Essential Spain

  • 2 Weeks

If you want to understand why many visitors fall in love with Spain and never want to leave, look no further than its vibrant, passionate, extraordinarily beautiful cities. This itinerary takes you through the best Spain has to offer.

So many Spanish trails begin in Barcelona, Spain’s second-biggest city and one of the coolest places on earth. Explore the architecture and sample the food, before catching the train down the coast to Valencia for a dose of paella, nightlife and the 21st-century wonders of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. A fast train whisks you inland to the capital, mighty Madrid, for the irresistible street energy, the pretty plazas and one of the richest concentrations of art museums on the planet. Yet another fast train takes you deep into Andalucía, with Córdoba your entry point into this wonderful corner of Spain; the most obvious highlight is Córdoba’s 8th-century Mezquita. From Córdoba it's a short hop to fabulous Seville. But we’ve saved the best until last: Granada boasts the extraordinary Alhambra, its soulful alter ego the Albayzín, and an eating and drinking scene that embraces Spanish culinary culture in all its variety.

Barcelona & Around

  • 1 Week

A lifetime in Barcelona may not be enough, filled as it is with so many intensely wonderful experiences. But drag yourself away, and you'll soon discover that the wider Catalonia region is a brilliant place to explore.

You'll need a minimum of two days in Barcelona to soak up Gaudí, taste the city's culinary excellence and wander its old town. When you can tear yourself away, rent a car and head north, passing through Tossa de Mar and its castle-backed bay, then Calella de Palafrugell and Tamariu, two beautifully sited coastal villages, before heading inland to pass the night in wonderful Girona. The next day is all about Salvador Dalí, from his fantasy castle Castell de Púbol to his extraordinary theatre-museum in Figueres, and then his one-time home, the lovely seaside village of Cadaqués. The next morning leave the Mediterranean behind and drive west in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Your reward for the long drive is a couple of nights in Taüll, gateway to the magnificent Parc Nacional d'Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici. A loop south via Lleida then east has you back in Barcelona by mid-afternoon on your final day.

Grand Spanish Tour

  • 1 Month

If you have a month to give, Spain will reward you with enough memories to last a lifetime.

Begin in Barcelona, that singular city of style and energy that captivates all who visit. Count on three days, then catch the high-speed train to Madrid, a city that takes some visitors a little longer to fall in love with, but it will only take a couple of days to fall under its spell of high (fantastic art galleries) and low (brilliant hedonistic nightlife) culture. We recommend that you spend an extra two days here, using the capital as a base for day trips to Segovia and Toledo. Catch another train, this time heading for Salamanca, that plateresque jewel of Castilla y León. After a night in Salamanca, travel north by train to León to stay overnight and see the extraordinary stained-glass windows of its cathedral, and then continue on to Bilbao, home of the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and so much that is good about Basque culture. Spend a night here, followed by another couple in splendid San Sebastián. A couple of days' drive on the Cantabrian, Asturian and Galician coasts will take you along Spain's most dramatic shoreline en route to Santiago de Compostela, where a couple of nights is a minimum to soak up this sacred city. Wherever you travel in the north, from San Sebastián to Santiago, make food a centrepiece of your visit.

Catch the train back to Madrid, then take a high-speed train to Córdoba for two nights and Seville for two nights. While you're in the area, detour north by bus or train to the Roman ruins of Mérida for a night, the fabulous old city of Cáceres for another night and medieval Trujillo for a third night. Return to Seville and make immediately for Granada; plan on two nights. Add an extra couple of nights and a rental car and you can visit the lovely villages of Las Alpujarras. Keep the car (or catch the train) and travel from Granada to Valencia to spend a couple of days enjoying its architecture, paella and irresistible energy. You've just enough time to catch the high-speed train to cliff-top Cuenca for a night on your way back to Madrid at journey's end.

Andalucían Adventure

  • 10 Days

There's more to Andalucía than the monument-rich cities, although these are not to be missed. This route takes you through three iconic cities and some of the region's most beautiful villages.

Begin in Málaga, whose airport receives flights from almost every conceivable corner of Europe. It has enough attractions to keep you occupied for one very full day. No Andalucian itinerary is complete without at least a couple of nights in peerless Granada with its astonishing Alhambra, gilded Capilla Real and medieval Muslim quarter of Albayzín. Rent a car and make for the other-worldly valleys of Las Alpujarras with their fine mountain scenery and North African–style villages. If you've kept the car, head west for three days along quiet back roads to some of Andalucia's most spectacular villages and towns: Mudéjar Antequera, spectacular Ronda, whitewashed Tarifa, beguiling Vejer de la Frontera, and Arcos de la Frontera, one of Andalucia's most glorious pueblos blancos (white villages). With three days left, leave the car and spend a night in Jerez de la Frontera, allowing time to visit its sherry bodegas, then catch a train north to flamenco-rich Seville, which is, for many, the essence of Andalucia.

Northern Spain

  • 10 Days

Spain's Mediterranean Coast may get the crowds, but the country's northern coastline from San Sebastián to Santiago is one of the most spectacular in Europe.

There is no finer introduction to the north of the country than San Sebastián, with its dramatic setting and fabulous food. Two nights is a minimum. West of San Sebastián by train, Bilbao is best known as home to the showpiece Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and warrants at least a night, preferably two. To make the most of the rest of the coast, you'll need a car. Cantabria's cobblestone Santillana del Mar, the rock art at Altamira and the village of Ribadesella will fill one day, with another taken up by the steep valleys of the Picos de Europa. After a third night in irresistible Oviedo, tackle Galicia's coastline, one of Spain's great natural wonders, punctuated with secluded fishing villages and stunning cliffs. Don't miss Cabo Ortegal, dynamic A Coruña and the Costa da Morte. For the last two nights, linger in Santiago de Compostela, a thoroughly Galician city, a place of pilgrim footfalls, fine regional cuisine and a cathedral of rare power.

Castile & Aragón

  • 2 Weeks

The Spanish interior may not fit the stereotype of sun, sand and sangría, but we love it all the more for that. This route takes in a stirring mix of lesser-known cities and stunning villages.

From Madrid, head to some of the loveliest towns of the Spanish heartland: Segovia, with its Disney-esque castle and Roman aqueduct, walled Ávila and vibrant Salamanca will occupy around four days of your time with short train rides connecting the three. Trains also connect you to León and Burgos, home to two of Spain's most extraordinary churches. Spend at least a day in each. An extra night in Burgos will allow you to take a day trip to the medieval villages of Covarrubias and Santo Domingo de Silos. Make for Zaragoza, one of Spain’s most vibrant cities, with a wealth of monuments and great tapas – two days is a must. Rent a car and head for the hills where Sos del Rey Católico looks for all the world like a Tuscan hill town. Drive south for an overnight stop in dramatic Daroca, then on to Teruel, filled with Mudéjar gems. Finish your journey in Albarracín, one of Spain’s most spectacular villages.

Extreme West

  • 10 Days

Extremadura is one of Spain's least known corners, which is all the more reason to visit.

Begin with a night in Extremadura’s north, in Plasencia, which is jammed with notable buildings, churches and convents. From Plasencia, catch the bus or train to Cáceres, whose Ciudad Monumental is one of the finest surviving medieval cores in any Spanish city. After two nights here, including a half-day excursion to charming Garrovillas, regular buses take an hour to nearby Trujillo, a smaller but equally enchanting relic of the Middle Ages. Spend two nights here: one to explore the warren of cobbled lanes, and another to rent a car for a day trip to the charming hill town and pilgrims' destination of Guadalupe. From Trujillo it's just over an hour by bus south to Mérida, but the journey spans the centuries: Mérida boasts some of Spain's most impressive Roman ruins, and you'll need at least two nights here to take it all in. Further south again by bus across the plains lies whitewashed Zafra, a precursor to Andalucía in spirit, architecture and geography. After a night in Zafra, all roads lead to magical Seville, one of Andalucía's (and Spain's) most captivating cities.

Madrid to El Maestrazgo

  • 2 weeks

From Madrid to the Valencian coast, this itinerary traverses a Spain that time forgot with beautiful villages seemingly at every turn.

Escape Madrid and start this adventure in nonconformist fashion with a night or two in Segovia, with its Disney-esque Alcázar and Roman aqueduct, then repeat the dose huddled behind the perfect medieval walls of Ávila. Brooding and monumental Toledo, too, is at its best when the day trippers head home, enabling you to catch the whispering legends of its multifaith past. Take the road south to Orgaz and then detour southeast to Consuegra and Almagro, an enchanting stop for a night or two. From Almagro, the trail takes you east towards the Parque Natural de las Lagunas de Ruidera and its lagoons, then swing back northwest to Quijote territory, checking out Campo de Criptana and El Toboso. The road continues east to Belmonte and its castle. For a castle you can sleep in, press on to Alarcón.

Make the loop southeast to reach Alcalá del Júcar, on the stunning Río Júcar, which you can then follow west before heading back north for Cuenca and its hanging houses. A pretty riverside route takes you north along the CM2105 road into the hilly territory of the Serranía de Cuenca and then east to the ochre town of Muslim origin, Albarracín – there are few more beautiful villages in Spain than this, its walls strung out along the high ridges that encircle this wonderful place. Next stop is Teruel, remarkable for its old town's Mudéjar architecture and far from well-worn travel routes; if you can be here for the February Fiesta Medieval (Las Bodas de Isabel de Segura) you will, apart from being very cold, catch the essence of its appeal. The theme of leaving behind roads well travelled continues as you head east past hamlets of the high country of El Maestrazgo, including spectacularly sited Cantavieja and quieter-than-quiet Mirambel, where you'll feel as if you've arrived in one of the most secluded corners of the Spanish interior. Crossing into Valencia (but still in El Maestrazgo), our route takes you on to the pretty, castle-dominated town of Morella and finally to the coast at Peñíscola.

Mediterranean to Mountains

  • 2 Weeks

This journey takes you from the shores of the Mediterranean to the deep valleys of the Pyrenees. You’ll need a car to cover this in two weeks. Your reward is a chance to visit some of northwestern Spain’s lesser-known jewels.

Begin in Valencia, that most appealing of Mediterranean cities, then drive northeast, pausing in the flamingo-rich Delta de l’Ebre en route to Tarragona, one of Catalonia’s most underrated destinations, with its fabulous Roman ruins. From Tarragona, head inland along the Cistercian Route, then cut through Aragón to vibrant and historic Zaragoza. After a couple of days in the Aragonese capital, and six days after leaving Valencia, pause overnight in the engaging provincial capital of Logroño. Continue west through the fine monastery towns of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and San Millán de Cogolla and then on into La Rioja, Spain’s premier wine-producing region – Laguardia is a wonderful base. Head out into the eastern reaches of Navarra, for the beguiling fortress towns of Olite and Ujué, then on to pretty Pamplona. From here, climb into the Navarran Pyrenees, at their most beautiful in the Valle del Baztán and Valle del Roncal.