Santiago, Bilbao & the highlights of Castile & Leon

Santiago, Bilbao & the highlights of Castile & Leon


We start with the striking monument to modernist architecture, the shimmering swirl of titanium that is Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum crammed with some of the world’s finest modern art. From bustling Bilbao we’ll climb up onto Spain’s high, arid plateau, the Meseta, onto wondrous Rioja, where some of the world’s finest wines are lovingly crafted.   Our next port of call is historic Burgos, home of the legendary medieval warrior El Cid, famed for his exploits against the Moors and renowned for its truly majestic Cathedral. Still off the beaten track for many tourists, when you wander round its twisting alleys, unchanged for centuries, lined with atmospheric tapas bars you cannot on earth fathom why. Beyond here the plains give way to one of Europe’s least known yet most impressive mountain ranges, the Picos de Europa, covering a relatively small area of Cantabria but none the less dramatic as they tumble along the Bay of Biscay in a series of magnificent limestone peaks and deep rocky gorges. Our tour through this marvellous mountain landscape ends in León, the provincial capital and once the front line as the Spanish fought off the invading Moors.   The final stage of our journey takes you to Santiago de Compostela, in the heart of Spain’s “Celtic corner”, the province of Galicia whose heritage has more in common with Cornwall than Catalonia. The legend of St James ensures the Cathedral, one of Spain’s most outstanding buildings, is a magnet for world-wide travellers.


  • Visit to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao with entrance included
  • Enjoy a wine-tasting and tour of one of Rioja’s most famous vineyards
  • Guided walking tour of Burgos plus a visit to the outstanding Gothic Cathedral
  • Drive through the Picos de Europa, a splendid national park with some of Europe’s most breathtaking alpine scenery
  • Guided tour of León, with some of Europe’s earliest Romanesque buildings
  • Guided tour of the medieval gem of Santiago de Compostela
  • Services of our experienced tour manager
  • Seven nights in four-star accommodation, including all local taxes, with breakfast and four dinners including two at traditional Castilian and Galician restaurants
  • Return travel from the UK and transfers to and from your hotel included


  • The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at the relevant supplement. The price includes seven nights four-star and four-star superior accommodation with breakfast and four dinners including two at local restaurants, airport departure taxes and transfers, all local accommodation taxes, return flights and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
  • Included excursions are: a visit to Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, winery tour, guided tours of Burgos, León and Santiago and entrance into Burgos Cathedral.


Day 1

You should arrive at the airport for your flight to Santander or Bilbao. On arrival a coach will take you to Bilbao, capital of the fiercely independent Basque region. Frequent visitors will immediately notice differences from the rest of the country. Firstly the language is part of a rare linguistic group unlike other Western European languages. Its flag, the Ikurrina, may seem oddly familiar as it is a green, white and red version of the Union Jack. We stay overnight at either the four-star Sercotel Coliseo Bilbao or four-star NH Collection Ría de Bilbao. 

Day 2

Previously little known outside its own country, Bilbao exploded onto the cultural map with the opening of the magnificent Guggenheim Museum with its striking exterior titanium cladding, nestling on the banks of the River Nervión and we enjoy a visit this morning.   Leaving Bilbao and the Atlantic, the road climbs quickly, becoming noticeably warmer and more arid. Then crossing the watershed of the mighty River Ebro we are soon surrounded by vineyards of the legendary Rioja wine region. We have a guided tour of one of Rioja’s oldest and most revered bodegas (wineries), Bodegas Bilbaínas, learning how their precious grapes are crafted into the noble drink. Established by viticulteurs from Bordeaux in the nineteenth century, Bilbaínas rapidly grew to legendary status even supplying the Spanish Royal family. Naturally, the tour ends with a tasting!   Driving past seemingly endless vineyards studded with sleepy villages, we soon arrive at Burgos one of Spain’s most historic cities staying two nights at the modern, four star Abba Hotel set in its own gardens, with indoor pool and superbly located in the city’s old quarter just 400 metres from the astonishingly preserved cathedral. We dine here this evening.

Day 3

After breakfast we tour Burgos which began as a 9th century fortress between the Moors to the south and the Kingdom of Navarre, with the surrounding villages or “burgos”, eventually forming the present day city. It grew to prominence as a significant stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago, became the capital of Castile for five centuries and famous as the home of the legendary knight Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar - the almost mythical ‘El Cid’.   Today Burgos is an incredible revelation, the twisting streets of its old quarter dominated by fine religious buildings, including the huge and imposing Cathedral, a true Gothic masterpiece. Your tour includes an audio guide, allowing you to explore the wonders of this superb building at your own pace. Look out for the magnificent façade in the style of Paris’s Notre Dame and the tomb of the legendary El Cid himself. Most fascinating of all is the Papamoscas (the Flycatcher), an unusual statue which opens its mouth as the cathedral bells sound the hour!   You’ll learn about Burgos’s volatile history too; it was fought over throughout the Middle Ages, was the scene of Wellington’s withdrawal during the Peninsular War and a base for General Franco’s Government during the Spanish Civil War.   This afternoon, you are free to explore. This evening we visit a fine restaurant specialising in Castilian dishes.

Day 4

Today we experience a spectacular scenic drive through the heart of one of Europe’s smallest, yet most spectacular mountain ranges; the alpine masterpiece of Picos de Europa is a stunning extension of the Pyrenees. Leaving Burgos and travelling across the wide Castilian plateau, passing through ancient whitewashed villages, gradually a hazy mountain horizon appears.   Drawing closer, the ascent begins almost instantly, soaring to nearly 8,000 feet the magnificent mountain panorama opens before your eyes. Striking limestone summits with their verdant green valley’s surround you, with long views stretching towards the Bay of Biscay. Almost unbelievably, you are actually on an old Roman road – imagine the hardships endured by the marching legionnaires during the harsh winters! This wild and rugged beauty is home to many rare species of fauna including bears, wolves and vultures.   Founded by the Romans, Leon was once capital of Christian Spain and during the 10th century spearheaded the country’s re-conquest from the Moors, reaching its zenith 200 years later. Today legacies of this period and medieval times abound. Firstly its Cathedral, whether bathed by tasteful spotlights by night, or almost glowing in bright sunshine, this amazing honey-coloured masterpiece is one of Spain greatest monuments and especially noted for some of Europe’s finest stained glass.   Adjacent is a spiders-web like maze of alleys and narrow streets lined by traditional shops and tall ochre-coloured houses. Our hotel for this evening is the modern, centrally located and extremely comfortable, four-star AC, a member of one of Spain’s most respected hotel companies. This evening is unplanned so you are free to dine in one of Leon’s many restaurants.

Day 5

This morning we include a guided sightseeing tour of the city known by many as the “Cradle of Parliamentarism” because it was here in 1188 that King Alfonso IX held what some describe as Europe’s first Parliament - Icelanders, and those of you from the Isle of Man will disagree!   Due to the city’s strategic location on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route, León is incredibly well-endowed with fine religious buildings including its superb Cathedral. But León is not all churches and you will also see the flamboyant Casa Botines – one of only three Gaudi creations outside Catalonia, and the modernist Museum of Contemporary Art, plus the classic Plaza Mayor main square. This afternoon we drive through increasingly hilly topography before arriving in one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, Santiago de Compostela late afternoon.   Our hotel for the next three nights is either the four-star superior AC Palacio del Carmen Autograph Collection or the NH Collection Santiago depending on your selected date. Both are well located just a short walk to the old town centre set in their own grounds. We dine in the hotel this evening.

Day 6

There is no doubt that Santiago de Compostela, as the final destination of one of the world’s best known and most iconic of journeys, has a very special place in the history of tourism. Indeed, it was one of the world’s first “tourist” destinations, hosting more than 2 million pilgrims annually during medieval times, surpassed only by Rome and Jerusalem. It has to be said though, the actual legend of the burial place of St James the Apostle here really is on shaky ground as you will discover on our guided tour.   Miraculously discovered a remarkable eight centuries after his death, St James’ relics have been lost and found several times since, but one thing is for sure, Santiago itself is stunning! On emerging into the central square, you witness the sheer majesty of the great cathedral in all its glory - one of the world’s great buildings, its many extraordinary features include towering Baroque spires and the great statue of St James himself.   The fascinating “Door of Glory” is a 12th century masterpiece, whose central pillar is worn smooth by generations who touched it as a sign of reaching their journey’s end then bumping heads with the image of the master craftsman Matteo, carved thereon in an attempt to absorb some of his genius!   Also still used is the huge incense burner swinging in a 25 metre arc and operated by eight priests, originally disguising the smell of pilgrims! Also situated around the Plaza is one of the world’s oldest “hotels” the splendid Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, the impressive Town Hall and the College of San Jerónimo. Surrounding the Cathedral, the rest of the historic quarter is a maze of narrow streets and medieval squares with many a tale to tell. The Pazo de Xelmírez is perhaps Spain’s finest example of Romanesque civic architecture and the nearby Praza das Praterías (Silversmith’s Square) is surrounded by arcades where silver is still traded.   The rest of today is free for you to explore more of the delightful city centre at your leisure. Return to the Cathedral or perhaps while away the afternoon with a local Galician cider in one of the many cafés. The evening is unplanned, leaving you to choose your own particular favourite from the wide range of restaurants on offer.

Day 7

Enjoy a full day exploring more of Santiago. Perhaps visit one of the museums dedicated to various aspects of the Galician culture, with a strong Celtic heritage. You may well stumble across the skirl of the local distinctive bagpipes and dancers dressed in traditional lace costume, and you should listen to the local language, Galego, which perhaps unsurprisingly bears a strong resemblance to Portuguese.   This evening we have arranged an included dinner in one of the excellent local restaurants where you can enjoy the famed Galician hospitality, exchanging memories and impressions of this fascinating corner of Spain with your fellow travellers.

Day 8

Today you will be transferred to the airport at the appropriate time for your return flight.

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