More Feedback on Rick Steves' Spain and Portugal
Please share any ways we can improve or fix this guidebook. Are there recommendations in this book that disappointed you? Do you have any new experiences or new places we should consider? Any warnings or tips for people traveling with existing edition?
Portugal and Spain
Just returned from 5 weeks in Portugal and Spain. First time we'd used your book and found it very good. Ditto your dictionary and phrase book. Liked the style, size, maps, walking tours, need-to-know and "local color" info. Stayed at Hotel Europa in Madrid. It was hard to drive to but our stay was fine. Helpful staff. The cafeteria, esp. the menu of the day at lunch was tasty, good-sized, and reasonably priced. Another favorite stay was at Pension Mare in Salema. Great host, view, and b'fast. there. Best b'fast. was at Evora's Solar Monfalim.
Worst restuarant experience was Casa Transmontana in Lisbon. Slow service, frequent intrusions, incl. screaming children in next room and running through restuarant and a bar (next room) patron?family member?walking through restuarant 3 times to use the restroom while we (all tables) waited to be served. Waitress apron extremly dirty. Food definitely not worth the trouble.
A correction: St. Anthony not buried in Lisbon, but in Padua, Italy.
It was St. Vincent who was brought to Lisbon with the help of ravens.
Using Rough Guide along with your book helped fill in info. gaps. The
most stressful part of the trip was entry (driving)into each new town
and finding our hotel/parking. Having a street map and specific directions
from the hotel in hand would be very worthwhile to us/anyone. Keep up
the good work.
Julie and Peter
Kailua,, Hi. USA 10/31/02
Rick Steves' Spain and Portugal-2002
We are going to visit Spain and Portugal and will be staying on the coast in the Algarve and on the Gold coast where we traded for timeshare dates, ie the hotels are basically free, we will spend a week at each location as well as visiting Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Lisbon. I looked at the section on the Algarve and found the central portion around Faro is simply labeled on the map as the worst of the Algarve and completely ignored. That dear friends is a real cop out. We will be there in December- no hordes of tourists, and our resort is in Almancil, near Faro. Your book tells me nothing about this area and little about the surrounding area. Salema and Tavira get coverage but the rest of the Algarve might as well be the backside of the moon. If you don't like it at least tell us why, but better yet act like a travel book and give decent coverage to all areas of a country and let the traveler decide. The coverage of the Spanish Gold Coast is equally sparse; Nerja, Tarifa and Alegricia get a bit of coverage while Gibraltar gets 4 pages of detailed prose. Gibraltar gets 4 pages and Malaga doesn't rate mentioning nor do any of the lovely little villages in the mountains nearby. Travel guide indeed, describe the country fully or don't sell the bloody book. You label what you describe as the top destinations and then ignore everything else. Elitist and not in any way edifying. My recomendation, go to Lonely Planet or Fodors for travel books!
Duane R. Houck
Gresham, OR USA 10/29/02[Editor's Note: Rick's guidebooks purposely don't cover every part of each country, his philosophy being that it's his "job to sift through mountains of time-sapping alternatives and present you with only the best". Since most travelers have limited time, Rick writes his guidebooks to maximize the best use of readers' vacation time and money. We also recommend supplementing Rick's material with Lonely Planet's wide-reaching coverage when you don't find everything you're looking for.]
Portugal trip 10-15 to 10-25
My wife and I just returned from 10 days in Portugal. We began our trip in Lisbon where we stayed at the Lisboa Tejo. The hotel was nice and centrally located. They served a great breakfast that included bacon and eggs. Highlights of Lisbon included day trips to Sintra and Belem, wandering the narrow streets of the Alfama and Bairro Alto, taking the #28 tram, and the Gulbenkian Museum. Highly recommend getting the Lisboa Card upon arriving at the airport. I think a fado show is a little over-rated but I guess you have to see one since it is an important part of Portugal's culture.
We then rented a car from Europcar and drove to Coimbra. We stayed at the Ibis recommended in Rick's book and spend an enjoyable half-day seeing all the sights. The Ibis, although like a Motel 6, was clean, comfortable, centrally located with its own parking lot. I'd stay at an Ibis again. We then travelled to Evora, seeing the monasteries in Batalha and Alcobaca and the walled town of Obidos on the way. Nice stops. We had a little difficulty finding and driving to the Solar Monfalim, our hotel in Evora. The hotel was very nice and centrally located. If you are a fast traveller, Evora is worth a 1/2 day visit. If you like to go slow and have a glass of wine or a coffee once in a while, Evora is worth a day. We celebrated my wife's 50th birthday in Evora, eating at Fialho in Rick's guidebook. This was a great restaurant. Try the wild boar with a bottle of Cartuxa red wine from the region.
A couple of small corrections need to be made in the guidebook. The Moorish
castle in Sintra is nolonger free. The Maritime Museum in Belem is nolonger
covered by the Lisboa Card and is not on the east (but west)side of the
monastery as described in the book. The map is correct but the written
directions are not. Portugal does not have the sights of France or Italy
but the country is colorful and interesting and its people very warm and
friendly. Go there and eat a lot of fish.
P & D
Salem, OR USA 10/29/02
The People of Portugal
Having just returned from a 10-day trip to Portugal with my wife, I feel compelled to respond to an earlier posting from Mike Dugan from San Francisco in which he described Portugal as being a "cesspool" and males as "animals." He also commented on how often he was short-changed. I am not disputing Mr. Dugan's experiences, but my wife and I found the people of Portugal to be warm, friendly and always ready to help. My wife was never harrassed by any males in Lisbon, Coimbra, Evora and other places we travelled. We talked to another couple who had spent time in the Algarve and the wife said she hadn't experienced any harrassment either. We appeared to get short-changed once by a toll-operator but otherwise, all money transactions went smoothly and honestly. Again, I am not disputing what happened to Mr. Dugan but I don't think it is fair to indict a whole country and its people following the experience of one couple.
P & D
Salem, OR USA 10/29/02
Barcelona, Madrid and Toledo
Rick's Guide book offers some of the most wonderful tips for travelers in Spain. We just returned from our second trip to Spain (and Italy) and still find it the most helpful.
I have a few remarks. 1)Barcelona: Hotel Continental has a prime location and a fine value. The room is a little cramped but clean. We can't complain when the room costs only 66Euros a night and we are right on Ramblas. Staff is friendly and helpful. Great value. Dining in El Hostal de Rita is a must if you want great food and good prices. The atmosphere was upscale and food was outstanding. My husband and I each had appetizers, a main course, desert & wine and the bill was only 36Euros! Be sure you get there around 8PM (opens at 830PM)and stand in line, otherwise you won't get a table until late. La Garduna by the La Boqueria Market has a well-priced set menu. Food was okay.
2)Madrid: We stayed at Hotel Europa last year (clean rooms and good value) but decided to splurge this time. Hotel Reina Victoria is everything you expect from a luxury hotel. We booked our room through hotels.com and got a fine deal- US$110 a night. Buffet breakfast was generous and included in the price. Great value! We also recommend Hotel Europa Cafeteria for good traditional Spanish cuisine and great service. We ate there last year and decided to go back. We even had the same waiter who was just as polite and attentive as the year before!
3)Toledo: Restaurant Casa Aurelio offered pricey but delicious roasted
suckling pigs. Service was okay until my husband asked for a new glass
of wine when a fly flew into the glass accidentally. The waiter, however,
made a comment to his fellow worker that my husband may have put the fly
there himself! I guess they forgot my husband speaks Spanish and understood
every word they said. That made our whole dining experience quite unpleasant.
Dallas, TX USA 10/23/02
spain Oct 4-18
Had a great time, we really were apprciative to Ricks suggestions , a few more tips. Tapas crawling in Madrid --wonderful, tasty treats. We used the metro it was so convenient we took it in from the airport-took about 30 minutes, got a good map at the Airport metro station.
Having breakfast at the Museo de Jamon (there are several around) was a good value and great food. Also they do a take out picnic, cheap and wonderful, we took it on the train to Sevilla, it even includes a beer if you want.
Sevilla, stayed in the Barrio Stanta Crux area--great area, not too expensive. Hostal Bienvenido calle Archeros 655 was good deal with a roof top terrace. The cathedral is worth seeing with its tower.
Arcos De frontera--the best hotel we had was here at the El convento--right on the cliffside, we had a quick bus ride to Jerez to taste the 6 sherries at Sandeman, needed a nap after our return. the buses leave hourly back and forth.
Ronda was fun, we had one nite at a good, reasonable hotel San Francisco, then at the wonderful Alvera de los Banos--a great place with great garden and which included a big breakfast all for 58 Euros for the 2 of us.Our highlight was Las Alpujarras, 1 hour from Granada in the Sierras, we stayed at Caplleria, a hilltop town, wonderful clean place with lots of day or shorter walks, you feel like you are away from it all. Buses leave Granada 3X a day, the trip itself is spectacular.
Granada and the Alhambra were great of course. We recommend getting your
tickets at any BBVA bank (you must do so 48 hours prior to your visit)
that way you do not need to go to line up at the ticket office at the
alhambra itself. We got a reservation over the internet which meant we
had to line up (at the ticket office) at least 2 hours ahead of our alotted
Jeanette And Robert
Victoria .BC Canada, canada 10/21/02
Spain and Portugal trip
We recently returned from a four week trip to Spain and Portugal. We used Rick's book and the Lonely Planet books and found the combination worked well. Here are some of our thoughts.
In Andalucia we found Zahara and Grazalema very charming, but we also enjoyed Olvera. The view of Olvera from the road to Sentenil is stunning. There is a castle and a small museum at the top of the town. Proceed past the castle entrance to the tourist office. After paying a small fee, your are let into the castle and leaves a key for you to lock up after you're done. The museum has no English descriptions, and it seemed that English was not commonly spoken in Olvera. We had trouble finding a place to eat on the main drag. In Olvera and other smaller towns, people were much friendlier than in the bigger cities.
Regarding transportation, we decided to take trains and buses for most of our trip, and only drove between Seville and Granada. Our only significant problem occured on the train from Salamanca to Coimbra. Yes, we bit the bullet and took the only train at 4:45 AM. Unfortunately, we bought "tourista" class tickets without understanding what they were. This overnignt train from Madrid to Lisboa appeared to have compartments only. When we boarded, the small eight person compartment was already packed with six people and their luggage. There was absolutely no way we could squeeze in with our bags and we knew we couldn't leave luggage outside of the compartment.
The supervisor was very mean and really did not want to help. But after my wife bugged him long enough in Spanish, he finally sold us what appeared to be a second class sleeper for about 14 euros each. Our advice: Unless you are extremely frugal, traveling light enough to keep your gear on your lap for five hours, or are willing to gamble that your compartment will not be full, avoid "tourista" class on this train. Even better, there are bus options that are not mentioned in Steve's book. As I recall, they left in the late afternoon and were fast, but may not have been available all days.
In Granada, we made our advanced Alhambra reservation for 2:30 PM . We intended to get there earlier but got behind schedule and showed up when the gates opened for the afternoon at 2:00 PM. What a mess! Even with reservations we had to wait in line for about 50 minutes (make sure you're in the correct line!). That meant we had to literally run to the Palacios Nazaries to get in before our time expired. And we definitely had the feeling that had we missed our time we would get no sympathy from the workers. Make your reservation for the Palacios Nazaries not too near opening times, and pick up your tickets early.
We enjoyed Toledo, but it was quite touristy. The view of the town from
the south across the river gorge is worth the trouble. Public buses do
stop there, and the tourist train just drives by, but we had a very memorable
time taking the little ferry across the river and walking up the hill.
The landing is near the Hotel El Diamantista, and morning and afternoon
hours were posted on the boat, but we weren't sure how reliable they were.
C and N
Portland, OR USA 10/08/02
website address wrong
Please note that the website stated in Ricks' Spain and Portugal 2002 for the Hotel San Miguel in Ronda is not correct. The correct website for the hotel is: www.dmiguel.com. If you use the one in the book, you end up with a Mexican foods manufacturer's website!
El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain 10/08/02
Just spent 4 nights in the Algarve in the coastal town of Tavira, stayed at the Pension Bela Fria, comfortable. I took the train one day to Sagres, the fort at Cape Sagres is a must, the beaches down below are gorgeous and,yes,topless.
The next day I took a bus tour out of Tavira to Gibraltar, a day in Gibraltar is enough,the Apes were fun, cave well lit and the highlight for me was the beautiful view of Morrocco from Europa point, seeing where the Atlantic and Mediterrean meet, long day but worth it.
The next day took a bus tour of Seville, saw the Cathederal Giralda and walked the ramps to the top, also the Spanish Square is worth the stop, back to Tavira, should have spent a night in Seville to see the Flamenco dancing, hear it's quite good.
The next day finally got a chance to tour Tavira, the town really does have an ambience, very relaxing, visited the Castle ruins, the Santa Maria Church, the church near the TI is definitely worth a look, a ride to the beaches is definitely worth it,even just for the ride. The Praca Republica really rocks after about 10 in the evening lots of people, singing, and dancing.
I ate one evening at Patrick's. The lasagne was superb and the beer cold. I told Patrick that I found out about his restaurant in your book, service seemed to get better, try to get a table outside, if you are a people watcher. Ate at O Simao, the salad excellent, pork chops tasty, beer cold and prices reasonable.
Tavira is a great place to base yourself and make day trips to other
locations in southern Spain and the Algarve. My accommodation was across
the street from the bus station, with direct access, only three and a
half hours by bus to Lisbon. Just to walk across the Roman bridge in Tavira
, is an experience, try imagining whar the city was like many centuies
ago. Tavira "Otimo"
Kuwait City, kw 09/13/02
Portugal is amazing!!!
Ive been going to Portugal every year since I was a few months old and I have traveled a lot as well. Portugal is by far the prettiest and most exciting place I have ever been to. I stay in Salema and the people there are lovely and the men 1000 times more gentlemanly than any English men I have met. Never have I been treated badly or been short changed. In fact I get many discounts, and all the bar men and women are lovely. I am never happier than when I am in Portugal and that goes for many of my friends too, whose families go there year after year like mine. I feel safer walking around at night in Salema than I do in my hometown!
We organized our late May/early June first trip to Spain by flying into Barcelona as our first stop, then flying to Granada and using trains and buses to wend our way back to Barcelona. This worked well.
Stayed at Pensio 2000 (www.pensio2000.com)in Barcelona, just across the street from Palau de Musica (which is a three-star site in my book). We stayed in two different rooms, one with a private bath (51 euros) and one without (39 euros). We also spent a night at Hosteria Grau for 54 euros. Not luxurious places, certainly, but nothing wrong with them at those prices!
We weren't able to get reservations at Hotel Los Tilos in Granada several weeks ahead of our trip, but when we got there we were glad! Most times of the year it would probably be fine, but it was Fiestas del Corpus week and two huge tents with loudspeaker music were set up in the Bib-Rambla square. We were glad we had booked at Casa del Aljarife in the Albayzin (www.granadainfo.com/most; 84 euros and we had a suite). It was SO quiet there, although an uphill hike over cobblestones. The owner had great restaurant recommendations. Someone on this site said Granada was their least favorite city but, because we had such good luck with our lodging, meals, and the musical events taking place while we were there, we loved it.
In summertime in Nerja, be sure you get an air conditioned room so you can keep your windows closed; it's a very noisy place! Rick's recommended Hostal Lorca had its good points (price!), but it was far from quiet. Might be quieter in the pedestrian zone near the Balcony of Europe, but this summer a great deal of construction was going on in that area. The Parador would probably be best of all.
In Seville, we were glad we'd booked a hotel in Barrio Santa Cruz for quiet; we stayed at Hosteria del Laurel (84 euros) where the rooms were a bit characterless but the restaurant and bar were very atmospheric (www.eintec.es/host-laurel/ or www.hosteriadellaurel.com).
In Madrid, we stayed at Hostal La Macarena, very close to Plaza Mayor, quiet, family run, and well-priced at 63 euros per night (Cava de San Miguel 8, 913 659 221 or 666 111; fax 642 757). We loved Campo del Moro, the gardens of the Palacio Real but only accessible on the far (west) side; we combined this with our visit to the Goya chapel - both accessible from the Principe Pio station.
We spent one night in Zaragoza and enjoyed it, the town not being so full of tourists as our other stops. The huge Plaza del Pilar is a great spot, there are some outstanding ancient sites, and we enjoyed the public market there more than others we visited. Good stopover to break a train trip between Madrid and Barcelona! We stayed at Via Romana in a great location right on the plaza but characterless and 102 euros per night, including a large, German-style buffet breakfast (www.husa.es).
We were very careful and had no pickpocket problems anywhere and found the police in evidence most places, especially in Barcelona. Maybe they're really working on this problem. It was cool and my husband wore his jacket around his waist, which kind of prevents anybody getting into your pants pockets.
We read other guidebooks as well, but Rick Steves puts out "the bible" that we carry everywhere. The definitive information on transportation is especially appreciated.
See "Savory Spain" for our restaurant recommendations.
CO USA 08/26/02
I wonder if I was in the same country as the one in your guidebook? My wife and I just completed a two week vacation in Spain and Portugal and Portugal, to say the least, was a cesspool. We spent a few days in Lagos and when the sun went down, the local animals came out. My wife was constantly menaced. These males act as if they are 15 years old. She was fondled and harassed constantly to the point we had to leave Lagos. The locals would wait for me to go to the bathroom and would move in. Women should beware if they are out at night. Other female travellers we talked to had similiar experiences.
Upon arriving in Lisbon we took a cab to Residencial Florescente. Whereupon the "good-humored" cab driver refused to give us change from a $20 for a $5 cab ride. The hotel staff seemed to really enjoy this fact. Hoping our experience would be better here than in the Algarve, we went out to dinner only to have the same kind of menacing behavior all over again. Needless to say we had had enough.
We decided to go to a movie to remove ourselves from these people. We went to a shopping center not too far away. While waiting near the food court, my wife went to the bathroom only to be followed in by yet another animal. This was our cue to get out of this country and warn any and all that the only thing underrated about this country is how unsafe it is for women.
I have to wonder if Rick travels with women or notices the danger women face here. We have travelled all over Europe and many countries around the world and this was the worst experience by far we have encountered anywhere including many third world countries. I wish someone had warned us before we went because this country is not worth it.
P.S. Count your change immediately and in front of them. No less than
5 times were we short changed.
San Francisco, ca USA 08/23/02
We just returned from a 9 day trip to Spain. We started our trip at the Hotel Europa in Madrid, which was everything Rick said it was... Great location, very nice staff, very clean. The only problem I had was that the hotel wasn't air conditioned, and it was very, very hot.
We went to Seville and stayed at the Hotel Donna Maria, which we enjoyed quite a bit. The location was awesome (right next to the cathedral), and the rooftop terrace pool was a lifesaver in the 97 degree heat.
We then rented a car and drove through the Andulusian hill towns of Zahara (could have skipped this one), Ronda, which was beautiful and had great shopping, and stayed in Arcos. The parador in Arcos was wonderful!!! It had a beautiful view, lovely staff, and great food. Rick's walking tour through the town of Arcos was a true treasure, and made the town come alive with history.
We made a side trip to Cadiz, to see to the beach, since it was so hot. Cadiz is a port town, and pretty much a dump. However, the parador there was great, and some locals gave us a tip on a good restaurant that was phenomenal! We were the only tourists in the town (or so it seemed), so we really got a feel for the real Spain away from all the tourists.
Lastly, we went to Toledo. It was very touristy and very hilly (make
sure you bring your best walking shoes). We stayed at the Hotel El Cardenal,
which I would not recommend. The staff bordered on rude, and although
the hotel is beautiful with a lot of history, it wasn't worth the money.
Schaumburg, il USA 08/22/02
Spain travel tips
Just returned from two weeks in Spain and we had an incredible trip. My teenage daughter was just as enthusiastic--which says a lot more! A couple of notes: We were very careful with our possessions thanks to all the warnings and never had a single problem. We worked together to watch and be alert and really that is all it took. In all our walking about, we only saw one man robbed when he took out his wallet to give money to a young woman and she grabbed the wallet and ran. Duh! So keep your wits about you and just enjoy Spain. We have at least as many problems in some of our US cities--you really need to be assertive about your personal safety everywhere.
Also, we stayed in a number of paradors. Don't let anyone make these sound too snooty or high class for you! We paid on average $150 for three of us, but we had incredible rooms in truly memorable, "once-in-a- lifetime" kind of sites. Almost always had balconies or private terraces, fabulous views, wonderful restaurants (although we preferred to go down into town and do tapas in the neighborhoods), all the little extras and amenities you would pay hundreds more for in the US. Another plus were the guarded parking lots which meant we could pack up in the morning, take a cab to sights from the parador, and return much later with no worries.
Every parador was memorable in its own way-our favorites were probably Siguenza (east of Madrid on the way to Barcelona) for its ambiance in this tiny medieval town, Malaga for the friendly staff as well as the amazing view, Granada for the ease of getting into the Alhambra, the amazing gardens where you can walk about the Alhambra at night, and the staff taking care of all our tickets, arrangements, etc., a huge plus for the parador in Ronda is not just its location right over the gorge, but the parking under the parador in a very crowded town. If you can splurge-do it!
We also loved the parador in Alarcon though we didn't stay there. This is a charming little village west of Valencia where we stayed at the delightful (un-air-conditioned) Hostal Santa Isabel. The whole walled town was charming. We walked down the hill to a restaurant where we were served local speciality tapas by the owner under the stars and a complementary sherry and wine just because he appreciated our attempts to speak Spanish. Unlike some posters, we had lovely, friendly people who chatted and truly tried to communicate when we faltered. Only a couple of taxi drivers were surly and they didn't get much tip! We got lots of local recommendations which added so much to our trip.
Another highlight was that not one of the many arrangement I had made ahead, both in the US and Spain, were messed up. We found the efficiency of the Spanish to be a real pleasure. They like to do things a certain way and if you respect that, they are very appreciative.
Finally, if you go to Toledo, be sure to stop in to see Mariano Zamorano's sword foundry and workshop. I just held out Rick's book and was rewarded with a tour of the shop, introduced to all the workmen, and was able to take pictures of work in progress to show those who were getting gifts from the forge. Another splurge-buy a real Toledo sword from Mariano. The ones in virtually all the shops are machine made and poor replicas at best. You will pay for the craftsmanship, but you'll have a real object of art. We brought back two swords which also have so many memories of the people we met and spoke with.
Shopping tip: in Granada, Ronda, etc. you will see so much marquetry
for sale. On the little street coming down to the Plaza Nueva, Cuesta
Gomerez, you will find a tiny shop on the right side as you face the Alhambra.
The elderly gentleman, Manuel Morillo, makes all the marquetry sold there
himself. He and his wife are delightful and will patiently explain the
technique and you can watch as he works. His goods are superior and much
cheaper. Buy your marquetry from him and it will mean so much more.
Moorestown, NJ USA 08/13/02
Great book...but include northern Spain!
I just returned from a four week trip in Europe. We spent nine days in Spain. Rick's chapters on Barcelona and Madrid were all I needed for those cities!! My only complaint is that Rick ignores northern Spain. We spent five days in San Sebastian/Donostia. It is the most beautiful I have ever been to and it is not real touristy. We also happened to be in San Sebastian when the festival of San Fermin was going on and took a day trip to see the running of the bulls. I think there is a lot to see in northern Spain and think Rick should include it in his next book! (The other tour books skimp on northern Spain too. Lonely Planet has a very short chapter.)
Vancouver, WA USA 08/11/02
Hotel Residencial in Salema
I agree with Jill regarding the Hotel Residencial Salema (different than the hotel mentioned by John Fey). Although Salema was great and the highlight of our trip, this hotel was horrible. It was extremely overpriced for the service. Don't be fooled by it's 3 star rating, I have stayed in better hostels. The rooms were small and smelly, the phones did not work, nor did the elevator. We had to carry our suitcases 4 flights while the owner watched. They also did not honor the discount. The rest of the town and country was great. Great food and great people. We spent a 2 weeks in Spain and Portugal and if I had to do it over I would have skipped Spain altogether. Although some of the smaller cities were beautiful (especially Segovia), overall the sights and people were much more interesting in Portugal.
Long Beach , CA USA 07/27/02
Reunion in Portugal
I returned to Portugal after 36 years for my high school reunion. I have never had quite this experience in my life. We 50 (classmates and spouses) bonded. One of our classmates is Mr.Disney for the Iberian peninsula. He put together the most incredible reunion culminating on 'prom' night at the Pena Palace in Sintra where we dined and danced to the music of the 50's and 60's until 3 am. Pretty good for us old folks. In other parts of the graffitti wall I'll share the top eating spots as well as a couple of sweet hotels my husband and I stayed at before and after the reunion as recommended by Rick Steves.
I'll add that Lisbon was a shock in its changes and graffiti and filthy
streets, as was the growth and development across the Tagus River. Looks
like Vacaville and Fairfield in California. I lived there when Salazar
was dictator, we felt safe, and the country was clean and meticulous.
BUT, go to Portugal! The people are as sweet as ever!
Fair Oaks, CA USA 07/27/02
My wife and I were in Spain the last week of May and first week of June, covering Granada, Sevilla, Madrid, Segovia and Sepulveda. A few comments on Rick's Guide's comments: We had no problem with thieves, but then we are pretty careful. The AVE train between Madrid and Sevilla was fine; the milk run between Sevilla and Granada was very slow but pleasant and the scenery was good. We booked our initial trip from Madrid to Sevilla via the web but handled the other trips when we got there because I wasn't sure from the website what we might be getting. Incidentally, I left my camera on the train from Granada to Sevilla and the RR people couldn't have been nicer about retrieving it after the train had headed back to Granada but before we had to leave for Madrid, despite some language uncertainties.
We flew into Madrid at the outset of our trip and had little problem getting to Atocha via Metro and train. The Hotel Europa in Madrid was everything Rick advised. We had a problem in Restaurante Puerto Rico: they had no paella of any variety! This was Madrid not London. We rented a car from Hertz for the trip to Sepulveda and Segovia. It took 1:15 hr. to pick up the car at the main place in Madrid on the Gran Via despite having reserved it in the U.S. Since the car had but a quarter tank of gas we needed that shortly but found it difficult to find a station and lost time looking.
We had a time in Segovia finding parking; it didn't seem to be where Rick described so we ended up worming our way to the Alcazar where we lucked out. Restaurant Narizotas was excellent. Not far from Segovia is Sepulveda, which is very picturesque and a jumping off place for the Valle del Duraton, 2500 meters deep at places. Sepulveda is ultra quiet during the week and it is hard to find any place to eat. Our hotel, the Valle del Duraton, was excellent with a restaurant across the street.
In Granada, I recommend visiting the central TI first thing. It will save a lot of grief over bus schedules out of town and sell you THE book on the Alhambra, which was all it was cracked up to be. We tried to get a reservation via the web without success so depended on a (future) relative in Spain to do it for us. Be sure to stick to their time requirements for admittance. Local bus service is good and cheap. The Hotel Residencia Macia was very good and we got the discount.
Arriving in Sevilla by train, we tried to find the bus to downtown Rick recommended but they seem to have been renumbered. We stayed at the Hotel Simon (fine) near the Cathedral and buses between there and the station drop you off a block or so from either destination. The Rio Grande restaurant was good. Next door, La Primera del Puente seems to be out of business; maybe prices were too good.
Sorry to be so long-winded. We had a great trip with only one day of
rain, in Segovia.
Wheaton, MD USA 07/27/02
A city that is too often passed over is Zaragoza. It's half way between Barcelona and Madrid, and in the province of Aragon. Its old city center is amazing! A well preserved Arab castle, a Roman city, a huge cathedral called El Pilar (which has works by Goya), great restaurants, and such an explosive nightlife scene that you won't get to bed until 8 A.M. It is definitely worth 1 day and 1 night.
SanDiego, CA USA 07/23/02
Great Apartment in Nerja, Spain
We just got back from three weeks in Spain and are still in a glow from all the wonderful memories (well, a few not-so-wonderful). But the highlight of our trip was a week at Casa Charlotte in Nerja on the south coast of Spain. The three apartments are roomy, modern, clean, have great kitchen area, all the amenities and located in a charming house on a cobblestone residential street in the heart of downtown Nerja. This is a real Spanish neighborhood, with the bakery, grocery, cafes, and everything you need just a few minutes away - not to mention the beautiful Nerja beaches. Right next door is El Chispa, a great little seafood place mentioned in Rick's Spain and Portugal! Our hosts, Frans and Nuttee, looked after us like their own family, even giving us a personal walking tour of the town. Nerja is a popular European tourist town but has not been spoiled by the high rise mania of most of the Costa del Sol. Casa Charlotte is a real beauty and a super home away from home. Easy day trips take you to Granada, Gibralter, or the Pueblos Blancos. Check out their website (www.casacharlotte.com).
Tucson, AZ USA 07/22/02
Restroom Light Switches
One more warning....Many of the restrooms in Spain and Portugal (particulary Spain) seem to have a sensor on their lights....so if you are waiting to use the restroom and someone exits and you catch the door and go in, soon after you go in, the lights go out.! This leaves you fumbling for the switch or the door lock. Some light switches have a little round light to help you out, but you might want to check out the location of the light switch or switch it off and on when you go in.....
CA USA 07/20/02
ATMs in Portugal
Just a word of caution regarding ATM'S. Just returned from a trip to Spain and Portugal. I could get up to 300 euros out of ATM's in Spain with my Wells Fargo ATM/Debit Card. However, in Portugal the most I could get was 190 euros at a time from any of several bank ATM's that I tried. Once I returned to Spain, I could once again get 300 euros at a time with no problem. So you might want to plan accordingly.
CA USA 07/20/02
Spain and Portugal in 3000 miles / Great Segovia Hostal
We just returned from a 25 day trip. Our best find was the Hostal Fornos (it's in the Lonely Planet book but not Rick's) in Segovia. For 51 euros we got a beautiful double room. Rosa gave us our choice of 3 rooms and they were all decorated with taste, flair and a bit of whimsy. They are air conditioned and the bed is heavenly with down pillows and comforter. Rosa does not speak English but we managed. Location was perfect, just down the block from the main plaza and we could see the cathedral from our balcony. While in Spain, use that phone card to call her at 921 46 01 98. Address: Infanta Isabel 13, Segovia 40001.
Other tips: We took the metro from the airport in Madrid to Plaza del Sol and Hotel Europa. Although you have to change metro lines twice, it is easy and doesn't take too long and you pop out of the metro station right in front of the hotel - cheap too of course!
We stayed at Hotel Continental on the Ramblas in Barcelona and loved it. It wasn't air conditioned, however, and it was hot when we were there. Barcelona is in the middle of a Gaudi Festival. Go to Barcelona if you can, as you will be able to go inside some of Gaudi's masterpieces that you wouldn't be able to see otherwise.
We were disappointed in the Picasso Museum but not in the Museo Dali in Figures. What a place!! We arrived mid-afternoon and didn't get to see it all so allow yourself plenty of time. It costs 9 euros now. In general, we found most places were more than in Rick's latest book.
If you stay in Cadaques, try the limoncello at Pizzeria Griffa. We'd been to Italy, but had never tasted it. The beautiful, warm and friendly owner brought some to our table. Everyone was coming in and hugging her. It gave us a nice feeling to eat there. They have more than pizza too.
Arcos de la Frontera - Stayed at Hotel Los Tilos - great place but would not honor the 20 % discount as it was high season - temporada alta. Also, we were not able to find any parking in Ronda at all!! We didn't even get to see the bridge although we drove over it twice. Arrive early in the summer - all streets and lots were full. Also very hard to park and drive in Sevilla as others have mentioned.
Lisbon - we stayed at Pension Geres. Very nice but all they had left was a very small small room, but they gave it to us for a very small price :o) We were in Belem on Sunday, when museums are supposed to be free. The monastery and coach museum were free, but the maritime museum and the towers are not (although it says they are in Rick's book).
We stayed at the Ribamar Hotel in Nazare and found it reasonable and we had an ocean view. We stayed at the Pensao Residencia in Tavira and found it restful and such a nice change of pace from busy Spain. We had a nice view of the river and a nice dinner on the river at Beira Rio Restaurant. We also saw a condom vending machine right on the street - interesting especially in a Catholic country.
Hotel Los Tilos in Granada was on a nice quiet plaza. The Alhambra was unbelievable. We didn't have tickets and got there about a half an hour before the ticket booth opened and we were 3rd in line - no problem.
We loved Salamanca. The Plaza Mayor is unbelievable. We stayed at Hotel Don Juan which had a great view of the storks nesting on the church bell tower right across the street. Cost was $72 for a double instead of $60 as stated in book. Also, they give you a basket of white bread crusts with breakfast. Send them back or you'll pay a half a euro - the other bread all over Spain and Portugal is heavenly and worth the extra euro or two.
Most memorable - $20 for a quarto in Salema.
It is a generalization, but we found people in Portugal a lot friendlier
than those in Spain. I speak Spanish at a high intermediate level, but
again, if you don't speak perfectly, they tend to not appreciate the effort.
Our memories of Portugal are a lot warmer with the exception of Salamanca
and Rosa at Hostal Fornos in Segovia. Take advantage of all the fresh
orange juice for 1 euro. Also, the seafood in Portugal is great. I didn't
know there were prawns as big as the ones we saw in Nazare!
Pollock Pines, CA USA 07/18/02
Hotel Residencial in Salema Portugal
If you are going to visit Salema Portugal, don't stay at Hotel Residencial. It's overpriced for the old mattresses with springs poking through, service is extremely poor, the phones never worked and the owner did not honor the discount mentioned in the book. I highly recommend visiting Salema, despite our horrible hotel experience, we did enjoy the boat ride with Sebastian and loved the charming local fishermen. I would love to go back, but stay in Pension Mare instead. Book ahead though because we tried, but it was already booked.
We visited both Spain and Portugal and loved Portugal. I'm glad we did go to Spain, but don't think I would go back because the people are were not very friendly and theft is horrible. Don't go without a moneybelt. The historical sights are worth seeing though. Portugal on the other hand was beautiful, the people were warm and friendly and I felt more at ease not having to have my guards up as much as in Spain.
As far as cost, the Euro made our trip more expensive than orignally
planned. If you were planning on going to Spain & Portugal because it's
more affordable, you may want to rethink that.
Tips from Spain
Just returned from three weeks in Spain and have a few recommendations:
If you take a taxi from the Madrid airport into town, don't ask them up front how much it will be. They'll quote you $30, which is way more than it should cost. Just get in the taxi and tell them where you want to go, and they'll turn the meter on. That way, you'll only pay what it truly costs (about $15-18 to the Puerta del Sol).
Don't drive in the old part of Seville. The streets are extremely narrow and labyrinth-like, they are not well-marked, and many go by more than one name, making following a map very difficult. Even the locals don't like to drive there. I suggest parking in a lot when you first drive into the city and taking a taxi in to your hotel. That will save you a lot of time and aggravation.
If you're in Seville, take a walking tour with Dan O'Beirne through Magical Spain. Dan's an American who lives in Seville now and leads an evening historical walking tour that ends in a bar for tapas and a drink. I took the tour and had a very fun, interesting and entertaining evening. You can call him on his cell phone in Spain at 615 29 17 36 or check out the Magical Spain website. They do other types of tours, too.
There is no longer a night train from Granada to Madrid. The only trains are at 7:55am and 4:40pm and take about 6 hours.
If you stay at the Infanta Isabella hotel in Segovia, they now have parking
available. Just drive up to their door and a valet will park your car
Seattle, WA USA 07/15/02
The toll roads in Spain are worth it versus single lane roads, but the tolls are expensive (They are more reasonable in Portugal). In Spain the tolls are about 1 Euro per 10 KM (thats 6 miles).
Rick and Carla
Manhattan, KS USA 07/15/02
Spain & Portugal in 12 Days
My girlfriend and I spent 12 days in Spain and Portugal back in March. We flew into Madrid and stayed in the Hotel Mora across from the Prado. Clean, friendly, and reasonable. Madrid is a great city to walk around in. Rick's book has some great walking tours. The Stephen Drake-Jones tour is also very entertaining...you get to go to some great tapas bars. Madrid was also the first place we got "nun cookies". Folks, these things are addictive and highly recommended.
We took the train to Toledo. Toledo was a bit touristy but it packs a lot of sights in a little area. The views at the southwest end of the city are fantastic. Hotel Residencia Imperio is small but sufficient. One caveat: we stayed out past midnight and found our hotel locked when we returned! After lots of banging, we were finally let in.
The next day we took the train back to Madrid, where we picked up our car rental. We drove to El Escorial and saw the great palace there. While there, it started to snow, and continued to snow heavily as we got to the Valley of the Fallen. This is an impressive landmark (at least on the inside, outside we couldnt see more than a few feet ahead of us in the snow!!). Be very careful on the road leading up here in cooler months. We saw several accidents due to the ice on the roads.
Next we drove to Segovia, where it warmed back up. Segovia is a very pretty town and there are lots of places to just sit and relax. Note: the climb to the top of the Alcazar is treacherous, but worth the view.
After Segovia we drove to Salamanca, via Avila to see its impressive walls. We stayed in the business-traveller oriented Hotel Imperial. Not much charm but it had a garage. Salamanca was nice, but not overly impressive.
The drive west from Salamanca is a little boring, but all that changes once you enter Portugal. The countryside is breathtaking. We were driving to Coimbra on E80/IP5 and decided to take a detour on IC6. The payoff was a delightful drive through the hills filled with tiny farms and vinyards. The route doesn't add too much time to your drive to Coimbra and is very much worth getting the true feel of rural Portugal.
Coimbra was a headache to drive in. Get a good map and park ASAP. We stayed at the Hotel Pensao Santa Cruz overlooking the Praco 8 Maio. It is a four-story climb to the office. We arrived there and the manager was out to lunch! We had to wait until he came back, so if you stay here, call ahead and let them know when you will be arriving. Also, request a room with a balcony for a spectacular view. Coimbra was very cool but also very hilly. If you are going to buy any hand-painted ceramic, this is the place. It is MUCH cheaper here than in Lisbon. There are good stores just up the steps of the Rua de Quebra Costas.
The next day we drove from Coimbra to Lisbon, stopping in several towns along the way. This was one of our most pleasant days of the entire trip. We first went to Fatima. There is a gift store on the right side of the cathedral (across the street) where you can also get beautiful ceramics for very low prices. We stopped in Batalha and Alcobaca next. There are some gorgeous cathdrals here. Alcobaca was our favorite. On to Obidos, where we ate lunch with a stunning view of the countryside. On to Sintra, another nice town with some great views. We drove to the Moorish Castle...don't park too soon because its quite a hike. The Castle is incredible and peaceful at the same time. It is like something right out of the movies. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to see the Pena Palace.
That night we got to Lisbon and parked right away. Rick's walking tours are an excellent way to see this city. Belem has a lot to see as well, and you will not want to miss the pastries at the Casa Pasteis de Belem. Also, a Fado show is a must. We found the Portugese people to be extremely friendly. We got a lot of mileage out of one word - obrigado - which means "thank you".
Our next stop was Evora. The Chapel of Bones is eerie but very cool. I dont think its worth staying the night in Evora...we continued on to Seville.
Seville was by far the hardest city to drive in. Park ASAP. It took us 2 hours to go 2 blocks because of the maze of one-way and pedestrian streets. Once parked, this city is full of wonderful sights. Following Rick's book was a big help. We were able to get more nun cookies here as well.
From Seville we drove to, but not into, Jerez. Instead we went to Yeguada de la Cartuja - the breeding farm for Hispanic-Arab horses. The tour was memorable and the show was even more memorable. These animals are magnificent. Highly recommended.
From there we drove to Gibralter. "The Rock" is rather underwhelming and dirty, but it is worth going once just to do it. The best part is walking around with the apes running all around you. Don't spend too much time here, there are much better places to see. From Gibralter we went to Tarifa...a pleasant town where you can enjoy a drink and gaze over the water to Morocco.
That night we drove to Arcos. Getting to the town was easy. Getting to the hotel was an adventure in driving. We stayed at the hotel El Convento, in the Rick Steve's suite! This was BY FAR the best hotel room in Spain. We had a massive private balcony that overlooked the valley below and the cathedral above. We had a bottle of their fine red wine as soon as we got there and drank it out on the balcony. Total cost of the best room in Spain, 3 bottles of wine, and breakfast: 77 Euros.
Fine as the hotel was, it was a pain to get to. The narrow streets gave our rental car two memorable dents, and the parking lot at the top near the Mirador was full. Our hotel arranged for us to park at another hotel for a small fee (8 Euros). If you are staying at the top of the hill, you should consider parking where you don't have to drive up there. The next day we refueled our nun cookies and headed off into the mountains.
The drive east is one of the most beautiful in all of Spain. We stopped at Zahara and Grazalema, but Ronda was the crown jewel. Ronda has spectacular scenery and a cosmopolitan eating scene. We ate at a restaurant across from one in Rick's book (Asador Santa Pola)...no gorge views, but a delicious 3-course meal for $10 and a table in the sun was too hard to pass up.
From Ronda we drove to the coast and then to Nerja. Our hotel in Nerja - the Paraiso del Mar - was very nice and had access to a gorgeous beach and a lovely outside eating area. The town of Nerja seemed quiet and unimpressive (it was mid-March). Lots of older British folks. Seemed like more of the action was down the coast in Malaga or Marbella.
After Nerja we headed to Granada. The Alhambra is incredible. Wandering the Albayzin is also a lot of fun. We found a great fondue restaurant that had postcard views of the Alhambra.
Spain is a wonderful and scenic country, but it helps to know even a little Spanish. Portugal is incredibly underrated. Spend a minimum of 4 days there if possible. The people are so friendly, prices are low, and scenery is gorgeous. br>
Chicago, IL USA 07/13/02
Nerja, Spain Just got back from our short 7 nights stay in Nerja. This was our third trip to Europe this year, so we decided to take it easy especially in summer heat! My husband and I were looking for a beach vacation somewhere in Spain, and took Rick's advice and decided to stay in Hostal Marissal, Nerja! We were so happy we picked this town rather than the other "fancy" town in the Costa Del Sol Area. We were looking for that Spanish old town feeling, but also the basic modern accommodation--we found it all in Nerja!
The only problem we have encountered in Nerja is getting a taxi from the bus station! When we found a taxi, the driver told us that they cannot go to Balcon De Europa since the roads are closed for them during the summer months! Unfortunately, I did not listen to Rick's advise on packing light. I bought a huge suitcase because I thought since that I will not be taking the train and transferring to a different hotel this time, it will not be a problem-wrong! My husband was complaining while dragging my huge suitcase to the hotel and to the bus station! He said it was like dragging a dead body! So pack light!
Be aware of the lack of taxi service in Nerja especially when you are trying to catch the bus back to Malaga.
We also took a one-day tour to Granada and Gibraltar from Nerja with Jiame Tours. This tour company is very reliable and provides great service. You can get tours to Seville, Ronda, and other towns from Nerja---just look around for any travel agency.
Spain's public buses are so cheap--it only cost 3 Euros to take the bus from Malaga-Nerja--about 75 kilometers.
Don't Drive in Nerja--this town is not made for driving--your can get around by bus. Also, do not take the Nerja Cave tours and Frigiliana tours for 24 Euros each. You can easily catch the bus to the caves of less than 1 Euro!
The bus to Frigiliana is also very cheap! We were there from June 29th to July 6th--and it was hot--in the 90s+. However, the Mediterranean water is cold. The beaches are also topless(optional)! Not really a pretty sight since it's mostly the older women who are topless.
Rick was right on the money about Hostal Marissal, it has the best location for the money. There are two beaches around this hotel--you can even go the beach in Balcon De Europa hotel--which has a nice, soft sand.
Since Nerja is a place that is mostly visited by British tourists, you can have your dinner earlier than the usual 10PM Spanish time. The food is cheap compared to other European cities I have visited. However, Spain is definitely not made for morning people. Don't miss a flamenco show--it's well worth watching.
I cannot wait to read Rick's book for our upcoming trip to Rome!
June Von Sauers
Fullerton, CA USA 07/11/02
Notes from a Trip to Madrid, Granada, and Seville – June 22
- July 5 2002
Notes from a Trip to Madrid, Granada, and Seville – June 22 - July 5 2002 I carried my copy of Rick Steves' Spain and Portugal 2002 in my pocket everywhere my family and I went during our recent two-week trip to Spain. Here are some notes.
In general the maps in Rick's books are good for general orientation but no substitute for a fully detailed city map, which we bought at each location.
We used the Spanish rail system to move among our principal cities, and for day trips to Toledo and Cordova. Everything ran on time and saved us the cost and hassle of renting a car.
Since there were four of us, we took a cab as cheaply as we could have taken the metro everywhere we went in Madrid that wasn't within easy walking distance.
We found Hotel Regente in Madrid very classy and comfortable, and a great value at 78 euros per night for large, clean doubles with bath. Note that if you check the hotel's web site, they list these same rooms at 100 euros a night.
We had originally booked at Hotel Europa, but changed our minds after realizing that it isn't air-conditioned, a critical consideration in Madrid the last week of June.
We found the menu de la casa at Restaurante Los Galayos in Madrid to be a great splurge -- roast shoulder of lamb with lots of extras for 24 euros each. The restaurant features a lovely terrace just off of Plaza Mayor and a very friendly staff.
The interior of Teatro Zarzuela is absolutely beautiful -- comparable to La Scala in Milan. The music, singing and scenery in the show was enjoyable, but the dialog was impossible for the Spanish-language-challenged in our group to follow.
Hotel Macia Plaza in Granada has a great location right on Plaza Nueva. Our rooms overlooked the plaza – somewhat noisy at night but offering spectacular views of the Alhambra on the opposite hillside. 60 euros a night for a good double with bath is a reasonable price. They honored the "Rick Steves 10% discount" without question.
We greatly enjoyed the Alhambra in Granada. Rick's guidance on how to make reservations in advance was extremely valuable (we phoned 2 days ahead and had tickets waiting for us at the ticket office when we showed up at the appointed time). We bought a guide book and map, but used Rick's write-up instead when we found that it added better to the experience.
We also found the Albayzin area of Granada to be charming, but felt that Sacramonte was too shabby and scary for our tastes even in the daytime.
The Hostal Picasso in Seville was an interesting study in contrasts. To the positive, it seems to have been recently redecorated using a very bright and cheerful color palette, which suited us fine, and the three-story, plant-filled central courtyard/lobby was charming. Rick does not mention that the rooms are air-conditioned (but they are), however we had to put down a 20 euro cash deposit to get the remote controls for the A/C and TV. The hotel was very clean, but the scent contained in cleaning solution and mop water was over-powering. The staff honored the "Rick Steves 10% discount" without question, but only if we paid in cash. The hotel is in a very convenient and quiet location, but the rooms are very small, the bathrooms are microscopic, and the place has no elevator. We liked it overall, but only because we appreciated its strong points and were able to live with its idiosyncrasies.
I'm sure dozens before me have already pointed out that while Rick's text correctly indicates that the entrance to the Cathedral in Seville is on the south side, the maps on pages 168 and 170 show the entrance on the north side, through the cloister. More significantly, the correct hours are 9:30 – 15:30 Monday thru Saturday (I don't remember the Sunday hours).
We found the Alcazar in Seville to be the most underrated site of our trip. I feel the beauty and majesty of the interior and gardens are right up there with the Alhambra in Granada, and that Rick gives it much less of a build-up than it deserves.
We greatly enjoyed the flamenco at Los Gallos in Seville. The skill of the performers and the drama of the show were electrifying. We made reservations the night before, arrived 30 minutes early and got the best seats in the house. They honored the "Rick Steves 10% discount" without question.
I was under-whelmed by the number of Rick's restaurant recommendations
for Seville, so here are a couple to consider: Las Meninas at Calle Santo
Tomas 3 (around the corner from Hostal Picasso) offers an varied menu
including good gazpacho and garbanzos y chirozo, and is open throughout
the day for lunch (but not for dinner). Corral del Agua at Calle del Agua
6 (near Los Gallos) is an extremely classy splurge, featuring great soppa
ajoblanco and cajo de toro, and dining in a lovely walled garden under
a canopy of grape vines.
South Charleston, WV USA 07/06/02
Comments on "Spain & Portugal 2002
Just spent three weeks in Portugal, with your 2002-edition book and have these comments:
We took the Bairro Alto and Chiado Stroll (p. 247+) and would not want others to feel that all the port samples are expensive. We had five different ports and it cost 7.50 Euros. There are many ports offered at 1E up. Worth much more for the classy surroundings.
Had a wonderful Chinese meal at the Armazens do Chiado shopping center "Restaurant Chines Grande Mund", on the food court floor. We saw how popular it was with the locals. Great for value, quality of food and service. Check it out for your next book.
We also did the walking tour suggested for Coimbra and ate at your recommended
"Self Service Restaurant Jardim da Manga" and it was a joy - good food
and service as you said plus being only with locals adds to the experience.
Dowling Park, FL USA 07/03/02
Seville: Sanchez Sabriego fleas and filth
Have been using Rick´s book and it has been a great guide. However, one hotel in Sevilla seems to have deteriorated since last visited by Rick. We stayed one night in Hostal Sanchez Sabriego. After being shown our room, we noticed debris on the floor. After asking it to be cleaned, the manager quickly swept about 1/3 of the floor. When our suitcase fell on its side, the side became covered with filth [after the sweeping]. At night, we noticed bites and turned on the lights to discover hopping fleas. Avoid Hostal Sanchez Sabriego. Rick´s recomendation accross the street, Hostel Sierpes, is a good and with a friendly staff. Ask for a room with an exterior window for greater privacy.
Livermore, CA USA 06/25/02
Spain - Madrid, Nerja, Granada, Barcelona
We visited Madrid, Nerja, Granada and Barcelona. Rick's book is a "must have" - the street maps and directions really helped us navigate in every city.
Madrid was worth seeing - the Masones that Rick recommended are great. You can definitely spend an evening visiting the Masones and enjoying the local atmosphere.
We enjoyed the Centro Reina Sofia musuem more than the Prado - it is more intimate and the art is wonderful. All the great contemporary Spainish artists are there - Picasso, Dali, Miro, Delunay. It's worth the visit just to see Picasso's Guernica. At the Royal Palace, the armory is a must see.
We stayed at the Carlos V off of the Puerto del Sol, which is a convenient, central spot. The hotel had large, new bathrooms which was nice plus an inexpensive shuttle to and from the airport.
Madrid is an comfortable city to walk, and the subway is easy and convenient.
Segovia is a good day trip from Madrid - Rick's directions for the bus station were a definite plus. The Alcazar in Segovia is a fun site and the views from it are fantastic. Plus, the aqueduct is fun to see.
Nerja was our favorite city on the trip. The beaches were great and the town is quaint. We stayed at the Parador, which was worth the money. It is located on Playa Burriana - the a great, wide beach lined with cafes and restaurants. We had our best meals in Spain in Nerja. El Nino is very good - it's located at c/Cristo and c/Parras. The cafes on Playa Brurriana are great and cheap. Also, Nerja has a great nightlife -lots of small, lively bars.
Granada is o.k. - but we felt the Alhambra was overrated. The best site is the Royal Chapel, at the Cathedral. It features Isabel and Ferdinand's coffins, her crown and the jewel box she gave to Columbus to finance his voyage.
Barcelona was the most beautiful city we visited. The Gaudi architecture
is fantastic - we especially loved Parc Guell. It offers great views of
Barcelona and lots of fun Gaudi structures. It was a great afternoon break
from the city. Barcelona is lovely at night - especially the Gothic quarter
- it is definitely a wonderful city to stroll. We stayed at the Gran Via
and found it overrated. The location was convenient, but the rooms and
setting were not as great as we expected. The subway system is great and
the airport shuttle buses, near Corte Ingles and Placa de Catalunya, is
really convenient and cheap. The Picasso Museum is a definite must-see
Atlanta, GA USA 06/22/02
Spain & Portugal
I just returned from a three week trip to Spain and Portugal. I have traveled through Europe several times before and have never encountered as much unfriendliness from locals as I did in Spain.
I was traveling with two friends and between us we spoke an adequate amount of Spanish. I have never been so ignored by hotel and waitstaff in my life, anywhere, so consistantly, and from places recommended by Rick. In Madrid, Hotel Regente turned out to give very indifferent service, so much so it seemed like guests were unwelcome.
Granada gets the absolute worst service at a cafe Rick recommended. I ripped out the page in my book and can't remember the name of the place, but it's on the same street as all the tetarias at the top of the hill on the way to the San Nicolas viewpoint. Our waitress ignored everyone seated at the outdoor tables. Repeated tries to get her attention were futile. We had to act as if we were going to leave to get the bill. Cafe Ole in Arcos had very similar service.
The last rude encounter was at Los Gallos, a flamenco show in Sevilla. The prices have gone up to 27 Euros a show from the 21 that Rick listed and when I asked about the 10% discount promised to Rick readers at the box office, and showe her the page in my book, the woman became very irate and refused to give the discount. She closed the curtain to the show and curtly said ,"completo" although there would have been room for us if we had given her 27 euros. All this wasn't so bad, because after the Los Gallos incident, we went to a bar across the river, Los Nuestros, and heard fabulous flamenco for free, though we bought a few very watered-down drinks, and got to mingle with the locals.
It was hard to separate all the rude people from the Spain experience, but we did encounter some friendly people, especially the owner of Los Farones, a fabulous Egyptian restaurant in Arcos and the wonderful little Hotel Santa Isabel in Toledo, a beautiful, inexpensive hotel with very friendly staff.
We found the locals to be much friendlier in Portugal. We had great service pretty much everywhere we went even though our knowledge of Portuguese was minimal. Standouts were Pensione Mare in Salema, Mira Mar for great food served practically on the beach, and in Lisbon, an eclectic reaturant in the Bairro Alto, Hell's Kitchen run by a very enthusiastic and kind woman,and an Indian restaurant that just opened down the street from recommended Residencia Roma, Curry House Indian Tandoori Restaurant- Rua da Gloria 43/45. This was the best Indian food I have ever had, eveything was prepared fresh to order and the owner was the friendliest person. Highly recommended!!!
A great improvement to the book would be to give more consistant information to drivers how to get to the center of towns, or to a TI from the expressway. The signs getting into downtown Sevilla from the expressway were very confusing and it would be nice to have some direction in the guidebook to know what to expect when you don't have a detailed map of the city yet.
Also, it's pretty imperative to have a few different guidebooks with
you. We would have missed out on a lot of history and great vegetarian/ethnic
restaurants if it weren't for our Let's Go and Rough Guide. Also, the
maps are much more detailed, and I found, much easier to navagate by than
New York, NY USA 06/21/02
Hosteria Grau, Barcelona: we cancelled our reservations after walking through this area (not as close to the Ramblas as we had imagined). We had walked from our group hotel to confirm our 'after tour' reservations and find out where it was situated, which we did. On returning through the unclean streets with many lingering souls, I did not have a comfort level with this part of Barcelona. The accomodations were homey and we were greeted by a very friendly lady...it was the area that I did not have a comfort level with, we could not imagine wanting to be out and about after dark here.
Cathy and Bob
New Westminster, B.C. Canada 06/21/02
Shorts in Toledo Cathedral
Rick is doing his warmblooded readers a major disservice by stating unequivocally that shorts are not acceptable in the cathedral in Toledo. Short shorts are not. Knee length shorts are. This has been validated with the tourist office there and by personal observation at the cathedral where 20 to 25% of the visitors the day we were there (a very warm one) were wearing shorts.
David S. McCahan
Lafayette, CA USA 06/20/02
Bad experience with Hostal Picasso, Sevilla
I just came from Spain and the trip went by very smoothly thanks to Rick's guidebook. The only bad experience I had was with Hostal Picasso in Sevilla. I made reservations one month earlier with credit card guarantee and all. I called them two days before scheduled arrival to tell them we will be checking in a day earlier. We got in at 11:00pm and they gave us the crummiest room ever! I am a petite person but I had to be a contortionist just to have a decent shower! The room was very tiny and uncomfortable. I complained to reception to request for a change of room but they said they were full. Next morning, I again asked for a room change and they said they were full.
We ended up checking into nearby Hotel Van Gogh which was much much better--- better service, better rooms, better EVERYTHING! (for the same price)
I told Hostal Picasso that it is unfair to book guests in ROOM 26. It
was awful!!! SO BEWARE! Not only that, they didn't even give us a discount.
They charged us the full rate of 60 euros. ASIDE FROM THAT, upon coming
back home, we checked our credit card bill and HOSTAL PICASSO charged
us Euros 64.20 for the first night. IN other words, we were charged twice!!!
Now the hassle of having to run after them to credit my credit card!!!
Rick, you should reconsider recommending this hotel....
Singapore, SG 06/19/02
just finished a wonderful three week trip and our four days in barcelona were definitely the high point - even though rick's information is woefully inaccurate. his hours of operation listed for sagrada familia and the gaudi house were wrong, and the recommendation for a good restaurant strip appears like it hasnt been updated in decades - the strip he claims has good tapas places actually has only about three restaurants, two that are horrible overpriced with mediocre food.
the moral of the story: dont skip barcelona, its the best place you'll
visit in europe. just make sure you check your lonely planet guide first
to make sure you know what to do there. also: don't miss the chocolate
con churros at the opera cafe on las ramblas.
san francisco , ca USA 06/16/02
Stephen Drake Jones
Scheduling a walking pub/history tour with Stephen is a must. Fascinating stories of Madrid's history with intermittant stops for tapas and beverages. We had a small tour group and my two hour tour turned into four. It's definitely an insider's view of Madrid.
Kirkland, WA USA 06/11/02
Safeguarding your film in Spain
Sorry for the long-winded previous post, but I would be remiss if I did not mention my photography experiences since I was paranoid of x-ray machines. I followed another person's tip of putting my film in the clear Fuji containers and placing the film in a ziploc bag ... I was able to walk my film past a few airport x-ray machines this way. London's Gatwick airport is stubborn and will make you place your film in the machines; but I had some success with U.S. and Spain airports. Buying film in Spain is not a bad idea; there are plenty of photography shops as well as one-hour photo processing. I had my 800 film developed in Spain since that is more susceptible to x-rays. Finally, take note that Spain has x-ray machines at many major sights (especially in the Madrid area); i.e. the Prado, Royal Palace in Madrid, El Escorial, Valley of the Fallen monument, etc... and they will require you to put your camera through the machine! My solution: I planned in advance to leave no film in my camera; instead I put my film in my pockets and walked it through the metal detectors. X-ray damage to film is cumulative and I figured "better safe than sorry." I hope some aspiring photographers find this information useful.
San Diego, CA USA 06/09/02
Spain Tips & Recommendations
Awesome trip to Spain! My wife and I spent nearly 3 weeks there.
FAVORITE PLACES: Segovia, Ronda, Toledo, Salamanca, Sevilla, Montserrat.
BEST HOTELS: Las Casas de la Juderia (Sevilla), Parador (Ronda), Hotel San Gabriel (Ronda), Los Linajes (Segovia), Hostal del Cardenal (Toledo).
THINGS THAT ARE OVERRATED (most people will disagree with us, but here goes):
1. Las Ramblas (prefer any Plaza Mayor).
2. Costa Del Sol (unless you worship beaches).
3. Arcos (we preferred Ronda).
4. Parador in Arcos (and good luck trying to get a room with a terrace--wish we would have stayed at El Convento).
5. Hotel Europa (great location, but spartan and incredibly noisy ... we were too tired to care and slept easily)
6. Tibidabo in Barcelona (there's a reason that Rick Steves doesn't give this a single star; the "fun" of getting there--it eats up a lot of time even by taxi--is NOT worth it, the view at Montjuic is FAR better).
7. Granada's Hotel America (okay, it's great to stay in a hotel where everyone walks by and goes "Wow, we should of stayed here; we didn't know there was a hotel here!" Well, most parts of the Alhambra close after hours, you still have to take a long walk to the entrance to buy your tickets, and the food is subpar. If you stay here, walk next door to the parador for a real breakfast. If you don't stay at this overpriced hotel (as Rick Steves points out), you won't miss anything. Remember, it is a 1-star hotel. "Cozy" and "cute" is often used to describe this place ... skip it and take a $5 taxi ride.
EATING: Restaurant El Convento was disappointing (although I hate to judge a place on only a couple of dishes). Best meal on our trip? The parador in Ronda ... BY FAR. Pricey, but memorable. Eating at Meson de Candido in Segovia alongside the Roman aqueduct was great also. Breakfasts and dinners at Las Casas de la Juderia were awesome.
PLACES TO LEAVE QUICKLY: Granada (see Alhambra, Royal Chapel ... and then get out). Cordoba (see the Mezquita ... and then get out).
1. Montserrat is a fun trip from Madrid; the gondola and funiculars are nifty and there are all kinds of little (and big) hikes you can do. The boys choir only sings for about 10 minutes; get there at least 1/2 or even 1 hour early for a seat. The lines to see the Black Virgin were ridiculous when we were there.
2. La Granja is worth the trip from Segovia (or Madrid); it has a beautiful French-influenced palace, lush gardens, and huge tapestries.
3. The palace in Madrid blew us away. Not sure if I prefer it to Versailles, but it's close!
4. We loved the Alcazar in Segovia, even though it is a Disney-style remake. Kids love it! Most castles are just empty shells, but this one has neat rooms and furnishings, and great views of the city and countryside.
5. Salamanca is a zoo with everything going on there ... there was a large renaissance-style fair there that clogged up all the streets with parades and booths, but it was fun.
6. The white towns are fun to drive between and the views are spectacular. The direct route between Grazelema and Arcos (on A372) looks like you're driving through parts of Colorado - the trees and mountains are beautiful. If possible, do not take the A376 between Ronda and the coast; the A369 is faster, more scenic, less curves, and less cops.
7. Which brings me to maps ... everyone complains about the maps in Rick Steve's books. They are very helpful, but don't rely exclusively on them. Get free maps from TIs and hotels to supplement. The Michelin 400,000 maps are the best for driving ... better than the often confusing signs on the roads.
8. Compared to most other European countries, we found the Spanish people to be very friendly, although I have to admit that my opinions are skewed since my wife is bilingual. But TRUST ME: the Spanish that you have learned in the U.S., however simple it may be, will be extremely helpful.
9. DON'T drive in the cities. DO drive between the cities; like Rick Steves says, the countryside in a car is a JOY.
10. Use taxis to your advantage: to find things you can't find, to take you to your hotels so you don't have to struggle with luggage, etc. If you're limited on time, you can use them as a chauffeur at a reasonable price (since the waiting times are cheap) to take you around to several sites and take pictures ... and then you can say "I've been there, I saw that", etc.
11. Avoid McDonalds and Burger King (they are all over the place over there). Eat only regional food. The food is not greasy as alluded to by someone else on this forum. Follow the excellent restaurant recommendations on this website, and you will enrich your experiences on this trip. Try everything. Tapas are great, and a fun and easy adventure in a bar.
BEST LINE OF THE TRIP: My wife asked "What street is our room on?" at Las Casas de Las Juderias. If you stay there, you'll know what I mean. That's "Casas", not "Casa"!
Thanks to Rick Steves for my 3rd extremely successful Europe trip thanks
in no small part to his advice. And ... thanks to all of you who have
posted invaluable advice on this website. We followed many of your hotel,
restaurant, and itinerary suggestions. I hope our opinions are useful
San Diego, CA USA 06/07/02
Update to Info in 2002 Spain & Portugal Book
One change to note (as of mid-May 2002) -- the price of food at Restaurante Chimarrao in Lisbon is fixed at about 20.50 Euros a person. The food and service were very good but a lot more than we had expected to pay. Highly recommend Artemisa 2 restaurant in center city Madrid. Food was tasty, portions ample, and the meals were SMOKE free! Rick's books are great. They've helped us have 2 enjoyable trips to Spain & Portugal. Also recommend Lonely Planet book on Lisbon -- the maps in the back show where restaurants, hotels, and noteworthy sights are located and you can pencil in other places, such as supermarkets and cybercafes to give you a handy reference.
Dennis & Lila
Springfield, VA USA 06/03/02
My wife and I just got back from two weeks in Spain. It was fantastic; but, I did want to mention a few hostals/hotels. In Nerja the young lady at the Hostal Marissal was very nice and helpful; it was a great place to stay. In Granada we stayed at Los Tilos, and throughly enjoyed it, especially the terrace on the forth floor over looking the plaza. Of all the places we stayed the Don Juan in Salamaca seemed to be overpriced, and the bathroom didn't seem that clean. Another couple we were with said they felt the same way. We both moved after one night to a very nice, clean hostal about a block or two away. The hostal Las Vegas was half the price, and a very pleasant clean place. In Ronda the Don Miguel was very nice, and it was worth a little splurge being on the gorge. The manager at Hotel Imperio in Toledo was very helpful and pleasant, even before we booked a night. There is more , but I wanted to mention these for sure. Thanks for your tips Steve. We went without reservations, and used your book as a helpful guide and reference. Thanks, Mike D.
Louisville, KY USA 05/28/02
I had to do a project on Spain for History. We had to "go" to a certain country and visit at least for cities there. I chose Spain. This book helped me a ton. I got almost all my info except for flight info out of this book. I don't know what grade I got yet but my report turned out awesome. This book is so hlpful. I know that if I ever go to Spain this book is for sure coming along. It even has the main words and how to pronounce them. Now I know that I really want to visit Spain and all of its wonderful sites.
Grand Rapids , MI USA 05/25/02
Salamanca-lack of signs
Warning in finding your way in Salamanca. Signs on historical sites nearly non-existant & tourist maps difficult to follow. Not good in a city where most public buildings look like churches & churches look like cathedrals!
San Ramon, CA USA 05/24/02
driving - portugal to spain
all of the places we stayed were fantastic from lisbon to seville. not a single complaint except that all of europe seems to be under construction. our big complaint is that the drive from the algarve to seville is not effortless at night. we did not glide as the book suggests. go during the day. lots of construction and fast european drivers on not so well made freeways. once we were there it was worth the effort, but my husband lost a lot of hair.
san francisco, ca USA 05/14/02
Rick's hotel suggestions were right on the mark. We stayed at Los Linajes in Segovia--it was wonderful! El Cardenal in Toledo was just as good. El Convento in Arcos was in the same class. Staying in these three hotels is well worth the extra money. We also enjoyed Residentia Macia in Granada, Simon in Sevilla, and Europa in Madrid. These were a step below the other three, but still good, centrally-located hotels. Driving in the these cities is difficult. The street signs are seldom provided (I think only at the beginning and ending of the streets), making street maps virtually useless. Our solution--park and take a cab. Its a lot less stressful. Just remember where you parked. The best Pueblo Blanco in our opinion was Zahara; the view was spectacular. We also stopped for lunch at a little place that I think was called Los Naranjos, and sat under some orange trees in the main square. The tapas were great and you got a lot for the money. Had trouble finding a good restaurant in Granada, then found Pillar de Toro. It's across the street from Hotel Residentia Macia, hiding behind the big Justice building. Excellent food, a little pricey but worth it. We thought the Alcazar in Sevilla was more impressive than the Alhambra. In Madrid, the Prado was great, but the other two museums paled in comparison. The only thing worth seeing in Reina Sofia is Guernica--you'd be better off looking at it in a good art book. The big lake at Retiro Park is walled off for construction. Segovia is a must-see. Nothing special there, just the overall ambience.
Ellicott City, MD USA 05/13/02
Mesquita by Bus
Instead of trying to walk to the Mezquita in Cordoba (as suggested in Rick's Guide Book), take the bus. As you come up the escalator from the platforms at the Cordoba train station, exit the doors to the left (nearest the storage lockers) and you'll see the bus stop (lime green city buses--can't miss 'em). Take Bus #3, which does a loop around the city, and get off at the Triunfo stop, about a 10-15 minute ride in traffic. Walk thru the city gates and up the street about a block to the Mesquita. For .80 euros each, it was far easier than meandering thru the narrow streets of town.
Salinas, CA USA 05/11/02
SOUTH OF SPAIN
My tip for best use of time for exploring Spainwith only 5-6 days is to fly into Malaga- rental car to Ronda sleep 1N- explore white villages sleep in Arcos 1N drive to Sevilla 2N flamenco show, cathedral,alcazar palace and guided history-cultural tour with Dan O'Beirne www.magicalSpain.com -train to Granada for Alhambra palace1-2n - back to Malaga airport and don't forget to bring back a few bottles of Rioja wine!
NYC, USA 05/06/02
Guidebook for Spain and Portugal
EXCELLENt BOOK with great eating and sleeping suggestions. Very concise but yet complete. I used it and the "Backdoor" book as my "Bible" thru out our 2 week trip to Spain. His safety tips are excellent and theft should be taken seriously in this country! Calling cards are great but not all are best bargain. Some cost me 6 Euros ($6~) for a 3 minute call to the US some were $.10/minute to call US. No one knows any rates to anywhere. El Cortes Inlges dept store had the best ones. The Tabak stores and Internet cafes had the rip-offs. Nerje was adorable but we hated Tarif. Not what the book described as if we were in a different town. 1st class train service should be recommended over 2nd if you want quiet and clean, smoke-free travel. We tried both. We found even tho we were in a non-smoking 2nd class car, everyone was smoking, kids did not have tkts for seats so they were all over the car and litter all over. It was like a wild party. The conductor only verified seats in the 1st class section.
Binghamton, NY USA 04/28/02
Madrid airport cab fare
On the whole the book was an asset, but cab fare from the airport in Madrid is $30. The book says that a cabbie asking for thirty bucks is ripping you off ... consequently, I was paranoid about getting ripped off from the moment I arrived in the country and that had a very deleterious effect on my trip.
Miami, fl USA 04/21/02
Portugal Lodging recommendations
Best recommendation: Pension Mare in Salema, Algarve. John was kind enough to call around and assist with reservations in Lisbon. Good Lisbon lodging: Residencial Londrina, Rua Castilho 61. ph 21 386 324
San Diego, CA USA 04/15/02
We just returned from two weeks in northern Spain and southwestern France. We spent the last three days in Barcelona and stayed at the Hotel Continental based on recommendations from this website. We thought it was a great bargain. We had a room overlooking the Ramblas, and we loved the view. Sat on our balconey for breakfast and wine every day. Loved watching the world go by on the busy, high-energy Ramblas. The hotel staff were very nice -- one night when my companion could not sleep, a staff member heated up water for chamomille tea for her. When we were looking for a recommendation for dinner, this same staff member made several phone calls to find a place he wold recommend. Loved having the Pyrenee dog behind the counter. The size of the room was fine with us. The beds were a little hard, and the paint needed work in the bathroom. But, the room was clean, equipped with a hair dryer, refrigerator and microwave, and very acceptable. The breakfast was just adequate, but again, the view, location, staff and price made it our best hotel on the trip. As for safety, definitely would recommend not carrying a purse or back pack in Barcelona. We carried neither, used the hotel safe for money and passports, put our money for the day, credit card and ID in zipped pockets and in a money belt worn next to the body(I also put folded bills in my shoe!). Two people staying at the hotel were robbed while we were there. We did not have any problem.
D. E. Millett
Cleveland Heights, OH USA 04/11/02
Barcelona (The Ramblas)
Rick, first I want to thank you for all you guides did to make our trip fabulous. My only concern is how much you make the Ramblas in Barcelona sound like it's more dangerous than being in Israel...Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in Europe, but after reading your book, my wife was virtually fearful of walking there. I've been there 3 times and have never seen anything or been bothered there (and I spend a lot of time on the Ramblas). It took my wife almost 12 hours to relax. Compared to Rome, where we scared off (daily) child pickpockets and thieves. I have to admit, sitting on the Ramblas eating lunch and observing the shell game scam was entertaining...
Colorado Springs, CO USA 04/10/02
After a short introduction last summer to Portugal I returned for a week-long stay in Lisbon. I stayed at the Pensao Residencial 13 da Sorte and love it. The people are so helpful and friendly. I felt like I had an instant neighborhood. Almost directly across the large main street is a shopping area : Tivoli with handy coffee and pastry shops (try a salgado or pastel de nata). The shopping area also has a handy supermarket. All of these are one floor below ground level (take the stairs or elevator). The Aero bus is handy and dropped me right by the metro stop -- just a few steps from the pensao. Lisbon is a delight and Sintra is an easy train trip from the Rossio station. It's an easy 10-minute saunter from the station to the center of town. I loved the Monastery in Belem (just an easy tram ride from the center of Lisbon). Great food and great people. Rick, your guide is great and thanks for introducing me to Portugal.
Las Cruces, NM USA 04/09/02
If looking for a place to stay in Granada, check out www.granadainfo.com/most. We haven't been there yet, just made a reservation, but it looks wonderful, comes highly recommended, and the correspondence has been delightful. Only four rooms, though!
CO USA 04/05/02
Just came back from two weeks in Spain and Portugal. Flew into Madrid and stayed at Hostal Cervantes. Our full first day there turned out to be a holiday March 18, Fathers Day (San Jose) so everything was closed, but we did get into the Prado before it closed. We then headed to the Plaza Mayor where we were cornered by "three sisters" who came up to us holding a map, scanning us to figure out where our wallets were. We backed away once and they kept coming after us and then we said NO and they finally left us alone. We did the tour with the Chairman, Stephen Drake-Jones, later that night and it was great fun!
Then we went off to Toledo and stayed at hotel Residencia Imperio. I would definately recommend paying the 4,80 euros to get into the Toledo Cathedral, it was well worth the cost to see it without the crowds.
Took the overnight train to Lisbon in a two person cabin, make sure to book early. It was a splurge but well worth it in the end. We were to pick up a car at Santa Apolonia station but found the office had closed at this location. Ccalled Auto Europe and they took care of everything and even got Europcar to pay for our taxi to the other office, Ger Oriente (the station built for expo 98).
Went on to Tomar(stayed in Hotel dos Tempolarios, not in book), Coimbra
(stayed at the hotel Astoria), Porto, Nazare (stayed at Ribamar Hotel,
beautiful corner room over looking the beach and friendly staff), and
Lisbon (stayed in two hotels 1) Hotel de Torre, do not stay in rooms 221
and 121 these are right next to the elevator and the motor kept us up
all night. Had to ask to get our rooms changed. 2) Raddision SAS near
the airport because we had a very early morning flight, it was great!)
Used the following to book a couple of hotels:
http://lisbon.nethotels.com/da_torre for hotel da Torre
http://www.hotelsportugal.com for the Radision SAS
Both worked out well.
Here are some tips: Do not buy rail passes for Spain and Portugal, trains
are dirt cheap! I agree with Susan Beller posting, make an effort to learn
some of the language before you go, most do not speak English, but our
French did help a lot. Try to get the Red and Green guides from Michelin
for both countries. Ricks recommendations were great. Thanks for the books!
Oakland, CA USA 04/02/02
I just came back from a trip to Spain. I was impressed with the AVE from Madrid to Seville. Only 2.15 minutes. Found a wonderful hotel in Sevilla, Casa de la Juderias, beautiful. Learned the best way to go is AmeX travel checks and cash them at the Amex office, as the commissions are huge in other places. Use your ATM VISA card, great exchange rates. Love your advice on going to local restaurants and having the day special for as low as 6 Euros and includes first place, second plate, bread, drink and dessert. We saved quite a lot of Money and ate very well. The White towns were beautiful. Thanks
Herndon, VA USA 03/29/02
Spain & Portugal
Thanks to your book on Spain and Portugal we had the best 10 days in Europe ever. We started in Madrid and ended in Lisbon and every recommended hotel and restaurant was great with few exceptions. We were unable to get reservations for the Alhambra (we arrived in Madrid on Saturday and the times available didn't mesh with our schedules) in Granada and it was the most disappointing of all the cities.
We rented a car from Avis and they were great. Even with the drop-off charge in Lisbon it was cheaper then a Eurail pass and much less restrictive. Salema was wonderful as was John and it was by far the least expensive part of our trip.
The Boia Bar had fresh fish every night. Your recommended secluded beach was the best. We fell in love with Seville and Lisbon. Our worst eating experience was at a restaurant in Lisbon- Gambrinus-Rua das Portas de Santo Antao 25- which is right off the the "eating lane". This was going to be our big splurge and it was very over rated.
We found a great little Italian restaurant off Chiado Plaza called Massimus(sp) Culpa which had wonderful pastas and was moderately priced. It was very small but fairly new and the service was excellent. There is also a cute little Tequila Bar that does perfect Margaritas and is owned by an english speaking couple from Mexico with a cuban bartender who specializes in Cuban drinks.
Our hotels were: The Villa Real in Madrid, Great rooms and half the published
rates, The Casas Juderia in Seville was very nice although the bed was
only a standard double ( a little cozy for 2 Americans), Granada was the
Residencia Macia (very quiet and great breakfast), and in Lisbon it was
the Avenida Palace which is very underrated and we got a good rate and
it included a fablous breakfast and parking and there were no added taxes
or fees. We couldn't believe how quiet all of the hotels were for being
right in the middle of huge cities. Thanks Steve. We will use your books
for all of our future trips!
Falls Chuch, , VA USA 03/26/02
Spanish and Portuguese
Just back from a trip to Spain and Portugal. Overall loved it, especially all the Roman sites that we saw (some of the best I've seen outside of Italy!) Do have one comment on language use that I was not prepared for. Spain and Portugal were the first countries where I felt the need for more preparation--if I had known I would have built up more of a language base. Granted, we did not stay in the tourist regions a good part of the time (searching out Roman sites does bring you off the beaten path somewhat) but I found it much more of a struggle to communicate and found that even some three star hotels had no one who spoke English! So my word of advice is to prepare a little bit better for language problems than you might for the rest of Europe.
Burlington, VT USA 03/26/02
Madrid, Granada. Sevilla
Your guidebooks never fail to "guide" me to a most enjoyable time in a foreign country. So following your recommendations we went to Casa Toni in Madrid and had the best Gazpacho. Later we followed your directions for some late night churros and chocolate! Excellente! Your book helped us to zero in on the most enjoyable and affordable places.
The Alhambra is AWESOME! I spent two days there. I stayed at the Alhambra Palace Hotel which is only a 5 minute walk downhill from the legendary Alhambra. It was a very exotic and arabesque hotel, with a window that overlooked Granada.
I'm glad you mentioned the Capilla Real. It was a treat to see the powerful and history making Queen Isabella's final resting place. I walked to the Albaicin. The cobblestones tore up my feet (even though I had on walking shoes). But watching the sunset from the San Nicolas viewpoint was worth it.
I also followed your recommendation to see Flamenco in Sevilla. I went
to El Gallo. This was the best Flamenco. I had seen one in Madrid, but
the show at El Gallo far surpassed the show in Madrid. I really felt the
"duende" the soul and passion.
Whittier, Ca USA 03/20/02
My wife and I just returned from three week in Spain. We spent most of the time in Barcelona and on the Costa Brava. We did spend several days in Madrid and I want to recommend a resturant. We first learned of it on this Graffiti Wall page, so thanks to the person that suggested it. The resturant is the Platero, located at 20 Espoz y Mina street. It is about two block form the Plaza del Sol. The small (15 tables apx.) restaurant is very attractive, serves good food at moderate prices and the host/owner, named Ramon, is very friendly. He speaks English well and really tries to make one feel comfortable. He explains dishes and is a good source on information about Spanish food. It will be my first stop on my next trip to Madrid. Actually, I have found the Spanish to be very friendly and helpful, but Ramon was special.
Pensacola, Fl USA 03/20/02
Getting from Madrid to Northern Portugal
If you want to travel from Madrid to northern Portugal, consider the night train to Lisbon, but get off at Santarem and then change to the train going north to Porto. This is unknown by RENFE or Amex in Madrid, as they both told me that I had to go all the way to Lisbon to change trains (not true!) This will be much more comfortable than doing the route through Salamanca to Coimbra mentioned in Ricks' Spain and Portugal guidebook.
Vancouver, BC Canada 03/18/02
More Spain is great!
Next stop Tarifa. Had to check it out due to Rick's enthusiastic recommendation of the town. We stayed in Hotel Inglaterra - which was delightful (although very expensive). We'd gotten cheap one way tickets to Barcelona from www.europebyair.com. We stayed at the Hotel Continental (another Rick recommendation). A super good value and a great location. The rooms aren't much, but then again, you aren't paying much. When in Barcelona, don't waste your time and money taking the city bus tour (there are two tours and they each take two hours!).
Also in Spain, be sure to visit their "superstore"...El Corte Ingles.
There's one or more in every city and they have just about everything
you might need! You generally can't go wrong following the recommendations
in Rick Steve's guides, but you must read carefully and decide for yourself.
Learn a few words of Spanish. You may not need them, but a few words will
take you a long way. Compliment anyone on their use of English, if their
English is better than your Spanish. They went to a lot of trouble to
learn English for their jobs and are sometimes self conscious about it.
If they are doing great, tell them!
Jackson, TN USA 03/14/02
Spain was great!
We went to Spain for three weeks in December. The flights going and coming were nearly empty. We followed Rick's recommendations on the hotels. Stayed at the Hotel Opera in Madrid, great location, convenient to Metro and the Palacio Real. If you like opera music in the least, try their Singing Dinners. It's a group of very enthusiastic young opera-trained singers who put on a nice show. Very popular with locals, as is the Hotel's cafeteria. (By the way, we learned in Spain, if something is called a "cafeteria," they mean it is a restaurant with bar.)
We took the AVE train to Sevilla, first class, and the service was comparable to first class on an airline. For only a 2-1/2 hour train ride, it was sort of unnecessary but a nice splurge. We stayed at the A-C Hotel (NOT on Rick's list) which was in a nice suburban section of Sevilla. It was convenient to the public bus lines to get into the main part of town though. As far as the hotel, it is considered to be a "luxury hotel." They have the pricing down right...not much else.
From there we rented a car and drove to Granada. Stayed at the Hotel Inglaterra, very convenient location. Driving in Granada will make you crazy though! Hotel Inglaterra had safe parking for us right across the street (alley, actually) for about $10 USD per day.
Nerja. Stayed at the Hotel Balcon de Europa. It was a wonderful place, but the room itself was rather spartan. The view will take your breath away. They have a super buffet breakfast and their restaurant was excellent. Being mid-December, there wasn't much in Nerja that was open. If you want to stay at Balcon de Europa (or it's low cost next door neighbor - mentioned in Rick's book), follow the signs to the parking garage. Don't try to get near the hotel...you can't due to the one way streets.
Gibraltar. It was disappointing because of the weather. The cable car
to the top of Gibraltar was closed (even if you were crazy enough to want
to do it in the cold, wind and rain!). We stayed at the Queens Hotel,
which I thought was fine despite the "characterless" comment in Rick's
book. It was just nice to have a warm room and some good cable TV. We
had dinner at an English pub a short walk from the hotel. The food was
awful, but the atmosphere was fun, especially right before Christmas.
There are unwarranted delays to getting out of Gibraltar by car (probs.
with Spanish govt). There are signs on the Gibraltar side indicating that
the time delays and hassles are deliberate by the Spanish govt and an
address to write to and complain.
Jackson, TN USA 03/14/02
I like the book. One of the things I can't seem to find in any book is a basic chart showin the travel times between the major cities by train, car, bus, etc. I've been able to figure it out by visiting the renfe.es site, but it would be helpful in planning itineraries if there was a simple chart with travel times.
miami, fl USA 02/26/02
Back from Madrid and Toledo
Just back from Madrid and Toledo. Plaza Santa Ana is under renovation with lots of construction noise. We used www.aerocity.com for transport from airport to our hotel at cost of 14 Euros total for both of us. We will use them for next trip. The lake at Parque del Retiro is totally drained and under construction of some sort. The Prado's north entrance has a much shorter line. At the Prado you must check backpacks, but they have no coat check area. Train to Toledo was about one hour and round trip cost 17.40 Euros for both of us. To find bus stop, walk out of Toledo station, turn right and walk maybe 60 feet.
Pickpockets---encountered two young women using the unfolded map routine
while asking for help as the third approached from the rear (this was
in Plaza Mayor). Toledo Cathedral---NO bathrooms there nor at the ticket
shop. Rent the 3 Euro audio wand, worth it. Many of the plazas are crowded
at night with people, especially on weekends--so, you may want an interior
facing room instead of one overlooking the action.
Atlanta, GA USA 02/26/02
Spain and Portugal
In planning my trip to Spain, I found I needed to fly in and out of Lisbon and was going to Barcelona. Spanair has Spainpass which is $50 per segment...about the same as the train but better, more times in and out of Lisbon, and alot faster.
portland, or USA 02/11/02
Winter in Portugal
After reading all the postings here, we deleted Spain from our 10-day trip at the end of January and spent the entire time in Portugal. Good decision! The weather was OK to great. We always travel in the winter because prices are much lower and we are often the only tourists around. We stayed in the super budget places recommended by Rick, and were actually surprised at how nice many of the cuartos were. A few suggestions for winter travel:
Salema was almost entirely shut down--none of the recommended restaurants were open, as well as most of the cuartos. There were few lights on at night. On the other hand... Tavira was great! A lovely town, and we had it almost to ourselves--rarely heard a word of anything but Portugese.
One of our most pleasant surprises was Fado in the street near Rossio Square in Lisboa. Several men just sang their hearts out, we stayed for about an hour, the listeners were treating the singers to jinjinia, it was really a great evening, not another tourist in sight, and all it cost us was the coins we dropped into the hat!
And, Rick didn't mention that the Alentejo Club, recommended for dinner,
used to be a gambling casino in the 20's. Talk about faded splendor! The
kind porter gave us a tour of the place, it was great fun--and the meal
was great, too.
Geff and Susan
Edmonds, WA USA 02/11/02
Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar & Morocco
I spent a few months traveling through Iberia and Morocco around this time last year with my husband. I have received emails from dozens of Rick Steves fans asking for help in planning - and hopefully I have helped! More than happy to assist any other travelers with tips, advice and general info/comments on areas we visited. We used Rick's books for Spain and Portugal with much success. firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle, WA USA 02/11/02
Two years ago when my wife and I were in Madrid we saw a mugging at 1:00 in the afternoon on the street across form the Prado. Four boys jumped an asian tourist by an alley. One held each arm and the other two lifted his shirt, pulled out his money belt and cut if off. I no longer wear a waist money belt. Instead I wear an ankle belt covered by my sock. It is deeper and more comfortable than a waist belt and anyone attempting to get at it will get a face full of shoe.
ca USA 02/04/02
Driver Tip: Euros don't work in parking meters
With the exception of one taxi driver who panicked on New Years day when I presented him with a brand new 10 Euro bill, transition to the new currency in Spain seemed to go very well. However, if you are renting a car in Spain, you will quickly find yourself begging your hotel staff, waiter and yes, even taxi drivers to exchange Euros for all the 100 Peseta coins you can get your hands on!
Spain is full of automated parking meters (required when parking in areas marked by blue lines or as otherwise indicated). As of January 4, 2002, NONE of these meters, whether in Madrid, Sevilla, Tarifa, Granada or any other location a tourist might want to go, accept Euro coins! Manned parking lots, when you can find them, will always take Euros. Be warned that some lots after hours may become "unmanned" and while there are automated machines to accept your payment, these only accept Pesetas!
Given the vast number of parking meters in need of modification to the
Euro, the parking situation in Spain is not a trivial issue. By the end
of February 2002, finding Spanish Pesetas could be very difficult.
Dallas / Ft Worth, TX USA 01/20/02
Tarifa to Tangier, Jan 2002
US citizens should plan carefully for a day trip to Tangier. As of January 5, 2002, Americans attempting to just hop on a ferry to Tangier from Algeciras or Tarifa are being turned away with any of a number of vague explainations. Regardless of what you are promised over the phone or the Internet when inquireing about transit, once you show up in person and tell the local travel agent, or, heaven help you, the boat crew that you're American, you aren't going anywhere. As of the day a friend and I attempted to go to Tangier, tour tickets must be purchased from Marruecotur Travel Agancy (contact details in Rick Steves' Spain and Portugal 2002). Again, don't make the mistake of going directly to Algeciras! They will send you back to Tarifa even though the boat leaves from Algeciras! The tour froms up outside Marruecotur's office on Avenida de la Constitucion in Tarifa and boards a bus to Algeciras at 8:00am sharp. There is only one tour departing per day so don't be late! Acording to fellow travellers in Tarifa and some unlucky folks who drove all the way from Algeciras to Tarifa after being refused transit.this is aparently the *only* way currently available to Americans wanting to visit Tangier from Spain via the ferries. This too, of course, is subject to change without notice. For best results, plan to buy your Tangier tour tickets at least one day in advance from the travel agent and do so in person while showing them your US passport.
Dallas / Ft Worth, TX USA 01/20/02
Oh god, Barcelona. While I had a good time there and I loved the beach, it was frustrating to be in a place where I felt so unsafe. I grew up in NYC, and now I live near Times Square and I have never witnessed as many robberies as I did in my 5 days in Barcelona. Everyday I met at least two people that had been pickpocketed or robbed at knifepoint. I even stopped a guy from stealing someones backpack at an easyEverything. It was excessive, It's one thing to hear about it, a whole other to see people being robbed. One man got robbed on the metro while the entire car just watched as the victim asked for help and his 2 daughters were watching. Be very careful, wear your moneybelt at all times, I mean it. Madrid was more fun, we partied late, they get started really late over there. Its crazy. We stayed at this nice hostel The owners were very friendly and the room was clean and pleasant. We even met another traveler there who went to a bullfight with us. If you have trouble speaking spanish, there is a desk at one of the Madrid train stations that will find you a hostel for just a few dollars commission. This was well worth its an useful because what hostel means in Madrid is different than any other place we went. In Madrid, every family with a room to let calls themselves a hostel. Oh, train warning: leaving Barcelona (of course) we were in a 2nd class (it was filthy, i was itchy the entire time) art of the train, when i woke up to find a man streched out on top of me trying to get into my friends purse. As soon as I yelled he was gone and no one even woke up.
New York, NY USA 01/16/02
Stephen Drake Jones and more
Those planning to visit Spain, read CO USA's notes (posted 01-13-02)--some excellent suggestions. We stayed at most of the places mentioned in October and agree they were wonderful. In addition, we stayed at el Cardenal (it's another Rick pick) in Toledo--outstanding. We all voted it our favorite and that says a lot because our rooms in Arcos (at El Convento) and Nerja (Balcon) had spectacular views. In Madrid be sure to contact Stephen Drake-Jones for his walking tour. It was a great evening learning so many fascinating bits of history while stopping into bars for tapas and drink. History class was never that much fun! My husband and I continued on with Stephen after the tour for a couple hours' more filled with stories, more tapas and more drink. I look forward to my next trip back to this wonderful country.
Chicagp, IL USA 01/14/02
We traveled in Spain the end of November and early December (12 days). We used the Rick Steves Spain and Portugal book constantly with no complaints. We flew into Madrid, took the train to Seville, rented a car and drove around southern Spain, dropped the car in Granada and flew back to Madrid (about $100 pp). The weather was spectacular (sunny low 70's) and there were very few crowds (except in Madrid). We had some teenage girls open the top of my backpack while crossing a busy street in Madrid (in broad daylight). One held a map over the top while the other unzipped it. Fortunately, there was nothing of value within reach. I felt someone step on the back of my shoe and when I turned and looked they took off. Favorite tapas were albondagas (meatballs), calamari, hamon iberico, and roasted red peppers. Olives were always wonderful. Found food and accommodation to be very reasonable. We'd definitely go back. Toledo – We strolled into a cute dining room because it was open earlier, but the paella at Hostal Restaurante Maravilla was not very good, and the house wine was undrinkable. Stayed at Hotel las Conchas (www.lasconchas.com). It was quiet, newly renovated, and 10,000 pts/day including tax. People from Hotel Imperio recommended, and so do we. Seville – Stayed at La Hosteria del Lauel (email@example.com) on a small quiet square for 9500 pts + tax/nite. Flamenco show at El Arenal was great. Bar Patanchon (C Mateos Gago, 13) was friendly and had great tapas, try the hamon iberico, roasted red peppers, and the fried cheese with raspberry sauce as dessert. Arcos de la Frontera – Stayed at El Convento, very friendly and helpful staff. We had a picnic on our balcony, incredible views and sunshine. Food at El Convento was wonderful and relatively inexpensive, including the wine. Garlic lamb and pepper steak were wonderful. Took a day trip to Zahara and other hill towns. Had a picnic, the scenery was beautiful. Ronda – Parador (firstname.lastname@example.org) was awesome and still not really that expensive at 15,000 pts + tax, it was worth every penny. Mondragon Palace was wonderful. Restaurant Dona Pena was marvelous. Took a day trip down to Gibralter. The drive was spectacular! Gibralter was OK, very crowded. Nerja – Really enjoyed Balcon Europa (15.500 ptas/nite plus tax, balcony and sea view), once we finally found it. Nerja was most difficult place we drove in. Went for a walk into local area and had outstanding tapas at Los Cunaos, which was recommended in the book. Local hang-out with wonderful meatballs, roasted red peppers, and calamari. We highly recommend! Grenada – We dropped our car off at the airport here, a word of warning, there is very limited bus service from the airport and it was about a $40 cab ride to town. We rode the bus (few dollars) back to the airport when we flew on to Madrid. Stayed at Hotel Anacapri (email@example.com), very friendly staff. Visited long with Kathy, from Iowa. Tapas at Bodegas Castaneda (around corner from hotel) were awesome. This place was constantly crowded with locals. The Alhambra is unforgettable. Madrid – Stayed at Hotel Europa (firstname.lastname@example.org), great location (9000 pts + tax/nite). Again, staff was very friendly and helpful, highly recommend! Tapas at Taberna La Tosta (C Victoria, 8), red peppers and the fried brie with raspberries were great. Lunch at El Rabana (Calle Jesus 2) was awesome, as most other readers have reported.
CO USA 01/13/02
Does anyone have an updated email address for Hotel Europa, Madrid? The one published in the 2001 version of the book is bouncing back (email@example.com).
Seattle, WA USA 01/09/02
The Hotel Cliper in Madrid is closed (even after confirming my reservations). My family showed up with bags in hand and there was a sign on the door to check with the Hotel Londres but no phone number. We ended up staying one night on the other side of the Gran Via (do not do this it is quite scary and we did not leave our hotel after dark) because we were unable to find the hotel Londres. The next day we accidentally walked past it and they honored our previous reservations at the Cliper. The room overlooked The Purta del Sol and El Corte Ingles.
St. Paul, MN USA 01/09/02
The Wellington Society of Madrid now lists Stephen's email address as Chairman@Wellsoc.org. For those of us who have met him, the new address seems especially appropriate :-)
Newton, MA USA 01/03/02
Thanx for the research, Rick!
I recommend Rick's stuff so much, I figured I'd better stick close to his advice. Else I'd be recommending something I maybe really didn't use. Credibility err summpm. His day pack is the cheapest and best I've seen. I just washed mine after a happy month in Spain and Portugal. He never steered me wrong.
Austin, Tx USA 12/29/01
Spain and Portugal
I am a student and just spent 3 months in Granada studying. I was one of the few who had the Rick Steves' books and everyone else was asking to use them. All the advice I used was great! Just two things, the grocery store in Salema by the travel agency is cleaner (even we students who are used to eating strange things of unknown origin did not buy anything at the other) and getting from Portugal to Spain can be a little complicated. Get your tickets early.
Also, in Granada, and most touristy areas, be careful around the cathedral.
The thyme the gypsies give out is a gift. The fortune they tell while
they have a hold on your hands is not. As for pick pockets, etc, watch
what the locals do. All the women have a hold on their purse, no one just
lets it hang from their shoulder, and while taking pictures, etc have
your travel buddy keep an eye out.
Puyallup, WA USA 12/24/01
Don't leave the car unlocked
Re the post on leaving the car unlocked: This could get rather expensive. If the car is stolen, the insurance won't cover it if you left it unlocked! Instead, make sure the car is empty and, if there's one of those detachable lids hiding the trunk area, remove it so anyone looking in the window can see that the car is empty.
Mary from Oregon
Hotel Jardi: Just returned from Barcelona, and can tell you that Hotel Jardi is open. It was terribly frustrating that they didn't answer our faxes for reservations. We stayed instead at very nice place just off of Las Ramblas (right near the Joan Miro' on the walk) called 'Hotel Penninsular.' Great rates and extremely pleasant staff. The place is built in an old monestary, and the atrium in the center of the building will take your breath away.
Seattle, WA USA 12/13/01
Car Security in Spain
When we began planning our Iberian trip I relied heavily on Rick's book. As we are not going until April of this year I knew that I needed the current book and bought it. In that book, on page 8, Rick repeats the advice he provided in the 1999 version: that locals leave their cars empty and unlocked at night. As one person in Madrid told me: "They'll nick the seats." (He's a Brit.) Another Brit who lives part-time in Nerja said none of her neighbors would even think about doing that. You might want to take Rick's advice on this score with a grain of salt.
David S. McCahan
Lafayette, CA USA 12/09/01
Spain & Portugal
We just returned from 2 weeks in Spain & Portugal, a driving tour. Rick's book was very helpful and, when we could find his recommendations, we were mostly satisfied. Driving in Madrid, even just from airport to hotel, is hair-raising.
We stayed at the Hotel Europa, had a quiet room and enjoyed the night life and easy walking distance to the things we wanted to see. Followed Rick's tapas pub crawl and had a ball (although the churros con chocolate kept us awake all night).
Our first evening paseo, a pickpocket tried the spit on the back routine, and the next day at a market, the same. Neither got anything but an elbow.
Sevilla: We went to a cultural center to see flamenco. The show was one hour, and not commercial, staged in a candlelit interior courtyard with one classical guitarist and one singer. It was great at only 3000 pts each.
In Tarifa we took Rick's recommendation of the La Mirada, mostly empty at this time of year, but the views are great. The book describes the hotel as shiny, but, while clean, we thought it was a little shabby. The mattresses had an unfortunate sag and had a hard plastic covering that made lying on them unpleasant. We also saw little bugs in the bathtub area. However, it was our cheapest accomodation of the trip at 7000 pts per night.
Gibralter was interesting, but a little disappointing. The people who are in charge of the Rock need to provide more nature and geological information than "this is a unique environment" and "don't feed the apes." We also got up early to depart from Gibralter for our "cheesy" Tangiers day trip. No customs for Americans out of Spanish ports to Tangiers. The day trip was as described in the book, except there was no trip to the desert.
We also drove off the highway deep into the countryside to visit the Ruins at Segobriga. These are fine and interesting Roman ruins, just beginning to be developed for tourism, but directions to get there are scanty. A new visitors' center is being built; the present center and museum were closed, as was the nearby town where we wanted to eat. Even the gas station was closed. The only restaurant we found open took only Visa. The roads are great, the signage appalling.
Watch for thieves in these areas. Know the signs and be prepared.
Linda & Juris Bets
Des Moines, IA USA 11/25/01
Spain & Portugal
Dear Rick, My husband & I just returned on 10/27 from a trip to Spain & Portugal. We basically followed your suggested whirlwind 21 day tour, starting in Madrid. Thank you so much for all your wonderful advice & tips! They were right on the mark (for the most part!). We left on 10/7-the day the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan! When we arrived in Madrid, there were anti-American rallies, but peaceful.
We stayed at the Hotel Europa. It was very nice, but noisy. Madrid is a night town! But we enjoyed staying in that area. Since our itinerary only include 1 or 2 days in each place, we usually began by taking the city bus tour wherever available. The ones in Madrid are excellent. We went to the Prado, walked around the city A LOT!! Great way to get the feel of a city. Didn't feel very safe, though (based on what many people had told us). But wore money belts and stayed alert. No problems.
Next we drove to Segovia. What a beautiful old city! Saw the aqueduct, & stayed on the Plaza Mayor in the historic area. Followed your book, & were delighted when we saw our room at the Infanta Isabella! Just gorgeous! Not even that expensive. A lovely view on the Plaza.
Next, we took off for Portugal (Coimbra). Wonderful city!! The 700 yr. old University shouldn't be missed. We stayed at the Hotel Astoria. Lovely. We faced the river. And the lunch & breakfast buffet are terrific. Beautiful Coimbra ceramics. Found that many Portugese people speak perfect English, especially those 30 & under.
After Coimbra, we drove to Nazare, a wonderful fishing village on the Atlantic. Nice people, picturesque & relaxing.
We loved Lisbon! So charming & picturesque. Busy, noisy, & full of lots to see. Took a tour bus with 6 other people to Sintra, Estoril, Cascaise & Capo de Roca, beautiful & informative tour. I highly recommend it. They even played Fado music along the way. We stayed in the Hotel Lisboa Tejo. Hard to find & park in front of. The hotel was nice, but there was construction going on across the street. Very noisy. The 2nd Plaza from the hotel was nicer for us. Somehow, felt safer & had several nice restaurants & cafes.
After Lisbon, needed some peace & quiet. Took off for Salema & stayed with John at Pension Mare. Had a wonderful 2 bedroom, private bath place to ourselves. John was gracious, the place is extremely reasonable. Their included breakfast is really excellent! Freshly baked bread that John runs down to a vendor each morning on the beach to purchase! Fruits, cheeses, granolas, pastries, good coffee, etc. Atlantico restaurant right on the ocean was very good for dinner.
Took off the next day for Seville. Beautiful city! Stayed in the Jewish Quarter at the Casas de los Mercaderos. Had the hotel arrange for tickets to a good Flamenco show. (Los Caballos?) Wonderful evening! Don't miss it. Actually, Rick, we followed your excellent advice once we reached the main Avenida in Seville. We hired a cab to lead us to our hotel. Best advice you ever gave!!
Then we were off to Andalusia - the white hill towns. Just breathtakingly beautiful. And we stayed at the Parador in Arcos de la Frontera. DON'T MISS IT!!!! What a beautiful spot. The view was unbelievable. And the room & hotel were amazing! Not even that expensive! We met a nice American couple who recommended going on to Ronda. We followed their advice & booked the parador in Ronda. What a beautiful surprise that was!! As far as Arcos, we loved it. Beautiful cathedral, lovely narrow streets to walk along and some good ceramic places. Ronda. Just a beautiful historic town! We stayed in the new parador (no sense of history about, but modern elegant). We had the most beautiful view in the world! Absolutely breathtaking!
Granada. Large, busy bustling & NOISY city (everyone seems to drive a motorschooter). But we liked it, nevertheless. We stayed at the Hotel Macia Plaza on the Plaza Nueva. Busy Plaza with mediocre cafes. However-the location is perfect. The hotel is across the street from the inexpensive little red buses that take you deep into the Arab Quarter (bus says "ALBAZIM"). Can get off & walk around, then take another bus out. Around $.60 fare, & you can purchase a less expensive day pass if you like. THE ALHAMBRA! DO NOT MISS SEEING!!
Toledo. Stayed at the 16th century summer residence of the Bishop of
Toledo 2 miles above the city. Great view! Great place! And great rates!!
Cost $33 for the night (a little higher if you have breakfast). Do not
miss seeing the Cathedral of Toledo - breathtakingly beautiful!
May & Leon Wilde
Redwood City, CA USA 11/13/01
Go to the Palau Musica de Catalunia and take the guided tour - I think the tour is the only way you can see the beautiful interior which is decorated to the hilt. 2 good music clubs are La Boite, 477 Diagonal (near el Corte Ingles) and Jamboree, in the Placa Real.
WV USA 11/04/01
Barcelona and other sights in Spain
I studied Spanish in Barcelona for three weeks, then took a week-long trip to Bilbao, San Sebastian, Madrid, and Segovia. Barcelona was beautiful, Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Segovia were fascinating and fun. I wasn't too impressed with Madrid. I enjoyed the Prado, the Riena Sofia, and the Palacio Real, but I thought the city did not hold a candle to BCN.
In BCN, see Parque Guell, Casa Mila (my fav Gaudi building), the Picasso Museum. I love the Barrio Gotico. For a nice evening, visit the Gracia neighborhood. Small-town feel, with a great varity of ethnic restaurants.
Be careful but not paranoid when it comes to pickpockets. I was almost pickpocketed once. When coming out of the Sagrada Familia metro stop, I felt my backpack being lifted. When I turned around, the front zipper was open and the man behind me was acting very nonchalant. Nothing was missing, since my money, camera and credit card were locked up in the main part of my bag. Having a lock on my backpack helped me feel very secure, wherever I went.
Bilbao is much nicer than most tour books lead you to believe. I stayed at the Hotel Sirimiri. I got a single room for the weekend with only one day's notice. The desk staff are very friendly and helpful, and my room was pretty and had a great bathroom.
The old part of the city of Bilbao is interesting - it looked more Germanic than Spanish. The streets are lively and filled with interesting shops and people. The newer part of the city, across the river, is very clean and pretty. Of course the main reason to go is the Guggenheim. The building is much more impressive than the collection. I especially enjoyed the reflecting pool behind the museum.
I took a bus to San Sebastian, which has a gorgeous beach. I couldn't resist going swimming (in October!) when I saw how beautiful the water was. The bus ride from Bilbao showcased the beautiful Basque countryside.
Segovia is a beautiful town. Go to the Alcazar and climb the tower (accessed
from the gift shop) for spectacular views of the city and surrounding
landscapes. The cathedral is beautiful as well, the interior is filled
WV USA 11/03/01
Don`t forget this tip about TAVIRA : www.tavira-inn.com
tavira, p USA 10/17/01
Caves of Pileta
Contrary to conflicting information, the Caves of Pileta _are_ open. We did the tour on Sept. 12, 2001. We almost didn't go because I had little information on what was there. If you are near Rondo and have a love of limestone formations, go. The caves contain some of the best formations I have encountered.
From Ronda, I suggest taking the northern fork: turn left off of A376
just north of La Quinta. Why? Because the reservoir you will pass is beautifully
embedded in a spetacular rock canyon. Alternatively, you can turn off
A376 earlier. Both roads converge in Benaoja.
Cupertino, CA USA 10/10/01
Tarifa Hotel Recommendation
Tarifa Hostal Recommendation: El Asturiano at Amador de los Rios, 8. Tel: 956 68 06 19 It's conveniently located on the periphery of the old town. We (2) paid 7000pts(175pts/1$) for a 3rd story room with bath and a great view of the Straights of G. The room was clean and the bed comfortable. The owner speaks no English, but he's a real friendly fellow who works to make you feel at home. His wife is a very good cook and we had great seafood plates there. These aren't elegant but, the seafood was always fresh and quantity is great at reasonable prices. Order the menu of the day. Be sure to ask the owner to show you how Asturians pour their bottled apple wine into glasses. It's messy because it's done with about a 3 foot pour from bottle to glass, but fun!
Cupertino, CA USA 10/10/01
Sevilla - Hostal Sierpes did not give the 15% discount stated in the guide book. They also did not accept credit cards contrary to the guide book. There were lots of hairs on the sheets of the bed when we checked in. They changed the sheets without complaint, but it was not a good first impression.
Granada - Hotel Los Tilos was a great fine. Excellent price, location and room.
Barcelona - Look out for pick pockets. Someone attempted to pick my pockets,
but they were empty. A woman at the Sagrada Family Church had everything
stolen out of her purse while we were there.
Munich, Germany 09/11/01
I am writing this from an internet shop in Tarifa, Spain. Do not, I
repeat do not, take a room in the La Mirada from Sept. 2-7. There is a local
festival (St Luz) and the noise at the hotel is way beyond anything you
have ever heard due to the carnival immediately adjacent to the hotel. There
is no way to shut out the noise and we had an interior room. The town is
fun during the festival and not too crowded, but stay at least 3 blocks
from the carnival-ride site.
Cupertino, CA USA 09/08/01
Based on the 1999 Guide (we'll buy the 2002 one when issued), we planned
to visit Tarifa as our base for a day-trip to Tanger. So, we made reservations
at La Mirada in Tarifa and they agreed to book the Tanger trip for us. In
reading this board, I found some hints that we might not be able to sail
from Tarifa to Tanger and, upon checking, found this to be the case. Apparently,
the police customs facility (presumably in Tarifa) is under construction
and they have no immigration control available for non-Europeans. The new
construction is expected to be finished in December but there are no guarantees.
As a result I have canceled La Mirada in Tarifa and booked into Octavio
in Algeciras. They have arranged for the day-trip we want.
Lafayette, CA USA 09/06/01
This "graffiti wall" is exactly what I was looking for - that shows
you care to have it so accessible - Thanks. I recently went to Spain and
unfortunately my trip was cut short due to an assauly and robbery in the
old capital of Toledo (the smallest of the cities my mother and I were planning
on traveling to). A warning to travelers about women traveling may be in
order. Women traveling in pairs may not be enough. Another warning about
money belts - WEAR IT!! The robbers did not have time to get them. I never
heard of Toledo as being a dangerous town - the police there said this sort
of crime targeting tourists (we're American) is on the rise there. Thanks
for taking these suggestions into consideration. Ronda Fast firstname.lastname@example.org
Eugene, OR` USA 08/22/01
This "graffiti wall" is exactly what I was looking for - that shows
you care to have it so accessible - Thanks. I recently went to Spain and
unfortunately my trip was cut short due to an assauly and robbery in the
old capital of Toledo (the smallest of the cities my mother and I were planning
on traveling to). A warning to travelers about women traveling may be in
order. Women traveling in pairs may not be enough. Another warning about
money belts - WEAR IT!! The robbers did not have time to get them. I never
heard of Toledo as being a dangerous town - the police there said this sort
of crime targeting tourists (we're American) is on the rise there. Thanks
for taking these suggestions into consideration. Ronda Fast email@example.com
Eu, USA 08/22/01
We were quite pleased with Rick's hotel suggestions. All rooms we stayed in were reasonably priced, centrally located, with acceptable accommodations.
Madrid: Hotel Europa right on Puerta del Sol is a great hotel! It is immaculately clean, the staff is helpful and friendly, and the location is ideal. This is a very nice area and the location is convenient to the sights. We also stayed in Hostal Residencia Valencia. It has a great location on the Gran Via and the desk clerk was great. The room was fine and clean, but the bathroom was very tiny and a little dirty.
Barcelona: Try to stay at Hotel Continental on Las Ramblas. The rooms are a little small, but very charming. They have a great free all day/night coffee bar with wonderful cafe con leche and they provide a nice complimentary breakfast. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The room is decked out in a floral motif and very comfortable. Out of all the hotels we stayed at in Spain, this was my favorite. One of the desk employees owned a Great Pyrenees dog which sat behind the desk.
Granada: Hostal Britz didn't look great on the outside, but the room and bathroom were huge and extremely clean, and the staff was so friendly to all customers. The location was great--walking distance to everything. A bargain at around 5200 pesetas.
Sevilla: Hostal Sierpes was charming, had a great location, and the staff was fantastic too. However, the room had a dark, not-so-clean bathroom.
Algeciras: Like a previous graffiti author, we found Hotel Octavio to be a great idea if you have to stay overnight prior to a day trip to Morocco. Octavio had huge, clean rooms. You're not going to see much culture at this hotel, but it was conveniently located across the street from the train station.
If you don't have a lot of time, I would recommend skipping the Morocco side trip. It was a lot of trouble getting there and the recommended mode of visiting is the tour. The tour was pretty cheesy. I wasn't able to get a lot out of a 1 day trip to Morocco.
Eating: When you get tired of Spanish food, Chinese restaurants in Spain are a great bargain. Usually Chinese-run, delicious, and much cheaper than typical Spanish restaurants. El Ladrillo (Sevilla) had FANTASTIC gazpacho! Fried seafood was delicious. Try at least 1 pitcher of Sangria with the red wine, not the champagne. It's very refreshing. The Bocatta chain of sandwich shops is a great, cheap meal while in Spain. They are located in most major cities.
Other: Ignore the gypsies and they'll leave you alone. Really watch yourself
at Atocha train station in Madrid and on Las Ramblas in Barcelona Try
to speak Spanish to the natives as much as you can. Even if your Spanish
is poor, at least give it a try. You'll have a much more colorful experience!
Dallas, TX USA 08/16/01
Great book. Used it throughout Lisbon and in Salema, Seville, Granada and
Madrid. In Seville, we stayed at the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia and it
was wonderful. Granada was also terrific and you must eat at Mirador de
Morayma in the Albaicin. It is an old home that is used for a restaurant
and you eat in the gardens with music. It was romantic and the food was
excellent and reasonably priced. Also in Madrid go and visit the cloistered
nuns for sweets. It is described in the book under Madrid (walking from
Plaza Mayor to Royal Palace). The cookies are packaged and ready to take
home. But the adventure is buying them.
Los Angeles, CA USA 08/12/01
If you are interested in staying in ARCOS, the email address for El
Convento Hotel listed in Rick's 2001 book is: firstname.lastname@example.org -or-
Dallas, TX USA 08/02/01
Nerja; we stayed at the Nerja Princess and had a wonderful room. We
had one of the suites for 2 nights and it was $60 US/night and this was
in July. Great pool, great rooms and a cafe. Also, hit the Dijeridoo Bar
and Jensens Cafe down on Playa Burianna.
St. Louis, MO USA 07/21/01
The Cannon Hotel should be removed from the book. We cancelled our
reservation almost 36 hours in advance and we were still charged for a room
- almost $50 US. They have so far refused to acknowledge this. Gibraltar
is supposed to be a toilet anyway. Skip it and go to Nerja.
St. Louis, MO USA 07/21/01
My wife and I just returned from a wonderful week and a half adventure
in Spain (Madrid, Pamplona, Zaragoza, Costa Brava, and Barcelona). We used
Rick's Book for Madrid and Barcelona and found it very helpful. In Madirdi,
we stayed at Hostal TIJCAL. Like someone mentioned in an earlier post, the
area around the Hostal is currently under construction (actually a lot of
Madrid is under construction right now - apparently as a result of EU funding)
-so it's a bit difficult to find the Hostal at first. Luckily the construction
noise was minimal, and once you have your bearings, the dust and debris
are easy to avoid. The Hostal is clean and very well located. There is a
slight smell of a sewer in the building. We actually found that smell quite
common in Spain, especially near construction sights. But it wasn't terrible
and shouldnt' keep you away from the Hostal. The Hostal itself can be somewhat
noisy...you can hear people talking in the lobby through the thin wood doors,
but that only would last a minute or two. Most places we stayed actually
had similar internal noise problems...mainly slamming doors and cleaning
crews talking loudly. (I think there's some patron saint of Slamming Doors
that everyone in Spain likes to honor on a daily basis.) The best part of
the Hostal is the location: Plaza Mayor is beautiful and the area around
it is very quiet compared to the frenzied streets just north of Sol. It's
also walking distance from anywhere you'd want to go (as Madirid is a fairly
small city geographically). There's a nice autographed picture of Rick and
his family in the lobby. And the price is right. Overall, it's a good place
to stay if you are going to be out walking the city and don't need much
in the way of luxury. The museums in Madrid are great. Our favorite was
the Reina Sofia...the Guernica exhibit is simply breathtaking. I didn't
care so much for the Prado - a bit stuffy and conservative in its collection
- felt like a small Louvre - but it is still large -so wear comfortable
shoes - and is worth seeing. The food in Madrid (and everywhere in Spain)
is great. Go near the Placa Santa Ana for great Tapas bars. We went to a
bunch and ate till we dropped. Pamplona seems like a nice place everyother
week of the year besides San Fermin. San Fermin is wild, but the throngs
of drunk people partying for 30 hours straight can get a bit boring after
a day or two. We ran with the bulls and loved it. If you decide to run,
learn as much as you can about it ahead of time and avoid the partying until
after you run. We ran the first day - the day when six runners were hurt
- we missed that disaster by a mere 100 feet - but didn't see any of it
till the next day on the news (hard to see anything above the throngs of
people in red and white). Zaragoza is surprisingly a great city. We were
only going there to sleep after San Fermin, but "discovered" Nuestra Senora
del Pilar and the Aljeferia, which were definitely some of the most amazing
sights on our trip. If you have a day, go to Zaragoza....the tourist office
there is amazingly friendly and helpful, the accomadation is affordable
(the best place we stayed on our whole trip was the Grand Hotel in Zaragoza),
and the monuments are tastefully presented. I won't say where we went on
the Casta Brava - it was too great, it must be kept secret. But go to the
Coast if you can. The Mediterranean is warm and soothing and the landscape
is gorgeous. We took a side trip to Figueres and the Dali Museum. I wouldn't
recommend staying in Figureres....it's small and kind of run-down...but
the museum was my favorite of all the museums we visited. Like Rick says
in the book, it defies description. It's a must-see. Barcelona is a classy
city. We couldn't get in to any of Rick's suggestions though they all looked
nice from the outside. Barcelona is one place to definitely book ahead in
the summer. There are tons of tourists in Barcelona. I didn't care for the
Ramblas...as I could sense eyes on my wallet everywhere, but the Eixample
is wonderful. Sagrada Familia is amazing and is only going to get better
as it gets built further. It's pretty neat to see a huge monument actually
under construction. One restaurant that Rick recommended in the Eixample
was Qu-Qu, on the Passeig de Gracia. A great place. Great food, great service,
and great people watching. One of my big concerns before the trip was crime.
I had heard a lot about pickpocekts and muggings. I wore a money belt, which
made me feel safer, but other than the Ramblas I never sensed any danger
or had any problems. It's probably more dangerous travelling to New York
than anywhere in Spain. Best piece of advice on crime is...just be aware
of your surroundings and don't carry too much of anything (money, bags,
cameras) at one time. Also, renting a car is a great way to travel in Spain.
We rented from Avis before we left. Picked the car up in Madrid and dropped
it off in Barcelona. The toll roads are great...and so are the non-toll
roads. Gas prices are high, but distances aren't too terrible so you don't
have to fill up too much. The only one annoyance on the trip were the maps
in everyone's books...the scale is really hard to read. Madrid appears much
larger in the books and Barcelona appears much smaller. And since street
signs are posted on buildings and are often difficult to find, it makes
for somewhat of a steep learning curve in terms of finding one's way around.
Spain is a great country, and Rick,'s book is definitely a help for the
cities he covers.
New York, NY USA 07/16/01
We just returned from two weeks in Spain and Portugal and had a great
time! Ricks book was a great help. We spent time in Salema, Evora, Lisbon,
Sintra, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Barcelona, and Cadaques. We were of the
opinion that time is money and used taxis for a lot of our journey - it
worked out well, especially taking the taxi from Salema to Evora. Our driver
spoke English fairly well and was able to give us insight into life in Portugal
by explaining sights and ways of life in the countryside we were passing.
It was more expensive than taking the bus but we felt it saved us as least
3 hours. He picked us up right at the Mare in Salema and drove us directly
- no worries about transfers/waits in Lagos and stops along the way. We
went into the trip not knowing what to expect from Portugal and absolutely
loved it! Salema was very relaxing (great beach, the Mare was a good stay,
the pizza shop was excellent), Evora fascinating (the variety of churches),
Lisbon a total suprise (scenic, historic, fun to browse around - the Orion
Eden hotel is a great value with a group), and Sintra was incredibly beautiful.
It was hard for us to believe how lush Sintra was. We really enjoyed Pena
Palace. Spain was just as enjoyable. Pamplona was a madhouse, Barcelona
was fun if not entirely what we expected (our highlight was just hanging
out on the Ramblas but you definitely need to watch the pickpockets! - the
Hotel Continental was great), and Cadaques pretty. Our favorite place was
San Sebastian. The city was immaculate and gorgeous! There were a number
of things to do - a great beach, historic old town with superb tapas, and
a number of activities. We stayed at the Hotel Parma which was a pretty
good value even in high season. We would recommend San Sebastian to anyone.
Ricks book really helped us plan a great trip. Thanks.
Just got back from three weeks in France and Spain. Other than the heat,
it was great! Some Spain tips for you: BARCELONA: We ate one night at
the Hostal de Rita, one of Rick's recommendations. Unbelievable! Some
of the best food we had anywhere in Spain, and the total tab, with drinks
& tax, was 8731 pesetas for 4 people, or about $11 each. For Barcelona,
do make your hotel reservations in advance. This was the first week in
July, and the TI was saying there were no hotel rooms available anywhere
in the city. ANDALUCIA: I sought out the small town experience by staying
in Grazalema, and true to expectations, the hotels were empty. One of
the highlights of our trip was watching the local kids playing soccer
in the square at 10:00 pm. They were showing off for us to a certain extent,
but it was still great fun. MADRID: Some local friends arranged for us
to see flamenco at Arco de Cuchilleros (Calle de los Cuchilleros 7, just
off Plaza Mayor, tel 91 364 0263), and it was fantastic. It's a bar that
holds no more than 100 people, and the audience wasn't too touristy. No
cover charge, just a minimum food & drink consumption of 1800 pesetas.
Show time was 11:45 pm and it went until 2 am. One place the locals go
for paella is La Barraca at Calle de la Reina 29, near Gran Via. A great
meal with appetizers and drinks cost us about $20 per person. However,
I say forget about the Sobrino del Botin (Hemingway's favorite and the
world's oldest restaurant). Not only is it touristy and pricey, but the
food wasn't very good either.
Menlo Park, CA USA 07/14/01
arrived in madrid on the night of some huge soccer championship....what
an into to the city! we stayed at rick's hotel miami (with the padded
doors and incredible view of gran via)... JAMON IS EVERYWHERE!!! jamon
is uncooked, cured ham... you gotta try it but be warned...it looks like
uncooked bacon because it is uncooked bacon. slam it on a hard roll and
you've got the bocadilla... also EVERYWHERE!!! i ate the best paella of
my life every day i was in spain. madrid is supremely walkable. i never
got on the metro once and used the taxis only to and from chamartin train
station. (beware... the driving...the horror!) it's terribly hot...but
the upside was that a month ago it was light until midnight almost every
night! which explains why everyone is still roving the streets at 1am
on a monday. barcelona, beautiful town... the sagrada familia is unbelievable...
the sad thing is that if you want to have lunch in a restaurant with a
view of it... you have to do it from the kfc across the street!
san jose, ca USA 07/10/01
I have returned from a 4-week trip to Portugal, Spain, and France. We
used Rick's books for hotels, restaurants, and other ideas. We were very
pleased with all the hotels we selected: Lisbon: We want to return and
stayed at Pensao Residencial 13 da Sorte : Very, very close to the metro
stop. We also enjoyed the seafood at the Cerevejaria Ribadouro just around
the corner. Hotel was great and very friendly. We did take a Hills Tour
mentioned in the guide book which was great to give us an overview of
several areas of Lisbon after an overnight plane flight. Coimbra: Pensao
Santa Cruz. Great location but stairs to get up to the floors where the
hotel is. We loved Coimbra. Unfortunately we couldn't be sure to be able
to travel from Coimbra to Madrid so we ended up going back to Lisbon and
taking an overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid. Madrid: Hotel Europa
is great -- right in the center of things and good value. There's a theatre
just up the street in plaza Carmen. I got to see an Agatha Christie play
in Spanish. We loved walking and exploring with the hotel as a perfect
central location. Arcos de la Frontera: We stayed in a cortijo outside
of the city for a week and used a rental car to explore Jerez, Ronda,
Sevilla, and Gibraltar. Barcelona: Hotel Continental was also perfect
right on the Ramblas. Flew on Air Europa from Sevilla to Barcelona. Loved
the architecture and spirit of the city. Arles: Hotel Le Calendal was
a treat! Great location although we were huffing a bit going up the hill.
Wonderful staff and incredible food in Arles. Paris: My second stay at
Hotel du Champs de Mars which I continue to love. After traveling for
a month and trying to keep our luggage light we did make arrangements
through our hotel for an Airport Shuttle for 95 FF per person --fast and
easy. The Paris airport (25 June)was an incredibly long wait to check
in so arrive early. Thanks Rick for all your great advice.
Las Cruces, NM USA 07/08/01
Hi - Just got back from a two week Spain and Portugal vacation, and
Rick Steve's book was always with us. I personally thought the Spanish
people were more effient and professional, but as far as friendlinest
goes, in both countries, the people were very nice. We stayed in a condo
in the Costa del Sol (Benalmademas) and after getting over the initial
shock of the tackiness of everything on the drive from Malaga airport
to our condo, we had a pleasant time there. Rick Steve's basically reamed
this area, but just go about a block away from the main drag, it's really
nice. Used the condo as a base, and took a lot of day trips - Marbella,
Fuengirola, Gibralter, Nerja and Granada. We also took a day tour to Tangiers.
We enjoyed it. The tour itself was very hokey and touristy, but travelling
with our ten year old son, we didn't feel like exploring. True, Tangiers
is the Tijuana of Morrocco, but we had a happy experience there, and now
we really want to explore the rest of Morroco. We stayed at the Estalagem
Infante do Mar in Salema, Portugal. Wish we could have stayed more that
one night. No TV's in the room, but they had a very rustic lounge that
had TV, books, games, etc. We had a big lunch at the Carapou Frances cafe,
the owner is French and the cook is Greek( vey nice people and great greek
dishes) and we ate very well there. Salema was wonderful. We stayed the
last two days in Lisbon. I feel that we were there at the wrong time,
because many squares and historic buildings were either under construction
or completely covered with spray paint and bird droppings. After seeing
past this, Lisbon is a neat city, very managable. We made a pilgrimage
to the Benfica football stadium and across the street from that is the
Colombo Shopping Mall. Originally we went in there for a WC break, but
were truly amazed by the vastness of it all. We stayed at the Lisboa Plaza
which was really nice and the staff were really nice as well. One restaurant
that I do not recommend in Lisbon is the "A Tasquinha Restaurant", near
the castle. My gazpacho soup tasted like the cook opened up a can of Hunts
tomatoe paste, dumped it in a bowl, and threw some onions on top. Yuck!
And the service really stunk. Now being a vegetarian,in Spain I ate a
lot of Spanish omelets and salads and English pub grub, and in Portugal,
ate a lot of "couvert", the bread, butter and olive starters and salads
and "fresh cheese" sandwiches avaible at the various sandwich shop chains,
like Pans and Co. I feel I missed the culinary side of our vacation, but
in Spain and Portugal, Pescado Frito and grilled sardines rule the day!!
San Francisco, CA USA 07/04/01
We disagreed with Rick's appraisal of the Pousada Castelo in Obidos
Portugal. We were there in February during the rainy season and loved
the castle and the restaurant there. Staying in one of the 10 guest rooms
in a 800 year old castle was a wonderful romantic experience, and I am
Ontario, CA USA 07/02/01
We just got back from a month in Spain and Portugal. We used Rick's
book for just about everything and found some minor errors but nothing
that inconvenienced much. His hotel recommendations were right on. We
made our hotel reservations over the Internet or by fax before we left.
Every hotel had our reservations accurately and at the price quoted by
them at the time the reservations were made. We would recommend the following:
1)Barcelona-Hotel Continental was a good hotel for the money right on
the Ramblas with a free continental breakfast but small rooms,2)Madrid-Hotel
Europa was a great location at the Puerta del Sol with friendly staff,
an adjoining cafeteria, and nice rooms (You should ask for a room off
of the large courtyard),3)Sintra, Portugal-Pensao Nova Sintra was wonderful
for the money. It is next to the train station, has clean rooms, and a
friendly staff,4)Tavira, Portugal-Hotel Mare was the best deal we had
on our entire trip, i.e. $35 for a large air-conditioned room with TV
and comfortable beds,5)Seville-Hotel La Rabida was a large and comfortable
hotel with nice rooms, comfortable beds, and large bathrooms as well as
a helpful staff,6)Arcos-El Convento Hotel was a special treat that all
should reserve early for, especially the early cafe con leche in the morning
on the balcony overlooking the valley,and 7)Toledo-Hostel del Cardenal
which is set next to the city wall in an old palace with great 17th century
decor and ambiance. Hope these suggestions make your trip as enjoyable
as ours was.
Redmond, WA USA 06/30/01
i just returned from a short stay in ronda. we enjoyed this city and
sevilla the most. In ronda we stayed at www.andalucia.com/alavera. Rick
only gives it a small mention in his book but I thought it was a wonderfully
romatic place the food and service were excellent. In sevilla we stayed
at the Good Day hostale which rick gave high marks but I found it less
than satisfactory. Cheap and clean but its all about the bed. I swear
we were sleepy on a box spring and not a mattress.
delray beach, fl USA 06/15/01
Overall, guidebook was good. Feedback on the best and worst:
RONDA, lodging: We were not happy with the Don Miguel. Our room had very thin walls, and we could hardly sleep. The most annoying noises were loud building systems (whirring, thumping, humming). Also, the hotel tried to charge us a higher price than we were quoted when we made the reservation. Thankfully, I had a copy of the fax I had sent earlier because the person at the desk was not inclined to believe me (despite the fact that another guest was stating the same).
ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA, dining: The Egyptian restaurant passed us a counterfeit 2000-peseta bill. We didn't realize it at the time, but once we tried to use it, we saw that the bill looked different. The food wasn't as good as we expected, either.
NERJA, lodging: We were very, very pleased with the Hostal Marissal.
Good hotel, great location, incredible value.
Gainesville, FL USA 01/15/01
We were in Lisbon Jan 4th-11th. Weather: 50-60F degrees. Occasional rain. Carry an umbrella at all times.
Hotel: Lisboa Plaza (Rick's recommendation) was very good. Staff was friendly and helpful. I found it a good location and a quiet place. But our standard room had the smallest bed I ever slept on. Get a deluxe room which seems to have larger beds.
1) Get a 4- or 7-day Tourist Pass. You can use the pass on the metro, trams, or buses. Your hotel desk can tell you where to get them.
2) Take Tram 28 for a nice tour of the city. But beware of the pickpockets.
3) Visit the St. George Castle (tram 28 takes you there).
4) Take the Orient line on the metro. Get off at the first and last stop on this line. The stations are beautiful.
5) Take Tram #15 to Belem and visit the town and the monastery.
6) Take the San Justa Elevator for a beautiful view of the city.
7) Take the Gloria Elevator to the top from the Avenida. Make a right once you get to the top. You will hit Rua Dom Pedro. There are many good tile and antique stores.
8) Go to the Tile Museum. Buses #42, 104, 105 go there.
9) Take a side trip to Sintra. You can take a 50-minute train ride from the Rossio Train station. You can't use your tourist pass.but the tickets are only about $8 for two (round-trip). You can easily spend a whole day here. We loved Sintra the most. Eat at Paris Café for good French food in Sintra Villa.
Eating recommendations in Lisbon (but all the places that we went served good food):
Continho Da Paz: Good Indian food from Goa (former Portuguese colony). Reservation a must. It is a hole-in-the-wall but the food is great. (4 Rua da Paz, off rua dos Poiais de São Bento, tel. 21/396-96-98 ). Take a taxi. Don't walk.you won't find it.
Quebra Mar is on the Avenida near the hotel. Good Portuguese dishes at reasonable prices.
Things to avoid: 1) Visit the Tower of Belem and the Monument of Discoveries from the outside. But don't go in. It is a waste of time and money--nothing to see.
2) Don't take the Carris Hop-on/Hop-Off bus. It was a BIG waste of money. We could have used public transportation to all the sights that we wanted to see.
3) Avoid touristy Fatima unless you are the churchgoing type.
4) Avoid Portuguese desserts--very, very sweet and gooey.
Tips: 1) Avoid dressing in jeans and T-Shirts. People generally dress well.
2) If you are waiting for a bus then make sure you are in line. Don't cut anyone off.
3) A Portuguese man in his 60's offered his seat to my wife (we are in our 30's) on the bus. Don't get too comfortable in your seat.
4) 10% tipping in restaurants is fine--not 20%.
5) Language-we found many people spoke English. But a Portuguese phrase book came in handy.
6) Carry a good map. Lisbon is confusing. The tourist maps are useless. I had the very good Michelin City Map ($15). It had almost every street listed.
7) Make sure your travel guidebook is updated. I found out that mine was last updated 2 yrs ago. Some of the info was outdated. [Editor's note: "Rick Steves' Spain & Portugal" is updated every year.]
8) Cabs are very cheap but some cabbies try to cheat. Make sure they turn their meter on. Some of them did not.
9) Going during the low season had many advantages. We did not have to wait in line to get into museums or restaurants. Hotel prices are very good. There were very few tourists to deal with. But.it is little colder and it can rain.
10) I made the mistake of changing money at JFK, where I got 190 Escudos for $1 at JFK airport. In Lisbon, I got 209 escudos for every dollar.
11) Visit http://www.geocities.com/Paris/4118/travel02.htm for lots
of info on Lisbon.
NYC, NY USA 01/13/01
Rick's book provided an excellent guide for a recent trip to Barcelona. We traveled to Mont Serrat and Segovia as well. Many of his recommendations from the book provided some of the trip's best highlights.
Business kept us in Barcelona most of the trip. But if I was traveling for pleasure, a well-planned 3 days would cover the best of Barcelona. If you are a Gaudi fan you might extend your visit by a day to cover the many Gaudi sight in the city aside from Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia. I also highly recommend a trip to Tibidabo for the best view of the city.
Mont Serrat deserves an overnight stay if you enjoy hiking and the outdoors.
I would allow a full day of exploration on the hiking trail in addition
to 1/2 a day or so at the Basilica. Segovia was a delight and we were
fortunat enough to enjoy the traditional suckling pig at Meson De Candido.
If you would like to see some photos of some of the ares described in
Rick's book please come view or trip photo album at: http://community.webshots.com/user/marcusfrank03
Columbia, MD USA 01/10/01
Rick's book was the best investment we made for the trip--2+ weeks in Spain with 4 kids. Comments:
1. Madrid warrants only 3 days if you are traveling with children.
2. Hostal Macia is not a good value in Granada. Hostal Landazuri should be avoided completely. It is dirty.
3. Hostel Cervantes in Madrid "lost" our reservations for New Year's Eve. I question keeping it on your list. Hostal Veracruz was quite nice.
4. A mid-size minivan in Spain (Avis) is really more like an American station wagon--a big surprise if you have 4 kids and two adults. I drove it everywhere, including Madrid. No problem.
5. Hostal Mena in Nerja was great. Don't miss the caves.
6. Manzanares El Real was a great castle outside of Madrid. The castle
in Consuegra was good too. (Kids like castles). The royal palace at Aruanjuez
is worth a stop.
Harvard, MA USA 01/07/01
Spanish language difficulties in Spain: This is for Steve (who had trouble with his Spanish in Spain) and anyone else who has studied Spanish in the U.S. Unless your teacher was from Spain, you learned Mexican ("Latin-American") Spanish. Not all the vocabulary you learned is used in Spain. Asking for "jugo de naranjas" (orange juice) or "almuerzo" (lunch) got me blank stares. The Spanish use "zumo" for juice and "comida" for lunch. Also, a hotel room is "una habitacion" (confirmed by a Spanish travel agent).
Remember the last time you tried to communicate with someone from the British Isles? Languages change with time and distance--1900 years ago most people in France, Spain and Italy spoke Latin!
Some dictionaries and texts show Spanish vs. Latin American usage, but many do not. Luckily, the "Destinos" film series (excellent to increase your understanding of spoken Spanish; check your local library) made me aware of this problem before I left. You can communicate, but if you have problems, it may be the vocabulary difference.
Interestingly, I had a hard time discerning the minute differences between Castilian and Mexican pronounciation--the "th" of Castilian and the "s" of Mexican for soft "c," or the difference in pronouncing "ll." You may as well stick to the pronunciation you learned in class. I did notice the Andalusian dialect--much more throaty than in the north.
I found nearly everyone I met in Spain to be very friendly, willing
to cope with my halting Spanish, appreciative of my trying to talk their
language, and helpful to teach me more. It is amazing how experiences
with a few surly people (I had one with a Madrid cab driver) can color
our perception of a place. Let's remember that when we encounter the increasing
number of foreign tourists in the U.S.!
Mary from Oregon
OR USA 01/04/01
Rick, my betrothed and I just returned from 2 weeks in Spain and Portugal. We loved the Algarve. Salema was great as a rest stop. We found that quartos are nice, relaxing, and sharing the bathroom wasn't a problem. $4000 escutes ($17.25USD) a nite saved the budget for more bottles of the local wine (very cheap and good).
Tavira was also one of our stops; we loved every minute there. We were given a tour of the church by the castle by an old couple--it was in Portuguese, but my Catholic upbringing and a few comments in English brought a smile to their faces. Renting a bike was fun but the hills are not for the faint of heart. You're right, Maria at Residencial Logoas was a doll. The room was great and had a nice street view.
Cacela Velha is a hidden jewel. We found another small village nearby and loved it. I refuse to give out its name for fear tourists will find and spoil it, but it had the most beautiful beach, small harbor and a very nice restaurant.
Now for a few updates on Zahara. We arrived late and the only hotel that had room was the Pension Los Tadeos. We were worried, based on your description, but they added a new wing. The rooms are large with bathrooms. Some have a terrace and can sleep four. $4000-5600 a nite was well worth it. They also have a new hotel with a beautiful view of the water and countyside. Its owners are the same as the El Convento in Arcos. The prices were reasonable. They also sell a house perfume that is very reasonable.
Grazalema was a fun drive from Zahora. We took the back road thru the mountains. Great sights for the passengers but the driver better keep his eyes on the road.
This was our second trip in 2 years. We couldn't have done it without your book, a good road map and a sense of humor. Driving lets you explore small towns off the usual tourist route, stop at roadside cafes or just pull over and watch the world go by. If you're comfortable being lost at times and not ashamed to ask directions, you will see Europe thru the back door. (The natives are friendly and don't bite.) We find it the only way to travel.
P.S. We left a purse in a family-run resturant in Ronda. 4 hours later
it was still there with everything in it. I had to force a reward on the
William W. Frapolly
Chicago, Il USA 12/28/00
Do not go to Africa for a one-day trip! One day in Tangier is the worst
way to see Africa. We thought it would be interesting but it was a disaster.
The sights in Tangier are all overrated, and the city seemed full of thieves
and con men. We have traveled for years and spent years of our lives overseas,
so I'd like to believe my opinion is an educated one. To see Africa as an
excursion from Spain, travel further inland and dedicate 2-3 days.
Cleveland, OH USA 12/26/00
On our four-week trip to Spain and Portugal in May 2000, we used Rick's "Spain and Portugal." Also, we wrote comments from the graffiti wall into the book so that we would have the most up-to-date information.
We checked much of our luggage at the airport and took only a small bag into Madrid for our 3-day stay. This was easy to do and worked out well.
We took a bus from the airport to Plaza Colon and then transferred to the #150 bus to Plaza del Sol. The airport bus left from right in front of the terminal and the #150 bus stop is only about a quarter of a block from the Plaza Colon stop. This was easy to figure out because Plaza Colon was the last stop on the airport bus route and Plaza del Sol was the last stop of the #150 bus route.
We took Metro for our return trip from Plaza del Sol all the way to the Madrid airport. This was also easy to do as the route maps in the Metro stations are very easy to follow.
We thought that we would beat the high tourist season by going in May but still found accommodations in Madrid full. Seems like there is always a holiday for something. For example, May 1 is the workers' celebration and May 2 is something like founders' day in Madrid.
Hostal Montalvo, recommended by Rick, is in a great location right next to Plaza Mayor. We found it clean and friendly with English spoken by staff at the main desk. Rates were 6,500 ptas for a double and 9,900 ptas for a quad.
We also stayed at Hostal Acapulco on Plaza del Carmen (telephone 34-915-31-19-45; email email@example.com). This hostal was not in Rick's book but if we ever return to Madrid we would stay here again. Hostal Acapulco is on the third floor with two other hostals on the two lower floors. The neon sign outside says Hostal Triana. Hostal Acapulco is family-run and was completely gutted and remodeled a year ago. Rates were 7,000 ptas for a double and 9,500 ptas for a quad. There is a funky glass-enclosed elevator. Family members Francisco and Carmen spoke English and were very friendly and helpful. Their brother runs a family restaurant, Costa del Sol, across the plaza from the hostal. We enjoyed a four-course dinner with the locals for 1,250 ptas.
We made reservations from the U.S. to rent a car at the Madrid airport for the remainder of our travels. National and Alamo are the same rental company in Madrid, but Alamo rental rates were much less than National. Also, we were never asked for an International Drivers license. Our state drivers license was all that mattered.
I found it a bit confusing getting to the expressway when leaving the airport. But, M40 is a circular expressway around the city, so either way you go eventually gets you to the highway turnoff you want.
Toledo - Hostal de Cardenal is a fun upscale change of pace that is perfectly located for walking into Toledo's old town. Staff members were friendly but businesslike. The dining room has an enjoyable, elegant atmosphere but is a bit pricey. The El Greco Santa Cruz Museum was closed when we were there and is scheduled to reopen in October 2000.
The highway from Toledo to Granada is very good, easily driven at 120 to 140 km/hr. I made the drive in 4 hours without rushing.
Granada - Getting tickets to Alhambra was very confusing. It seemed nearly impossible to get tickets for the same day. Alternatively, tickets could be obtained in advance from branches of the BBV bank. We got tickets one day in advance for a 7:00 pm entry. As a last option we considered taking a tour bus as tours appeared to dominate the morning and afternoon attendance.
Accommodations were quite full in Granada, just as in Madrid. We did not like our room at Hostel Lisboa (recommended by Rick) and would not go back there.
Nerja - We thoroughly enjoyed the town and surrounding area. We stayed at the Hostal Marissal right on the Balcon de Europa (telephone 952-520-199; not in Rick's book). Rooms were brand new, large, immaculately clean and tastefully furnished. Rooms 11, 12 and 13 have sea views on a quiet walkway, and rooms 2, 3, 4, and 5 have small sea views across the noisier Balcon de Europa. The owner Maria was very friendly. We would definitely stay here again. Rates were 6,500 ptas plus 7 percent tax. We found it best to park in the big, new parking garage near the Balcon de Europa. It was highly used and appeared to be quite safe.
The tapas bars recommended by Rick in the old part of town were great. We had gambas, kabobs, potatoes, fish and two beers for only 800 ptas.
The whitewashed village of Frigiliani, six kilometers from Nerja, was a fun day trip. We continued past the village further up into the hills to a restaurant, La Venta, right at the top of a valley looking down towards the sea. We had homemade olive oil, vinegar, bread, flan and potatoes. Spent the whole afternoon out on the deck enjoying the view.
After leaving Spain, we settled into the Algarve for a golf holiday. There are over 25 golf courses along a 50-kilometer stretch. We explored the Algarve and always concluded we liked the area near Carvoeiro the best. We abandoned hostal living for awhile and stayed at the 4-star Hotel Almonsor (www.nexus-pt.com/almonsor). Great facility on the ocean. We stayed for a week and our beautiful sea-view room, daily buffet breakfast and five rounds of golf cost about $110 per day. Most hotels have special rates at all of the area golf courses, which are inexpensive in comparison to the top courses in the U.S. Great fun to play every day with different partners from all over Europe.
We also stayed a week at a two-bedroom apartment at the Pestana golf resort. We had a brand-new apartment overlooking the golf course for 101,000 escudos for a week (about $470 U.S.). Also, spent two nights at Rick's recommended village of Salema. Probably fun for a day or two in the summer, but it was cold and rainy when we were there.
Had a fun day trip to the highest point in the Algarve. Great views on a clear day. Take the road to Monchique and continue up to Foia. Highlight of this trip was a stop at a locally recommended restaurant, Quinto de Sao Bento. It is the very first restaurant/hotel on the right side as you drive down from the peak. We had wild boar hunted from the surrounding hills.
Sintra - Followed advice from the graffiti wall and stayed here instead of Lisbon. Then we took a 45-minute train ride to visit Lisbon. Trains leave about every half hour. This worked out very well.
In Sintra we stayed at Rick's recommended Vila Marques, next to the National Palace. The rooms with shared baths are elegant in a funky kind of way. There are three basement suites with baths that open onto a back garden. Rates were 8,000 escudos. We'd stay here again if we return.
Finally, a couple tips:
- locally purchased calling cards in Spain worked very well.
- Portugal has the best tourist tee shirts of anyplace I have ever been.
Tony & Jolanta Melone
Bothell, WA USA 12/20/00
My wife and I traveled for a month through France, Spain and Portugal on Rick's books. Overall a wonderful experience. The food in Spain was disappointing, however, especially after our experience in France.
Barcelona - Hotel Continental was a very nice place, charming room, great coffee bar and a helpful staff. It is in a building just off the Ramblas and is up several floors (elevator) sharing space in a high-rise building. Don't look for any huge signs pointing it out.
The Picasso Museum is great! Best collection of his early (pre-abstract) work I have ever seen. The Sagrada Familia and Palau Guell are the best of the Gaudi architecture.
Granada - I Love Granada! The Royal Chapel, The Cathedral, The Alhambra, all exceptional. I could have spent another full day here easily. The Hotel Los Tilos on the Bib Rambla pedestrian square was clean, comfortable, a little dark, and friendly with a pretty good breakfast buffet that ran about 600 pesatas per person.
We bought our Alhambra tickets at the BBV Bank right on the Plaza Nueva, very convenient.
Nerja on the Costa del Sol - We stayed at the Balcon de Europa. While it is nice, it wasn't worth the extra cost. We really enjoyed Nerja, especially after driving up the coast and seeing how built-up the rest of it was.
Gibraltar - DON'T DRIVE! Why, after all the warnings in Rick's book I thought I could I'll never know. After a couple frustrating hours of trying to find parking, we drove out, parked, walked in, and started all over. Much better the second time around. Gibraltar really only needs 5-6 hours at most.
Arcos - The Hotel Los Olivas is wonderful and we had a great room looking out on the courtyard.
Sevilla - Hotel Alcazar is a little pricey, but very nice and breakfast included. Very convenient to the Alcazar, Cathedral, and Los Gallos Flamenco. Our room looked out on the lights of the Alcazar and Giralda Tower. We tried for other places in Rick's book but they were all booked. October is not off-season in much of Spain.
The AVE to Madrid is great! We were bumped up to Business Class and enjoyed free drinks, and a pretty darn good lunch! We didn't expect this, but would definitely do it again. One problem throughout Europe, even if it says non-smoking, no one obeys it. It's just the way it is there.
Madrid - The Hostal Montalvo is now the Hostal TIJCAL and I would avoid it. The room and hotel smelled like week-old paella. The "tons of extras" included a shower that never worked properly, and they were stingy with the toilet paper. While they smiled, they weren't very helpful. IS it still owned by the Caraballo family?
Sintra - For a wonderful locals' restaurant try Regalo at Rua Luis De Camoes, 75 (phone 21-924-3890). They serve a grilled chicken to die for! It comes in servings for one, two, three etc. We were five and had a 2 ½ serving with salad, and two jugs of homemade Sangria. Not only were we stuffed, the bill came to less than 10,000 escudas. We ended up eating there three times during our stay.
Braga - It isn't in Rick's book but the northern town of Braga is great. The cathedral in town has a great crypt and baroque organ. The people we were staying with are related to the general that led the troops from Braga to overthrow the rising communist party in the 1920s. In fact, the general's grandson was our tour guide around town.
Outside of town on a hill is the cathedral of Bom Jesus. You arrive via a series of staircases that lead past little chapels with figures representing the 12 Stations of the Cross. Those wishing an easier route can ride the wonderful water-driven funicular. The car on the top of the hill fills an attached tank with water and the weight carries it down while pulling the lower car up. Once down the water is drained and the process begins again.
I also recommend, as does Rick, coastal towns north of Cascais. A great
day trip, especially if you are staying in Sintra.
San Leandro, CA USA 12/14/00
Once again I found Rick's books very helpful. My wife and I spent 14 days in Spain and Portugal & Gilbraltar this past October.
The best day of the whole trip was visiting Sintra. We hiked up to the Moorish castle using the lower path. It is on the map you get from the TI.
Lisbon was pretty good. A half day and a night were plenty. Rick's recommended Pensao Aljubarrota is a great deal. Rita gets embarrased if you call her "lovely Rita" like Rick does in his book. She is very nice, as is the owner.
For the night train to Madrid, you'll need sleeping pills, because the ride is bumpy--and expensive too.
The Algarve coast was great, even though we went to a city that Rick doesn't recommend (Albufiera). It is shamelessly touristy, but the beach is incredible.
Some on this board warn about Gilbraltar, but we really liked it--the second best day of the trip. The apes are lots of fun, and quite playful. St. Michael's cave is worth seeing. Gilbraltar was also a nice break from Spanish language and food. Main street is deserted at night, but avoid at all costs in the middle of the day, when it is crowded with the people off of cruise ships.
Everything was extremely cheap. Also, the Sunday flea market in Madrid was great and I don't even like to shop. Don't miss it if you happen to be there on a Sunday.
Here are my only complaints:
The food in Spain was not very good. Not only that, we got ripped off at least 3 times by bartenders and waiters. If you order a tapas they give you a "racione" (larger, more expensive portion), and assume you won't complain.
I've had 2 semesters of Spanish and yet the language barrier was worse than in Italy where I speak no Italian. If I didn't get the word perfect then they ignored me. People were nicer outside of Madrid, but the food was still bad. We kept to Italian resturants whenever we saw them.
Both Lisbon and Madrid have many, many street people and street hustlers--way more that any European or US city I have seen.
If you are considering visiting Spain and Portugal, but have never visited
Italy, then do yourself a favor: skip Iberia and visit Italy.
Lewisville, TX USA 12/05/00
We found some cool ceramic plates and bowls that combined ceramics with metal, and beautiful handmade linen tablecloths, in Ronda. We thought the ceramics we found in Sevilla to be unexciting for the most part, except for a small shop on Plaza Santa Anna (we think) around the corner from Hotel Murillo, and another more expensive shop close to the Santa Cruz Tapas Bar very near the Cathederal in downtown Sevilla. There were a lot of cool cotton rugs in Capilerilla, Bubion in the Alpajaras for anywhere from $10 - $100.
We ran into some problems obtaining cash from ATM machines - could have been a problem with my ATM card. We found that some restaurants and hostals don't accept credit cards.
When you exchange money or get money from a bank always get the 5,000 ptas or less notes because a lot of places don't like to take anything bigger (like the 10,000 ptas note).
Even though the books say not to drive in Toledo, Arcos and Ronda because the roads are really narrow and confusing, we found that to not be as big a problem as the guidebooks seem to imply. We had more difficulty driving in the larger cities because many of the streets do not have posted street signs - Spain puts the street names on buildings but they are haphazardly placed, if present at all.
Even though it looks like it's not that far, expect the drive time from Sevilla to Madrid to take 4 - 5 hours because the roads in Spain are extremely windy with a lot of slow traffic.
Even though we drove because we thought we'd see a lot more of the country, most of the country in southern Spain is farmland and generally uninteresting. We found that either trains or buses (usually nice comfortable buses) went to every city in which we stayed.
In Madrid, the Metro goes all the way to the airport now. It's about a 50-minute ride with two transfers to get to the Sol station in downtown Madrid. The Sol station is about 3 small blocks from the Hostal Grupo T.I.J.C.A.L.
Many of the train and bus stations may be some distance from the hotels you will be staying at. Even if you take a cab, expect that you'll be walking several hundred yards sometimes to get to your hotel (i.e. pack light).
We found it very useful to store our luggage in a locker at the airport the night before we left Spain. It costs between $300 and $900 ptas depending on the time you leave the bags there and when you pick them up. They charge by calendar days, not 24 hours from the time you leave the bags.
Arcos - the El Convento in Arcos was absolutely fabulous - great views and nice clean friendly place to stay. We paid 12,800 ptas, a little higher than the guidebooks indicate but still a great bargain. You can follow the signs to the Parador in Arcos and park in the extremely small parking lot in front of the parador. That appeared to be the "only" parking anywhere near the Parador and El Convento. It also cost 500 ptas per day to park there which you can pay to the El Convento hotel and they will give you a parking pass you put on the car dash. There may be a person "helping you park your car" - you do not have to give him anything which he does say, but he does not own the lot and does not work there.
Berchules - Hotel Los Berchules is a really great deal and a cool place with great views and inexpensive (5,000 ptas).
Ronda - We didn't stay there, but the Parador or the Hotel Don Miguel were definite "must stays". They were both on the edge of the gorge, but every room in the Parador seemed to have a great view.
Capilerilla - Definitely check out the Casa de Comidas Ibero for dinner. Great food. But they only have 8 tables and appear to only have a single seating per night so don't get there too late. Maybe they have more on the weekend - we were there on a weekday.
Definitely book a room before you arrive in Granada - it's always busy.
Also, in Ronda, the food at Restaurante Dona Pepa was excellent. You
must especially try the green pea soup and goats cheese salad - out of
San Francisco, CA USA 11/18/00
I always use Rick (my buddy, my pal) when I travel. I went to Morocco and Spain last year and have my comments to add to the list.
MOROCCO: I should have listened to Rick. Morocco is very labor intensive. Once I got past Algiers and onto Casablanca, things were better. It is constant stimulation (food, smells, noise, people touching you, etc.). If you're into a very different experience, then this is the place for you. Otherwise, I'd steer clear.
SPAIN: Loved Tarifa! Could have stayed there for a while. Same for Barcelona.
Ate at Juicy Jones 3 days in a row!
Dearborn, MI USA 11/17/00
My husband and I spent 2-1/2 weeks, mostly in Portugal, this past October.
Favorites: Madrid, Sintra, Evora and Salema.
Least liked: Lisbon
Favorite accommodations: Madrid, The Carlos V; Sintra, Casa Miradouro; Evora, Solar de Monfalim.
In LISBON we stayed at the Pensao Aljubarrota, which I definitely would not recommend. I did not like it or the owner. Rita was very nice, but it was pretty grimmy and uncomfortable. I have traveled extensively, and have used Rick's guides before, so I don't think that it is just me.
One of the most disturbing things is the national hobby of pickpocketing and theft. I have never in all of the traveling we've done seen anything like it. If we had not been aware, and very lucky, we would have lost everything. The theives work singularly and in groups. They will cause a diversion, and then strike. If you wear a fanny pack and carry it in front, be sure to loop it around your belt and keep a hand on it. The trolly in Lisbon is a common hit place, as is the subway from the airport in Madrid.
In addition, do not get out of a cab before the cab driver if you have luggage in the trunk, and either have small change or sit back in cab as you pay, or he may drive away before giving you change, or hand you a bunch, which is like pennies.
Do not leave a tip of any kind on a table, especially outside, as guys hang around and take it.
I have been to other countries that I have enjoyed more than Portugal. The ocean cliffs were awesome, and some of the smaller cites were quaint. But I prefer Spain for its history and architecture.
October 12th is Spain's national holiday, and rooms are difficult to
find for the first two weeks in October. Because we were forwarned by
a previous writer, we booked a week before and were lucky to get the Carlos
V. In Salema, we too, saw many a person turned away from the Mare. There
is not much there, and the Mare is the nicest one, by far. If you take
the trip, good luck, have fun, and keep an eagle eye on your personal
Bellevue, WA USA 11/15/00
Just spent 2 weeks in southern Spain using Rick Steves' book and others. Here are some comments.
Sevilla - For the price, Hotel Simon was great! It's in a good location, too. Avoid the restaurants bordering the cathedral - they're too touristy and of poor quality. We wandered all over Sevilla and never felt threatened. RS mentions buying train tickets at some travel agency, but you can also buy them at the big department store, El Cortes Ingles, the same hours the store is open. We arrived Saturday afternoon and were able to buy tickets there for Monday morning instead of having to go to the train station (regular travel agencies are only open M-F).
Cordoba - Took the AVE from Sevilla just for a day. Toured the wonderful Mezquita which made it worth the trip. Not a lot else there to see, though.
Cadiz - Loved it! Stayed at the parador. The city is a little rundown but the people were very friendly and there were hardly any tourists. It's a great place to wander around and we felt very safe.
Arcos de la Frontera - Stayed at the Hotel El Convento. Loved it! Great hotel! We had a balcony right on the edge of the cliff. Had lunch in their restaurant which was very good but pricey.
Ronda - Stayed in the parador. Nice hotel! Ronda is a bit overrun with tourists and some of the locals seemed a bit jaded. Be careful walking through the park on the edge of the gorge that RS recommends for a good view of the bridge. There were groups of teenage boys loitering, all staring at us. One group of little brats had the nerve to shoot at us with pellet guns! If you enter the park from the side closest to the main square, be warned that you can't walk through it to the bridge below. The gate was locked so we had to walk back past the bratty boys and their guns. The Palacio Salvatierre (or something like that) hasn't been open to the public for the past year or so. RS doesn't mention the Arab baths but we thought they were pretty cool, and free.
Granada - The Hotel Macia on Plaza Nueva. The hotel was acceptable but
I didn't care for it much. To activate the electricity in the room, you
have to put the room key in a little slot. Fine, but once we did that,
the electricity buzzed loudly, even with everything turned off. The 'quiet'
rooms all have small, opaque windows so the rooms seem very dark. The
hotel clerk said the rooms on the front are so noisy that she wouldn't
stay in one. The noise comes from all the riffraff that hangs out in the
plaza, day and night. We found the Plaza Nueva to be somewhat seedy. We
moved to the hotel Anacapri and were much happier with it. It's on a quiet
side street and is overall much nicer (and a little more expensive). Nice
staff at both places. Loved the Alhambra and enjoyed walking around the
Albaicin and Sacramonte.
Munich, Germany 11/14/00
Re: Cannon Hotel in Gibraltar. Made internet reservations for mid-September.
Family illness forced me to cancel. E-mailed the hotel during the Labor
Day weekend to advise cancellation. Credit card bill shows up & voila! One
night's lodging appeared to the tune of $68 US. I e-mailed them again to
issue a credit, attaching my cancellation note. No reply, still no credit.
They won't get my business in the spring! Traveler beware!
Cincinnati, OH USA 11/14/00
In the Costa del Sol DO NOT miss the delightful village of Mijas! One
of the prettiest we saw on our trip. We had an apartment in a private home
in Alhaurin le Grande, very near Malaga, and Mijas was "just over the mountain." Great shopping there too.
Fort Towson, OK USA 11/10/00
I don't know if you are aware or not but Americans can no longer go
from Tarifa, Spain to Africa. The Spanish gov't now requires you to go from
Algeciras to their city in Africa. European Union citizens can still use
this route. We were in Europe for 2 months (Sept-Oct), with 5 weeks in Spain.
The tour goes from Algeciras, 9:00 AM, return about 9:00 PM, to three cities
including Tangiers. It still costs about $35. When I talked to the office
at Tarifa the officials did not know the reason.
Ron and Val Smith
Yakima, , Wa USA 11/06/00
We just loved your Spain and Portugal book--the hostales were clean and central and the families super friendly. Most of Rick's suggestions were wonderful. I highly suggest the following hostales:
Hostal Neutral in Barcelona was very central and close to Plaza Cataluna. The Amarillo bus drops you off here and picks up from the airport, and it is a few blocks away from Las Ramblas.
Do not bother going on Las Golondrinas boat ride around the harbor, as recommended by Rick--it was awful seeing all the oxidized old boats.
Hostal Cervantes in Madrid had great rooms and location - by the Prado. The family was the best and really took care of their guests - we felt like family.
Hostal Maravilla in Toledo was very well situated - right in the heart of all the action! We had the attic room and it was new and clean - staff great too.
Los Tilos in Granada is central, on a lovely plaza, close to the cathedral and a skip to the bus line that takes you to the Alhambra.
Rick suggested the most romantic place for dinner - overlooking the Alhambra.
The best-kept secret for the Alhambra is buying admission tickets ahead
of time in any major city with a BBV bank branch (they're all over, with
bright blue and white signs). You pick the day and time; all you need
to do is present your voucher.
Los Angeles, CA USA 10/27/00
We located Hostal Maralasca in Madrid (91 521 48 38) through the train station hotel locator service. There was a misunderstanding at the end of our stay about the locator's commission but we were very satisfied with the hotel. It's quite close to Plaza del Sol, clean, comfortable and the management is very pleasant. We paid 6500 P per nite for a double with bath.
We would cross Hostal Virgin del Rocio in Ronda off your list. We were "greeted" by a thoroughly obnoxious young man at the desk. The "breakfast included" consisted of a couple of hard rolls and cold coffee.
We'd give high praise to the Nova Sintra in Sintra, Portugal. It's right near the train station, has a great breakfast included and the manager is terrific - speaks English quite well and is extremely helpful. We paid 11,000 escudos per nite for a nice double room with a bath.
Our Lisbon digs was the Residencial Dom Sancho on Av. da Liberdade (213548648).
It was a bit dark and dreary in decor but was certainly clean and the
management was "SUNNY." Walking distance to the Rossio, and the Metro
was practically across the street. Would definitely recommend it - 12,500
Esc. per nite including a nice continental breakfast.
Bellevue, WA USA 10/24/00
Note to Mary in Oregon, the Multnomah County Library has three copies of Michener's Iberia. The call number is 914.6 M62i.
In other news: The AVE train is great! The overnight train from Granada to Madrid was also fine (we had the car to ourselves most of the way and slept). It was a bit rattly, but we were too tired to pay much attention.
The buses are nice - some even have plushy leather seats - but the leg
room is NOT good. On one bus I almost cried when I saw the amount of space
between seats; I was all right, but felt much sympathy for overweight
and very tall passengers.
My husband and I just returned from 3 days and nights in Gibraltar. We've always traveled with Rick's books and have always been happy with his recommendations...but Rick, you need to go back to Gibraltar. The Cannon Hotel was the worst place we've stayed. The first thing we did after arriving was open the wrong hotel room door with our key (a mistake, but why did the key work to the wrong room?). The rooms are dingy and dirty and the noise was unbelievable. Every teenager who lives on the Rock goes to the bar a half a block away to scream all night, I'm sure.
At midnight we left and went to the Bristol Hotel where we stayed for
the next 2 nights as well. We didn't even try to get our money back from
the Cannon, we just wanted out. Rick describes the rooms at the Bristol
as dark, but we found them clean, nice and quiet. It is pricey, as is
everything there, but only 30 pounds more than the Cannon and a world
Rick doesn't give any restaurant recommendations for Gibraltar, but we had a marvelous meal at La Bayuca. Tita and Johnny have owned it for 37 years, and there are interesting photos on the walls of the famous who have dined there. They sat with us for a while and talked about living in Tangier during WWII. It was a very memorable experience.
I wouldn't recommend 3 days in Gibraltar to the casual visitor--we are Americans working and living in Morocco and it was a nice trip for us. But the Gibraltarians were friendly, interesting people, and it's a neat place to spend a night and a day or two.
Rabat, Morocco 10/10/00
Just returned from 2.5 weeks in Spain. We had a great time, more or
less. Spaniards are extremely friendly and helpful, some of the nicest in
Europe! The food wore on us a bit, though. Tapas were good at first, but
too greasy and fishy to eat day after day. We ate at a few excellent restaurants
(El Convento in Arcos was fantastic!), but beware that finding a good restaurant
takes time to find (those not listed in Rick's guide) and typically don't
open until after 8.
Rick should add a few more restaurant suggestions, especially for the large cities. Also, I would suggest a few more 3- and 4-star hotel recommendations - they are very comfortable, and some come with swimming pools, a necessity for Sevilla and Costa del Sol in summer/fall. These hotels won't break the bank, either. The three-stars we stayed in were about $80/night--San Gil in Sevilla (nice rooftop pool) and Hotel Cortez in Madrid (quiet and near all the central action).
The worst hotel we stayed in was the Cannon Hotel in Gibraltar - dirty,
noisy, smoky, grumpy management. Avoid this place like the plague.
A note on Gibraltar - we first went to Tarifa and wanted to use this as a home base for day trips to Gibraltar and Tangier. However, the EU recently declared that Tarifa is not a frontier port, which means that only EU citizens can leave and enter from the Tarifa port. Americans must leave out of Algeciras or Gibraltar to go to Tangier. The EU did this, apparently, to move the tourist $ from Tarifa to Algeciras. Anyways, it's a pain.
Tarifa is a cute town and would've made a great base, if it were not so blasted windy (120 km/hr the weekend that we were there).
If you're interested in a day trip to Tangier, any travel agent in Gibraltar,
Tarifa, or Algeciras will set you up. The trips out of Gibraltar go to
Tangier. Most of the Algeciras trips go to Ceuta (Spanish outpost on the
eastern edge of Morocco) and bus you to Tangier and back, which doesn't
give you as much time in Tangier.
Final note: I recommend reading James Michener's "Iberia" during any multiweek trip to Spain. It's not a novel - it's a travel book, describing his favorite areas in Spain, with insightful discussions of history, politics, and social topics. It's a fascinating read, and, at over 30 years old, amazingly current.
Ryan and Sara
Minneapolis, MN USA 09/21/00
I just returned from a two-week trip to Spain. Overall, we found Spain friendly and affordable. We especially enjoyed our tapas walking tour with Stephen Drake Jones.
Rick's book was a tremendous help throughout our trip. The only listing that was questionable was the Cannon Hotel in Gibraltar. Rick indicated this hotel was on a quiet street. Well, the quiet street had the loud voices of drinking bar patrons outside the window until 2 or 3 AM. The hotel was NOT clean by any stretch of the imagination and there was no TP in the bathroom when we checked in. The staff not the least bit helpful.
We were charged a deposit of 50% of the cost of the room in advance, but also charged the full room price when we arrived. The person working the front desk did not have the authority to return our deposit or access to records to confirm we were charged for the deposit, and the manager was out of town. We sent an e-mail requesting a refund and were told we would be given a credit for the deposit. We'll keep you posted.
We also felt that the hotel was not very secure: the windows over a
walkway did not have a lock, the hallways were dark, and the door locks
seemed flimsy at best. Travelers would be better advised to pay more for
a better hotel in Gibralter or make it a day trip.
Whitefish Bay, WI USA 09/18/00
The best tapas we had in Spain were in Granada, at the "Plaza Mayor" restaurant, across from the statue of Isabella. These guys had several plates set up for the night. I had 4 and could not eat anymore...or dinner! I ate a great soup/stew there too. (It was the regional dish of Anadalusia, but the name escapes me.) People were super friendly.
Stayed at the Anacapri hotel, which has a great internet cafe across the street, and right around the corner from the restaurant above.
But worst traffic I ever experienced (and I grew up in NYC) was in Granada.
I wish we had spent more time in Barcelona. Stayed at the Hotel Nouvell
and Gabriel did give me the discount, and he IS a very nice person! His
assistant made our reservations in Carcassonne for us--she flipped between
Spanish, Catalan, French and English like I use a channel changer!
Olympia, WA USA 09/14/00
Two summers ago I spent a month in Salamanca, Spain. I am quite surprised
there's not more about this city in all the major guidebooks. To me it sums
up Spain like no other city I visited. You can stay there for really cheap
in decent places. The cathedral is quite impressive to be located in such
a small town, too. Everything can be seen with no major walking effort or "wallet" effort. Another plus is that Salamanca is only about 2-1/2 hours
by train from Madrid. If you're planning a trip to Spain you would be remiss
if you didn't visit Salamanca.
Lanett, AL USA 09/11/00
The best food is in Sevilla; the best sights to see in the day can
be found in Madrid; and nothing can touch the sun setting and the moon rising
over the Mediterranean from the beaches in Torremolinos. Me encanta Costa
NY USA 08/23/00
My husband, daughter and I recently spent three weeks in Spain and Portugal. What a great experience! Despite the horror stories about pickpockets, rental car problems, etc., we had no major difficulties.
In Barcelona, we recommend the Hotel Continental (a wonderful breakfast and great location.) Our room was a little noisy because we had a balcony overlooking the Ramblas, but that was part of the atmosphere. A highlight was seeing the fountains at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (come down from the top and look back tier by tier. It was wonderful!) We also stayed and saw the fountains at night with music. If you have children, the Barcelona zoo is also very good.
We flew to Sevilla and stayed at the Hotel Dona Maria (right behind the cathedral and bell tower.) Great location and they have a wonderful rooftop terrace bar with a fantastic view of the bell tower (spectacular when the sun sets). The hotel is a little expensive, but worth it for the location and the air conditioning in July. Went to flamenco at El Arenal (recommended by the hotel and mentioned in Rick's book). Warning: some seats are right behind posts, so go early for best seats. Sevilla is a very pretty city, but not so easy to get out of (or into) with a rental car!
We then rented a car and drove down to Tarifa, an interesting town to stay in while you visit Gibralter and Morocco. Very windy! Hotel Alborada is very clean, but unfortunately we were given a room that opened right onto the street (with only one very small, barred window), so it was very hot and uncomfortable. I wouldn't stay there again unless I could get a room upstairs with a balcony so you could leave the window/door open.
In Gibraltar the apes really do roam freely; one jumped on my husband's back.
Took a guided day trip to Morocco. Americans must take the ferry from Algeciras (can't go from Tarifa), but the tour company buses you to and from Algeciras. The ferry takes a long time (over an hour wait at the port and then two hours on the ferry). Actual time in Morocco is about 4 hours. What an experience that was. Definitely recommend going, but not on your own! The street vendors are overwhelming for a group of 15. I can't imagine if you are on your own.
We drove to the Algarve in Portugal where we parked our car in Tavira and just hung out for four days. It was a wonderful break. The Hotel Mares was very nice. Tavira is very picturesque with an old Roman bridge (illuminated at night) and a river with fishing boats. There are several unique shops with wonderful ceramics and crafts. A good restaurant not mentioned in Rick's book is Beira Rio which is right on the river with indoor and outdoor seating and a great view of the bridge. (You cross the Roman Bridge from the town park side of the river and go thru the little pedestrian tunnel to get to it.) Tavira also has a beach that you can get to by boat from the town. We all really enjoyed our time in Tavira.
Finally, we dropped our car back in Sevilla and took the AVE train to Madrid. The Hotel Tirol, near Arguelles subway stop, is a good hotel which also includes breakfast. There's a fantastic Italian trattoria right down the street (Vecchia Milano). While the tour of the palace was interesting, the Royal Armory (which is included in your ticket) was awesome! Very eerie seeing all of the armor. The Plaza Mayor is great for shopping and just wandering around.
One last thing about Spain: definitely shift to their eating hours and
enjoy the variety of tapas available in the cafes and restaurants. Just
watch out for the seafood because many times it looks back at you! Have
a great time--we did!
Homer, NY USA 07/31/00
Note to Mary from Oregon: I was surprised to read that you were unable
to find Michener's "Iberia" at Amazon.com so I looked it up. I don't know
how you missed it, but I'm sure that you will be happy to hear that it is
available in paperback for less than seven bucks. I copied the URL, and
it SHOULD take you there. Enjoy! http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0449207331/qid=965064711/sr=1-3/002-4781809-8715247
Sherman Oaks, CA USA 07/31/00
You can't always judge a hotel by its looks.
Our recent trip to Spain with our 11-year-old granddaughter was wonderful - until Madrid. My wife had used the internet to book us at a hostal in Madrid (we didn't listen to Rick on this one). Our own discomfort and the fact that we were traveling with our granddaughter led us to seek other accommodations after the first night.
Our favorite travel guide (Rick's "Spain & Portugal 2000") suggested that we "...luxuriate in Hotel Reina Victoria... For a royal, air-conditioned breather..." It was located in a lively, attractive area (Santa Ana Plaza) and sounded great. We learned that even the picadors and matadors stayed here. We checked in and went back to the hostal to get our luggage. Our early departure from the hostal came with a penalty. We had to pay for two additional nights, but we thought it was worth the cost. Had we only known!
When we left for dinner, we asked at the front desk for an extra towel (they had brought a rollaway bed for our granddaughter, but not towels). When we returned at 11:45 p.m. we discovered that my day pack and my granddaughter's, and their contents (including two cameras, binoculars, etc.) had been stolen. Our wonderful vacation quickly lost its allure.
Needless to say the theft had a negative impact on our experience and on our view of Spain. However, the worst part was the nonchalance and irresponsibility exhibited by the hotel and its Directora (manager), Pilar del Rio Ortiz. When we reported the theft to the front desk neither the clerk nor the security guard seemed interested. They said they had only come on duty 20 minutes earlier and could therefore do nothing. No police were called and I was told, at midnight in an unfamiliar city, that I should go to the police station myself to report the crime. The door to our room had been damaged recently - something I had to point out to the security guard. The door did not close tightly against the frame and colored wood filler had been liberally applied to hide the damage. There were a number of plausible ways someone could have entered our room, but the manager only accepted that someone would have had to break in the door for our belongings to have been taken (and she did not accept the putty as evidence of someone tampering with the door). She also claimed adamantly that such a theft had never happened before and vigorously defended her employees.
Señora Ortiz offered to waive the charges for our stay and I told her I would rather have my belongings back, but that I would think about her proposal. The next day I left a letter for her at the front desk explaining that the cost of the room did not equal the value of our stolen property. I stated that if my belongings could not be returned, I felt I should be reimbursed for the full value of all that was stolen. She avoided me for over a day and when we checked out we found that the charge for three nights of our stay had been waived rather than the five she originally offered.
I guess the moral of this story is that the old cliche' is true: You
cannot judge a book by its cover. We would have been better off staying
at the small hostal than at the fancy Hotel Reina Victoria, or perhaps
we should have searched for a hotel in the Aranzazu chain like the Carlton,
were we stayed in Bilbao. One thing is certain, if I ever visit Spain
again I will not stay in a Tryp Hotel (of which Reina Sofia is a member).
Dan Hope III
Athens, GA USA 07/19/00
Everyone, not just Rick, recommends reading Michener's "Iberia." Fine.
Just try to find it! The Multnomah County Library (Portland, OR) does not
have it. Amazon.com does not have it--it is out of print. Even Powell's
Books did not have a used copy. I did find out that all but a few of Michener's
books are out of print, which really surprises me since he is still a very
popular author (you'd think his recent death would have prompted reissue
of some of his works). Maybe we need to organize a big effort to persuade
the publishers to reprint this book!
Mary from Oregon
For the horsey contingent: Rick's book is incorrect about the tours
at the Escuela Real de Arte Equestre Andaluza at Jerez de la Frontera. The
shows are on Tuesday and Thursday. The facility tours (along with attendance
at a rehearsal) are on Monday and Wednesday. So do not go on Tuesday or
Thursday expecting to see anything but the show. If you are interested enough
to want a facility tour as well, you need to plan 2 days in Jerez. This
may not affect many people, but my granddaughter (age 15) was bitterly disappointed
that we could not get a tour.
Mary from Oregon
A couple of things learned from 3 April weeks in Spain & Portugal:
Except for the AVE, which is pricey, use buses rather than trains. The trains of Spain run on narrow-gauge, very bumpy track and are extremely uncomfortable. Do not take the Madrid-Lisbon night train; you will not sleep. There is a 3-hour section where the train goes bump, bump, bump hard enough to shake your fillings loose! Everyone we talked to said they prefer the bus.
See my entry under "Are Reservations Necessary" for our horrid experiences traveling the week before Semana Santa--2 half-days on the phone trying to make reservations. The Spanish travel agent we finally went to said 6 weeks in advance is a minimum for any time within 2 weeks of Semana Santa. Check "Lonely Planet" (the most accurate) for a list of holidays and make reservations far in advance anywhere near those times.
In defense of Rick's listings, though, I'd like to recommend the only
one we could get a reservation at, Hostal Montalvo in Madrid, just 1/2
block from the Plaza Mayor. Every time we climbed the stairs to the 3rd
floor (what Americans call the 4th floor) I was raving about the wonderful
woodwork. This hotel really has character and is very friendly, with a
multi-lingual manager (I heard him conversing in fluent French and Italian
as well as in English).
Mary from Oregon
Important: We recently went from Tarifa to Morocco, and it was great,
but we weren't allowed to re-enter Spain through Tarifa...we had to go to
Algeceires, then back to Tarifa where our car was...MAJOR pain!
Salem, MA USA 07/06/00
thanks, rick steves for your spain & portugal and italy guides, which
helped me and my wife enjoy the most wounderful vacation ever, backpacking
thru cinque terre in italy, arcos de la frontera & ronda in spain, to fes
in morocco. It helped us greatly with our accommodations and where to eat.
who ever thought that a year ago when i saw your program of cinque terre,
italy i would visit such a beautiful part of the world.
orlando, fl USA 07/06/00
Just returned from Portugal and Spain.
The train in the Algarve to Vila Real no longer stops at the ferry to Spain, but a good 3/4 mile walk away...a good reason to use the bus.
In Sevilla, I went to the recommended travel agency to buy train tickets
to Madrid. I greeted them in Spanish and then sat, ignored, for 20 minutes.
I left and walked to the Renfe office where I received prompt courteous
Denver, CO USA 06/30/00
Hotel Europa in Madrid: Great location, but bring ear plugs (seriously) because the noise outside never stops.
Steven Drake-Jones tour: The guy is a bit of a crazy old kook, and it's a bit expensive, but the best part is meeting others on the tour, so make sure you're not alone.
Barcelona: Had two guys in tandem try to pickpocket me while stepping
on the metro. One guy ran in another door and came around like he was
exiting, but bumped into me hard while his buddy behind be reached for
my wallet. Luckily I felt it and stopped him. So watch out!
Atlanta, USA 06/23/00
Recently returned from 17 wonderful days in Spain.
Madrid has great inexpensive metro system and don't miss the walking tour with Stephen Drake-Jones recommended in Rick's book. We spent a very enjoyable evening under his guidance. We stayed at the Carlos V hotel which had super friendly and helpful staff. My wife broke her arm the second day in Spain and they did everything they could to make her comfortable during our stay. Found a charming little restaurant on San Martin, Roque de Rincon, with terrific waiter named Juan.
Flew down to Sevilla and drove to Granada. Very good open highways in Andalusia, however, it's quite a challenge driving in the cities and villages. Sevilla was our favorite city for its history, sights, barrios, food and nightlife.
A pleasant surprise of nature in Antequera is El Torcal. Not listed in any of the guidebooks, but the concierge at the Parador recommended it. The books all mention the giant gorge del Chorro which pales in comparison to El Torcal. Winding roads to the top of the mountain give way to a breathtaking view of the valley below and the rock formations are beautiful.
The caves at Nerja and Balcon de Europa are worth a quick stop.
Overall top attractions: Segovia and Avila; royal palace in Madrid; Alhambra in Granada; barrio Santa Cruz and Plaza de Espana in Sevilla and of course Sevilla wouldn't be complete without experiencing a flamenco performance at Los Gallos. It was exciting. Another pleasant surprise was the Mondragon Palace in Ronda. And don't miss a trip to Jerez and the Royal Equestrian School.
If you want special individual treatment, a cut above a regular tour
(while in Sevilla) try EXCURSIONES. Check w/your hotel concierge or e-mail
to: firstname.lastname@example.org. They'll take you anywhere you want to go.
We hired them for a trip to Gibraltar on our last full day. What a super
and relaxing way to end our trip.
Westminster, CA USA 06/22/00
Just back from 2 weeks in Spain and Portugal where we used Rick's book extensively. While the maps could sure be better, we found the book overall was well worth the price and contained a wealth of info. Its size meant we could take it with us each day for easy reference.
Madrid: We stayed at a Best Western, Hotel Cortez. Nothing special but perfectly adequate, good price and a great location a few blocks off Puerta del Sol. We contacted Stphen Drake-Jones and not only did an evening walking tour with him in Madrid (which was fabulous fun) but we spent an absolutely outstanding day with him touring several towns, palaces and churches in the nearby countryside the next day (we had a rental car). He was an entertaining raconteur, reasonable in his prices and took us to the most marvelous restaurant in Chinchon (one of the little towns we visited). His tours are truly highlights of our trip!
Sevilla: we too experienced the frustration of hot nights and a/c being operational only from 3pm until 3 am--maybe it's a spring thing? The flamenco we saw at L'Arenal was absolutely out of this world! The dancers, chanters and guitarists were superb. Drinks aren't much and we didn't eat there but the hour and a half performance was riveting--well worth the trouble we had finding it (it's a bit out of the way).
Lisbon: stayed at Hotel Suicco Atlantico based on Rick's description:
"formal, hotelish and stuffy" and centrally located. Don't do it! It is
a HORRIBLE place to stay! The furniture is scarred and reminiscent of
a flophouse rather than a hotel! The beds were hard, pillows lumpy, the
place reeked of cigarette smoke--the lobby was thick with smoke (maybe
that's what Rick meant by stuffy?)--and we suffered flea bites. With no
A/C (which Rick did mention), dismal accommodations, a breakfast that
was largely inedible (e.g. their orange juice, in a country with orange
trees lining the streets, tasted like very watery Tang!) and indifferent
staff, the whole experience was a bad ending to an otherwise wonderful
Eugene, OR USA 06/18/00
After a whirlwind tour through Spain & Morocco, my friend and I decided
Toledo was one our favorite spots. And thanks to Rick Steves' guidebook,
the whole Spain experience was awesome! A wonderful discovery we made in
Toledo was to awaken before sunrise and visit the cathedral (much before
everyone else). I'm an amateur photography and know early morning just at
sunrise is one of the best times to photograph. On Sunday at this time of
morning the streets are deserted and quiet. My friend and I were in the
courtyard admiring the cathedral and enjoying the quiet. Daylight was breaking
within the walls of the city and the sounds of the waking birds was just
magical! The cooing of the pigeons nesting within the cathedral's nooks
and crannies added to the peacefulness. Several locals entered through the
backdoor of the cathedral to attend an early mass. We snuck in also before
the cathedral was open to the public.. . . What a treat we had as the priest's
sermon echoed throughout the cathedral while we quietly admired this magnificient
work of art. (It is much grander than Notre Dame) Having read Rick's book,
we knew what to look for, so were able to enjoy this early morning "tour" on our own before the crowds. You never know what kind of treats are in
store for the early bird! Thanks Rick for suggesting a side-trip to Toledo!
Concord,, OH USA 06/18/00
We were quite pleased with Rick's hotel suggestions. All rooms we stayed in were reasonably priced, centrally located, with acceptable accommodations. We arrived in each city in the early morning and immediately hunted for a hotel room. We didn't have too many problems finding rooms in mid-May.
Madrid: We also found Hotel Europa right on Puerta del Sol to be a great hotel! It is immaculately clean, the staff is helpful and friendly, and the location is ideal. This is a very nice area and the location is convenient to the sights.
Hotel Europa was booked for our last two nights in Madrid, so we stayed in Hostal Residencia Valencia. It has a great location on the Gran Via and the desk clerk was great. The room was fine and clean, but the bathroom was very tiny and a little dirty.
Barcelona: Try to stay at Hotel Continental on Las Ramblas. The rooms are a little small, but very charming. They have a great free all day/night coffee bar with wonderful cafe con leche and they provide a nice complimentary breakfast. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The room is decked out in a floral motif and was very comfortable. Out of all the hotels we stayed at in Spain, this was my favorite. One of the desk employees owned a Great Pyrenees dog which sat behind the desk. I found that amusing.
Granada: Hostal Britz didn't look great on the outside, but the room and bathroom were huge and extremely clean, and the staff was so friendly to all the customers. The location was great--walking distance to everything. A bargain at around 5200 pesetas. We tried to stay in another hotel recommended in Rick's book, but it was full. We were delighted to have found Hostal Britz instead.
Sevilla: Hostal Sierpes was charming, had a great location, and the staff was fantastic too. However, the room had a dark, not-so-clean bathroom. Other than that, we were very happy with it.
Algeciras: Like a previous graffiti author, we found Hotel Octavio to be a great idea if you have to stay overnight prior to a day trip to Morocco. Octavio had huge, clean rooms. You're not going to see much culture at this hotel, but it was conveniently located across the street from the train station.
When you get tired of Spanish food, Chinese restaurants in Spain are a great bargain. We ate at a Chinese restaurant in Ronda and in Sevilla. Both were Chinese-run, delicious, and much cheaper than typical Spanish restaurants.
El Ladrillo (Sevilla) had FANTASTIC gazpacho!
I loved the cafe con leche everywhere I went. They take pride in their
coffee in Spain.
J and L
Dallas, TX USA 06/10/00
Just back from an exhilarating and exhausting 10 days in Spain. We used many of Rick Steves' hotels and tips. Most worked well. But we did far too much in too few days.
Toledo: Hotel Del Cardenal was terrific, especially the garden. Be aware, however, that it is a long walk to the center of town. Take a taxi. And don't drive. Although we've driven many times in Europe, we made a mistake early on and discovered that there exist streets narrower than the width of the car. And we had no idea where to find reverse on the Renault we'd rented. Weak knees.
Cordoba: Loved the Mosque. Worst driving experience. Got truly trapped trying to find Hostal Mestre, with absolutely no help from onlookers. I don't know how to avoid this if you have a car. We tried to book hotels which had parking and take taxis everywhere but even with maps we got lost. Hotel Mestre was booked so we stayed in the Hostel. Great staff but tiny room with no A/C off one of Cordoba's famous patios. One night was enough. Book early for the hotel which has A/C. Hotel parking on street.
Seville: Cathedral was closed because of some festival, so we are the only people to go there and not see it. But Alcazar made up for it. Hotel La Rabiba easy to find, with nearby street parking (we paid the aggressive parking helper too much, but couldn't see any garages nearby). Rabiba has a great lobby and big rooms with nice bathrooms. However, they advertise A/C, but they control it from downstairs and turn it off in the middle of the night. You may awake sweating and headachy as we did. It was 105 in the shade both days we were there. The colors of this city rival anything I've ever seen. Midnight in the Cathedral plaza took my breath away.
Arcos: Delightful. We stayed at Los Olivos run by the same people who run El Convento. They were splendid. Parking is in the newer lower section of town, which still has amazing views. Be warned the driving to El Convento is very steep and scary. El Convento let us up to their balcony for the view. Ate good Egyptian food at place mentioned in Rick's book, with very welcoming host who speaks good English. During that day: Jerez for Spanish Riding School. Terrific, but the price has doubled. Then a wild goose chase to Zahara; we stupidly ended up at a gritty little beach town named Zahara, not the one in the mountains, but I liked it anyways. Finally Vejer for coffee in the Square. Don't miss Vejer if you can help it.
Ronda: Completely overrun with tourists. But nice views. A drive through the mountains with amazing scenery to Costa Del Sol. Curvy roads but okay. Many roads have passing lanes on the hills. We knew to let Spanish just go around us. As a friend on the forum told me, Spanish drivers invented road rage.
Nerja: Easy. Relaxing. Stayed at the Hostal Marissal in a cheap newly refurbished room overlooking both the Mediterranean and the Main Square. Great paseo. Good Indian restaurant. Park in the big garage for the Balcon de Europa which is next door. An easy and wonderful day, with ocean breezes moderating the 105 degree temperatures. Very international resort.
Granada: I found the Hostal Nuevas Naciones on the Internet when everything else was booked. It's a one-star hostel with a nice staff, but no A/C in our room, though their brochure says otherwise. No words to describe Alhambra and Generalife, but the heat was so terrible that we were wrung out and so after paying for our hotel room, we got in our car and went north for the night to an air-conditioned hotel in Bailen.
Aranjuez: The Hotel Infantas is an old place on the main drag near the Palace. But it was clean and A/C and had a wonderfully helpful and gracious staff.
Note: I got stopped on a country road doing 35 mph by police doing sobriety check. Forced to blow into their little gadget. The police were stopping everyone. Moral: don't drink and drive, and get your International Driver's License.
Tips: Driving in cities is hard; do as little as possible. Don't expect
to have an easy time if you are vegetarian or don't eat meat. Spanish
cuisine is based on meat, including offal, a lot of grease and garlic.
Drink bottled water and lots of it. It's available everywhere. Met a man
on the plane back who drank tap water and he had runs for 2 weeks. (Where
else would a perfect stranger share this but standing waiting for the
WC on a plane?) Try not to see too much as we did. Spend your money on
A/C hotels, on parking, on taxis. I had a money belt and my husband used
a leg strap thing and we had no problems. He also put an elastic band
around his wallet. Wear good shoes, take cool clothes for the south--linen
is good. Take a supply of bandaids. I also took a big stash of sports
power bars, which got us through. Have a great time. Spain is an astonishing
Columbia, NMD USA 06/07/00
Hi Megan, I cannot explain your good experience of Pensao Aljubarrota
anymore than I can explain our awful one. It makes sense that he wouldn't
behave like that all the time or he'd never get any boarders, but all I
can think is that he must be nice to people when he has a vacancy since
there is money to be made. I got two e-mails in response to my posting that
reported similar problems with Pensao Aljubarrota--rooms given away despite
their reservations--so at least I know that ours is not an isolated experience.
It is good, though, for us to be able to air our experiences and give others
the benefit of them and let them make their own decisions. Cheers.
Sherman Oaks, CA USA 06/02/00
To Robert Bundy (below): I was SO surprised to hear about your experience
at Pensao Albjubarrota, because I stayed there myself as recently as a week
ago. I felt that all the staff including Pino were very friendly and incredibly
helpful. For starters, they held a room for me even though I was arriving
late, and other places I called before them would not hold the room. They
helped me with calling airlines, their staff called a taxi for me the day
I was to leave, and Pino got up at 6am that day to let me out and make sure
the taxi arrived. Grazia (sp?) who works at the reception pointed me to
restaurants and a cyber cafe late one night. I received nothing but helpfulness
from them. I understand how one bad experience can put you off of something
for good, but I don't think that what you received is the usual standard
of service. They had actually been recommended to me by friends who had
stayed there, also with a very positive experience. How strange that our
experiences were so completely opposite...
Vancouver, BC Canada 06/02/00
Sublime Spanish experiences made possible at least in part thanks to Rick's recommendations: a leisurely stroll through Seville's charming Santa Cruz neighborhood; watching with joy Barcelonese of all ages dancing the Sardana before the majestic bulk of the cathedral; admiring room after glorious room of magnificent art in Madrid's Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums; appreciating the early talent of Picasso at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona; and concluding our visit to Spain with an awestruck walk around Gaudi's dramatically floodlit Sagrada Familia church. I think Rick underrates Seville's sensuous Alcazar. I truly enjoyed wandering through the buildings and in the adjacent gardens.
Toledo was the only disappointment of the trip. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, or should have booked a room for an overnight stay, but I found myself saddened at the dumbfounding number of other tourists and the storefront-after-storefront of schlocky tourist t-shirt and trinket shops. The local Toledanos with whom we came into contact seemed largely lethargic and unfriendly. I will say, however, that Toledo's cathedral is of great interest, particularly the amazing transparente, a true masterpiece of Baroque art and design.
Now that I have fallen for Spain's charms, however, I hope to return
again and again. Perhaps on some future visit I will become as enchanted
with Toledo as I am with the rest of this lively country.
Los Angeles, CA USA 06/01/00
I have used Rick's guidebooks during each of my nine European trips, and I have rarely been disappointed in any of his recommendations. Concerned about what my travel partner might expect in a hotel, however, I opted to book a room at the Best Western-affiliated Hotel Carlos V in Madrid. While not mentioned in Rick's book, it is located on one of the several quiet-for-Madrid pedestrian-only streets north of Puerta del Sol. The hotel is comparable in price and amenities to the nearby Rick-recommended Hotel Liabeny. In fact, because of a reservation problem, we spent our first night at the Liabeny.
In Barcelona, I had booked a room at the Rick-recommended Hotel Nouvel. However, upon arrival, our concierge said that a problem with our reservation (overbooking, perhaps?) necessitated a move to another hotel. We were charged the Nouvel's rates (including a "Rick Steves Discount" of 10%) for our two-night stay at the dreary, tour-group-packed Hotel Ateneas, a 10-minute Metro ride from Placa Catalunya. The Nouvel staff arranged and paid for our taxi ride to the Ateneas.
The Metro systems in Madrid and Barcelona are inexpensive and easy to utilize. However, as both systems require navigation of many stairs and long corridors, I would advise jet-lagged arrivals at Madrid's Barajas airport to forego the cheap Metro ride into the city. The inexpensive airport bus takes a short time to travel to Plaza Colon; across from the underground bus stop is a convenient taxi stand. The taxi ride to Puerta del Sol hotels is quick and cheap. The bus-and-taxi combo cost us no more than 700 pesetas per person.
Our favorite splurge was a first-class compartment on the overnight train from Madrid to Barcelona. I'd rather spend extra for the train to avoid the hassle of getting to and from airports in the midst of a vacation.
I would echo other postings in asking Rick to include a chapter on Northern
Spain in a future edition. I found Spain as interesting and diverse as
my favorite European destination, France, and I would love to have "Rick"
accompany me on a trip through the Basque region.
Los Angeles, CA USA 06/01/00
One minor quibble with the book: While offering that he sometimes takes
shuttle flights between Spain's cities instead of the overnight train, Rick
neglects to mention air travel in his "transportation connections" section
or in his "Arrival in" sections for both Granada and Sevilla. We flew from
Barcelona to Madrid and from Madrid to Granada; it was a great timesaver
and was actually cheaper than a sleeping car. There are buses that will
whisk you to the airports but the buses run infrequently from Granada's
airport to the city center. They seem to run at regular intervals to and
from Sevilla's airport, however.
Sherman Oaks, CA USA 06/01/00
My wife and I have just returned from two weeks in Spain and Portugal and again found Rick's book to be indispensible. In all of our travels we have never had a single recommendation of his lead us astray--until now.
We arrived in Lisbon and went directly to Pensao Aljubarrota. I carried our bags up the four flights of stairs only to learn that Pino had given our room away. His manner was all smiles and gregariousness but he denied that we ever had a reservation and basically called me a liar. I pulled out the faxes that we had exchanged and he became nastier, mocking us that there was no signature on it(!?). He wouldn't let us talk, constantly overriding us and honestly seemed to get malicious pleasure out of our distress. I'm still bewildered by it. He did finally come out and say that we were just too late, he'd given our room away. I protested and showed him the fax that gave our flight info and our arrival time and that we were actually early. At no time did he offer to help us find an alternate. I asked if I could use his phone and I thought he was going to take a swing at me. At this point my wife burst into tears and picked up her suitcase and ran out down the stairs. When I turned back he was actually smirking.
The hotel right across the street didn't have a vacancy either, but courteously offered to help me find a place. He made one call and found us a place three blocks away that was very nice and a bit cheaper than Pensao Aljubarrota. My wife sat on a park bench and waited while I tracked down the room and several people that worked in the same building noticed her distress and came over to see if she was all right (that's what I prefer to remember about Lisbon). When she told them what had happened they spat and said that we were better off not staying there--so it seems Pino is not very popular with his neighbors either.
We loved Lisbon. We had a great trip and made many new friends. I have
never had a bad hotel experience like this one and I would strongly warn
against anyone from staying at this place.
Sherman Oaks, CA USA 06/01/00
My wife and I just got back from Spain and Portugal and we were very excited to see both flamenco and fado. I reread James Michener's "Iberia" and he gives a harrowing description of an awful touristy flamenco show he endured in Sevilla (circa 1966!) so had our fingers crossed. We had another flamenco bar's address in hand to visit that same night in case what we saw at El Gallo was less than authentic, but we need not have worried. The show we saw at El Gallo was fantastic. Rather than empty pageantry we saw great performers enjoying themselves. If you go to Sevilla you HAVE to go.
Likewise, the fado we saw in Lisbon was passionate and honest and we were riveted.
Actually, we saw not bad performers but bad audiences. My wife and I are professional performers and are very encouraging and respectful of other performers, but I cringed to hear American accents booming out during the quiet bits in both shows--and worse. Rather than rant about an ugly American sighting however, I thought I'd attempt to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. I know that mostly Stevians tend to be thoughtful and sensitive travelers and that I am likely preaching to the choir here, but just in case, here are some guidelines for audiences to better enjoy the shows they attend, or at least not spoil them for others.
Most of the time, audiences get the shows they deserve. Most performers do what they do out of love. They don't want to just go through the motions because it's harder to do it that way as they aren't having any fun. They will just try to get through it if you're acting rudely or just make plain that you're not listening. The audience/performer relationship is an EXCHANGE. That's what makes it more enriching than TV or film.
DON'T use flash cameras, even if management says it's okay. It is disorienting for even the most seasoned performers. You selfishly interrupt the moment for everyone else.
DON'T talk. Don't talk. Don't talk. Okay? Is it so important that it can't keep? Learn to whisper in an ear during the applause. Sit and listen. You traveled a long way to hear this so pay attention. It's not your TV. They can hear you discussing their clothes or speculating on their private lives or hollering for the waitress. INVOLUNTARY noise is fine, even complimentary sometimes. A laugh, a gasp, a sigh pulls the room together and that relationship can intensify.
HOLD YOUR WATER. Wait until the act-break or at least until the end of the song to push back your chair with a screech and bull your way to the john or the bar. You're a grown-up now so plan ahead. Of course no one will begrudge you if your need is great or you've fallen ill.
Don't lurch out of your chair and circle the performer as if they were an object while you snap photos and search for the "best angle." You're not at a zoo and they are not animals or objects. (Saw this in Lisbon and wanted to throttle the guy.)
IF you give your full attention to the performer they will reward you with a better performance. Be the living encouragement of the performer. The more you give the more you get back. Really folks, this is your chance. If you're just ticking off stops on your cultural itinerary without attempting to absorb them then you're just cheating yourself and robbing everyone else around you.
Catharsis--the healing moment--requires the same intensity of focus
as prayer. It's worth it. Go there. You'll be glad you did.
Sherman Oaks, CA USA 06/01/00
My girlfriend & I spent a wonderful week in Barcelona at the end of March. We had hoped to stay at the Hotel Jardi, which Rick recommends, in the Barri Gotic but when we called in February, they were booked solid through September! We checked it out while we were there anyway and the location is truly superb. We ended up staying at the Hotel Gran Via (on the street of the same name) which I'd highly recommend. Only 14,500 (about $85) pesetas--in March, that is--very friendly & helpful staff, a great breakfast buffett (for an add'l 1,100 ptas/person) served in a grand dining room, and a location only one block from the Placa de Catalunya, midway between the Barri Gotic and the Eixample.
The entire Barri Gotic is fascinating. We ate at two Basque tapas bars: the Basca Irati, which Rick recommends (small & very crowded, but fun) and what I believe is a "sister" place, the Sagardi, near the Santa Maria del Mar church (it's much more spacious, and the selection of tapas seemed to be the same as at Irati.)
Don't miss: the Cathedral lit up (it was only lit on Sunday night when we were there), the Font Majica (the Magic Fountain), and, of course, all of Gaudi's buildings. If you arrive in Barcelona in the evening, take a walk up the Passieg de Gracia until you get to Gaudi's Casa Battlo; it's spectacular the way it's lit at night, much more visually stunning than during the day. From what I recall, Rick seems to find Parc Guell underwhelming but we really liked it, especially "El Drac," the wonderful ceramic dragon that guards the stairway to the main plaza.
La Rambla is a fascinating pedestrian street. Although I love Paris,
Paris has no street quite like La Rambla. Overall, Barcelona actually
reminded us quite a bit of Paris, with its boulevards and, everywhere,
elegant plane trees. All-in-all, a fantastic city to visit!
Seattle, WA USA 05/17/00
My husband and I use Rick's books when traveling to Europe. But the
hotels he recommends are usually booked and their rates sometimes reflect
their new-found fame. The train info is invaluable when planning your itinerary.
Pack the book.
FL USA 05/03/00
Well, I had previously used Rick's book for London and was looking
forward to this one. I was very disappointed in his coverage of Barcelona.
There was no information on key Catalan phrases or neighborhoods to avoid.
I don't feel like you can get the gist of Barcelona in 1-1/2 days. No coverage
of the islands, either.
Philadelphia, PA USA 05/02/00
Just returned from a 16-day trip through Spain and Portugal with my family. We had a great time, and I just wanted to share a few things:
The ferries to Morocco are back in service from Tarifa. We stayed at Hostal El Asturiano in Tarifa, and I highly recommend it. The owner was extremely friendly and accommodating. He set up our day trip to Morocco, and even walked us down to the dock and saw that we departed O.K. He asked how much money I was carrying, and when he didn't think it was enough he loaned me about $100.
I don't regret going to Morocco, but be warned that you will be under assault all day long from street vendors who followed us around. I saw one woman take the situation in stride: She tried to trade a half-full bottle of Evian anytime someone approached her. They left her alone. The street vendors are really relentless, and they scared my children. If you do buy something from them, you should probably pay no more than about 30% of the first price they quote.
In Granada, we were very disappointed to find that the Alhambra had already sold out for the day by 11 a.m. There were also fake parking attendants there who stepped out into the road with a whistle and pointed me to a parking place. He told me that it was a two-minute walk and tickets were available. It was actually a 20- minute walk and there were no tickets. There was also parking available up near the ticket office. He wanted 100 pesetas, but I wouldn't give it to him.
In Barcelona, we were ripped off in a restaurant, the Caixa Catalunya.
There were lots of locals eating in there, and the food looked good. When
we walked in, they asked if we would like to sit upstairs so we could
have a view of Las Ramblas outside. We agreed. I looked at the menu, and
the prices were O.K. The owner was very friendly--he suggested that we
allow him to bring us some fish and two child's plates. The food was O.K.,
but not great. It was worth about $25 based on what we had been paying
for meals. He handed us a bill for a little over $100--and we didn't even
have dessert or alcohol with the meal. So, be careful.
Dusseldorf, Germany 05/02/00
We just got back from Portugal. We needed a break from our hectic schedules, only had 11 days and we thought we would find enough to interest us while having time to relax on the Algarve. Though we found it thoroughly relaxing, sights are few and often repetetive on the Algarve. Our trip also included two nights in Evora and three in Lisbon.
- Our home base was Salema at Pension Mare for 5 days. John, the owner, is great and his place is very special. We had a room overlooking the ocean and the surf lulled us to sleep each night. The rooms are very clean and comfortable with lots of nice touches like in-room hot water, coffee, fridge and sun loungers. They also serve a nice breakfast in a quaint dining room, all for a price that can't be beat.
- We really liked the Boi Bar both for the food and the location--on an open porch 2 feet from the ocean. - Please also try Restaurant Viera, over the small bridge in the center on right. The food is great and inexpensive.
- A brand-new restaurant right in the center, Restarant O Barco, is pricey but worth it. It's more "gourmet" Potuguese cuisine.
- We visited Lagos, Monchique, Olhau, Estoi, Tavira, Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vicente. Lagos and Monchique had the most to offer. These are each full day trips. We also enjoyed the palace grounds at Estoi, although the palace itself is not open, and the museum at the Fortezela in Sagres.
- Residencial Solar Monfalim is a former summer palace with traditional
furnishings and the best service you could imagine. I guarantee you will
thoroughly enjoy this place. These people are so thoughtful and truly
care that you have a wondeful stay. I highly recommend it! They charge
14,500 esc./night/double, about $75, and are located right in the center
with parking. (e-mail email@example.com, website http://www.monfalimtur.pt)
- Evora is a wonderful city that we thoroughly enjoyed. We extended our stay after we got there. I'd recommend 2 nights to get the most out of it.
- Lisbon was a bit disappointing and I'd advise staying in nearby Sintra instead. Lisbon is not very tourist-friendly and can be hard to navigate as it lacks signs indicating many sights, even larger ones like the National Palace.
We definitely went off-season, but played it safe by reserving ahead from home. Am I glad we did! I lost count of all the people who came to Pension Mare during our stay to find no rooms available. And at literally every place we stayed we ran into people spending 1-2 hours calling hotel after hotel to find a room for the next night. This is not how I want to spend my vacation, especially on a budget. It would be helpful if Rick could include more hotels with e-mail addresses in his books. I tried faxing 3 hotels in advance, only to find wrong or disconnected numbers.
Most of the tourist offices on the Algarve have moved which can make them frustrating to find. Call before you go to verify the address.
Prices were not as inexpensive as we expected and I'd say it is tough to get dinner in a decent place (not fancy) with beer (not wine) for under $25-30 for two on the Algarve as well as Lisbon. Overall it is a pretty inexpensive country though. With breakfast included at all hotels, we only paid for dinner, and sometimes snack in between. We managed with nice rooms/hotels and meals for an average of $78/day for two people.
Rehoboth, MA USA 04/28/00
My son gave me the nicest retirement present, after 25 years of teaching: He took me to Spain and Portugal for a week in mid-January, 2000. It was a quick trip, but we had a fabulous time. We traveled on our own with backpacks and got around by train, bus, subway, and walking. We carried Rick's 1999 S&P guide plus two small phrasebooks and got along splendidly. Our observations:
1. Coimbra, Portugal: We took Rick's suggestion and ate at the Boemia Bar. THANK YOU! It was one of our most enjoyable meals and we would never have found the place on our own. The food was delicious and the place was spotlessly clean, charming, and very reasonably priced. Loved it!
2. Also in Coimbra, about a block from the train station, is a very busy little pastry shop. Sorry I forgot the name, but we had a scrumptious dessert and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
3. Lisboa, Portugal: We had a wonderful time wandering around all day on our own. We hit most of the major sites, thanks to Rick's book. At the end of the day, we went out to the Vasco do Gama Mall. It is near one of the train stations and we were catching an overnight train to Madrid. It was actually lots of fun to compare our American malls with this beautiful new one in Lisboa. We enjoyed mingling with the crowds in the upscale shops and eating in the food court. It gave us a feeling of being part of the everyday scene in Portugal.
4. Sevilla, Spain: Loved the AVE train we took there. We had a good laugh at Rick's expense here. The guidebook mentions a monastary of cloistered nuns across the street from the Cathedral of Sevilla. Rick suggests stopping there to buy pastries at the blind lazy Susan. We did...but it wasn't a pastry that came around on the lazy Susan. It was a plastic bag of white, dry, tasteless chips that resembled styrofoam. It might have been broken-up pieces of communion wafers, but it most definitely was not pastry!
5. Hotel Fernando III in Sevilla: The price has gone up because it is now a four-star instead of a three-star hotel. However, we had two burned-out light bulbs in our room, so we thought they were a bit overrated.
6. Algeciras, Spain: Rick hardly mentions this city, except to say that it is not worth seeing. HOWEVER, we think that he should mention that, if you need to stay overnight there in order to make transportaion connections, the Hotel Octavio is VERY NICE! It was the best hotel and the best price of the entire trip! The bus station is right beside the hotel and the train station is right across the street, so it is perfectly situated. The room was huge, lovely, and very reasonable.
7. Tarifa, Spain: It's a nice little town in the off-season, but it must be awfully crowded when the surfing crowd shows up. We were fascinated with the forests of wind turbines on the surrounding hillsides. We popped into a little cafe for lunch, just a few blocks up from the bus station. We ordered lasagna because the owner introduced himself as the "King of Lasagna." It was very good and we took his picture because he was such a fun character.
8. Bobadilla, Spain: We had a 3-hour layover here between trains. There were three or four streets and rows of white buildings all connected together. We found the tiny local grocery store full of Saturday-morning shoppers...mostly women. It was so much fun watching them. Everyone was so helpful.
All in all, it was a memorable and most enjoyable trip. We couldn't
have done it without Rick's book. It was very helpful...although several
locals trying to help us with directions commented that the maps were
terrible. We didn't get too lost, though, and we did find our way back,
so I suppose they can't be too bad. THANKS again for a wonderful resource
and we'll watch for new Spain and Portugal programs on WVIZ, Cleveland.
Medina, OH USA 04/12/00
Visited Madrid, Sevilla, Toledo, Granada and El Escorial in March, 2000. Used train except for El Escorial. Some comments:
All the prices are higher than it says in Rick's book. This includes hotels, Madrid Metro, entrance fees, etc.: Madrid 10-ride MetroPass 735 vs. 680; Los Gallos Flamenco 3500 vs 3000; Hostal Montalvo 6200 vs 5750 (to pay for new A/C being installed?); Palacio Real (Madrid) 900 + 400 for tour vs 950.
Toledo was great. Good bargain is soft drink at McDonalds at Plaza Zocodover where you can sit at their table all afternoon. Cathedral is only lit up Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Oh well! There is a "tour tram" run by, I believe, the city, that takes you around the city. No stops. Takes about 50 minutes. Runs from Plaza Zocodover. Nice views of the city from across the river. Inexpensive.
Great restaurant right by Plaza del Sol in Madrid called Restaurante Platero. Owner is waiter; wife cooks. Very reasonable prices and excellent friendly service. He speaks English very well. It is at Calle Espoz y Mina #20. No snobbish waiter there!
El Escorial is well worth the short trip. NICE BUSES!
Hotel Macia in Granada had La Bruja and her equally unfriendly male companion with his nose stuck in the air. But price was right and location was perfect.
Jamon Serrano can get boring after a while. A nice Chinese Restaurant in Santa Cruz barrio in Sevilla on Mateos Gago was very good and cheap.
Transportation between Madrid airport and Plaza del Sol: take airport bus to Plaza Colon then upstairs to bus 150 to Plaza del Sol (or the opposite to go back). Beats taxi price. Beats Metro (Metro with luggage is a real exercise with so many changes required and a zillion stairs between them).
Leaving Spain was a snap as compared to other cities. Short, fast-moving emigration lines at the airport.
You'll see where the tobacoo companies get all the money to pay for
the lawsuit settlements.
Atlanta, GA USA 03/27/00
I'd like to recommend a site I came across on the net. http://www.SpainNet.co.uk.
It has a useful search engine and is available in several languages.
Malaga, Spain 03/19/00
Just returned from a wonderful 12-day auto trip through northern Spain (Santiago to Pamplona, to/from Madrid) with my college daughter who spoke "college Spanish," a necessity for this back-door area. Great weather (70's daytime, colder nights) and very few other tourists. We followed much of the Camino de Santiago, though saw few pilgrims walking the route this time of year.
Used Michelin map and red book; usually any hotel we chose had vacancies without calling ahead. (Madrid was harder). In Madrid, good hotels near Prado (Atocha metro) are Mora (very small rooms but own bath for 8000 psta for two beds, about $50) and Merecator (bigger room, but 13,000 psta). Mercator has own lot for 1856/day; for Mora, park nearby in Hotel National garage for 2400/day (ouch)
Our favorite part was pre-dinner (and for us, menu-reading) paseo (strolling) by everyone (with babies in prams and children too) beginning about 7PM nightly in pedestrian-only areas of such towns as Astorgo, Santiago, Leon, and Lugo. Best such action was in Logrono, in La Rioja area.
Oddest thing for us Americans was total shut-down from 2-4PM anyplace we visited.
Favorite city was Santiago, not only for history, but for costume parade and Spanish rock & roll entertainment on Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
For more info, see my other notes in tipping, cyber, and auto rental
Cleveland, OH USA 03/18/00
My wife and I were invited to spend 10 days with longtime friends who own a condo in Spain on the Mediterranean, in Cullera, a beach community about 15 miles outside of Valencia. (Valencia is a little inland, like LA.) Cullera is a mini-Miami but on the other hand an old charming town. I saw very few Americans and few other foreigners. It appears that Cullera is mostly a vacation home place for Valencians and others who live more inland in Spain. There are several condo buildings set back from the beach boardwalk area and average about 10 stories high.
I love the beach boardwalk. It is about 1-2 miles long, all tile, and in some places about 40 feet wide. Strolling on the boardwalk in the evening is a community event. Everyone does it. Many restaurants. Great food and great prices and access to ATMs. The town area (older) is within an easy walk from the condo area. Condos are available by the day or week or longer. Lots of mini markets in the condo area and a complete range of restaurants. Most evenings we picked a different restaurant and were never disappointed. We had several nice drives to towns inland and nearby.
It was an extremely relaxing time. I recommend it mostly for those who
just want sun and water and relaxation and watch the parade of life go
Los Angeles, USA 02/23/00
I recently got back from living in Alicante for a month. It is a great
city. There are not very many tourists, but there are quite a few Americans
going to the University and when the Navy ships dock that can be a pain.
Alicante is great for people-watching and has a wonderful beach. About a
15 min. bus ride north is San Juan which is famous for its beaches. Alicante
is 2 1/2 hours south-east from Madrid and about 6 hours west of Barcelona.
While there I had the chance to go to Benidorm and see a bull fight. If
you have a strong stomach it can be fun, however if you want to go but you
can not handle the killing (it's hard) in Alicante they have free bull fights
where they don't kill the bulls. (I think they start in the 3rd week of
September.) The last bull fight in Benidorm is the 2nd Sunday of September.
The old part of the city is right by the el Bario (5 blocks or more of bars)
and is worth walking around, and at night down by the pier all the older
people gather around and talk all night along.
everett, wa USA 02/19/00
We had a most enjoyable evening with Stephen Drake-Jones. It gave us a chance
to learn some interesting facts about the history of Madrid. It was also
an opportunity to meet some people at the local tapas bar which we went
back to on subsequent evenings. The best part was that it gave us the chance
to meet some fellow Rick Steves travelers with whom we spent the next couple
of days. (One of them even documented the experience in his home page at
Orlando, FL USA 01/31/00
Ok, so we were too cheap to call Stephen Drake-Jones (Madrid tour guide) on his cell phone and thought we could just meet him at the statue on Puerta del Sol--only problem, there is more than one statue there and despite staking out 2 different locations, could never ID the gentleman. We managed to enjoy Madrid nonetheless even though we did get ripped off by a cab driver the day we arrived. Thanks to our Metro-savvy daughter, we did discover that there is a Metro connection to/from the airport to downtown, so saved a bundle leaving the city.
In Tarifa, we enjoyed our stay at Hostal Alborada, even though there was a power outage the morning we were leaving, hence no showers, no breakfast.
Enjoyed seeing the Steves family picture prominently displayed in several recommended hotels. Found most of Rick's observations right on the mark (notable exception: Comercio 38 in Toledo must have gone downhill--instead of delightful croissants, there was no food to be had and the place smelled disgusting).
Would definitely recommend a side trip to Segovia from Madrid--the aqueduct
was awesome! Thanks for the great tour book--we never had it far from
our side. Iin fact, we felt like we had a fourth companion on the trip.
k o jackson
Missoula, MT USA 01/30/00
We were disappointed with our lodging in Madrid. The Hostal Filo was very noisy--there was a party dowstairs evry single night! It was horrible!
After a 2-hour bus trip to La Linea we were stopped at the border only
to find out that US passport holders are allowed to go in without a visa.
Please advise your readers about obtaining a visa before going to Gibraltar
if they are not US citizens!
lawndale, CA USA 01/29/00
To respond to "anonymous" below, I did not say that "Spaniards" were
rude, I said that we experienced rude treatment in Madrid and Toledo. Big
cities contain many tired, harried communters - this is universally true.
No one should visit a big city and expect the red carpet treatment. However,
Toledo is NOT a big city. How do you excuse rudeness there? Barcelona IS
a big city and I noted that we were treated well there. You'll note also
that I particularly blamed waiters for rude behavior - is there really any
defense of rudeness when your job is to work with the public? (Especially
when we're being friendly and trying to speak their language?) My only concern
is to warn people not to go to Spain and expect a warm reception. For that
you can visit Portugal or Italy, in my opinion.
Columbus, OH USA 01/28/00
As everyone else here has mentioned, ferries to Tangier do not run year-round from Tarifa. However, I would recommend staying in Tarifa over the nasty eyesore that is Algecieras.
We had a great tour of Tangier because we had a very small group. The tour company we used was called "TravelSur". You can find their ticket booth among the hundreds of other tour offices at the Port of Algecieras. If we were to do it all over again, we'd go straight to the port, and buy our tickets there directly from TravelSur. We only had 10 or so people on our tour and drove around in a van; everyone else was piling onto huge buses. I think our small group afforded us a more "local" tour, which was great. Our guide was always with us, not terribly pushy, and fended off many of the hustlers for us. In a larger group, that wouldn't have been possible. Ask the tour operator how many people they have on a tour--smaller is better.
One surprise of the Tangier side trip: the Moroccan police hold onto
your passport at the port and return it to you when you get back. I was
very uncomfortable with this but it worked out to be more convenient for
Chicago, IL USA 01/27/00
I'd like to disagree with J. Diedrich's experience that Spaniards are
rude and that a positive cultural experience wasn't possible. While I have
been in friendlier places, I found the Spanish to be very pleasant and we
had some great times. In Madrid, as in any big city, you'll encounter tired,
rude people. In general, we had good service and met a few waiters at restaurants
who treated us very well. And we met some jerks. Jerks exist everywhere.
I'd hate for people to get the impression the Spanish are rude and indifferent.
Everyone's experience is unique and we found Spain to be as friendly as
anywhere else in the world.
My wife, 17-year-old daughter, and I took a three-week trip to Portugal and Spain this summer, using your book. We took other books, but never used them. One way to save room and weight is to take a Rick Steves book and no other!
LISBON: We highly recommend the Pensao Aljubarrota. The host was very helpful, giving us tips on visiting Lisbon. "Lovely Rita" was just that. She was very friendly and helpful, even arranging for our next reservation and changing our car rental, free of charge.
SALEMA: Our most disappointing room was at the Casa Viegas. The room and the sun terrace were dirty. The hostess was unfriendly and unhelpful. But dinner at the Boia Bar was wonderful. We had a table right at the window on the beach.
SEVILLA: We had no reservations but had no trouble getting a room at the Hostal Sierpes. The room was pleasant (except for inadequate windows). Parking at an extra charge was available at a locked garage across the street. We went to a great Flamenco show at Los Gallos.
ARCOS: The Hostal San Marcos is a lovely little hotel; the only problem was the noise from the cars and motorcycles at night. The Pileta Caves were well worth the drive.
GIBRALTAR: We took your advice and did not drive onto Gibraltar. We paid a brown-uniformed guard 100 ptas to guard our car in Spain, and felt it was safe. We took a guided tour with a private van driver. Although we were not able to go to the very top of the rock, we had a better tour than we could have gotten on our own. The guide took us to the natural cave, the seige tunnels, and of course to see the monkeys. He also told us of the local culture and history.
GRANADA: The location of the Hotel Los Tilos was perfect--quiet and in the middle of everything. The people of Granada were especially friendly. The only problem was the August heat (over 100'). We ate at El Ladrillo (great place for people-watching!) where the portions were delicious and enormous.
TOLEDO: The Hotel Residencia Imperio was pleasant. The train (or tram) tour of the city is well worth it.
MADRID: Our last stop was Madrid. We first stopped at the airport and dropped off our car. We consolidated the stuff we would need in one suitcase, and put the rest in a locker at the airport. We then took the bus to town.
The Hostel Montalvo's location is excellent--one half block away from
the Plaza Mayor. The highlight of our trip was a late-evening walking
tour given by Stephen Drake-Jones (recommended in your book). He told
us wonderful stories about real people rather than just dates, place names,
and battles. The next day he led us through the Centro Reina Sofia, the
modern art museum. He made the art interesting to us, even though we don't
like modern art in general.
Olympia, WA USA 01/11/00
What about Northern Spain? You have all missed out on the most spectacular
part of Spain. El Pais Vasco (Basque Country) is a beautiful region with
a lot to do. La Concha in San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful beaches
in the world, although too crowded during summer months. Quaint little fishing
villages will make you think you got left in the last century, and there
are great local festivals year-round.There are few to no tourists in the
Basque Country during the winter and early spring, making it easier to see
the "real" Spain. Check it out--I promise you will love it as much as I
Visited Madrid in late Nov.-early Dec. Cities were decorated for Christmas and very few tourists this time of year. A little cool but just wear a light jacket.
Hotel Carlos V at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid: IDEAL location--just don't expect to get sleep on Saturday night due to the # of people walking around outside at night. Voices bounce off these buildings tremendously. Hotel was great and breakfast included was perfect. Near two metro stops that get you anywhere.
Almost got pickpocketed in first hour there on the Gran Via. One guy throws coins at your feet and rushes to pick them up. He reaches between my legs and pushes my legs apart so he can pick up his coins. In the meantime his friend is at my back pocket. If I had not read this website prior to going and read all about these scams they would have had my wallet.
Definitely try the churros w/hot chocolate at a small cafe. Also the Rastro flea market on Sunday morning is definitely worth the stroll. Got 3 nice ties for $10 and a neck pillow for return plane trip for $3.
Took bus to Toledo one day (realize the bus station has moved from what is mentioned in all the tour books--check with desk clerk). Bus took an hour but brought you through a lot of little towns. "Old" Toledo is atop the hillside which is quite a climb--suggest the city bus or taxi from the Toledo bus station. Toledo Cathedral will make your mouth hang open--puts Notre Dame to shame. The only other Cathedral to match it is the one in Cologne.
Flew to Barcelona and took Aerobus from airport to Placa Catalunya. Two-block walk to Hotel Gravina: wonderful location, 1/2 block off main drag keeps rooms quiet. Ask for room on front so you get a balcony. Great breakfast and very attentive hotel staff. Internet available in their bar: slow but about $3 for 25 minutes.
Go to Montjuic on top of hill for good views of city on clear day and LOTS of cats. Bring food as they are hungry.
For an interesting dinner, try Eterna, about 5 blocks northwest of Placa
Catalunya. Great food...and show featuring 7-foot drag queens (6-foot
Los Angeles, CA USA 12/15/99
We spent a week in a whirlwind tour of Spain. In Madrid, we stayed at the Hotel Europa--very quaint, clean, nice staff and great location right in Plaza del Sol near subway line (very clean subways!). We tried following your suggested tapas crawl, but quickly found our own path. When in Madrid, definitely explore the nightlife!
The AVE train to Sevilla which was very quick and comfortable. In Sevilla, we stayed at the Hotel Murillo which was on a pedestrian walk. The rooms were clean and lobby old and beautiful.
We took a bus to La Linea and walked across the border to Gibraltar. There is not enough information about getting to and from Gibraltar in the book. There are a limited number of lockers at the bus station in La Linea--we got the last one. Gibraltar was a highlight of the trip! We took the cable car to the top and walked down to the midway station.
We took the bus to Algeciras and caught a train to Ronda where we stayed at the Paradore Ronda. Both our room and dinner was definitely worth the price! Ronda is a wonderful little town where we wanted to linger longer.
In Granada, we stayed at the Hotel Alhambra Palace (not in the book--why not!?) on the mountain close to the Alhambra. Granada has wonderful little souvenir shops with Moorish wood products (boxes, tables, etc.). Definitely reserve tickets for the Alhambra early. Our hotel did that for us the night before we went. There was a line at 9:00 am when we arrived the next morning! The palace was amazing, but very crowded (I know you say not to go in the morning, but it was sold out the afternoon before!). The book was helpful for background on these historical sites. Knowing the history (presented in a concise way!) made the visit more meaningful.
We were accosted by gypsies outside the large church in Granada. Luckily, we were prepared (thanks to the book!) and did not make eye contact. We said "no" and were left alone.
The very long train trip back to Madrid was comfortable, with reclining seats and a TV (played movies which you listened to through earphones). We were lucky to get a non-smoking car (in Spain, everyone smokes everywhere). Finally, I recommend taking the subway in Madrid to the airport. Upon arrival, we took a taxi to the Plaza Colon and caught the subway to the Plaza del Sol (near hotel). That worked, but was confusing and expensive. The book didn't list the option of taking the subway straight from the airport. It was a very cheap way to return to the airport for our departure. The subway cars heading to the airport have luggage racks (not true of the remaining subway cars).
Many attractions were more expensive than the book listed. The maps
in the book are next to impossible to read and follow. Many people do
not speak English in Spain so a phrase book would have been helpful. But,
in all, I was very happy with the book. It helped us go to some wonderful
places and feel more comfortable in our journey. Thanks!
Tampa, FL USA 11/04/99
We just came back from two weeks in Spain and Portugal using Rick Steves as our primary guide. I am so grateful that he recommended Stephen Drake-Jones' walking tour. We had an incredible time with him, taking two night tours of Madrid and a day tour of Toledo. Entertaining us with the history of Madrid and Toledo, making it come alive with his wit and passion for the subject, but also offering us sound advice and support throughout our journey, Mr. Drake-Jones' courtesy and charm are exceptional. We never felt that we were on a tour at all--more that we had fallen in with a friend of a friend who was determined to make sure we had a good time in the cities we were visiting by taking us off the beaten path and showing us things and telling us stories we would never have found alone. We treasure the time we spent with him.
We also met with very good service at Hostal Montalvo in Madrid and
all our Portugal accommodations. The only hotel where we had poor service
was the Hostal Filo in Madrid which was more than a little noisy (that
disco thumps until about 5am) and the management were not welcoming.
Santa Cruz, CA USA 11/04/99
Great news for folks flying in and out of Madrid: the subway line has
been extended all the way to the airport now and lets you off right at the
Terminal V (if arriving in Madrid airport just follow the Metro signs posted
in the terminal). You should allow about 45 minutes to go to/from town with
trains running every few minutes. The cost is the same as a regular subway
ticket (about $1 but varies depending on whether you buy a multi-ride ticket,
etc.) allowing you to avoid a $25 or so cab ride.
Richmond, VA USA 11/02/99
We just returned from two and a half weeks in Spain and Portugal using Rick's guide. We were very pleased with the guide and found that Rick was right on the money most of the time! However, we were not thrilled with the treatment we received from most of the people we dealt with. Despite our careful attempts to speak Spanish to everyone, we really had rude treatment (mostly from waiters) in Madrid and Toledo. Toledo in particular featured many people who wouldn't even look at us, and a creepy skinhead contingency--there was no way to have an "authentic" cultural encounter here. It was disappointing because we consider ourselves pleasant people! We were also disappointed that so many train reservations are required when other European countries don't mandate this with Europass; also felt that we got ripped off a few times on train reservations. One note of caution: don't pay extra for the "romantic" terrace or outdoor dining; you'll be accosted almost constantly by salespeople or homeless people. (The restaurants apparently do nothing to prevent this and they charge you at least twice the normal price to eat outside.) I feel awful saying this but it ruined the day--we're just not accustomed to people approaching us in that kind of a setting and it was scary. This isn't mentioned in any guidebook I've seen.
On the contrary, we found Portugal to be FANTASTIC--friendly people who were thrilled when we tried to speak Portuguese, cab drivers who wanted to know how we liked Lisbon, great bargains, many people who wanted to try to speak English, etc. Sintra and Belem were fantastic and not to be missed if you visit Lisbon. Portugal is underrated, in our view, and well worth visiting if you're in Iberia. Incidentally, we flew to Lisbon from Madrid fairly inexpensively ($160 per person). We were also impressed by the multilingual skills of so many people and the effort that museums made to have displays in 4 languages.
One Barcelona note: Hotel Jardi, recommended by Rick, is great! Friendly people and the best rooms we had in Spain. Great location, too. Barcelona was friendly and had great museums. (Maritime Museum in particular!)
We really wanted to see the sights and museums and have some pleasant
encounters with people; I would rate the sites and museums highly. Just
don't expect to be overwhelmed with friendliness in Spain; go to see the
wonderful countryside, art and architecture.
Columbus, OH USA 11/01/99
Guided by Rick, we did a 15-day Spain trip at the end of September.
Highlights: the Alhambra, the Toledo and Sevilla cathedrals, Tangier, Picasso's
Guernica, Calder's mercury fountain. Overrated by Rick: El Escorial and
Valle de los Caidos. If we could have only shifted that day to Andalucia...
Underrated by Rick: Ronda and Barcelona. Driving was great in Andalucia;
the drivers there seem more sane than in France and Italy. Rick's book was
key in getting us hotel discounts at Hotel Macia in Granada and Hotel Gran
Via in Barcelona. Hotel Macia in Granada was our favorite--great room, great
location. Least favorite (no blame to Rick--it's unmentioned in the book):
Hotel Murillo in Sevilla, great location, but dirty and old in a bad way.
Some trip pics are at http://updatedev.impulsebuy.net/users/garyo/spain1999.html.
CA USA 10/22/99
My husband, son and I spent 3 weeks in Spain and Portugal using your book. Had a marvelous time--the book was excellent.
Toledo: A highlight of the trip. Definitely worth seeing at night. Hotel Santa Isabel was lovely--our room even had a small balcony.
Seville: FLamenco show at Los Gallos and carriage ride were worth every penny.
Arcos: Loved dinner at the Egyptian restaurant, Los Faraones. Food was great and the manager very friendly.
Tarifa: Discovered a beautiful stretch of beach nearby in Camarinas (in Bolonia). Had the beach to ourselves except for a couple bulls. A really gorgeous hideaway. We also ate lunch in the town at Restaurante La Mairsma under a thatched awning--great atmosphere.
Morocco: I guess we are glad that we went on the one-day trip, but would not go again. My husband was sick for a week afterward.
Ronda: Lovely town. We arrived the night of a town party. The whole town, from the very young to the very old, were dancing and having a ball. What an experience.
Nerja: Contrary to what the book says, we had a tough time finding a room (in June). We finally ended up at the Hotel Marissal which was right on the Balcony of Europe--very nice and inexpensive, too.
Granada: Disappointed with the town although the Alhambra was fabulous. The town was dirty and we had an awful time driving through the city. We finally ended up in the parking lot at the Alhambra. We left the car there overnight with no problem and when we left the next day we discovered a MUCH easier route the tour buses take back to the highway that did not require going thru town--should be recommended to all drivers.
Train from Madrid to Lisbon: Our one big frustration. The night train had no couchettes and no sleeping cars for 3. I even offered to pay for a 4-person compartment, but they would not let me do that. So, we had to sleep sitting up.
Lisbon: Took me a while to warm up to Lisbon. Sintra was magic--Pena
Palace is great fun and we loved wandering around the Moorish castle ruins.
St Leonard, MD USA 10/21/99
My wife and I recently returned from our honeymoon in Spain, helped considerably by Rick's book. A few comments: We greatly enjoyed the magnificent views at the Hotel Los Linajes in Segovia; likewise for the Hostal Cardenal in Toledo which, however, was more expensive than the book indicates (17,000 ptas/night). The best value hotel we found was the Hotel La Rabida in Sevilla (mistakenly called the "El Rabida" in Rick's book); for around $50/night they provided a room with high ceilings and a balcony overlooking their charming courtyard dining area. The location, near the bullring and the Cathedral, is excellent.
One caveat on lodgings: contrary to the indications in Rick's and other books, Madrid can be a very difficult place to find a hotel room in early October. We arrived the weekend before Spain's national day (October 12) and found everything booked solid, including every single one of the hotels listed in Rick's book. The TI was no help either, so we had to spend a day and a half searching for a room for our last night in the country, ending up in the Hotel Santo Domingo, an acceptable but uninspiring business-class hotel. We were repeatedly advised that this hotel shortage routinely occurs in Madrid in September and October.
Other comments: driving in Spain was not as enjoyable as we had anticipated, chiefly because so much of the countryside consists of dreary brown hills crisscrossed by narrow roads; I would stick to the train next time. The AVE is an excellent way to go from Madrid to Andalucia.
In general, we found Rick's book very useful and informative. One improvement,
however, would be to include some coverage of the northern part of the
country (where the Spanish themselves tend to vacation, far from the Costa
del Sol). Since Southwestern France is also a gap in Rick's coverage,
perhaps he will produce a volume on the Pyrenees and Galicia.
McLean, VA USA 10/19/99
Beware--do not stay at Hotel Toledano in Barcelona! This hotel is recommended
by Rick Steves, but it's a real dump. Don't be fooled by the clean and decent-looking
reception office, because after you check in and hand over your passport,
you're led out of the hotel and into the back part of the building to a
bunch of rundown, small and dirty rooms. My wife and I found dead roaches
under the desk and sheets that weren't changed. The beds had springs popping
out of them and the bathroom was tiny. We quickly checked out but were forced
to pay for one night. Luckily we found a great apartment/hotel on the Ramblas
that charges 15,000 pts (we decided to splurge). The place was called Hotel
Citadines and the room we had was huge--with a 4-piece bathroom and full
kitchen (dishwasher too!).
Toronto, ON Canada 10/15/99
My wife and I just returned from two weeks in Spain. As part of our
travels we spent a few (too few) days in Madrid and took the walking tour
with Stephen Drake-Jones. It was terrific and will remain as one of our
trip's best memories. Mr. Drake-Jones was entertaining and instructional
and we recommend the tour to anyone with a genuine interest in history and
a willingness to get away from the typical tourist excursions. Our only
regret was that our travel plans prohibited us from taking Mr. Drake-Jones
up on his offer of a Madrid pub tour. Perhaps another time. As for Rick
Steve's Spain/Portugal Guide, we found it incredibly informative and useful.
Edmonton, AB CAN 10/05/99
My wife and I (just married in June) went to Lisbon, the Algarve and Barcelona for our honeymoon. Spain and Portugal are an amazing combination. Don't expect grandeur from Portugal; expect a warm, relaxing, safe place with a ton of local culture.
Lisbon is not as grand as Paris but you get a hint that this place was the Paris of Europe during the discoveries. Very safe, walkable and a sight to be seen in every corner. Lisbon is 1492 meets 2000.
The Algarve beaches are among the best in the world. The townships are a little cheesy, but getting nicer. Take a few hours to visit Monchique in the Algarve--there is more than fun and sun. Visit Sagres and feel the wind and air from all directions.
Barcelona was amazing, we loved it--unfortunately, it lacked the hominess
of crazy Lisbon. But it's pure European romance.
Nelson and Susan Rego
Attleboro, MA USA 10/02/99
If you're travelling to Barcelona, make sure you reserve a room well
in advance (month+). It seems that everything is booked for the rest of
Jersey City, NJ USA 09/24/99
I was just told (by hotel staff) that the rate at Hotel Allegro in
Barcelona for a Db is 22900 ptas, and not 16900 ptas as mentioned in the
book. Not sure if the place is worth it.
san francisco, ca USA 09/22/99
I, my wife and teenage daughter spent 2 weeks traveling by car through Spain
and Portugal using Rick's books, Fodors and other guides. Since the trip
was in August we went without reservations at all places except Madrid and
Granada. Our experiences are on this URL: http://www.geocities.com/~artnscience/Vacation99/spn-1.html
It was great! Thanks, Rick.
Frederick, MD USA 09/07/99
I spent 30 days touring Spain and Portugal by car using Rick's book. 98% of the book was right on and I had a wonderful trip. Minor suggestions:
Rick's book does not flow with the recommended driving tour, like his France or Great Britain books. Therefore I recommend having a driving tips pages in the front of the book and not scattered thoughout the book.
Your Spanish/Portugese phrase book should be included in this travel book. If anyone doesn't need it they could rip it out. I found that very few Spaniards and even fewer Portuguese spoke English. I would have gladly paid a few more dollars to have the phrase book included! This is really pound wise and penny foolish. You see not all bookstores carry your phrase book.
Several hotels ask for your passport (and keep it) while you are staying at their hotel. Is this acceptable? I complied but felt uneasy about it.
I ran into Easter and Semana Santa. I did not make reservations in Segovia for Good Friday, and everything was booked 3 days in advance. It was packed on Good Friday. There was no place to park anywhere near town. A procession goes through town and passes under the aquaduct which is fully lit. It was very festive and quite memorable. I highly recommend being in Segovia on Good Friday. BUT MAKE RESERVATIONS WAY IN ADVANCE! I also ran into accommodation problems in Seville during the Semana Santa. Again, plan well in advance if you will be in these cities during Holy Week.
Morocco really wasn't worth a day trip. I spent about 3 hours in Morocco and 12 hours getting there and back. When I bought the ticket to Algiers in Tarifa the agent neglected to tell me the ferry leaves from Algeciras and not Tarifa anymore, even though there are still numerous signs in Tarifa indicating that ferries do leave from Tarifa bound for Algiers. I raced by car to Algeciras and barely made it on the ferry. Once in Morocco there was a cursory drive around town, and then heavy sales pressure by merchants and plenty of poverty. I found the prices very high relative to Spain and the merchants very pushy. At the end of the excursion our tour guide left us on the dock to wait over an hour for the ferry. I think Morocco would be much better with an extended stay of 3-5 days to visit the cities recommended in the book.
In Portugal, I found the drive from Lisboa to Salema took over 7 hours. I left Lisboa at 5pm, got lost, and did not arrive into Selema until midnight. I suggest leaving earlier, unless you are comfortable driving fairly remote regions of a foreign country late at night.
I highly recommend visiting Spain and Portugal in April & May. Good
weather and minimal tourists, except as noted above. Driving was a breeze
and very enjoyable (rent a small car). People were friendly and pleasant.
Cotati, , ca USA 08/25/99
We spent a month in Spain and Portugal this summer and used Rick's book extensively. Many tips worked out well, especially Salema in the Algarve where the ambience of the area was just what we needed, Pension Mare was great and the cataplanas at Carioca and fresh fish at Atlantico were sublime. The Alhambra at night under a crescent moon was magical, and the Pueblos Blancos area in Andalusia was terrific. We didn't see any gypsies or pickpockets in Barcelona (guess we were very lucky) and really enjoyed Toledo. Hotel Lisboa Plaza in Lisbon was a great splurge, as Rick said, and his flamenco recommendation in Sevilla and fado in Lisbon worked out great. The "family-friendly" room at the parador in Ronda was a great tip, and the tapas tours in Barcelona, Madrid and Sevilla put us in some good spots in the heart of things. Subways in Barcelona and Madrid were easy and taxis were reasonable in all cities we visited. We ran afoul of the Tarifa ferry, or lack thereof. Oh, well.
The discounts for carrying Rick's book were substantial over the course
of the trip, paying for the cost of the book probably ten times over.
Plus it was almost always fun sharing stories, etc. with others you meet
who are carrying the book.
Portland, OR USA 08/19/99
We also got caught in the Tarifa trap and went there (through Algeciras!)
on Rick's advice. As of July 1st there are still no boats to Algeciras and
the ticket agents have no idea if there will be any this summer. To hear
them tell it, the Tarifa boats are gone for good. We did find some great
tapas at the Cafe Central however!
Eugene, OR USA 07/14/99
We just returned from Spain and had a great time. We agree with someone below that Hotel Toledano is a place to avoid. They were the only ones to reply to our e-mail, but we were disappointed in their hotel. It was old and rundown. Ants came to feast on our cookies that we left in the room. The bathroom was tiny and our beds saggy. But, if you are looking for a cheap place to stay with a great location, it's great. Our window looked down a charming pedestrian street great for people watching and not too noisy at night. We went right out to the Ramblas. The location was great for under $50 a night.
Here's a tip if you get stuck in finding a hotel. Our Rick Steves book
had been stolen in the train station in Barcelona (see travel scams for
that story), so we didn't have his recommedations. We needed a hotel in
Madrid close to the airport. While in Denia, a small town on the Mediteranian
coast, we enlisted the help of a local travel agent. For a reasonable
fee, she made a call for us and got us a special deal for the Hotel Sofitel
with a free bus to the airport for around $50. We got there to find a
luxurious four star hotel where we felt pampared. The prices listed where
over $200 in US money. Wow! What a find! And the bus to the airport was
a stress free way to begin our trip home!
Hudsonville, Mi USA 07/10/99
In Barcelona, Hotel Jardi was good, but it could have been a bit cleaner.
The overnight train from Barcelona to Madrid was a wonderful and romantic way to pass the time on such a long train ride! Just make sure that when you buy your beds that they are in the same compartment. One couple in the same car with us bought their tickets and their beds were not together. The beds are oddly numbered--we had #15 and #17 (or something of that sort), but they were in the same compartment.
I can't say enough positive things about the Hostal Montalvo. The entrance and stairs are very deceiving. It is newly renovated, the staff is polite and helpful (even to those who mutilate the Spanish language). Bathrooms are spotless.
In Madrid we had a meal at Casa Ciriaco--and what a meal it was. Though I have heard others complain about Spanish food, they obviously haven't eaten at this place. Lots of locals, and lots of good and inexpensive food. Though Las Bravas seemed to be a chain, it serves a wonderful Spanish tortilla bravas and potatoes bravas. Their spicy secret sauce is pretty darn good and complements a beer nicely.
The AVE train to Seville is fast, clean and like a plane on the ground--complete with your stewards and stewardesses. In March you arrive in Seville and your nose is filled with the sweet smell of oranges and orange blossoms.
You need more information in your book about Semana Santa in Seville. Information that explains Holy Week can be found on-line with a little diligence, but it is a bit cryptic to those who are not Spanish or Catholic. Seville is packed with people during Semana Santa and rooms are expensive, but it is beautiful to see firsthand. It would be helpful to know how to buy a seat along the parade route--it is just about impossible if you don't speak much Spanish.
Gypsies were everywhere in Barcelona and Seville. They didn't seem to be too dangerous, but they are VERY persistent. They want to sell you a sprig of rosemary or read your palm. We found that by giving only one of them a coin and taking a sprig of rosemary and carrying it clearly in view, the rest of them leave you alone.
Toledo is very beautiful and well worth the visit, but the number of souvenir shops shocked me. Like all good salesmen, those who sell you knives/swords have lines to convince you to buy the most expensive ones--watch for the amusing "dishwasher and the laminated handle" story. Buying damascene is the same--not all is hand made. Go to the Zamorano factory and see not only the swords, but also the damascene made--it is an interesting process. The artisans sign all of their handmade works--ask for the signature to be pointed out to you. Before you go, if you are interested in buying something substantial, research it and have an idea of what you want so you don't pay way too much.
Semana Santa in Toledo was also wonderful and actually much more moving
than Seville's. Seville seemed to be more of a festival and glamorous;
in Toledo the processions were much more religious and somber. We saw
a procession sing what sounded like a mix between a Muslim cry to prayer
and a Gregorian chant. It was so beautiful and medieval that it actually
moved me to tears. I could imagine the same scene happening hundreds of
Rochester, NY USA 07/07/99
In Barcelona, the Hotel Jardi was wonderful, if you don't mind charming but somewhat cramped rooms and a dizzying stair climb. The staff was friendly and helpful, and our window opened up onto the most wonderful people-watching scene in Europe. I was surprised by the lack of nightlife in the Barri Gotic after midnight, but one night attraction not to be missed is the Fuente Magica at the base of Montjuic, which with its spectacular light and water show on weekend nights is undoubtedly among the greatest free attractions in Europe.
The Alhambra in Granada was spectacular, and the city was fascinating, but watch out for the gypsies--Granada's are particularly aggressive and annoying, especially around the Capila Real. Also, the Residencia Britz was a comfortable steal.
Sevilla was magical, and I would greatly recommend the Hotel Murillo, listed in the Rough Guide. At the heart of the Barrio Sta Cruz, it had clean, large rooms, kitchy Spanish charm, an unbeatable location, and A/C (required in Sevilla during June)! It was also very affordable.
One last thing...Rick Steves MUST visit northern Spain, especially Cantabria
and Euskadi (Basque Country). The countryside is the most beautiful in
Spain, and the coastline features rugged cliffs that California and Normandy
would envy. San Sebastian and Bilbao (where the new Guggenheim museum
seems to have envigorated the whole area) are spectacular, and the whole
region is bursting with tourist-free back doors...especially Cantabria.
Dallas, TX USA 07/05/99
Just returned from a wonderful trip around Spain. This was the second
time we have traveled with Steves' books and found them invaluable. One
mistake we came across was the map of Nerja, on the Costa del Sol. Rick
has the bus info kiosk on San Miguel. It should be on the north side N-340
AV De Pescia. Trusting the book, we jumped off the bus and happily marched
down the highway toward Malaga, instead of down to the Paseo. Stayed at
the Hostal Residencia Mena in the nicest room we'd come across yet, with
a patio with sea view.
Big Creek, BC Canada 06/27/99
We encountered no anti-American sentiment in May, in the wake of the Kosovo bombings. Remember, Spain is part of NATO too.
If you like gardens, give the Alhambra a full day. I've noticed that Rick is not too keen on gardens, but the Generalife in the Alhambra deserves several hours in and of itself. The view is incredible, the fountains sublime, and it has many other interesting architectural features rising from the gardens. It is also the best way to get away from the crowds in the palaces.
The same goes for the Alcazaba in Sevilla. Do yourself a favor and give
yourself a few minutes in the gardens. The solitude alone is worth the
Provo, UT USA 06/26/99
We were in Barcelona in May and had breakfast everyday at a restaurant
on the Ramblas called Nuria. The Spanish bacon is the best I've ever had
and the price was great.
New York, NY USA 06/24/99
I just came from Morocco and upon arriving in Tangiers I found that the
train station outside the harbor is closed for a few months for repairs.
I caught a taxi to an alternative station way out in the boonies. A small
office in the old station has information and times. The taxi ride to the
alternative station cost 20 dirams for 4 people. Use and enjoy Marrakesh.
torrance, ca USA 06/17/99
In Toledo we stayed at Hotel Maravilla. The people at the hotel were very nice but the room was DIRTY, and we left after one night. I thought Toledo was OK at night, just way too many souvinir shops and tourists.
I HATE that McDonald's at Plaza Mayor, what an eyesore.
In beautiful Segovia, the Hotel Los Linajes was a GREAT hotel for about $80. It was clean, with a marble bath, very comfortable beds, leather sofa, and our room had a incredible view. Staff were extremely nice. A room I would gladly pay $150-$200 for in the States.
Take a taxi in both Toledo and Segovia to town if you get there by bus.
It's less then $5, saves a lot of hassle and time finding these hotels.
Hope this helps.
Atlanta, GA USA 06/14/99
We used your helpful book during a two-week trip through Andalucia and around Madrid in April.
Telephones: Spain has joined most of the rest of Europe now using "00" for the International Access Code.
Transportation: took the high-speed train (AVE) Madrid to Seville and return. A relaxing 2-1/2 hours after the overnight flight. The supplement for our type of Eurail pass was $29 each way, first class (preferente) but included wine and a small meal.
Seville hotels: check out the freshly (and creatively) painted Picasso Hotel near the entrance to the Alcazar. We stayed at the Dona Maria which was fine.
Seville flamenco: Los Gallos was a good recommendation. Still enthusiastic and far less expensive than other clubs in the area.
Jerez: Royal School of Equestrian Art: training sessions now include a tour of the stables, tack room, etc. Guides organize groups by language as you arrive in the stands.
Arcos: another one of your gems. We stayed at the Parador (off-season, great rate) but checked out the Hotel El Convento and ate at the Restaurante El Convento. Both great. And loved the nuns' cookies.
Vejer de la Frontera: the perfect stop on the way from Arcos to Costa del Sol. You understate its enchantment.
Punta Paloma: our luncheon stop with the goodies we bought in Vejer, but driving east from Vejer, the sign for Punta Paloma takes you to a windsurfing spot without any facilities (Playa Villa-something or onto a military base as we tried to do in the middle of the Kosovo crisis, but that's another story). Your spot with the shops and resturant is a mile or two further towards Tarifa and visible from the highway.
Gibraltar parking: many, many thanks for the tip to park "outside" (although no "fake attendants" were encountered). There was no traffic going into Gibraltar and it was tempting to drive through, but in the early afternoon on the way out cars were backed up at Spanish customs.
Granada: Tickets for the Alhambra indeed sell out early, even in the "off season." If the Palacios Nazaries is your priority and time is limited, get tickets right away. We went up there around 4:00 and found people (even Spanish-speaking families) confused over ticket availabiity. We purchased tickets for for that night's tour and for early the next day. The night tour was not as interesting as it sounded. The 8:30 A.M. entry time, although not recommended in your book, gave us the palace to ourselves (but it was cold in April).
Drive from Granada to Seville: Fuente Vaqueros: about 10 kilometers out of Granada and about 5 kilometers off the highway to Seville is the small village of Fuente Vaqueros where the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca was born and raised. The family home is open for tours: Calle Poeta Garcia Lorca, 4.
Drive from Granada to Seville: Riofrio, the "trout town": a great lunch stop. Famous for its trout farms and plentiful restaurants.
Madrid--the Prado: renovations continue as of mid-April with weekly printed guides providing the latest locations of all those masterpieces (wear good shoes and allow even more time for getting lost).
Madrid--Museo Sorolla: often overlooked home and museum of the great 20th-century Spanish impressionist painter, Joaquin Sorolla. 37 Martinez Campos. Free on Sundays.
Reading for the journey (books with Spanish settings): The Seville Communion or The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Duarte; For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway; A Heart So White by Javier Marias; Iberia by Michener; Life of Garcia Lorca by Ian Gibson; Selected Poems of Garcia Lorca.
Thanks for the good tour books--we have followed them around Europe
successfully. And we swear we saw you at Laura's hotel in Varenna in late
October, 1996, but did not want to disturb your (or some other fellow's)
Rich and Claire McAdams
Aptos, CA USA 06/12/99
In Madrid, there is a wonderful inn near the Prado which gets only passing reference in the book. Yes, it is polished and friendly, but it is a jewel. The Hostal Gonzalo (whose manager, Javier, DOES speak English) was an excellent choice. They renovated their rooms three years ago, and they did a marvelous job: tile floors, firm beds, and a comfortable bathroom (which my wife and I grew to appreciate on our travels). The family that runs this inn is indeed warm, friendly and gracious. Rick, move this recommendation to the top of your list.
Our Barcelona choice was a different story altogether. We stayed at
the Hotel Toledano, and it was a bitter disappointment. Mr. Sanz and his
son Alberto (and Jordi) were every bit as folksy as the book says, but
the room we got was pitiful. We were led through a dirty and seedy hallway.
Our dark, stuffy room consisted of two sagging twin beds, peeling wallpaper
and more dirty floors. Again, they were wonderful people, but they need
to invest in their property. The good news is that we did stay on the
Ramblas, which leads to the waterfront. Rick was right when he wrote about
surrendering to Barcelona's charms. We'll surrender again.
Seattle, WA USA 06/01/99
My wife and I just returned from our second Back Door adventure, a super trip to Spain. We visited Barcelona, Madrid and Toledo. We found your book very helpful particularly in Madrid. The tapas crawl was great and we flashed the book everywhere. At the Restaurante Pozo Real we had the best meal, however the server said since the recommendation appeared in your book, they are too busy! I guess we tourists have "pushed out" some of the locals. So much for a backdoor treat, but it was great!
In Toledo, we were disappointed by the attitude of the staff at the Hostal de Cardenal Restaurante. They did not seem too eager and refused to seat us. A little haute! Rest of Toledo was a WOW!
Remember, wear your money belts!
Willingboro, NJ USA 05/21/99
My husband and I just returned from Barcelona. It is a wonderful city, especially for wandering and gawking at the fabulous Gaudi architecture, but you really MUST be on the alert for pickpockets at all times! We had one "attempt" in broad daylight and always felt like we were being stalked!
Also, we stayed at Hotel California. We had a room on the alley side,
which during the day seemed quite quiet. At about 11pm, we found out differently.
It seems across the alley a new nightclub has opened and the noise was
excrutiating until at least 3 a.m.!! We'd definitely recommend not staying
there, as the walls even inside the hotel were paper thin...but if you
must, definitely request a wall away from the alley!
Seattle, WA USA 05/09/99
In Febrary I took my first trip to Spain and fell in love. Rick's guidebook was a great help. But don't forget about Zaragoza, smack-dab in the middle of Spain! It is a beautiful city with friendly people. One can see the Rio Ebro(River Ebro) flowing through the middle of the city. Zaragoza also has the Virgin de Pilar cathedral as well as a castle which was home to the kings of Aragon. So, please, fellow travelers, if you have a few extra hours, go to Zaragoza.
One other note: The Salvador Dali museum's price is 1,000 pasetas year-round
Greensboro, NC USA 05/02/99
We love your books and have used them all over Europe. Our only complaint
was the nasty farmer operating the Pileta Caves outside of Ronda (in spring
of '96). Let us wait for over an hour (during tour hours). He sat near us
and pretended to be a tourist until more people arrived, then only spoke
Spanish, and was just incredibly rude. Spain was wonderful otherwise !
bellevue , wa USA 04/08/99
Lisbon was really disappointing, almost nothing to see, crowded, not
very clean. It boggles the mind that they hosted the World Expo last year
and the city looks the way it does. Whereas ETBD suggests using Lisbon as
a base to see places such as Sintra, we did the opposite and used Sintra
as a base to see Lisbon. With a fast cheap train to Lisbon (less than $10
for round-trips for 4) it was easy to get into town. At night we were in
Sintra, which is beautiful and charming. The Moorish Castle, Pena Palace
and surrounding area yield plenty of walking, especially good for younger
kids who like climbing, and the views are incredible. And lodging is much
less expensive there. We stayed at the Pensao Residencial Sintra (not in
the ETBD guide) and had a wonderful room for 4 (20-ft ceilings, large room)
for about $70/night. Basically it's an old mansion in a wooded surrounding.
We gave Lisbon 1 day and Sintra 3, never regretted it.
Derby, UK 04/08/99
My husband and I used Rick Steves' book heavily on our recent trip
to Spain and Portugal. We both thought that Portugal was a nice break from
Spain in the middle of our trip. The culture is so very different. One caution
about the 1999 book concerning the "Ruta del Modernisme" pass. The book
states that the price is $1,500 pesetas and includes all other sites free.
This is no longer correct. As of February, the price is $600 and only provides
coupons for 50% the other major sites (the lady explained to us that if
you were to visit all of the sites you would spend $2,400). We still found
it very useful.
Austin, TX USA 03/30/99
Visit the Azores! Rick, when are you going to include them in your
Everett, WA USA 03/18/99
We've traveled to Europe 8 times on our own over the past 13 years. Last
month was the first time we made reservations. We were going to Madrid for
our first visit and relied on Rick's Spain and Portugal guide book to find
a room in Madrid on the Puerta del Sol at Hotel Europa. It was a great location
right in the middle of all we chose to do. The rooms were spotless and the
parlor was just charming! The only thing I would mention is that the cafeteria
Rick recommended next door has changed names from the Kenia to Cafeteria
Freiduria. Still a good choice for a quick breakfast.
Carrollton, Tx USA 03/05/99
In addition to Galicia, poke around in Asturias and be sure to check
out the traditional music. Rich in history and beautiful, rugged and unspoiled.
seattle, wa USA 03/04/99
Just wanted to warn anyone going to Morocco--Rick's book insists that you
launch yourself out of Tarifa and avoide Algeciras at all costs. However,
I just returned from a trip to Spain--we bussed to Tarifa from Sevilla (3
hours) only to be told upon arrival that there are no boats to Tangiers
from Tarifa for the winter. They might possibly start again in April or
so. We were forced to unexpectedly bus it over to Algeciras at the last
minute in order to cross over into Morocco.
Washington, DC USA 02/16/99
We used the guidebook in Southern Spain, but would have loved to have
Rick "along" with us in Northern Spain and the Pyrenees. We would've liked
to know in advance that Pamplona isn't worth the hassle, but that Basque
country is worth staying in for weeks. His best tips in the book are for
Arcos and Rhonda. Spend a night or two in Rhonda and enjoy the paseo at
night with all the tourists gone. Lovely people, lovely town. Yes, driving
in Arcos is not for the faint of heart, which Rick points out in the book!
But worth a few good laughs (mostly after the car was parked, and we had
a glass of great Rioja wine...). Sorry, couldn't have agreed less with Rick's
recommendation to see Gibraltar. Otherwise the book was great.
San Ramon, CA USA 02/13/99
Took a three week tour of Spain and Portugal using your guidebook. The recommendations
were mostly excellant, but when they weren't, they really weren't. Skip
the Parc des Attractiones in Madrid. It was not only impossibly far from
the center of Madrid, but I didn't need to travel thousands of miles to
go to a "Six Flags" theme park. Also Obidos in Portugal is kind of a letdown.
You only need a couple of hours.
My husband and I visited the following cities last May per Rick's recommendatons.
MADRID: Palacio Real was beautiful, but all the guards are such big snots. Not very helpful at all. The Prado was a delight, as expected. The flea market was CROWDED (get there early). The bullfight was sold out (we were in line at 8:30 a.m. to buy tickets), so I got them instead from a local reselling tickets (I only speak rudimentary Spanish, but we managed to make ourselves understood). The bullfight itself was...interesting. Would never go to another one again. Food was okay...certainly not Italy or France. Our hotel was lovely...right on Puerta del Sol. The discos are rockin' (recommend Joy Eslava--very expensive though). Nightly paseo is a wonderful experience.
TOLEDO: Lovely day trip. We went on a Monday, where everything was closed, but that was okay--the town was so overwhelmingly beautiful, and the weather was so nice.
GRANADA: Surprisingly no paseo at night. Alhambra was a highlight of the trip. Found Granada to be a tad dirtier than the rest of Spain. The old gypsy quarter was another highlight, where (per Rick's recommendation) we saw the most spectacular view of the Alhambra.
NERJA: A LARGE British expat scene. Very beautiful walkway along the coast. Beach is very pebbly though. Stayed at Balcon de Europa--worth every penny.
SEVILLE: Wonderful town, great paseo scene. Not as much to do here for a big town. Went into the Alcazar (there was an outstanding show at night). Highly recommended LAST part of the trip, because it's pretty mellow for a big town. Wonderful flamenco show at the place that Rick recommended.
WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT SPAIN: Friendly people, easy transportation system, lots of ATMs abound, wonderful culture.
NOT-SO-WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT SPAIN: Bullfights, mediocre food.
Washington, DC USA 02/03/99
Skip the paradors in Ronda and Arcos....too expensive. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit at Andy Chapel's Molino del Santos in Benoajan (you can find his website by going into www.andalucia.com and looking under "accommodations"). His small hotel is absolutely charming, reasonable, and right on the rail line. Leave your car there and take the train into Ronda for the day. His meals were excellent and reasonable. We made Molinos our home base and did day trips out to Ronda, Zahara (great!) and Sentenil.
One of the greatest bargains was El Roccio, east of Seville. The town
is right out of an old western movie set. Don't expect anyone to speak
ANY English, except at Hotel Toruno (cheap and immaculate) and out at
Donana National Park.
near Pittsburgh, PA USA 01/24/99
My husband and I just returned from Lisbon last week and it was an
incredible trip! We spent 6 days in Lisbon and day-tripped out to Sintra.
We stayed at the Eduardo VII and it was close to everything, including a
great coffee shop and the neighborhood metro station! Lisbon was beautiful
at Christmas time! The weather was great and the food even more wonderful!
We can't wait to go back!
Irving, TX USA 01/04/99
Barcelona: don't even THINK of showing up without a hotel reservation-even in low season! Many places overbook and you won't find much help at the tourist information office, either. They don't book rooms at all-they hand you the "Barcelona Hotels" map/listing for some 130 hotels--and you'll need to call yourself. And if you're able to navigate the phones at the airport or train station, you will probably hear "Estamos completo". And these were cheap hotels, expensive ones, 500 room ones...it was frustrating to call hotel after hotel and not have ONE room available.
BTW...use your rental car or a taxi if you're in a jam like I was and
just need a place to crash for the night. I took the airport road out
and headed SOUTH, away from the city, for some 5 minutes. Down there,
I found a couple of little roadside Motels for $45.00/night. The Esdasa
La Europea took me in late with no problem, and they were so nice-I wished
I wouldn't have wasted so much time trying to find a room in the Barcelona
Hotels brochure. This motel was expecially convenient as I had a 6am flight
to catch the next morning--no Barcelona traffic to fight, either.
Conifer, CO USA 12/18/98
I don't know what Wayne had against Toledo, but I spent two nights
and one full day there, and slept in a hostal that was in a real castle.
The city is beautiful and unique and some very good museums. I found it
a highlight on my trip and I would encourage anyone passing that way to
stop and check it out.
san jose, CA USA 12/06/98
My mother and I stayed at the Hotel Convento in Arcos. While the room
was nice, we would have preferred more of a heads-up regarding the driving
and tough time finding parking for check-in. And, despite the fact that
we were Rick Steves' followers, they would not honor the original check-in
price. We also found the "...Generalife" book for the Alhambra unnecessary.
Overall, though, your book was a key resource in making our trip unforgettable.
Aston, PA USA 12/02/98
My wife and i stayed in the Lloret hotel in Barcelona last August. It is
the perfect location for a visit to the city. We arrived after a overnight
trip from Seville and the desk person had our room cleaned and ready for
occupancy immediately, although it was mid-morning. the room overlooking
the Ramblas was small but clean and the balcony was great for viewing. Although
in our early 50's, we had no trouble with scams or pickpockets...money belt
and nothing in pockets..simple dress and good attitude was our approach
here and throughout our other stops..by all means visit Barcelona and check
out the latest National Geographic
carnation, wa USA 11/28/98
My wife and I spent three weeks in Spain with Rick as a companion (in book form) and other than the pickpocket (recorded under scams) we had a lovely time. We decided to make our Parador treat the one in Arcos instead of Rick's Hotel Convento. But we went by the Convento first just to look. We cancelled our reservations at the Parador and stayed two extra days at the Hotel Convento it was so nice. The view from our balcony room was marvelous and the staff could not have been nicer. Their restraurant down the street is excellent and far surpasses the Parador. The owner made us breakfast every morning and I heartily recommend the eggs scrambled with bacon. Wonderful!
Rick did not mention the drive from Ubrique (leather center but touristy) to Grazalema but it was a dramatic drive and very senic. Also the cork trees were interesting to see and examine throughout Andalucia. Get out and look. The Parador in Ronda was a good place the end our trip tho it is hotel-ish.
One final note: The whole world should wake up every morning and shout
Antonio Gaudi! He is that wonderful.
Charles M. Luther
Katy, TX USA 11/27/98
I stayed at the quaint Hotel Lloret in Barcelona. Our room was small, but
clean and safe. We had a balcony overlooking the Ramblas, what a treat!
While we overheard a couple in the hotel lobby talking about pickpockets,
we had no problems ourselves. As two women traveling alone, we were always
careful to be aware of our surroundings and more careful when dealing with
Phoenix, Az USA 11/14/98
Barcelona: Crowded. Pickpockets all over the place. Young kids use cardboard and newspaper to block your view while they try to grab your wallet. Fight back by shouting and grabbing the newspaper and cardboard. I used this solution many times from Italy to Spain. And use your money belt. Don't use the "Touristik" bus tour on Sunday, when majority of attractions are closed.
Madrid: One of my favorite cities; food and hostels are cheap. Corte Ingles in Madrid sell fruits and veggies in small quantities. Don't rely on the subway going Plaza De Colon. The day we were going home, subways 1,2,3,4 were not running. Take the bus instead to plaza De Colon, then take the airport bus.
Going to Madrid from Barcelona: Take the plane, it's cheap ($105.00)
and it only takes 50 minutes vs. 10 hours by train.
Williamstown, NJ USA 11/04/98
We spent a total of a week in Barcelona, pre- and post-cruise this
June. We had just arrived at our hotel (St. Moritz) and two American couples
cornered me in the lobby and said pickpockets tried to get them just down
the street from the hotel. These couples were not in the best of shape and
were dawdlers. They looked easy like easy prey, I'm sure, for the street
criminals. I would suggest that if you venture on your own, be snappy and
look like you can handle yourself in a "tug of war". While we are in our
early 50s and were lucky in Barcelona and Rome, we tried to look lively,
usually stayed with groups and took cabs much of the time. We did a lot
of walking with no incidents.
Houston, TX USA 11/03/98
Don't be deceived by the lure of medieval Toledo at night. There isn't much
to do, and you'd be much better off either back in Madrid or on a train
Rick's advice about not going to Alhambra first thing in the morning
stands in sharp contrast to the "no more tickets for today" sign at the
entrance gate. Our solution: Find a tour group leaving Alhambra and ask
to have a ticket stub. At least one part won't be stamped, which you can
use to get onto the grounds. Then head for the Palacio Nazaries, show them
your punched ticket, and say "se me perdio me reloj" (I lost my watch).
Then you get to go in to "look for it." Hey, it's worth a shot if you're
only in Granada for one day.
The New York Banditos
New York, NY USA 10/30/98
In Granada, Alhambra sold out on tickets by 1PM. Make reservations:
958/220912 or fax 958/210584 recommend 3-7 days in advance, need to pick
up tickets at the main ticket office 1 hour prior to appointment time in
the Palacios Nazaries. October 4,1998.
Barcelona: High crime area. Two friends had their Eagle Creek neck/belt wallets stolen, one was ripped off of her neck while walking by Placa de Catalunya, the other had hers taken from a pew in the Cathedral while she took a picture. Hotel Residencia Neutral was noisy--thin walls and the room was dirty.
Honolulu, HI USA 10/30/98
If you're doing the Rick Steves tour through Spain and don't want to go to Portugal, there's a GREAT place to stay midway between Salamanca and Sevilla, near the Extremadura town of Trujillo. The place is called Finca Santa Marta; it's a beautiful little B&B run by a Dutch ex-diplomat and his Spanish wife. Their English is excellent; their cook (Ines, from Chile) makes WONDERFUL meals; and the setting is delightful. Spend some time by the Roman-fountain-type swimming pool! We spent two glorious days there, and will definitely go back. Oh, it's inexpensive, too! The only thing is that you need a car to get there--but you should have one anyway if you really want to see Spain. Finca Santa Marta has a website; you can also find info at the Karen Brown site.
We also stayed at El Convento in Arcos de la Frontera, as Rick recommends.
Another HUGE winner! We were the first to stay in the newly-dedicated
"Rick Steves Room," and it was spectacular. Don't miss this one!
Cincinnati, OH USA 10/12/98
In Madrid, a very friendly Spanish man approached us asking if we needed a place to stay. I being very cautious thought NO-Way! But my husband insisted we should at least see his hotel. We did, and it was great. Very inexpensive, but comfortable and in a prime location--only about 100 feet from Puerto de Sol. It is Hotel de Paris. Check it out!
Also, our absolute favorite spot on our trip was Tossa de Mar, a small
town about 50km north of Barcelona. It is the best place to get away from
the hussle of tourists. Very little to see there, except a beautiful beach
surrounded by lush green hills, very friendly locals, and a few Hollanders
on vacation. And the place where Rick recommends staying is definitely
a home away from home. A great breakfast every morning, (dinner too for
an extra charge) and THE most friendly family in Spain! Also, only a three-minute
walk to the beach. Oh, and the view from the balcony is fabulous. All
for about $20 for a couple! Next time you're in Spain, take a vacation
from your vacation, you will love it there.
Sparks, NV USA 09/26/98