Northern Spain feels like a country apart, and in many ways, it has been. Our 13-day tour travels from East to West in Spain, roughly adhering to the Pilgrim’s route: from the forward-thinking port city of Bilbao in the Basque country, to the inland cities of Burgos and León high on the plains of Castile. We cross the mountains outside picturesque Oviedo and travel on to the Atlantic via the green fields of Celtic Galicia, finishing our stay in the celebrated city of Santiago de Compostela, with its splendid Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture. En route we have the opportunity of savouring the cuisine and wine of a region which is highly regarded in culinary circles: the pintxos of San Sebastian, wine of the Rioja valley, the avant-garde ‘Delicios’ restaurant in León, the famous marketside eatery Abastos 2.0 in Santiago and the superb seafood of Galicia’s coast.
If you wish to arrive prior to the tour to recover from jetlag, we recommend joining Dr Jeni Ryde on an ‘off the beaten track’ itinerary around her favourite spots in and around Barcelona. Designed to beat the crowds by avoiding the main destinations that many travellers have seen already, we balance walking tours of historic districts with visits to some of the city’s leading art institutions and, a survey of the striking Modernist architecture of Barcelona. A day trip to Girona by train for its Medieval, Jewish and Arab history rounds out the program. The dates for the extension tour are September 14-17, 2021. For more details, see page 9 of the detailed itinerary below.
Frank Gehry’s extraordinary design at the Guggenheim in Bilbao
Wine-tasting at the avant-garde Bodega Ysios winery in the Rioja
The exquisite Romanesque and Gothic churches and cathedrals along the Camino
A mountain walk and lunch in the clear air of the majestic Picos de Europa in Asturias
Fine tapas in San Sebastian, and Spain’s most renowned seafood restaurant in Galicia
The Pilgrims Trail: follow the second half of the Camino Francés, which ends at the burial place of the apostle St James, Santiago de Compostela
Days 1–3: In Bilbao, visit Gehry’s Guggenheim, the Museum of Fine Arts and San Sebastian.
Days 4–7: Explore the Rioja wine region, plus Burgos and Leon on the Camino trail: their Gothic cathedrals and Romanesque churches.
Days 8–10: Discover elegant Oviedo, walk its well-preserved old town and sample the local cider. Excursion to Picos de Europa.
Days 11–13: Arrive in spectacular Santiago de Compostela and enjoy seafood and wine in Rias Baixas.
The tour begins at our hotel in Bilbao and ends at our hotel in Santiago. Qatar Airways and Emirates offer services into Barcelona and home from Madrid. A connecting flight with Vueling airlines is necessary from Barcelona to Bilbao to start the tour, along with a connecting flight with Iberian airlines from Santiago to Madrid at the end of the tour. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Friday September 17: Bilbao
Our tour starts in Bilbao today. We recommend taking an early evening flight from Barcelona to Bilbao with Vueling airlines which connects with flights arriving from Australia. The group airport transfer will coincide with this flight. If you wish to arrive prior to the tour to recover from jetlag, we recommend taking our pre-tour excursion of Barcelona see page 9. After settling in to our hotel across the river from the Guggenheim, we meet for a welcome drink in hotel reception and then walk to dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Bilbao (B, D)
Saturday September 18: Guggenheim and Casco Viejo
Today we explore the striking Guggenheim museum by Frank Gehry. In 1991 the Basque government commissioned Gehry to build a work to enliven Bilbao’s decrepit port area and the result was a work that has been celebrated by critics and the general public alike. We also pay a visit to Bilbao’s renowned Museum of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes), before a mid-afternoon walking tour along the Nervión river to the Casco Viejo (old heart of the city) via the famous Calatrava bridge. Overnight Bilbao (B)
Sunday September 19: San Sebastián
This morning we take a leisurely excursion by coach to discover the picturesque resort town of San Sebastián. We sample some of the famed local tapas and Txakoli wine before exploring the centre on foot with a local guide. After some free time to walk along the waterfront of the elegant Bahia de la Concha, we join our coach trip back to Bilbao admiring the sculpture of Eduardo Chillida on the way. Overnight Bilbao (B, Tapas)
Monday September 20: La Rioja – To Castilla-Leon
Departing the Basque country, we head by coach to the wine growing region of La Rioja. We stop in Laguardia for coffee, a medieval walled city perched on a rocky outcrop and have time to explore here before a visit to the contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava’s extraordinary Bodega Ysios winery. This impressive building, with its Gaudí inspired roof and superb mountain backdrop, is an excellent location for our wine tasting. Lunch will be a typical bodega (winery) lunch at a smaller more intimate family owned vineyard. We arrive at Burgos in the late afternoon, our destination for the next two nights. Overnight Burgos (B, L)
Tuesday September 21: Explore Burgos
We set off on foot to explore the historic centre of a city at the heart of Spain’s history and a principle crossroads of the Camino de Santiago. Amongst other sites we pause outside the Casa del Cordόn, where Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, the ‘Catholic Monarchs’, met with Colombus and endorsed his voyages to the New World, and the world heritage Gothic cathedral, built on the pilgrim’s route and inspired by the cathedrals of Paris and Reims. In the afternoon, we pay a visit to the Abbey of Las Huelgas, a beautiful Cistercian monastery just outside the city centre. In the evening, after a talk in the hotel, you might like to sample the hearty local specialty, “Lechazo”, suckling lamb- ask the tour leader for a restaurant recommendation. Overnight Burgos. (B)
Wednesday September 22: Pilgrim Route and Roman Mosaics
Departing Burgos for Leόn we witness sections of the Camino from our coach, passing pilgrims with their iconic staffs and scallop shells tied to their packs. We pause at Frόmista to admire its eleventh century Romanesque church with fine carved capitals, built for the devotion of passing pilgrims. Closer to León, we stop at the Roman Villa of Olmeda where we can view superb Roman mosaics; hidden for centuries under the rural landscape. Today for lunch we sample one of the simple pilgrim meals that hostelries provide on the Camino for the hungry walkers. On arriving at our hotel, the converted monastery of Real Colegiata, in the historic centre, we have time to explore its cloisters, basilica and museum before dinner at Los Delirios, an experimental and highly regarded local restaurant. Overnight Leόn (B, L, D)
Thursday September 23: Explore Leon
Today we enjoy a walking tour of the well-preserved medieval centre of Leόn. Our first stop will be the glorious French-style Gothic cathedral with its fine carvings and huge rose windows. Widely considered the finest Gothic building in Spain, it has earned its nickname, the ‘House of Light’. We also stop at the Pantheon of San Isidoro to relish some of the best-preserved Romanesque murals in Spain. After lunch- we suggest tapas in the Barrio Húmedo, or ‘wet quarter’- there is free time to further explore the town: either the Archaeological museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art. In the early evening we gather for a talk in the hotel. Overnight Leόn (B)
Friday September 24: To Asturias
Today we head over the mountains to the enchanting city of Oviedo, where peacocks roam the Campo de San Francisco, and the well-tended parks and squares are lined with Baroque palaces. After lunch and a walking tour of the centre we venture to the edge of town to survey the beautiful ninth century ‘pre-Romanesque’ architecture of the churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco, which have been granted UNESCO world heritage. Set at the foot of the surrounding mountains the countryside sets off their simplicity and austere design. We enjoy an early evening meal in the Bulevar de la Sidra, ‘cider boulevard’, a superb place to people watch and marvel at the waiters pouring this local speciality, in the traditional way – from a great height. Overnight Oviedo (B, D)
Saturday September 25: The Picos de Europa
For some of Spain’s finest mountain scenery we take a day trip to the dramatic Picos de Europa, one of Spain’s most visited National Parks. We take the spectacular drive up to the Lakes of Covodonga and enjoy a rustic lunch in a mountain refuge. There is the option of a short walk around the lakes in the company of a local guide (good walking shoes required as the terrain is sometimes uneven). Overnight Oviedo (B, L)
Sunday September 26: Into Galicia
We leave the hotel early today to drive the last leg of the Camino route to Santiago de Compostela. En route we visit Castro de Viladonga, an excavated Celtic village over 1500 years old, with an interesting museum attached. We stop for lunch in Lugo, the only city in the world still surrounded by fully intact Roman walls and work up an appetite by walking the fortifications – over 2 kilometres of them if you wish to do the full circuit. On arrival in Santiago we check into our historic hotel, just off the main square. Tonight, we enjoy fine tapas at Abastos 2.0, a cutting-edge extension of the local market which uses excellent regional produce. Overnight Santiago (B, D)
Monday September 27: Santiago de Compostela
Today we explore the beautiful urban area of Santiago de Compostela and witness the emotion of the pilgrims arriving at the cathedral after a journey of over 800 kilometres. The Portico de la Gloria, the main facade, has carvings of 200 figures referring to the Apocalypse, and St James welcomes the pilgrims to their final destination. In the afternoon, there is the option of a leisurely walk along a pretty section of the Camino just outside Santiago. Overnight Santiago (B)
Tuesday September 28: The Atlantic coast
On our last full day in Spain we take an excursion to the beautiful coastline of the Rias Baixas (low estuaries), an area highly renowned for its albariño wine and seafood. We enjoy a wine tasting at the stately home of Pazo de Rubianes, and a walk through their camellia gardens before a leisurely lunch at the excellent seafood restaurant Yayo Daporta which is Michelin star rated. After lunch, we take a stroll along the coast to view the mussel platform farms, before returning to our hotel. Overnight Santiago (B, L)
Wednesday September 29: Depart
The tour concludes this morning after breakfast. Iberian airlines operate services from Santiago to Madrid to connect with Emirates or Qatar airways. Airport transfers are provided for anyone who has booked their flights with Academy Travel. (B)
Dr Jeni Ryde
A linguist and art history specialist, with a PhD focusing on Tourism, Heritage and Renaissance Studies.
Dr Jeni Ryde is a linguist and art history specialist with over fifteen years experience leading tours to Italy, Spain and Portugal. She is passionate about art, design and architecture both ancient and modern and particularly enjoys how both complement each other. Her special interests are the simplicity of the Romanesque and the breadth and depth of the Renaissance. When she is not traveling with Academy Travel she is able to indulge her interests in drawing, music and teaching the less fortunate.
Jeni holds two undergraduate degrees with majors in Anthropology and French and Interpreting and Translation with NAATI qualifications, two Masters degrees in Italian Linguistics and TESOL and a cross disciplinary PhD in Renaissance Art History, Tourism and Museum Management.
After an early career as an assistant director in film and television both for the ABC and BBC, she worked as an interpreter and translator and then as a senior lecturer at Western Sydney University with a focus on Italian language, history and culture. She was also head of the postgraduate programs in Languages and Interpreting and Translation. Teaching in Adult Education has included several courses in Renaissance Art History, the Italian language and Italian Cinema for U3A and other community organizations. Jeni speaks fluent Italian and Spanish and has an understanding of French and Portuguese.
Jeni first began designing and leading tours to Italy with her own company in 2002 in response to requests from travelers searching for small group tours with specific themes. She joined Academy Travel in 2009 and has since led many tours to various regions of Italy as well as Spain and Portugal.
We asked Jeni, what motivates you as a tour leader?
“I delight in being the catalyst for showing our travelers beautiful places and works of art and especially seeing their reactions – a tear in the eye before a moving painting, a sigh of wonder on entering a beautiful building, a gasp at the beauty of an exquisite landscape. This for me is the great privilege and reward of being an Academy Tour Leader.”
“Many travelers comment on my boundless energy and curiosity for paths less travelled. I like to think that people who travel with me are swept along by my waves of enthusiasm and are inspired to go beyond the obvious to explore and learn with me. I’m known for introducing many little surprises along the way! An added bonus for me is the shared experience of like-minded people enjoying each other’s company while traveling together.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity