THAT Spain Road Trip – The Dirty Details
Since I posted about that Spain road trip, I have got a few emails asking me about more details of the trip. What’s my day to day itinerary, what places I wish I could’ve spent more time in or less time, the cost, and so on. All Indians and all is inspired by that Indian movie to do the same road trip. So in effort to shed some light to a horde of lost young men I’m gonna write all the dirty details here.
First thing, please know that it is impossible to follow the path of Zindagi na Milegi Dobara exactly, because of a very important part, like… oh, how the order of things are wrong! In real life San Fermin festival in Pamplona and La Tomatina in Bunol happen other way around in the year, and even if the order is correct they’re a couple of months apart. Though apart from that major details, the movie follows a logical order geographically.
We did not spend time in Barcelona at the beginning because we have been there on another trip. At the end we did not include Pamplona at all because we ended the trip in Madrid (Pamplona is much further up North). Here’s the map again:
Day 1: arrived in Barcelona, drive to Lloret Del Mar, Costa Brava (1.5 hours) – overnight in Costa Brava
Day 2: Figueres and Cadaques (Salvador Dali sites) – overnight in Costa Brava
Day 3: Costa Brava to Poblet Monastery (world heritage) 2+ hours. Poblet monastery to Tarragona (world heritage) 1 hour. Tarragona to Valencia (world heritage) 2.5 hours – overnight in Valencia
Day 4: Valencia to Bunol 45 min. Bunol to Elche 2 hours. Dropped by Alicante for dinner. – overnight in Elche
Day 5: Elche to Granada 3 hours 40 mins – overnight in Granada
Day 6: Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín (world heritage) – overnight in Granada
Day 7: Granada to Ronda 2.5 hours – overnight in Ronda
Day 8: Ronda to Gibraltar 2 hours – overnight Gibraltar
Day 9: Gibraltar to Tarifa port 1 hour. Take ferry to Tangier 1 hour (car parked at the port) – overnight in Tangier
Day 10: Day trip to Tetouan (world heritage), 1 hour away from Tangier. – overnight in Tangier
Day 11: Take ferry back to Tarifa port 1 hour. Tarifa to Sevilla 2.5 hours – overnight in Sevilla
Day 12: Sevilla Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville – overnight in Sevilla
Day 13: Sevilla to Cordoba (world heritage) 2 hours – overnight in Cordoba
Day 14: Cordoba to Toledo (world heritage) 4 hours – overnight in Toledo
Day 15: Toledo to Madrid 1 hour. – overnight in Madrid
Day 16: Madrid, take the 3.5 hours walking tour by New Sandeman tour. – overnight in Madrid
Day 17: Madrid. Back home.
We spent 17 days to do the trip. But if you lack time and you want to stick in Spain, you can cut the Gibraltar and Morocco bit, and therefore cut a few days. You can drive from Ronda to Sevilla, and have total of 14 days of trip. Although if you’ve never been to Barcelona, then you might want to spend at least 2-3 days there. It’s such a lovely city!
What You Should Not Miss for the World
Granada, Ronda, Sevilla, Cordoba, Toledo. Granada and Sevilla especially deserves at least one full day (2 nights and 1 day, or more). Ronda is an amazing place for such a little town, with its majestic bridge and Spain’s oldest bull ring (we missed going into the bull ring unfortunately though we passed it numerous times). Granada and Sevilla were the highlights of our trip. Both were fantastic. La Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita of Cordoba are the most iconic places that you should absolutely not miss for the world. Check out my highlights here.
Wish We Could’ve Spent More Time at
Santa Maria de Montserrat (an abbey located on top of Montserrat mountain) which is about 1+ hour from Barcelona. We made a mistake to go to our hostel first in Costa Brava, then reached the abbey when it was already dark. Montserrat is featured in the background in the movie when they stop for one character to receive a work call (sorry, all the Indian names lost me). But anyway the abbey itself was a surprise as it looked really good (commercial even). So for average travelers I think Santa Maria de Montserrat might be a better choice compared to Poblet Monastery, which is UNESCO World Heritage. While Poblet is superior in term of history and importance, it is rather troublesome to go to and to go in (they have very strict schedule), since it is a working secluded monastery.
Salvador Dali sites. Personally I love Dali, so it’s one of my regrets that we missed going to Dali’s house in Cadaques. Because of GPS problem we made a mistake to go to a different site in Pubol, which is Gala’s (Dali’s wife) house, and ran out of time to go to Cadaques as they are on different direction. Make sure you visit Dali Museum in Figueres though (I shall write about it sometime).
Valencia was a nicer city than we expected, but we practically only spent half a day there (reached at night, and left by afternoon the next day). It however does not have any of the heavyweight sights like Sevilla and Granada, so it’s a city more for wandering about in a relax manner. The City or Arts and Sciences is a nice modern complex with interesting architecture.
The Nice Little Surprises
Elche was surprisingly a very nice city to go around in. It is less than an hour away from its more famous adjacent city Alicante, but Alicante being a port city it felt quite rough and less welcoming. We just had dinner in Alicante and spent a couple of hours around the harbour, overlooking the castle and the mountain in the background. On the other hand we spent almost a day in Elche just exploring. The palm fields of Elche is UNESCO world heritage site, and it is the biggest concentrated palm population outside of Middle East. The city felt richer (more well-off) than the rest of Spain and it was very comfortable to go around.
Toledo was a surprise in that we didn’t know beforehand that all the swords in Hollywood films are made in Toledo (e.g. Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, Hercules, Xeena. We saw the real sword used in Braveheart the movie as it is owned by the hostel we stayed in. Many related merchandise sold in the city.) Toledo is one of the most important cities in Spain in that it has great history and reputation as sword makers — all the best swordsman would want to his swords made in Toledo, and it used to be Spain’s capital before it was moved to Madrid (just an hour drive away).
The Not-so-Nice Surprises
Bunol. Though we only spent around an hour there, it was probably an hour too long. The city without La Tomatina festival is completely dead, and there is literally nothing for travelers to see. We’ve got a shot of the inn the folks in the movie were staying in though. For a movie setting completist only.
Costa Brava in winter was dead as well. This however would probably be very different in the summer. We basically almost did not spend time in Lloret del Mar / Costa Brava at all apart from sleeping and having dinner (fortunately the cafe we went to was one of the best throughout our entire trip).
Tarragona. Though it is a UNESCO world heritage site, unless you’re truly a history junkie the site may not be too interesting. It didn’t help that when we arrived the weather was foggy and cold, and they closed the site on the day. We could still see the Roman ruins outside the gates and took pictures, but not with a great result. For world heritage completist only.
We did not quite like Madrid. It might be partly because of it is at the end of our trip, but it really felt seedy, completely unlike Barcelona (we both loved Barcelona and have spent a few days in it at another trip). My only highlight in Madrid is Prado Museum plus its Museum Quarter and the oldest restaurant in the world (the latter just for novelty sake, as the food wasn’t as great as it is expensive).
Apart from a few little things, our itinerary was pretty air-tight (I have black belt in travel planning), and everything went rather smoothly. It is very easy to do a road trip in Spain. The roads are absolutely great and the signs are all readable (unlike some other countries with non-alphabet language for example). You’ll get excellent European car even with the cheapest rental (we got Benz). Just make sure you have a GPS with you, and it’s safer if you also have a smart phone that can access the internet as a support tool. As GPS works best with exact address, try to have address for all the specific sites.
Parking was generally not a problem, but you do have to pay most of if not all the time (this can be arranged with the hostels you’re staying in). Our biggest problems were just Granada (very small lanes) and Toledo. Toledo in particular does not allow parking anywhere inside the city walls, so you have to find allocated parking lots outside the city walls, then walk into your hostel, that is most probably in the middle of the city. It took us forever to find the parking lot, even though we knew there was one! It is advisable to consider returning your car in Madrid first, then take public transport to Toledo.
We heavily used Rick Steves Spain guide book. So consider getting that for even more specific details like site opening days and time, site itinerary (some sites are so big they have their own maps), recommended hostels and restaurants, and the smaller sites.
Someone asked me about the cost. This is hugely different depending on your traveling style, your spending, what you eat and drink, and where you stay. For me a rough estimate of €100 per day can be used as a base (includes car rental, parking, gas, food, drinks, hostel, minor shopping, entrance tickets).
Lastly have fun! Spain’s countryside was so beautiful that we enjoyed the traveling as much as the sites (except probably my friend who had to drive all the way through, as our other friend and I don’t have driving license… uhum… It is preferable if you have friends to share the driving with!) It is a trip we’ll forever remember in our life!
If you manage to really make that road trip come true, please come back and let me know how you go. I’d love to hear about your experiences. (I’m sure other people would find the tips useful too)