Thursday, November 3, 2022

The foodie trails to Spain (travel itinerary of 9 days in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona )


In October 2022 we decided to finally step foot on foreign soil – after two years of COVID pandemic. Here is a detailed itinerary of the places we visited and the experiences, hope this helps you plan your own holiday well.

COVID regulations:

Spain needed a compulsory 3 vaccines certificate, so we got our booster vaccinations and the certificate. The certificate was only required at Immigration. No certificate was required for our 7 year old. On return, however Govt of India needed a RT PCR for my son, and we had to get an RT PCR done in Barcelona. The best way is to google RTPCR centers at your destination, or to ask the pharmacies in the city to guide you to a centre. The RTPCR cost 49 Euros. If you have vaccination certificates no need for RTPCR.

Spain itinerary overview :

Arrive at Madrid , 3 nights in Madrid

Travel by train to, Valencia (2 hour train journey from Madrid ), 3 nights in Valencia

Travel by train to Barcelona (2.5 Hour train journey from Valencia), 3 nights in Barcelona

The Hotels and train tickets were prebooked on Make my trip and while I don’t recommend the hotels that we stayed at, I do recommend the train travel. The trains are clean, fast, comfortable free wifi and provide a scenic journey to the next destination. There is a basic bag screening which takes 5 minutes at train station. No need to book flights within Spain, it will take longer and more cumbersome.

Madrid itinerary

We travelled from Madrid airport to our Hotel by taxi at the airport, while Uber is also available, Taxi is faster and same cost. They have a cap of 4 persons to a car.

Once at hotel ask for the map of Madrid, infact each of the cities had their maps at the hotel receptions making travel very convenient. And we travelled using the Metro train. The main stations are Atocha and Sol. Atocha is also the station where we get the train to Valencia, the station closest to the Yellow bus tours and to the meeting point for our travel to Toledo and Segovia. Sol station is close to the city center, night clubs, Gran Via road, shopping and sight seeing.

Day 1 Madrid

 We took the metro to Sol, and visited the San Miguel food market, Tapas, sangrias and local food. Also the Gran via road has all the top fashion houses and malls. Perfect to see the city vibes.

Day 2 Madrid

 We did a day tour of the city via Yellow bus tours. Yellow bus tours is a 2 hour panoramic city tour, they have a guide who talk you through the sights, you cannot get off the bus in the 2 hours. This is different from a Hop on Hop off bus. A hop on-Hop off bus is preferrable, visit 3 places definitely – the Madrid castle one of the largest castles in western Europe, The Bull fighting arena one of the only places in the world where bull fights are still seen and one of the grandest bull fighting arenas in the world bull fighting season is March to October so you can book tickets to watch, and Park Retiro which is UNESCO heritage centre 128 hectares and 15000 trees, also has lots of monuments, buildings and parks within the park, plus a lake for boating. Would recommend ‘steak burger’ restaurant for their premium steaks, ‘san gines’ for churros, and la Polleria for the Instagram waffles.

metros and buses every where , accesible tourism

steak burger on Gran via road

Day 3 Madrid

We did a half day tour of Toledo and a half day tour of Segovia, from Madrid via yellow bus tours. Toledo is about 1 hour by bus from Madrid, and then we return to Madrid and travel another 1.5 hours by bus to Segovia. We went by the yellow city bus tour. Highly recommend both the destinations. Toledo is stunning, like a scene out of Arabian nights, a Middle-eastern Muslim inspired city with winding roads, built on a hill, and you can lose yourself for hours in this magical medieval place. We spent way too much time in a sword and damask shop, would recommend you discover the city instead. If you can take a full day tour of just Toledo, or better still stay a day or two in Toledo to catch the night scenes. We left Toledo at 1 pm (had a mere 4 hours of Toledo), to head for Segovia , Segovia has the Roman aqueduct 2000 years old, an Alcazar castle and the grand cathedral. Segovia has a lot of history as well. I would a full day tour here aswell. Both places have a lot of history the Muslim and Modejar (muslims converted to Christianity), and Jewish influence. The bus journey was comfortable and our guide was excellent, both Spanish and English guides available.

the alcazar in Segovia

roman aqueduct in Segovia

Day 4 travel from Madrid to Valencia by Train.

Day 1 Valencia

Unfortunately because of the bookings by Make my trip we found oourselves staying outside of Valencia near the airport ! This meant it used to take us a minimum of 40 minutes to reach city center (Plaza Espanya is the most popular bus/metro station) , and multiple bus and metro changes to get to any of our destinations. Big mistake! Please please stay near the Valencia old city (near plaza espanya), or closer to the beach (playa something). We stayed in a place called Bonnaire, which had a mall close to us, since each night we needed to come back to Bonnaire by 10 , we spent most evenings, perusing the Bonnaire mall. The largest Mall in Valencia with 120 shops, and lots of eateries. Would recommend the 100 Montaditos restaurant in the mall, for beer on tap and tapas.

Day 1 Valencia

We reached on a National holiday and all malls, and market were closed. We headed to the beach in Valencia. One of the busiest beaches in Spain playa, Valencia is the nearest port to Ibiza and if you travel here in the summer, you will get to see the true Valencia playa beauty, but early October was not bad. Since we come from Goa, we are used to seeing the sunset over the sea, but since Valencia is on the east coast, the sunset is over the houses. Valencia is THE BEST PLACE to try Paella.

 The national dish of Spain originated from Valencia, and the best Paella places are to be found lining the beaches (playa). All Paella dishes are made after the order is placed and when we finally sat at one of the highly recommended Paella places, the waiting was too much with a 40 minutes waiting time, since we had changed two metros and a bus to get to the place, and had a deadline to catch our last bus- we missed out on dining by the beach. I know it was just a meal- but it is a learning experience to not trust ‘tour guides like make-my-trip’ to book hotels.

fideua - paella with noodles/pasta

the beach at Valencia 

wearing the colours of spain in spain, also beer on tap at 100 montaditos

Day 2 Valencia

We spent the day in the arts and sciences city of Valencia. They have 6 buildings,the entire complex is known as one of the 12 treasures of Spain.It houses the largest under water world in Europe with Oceanographic, a Massive interactive science city museum which resembles the skeleton of a whale, and IMAX cinema and planetarium L hemispheric built like a human eye. This place is sci-fi at its best. We took some 400 pictures and videos on this day and a pass cost 42 euros per person. Just brilliant.. Plus we reached the place by just changing 2 buses. Buses were the preferred mode of transport rather than metros in Valencia, bus number 95 goes to oceanographic. So ask around for the bus map, also google bus routes. We also had a very easy travel card, that saved us a lot on travel each day, so in any city, just go to the train/metro station and ask for the trave card. Available at airports aswell.


pics at the art and science city

Day 3 Valencia

We had a pre booked hopon-hopoff bus tour of Valencia this day. Hop on hop off is an excellenct idea if you plan on going to the beach (as I mentioned it is really far and out of the way), but if you plan on visiting the art science center it is a waste, since you will be spending the entire day at one place, and also if you plan on spending time in Valencia old town . Valencia old city has no cars or buses allowed that means no hop on-hop off buses within this place. Places to visit within the old city are plenty, there are guided tours for the entire old city, walking tours, and cycle tours. The Valencia cathedral that houses the famous Holy Grail the chalise from which Jesus drank his last sips is breathtaking (take the guided tour it is worth it) special significance if you are pregnant or hoping to conceive , the Valencia mercado central is one of largest enclosed markets in western Europe (closes at 3 pm), the La Lonja next to the market is a free entry Unesco monument, apparently we can climb the 144 steps to get a panoramic view of the old city, but it was closed on the day we went. The Iglesia San Nicholas church, and a meal at the Plaza de la Virgen and the Neptune fountain were all highlights of the old town. We finally had our Paella over looking the Valencia cathedral and it was everything we had hoped for. We had the traditional Valencia paella with chicken, rabbit and chorizos, we also had the sea food paella, and a vegetarian paella. Also sangrias.

Day 4 travel from Valencia to Barcelona scenic train journey by the Spanish sea side.

Day 1 Barcelona

We spend each of the first days understanding the metro and the bus stations. In Barcelona you need either the travel card or pay by card, no cash is accepted on buses, and so we chose to the card. Buses were the best way to travel. Barcelona has a lot of the places extremely well located around two bus stops /metro stops. Plaza Catalunia and Plaza Espanya. Take any bus/metro to Plaza Catalunya. Day 1 we walked down La Rambla road conveniently located along plaza Catalunya. We also attended a Flamenco dance performance.We went to Flamenco Barcelona SL, close to plaza Catalunya, they have shows every 2 hours , show lasts 1 hour 15 min, no food provided and at 20 euros this was the most economical. (shows in Madrid started at 35 euros) this show has certificate of excellence from trip advisor, has extremely high ratings, and children watch free/discounted.  Must experience once.

Day 2 Barcelona

We did a hop on hop off tour of Barcelona, and this audio tour was much much better than the Valencia hop on hop off. (I do not recommend the hop on hop off tour guide of Valencia, waste of money and time) but Barcelona was very enjoyable. We got off at Park Guell which was underwhelming, over crowded, and miss-able. It does not exemplify Gaudi’s best work, for which I would recommend La Pedrera (read next). We also went to the Football club of Barcelona, and it was super fun to take pictures outside the building. Since we had done a tour of the stadium and museum in 2013, we didn’t repeat it, but you should visit if you have not done it before. We also visited the marines, and the Barcelona Cathedral and all the beautiful lanes around Gothic part of Barcelona. No cars/buses are allowed in this region between La Rambla and Via Laetana , and this place has narrow walking lanes, picturesque shops, cheaper eateries, a very enjoyable walking discovery, with live musicians, and street performers and art museums.

Day 3 Barcelona

We spent the morning soaking in the magnificence of Sagrada Familia, and Casa Mila or La Pedrera. This was our second time visiting Sagrada Familia, we had visited in 2013 dec, and in the past 9 years a few new additions have been made, but more than that there is a proper system for tickets, we get to fix a time and buy the tickets. You don’t need to stand in serpentine queues for half a day to get in! You can even buy the tickets online! We bought it outside the cathedral at an additional cost of 2 euros, since our online booking was not happening. But it is still very convenient. You get a free downloadable audio guide. This time we also went to La Pedrera, the last time we were cash strapped youngsters who found the ticket too expensive, also we had just 12 hours to explore Barcelona the last time around. This time we were really able to understand more about Gaudi and his work and workings inside the La Pedrera building.

 The Sagrada familia has very little of Gaudi’s original work, and much of what has been built, is over the past 96 years since Gaudi’s death! So the real genius is in the la Pedrera building- La Pedrera means a stone quarry or stack of stone, people used to joke that it looks like a haphazhard pile of stones, but from an attic shaped like a whales spine, and glass reptiles and warriors on the undulating roof and the butterfly wing gate at the entrance, everything in this building has Nature and meaning. That is why even though people criticised the building when it was made, and made fun of Gaudi, the entire city of Barcelona is literally a celebration of Gaudi a century after his death.

Day 4 : Early morning flight from Barcelona back to India.

Over view of our holiday.

Well just recollecting and writing this holiday guide has brought back vivid memories and if you found just reading all of this overwhelming, believe me the sights, sounds, stories, tastes and experiences will leave your senses overwhelmed.

But, since we had 3 days each in the places we had a very enjoyable pace, and a deep understanding of each place. There is a lot of walking, with each day we were walking over 20000 steps. The roads are not like cobblestone roads of Italy so it is much easier to walk in Spain, all signs are in English, but people don’t speak much English. All hotels, restaurant managers, and major stores have English speaking staff so you can ask them. All metros have someone who knows English, most bus drivers do not know English. When in doubt ask locals/ other tourists for help. We were told Barcelona is filled with thiefs and pick pockets, we thankfully did not face such experiences. Of all the places we visited, Toledo and Segovia were the perfect European castle experience, Valencia is the perfect east meets west experience, Madrid had the most local city flavour, Barcelona was the most touristy and welcoming.

Food wise lots of Sangria (fruits and red wine), churros (doughnut type stick desserts), tapas (small bar eats with drinks our favourite were tortillas, patatas bravas, gambas and calamari fritters, pollo croquettes) , jamon(smoked meat), paella (one pot rice dish), and try the local Mercados (markets) for seasonal local products. And try the fixed meal combos, which give you a starter, mains, dessert at a fixed price. All malls and most shopping places close on Sundays and national holidays.

For more : follow my Instagram page @thefoodietrails for pictures from our trip it is under insta highlights.

Search for my posts with the hashtag #thefoodietrailstospain #shreyshtinspain on Instagram  

breakfast tortillas loaded spanish omlettes

paella !

audio guided tours everywhere

the pretty neptune fountain in Valencia

camp nou in Barcelona

The bay area in Barcelona

Night life in Madrid

patatas bravas and meat balls tapas

park guell barcelona