Spain for a Family of Five
A family of five from Richmond, Va., is traveling to Spain in shifts, and wants our help planning various parts of their vacation.
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Dear Trip Coach...
We're going to Spain! Our schedule is complicated: squash camp for my son, language classes for my oldest daughter and me, and traveling around for all five of us. We'll begin in Santiago de Compostela, explore Barcelona and the Costa Brava, and end in Madrid, but we need help with the details. How should we get around? Which towns should we see along the Costa Brava? What should we do in Barcelona and Madrid? We'd appreciate your help! Eva Clarke, Richmond, Va.
HERE'S OUR ADVICE
Traveling long distances in northern Spain tends to be complicated. The buses (alsa.es) can be painfully slow, and train fares (renfe.com) are expensive; both are better for short, straightforward trips. When you're traveling more than 200 miles, hop a flight on Iberia's regional carrier, Air Nostrum (iberia.com). One-way flights from Madrid to Barcelona take just over an hour and start at $50. (The same trip on a bus is $36, but it's an eight-hour journey; the five-hour train ride is $90.)
While traveling around the Costa Brava, the rugged coastline in the northeast corner of Spain, you should rent a car. You'll be moving between towns quite a bit, and you'd waste huge chunks of time relying on trains or buses. Pick up a Michelin map or use the company's mapping tool at viamichelin.es. The peaje, or toll road, is a better option than the carreteras, or free national highways, which are slower and have more truck traffic. Navigating in Spain is tough; a GPS tracking device can be a godsend. Both Hertz (hertz.com) and Auto Europe (autoeurope.com) offer such devices in Spain for $15 to $20 per day.
Costa Brava means "wild coast," and the landscape lives up to the name. Drive the coastal road for spectacular views of the cliffs and beaches, but to really get a feel for the land, rent mountain bikes and ride off-road. Jimbo Bikes, in Tossa de Mar, rents bikes (011-34/97-234-3044, $29 per day). Vías Verdes, a program that has converted more than 930 miles of Spain's abandoned railroads into recreational greenways, has trail information at viasverdes.com.
Santiago and Beyond
Squash camp and language classes at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela in Santiago will take up the weekdays (usc.es, from $371 for two weeks). If possible, spend weekends getting to know the rest of the area. Regional buses are fine for these trips (monbus.es). Pontevedra, on Spain's northwestern coast, is about 90 minutes away. Soak up some sun at Playa de Canelas, on the north side of the Ría de Pontevedra, one of the narrow estuaries that punctuate the coastline. Thanks to the Caribbean-white sands and sparkling clean waters, the beach has earned a Blue Flag, a distinction awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education to some of the world's cleanest and safest beaches.
Baiona, a fishing village-turned-beach resort on the Galician coast, is another good weekend option. From Santiago, take a bus to Vigo, then transfer to a bus to Baiona. Devote a day to exploring the beaches and the medieval town center, and another to the Cíes Islands, a nature reserve with turquoise waters that rival the Mediterranean (011-34/98-622-5272, ferry from Baiona $24, children $8, late June to early September).
While you're in Santiago, be sure to try pulpo a la gallega, octopus and potatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled liberally with Spanish paprika.
After Santiago, move on to León or Santander to continue your language studies. León has just under 140,000 people, and the Universidad de León offers summer-school classes (unileon.es, from $640 for two weeks). The city is known for its tapas, and unlike in most Spanish cities, they're often included if you buy a drink. The stained-glass windows of the Catedral de León are some of Europe's finest (catedraldeleon.org).
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