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Exploring Spain: day trips for wine lovers

North to south, Spain truly does have something for everyone – from its monumental and groundbreaking architecture to charming villages, splendid beaches and rugged countryside.

With its complex history and culture, generally fine weather, wide variety of landscapes, and top-quality food and wines, it’s no surprise that Spain is one of the world’s top travel destinations. But given such a range of choice, especially for the wine-loving traveller, decisions need to be made when planning a trip.

Is it better to travel around and see as many different places as possible? Or should you explore just one or two places in sufficient depth to feel that you really get to know them? Somewhere in between is the art of the day trip, choosing a place as your base of operations to explore properly, while supplementing your visit with excursions to other nearby locations.

Here we’ve put together a selection of day trips from popular destinations. They include the unique Basque country appeal of Bilbao; cosmopolitan Barcelona and Madrid with their magnificent cityscapes, architecture and culture; and the southern charms of sunny Seville and coastal Málaga. Using any of these as a base, you can head out to explore the neighbouring towns and countryside and, of course, sample the delights of a range of local cuisines and wines in some of the country’s principal wine regions.

For some of the day-trip destinations you can choose between travelling by public transport or hiring a car for a self-guided experience. Although Spain is very well connected, with a good network of train and bus routes, few producers have wineries within towns or cities, so when choosing public transport a combination of either bus and train, with the occasional taxi ride, may be required. A guided day tour can eliminate the stress of coordinating train and bus schedules, or logistics of car hire, route planning and parking – though for some this is all part of the adventure. Whichever option you choose, booking winery visits, activities and restaurants in advance is essential.


Bilbao

Bakio – Bodega Doniene Gorrondona – San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – Bermeo

The precipitous winding steps on San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, near Bakio. Credit: Andrea Comi / Getty Images

We start our day in Bakio, a small coastal town surrounded by mountains about 40 minutes from Bilbao (north via the BI-631 road). Its original purposes as a fishing village and centre of the iron industry have been replaced by tourism, and it’s also become known for its Txakoli, the popular local Basque white wine, which is what brings us here. Start the day with an early visit to the Txakolingunea Txakoli museum (@txakolingunea) to learn something about the history of both the region and its wines.

There are several bodegas in and around Bakio, but particularly recommended is Doniene Gorrondona. The winery owners are Andoni, Egoitz, Itziar and Julen. The vineyards here were recovered after most of the local vines were abandoned during the phylloxera plague of the late 19th century. To visit the vineyards and winery you can choose from a range of daily visits (minimum four people) starting at €15, or private tours are available by arrangement.

From Bakio it’s a short drive to the island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (check euskoguide.com or visitbiscay.eus), a beautiful hermitage on an impressive rocky island just off the rugged coastline. If it looks familiar, it’s because it featured as the citadel of Dragonstone in HBO’s Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. The castle was CGI of course, but the causeway bridge and winding steps to the top of the island are real. Although it’s thought that the island was first built on in the 9th century, the current church is late 19th century. Remember to ring the bell and make a wish if you make it that far.

A little further on is our last stop for the day, the fishing port of Bermeo. Highlights here include the old port itself, which is notable for the colourful houses alongside Lamera park and its surroundings, including the Casino building. Take a stroll through the old town to the main square, and enjoy some pintxos in one of the local bars before heading a little out of town to stop for a late lunch at Almiketxu, which specialises in wood-grilled locally sourced meat and fish with vegetables from its own garden.

With a bit of planning, this day out can be organised using a combination of the local buses and taxis, but it is best done in your own car or with a car and driver.

Guernica – Bodegas Itsasmendi – Asador Etxebarri

Asador Etxebarri, Axpe. Credit: Bilbao Turismo

A visit to the ‘Basque king of the barbecue’ (chef Victor Arguinzoniz) could be considered a day-trip destination in itself. But if you want to make even more of your time, then after an early breakfast make your way to the town of Guernica, about 35 minutes from Bilbao (head east on the AP-8 then north via the BI-635). Time permitting, you can also visit a winery in a nature reserve before arriving at your lunch destination: meat mecca Asador Etxebarri.

Guernica is best known for Picasso’s famous painting depicting the bombing of the town by the Germans and Italians during the Spanish civil war. Although the original is in Madrid, a mural of the painting can be found in the town centre, close to the Museum of Peace. Also close by are the Assembly house and the tree of Guernica, symbols of Basque independence and democracy.

Within the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve – a 230km² UNESCO-designated natural region – just to the south of Guernica you’ll find Bodegas Itsasmendi. Founded in 1994, and moved to its current location between Muxika and Guernica in 2003, the company’s 35ha of vineyards are distributed across 15 sites throughout the province of Bizkaia (Biscay). Pioneers in incorporating international grapes such as Riesling or Pinot Noir into its Txakoli range, the bodega is in a constant state of evolution. Book an early tasting that finishes by 12.30pm (packages at €25-€50).

Heading south again you’re into wilder country – take the scenic BI-635 road and don’t miss the turn-off for Ibarruri then Durango on the BI-3332 (prepare for hairpin bends and some tremendous forested views), then pick up the N-634 and N-636 to get to Atxondo; turn off the main road here and the great views continue all the way up to the village of Axpe, nestling in the lush foothills and home to world-renowned one-star Michelin Asador Etxebarri. The restaurant – founded in 1988 by Victor Arguinzoniz, who grew up just a kilometre away – is in a stunning location, and it’s very easy to imagine the days when this tiny village had no gas or electricity. Arguinzoniz has turned this idea into his hallmark with a locally sourced menu based on grilling, especially grilled meats. Be sure to book well in advance.

Both of these Bilbao-based day trips should get you back to the city in time for a sundowner on the rooftop of the Gran Hotel Domine which has spectacular views overlooking Bilbao and the magnificent Guggenheim museum.

For a fully customised experience to these Basque locations (and others), contact local expert Gabriella Ranelli at Tenedor Tours.


Barcelona

Alella

Alella vineyards looking down towards El Masnou. Credit: Hans Geel / Alamy Stock Photo

The picturesque town of Alella is just off the coast, about 20km northeast of central Barcelona. There are two public transport options: you can take the train from Plaça Catalunya to the nearby port town of El Masnou and then a short taxi or bus ride into Alella. Alternatively you can take the E19 Sagalés bus from the Ronda de Sant Pere (near Plaça d’Urquinaona) which brings you directly to the centre of the town.

Once you arrive, the perfect start to the day would be a relaxing 10am self-care session at Alella Organic Spa. Located in a 17th-century farmhouse in the heart of town, the small spa offers a variety of organic therapy options for two, including massages, facials, scrubs and wraps.

From there you can take a taxi to the family-run Alta Alella. There are scheduled tours in English (two hours, adults €22) that include a walk through the vineyards followed by a wine pairing with four wines (still and sparkling), jamón Ibérico and four regional cheeses. This takes place outside on the winery terrace with spectacular views overlooking the Mediterranean. If the timings don’t quite work, you can book ahead for a private winery visit at a time that suits you.

Back in Alella, finish with a lateish lunch (3pm) at Restaurante Els Garrofers in the upper barrio, which specialises in contemporary Catalan cuisine focused on local products and Mediterranean recipes.

If you’ve come to Alella by train then you may want to stop for a post-prandial G&T at one of the bars overlooking the port in El Masnou before heading back to Barcelona. Otherwise, once you are back in the city, you can opt for a sundowner at La Dolce Vitae rooftop bar, at the aptly named Majestic Hotel on the Passeig de Gràcia, right in the centre of town.

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia – Llopart – Recaredo

Recaredo, near Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, manages its vines biodynamically. Credit: Marçal Font

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, an hour or so west of Barcelona, is in the heart of Cava country in the Penedès region. But today’s trip focuses on sparkling wines from the relatively young designation of Corpinnat, the collective brand of a group of now 11 established organic sparkling wine producers that was first formed in 2015 and achieved formal EU recognition in late 2017.

Take the train from Plaça Catalunya in time to arrive at Sant Sadurní by 10.30am, then it’s on to an 11am winery visit at Llopart, just 10 minutes away by taxi in the mountains above the town. The winding BP-2427 road up to the winery gives you a taste of what to expect when you arrive at the vineyards. Its Reserva Tour (about two hours, adults €28) takes you on a stroll not only through the vineyards but also through the winery’s history while enjoying spectacular views and ending with equally impressive wines accompanied by local snacks.

Take a taxi back to the town for lunch at Cal Ticus, a popular family restaurant offering market cuisine and local products. In addition to serving traditional Catalán dishes with a twist, it also has an extensive range of wines that are available to purchase in its wine shop.

Recaredo has been producing terroir-focused wines from its own vineyards since 1924. Its Origen Visit (3.30-5.30pm, €35 per person), at its cellars on Carrer de Tamarit, is an excellent introduction to the winery’s commitment to long ageing and biodynamic viticulture. You’ll visit the cellar and taste four long-aged wines (two brut nature and two still) that capture the essence of the region.

On your way back to the train station pop into the Simón Coll chocolate factory to view (and sample) its beautifully packaged treats, ranging from classic and vintage-style chocolates to whimsical Cava bottle shapes.


Madrid

Segovia – Bodega Blanco Nieva

The magnificent Roman aqueduct in Segovia. Credit: Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

The medieval city of Segovia is some 95km northwest of the capital Madrid and makes a perfect day-trip destination. But first we begin with an 11am visit to Bodega Blanco Nieva in the village of Santa María la Real de Nieva, 30km northwest of Segovia.

By car from Madrid, head to the bodega via the A-6, which becomes the AP-6, then off onto the N-603 for Otero de Herreros. Take the turning onto the SG-723 (for Vegas de Matute) then the SG-313. Finally, a left onto the CL-605 towards Arévalo takes you northwest on a straight road across sweeping plains. The bodega is on the far side of Santa María, on the SG-342. Afterwards, to get to Segovia, head back along the CL-605 all the way. Alternatively, take the high speed AVE train from Madrid’s Chamartín station to Segovia Guiomar (just outside the city) and from there take a taxi to the bodega.

Santa María la Real de Nieva boasts several excellent wineries which are key to understanding quality Verdejo wines. At Blanco Nieva you’ll take a stroll through the vineyards with their 100-year-old vines and be guided through the production process before enjoying a tasting in the magnificent halls of the bodega (€40 per person, less for groups).

Arriving in Segovia, your first port of call has to be the iconic Roman aqueduct that spans the valley on the eastern side of the town. From there it’s a short walk up through the ancient narrow streets to the Plaza Mayor. Here you’ll find both the 16th-century late Gothic-style cathedral and, just off the square, Restaurante José María, where founder José María Ruiz has perfected the local speciality of roast suckling pig. Accompanied by a dish of judiones del Real Sitio (a type of regional giant butter bean) and a glass of Pago de Carraovejas, Ribera del Duero (another of Ruiz’s projects), this is quintessential Segovia.

After lunch, walk up along the walls to the top of the old town and the Alcázar, the royal palace and fortress said to be one of the inspirations for the original Disney castle. The Mirador Junto Plaza Reina Victoria Eugenia has breathtaking views across the countryside below the city.

Bodega Más Que Vinos – Toledo

Adolfo Muñoz, Restaurante Adolfo, Toledo

Our day trip south from Madrid takes us into Castilla-La Mancha, land of Don Quixote, windmills and Manchego cheese, and of some very fine wines, which brings you to Más Que Vinos in Cabañas de Yepes, about 50 minutes along the A4 from Madrid.

Margarita Madrigal, Alexandra Schmedes and Gonzalo Rodriguez met in 1998 and started working together in Rodriguez’s family bodega, La Plazuela in Dosbarrios, which dates back to 1851. Their current bodega in the neighbouring village of Cabañas de Yepes was founded in 2007. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours (Monday-Friday, €42 per person; Saturday €49 for minimum six people) and includes the original La Plazuela winery and the El Horcajo vineyard, finishing back at the Cabañas de Yepes winery with a tasting accompanied by local tapas.

Then on to Toledo for lunch. Adolfo Muñoz is one of Toledo’s leading chefs and his Restaurante Adolfo, which sits on a hill overlooking the city, takes classic Toledo cuisine to the next level. It also boasts what the website describes as the only urban vineyard in Spain, Viñedos Cigarral Santa María. For a peak epicurean experience, Iván Cerdeño’s two-star Michelin Cigarral del Angel combines traditional cuisine with fine dining and spectacular views.

Toledo is impressively located on a hill overlooking the river Tagus, and has been important since at least Roman times. It was the capital of the Visigothic kingdom of Spain before passing to the Moors and then the Christians. In late medieval times, the city had the largest Jewish quarter in Spain and was an important multicultural centre of learning.

Not surprisingly, Toledo is full of historic sites, such as the synagogues of Santa María La Blanca (now a church) and El Tránsito (now the Sephardi museum), the Moorish style El Cristo de la Luz, the Alcázar and the Gothic cathedral, as well as the San Martín bridge, and the old walls and gates. The journey back to Madrid by car takes about an hour on the A42.


Seville

Jerez de la Frontera

A tasting at Bodegas Lustau, Jerez de la Frontera

With Sherry country only about an hour from Seville by train, a visit to Jerez de la Frontera is not to be missed. A historic city in its own right, Jerez is of course best known as the centre of the Sherry-producing region (DO Jerez-Xérès-Sherry). For wine lovers, a tour of one (or more) of the city’s distinguished bodegas will be the highlight of any visit. Even for the uninitiated it’s a fascinating experience, not only for the wines and the complexities of their production, but also for the architecture and atmosphere of the bodegas themselves.

Arrive early enough to enjoy a breakfast of churros and chocolate at any of the bars outside the central market (after ordering your drinks, pick up your churros from the stall in the centre of the square and take them back to your table). A short walk from the market will take you to Bodegas Lustau, which offers an excellent bodega tour and tasting beginning at 10am (this is where those churros will be your friend; Tuesday-Friday, also at 3pm, €20) – after this you can spend some time visiting the city centre. For sightseeing, the Moorish Alcázar palace, the cathedral and the municipal archaeological museum are top of the list, but just wandering the streets is like walking in a living museum.

Stop in at Tabanco El Pasaje to sample Sherry by Bodegas Maestro Sierra from the barrel and, if you’re in luck, happen upon a casual flamenco performance. From there, a quick lunch at buzzy Tabanco Las Banderillas (see Facebook) for excellent traditional tapas before a 4pm tasting including exquisite VOS and VORS Sherries at Bodegas Tradición and a viewing of its private art museum as a bonus – €50 per person.

For a more relaxed afternoon, opt for a leisurely lunch at Israel Ramos’ one-star Michelin Mantúa and ‘visit’ several bodegas with its excellent Sherry pairing menu.

Ronda

The 18th-century ‘new bridge’, Ronda. Credit: Evgeni Dinev Photography / Getty Images

About 130km southeast of Seville, the impossibly charming town of Ronda, with a population of just 35,000, punches well above its weight when it comes to things to see and do. Its particular claim to fame is the magnificent El Tajo gorge carved out by the Guadalevín river, with the 15th-century ‘new town’ (founded when the Christians reconquered the city in 1485) on the north side, and the Moorish ‘old town’ on the south, connected by the impressive span of the 18th- century Puente Nuevo ‘new bridge’. From there, or from the nearby Alameda park, the wonderful views of the gorge and the surrounding countryside are one of the joys of coming here.

If you prefer not to drive, there are regular daily buses to Ronda from Prado de San Sebastián in Seville. A winery visit upon arrival is a great way to start off your day. Just outside the city you will find some of the most exciting wineries in the region, all easily reached by taxi. Descalzos Viejos, Bodega F Schatz and La Melonera produce award-winning organic single-estate wines with visits available upon request.

Back in Ronda, splash out on chef Benito Gómez’s two-star Michelin restaurant Bardal or try his more casual Tragatá, both a stone’s throw from the 18th-century bullring.

After lunch, there are great walks on either side of the gorge and around the old town, including down to the old mills below the Puente Nuevo, or exploring the beautiful Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, containing the church of Santa María La Mayor and on down to the Moorish gate of Almocábar. Across the bridge, the Maestranza bullring is another must-visit – it’s the oldest of its kind in Spain and was much loved by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. Finally, if time permits, head back to the old town to the quirky Casa Palacio Museo Lara, containing the private collection of founder Juan Antonio Lara Jurado.


Málaga

Bodega La Capuchina – Antequera

The ‘reclining face mountain’ of Peña de los Enamorados from Antequera. Credit: Estellez / Getty Images

An hour north of Málaga is one of Andalucía’s historic hidden gems. Antequera, the official centre of the region, is still not really well known, which makes for a relaxing and relatively tourist-free day out. Start the day with a late-morning (10.30am) pre-arranged visit to Bodega La Capuchina (@bodegalacapuchina). As you pass the turn-off to Antequera on the A-45 from Málaga, look out for the famous ‘reclining face’ mountain of Peña de los Enamorados on the right. Continue for 15km to take the MA- 708/6415, and just before you reach Alameda take the second road off the roundabout (towards Mollina) – 1.4km down the road turn left down an unmarked dusty road to reach the winery’s impressive sprawling estate, once home to a monastery run by friars of the Capuchin order.

After a tour of the grounds and a tasting (about three hours including charcuterie and cheese, €35), a short drive south (head towards Mollina, and from there onto the A-92) will take you to Antequera. The town is physically dominated by the imposing Alcazaba (fortress), built by the Moors in the 14th century and conquered by the Christians in 1410. It’s a bit of a climb to reach the top, but well worth the effort for both the ruins and the views. Also worth exploring are some of the city’s churches and convents, which are among the best endowed in Spain, and the Museo de la Ciudad municipal museum, housed in a baroque palace, which has a wealth of artistic and historical treasures.

For lunch you can taste the history of Andalucía at Arte de Cozina, where chef Charo Carmona has spent several years reviving forgotten dishes and recipes. She showcases them in her charming city-centre restaurant, located in a beautifully restored 17th-century manor house, which also offers nine well-priced rooms. For a lighter snack you can enjoy tapas next door at Charo’s Arte de Tapas.

If time allows, stop in to see the bronze-age burial mounds (dolmens) on the road out of town, or if you fancy a hike, work off the excesses of the day in the alien landscape of El Torcal, just south of Antequera, with its surreal limestone formations.

Nerja – Bodegas Bentomiz

Bodegas Bentomiz, Sayalonga

An hour east of Málaga (on the A-7) is the beautiful coastal town of Nerja. Start the day early, arriving in Nerja by 9am, and begin by strolling the magnificent Balcón de Europa, a promenade built on the edge of a cliff on the site of a former Moorish watchtower, where you can take in the beautiful views of the stunning Mediterranean coastline on either side. Wander through the old quarter, with its narrow alleyways, whitewashed houses, little squares and churches, perhaps stopping at a café for a quick breakfast. This part of Nerja retains its old world charm, and is a refreshing change from the overdeveloped Costa del Sol.

Make time to visit the breathtaking Nerja caves just to the northeast of town before heading back towards Málaga and exploring the Axarquía region further inland, taking the A-7206 up past Sayalonga to another spectacular site – Bodegas Bentomiz, which rises atop the white mountain village as you approach. Depending on the time spent in Nerja and the caves, you can opt for a winery visit and tasting (starting at 12.30pm, €15, optional €7 tasting platter) or taste the award-winning wines over a leisurely lunch at its in-house market-sourced restaurant (2pm, three-course menu €38 plus €10.50 wine pairing, five-course menu €51 plus €17). Ideally you will want to do both, but either way winemaker Clara Verheij and her husband, chef André Both, will make this an unforgettable experience.

Both Antequera and Nerja can be reached by public transport from Málaga, though if you want to include a winery visit (recommended!) then hiring a car or booking a private guided tour are better options. For a personalised guided experience to these locations (and others), get in touch with Málaga native and tour guide Victor Garrido (welovemalaga.com).


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