdrop, the dramatic-looking winery has cedar wood panels resembling wine barrels for its walls and is topped with an undulating aluminum roof that mirrors the color of the mountain peaks beyond as well as the varied pitch of the surrounding landscape.
Then, our optional tour continues on to Laguardia. Occupied roughly since the Bronze Age, Laguardia became a walled village in the 13th century. The four original entrance gates still stand, and beneath the old streets run a network of tunnels carved out in the Middle Ages to help defend the locals in times of siege, but which became re-purposed as wine cellars in later years. Cars cannot be driven within the walled city because the tunnels lessen the weight-bearing ability of the road.
After free time for lunch here, we return to Bilbao for the balance of the day at leisure and dinner on your own.
This morning, we travel overland to Santander, pausing en route to discover Castro Urdiales. On the Bay of Biscay, Castro Urdiales blends the modern with elements from the Middle Ages, from its Gothic Santa María de la Asunción church to its castle. It’s best known for fishing, especially of anchovies, and for its lovely beaches. The Puebla Vieja (Old Town) is near the water and boasts the city’s first lighthouse. This morning we get to know the city on an included tour.
This afternoon, we arrive in Santander in time for an included late lunch. Santander has been an important trading port since the middle of the 18th century, when ships sailed from here not only to the rest of Europe but to the Americas. Its beaches have made it a draw for sun-worshippers for more than a century, including members of the royal family who built a palace here. Backed by verdant hills and mountain peaks, Santander offers dramatic vistas in all directions, as we’ll see on our included tour this afternoon.
Underneath the gaze of the snowcapped Picos de Europa mountain range, the fishing village of San Vincente de la Barquera is known as much for its historic flavor. With a medieval castle, a church completed in the 16th century, and many bridges, it is a feast for the eyes, as we discover in our morning visit. But the palate is also rewarded here, in a city famed for seafood. The most beloved local dish is sorropotún, a hearty stew of potatoes, bonito fish, tomato, and pimiento peppers. Be sure to try one of the local specialties during free time for lunch on your own.
This afternoon, we visit Santillana del Mar, known as The Town of Three Lies. Its name translates to the “Saint’s flat by the sea” but, as the local joke goes, it is not saintly, flat, or on the sea. We’ll enjoy a stroll through this small village, with its medieval lanes and dwellings intermingled with “newer” structures from the 18th and 19th centuries. We’ll see the casonas (old houses) typical of the 16th and 17th century, with stonework and stucco meeting under ref rooftops.
Today we get to know Asturias, the autonomous principality now enclosed within Spain, but which was once an independent kingdom. We begin in Covadonga, home to the tomb of the first kings of Asturias, and a cave chapel that honors the Virgin Mary. Illuminated by votives and guarded by massive marble lions, the chapel is one of the region’s most treasured cultural sites.
After an included lunch, we continue onward, arriving in Oviedo midafternoon. Oviedo has been occupied since the 8th century and the capital of Asturias since the 18th. We’ll have time to settle into the hotel before free time for dinner on your own.
We explore Oviedo on an included tour today. The city’s monuments and structures offer a view across the centuries, from the medieval City Wall to the 16th-century viaduct, the elegant 18th-century La Reconquista Hotel, and the 19th-century Campoamor Theater.
The balance of the day is at leisure for your own discoveries until we gather once more for a Farewell Dinner together.
After breakfast this morning, we transfer to the airport for our flights home.