Love Spain and the great outdoors? Here at Totally Spain we do too and that’s why we’ve created this unique 11-night self-drive itinerary starting in Barcelona, with 7 nights in the Spanish Pyrenees and finishing up with 2 nights in the Rioja wine region and a night in Bilbao! Gastronomy is a key element in this Parador self-drive itinerary and you’ll get to taste the best Catalan, Basque, Riojan and Pryenees dishes and wines. We’ll customise each itinerary so you really experience and enjoy these incredible cities, towns and the countryside in the way that suits your travelling party. For the moment let us entice you with this sample Spanish Pyrenees itinerary.
Spanish Pyrenees Parador Tour, plus Rioja, Bilbao & Barcelona
Day 1 Barcelona
Arrive Barcelona and overnight here to relax before setting off on your trip. We’ll include a transfer by private driver from the airport to your 4-star city-centre hotel. We will arrange for an afternoon city tour or a tapas tour to help you experience this wonderful place. (If it’s your first time to BCN we would recommend an additional night minimum to really allow yourself some time to experience Gaudi’s Barcelona.)
Day 2 Seu D’Urgell
We provide a transfer from your hotel to your car rental office from where you have a 2 hour drive NW of Barcelona to the Parador of Seu D’Urgell, a former convent, located beside the City Hall and the Cathedral. This is where you’ll be staying for 2 nights.
Beautifully situated at the foot of the Sierra de Cadi where the Rivers Valire and Segre converge, the medieval town of La Seu offers much to explore. After some time to settle into your hotel, you’ll be met by your local guide who will take you around the medieval city. The word ‘seu’ in Catalan means cathedral and that’s where you’ll begin your tour – at Santa Maria cathedral which is the only Romanesque cathedral that remains in Catalonia. Built on the site of the Saint Ermengol cathedral by orders from the then Bishop now Saint Odon, this 12th century building curiously bears many Italian hallmarks. Your guide will show you the cloisters from the 13th and 16th century as well as the Santa Maria d’Urgell engraving from the 13th century. You’ll visit the museum inside the cathedral to see the 10th century Urgell Beatus manuscript containing 79 miniatures paintings.
If you are in town on market day, your guide will show you the Medieval market in the square of Oms – the perfect place to pick up some artisan cheese from the locality.
You’ll also visit Sant Miguel church – which is the only section remaining of the old cathedral. You’ll see City Hall, called the Sagrada Familia, from the 15th century which exhibits many Medieval paintings and sculptures. Your guide will bring you to the charming streets of Carrer Cononges and Carrer Major and show you one of the many canonical dwellings – where the clergy resided. You’ll conclude your tour by the arcaded streets and old palaces after visiting the Gothic Convent of Sant Domingo.
Afternoon at leisure. If you’d like to try some canoeing, rafting or kayaking, make your way to the nearby Olympic Park of Segre which hosted the Slalom event at the 1992 Barcelona Games. We can tailor other recommendations based on your travelling party.
Day 3 Seu D’Urgell
Today, after a hearty breakfast, visit the Cadi-Moixero Park. Enjoy the stunning views of the mountains, the Tancalaporta Pass and the Vulturo peak (the park’s highest at 2,648m). You’ll be able to choose a walking route from the over-400km of marked paths. Wildlife fans can keep a lookout for deer, pine martins, salamanders and the park’s symbol – the black woodpecker. After your walk, have a meal in Baga, continue on to Castellar de n’Hug or Saldes or return towards la Seu d’Urgell and stop in Bellver de Cerdanya for a hearty Pyrenees lunch.
Relax this afternoon. If you are curious about nearby Andorra, one of Europe’s tiny principalities, you could drive towards the Coma Pedrosa which, at 2,943m, is the highest of Andorra’s 65 peaks. You’ll find lots of hikers talking about the Estany Negre (Black Lake) here and the Via Ferratas – a cross between trekking and rock climbing – is also very popular in Andorra. Or enjoy shopping in the city centre.
Return to Seu d’Urgell.
Day 4 Seu d’Urgell/Vielha
Today you’ll be leaving la Seu and driving two hours in majestic mountain scenery to Vielha, the capital of the Val d’Aran or Aran Valley for two nights. Check-in to the Parador in Vielha (where you’ll be able to enjoy access to the excellent spa pools – which we’ve included in the price – whenever suits you best).
Explore Vielha this afternoon – beginning at the Romanesque San Miquel church and its 18th century bell tower. You’ll also want to see the Casa de Rodes and the Casa de Fedusa houses. Carry on to the Wool Factory – a great museum, and finally the Tower of General Martinhon – inside a 17th century manor for its Medieval art. Enjoy a traditional meal sampling some local favourites including mountain stews and roast game.
You could also, visit some of the villages near Vielha. Arties is a charming town with lovely cobbled streets, steep sided houses and some impressive Renaissance houses. There’s a Parador here that was the House of Don Gaspar de Portolá, discoverer of California which is a good place to have a coffee.
Day 5 Vielha
Today, drive to the Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park – the name means twisting or winding streams. It’s Catalonia’s only national park and is a great amenity for walkers, hikers and photographers. As the name suggests, you’ll find water here in every guise including babbling brooks, streams, waterfalls, rivers, reservoirs, dams and huge glacial lakes. Lakes cover 15 percent of this park’s surface – and the reflections of the mountains and forests on the water make for perfection. There are many access points into the park and walking routes inside the parks. If mobility is an issue for anybody in your party, the park can also provide a driver (in a 4-wheel drive) to move around within the park from Espot. If you are taking this trip in the warmer months, you should consider taking the cable-car at Vall Fosca. If you are interested in Romanesque churches, check out the area near Taull and Boi Valley. In Taull, visit the Sant Clemeint and Santa Maria churches which have superb reproduction Romanesque frescoes. The original ones are kept in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalonia. Aiguestortes featured in our guide to Spain’s best national parks here.
Return to Vielha’s Parador.
Day 6 Vielha/Bielsa
Today, you’ll leave Vielha and drive two hours to Bielsa – stopping at charming Benasque, Graus and Ainsa.
Benasque is located in the Valley of the same name and is surrounded by the highest peaks in the Pyrenees. From here, you’ll see many hikers setting off to scale Aneto, the highest mountain peak on the Spanish peninsula. Have a coffee or a snack in this charming town with markets, cafes and restaurants with plenty outdoor seating to take in the surroundings. The nearby reservoir at Linsoles also offers tremendous views.
From Benasque, drive south to Graus, the capital of Ribagorza, to see the 16th century Basilica and Hospital of the Virgin Peña and the beautiful town square.
Your next stop is Ainsa in the Sobrarbe region, which is perched on the edge of a hill overlooking the river Cinca. In the historic quarter, you’ll enjoy the porticoed squares, cobbled streets, the castle, the elegant balconies and many vestiges of its Medieval past. If you like bell-tolls, you’ll want to catch the chimes here. We features Ainsa in our guide to short road trips in Spain here.
Drive north towards Bielsa where you’ll enjoy the mountain hamlet and its views of the Monte Perdido and Ordesa National Park – famous for its four glacial canyons. Check in to the Parador (at the foot of Monte Perdido) where you’ll be staying for two nights.
Day 7 Bielsa
Spend the day enjoying the views of Monte Perdido and Ordesa National Park; Spain’s second oldest awarded national park status in 1918. The park is dominated by the Monte Perdido massif at 3,355m and its three sisters peaks. Hikes for all abilities and interests can be made here – the most popular routes begin at Pradera de Ordesa including the Circo de Cotatuero, a six-hour circuit to a thundering waterfall. Keep an eye out for the Pyrenean chamois (a type of antelope), the marmot, boar and the Pyrenean water-mole and birds such as the golden eagle, the bearded vulture, the griffon vulture, hawks, and the royal owl. It’s possible to raft through the rapids inside the park too if you are feeling extra adventurous. After the exertions, retire to Bielsa’s Parador restaurant and enjoy the wonderful views from the base of Monte Perdido. We featured Monte Perdido in our guide to Spain’s best national parks here.
Day 8 Bielsa/Olite
This morning after checking out of the Parador, drive to Jaca – the Pearl of the Pyrenees – and one-time capital of Aragon – which is en-route to your hotel for tonight, the Parador at Olite.
Jaca is on the Aragonese Camino, and you’ll see many walkers, hikers and cyclists coming through in the early afternoon. Just like they will, you’ll want to see the magnificent 11th century cathedral that was the first Romanesque temple in Spain. You’ll also visit the Ciudadela, the 16th century Castle of San Pedro commissioned by Phillip II to defend the area from French attack. Today you can see the moat and drawbridge, powder magazines, chapel and also visit the Military Miniature Museum in the barracks – where you’ll find 32,000 tin soldiers explaining the history of armed conflict through the ages.
Your next visit for the morning will be ‘Las Benitas’ convent for Benedictine nuns, built in 1555 over a Romanesque church, parts of which are still preserved. It’s here that the Romanesque sarcophagus of the Sancha (daughter of Ramiro I) who died in 1097 can be visited. Ramiro I was the first king of the Crown of Aragon – and you’ll hear his name referenced frequently in Jaca. His residence was here at the convent in its former guise as a royal fort. He later moved to a palace that was replaced by a Clock Tower following a fire. You’ll finish your tour of Jaca at the Clock Tower.
Enjoy lunch in Jaca’s Old Quarter – before driving the 90 mins to Olite, a small town in the centre of Navarre. You’ll be checking into the Parador for one night. The Castle/Palace was declared a national monument back in 1925 and is an outstanding example of civil Gothic architecture. The town of Olite is also impressive with character oozing from the facades of buildings replete with coats of arms, wooden eaves, and mediaeval galleries. And yes, this is a walled town, with plenty of chapels and churches, and is also wine territory so you’ll enjoy an evening of tapas and glorious wines. We included Jaca in our guide to Driving the Camino here.
Day 9 Olite/Laguardia-Rioja
After breakfast in the Parador, check-out and drive just 75 mins to Laguardia – where you’ll be staying in a 4-star hotel just outside the walled town. We are big fans of Laguardia – the quintessential hamlet dating from the 13th century. It’s honey-coloured streets are both cinematic and, around meal time, so enticingly aromatic. What makes Laguardia extra special is what lies below the cobbled streets: it’s underground network of 300 or so caves – many of which are still used to produce or store wine – is larger than the town above. To protect the Emmental-like structures below – the only vehicles allowed into the centre are the tractors delivering the grapes to the caves in September – so it’s very pedestrian-friendly! After checking in to your hotel, you’ll be taking on the first winery visit in this locality. You can see the types of bodegas we recommend in our post on Laguardia & the Rioja Alavesa.
Day 10 Laguardia-Rioja
Today you have the full day to relax and embrace the wine culture and gastronomy. We’ve programmed a second winery to visit which also includes a delicious lunch at the winery. After lunch, we recommend a visit to the Vivanco wine experience – which we’ve written about here in this post on Wineries with Art. Alternatively enjoy a little pampering by booking yourself in for a session in the hotel’s Wine Oil Spa circuit before your evening meal.
Day 11 Laguardia/Bilbao
Today, after check-out from your hotel, it’s time to drive to Bilbao where you’ll be staying for one night. Drop off your rental car upon arrival in the city. Then enjoy touring the city at your leisure and for ease of access, we have included entrance tickets to the Guggenheim museum. When you emerge from the museum, enjoy a stroll along the wonderful riverbank and taste the delicious tapas in the city’s Old Quarter. We’ve written a guide to Bilbao here which offers lots of tips on what to see and do.
Day 12 Bilbao
After a night’s rest and a delicious breakfast we’ll transfer you to Bilbao airport for your flight home. Buen viaje and we hope it’s just the first of many trips with us. We pride ourselves in repeat custom and hope you will be no different! [NB You might be tempted to follow up with our Northern Spain Parador tour or our Southern Spain Parador Tour …]
Tempted to take this Spanish Pyrenees Parador tour?
Totally Spain will take care of everything on the ground for you as well as pre-booking some top sights. We’ll arrange your car rental too and provide you with comprehensive documentation so that you make the very most out of your time in the North East of Spain.
Guideline Trip Price: from 1998 euros per person sharing, which includes:-
- 11 nights’ accommodation in a standard double room with ensuite bathroom (8 nights in Parador hotels and 3 nights in 4-star hotels in Barcelona, Laguardia & Bilbao
- Buffet breakfast daily
- Private arrival transfer in Barcelona Day 1
- Private transfer to car rental depot Barcelona
- Group SDAR Car Rental (Opel Insignia or similar) with unlimited mileage, basic collision damage waiver and theft insurance. Pick-up takes place in Barcelona city with drop off in Bilbao city upon arrival.
- Expert local guide in Barcelona and la Seu D’Urgell
- Access for two to the spa circuit Parador Vielha
- Two winery visits in Rioja with tastings
- Special tasting lunch menu at one of the wineries including wine
- Entrance to Guggenheim in Bilbao (closed on Mondays)
- Private transfer from Bilbao hotel to Bilbao airport
- Comprehensive documentation including road & city maps, guides & suggested itineraries
- All taxes
Itinerary Terms & Conditions:
- Final Price will be based on your exact travel dates. Price is subject to vary from the price shown above which is given as a guideline. Depending on your travel dates the price may be the same, increase or decrease. Please ask us for an exact quote. For the purpose of this offer shown above, prices were created based on availabillity on 21 May 2019 and are for travel beginning 01 August 2019.
- Flights are not included
- You will be advised of the name of your 4 star hotel in Barcelona, Laguardia & Bilbao at the time of booking