Road Trip Across Northern Spain

14-Day Itinerary Through Galicia

Spain is a perennial favorite with Hideaway Report members, and with good reason. I always feel excited to have an excuse to return. Most travelers focus on Madrid, Barcelona and Andalusia in the south. But this time I turned north to Galicia, a Celtic region that in some ways has more in common with Brittany or Ireland than it does with the rest of the country. I’ve lost count of my visits to Spain, but this trip still felt like a journey into the unknown.

The 14-day itinerary below makes for a delightful road trip across northern Spain, one that partially intersects with the 500-mile-long Camino de Santiago, one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage routes. It also encompasses the dramatic coast; the magnificent cathedral cities of Santiago de Compostela, León and Burgos; and the great wine region of Rioja.

In order to break up a long drive, I included a stay in León. However the Parador de León, a historic palace that did not meet my standards in some respects but was the best León offers, is now closed for renovations through 2020. If you prefer to avoid the overnight in León, it is possible to fly nonstop from Santiago de Compostela to Bilbao. The airport is a 90-minute drive from the Hotel Viura, where you can continue the itinerary as written. Indeed, the entire itinerary below is merely a recommendation, and it can be easily customized to precisely suit your requirements.

Read the full account of our editor’s trip to Spain in the Hideaway Report.

Itinerary Highlights

Our itineraries are for your inspiration. Please contact a travel advisor to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.

  • Spend a blissful day exploring Islas Cíes
  • Visit the only city in the world surrounded by intact Roman walls 
  • Stay in a 16th-century palace
  • Visit the Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture
  • Spend time exploring and tasting the products of many local wineries 

Trip Overview

Day 1 : Madrid
Arrive in Madrid and then fly to Vigo
Day 2 : Islas Cíes
Take the ferry to Islas Cíes
Day 3 : Santiago de Compostela
Depart Baiona and travel to Santiago de Compostela
Day 4 : Explore Santiago de Compostela
Spend the day exploring the area
Day 5 : León
Visit the historic city of Lugo and then continue to León
Day 6 : Burgos
Drive to Burgos and settle into your accommodations
Day 7 : La Rioja
Explore La Rioja
Day 8 - 10 : Valladolid
Visit a museum and have lunch in a Michelin-starred restaurant
Day 11 : Madrid
Drive to the fairy-tale city of Segovia then on to Madrid
Day 12 - 13 : Explore Madrid
Spend two days exploring the city
Day 14 : Return home
Depart Madrid on a return flight home

Day 1 : Madrid

Arrive in Madrid this morning. Change planes and take a short flight to Vigo.

Rent a car and drive 45 minutes to the Parador de Baiona, contained within the crenellated medieval walls of the Castillo de Monterreal. Its location on a rocky promontory affords memorable views of breakers crashing on the rugged coastline. Book one of the property’s three Unique Rooms — 201, 242 or 323 — since they’re larger, more distinctively decorated and come with jetted tubs.

Before dinner in the parador’s fine restaurant, ask the staff to prepare a picnic for tomorrow’s excursion.

Unique Room 323 at Parador de Baiona
Unique Room 323 at Parador de Baiona - © Paradores de Turismo
Parador de Baiona

This historic hotel is contained within the crenellated medieval walls of the Castelo de Monterreal.

Day 2 : Islas Cíes

Take the ferry from Baiona to the Islas Cíes, three islands off the coast that became part of a national park in 2002. There, you can spend a blissful day on the Praia das Rodas, a crescent of soft, pale sand fronting an expanse of calm, clear sea.

Islas Cíes, off the coast of Baiona
Islas Cíes, off the coast of Baiona - © Jarcosa /iStock/Thinkstock

Day 3 : Santiago de Compostela

Depart Baiona at noon and drive 45 minutes north to the Michelin-starred Casa Solla, set just outside of the town of Pontevedra, for lunch (closed Mondays).

After your meal, continue an hour north to Santiago de Compostela, a gracious and unspoiled university city best known as the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.

Check into either the Parador de Santiago de Compostela, housed in a 15th-century building right across from the cathedral, or the smaller A Quinta da Auga, which has a less-convenient location just outside of town but superior accommodations, a pool and a spa.

Potato soup with crabmeat at Casa Solla
Lounge at Parador de Santiago de Compostela
Parador de Santiago de Compostela

This palatial hotel (also known as the Hostal dos Reis Católicos) is located in a 15th-century convent on Obradoiro Square and faces the cathedral.

A Quinta da Auga

Three miles west of downtown Santiago de Compostela, this intimate family-owned hotel is set in an 18th-century former paper mill on the River Sar.

Day 4 : Explore Santiago de Compostela

Spend today exploring Santiago de Compostela. The city’s focal point is its magnificent granite cathedral, construction of which began in 1075. Regardless of whether you’re staying in the parador, I recommend having a meal in its Restaurante dos Reis, which occupies some vaulted former stables.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral - © SeregaYu/iStock/Thinkstock

Day 5 : León

Depart Santiago de Compostela and drive 90 minutes to Lugo, the only city in the world that is surrounded by completely intact Roman walls. The road there runs parallel to the Camino de Santiago, and you’re likely to catch sight of pilgrims striding along determinedly.

After circumnavigating Lugo’s walls, which reach a height of 50 feet, continue on to León, another two and a half hours to the east.

I would normally suggest a stay at the Parador de León, which occupies a spectacular 16th-century palace, but it is now closed through 2020 for renovations. The best available option until then is the 51-room NH Collection Léon Plaza Major (book at least a Premium Room, ideally with a view of the square). If you do stay in León, walk through old town to the spectacular Gothic cathedral, which stays open until 7 p.m.

(For those who want to bypass Lugo and León, there are a few nonstop flights from Santiago de Compostela to Bilbao. From there, drive to Hotel Viura and continue with the itinerary as written.)

Interior of the León Cathedral
Parador de León

Where to Stay

Parador de León

Day 6 : Burgos

If you stayed in León, drive two hours to Burgos, again paralleling the pilgrims’ route for much of the way. The focal point of this elegant little city is another magnificent Gothic cathedral, which here contains the tomb of the legendary 11th-century warrior El Cid.

The best available choice in Burgos is the NH Collection Palacio de Burgos. For those who flew into Bilbao or dont want to stay in Burgos, continue for another 90 minutes to the Hotel Viura. Designed by architect-owners Joseba and Xabier Aramburu, this 33-room property has a bold, modern design composed of fancifully stacked concrete cubes, as well as a superb restaurant.

Lounge at Hotel Viura
Lounge at Hotel Viura

Where to Stay

Hotel Viura

This contemporary 33-room hotel created by architect-owners Joseba and Xabier Aramburu features an avant-garde design of superimposed concrete cubes clumped in fanciful disarray.

NH Collection Palacio de Burgos

Day 7 : La Rioja

Spend today exploring La Rioja. Perhaps start with a visit of the outstanding Bodega Luis Cañas, a 10-minute walk from your hotel.

The charming little town of Haro, a 20-minute drive away, contains many of La Rioja’s other great bodegas. Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España and López de Heredia are two of my favorites.

New visitor center by the late architect Zaha Hadid at López de Heredia Viña Tondonia
New visitor center by the late architect Zaha Hadid at López de Heredia Viña Tondonia - Courtesy of Viña Tondonia © Pepe Franco

Day 8 - 10 : Valladolid

Check out of the Hotel Viura and drive 20 minutes to the Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture. This may be the single-best wine tourism experience in La Rioja. You can visit the museum without a guide at any time during operating hours, but advance reservations are required to tour the adjacent winery. (On most days, both open at 11 a.m.).

After your museum visit, drive 45 minutes south to Echaurren, and have lunch in its Michelin-starred restaurant, El Portal.

Continue south another two and a half hours to the 1,730-acre Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine estate, an exceptional 30-room hotel created from a former 12th-century Cistercian monastery. Be sure to take a guided tour of its winery. Additional amenities include an outdoor pool and a spectacular 10,000-square-foot spa featuring vinotherapy treatments using grape extracts. The resort also offers a full range of activities such as horseback riding and golf.

Michelin-starred Refectorio restaurant at Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine
Exhibition hall at the Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture

Spend one or two days relaxing at Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine. Among other notable wineries, the iconic Vega Sicilia vineyard is nearby, as is the atmospheric old city of Valladolid.

The old city of Valladolid
The old city of Valladolid - © JoseIgnacioSoto/iStock/Thinkstock


Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine

Just down the road from the famous Vega Sicilia vineyard, this magnificent 1,730-acre property encompasses 30 rooms and suites divided between a former 12th-century Cistercian monastery and former abbey stables.

Day 11 : Madrid

Depart Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine and drive an hour south to the fairy-tale city of Segovia. The romantic towers and crenellations of the Alcázar de Segovia punctuate the western edge of the hilltop city. In the middle rises the honey-toned bell tower of the late-Gothic cathedral, and an immense two-tiered Roman aqueduct leads away from the eastern end of the old quarter.

After taking some time to explore and have lunch, continue another hour to Madrid’s airport and return your rental car. Take a taxi into the city center and check into the hotel of your choice.

The medieval city of Segovia
The medieval city of Segovia - © Andres Garcia Martin/iStock/Thinkstock

Where to Stay

Hotel Ritz Madrid

Although temporarily closed for renovations, this gracious 167-room hotel, located in a landmark 1910 Belle Epoque palace, offers Old World charm and flawless service.

URSO Hotel & Spa

This palace-hotel with 78 guest accommodations is located in an up-and-coming neighborhood with stylish boutiques and excellent restaurants, just a 10-minute drive from the Museo Nacional del Prado and a short walk to the Mercado de Barceló.

Day 12 - 13 : Explore Madrid

Spend two days in Madrid, visiting its world-class art museums and boutiques. The Prado claims one of the world’s greatest art collections, and numerous smaller museums such as the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza contain masterpieces as well. The lesser-known Museo Cerralbo and Museo Sorolla, housed in former private homes, also merit visits.

Exhibition room at Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
Exhibition room at Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando - © Javier Valeiro
Madrid's Remarkable Small Museums

Day 14 : Return home

Return to the airport, and depart on your flight home.


Book This Itinerary

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