The Hidden Cultures of Northern Spain Tour

A 12 day trip to Spain 
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Explore a hidden but not forgotten side of Spain with this unique tour of five semi-autonomous regions: Catalonia, Navarra, La Rioja, Basque, and Galicia. Each community delights in protecting and promoting its traditional culture, taking you on a seductive journey through ancient Spain in all its quirky charm. With distinct destinations like Barcelona and Pamplona as your bases, specialist guides reveal the beauty and intimacy of five hidden pieces of Spain.

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General Information

spain bilbao floral sculpture
Atlanta Room at Pension Ur-Alde. Photo: Courtesy Pension Ur-Alde
spain santiago el camino
Provenza Room at Pension Ur-Alde. Photo by Pension Ur-Alde
spain navarra tour baztan valley
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Barcelona, Catalonia, Museu d'Historia de Catalunya, Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Casa Lleo I Morera, Hospital de Sant Pau, Palau de la Musica Catalana, Pamplona, Kingdom of Navarra, Museo de Navarra, La Guardia, La Rioja, Logrono, Museo de la Rioja San Sebastian, San Telmo Museum, Basque Country, Bilbao, Basque Museum, Guggenheim, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Cambados, Riax Baixas

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Barcelona – A Warm Welcome to Catalonia

The Mediterranean twinkles as you land in Barcelona, a fresh salty breeze guiding you past monuments of excellence to a cute hotel in a historic part of the city. You're met at the airport by a local driver guide and garner first impressions of Catalonia with a leisurely lunch on an al fresco terrace. Providing an excellent overview of the region and its history, the Museu d'Historia de Catalunya takes you on a journey through ten centuries of art and local legend.

Unique architecture provides great impressions of Catalan ingenuity and your guide continues the tour with Lluis Domenesch I Montaner's work, including the ornate Casa Lleo I Morera, and the flamboyant touches that cover the Hospital de Sant Pau. His buildings are not merely UNESCO world heritage sites; they're alive with the passion and exuberance of the region, something you continue to discover with a night of symphonies at Palau de la Musica Catalana, the region's premier historic music venue.

What's included: accommodation, airport transfer, guided afternoon Montaner tour, evening performance at Palau de la Musica Catalana, all local transfers, lunch

Day 2: Barcelona – The Best of Catalonian Style and Culture

Like Montaner, Gaudi's art nouveau style is a symbol of Catalonia, his world-renowned buildings sending flumes of color into the Barcelona sky. Start in Parc Guell, a tranquil space of vivid tones and twists of stone. From here the whole of the city extends, streets of 19th century brilliance rolling downhill to the beach. Your guide is proudly Catalan and offers a tale of the region's ingenuity and independence movement, taking you down side streets whose scent is of something separate from mainstream Spanish. Visit the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's eternal masterpiece that's over a century in the making, spirals of geometrical patterns cascading across both interior and exterior.

The afternoon is left free. Spend it on Las Ramblas, the city's street of improvised entertainment. Or choose an afternoon around the harbor, sipping on wine as super yachts loll in the blue waters. Food and wine is very much an epitome of Catalonian style and you spend the evening dining at Cinc Sentits, a triple Michelin starred restaurant with a stunning local gastronomic tasting menu. Each of the eight dishes is paired with wine from Catalan vineyards and transfers to and from the restaurant are included.

What's included: accommodation, transfers, morning Gaudi Barcelona tour, breakfast, dinner at Cinc Sentits

Day 3: Pamplona – Discovering the Kingdom of Navarra

A first-class train carriage rumbles north, cutting across an arid plateau into the lavish green hills of Navarra, a kingdom with its heart in history. It's a region unchanged, one that clings to the culture of centuries past, from a time before it was annexed and incorporated into Spain. The pace is different here, much slower than Catalonia. After the train journey you visit the Museo de Navarra, offering a broad insight into the Kingdom's history and culture. Then the afternoon is left free, allowing you to get lost in Pamplona's labyrinth of narrow streets. Townhouses are packed together, flanking the cobblestone and cafes that continually spill coffee fumes. Hemingway revealed this town to the world when he wrote about the Running of the Bulls, an annual festival of passion and color. For most of the day you feel like you're in a Hemingway novel, everything fresh and exciting yet screaming of tradition.

What's included: accommodation, first class rail tickets, guided tour of Museo de Navarro, meet and greet at Pamplona Station

Day 4: Pamplona – Lost in the Old-World Charm of Pamplona

As the sun rises across red roof tiles the Pamplona sounds wake you from slumber. Church bells chime slowly, their fluttering rhythm indicative of the Navarra style. Women in floral dresses leave footsteps against cobblestone as they head to the market. Chatter from al fresco terraces slowly begins to consume the old town square, the place where your walking tour begins. Pamplona isn't about a series of must-see attractions. It's a town of sublime immersion, every street maintaining the spell of history as your guide narrates tales of Roman rule, medieval kingdoms, and exactly why so many bulls are let loose on the streets every June. A 19th century cafe provides a distinctive Navarra lunch, full of flavors from the orchards that dot the surrounding hills. The afternoon and evening is spent at your leisure.

What's included: accommodation, morning Pamplona walking tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 5: La Guardia – The Medieval Mystique of La Rioja

In a luxury vehicle you weave through the mountains into La Rioja, evidence of the region's fame standing amongst valleys of resplendent green. Rioja's wine is known the world over, but peer into a glass of deep red and there's a more complex story to discover. Stop into the capital Logrono to see the Museo de la Rioja, the region's historical museum set within a stunning Baroque palace. Enter through the fortressed walls of La Guardia and step backwards in time, a feeling of medieval mystique etched into the stone and spires. A local guide has the keys to the city, taking you into abandoned historic buildings and underground corridors lined with endless rows of oak barrels. Throughout it all you discover La Rioja's adoration for the finer things in life; a tranquil atmosphere, languid hours eating lunch, great wine (of course), great company, and not having to rely on a watch.

What's included: accommodation, luxury transfer, guided Museo de la Rioja visit, half-day La Guardia walking tour including lunch

Day 6: La Guardia – A Sublime Day of Wine Tasting

La Rioja's wine symbolizes the region. Flickering scents and rich colors provide the first impressions, tempting your senses into exploring further. Country chateaus shout of a bygone era, their crumbling stone surrounded by flourishing vines. Now you drink, savoring a taste that's indulgent yet humble, and innovative yet rooted in tradition. You spend today in the Cantabrian Mountains, visiting three exceptional Rioja vineyards that epitomize the region's heritage. Campillo and Marques de Riscal are two of the region's most exclusive vineyards and you'll be shown around by the owners. Then an indelibly slow afternoon at Ysios winery offers wine tasting, gourmet dishes, and evocative views onto the walls of La Guardia.

What's included: accommodation, full day La Rioja wine tour with exclusive tasting, breakfast, lunch at Ysios winery

Day 7: San Sebastian – Culture and Cuisine in the Basque Region

As you continue west along Spain's Northern Coast the language changes once more, the fiercely independent Basque region your next stop. No region has fought so hard for its freedom in recent years and your full day tour of San Sebastian combines the history of the town with tales of Basque culture. Begin at the San Telmo Museum, an unusual space of regional art and stories. Now explore the lanes of the Old Town, ducking into art galleries and antique stores that offer visual narratives on independence. Tucked away on the Atlantic Coast and reveling in its old-world design, San Sebastian is one of Spain's finest towns. The feel of ancient Europe is effortlessly evoked as you explore small markets and tiny lanes of cobblestone and boutique shops.

Throughout Northern Spain, cuisine is one of the great definers of culture. Spend the evening on a pintxos hop, your guide taking you to taverns of enchantment that smell of innovation. A pintxos is a stick, a piece of creationism that delicately blends an assortment of flavors. Each stick contains little more than a few bites, and a little like sushi, you help yourself and dive into the different dishes. Visit three different pintxos bars, each the haunt of locals and the epitome of Basque's blend of flavors.

Tonight you’ll be staying at Pension Ur-Alde, a contemporary accommodation on the waterfront. This 6-bedroom property prides itself on providing guests with personal, flexible service. You will be amazed at how the design of each room is inspired by different cities. You can choose from the Atlanta Room, with its chic grey tones, the Glasgow Room, with its plaid curtains, or the Rio Room, with its vibrantly colored walls. Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll easily relax in the comfortable beds after an evening of pintxos hopping.

What's included: accommodation, luxury transfer, half-day San Sebastian cultural tour, guided pintxos hop, breakfast

Day 8: San Sebastian – Lounging on the Coast in One of Spain's Finest Towns

In the morning, you awake to an exciting realization. Pension Ur-Alde is in the heart of the gastronomic district. All of the best restaurants in San Sebastian are just around the corner. The knowledgeable staff gives you plenty of recommendations for breakfast, all of which are within walking distance. After a hearty breakfast, you return to the hotel to rent bicycles for the day, one of the most exciting ways to see the city. Once again, the staff provides you with a list of the best beaches, lunch spots, and historical attractions. You will never forget your stay at Pension Ur-Alde, a small and familiar accommodation that prides itself on providing guests with personal experiences.

San Sebastian shouldn't be rushed, its lanes of yellow townhouses hiding the tales of Basque history and culture. Follow them downhill onto the beach, onto a mile of golden sand dotted with sun umbrellas and the smells of barbecuing fish. Today is deliberately left free, allowing you to lounge along the coast with San Sebastian's indelible architectural backdrop. After last night's street food indulgence, you spend this evening at Akelarre, a historic Michelin starred restaurant that promotes the best of traditional Basque cuisine. As the sounds of Basque language fill an intimate dining room, you sample your way through organic courses of luxuriant flavors.

What's included: accommodation, breakfast, dinner at Akelarre

Day 9: Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela – New and Old Architecture on a Day of Discovery

The Basque Country looks like a postcard, every panorama kindling the feeling of tradition as you're driven to Bilbao. Now, the buildings look different, Bilbao's industrial facade concealing a city that's reinvented itself in recent years. Head straight for the Basque Museum, a place that doesn't grumble for independence but prefers to celebrate the best of the region's culture and art. Then continue to the shore where the implausible metal twists of the Guggenheim Museum showcase a new side to Basque architecture and modernity. Spend the rest of the morning inside this postmodern museum, wandering through galleries of weird sculptures and artwork of unusual splendor. Your lunch stop is at the Guggenheim's Michelin starred restaurant, Nerua, before you're transferred to the airport for a direct flight to Santiago de Compostela. You're met at the airport and taken to a hotel in the heart of the city's historic quarter.

What's included: accommodation, luxury transfers, guided Basque Museum and Guggenheim tour, domestic flight to Santiago de Compostela, breakfast, lunch at Nerua

Day 10: Santiago de Compostela – Exploring the Beauty of Galicia

Galician culture is alive in its seaside villages, places of whitewashed stone and fisherwomen picking fresh shells at low tide. Much like Navarra and La Rioja, life moves slowly here, epitomized by languorous hours over coffee with a view onto the waves. Today you travel down the coast, touring the fisher villages of Cambados and Rias Biaxas, each elegantly overlooking the Atlantic. Gaze out from here and the next stop is the Americas. Enjoy lunch at O Grove, indulging in the region's two culinary specialities: octopus and seafood pie. The pace is leisurely as you discover both Galician flavors and Galician history with your local guide. Return to Santiago de Compostela and the evening is free to wander lanes softly brightened by the light from lanterns.

What's included: accommodation, full day coastal Galicia tour, breakfast, lunch at O Grove

Day 11: Santiago de Compostela – Relaxing in an Old City of Wonders

Every morning the cathedral bells chime and the city wakes to its tradition, a line of pilgrims completing their long journey by foot to the crypt of St. James. For over 1000 years, Santiago de Compostela has been the finish point for one of the world's greatest pilgrimages, El Camino de Santiago. The cathedral is comfortable with its religious significance, a series of spires standing in 6th century splendor. Surrounding the immense stone are narrow alleyways of equally ancient architecture, every lane in Santiago's Old Town a timeless ode to Galicia's history. During the morning you're guided through the city, taking in the religious monuments and stories etched into the curved streets. Then your final afternoon in Spain is left free to leisurely explore and indulge in the final one of your five hidden cultures.

What's included: accommodation, guided Santiago de Compostela walking tour, breakfast.

Day 12: Santiago de Compostela – Departure

It's Santiago's cathedral that leaves the eternal impression of Northern Spain's hidden cultures; ancient yet looking forward, refusing to crumble, and remaining unbowed. As the spires disappear into the distance you're on a flight to Barcelona where your international connection awaits.

What's included: airport transfer, breakfast


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.