Let me first say that I will always try to use a timeshare week (or Airbnb) to save money, and this northeast Spain 5-Day itinerary was no exception. We based ourselves out of the small coastal town of Salou, Spain just 75 miles southwest of Barcelona. I was so blessed to have my sister and close friend along. We saw the most amazing castles, ancient Roman ruins, magnificent cathedrals, and ate at fantastic restaurants following this 5-day itinerary throughout northeast Spain.
Day 1 of this Northeast Spain 5-Day Itinerary
Our first destination was the town of Tortosa. Driving south from Salou on AP-7 from the timeshare we stayed at for the week (See Timeshare Review: Jardines Paraisol, Salou, Spain), we then took exit 40 and continued on C-42 for about an hour to get to Tortosa.
We could see enormous the castle up on top of the hill overlooking the River Erbo as soon as we entered the town. You can get a guided tour of Tortosa, but we liked just walking around on our own. The view from the castle vantage point is breathtaking and you can look down on the beautiful architecture of the Catedral de Santa Marie de Tortosa from there. The castle was founded in 944 A.D. but has been built on many layers over its lifetime. An Imperial Roman temple was found on a lower level and many Roman coins during past digs.
It is now a hotel (Parador de Tortosa) and you can eat lunch and dinner there as well. We ate a wonderful Mediterranean meal before heading to our next attraction.
The construction of this cathedral began in 1347 and is of Gothic architecture. Inside, there is a religious museum displaying over 200 pieces of art such as tapestries, sculptures, etc. collected over the centuries.
Leaving Tortosa, we drove on C-12 toC-43/N-230c then to T-324 to get to the Miravet castle. This is a beautiful medieval Templar castle nestled between the Cardó and Cavalls foothills and the Ebro river. From the base of the castle looking up, you can tell why this massive structure has lasted so long.
Tivissa – Castellet de Banyoles
Taking T324 to N420 for 13 minutes, then C-12/C-44 for 9 minutes to T-304, and about 3 minutes more, you come to a dirt road leading to the Castellet de Banyoles. They think this structure could have been a contemporary military tower or a watchtower. The castle was built by the city of Barcelona to control the river and to divert the wheat coming from Aragon over land. This would have helped in avoiding any taxes levied on the people of Barcelona by the town of Tortosa.
This ancient Iberian city dating from about the 3rd century B.C. was discovered by accident in 1912. They have found several vessels of silver, two necklaces, a set of earrings, bracelets, rings and coins and a pair of oxen of bronze. We went back to C-44 and connected to AP-7 back to the timeshare.
Note: We chose to by-pass a few other castles because there are just too many along this loop route to see all of them (e.g., Castillo de Mora d”Ebre, etc.).
Day 2 of this Northeast Spain 5-Day Itinerary – Barcelona
If you are going to spend 1 or more days in Barcelona, you should check into getting the Barcelona iVenture Card to save on attractions.
La Sagrada Familia
We caught the train early into Barcelona and asked for transfer connections to end up at the La Sagrada Familia. Before leaving the US, we had purchased tickets online for General Admission and the Tower of the Passion Façade (32€). There are three towers, but only two were open for visitors when we were there. If you don’t purchase them ahead of time, you could be out of luck, especially during high season. As it is, you are given a specific time that your tickets allow entry and you cannot get in before that time.
The construction of this beautiful basilica began in 1882 under the Antoni Gaudi after Francisco de Paula del Villar resigned as architect. Not finished yet (138 years), it is expected to be completed in 2026. I had to use my wide-angle lens to capture the entire structure because of its high spires, etc.
The interior columns look like art-deco trees and the light from the stained-glass windows is truly breathtaking. The tower tour takes you up via elevator, but you do have to come down using the beautiful staircase. I enjoyed looking out across Barcelona from the tower viewing balcony. And the details of all the statues are truly remarkable.
I have seen so many pictures of the famous Barcelona mosaic lizard from Park Güell, but had to see it in person. You can book through Viator for all the activities in Barcelona.
I felt as if I was in this little fairyland with all the gingerbread looking houses and structures with tile inlay of multi-colors.
After the trip, I wanted to get bright pottery plates, break them into a thousand pieces, and start gluing them onto my patio brick retaining wall.
El Nacional Barcelona
The mother of our friend in the U.S. moved to Barcelona several years ago. We had notified her that we were coming to Barcelona and she recommended that we meet at the El Nacional. It was not only unique but it had so many distinct restaurants within it with different food specialties.
This micro-zoned establishment has a meat restaurant, a fish restaurant, a tapas and rice restaurant, and a deli all co-existing in one building. In addition, it has an oyster bar, a cocktail bar, a wine and cured meats bar, and a beer and preserves bar.
It was a prenominal ensemble! If you are going to Barcelona, you must check out the reviews on TripAdvisor and try it.
This museum has the most extensive collection of Picasso art in the world. It now has over 3500 works from three different periods of his life.
Day 3 of this Northeast Spain 5-Day Itinerary
We wanted to see at least a few notable attractions in Madrid, even if we wouldn’t have much time at all. However, Madrid is a good driving distance away from our timeshare. So, we splurged and reserved one-night hotel in Madrid to make the trip a little easier. That way, we could see castles, etc. on the way up, eat at the oldest restaurant in the world when we arrived, and stay over-night for a fresh start seeing Madrid sites the next day.
From Salou, it takes about 30 minutes on the C-14 north to get to the medieval city of Montblanc. Much of the old 14th century city walls still exist surrounding the old town, including several of the towers and the St. Jorgi Gate.
It is at this gate that the knight St. George supposedly killed the dragon. The Santa Maria de Montblanc church had this most elegant carved façade and the street in front of it was inlaid with stones like a mosaic piece of artwork.
Real de Monasterio de Santa Maria de Poblet
We stopped to go into the monastery, but it was closed to visitors the day we were there. Not sure if it was because of the season or if you have to have permission. And because of the high walls, we could not get a good picture either.
We continued on the AP-2 for a little over 2 hours when we saw the Aljaferia Palace. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – 11th century. But because we still had another 5-1/2 hours before we could make it to Madrid for our late dinner reservations, we decided not to take a tour of the medieval Islamic palace. We continued on the E-90 to Madrid.
Restaurante Sobrino de Botin
We were greeted by L. Javier Sánchez Álvarez, the Director Adjunto of the restaurant and shown immediately to the kitchen. There we saw the wood-burning ovens used to make one of their most famous dishes, roasted suckling pig. On the shelf above, were dozens of suckling pigs lined up resting and waiting for their demise. This part of the kitchen had the original equipment and very little space to move in for the poor hot chef. But the smells cascading past my nose offered a sense of anticipation that the meal to follow would be worth the wait.
Oldest Restaurant in the World
The Restaurante Sobrino de Botin (TripAdvisor) is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world, as even decreed by the Guinness Book of World Records certificate on display in the front window. Jean Botin and his wife opened it in 1725, next to the Plaza Mayor on Arco de Cuchilleros Street.
This year marks their 295th anniversary, which is incredible. Botin’s nephew inherited the restaurant, as noted by the addition of sobrino de (nephew of) to the name. And the Gonzalez family has now owned it for 3 generations. We sat down with Antonio González Bennike (third generation of the González family) to talk briefly about his plans for the next 300 years before ordering my own suckling pig.
While my sister and I waited for our food, he showed us the wine cellar just below the basement level where we had been seated.
Narrow stairs take you up where patrons are served on another floor above the main floor.
The menu has changed over the years, although the roasted lamb and roasted suckling pig have remained a staple since the beginning. But it was the atmosphere that made the food that much better. Most people have had these reservations for a long time – I had made mine a couple months in advance. The food did not disappoint and the desserts were to die for. I had the Catalan Crème Brûleé and my sister had the homemade crème caramel flan.
It was a most enjoyable experience speaking with Antonio González Bennike and an even more pleasurable culinary experience.
Hotel Regina – Madrid
We stayed that night at the Hotel Regina (19 Alcala Street) because of its central location between the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Museo Nacional del Prado. See the Hotel Review: Hotel Regina for more detail.
Day 4 of this Northeast Spain 5-Day Itinerary – Madrid
If you are going to spend even one day in Madrid, check into purchasing the Madrid iVenture Card to save money on the attractions.
Royal Palace of Madrid
This royal palace is the largest functioning royal palace in Europe and still the official residence of the Spanish royal family. The current palace was built between 1738 to 1755 after a fire took the original Alcázar (860-880 A.D.).
This cathedral is fairly new based on European standards, and was started during the Spanish Civil War (1930s). However, the cathedral was not completed until very recently (1993).
This town square in Old Town Madrid was built in 1580-1619 and was used as the main town market. It is now where many tourist shops and restaurants draw visitors in for local events. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at one of the restaurants. A statue of Phillip III on a horse stands in the center of the square.
Museo Nacional del Prado
The Spanish national art museum just celebrated their 200th anniversary last year (1819 to 2019) when we were there. They have over 21,000 pieces of art (e.g., prints, drawings, sculptures, paintings, etc.). And each year, they have nearly 3 million visitors to the museum.
Day 5 of this Northeast Spain 5-Day Itinerary
National Archeological Museum in Tarragona
This museum has artifacts collected from the surrounding Tarragona area.
Tarragona Roman Amphitheatre
The amphitheater was the place where gladiator games and animal fights were held, athletic competitions were conducted, and the place where they carried out the death sentences. The maximum capacity of this amphitheater has been calculated to hold 12,750 spectators.
The current church was only known to exist since 1154, but was built on top of an older edifice. It really is beautiful and a cross between the Romanesque and Gothic styles.
Going about 4km outside of Tarragona on the N240 towards Montblanc you will find the last surviving section of Roman aqueduct in the region. It is known as the Devil’s Bridge (Pont de Diable) and was built in the 1st century A.D.
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