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Spain's Cultural Capitals 2014

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Bilbao & San Sebastian, Spain (Basque Country)

Basque culture is known for its lively traditions, distinctive cuisine, and fierce regional pride. You’ll experience two of its gems, Bilbao and San Sebastian, in a four-night stay that introduces you to treasures of culture and nature. From Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum, to seaside San Sebastian, the playground of kings, you’ll enjoy a rewarding blend of included features and ample time to experience the leisurely rhythm of Basque life on your own.

It's Included:
Air transportation from Bilbao to Madrid
Accommodations for 4 nights in Bilbao at the First-Class NH Villa Bilbao or similar
4 meals: 4 breakfasts
Included tours: Bilbao, San Sebastian
Exclusive services of a Grand Circle Hospitality Desk representative
All transfers
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    Fly from one of several gateway cities aboard your international flight.

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    Land in Madrid today, where you'll transfer to your flight bound for Bilbao. A Grand Circle representative meets you at the airport in Bilbao and assists you to your hotel. Enjoy the balance of the afternoon at leisure to settle into your room and relax after your flight. You are invited to join a short walk around the neighborhood of your hotel this evening.

    Located on the Nervión River, Bilbao is home to nearly half the population of the Basque Country. By the early 1900s, it had grown to become the wealthiest city in Spain, center of the country’s mining, steel, and shipbuilding industries. Although civil war and flooding devastated the city during the mid-20th century, the construction of the forward-looking Guggenheim Museum and the surrounding infrastructure sparked a renaissance that has brought new life to Bilbao. Today, you’ll find a sleek subway system, modern museums and shops—and vestiges of the city’s earlier heyday in the old quarter near the Puente del Arenal bridge.

    You’ll also find a paradise for food-lovers, with a wealth of fish and seafood, mushrooms, vegetables, cheeses, and desserts creatively prepared using traditional Basque methods. Perhaps you’ll have your first sample this evening, over dinner on your own. Your Grand Circle Hospitality Desk representative can give you some suggestions.

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    Bilbao is defined today by the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 1997. Yet there is much more to this Basque capital to discover. Dissected by the Nervión River, it offers the old city on one bank and more modern attractions on the other. Get acquainted with the city on an included tour this morning, including entrance to the Guggenheim.

    The afternoon is yours to probe the treasures of Bilbao. Perhaps you’ll visit the too-often overlooked Museum of Fine Arts, with its collections of works from El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Gauguin, and others. Stroll the Puente de Vizcaya (Hanging Bridge). Or discover the Catedral de Santiago, the oldest church in the city. Venture out into Bilbao’s vibrant neighborhoods this evening to sample the fresh cuisine for which Basque Country is famous.

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    Today is yours to pursue your own interests in Basque Country. You might spend the day delving further into Bilbao. Explore the Old Quarter and admire the 64 arches that surround the Plaza Nueva. Perhaps you’ll visit the Iglesia de San Nicolas, then ride the elevator behind it to the Plaza Unamuno. Immerse yourself in Basque culture at the Museum of Basque Archaeology, Ethnology, and History. Or stroll the Gran Via, Bilbao’s main boulevard.

    Or join us for an optional tour of another Basque cultural capital this morning in Vitoria, the second-largest city of the Basque region. During your walking tour, you’ll explore its historic medieval quarter, a charming network of well-organized streets, timeless architecture, and tranquil tree-lined lanes, a perfect setting for a peaceful stroll. You’ll also visit the city’s Gothic Cathedral, a 14th-century structure which presides over the historic Old Town and houses priceless works of Renaissance art. You’ll have some free time to explore the city on your own before returning to your hotel in Bilbao this afternoon, where the rest of the day is yours to make your own discoveries.

    Dinner is on your own this evening in Bilbao.

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    Today you’ll explore sophisticated San Sebastian. You’ll discover the Santa Maria Church, the 19th-century casino which became Town Hall, and the Good Shepherd Cathedral, with its 250-foot spire. Along the way, you’ll drink in the expansive water views from both the old fishing harbor and on the promenade of La Concha, the famous, scallop-shell-shaped beach. San Sebastian was once a popular seaside retreat for Madrid’s aristocracy, and it remains a warren of charming promenades, shops, and gardens.

    The city is also considered by many to be the gastronomic center of Basque Country. After an included city tour, you’ll enjoy free time on your own. Perhaps you’ll try one of the many excellent restaurants here for lunch this afternoon.

    You’ll return to Bilbao this afternoon. The balance of the day is at leisure.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, you’ll transfer to the airport for your flight to Madrid, where you'll begin your tour of Spain's Cultural Capitals.