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  • Basque Country: Coast to Vineyards

    San Sebastian

    Villa Soro

    Villa Soro

    Palacio Guendulain

    Palacio Guendulain

    Marques de Riscal

    Marques de Riscal

    Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

    Hotel Carlton

    Hotel Carlton

    Basque Countryside

    Basque Country: Coast to Vineyards

    Self-drive Tour - 10 nights and 11 days
    Enjoy a tour around the autonomous Basque Country in northern Spain, discovering the unique culture, deep history, and delicious gastronomy as you travel between cities, coast and countryside.

    Begin this luxury tour of the Basque Country with a two-night journey on your ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao, a recently regenerated city that has reclaimed its status as an important cultural and historical site. Spend two nights at the Hotel Villa Soro in chic San Sebastián. Explore the cosmopolitan history of this city, and begin trying some of the traditional Basque cuisine. These dishes typically include grilled meat and fish, hearty stews, tasty bean dishes, cheese made from sheep’s milk, Txakoli wines, ciders, and, of course, the region’s own variation on Spanish tapas. The second stop on this tour is Palacio Guendulain in the Navarran city of Pamplona. This city still retains the dynamic shape of its original mediaeval fortifications, and has mastered the perfect blend of history and modern culture. The Marques de Riscal in Elciego is your third stop, and is the ideal opportunity to try some of the famous Basque wines. Either tour the vineyards at your hotel, or venture out to a smaller business to try the La Rioja wines, and sample the Txakoli. Finally, return to Bilbao for two nights on the coast. The Hotel Carlton merges traditional design with modernity to prepare you for the iconic Guggenheim Museum, and fittingly blends with the tradition of Bilbao’s old town. Wander along the riverbank in the shadow of the picturesque houses, explore the Gothic architecture, and peruse the stalls in the bustling marketplace. Return to Portsmouth on your final day after one more night aboard the ferry. Bringing your own car, or hiring one while in Spain, enables you to deviate on a daily basis from this suggested tour, putting the whole of the Basque Country at your fingertips.
    Click here to download a pdf with details about this touring holiday.

    Prices start at £1,740 per person.

    What’s included:
    • 2 nights bed and breakfast in a Double Room at the Hotel Villa Soro in San Sebastián
    • 1 night bed and breakfast in a Double Room at the Palacio Guendulain in Pamplona
    • 2 nights bed and breakfast in a Double Room at the Marques de Riscal in Elciego
    • 2 nights bed and breakfast in a Double Room at the Hotel Carlton in Bilbao
    • Return crossing for car and passengers with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Bilbao, with an inside cabin for 2 people – 2 nights on outward journey, and 1 on return.

    Fly-drive also available with flights to Bilbao.

    Click the tabs above to view our suggested day-by-day touring itinerary and to find out more about the hotels featured.
    Click here to find out more about how our touring holidays work.

    Basque Country: Coast to Vineyards

    Day-by-Day Itinerary

    Travel to Bilbao from Portsmouth, spending two nights aboard the ferry
    Start your touring holiday by taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao, a crossing which takes around 32 hours. The high quality facilities on board, as well as your two-person cabin, will make this long trip exceptionally comfortable, while the extensive views across the sea will prepare you for the coastal beginning of your Basque tour.

    DAY THREE: Drive to San Sebastián, where you will spend two nights
    After arriving into Bilbao at around 8am on your third day, drive eastwards along the Basque coast to San Sebastián, an elegant seaside resort set on a beautiful bay only a few miles from the French border. Your hotel for two nights is the Hotel Villa Soro. Spend the rest of the day soaking up the unique Basque culture, and dine in the evening on the innovative cuisine of one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants dotted around the city.

    DAY FOUR: San Sebastian
    When it comes to exploring the delights of San Sebastián further, begin at the heart of the city, which is coincidentally its coastline, with the Town Hall. This golden building was formerly the Gran Casino, until it was shut down in 1924. The grandeur of its façade suggests something of its frivolous and cosmopolitan background, while complementing its more official contemporary use. Also on the coast is the La Perla spa building, reputedly one of the most beautiful in the world, and built in honour of the Queen Maria Cristina. From outside, its white walls and wide windows seem to emerge from the sand and the sea, and from inside the same features draw the beauty of the sea into the tranquil pools and bubbling Jacuzzis that attract so many local residents. You may wish to take lunch in the Donostia, or old town, in one of the many lively tapas bars, for a taste of the real northern Spain and traditional Spanish cuisine. In the afternoon, perhaps recline on La Concha beach and soak up the sun, the beautiful views across the ocean and the green hilly islands that break up the horizon. During the summer, San Sebastián comes alive with Jazz, theatre, film, and music festivals that really ooze Spanish joviality and theatrics. Outside of the city, amidst the emerging lush green countryside, are such buildings as the Palacio Miramar. Not only was this palace the summer residence of the royal family in the 19th century, but it bears in its architecture hints of the influence of its proximity to the French border. Voted European Capital of Culture 2016, San Sebastián has much to offer in the way of art and history - for example, the San Telmo museum – but, its main pleasure comes from self-guided exploration and sampling of its widely varied cuisine. Just half an hour away sits the small village of Hondarribia, a fairly secluded town on the Iberian Peninsula. It is, however, a hot-spot for rising Spanish chefs, and thus has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants and bars in Spain. Perfect for relaxing with some tapas beside the Bay of Biscay, or trying more hearty Basque dishes, Hondarribia is an essential stop for all visiting foodies. In the evenings, after dinner, retire to the Hotel Villa Soro, sitting slightly further back from the beach, and facing the verdant Basque hills to the north. The refined blend of contemporary comforts, tasteful design, and luxurious, grand twists, makes this hotel the perfect place to relax before moving on with the tour.

    DAY FIVE: Drive south from San Sebastián to Pamplona, where you will spend one night
    Leave San Sebastián in the morning of your fifth day, and drive southwards through rolling hills and rustic scenery to Pamplona, the fascinating capital of the Navarre region. Stay at Palacio Guendulain, an elegant and regal hotel in the centre of the walled city known for the annual ‘San Fermines’ festival whose highlight is the famous ‘running of the bulls’. With such illustrious guests as Queen Isabel II in 1845, and with historic horse carriage collection housed both inside and out, the recently renovated hotel building stands as a testament to its own reputation for luxury and excellent service. With only one night in Pamplona, time is of the essence during your exploration of the city. Founded by the Romans, but with much mediaeval heritage, and situated on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago, the city is rich in interesting history. The Fortress, which forms an impressively geometric star shape on the open green space which has now been surrounded by more modern development, still stands almost in its entirety. Now idyllically coated by grass, its scale and depth is still visible in the walkways, high walls, and arches. It is believed to be one of the best preserved military structures in Spain. The shape of the old walls and fortress still define the city today. Ancient walls and platforms emerge from underneath tall contemporary buildings. Have lunch in a local restaurant to try the local tapas: ‘pintxos’. If time permits, drive out to the nearby town of Sangüesa, which retains much of its original mediaeval design, or venture into the Basque Pyrenees. The Parque Natural Urbasa Andia is one of the most beautiful natural sights of the area, punctuated by waterfalls, pools, and caves with stalactites, though it is mostly known for the bright azure hue of its flowing waters. In the evening, relax with a drink in the bar at Palacio Guendulain, before dining with views across Consejo Square.

    DAY SIX: Drive the short distance to Elciego, and spend two nights
    Remain in Pamplona for as long as you need to finish visiting its most important monuments, before embarking on a drive of approximately an hour and a quarter into the heart of La Rioja. Pass through the pleasant city of Logroño, with its towering buildings perched on arcaded streets, en route to your hotel. Perhaps stop off to walk along the riverside, or navigate the old narrow streets, discovering the small quaint squares as you go. The Marques de Riscal is a unique and contemporary property in the picture-postcard town of Elciego, around which there are a huge number of wineries producing the high-quality wine that the region is known for.

    DAY SEVEN: Elciego
    Guests at the hotel can embark on a tour of the hotel's vineyards that ends in a wine tasting session in the cellar. Traditions of wine-making in the Basque Country, though the wines are still relatively unknown today, date back to Roman times. Rioja wines from the region are typically more acidic than other varieties, but are also fuller-bodied. Viura grapes are added to the Rioja Alavesa wines to deepen the colour. Txakoli, or Chacolí, wines are produced close to the Basque coast, and aged for only one year. They have a light, fruity flavour, and are gently sparkling, perfect to accompany some of the Basque coast’s delicious seafood. These two wines, on any wine-tasting trip in the Basque Country, are essential to keep an eye out for. To the south of the numerous wine towns are places of interest including the Yuso and Suso Monasteries, atmospheric terracotta-coloured buildings situated amongst rolling green hills and valleys, and the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, which is an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Wind your way down Santo Domingo’s quiet streets, or take in the village’s history in the peaceful plazas.

    DAY EIGHT: Return north to Bilbao, and stay for two nights

    Return northwards to Bilbao, the energetic riverside city near the Basque Coast, for your final few days in Spain. You can choose to stop off in Vitoria-Gasteiz, which is the capital of the Basque Country and has an interesting mediaeval quarter, a picturesque Museo de Bellas Artes, and a charming asymmetrical central square. In Bilbao, your hotel for two nights is the Hotel Carlton, a five-star hotel close to the iconic curved silver façade of the Guggenheim Museum, which was designed by Frank Gehry. The blend of traditional and modern style in your hotel is in-keeping with its neighbour, whilst also capturing something of the cosmopolitan side of Bilbao. Inside, grand ornate staircases and elaborate furnishings give way to chic, monochromatic rooms.

    DAY NINE: Bilbao
    To contrast the modern luxuries, take the time to visit the old town on the banks of the river. Tightly-packed colourful houses give this quarter a distinctly Venetian charm, but with a Spanish twist. Narrow streets, historic buildings, long, steep stairways, Tapas bars, quaint boutiques, and lively street entertainments, make the cultural experience an all-encompassing one. Other highlights include the city’s Gothic Santiago Cathedral, dating back to the 14th century, the glassy Euskalduna Palace, the intriguing Zubizuri Bridge, the fine arts museum, and the art collections contained within the futuristic Guggenheim. On the riverside is the covered market. The largest of its kind in Europe, the market was built in 1929 and stands out because of its very individual style, and vast sun-catching windows. Famous particularly for its seafood, the Mercado de la Ribera is very well-suited to the gastronomic traveller, but offers a range of other products and souvenirs too. For the more historic side of Bilbao, perhaps visit the Basilica of Begoña, a building that appears unassuming from the outside, but holds a cavernous three-parted interior that is beautifully lit. Its gold and blue altar combines the building’s Catholic heritage with a classical style, and provides a beautiful centre-point. The Gothic Church of San Antón is more austere and plain inside, but boasts of an excellent riverside position. For your final night in Bilbao, head back to the dynamic Hotel Carlton for a delicious dinner.

    DAYS TEN AND ELEVEN: Embark on your return journey to Portsmouth, spending one night on the ferry
    Before leaving Bilbao, track down a breakfast of delicious Bilbao pastries in the old town. Then, return to the ferry port to board a mid-morning departure for the homeward journey, arriving in Portsmouth the next day.

    Driving times for this touring holiday:

    Bilbao to San Sebastián: 1 hour 25 minutes
    San Sebastián to Pamplona: 1 hour 15 minutes
    Pamplona to Elciego: 1 hour 30 minutes
    Elciego to Bilbao: 1 hour 25 minutes

    Click the 'Hotel Information' tab to find out more about the hotels featured in this touring itinerary.

    Basque Country, Coast to Vineyards 3

    Hotel Information

    These are the contemporary hotels featured in this Spanish touring holiday. Alternative hotels are available in some destinations – please contact us for full details.

    Hotel Villa Soro
    San Sebastián
    In the very heart of cosmopolitan San Sebastián, Hotel Villa Soro is a four-star gem within walking distance of the Old Town and Zurriola beach. Enjoy the city from the dignified distance of Hotel Villa Soro’s enclosed gardens and marvel at the stately villa that takes pride of place in front of a sweeping driveway and pristine lawns. With just 25 rooms split between the splendid villa and the old stables, this is a boutique property with a bygone charm, having been installed here in the late nineteenth century. Interiors are elegant and refined, yet without pretention, as the glow of intimate lighting and log fires settles on precious woods, parquet floors and grand arm chairs in the two living rooms. There is a sympathetic combination of traditional comforts and contemporary features at Hotel Villa Soro to make guests feel quite at home. The marble floors, grand stairwell, and art nouveau-style shaped doorways add a style that suits the property’s history. The homely warmth reflects a welcoming attitude felt from the staff, which provides a service that seeks to cater to guests’ every desire. Although there is no restaurant at the hotel, you will feel little loss in a city renowned for its gastronomy – and with the famous Arzak Restaurant just 500 yards away. There is, however, a breakfast room where you can prepare yourself for a day of exploration, perhaps making the most of one of the hotel’s bicycles for free – a marvellous addition to a splendid hotel.
    Find out more here. 

    Palacio Guendulain
    Palacio Guendulain is a four star hotel in the heart of Pampalona’s historic old town, occupying a grand 18th Century building. Formerly a family home for over two centuries, the hotel was briefly the royal residence of Queen Isabel II in 1845. Today, a museum of beautifully ornate carriages marks the opulent history of the hotel and flanks its inner courtyard. Palacio Guendulain is maintained and decorated to luxuriously high standards, its staircase of shallow, pale stone steps spirals to the top floor whilst golden guilt furniture topped in marble embellishes its high ceilinged rooms. The 25 bedrooms are a welcoming blend of traditional and modern luxury. Displaying a simple elegance, the rooms are decorated in soft, pastel colours whilst wide armchairs and crisp bed linens offer guests the upmost comfort. A gastronomic restaurant, fit for the hotel’s previous aristocratic inhabitants, is of impeccably high standards and has been mentioned in the Michelin guide for the past 5 years for its succulent meat and sea food tied with the earthy and spicy flavours of the Basque Country’s cuisine. Head to the hotel’s rooftop terrace to relax in the brilliant sunshine or watch the dwindling sunset over Pamplona’s rooftops. Palacio Guendulain’s location makes it ideal for days spent exploring Pamplona’s old town, soaking it up history and culture.
    Find out more here.

    Hotel Marques de Riscal
    A wine lovers’ retreat, Hotel Marqués de Riscal is a contemporary masterpiece surrounded by rolling vineyards on the outskirts of the town of Elciego in the Basque Country. Built in 2006 by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the distinctive structure is a space-age vision amid the picturesque landscape, complete with a curved and twisting metal roof. A Luxury Collection hotel combining art and design, food and wine, the Hotel Merqués de Riscal experience is a sensory one. Be assured of sampling the region’s most fabulous labels at the Wine Bar, while the two restaurants provide unique settings for ambient meals. The self-titled Marques de Riscal Restaurant has a Michelin star to its name, and the exciting cuisine of Chef Francis Paniego is accompanied by a choice of up to 200 fine vintage wines. The dining room combines heady, wall-to-wall reds with pristine white table cloths, but you can opt to dine on the terrace amid spectacular vistas over the vineyards to the mountains behind. Bistro 1860 Restaurant is a more casual setting for local Spanish cuisine with a modern twist, where the Chef’s Table offers a unique opportunity to observe the kitchen staff at work. If possible, even better views can be sought at the rooftop library lounge, where beverages are served as you browse reading material on La Rioja’s wine-producing history. Continue your wine-themed experience at Hotel Marqués de Riscal’s Spa Vinothérapie, where the essence of grape is used in health and beauty treatments, including barrel baths for hydro-massage sessions enriched with vine extracts. A lovely addition to the service is access to bicycles, which you can take on gentle rambles through the delightful countryside.
    Find out more here.

    Hotel Carlton
    The five star Hotel Carlton in Bilbao oozes French Second Empire Style, and it perfect for luxury holidays spent exploring cultural Northern Spain. Completed in 1926, its grandiose, ornate architectural style is characterised by flourished archways, staircases, balustrades, cornices, and symmetry, all of which add to the all-encompassing sense of luxury at this Spanish hotel. The iconic glass roof that crowns the building comes into its own when you enter the central hall, which is flooded with down-pouring light. The style of the hotel lends itself easily to both contemporary, chic design, and more traditional decoration, something which becomes clear in the eclectic, but highly comfortable, individual rooms. The building’s history as the seat of the Basque Government during the Spanish Civil War is evident throughout, in the interior staircases, elegant atmosphere, and its singular stained-glass window that remains from before the war. The feeling of regal importance and elegance that this history brings with it pervades each of the corridors and rooms. Restaurante Carlton, decorated in pleasing pastel colours reminiscent of its 1920s origin, serves a varied menu of hearty Basque and Biscay cuisine, including rice dishes, locally sourced lobster, and bean stew. The excellent positioning of this hotel puts you in the very heart of the city. Each day, you are at your leisure to explore the delights of Bilbao, from the world-famous Guggenheim Art Museum, the many charming plazas, the towering ornate palaces and basilicas, to the green parks and river. We would highly recommend stopping at this luxury five star hotel as part of a larger tour of Northern Spain, sampling the diverse and intriguing culture and history before moving on to coastal cities or further inland.
    Find out more here.

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