Northern Spain Tour of Historic Paradors

A 8 day trip to Spain 
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Beautiful historic buildings speak the language of enchantment. They tell poetic tales of former glory, they whisper secrets of the past, and they inspire elegance in every day living. Each historic monument is unique and has a story to tell. You will listen to the narratives as you step back in time on this special vacation in Northern Spain. Visit some of Spain’s most charming medieval cities as well as lovely seaside and mountain destinations. For a truly unforgettable experience, you’ll stay at luxurious “paradors,” remarkable monuments that have been converted to modern accommodations.

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Bilbao, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Rioja, San Millan de la Cogolla, Leon, Asturias, Cantabria

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1 - Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada (Rioja)

The tour begins with your arrival in Bilbao, where you will collect your rental car to begin your exciting journey. The drive is approximately one hour to your destination of Santo Domingo de la Calzada in La Rioja. When you arrive, settle into your accommodations at the Parador of Santo Domingo. A beautifully restored building, this elegant hotel occupies a former pilgrims’ inn that dates back to the 12th century. The medieval inn offered shelter to pilgrims taking the “The Way of Saint James” route to Santiago de Compostela.

Today, this luxurious hotel reflects the regal character of the past in its beautifully decorated rooms. All rooms have traditional decorations and some have four-poster beds. Amenities include telephone, television and minibar. The building has magnificent lounges and the original Gothic archways lend an atmospheric quality. The property also has a cozy bar for gathering with friends and family as well as a gourmet restaurant, allowing you to enjoy an excellent meal without leaving the hotel. This restaurant’s cuisine features delicious dishes made with Piquillo peppers, such as Menestra de Verduras (hearty stew of vegetables). The restaurant also offers a wonderful selection of the local Rioja wines.

There is an interesting story associated with this historic inn. According to legend, centuries ago, the innkeeper’s daughter was in romantic pursuit of one of the pilgrims staying at the inn, but unfortunately the young man was not interested in her. To retaliate, she placed another guest’s possessions in his room, then claimed he committed the theft. In those days, he would have been punished with death. The story was told to the son's parents that Saint Dominic would protect their son. When a magistrate heard the tale, he disagreed and announced that the boy would be dead—just like the roast chicken on his table! At that moment, the chicken flew right off the table! Ever since, this tale has been commemorated by a cock displayed in the Cathedral Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

Spend some time today discovering the ancient city of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, one of the most important stops along the pilgrims’ “Route to Santiago.” The city was founded in the 11th century by a religious man devoted to helping pilgrims make their way along the Way of Saint James. Being extremely devout himself, Domingo made the pilgrimage his life’s work; he helped to build a cathedral and hospital. Tied to its history as part of the Pilgrims’ Route, the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada was declared a National Historic Interest Site.

As you stroll through the medieval cobblestone streets and admire its impressive cathedral, soak up the ambience of this old city. Your hotel is just next to the cathedral that dates back to the 12th century, with interesting later modifications. Admire the unique blend of architectural styles: Romanesque, Baroque and Plateresque (Spanish “silversmith” style). The cathedral’s sacristy also holds precious works of art. Adding to the Old World charm of the city, the cathedral’s clock strikes religiously on the hour every day.

Day 2 - Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada (Rioja)

Today you could make several interesting excursions from your base in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. It is a short drive to Logroño, a medieval city with a charming old quarter that is rich in history and full of charm. For those who enjoy wine tasting, take a tour of the surrounding Rioja wine region. Be sure to visit the village of Haro, where there is a vivacious wine festival every June. Another wonderful destination is the medieval walled city of Laguardia, which hasn’t undergone much change since the 13th century. Here you can see amazingly intact medieval buildings and subterranean tunnels that are now used as wine cellars.

To sample some of the region’s finest Rioja wine, visit the Bodegas Dinastía Vivanco, a top-rated winery in Briones, La Rioja. This special bodega also has an elegant gastronomic restaurant and an award winning museum dedicated to the world of wine making and wine culture. Another interesting stop is the ultra-contemporary Marqués de Riscal winery and hotel designed by Frank Gehry, located outside the medieval town of Elciego. The architecture of Frank Gehry is unmistakable; his imaginative modern creations offer a dramatic contrast to the traditional historic buildings of this region.

You should also visit San Millán de la Cogolla to see the Monasteries of Suso and Yuso, where the first words of the Spanish language were written. The Suso Monastery dates back the 6th century, while the Yuso Monastery was built in the 16th century. The monasteries features a fascinating mix of architectural styles, reflecting the different eras and orders of monks: Mozarabic, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque. Because of their cultural and historic value, the San Millán Suso and Yuso Monasteries are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 3 - Parador de León, Hostal de San Marcos (León)

This morning you’ll travel to the city of León, where you will stay at the Parador de León, Hostal San Marcos. This spectacular 16th-century building is considered one of the most extraordinary historic hotels in Europe. Originally built to house the headquarters of the Military Order of Saint James, the building has an impressive facade. Inside, you’ll find a splendid cloister, elegant library and spacious guest rooms. The hotel also has an excellent restaurant that serves traditional cuisine.

This afternoon you may explore the city of León, the capital of the Castile kingdom during the Middle Ages. This city also played an important role during the Christian Reconquista of Spain. The most monumental site is the Gothic Cathedral designed in the French style with magnificent stained-glass windows. Another noteworthy building is the Basilica of San Isidoro, founded in 966 and one of Spain’s most important Romanesque churches. For those who appreciate Modernist architecture, visit the Casa Botines, one of the few buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí outside of his native Catalonia. In the nearby town of Astorga, you can see another Gaudí building, the Museo de Los Caminos (Pilgrimage Museum), which is also worth a visit to learn the history of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims.

Day 4 - Parador de Gijón (Asturias)

Today after breakfast, you’ll set off for Gijón, a pleasant seaside destination in the province of Asturias. You’ll be staying at the beautiful Parador de Gijón, housed in an antique mill and surrounded by a lush parkland setting not far from the San Lorenzo Beach. This parador offers a sense of tranquility and perfect harmony with nature, while the interior design is cozy and upscale. The hotel’s restaurant features fine Asturian cuisine, including Fabada Asturiana (fava bean stew), Chopa a la Sidra (fish cooked in cider sauce) and Casadielles (fried sweet pastries filled with dried fruits).

In the afternoon, begin to explore Gijón. The city’s most emblematic building is the Palacio de Revillagigedo, an 18th-century palace that was built on the site of a medieval tower. For those interested in learning more about the region’s musical heritage, visit the Museo de la Gaita that is the international bagpipe museum. You should also spend some time enjoying the seaside. Gijón has three lovely beaches as well as an attractive esplanade for taking a scenic stroll.

Day 5 - Parador de Fuente Dé (Cantabria)

You’ll set off for your next destination in the morning. Enjoy a spectacular drive to the Parador de Fuente Dé, which is located in a national park of Cantabria—a region that is known as “Green Spain.” Set in the idyllic and awe-inspiring scenery of the Picos de Europa Mountains, the Parador de Fuente Dé is marvelously located near the town’s famous cableway. This parador is the perfect gateway to exploring the majestic Picos de Europa National Park. In this place of unspoiled natural beauty, the parador offers the comforts of a luxury hotel and modern amenities.

The warm and cozy interior of the Parador de Fuente Dé exemplifies the traditional mountain-style, with rustic exposed beams and floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the views. The parador’s restaurant offers authentic and hearty local cuisine. Enjoy the typical Cantabrian dishes of this region that have a wonderful home-cooked simplicity, such as Cocido Lebaniego (chickpea casserole) or Solomillo al Queso de Tresviso (sirloin with Treviso cheese). Other traditional dishes include a hearty Mountain-Style Potato Omelet and the satisfying peasant meal of Beans and Potatoes with Chorizo Sausage—perfect to replenish your energy after a vigorous day of hiking!

Day 6 - Parador de Fuente Dé (Cantabria)

Today you will have more time to discover this unforgettable setting in the elevated Picos de Europa Mountains. The parador is a perfect starting point for hiking and nature walks. The nearby cableway lifts passengers into the Picos de Europa Mountains. Then you have the option to descend by cable car or enjoy a hike back down. Either way, the views of the surrounding landscape are truly impressive. If you are traveling in the winter months, try a guided hike in the snow with snowshoes.  Routes are available for all levels.

A short drive away from the parador is Potes, one of the most picturesque villages in Cantabria. This quaint historic town has many lovely bridges and monuments, such as the 14th-century Infantado Tower. The town’s old balconied houses add to the charm of this special place. Also nearby is the Santo Toribio de Liébana Monastery, which dates back to the 8th century. The impressive building features Gothic architecture with Cistercian influence. One of the most revered monuments in the Picos de Europa Mountains and one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Spain, this monastery is said to possess a relic of a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified upon.

Food lovers will enjoy sampling the cheeses from Potes, as well as the famous Orujo liquer, and interesting local wines that are starting to emerge from wine producers in this region such as Bodega Picos de Cabariezo and Bodega Riosanto.

Day 7 - Parador de Santillana del Mar (Cantabria)

After departing the Parador Fuente Dé this morning, you’ll head to Santillana del Mar—one of the most important historical sites of Cantabria. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, this wonderfully preserved medieval village is filled with beautiful old buildings and quaint cobblestone streets. Santillana del Mar is located on the northern route of the “Road to Santiago” pilgrims’ journey. The town boasts a beautiful church, several ancient defense towers and lovely Renaissance palaces. Visiting this village feels like time traveling back several centuries.

You’ll be staying at the Parador de Santillana Gil Mar, a charming mansion that epitomizes the traditional local architecture. Although it was recently built, thanks to authentic design and attention to detail, the parador blends perfectly with the ancient buildings of the village. The guest rooms are comfortable and luxurious, with an enjoyable atmosphere that allows you peaceful relaxation.

Day 8 - Tour Concludes with Departure from Bilbao

The tour concludes today after breakfast at your hotel. You’ll drive back to Bilbao Airport to return your rental car in time for your return flight home.


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.