20 Jan Spain Travel Experiences, Costs and Advice from Patti
This time next week, we’ll be in Spain! Before settling in Madrid, we’re taking a four-week road trip around the country to get a feel for Spanish life and as our departure date draws closer, we’re trying to formulate a rough itinerary of places to visit. Fortunately, Patti from One Road at a Time, who walked the Camino de Santiago across Spain with her husband Abi last year, was able to give us the lowdown on all things Spanish and the best places to visit.
Spain Travel Advice from Patti of One Road at a Time
During our trip to Washington DC last year I finally got to meet Patti and Abi in the flesh, but I’ve been following their blog for over three years now, from the days when they ran a B&B and road-tripped across the US through to their retirement, dramatic cross-country move and most recently, their three-month trip to Europe where they walked 500 miles across Spain. So, who better to give us some recommendations on where to visit and what to expect when we disembark in Alicante?
When did you visit Spain and how long did you go for?
We stepped onto Spanish soil on April 12, 2015 after hiking over the Pyrenees Mountains. We left Spain the first time on May 18. We returned about a week later to visit Barcelona, on our way to France, and we left Spain for the last time on May 28. A total of 38 days.
What made you decide to visit Spain?
The #1 reason we decided to visit Spain was to walk the Camino de Santiago. The #2 reason was to visit La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Can you give me an outline of your trip?
I suppose the simplest way to explain our path is to say we walked across Spain. We started in St. Jean Pied de Port in France and we walked to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. After walking for 5 weeks we traveled to Porto, Portugal and then returned to Spain via overnight train to Madrid and then on to Barcelona.
How did you get around?
Our feet! When we weren’t walking we traveled a bit by taxi, a bit more by bus and we took several train journeys. In Barcelona, we rode the Metro which was reasonably priced and easy to navigate.
What kind of accommodation did you stay in?
Our accommodations ran the gamut. We stayed in casa rurals, boutique hotels, small motels, American brand hotels, hostels and we even spent a night with a group of nuns in their convent.
What were your favourite places and experiences in Spain?
One of the best aspects of walking the Camino is the fact that one day you’ll walk through a sleepy historic village and the next day you’ll pass through a large city such as Pamplona. I’d have to say Leon was one of our favorite places. We stayed in Leon for 4 days while resting from our walk and we fell in love with the city. There is such a positive vibe; a great blend of historic and trendy.
Some of the most spectacular landscapes are in Galicia. The lush green and purple hues across the hills were like nothing we’d ever experienced. It made us grateful we chose the spring to walk. And, we walked into Astorga having no idea May 1, was a national holiday. Our timing was perfect as we were able to enjoy the colorful local celebration. We strolled along the beach in Barcelona, which was wonderful, and visiting La Sagrada was beyond words.
How was the food?
The food was good and plentiful. The Spanish are meat lovers, but they also offer fish and pastas, so vegetarians can eat well. And the salads are always fresh and filling. Abi does not eat pork and even though pork is a staple in Spanish cuisine, he had no problem eating well. One of our most memorable meals was in a small town, Arzua. We ate at Casa Teodora and they serve their roasted meat with Galician cheese sauce. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. We also fell in love with Padron peppers, which are roasted and salted. When in season, the peppers can be found everywhere. And, we had amazing flat bread pizza in Leon!
Did you come across any challenges while travelling in Spain?
I can’t think of anything out of the ordinary while traveling in Spain. It’s really manageable. I remember while in Barcelona we waited nearly 2 hours at the train station to secure our seats to France, but while annoying, it was a necessary evil. There are scammers in some of the busier train stations such as in Barcelona. You know, they want to carry your bag for you and then hold out their hand. But, they can be found everywhere in the world.
Was the language barrier a problem?
No, I don’t speak Spanish, neither does Abi. But within the context of a given situation we understand more than we can speak, and we know enough of the basics to get by. We found many people who spoke English, but if not, we used hand gestures and a big smile. We managed just fine.
How would you describe walking the Camino de Santiago in just a few sentences?
Walking the Camino de Santiago was by far the most exciting, challenging, breathtaking, exhausting, and pain inducing but fabulously rewarding, travel experience to date. I think it will be hard to ever top it. If you’re thinking of walking the Camino, like Andrew and I are, Patti’s FAQ Guide about the Camino de Santiago is an excellent resource.
How much did your trip to Spain cost?
While walking the Camino we averaged 100E per day for the two of us (for 35days) and that included meals, accommodations and incidentals. There are definitely cheaper accommodations, but we chose not to stay in the albergues. We partnered with Eurail and we used our passes to cover train travel; although, with the Eurail pass one does have to pay a reservation fee for reserved seats. Gone are the days of just hopping on/off trains without reservations. Reservation fees depend on travel destinations and whether or not you travel by regional train or high speed rail. Unfortunately, I don’t remember specific reservation costs.
We found Barcelona to be on the higher end of the expense scale so we spent a bit more for meals, but we took advantage of the Metro system and found it to be reasonably priced. We used our points for our hotel in Barcelona so that was a big savings for us. The price of a ticket for La Sagrada Familia was 19,50E and 24,00E for a tower tour; pricey, but well worth it.
Do you have any advice for us when we go to Spain?
Venture off and explore the back roads of Spain. Astorga and Estrella are beautiful small cities somewhat off the mainstream, but well-worth the effort. Leon is very special. Visit the Cathedrals. We came across some of the most stunning cathedrals in little out of the way places. And the cathedral in Leon was probably our favorite. Following the route of the Camino by car is an option as well. Every village, town and city we walked through was accessible by car. So yes, visit the big ticket places such as Madrid, Barcelona and Pamplona, but then venture off and explore what’s in between.
You can also follow Patti’s travels with her husband Abi and find out how they’re redefining retirement here: