Sunday 7 September All our happy holiday makers arrived in good time and we set off early from Jalon. First stop TERUEL, a quick trip around the town, which we hadvisited before, followed by a delicious tapas lunch. A couple of hours’ drive, gently dozing off the wine and beers consumed at lunch…. Passing through hail and rain storms, a cause for smiles as one jolly holidaymaker was observed taking a photo of the rain on the coach windscreen! After all, it is quite a rare event for us Vall de Pop’ers…
We arrive at ZARAGOZA. Small problem at the HOTEL SAUCE, their lift had broken down, so all cases were quite literally man-handled up one, two, three or four floors. No messing at reception either, name and keys promptly handed over. They certainly pulled the stops out over the problem.
Monday 8 September ZARAGOZA … A short guided tour of the old town and Cathedral. A free afternoon to do as you please. While we ate lunch in the Plaza de Espana, a group of young musicians played a mixture of modern and old, while being entertainingly funny too…. Great “busking”… We then took a gentle stroll to the ALJAFERIA PALACE, to see some delights of Moorish culture. Returning to the outside world , with dark clouds rolling across the sky…the decision is made to get a taxi back to the hotel… and, lo and behold, like Prince Charming arriving on a white charger, a gleaming NEW white Jaguar taxi – the only one in Zaragoza – appears round the corner…three ladies return to the hotel in style. Some dropped out of our last evening meal organised by the Hotel, tempted by the local gastronomic delights… Many stayed for the mystery surprise the hotel had to offer.
Tuesday 9 September Up for an early start, luggage down by the door, all very organised. First stop PAMPLONA. The countryside changing all the time, vast rolling hills, with many modern windmills, and acres of solar panels, all, we assume, adding to the national grid. In PAMPLONA we did the walk of the bull run to the ring and then on to a square where there is a magnificent bronze statue depicting the bull run itself. Lunch in the main square, gentle stroll back to the coach…onward to SAN SEBASTIAN by the coast. Here the countryside changes yet again and, now in the very north of Spain, the terrain is more like Switzerland… houses that have pitched roofs so the snow can slide off, the churches more reminiscent of the French style than the Spanish that we know. Delightful walk down quaint streets to the harbour, and great to see the sea and feel that breeze. Not long here but it was agreed that it is a charming place to visit.
From SAN SEBASTIAN we are but an hour away from BILBAO, our stop for two nights, at the HOTEL GRAND BILBAO. BILBAO, PAIS VASCO…BASQUE COUNTRY… Stunningly beautiful country, the city nestling in the valley surrounded by superb hills and beautiful nature.
Wednesday 10 September All on the coach for a morning tour of this remarkable city. One of the many interesting places was the ALHONDIGA, originally used for wine storage, until it became apparent that a larger space was needed for this. After the new wine store was built this wonderful space was allocated for the use of all citizens of Bilbao – restaurants, open spaces, places for calm and study. Philippe Starck was the French architect who re-vamped the building. The spacious vestibule has 43 columns by Lorenzo Baraldi, all different and wondrous in their own right. High above this cool and charming interior, is a swimming pool, with a glass bottom, enabling the public to see people walking and swimming high above..
There was a free afternoon and we took the opportunity to enjoy a boat trip along the river. Another experience was to go up the hillside on the funicular tram, a speedy ride with magnificent panoramic views of Bilbao from the top.
A quick pinchos lunch, followed by the biggest attraction of Bilbao, which has to be the GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM. Designed by Frank Gehry and built in 1997, it is a magnificent building where the exterior is clad in thin titanium. And here was I thinking this material was only used to make watches and knees! All this was part of the redevelopment of the city which is ongoing with massive future plans for this amazing place. Brilliant stop!
Thursday 11 September We leave Bilbao, passing through more absolutely stunning scenery, till we arrive at the village of SANTILLANA DEL MAR, claimed to be the most picturesque in Spain and strangely, despite its name, it is not by the sea at all. Here we have a lunch stop and time to meander through the quaint streets of this charming and very pretty village.
Next came a stop in SAN VICENTE DE LA BARQUERA. A beautiful colourful little port on the Mar Cantabrico which has a rapidly changing tide. Our next stop was a delightful village, PANES, nestling in a small valley by a tranquil river, with delightful walks round and about. We stayed here in the HOTEL EL TILO.
Friday 12 September Off to COVADONGA NATIONAL PARK, an historical and religious site, with another spectacular cathedral, in the most stunning countryside.
From Covadonga we had a short journey to LLANES, a small port village by the sea, which made a delightful lunch stop… oh dear, the weight is piling on!
Saturday 13 September “Mists and mellow fruitfulness” greeted us with a very autumnal feel to the air. Fortunately it soon cleared. Off to see the PICOS DE EUROPA and a cable car trip of 753 metres to the top. A cable car is not for everybody so some of the group decided to wait at the bottom for all the intrepid souls to complete their trip. The cable car can hold 20 people, and it took a while as there was quite a queue. However, once at the top, needless to say, the views were stunning, made even more so as some rather dark and menacing clouds came rolling through the peaks. Temperature drop, too.. 19 degrees! Bit of a change from 37º in the Valley!
After this came a rather spectacular visit to the famous caves at ALTAMIRA some 30,000 years old. The only downside to this visit was the time…not enough! Lots to see, a very well-displayed museum to this historical site… a must if you are in the area.
Sunday 14 September A very early start and a drive down to BURGOS where we met with Luis, our charming and amusing guide for the morning. A beautiful city and a Cathedral well worth visiting. After lunch we headed off to ARANDA DE DUERO where the town was in Fiesta and we managed a visit to an underground bodega and, of course, sampled the wine!
One night and dinner at HOTEL TUDANCA, set in the midst of vineyards, a spectacular sight to wake up to in the morning.
Monday 15 September We left the hotel on our way back to Jalon and had a lunch stop in ALCALA, the birthplace of Cervantes, where many of our happy campers had their photos taken with the life size sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
HOME! As with all groups and trips of this size problems pop up that have to be dealt with urgently, and this trip was no different.
• One gentleman had to be hospitalised, and there was also a medical emergency with a lady. Medics were called and, thankfully, everything was sorted out successfully in due course.
• The cable car was broken and the visit had to be rescheduled, providing it was repaired in time.
• Complaints, a few, as always – one cannot please everybody all of the time.
However, all the above were handled in the most professional way by Rolf, Anne and Derek.
An odd comment was heard on the trip to the MUSEO DE ALTAMIRO, where the amazing caves are. They are some 30,000 years old, with historic paintings, and someone commented, “It can’t be any good, because it is free to get in!”
This was a truly wonderful trip, well planned and excellently organised, maximising as much of Spain’s culture as could be packed into these few days. Well done to all the organisers and helpers!
Anna Miller and Jane Potter
photos by Peter Tomlin