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This rail journey carefully blends France and Spain's iconic food, culture and scenery into a week-long adventure that ends under glorious Mediterranean skies. Avoiding the commonly-used rail crossing between Nice and Barcelona, this trip instead takes us down the Atlantic coast, introducing Bordeaux's famous wine and San Sebastian's delicious pintxos.
Explore Tour Leader
7 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Our trip begins this morning at London's St Pancras Station, the home of the Eurostar. Here you'll check-in for your Eurostar train and board your (unaccompanied) Eurostar train to Paris. You will have your tickets before you travel.
We meet our Tour Leader off the train at the Gare du Nord, and take the Paris metro together to the Gare Montparnasse. Here we board our train to Bordeaux, flying through the French countryside and saying 'bonjour' to the French coast after arriving in the late afternoon.
Meininger Gare Hotel (or similar)
The small port city of Bordeaux is one of France's most renowned wine-making hubs. This morning, we take a tour with a local guide through the historic centre of Bordeaux, which is full of beautifully preserved 18th Century architecture and rambling pedestrian streets. A local guide will take us to some lesser known areas of the city to visit some local shops and try some of the many delicacies Bordeaux has to offer. The tour ends at the famous Marche des Capucins, one of the oldest markets in France. The impressive market is abundant with colorful stands of fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, and other delicacies of the Southwest of France. The local guide will guide you around the market and give you some recommendations for lunch.
After lunch, we have the rest of the afternoon free to explore at our own pace. Walk down the Quais or visit the many trails in the large botanical garden just across the river. The Musee d'Aquitaine is a good option for people interested in learning more about the vast history of this region. If you still haven't got your fill of wine, the multi-million pound Cite du Vin is an absolute monster - the museum chronicles a journey through centuries of wine production across the world or visit the Wine and Trade Museum to get a real introduction into Bordeaux's long reputation for making world-class wines. If you are looking for a really authentic experience, why not take the public transport and visit one of the surroundings chateaux for wine tastings.
We cross the border into Spain today, taking first a French train to the frontier town of Hendaye, nestled between the Atlantic and the Pyrenees. From here, we switch to a local Spanish train which takes around 30 minutes to San Sebastian, calling at intermittent small villages en route.
We'll arrive into San Sebastian in the afternoon. Known locally as Donostia, this small town exudes Basque charm and a faded opulence. Once the go-to holiday spot for the Spanish monarchy, San Sebastian is dense with Belle-Epoque architecture, yet without being stuffy or grand. With a crescent-shaped beach and flanked by mountains, the setting is reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro.
After checking into the hotel, we'll set out on a short walk with theTour Leader. We'll just stroll a little way around the bay to the Peine del Viento, a series of three steel sculptures by local artist Eduardo Chillida, which give excellent panoramic views of the entire 'concha' (the crescent-shaped bay). For those who wish, there may be time to take the 19th-century funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo.
Controversial though it is, San Sebastian could be the best place in Spain to eat. The locals are seemingly obsessed with food, and there is no better place to experience this than at the city's Pintxos bars. Plates piled high with different 'Basque tapas' line up along the bars, and locals shout their orders from the blackboard menus. Just a couple at a time suffice, washed down with a beer or wine. You have the option this evening to head out with your Tour Leader to taste Pintxos, or if you'd prefer to explore solo then your Leader can give you some recommendations. Before we visit the pintxos bars, we'll explore the narrow streets of the beautiful Old Town, including the Plaza de la Constitucion and the Basilica of Saint Mary.
Hotel Sercotel Codina (or similar)
The Camino de Santiago, or St James' Way, is one of the most famous medieval pilgrimage routes in the world, linking up religious pilgrims with the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. However, this famous walk is not just one single route. While the 'Camino Frances' is the most well-known and popular route, hiked by around 60% of pilgrims, we are going to do a half-day hike on the Camino Norte today, starting in San Sebastian and ending in the small fishing village of Pasaia (walking in the opposite direction of the pilgrims).
We'll take a public bus to the eastern end of San Sebastian where our walk begins. The initial section out of San Sebastian is an uphill walk, with many steps to undertake before hitting a woodland section and continuing uphill on a forest path. This gets us up onto the headland, where the path levels out and hugs the coast with some fantastic views over the Atlantic. At the end of the walk we descend past the Silver Lighthouse (Faro de la Plata) into the charming little harbour village of Pasaia. We'll take a three-minute ferry boat across the harbour to Old Pasaia, where there are some excellent fish restaurants near the water. The walk today will take us approximately four hours, with around 450 metres of ascent. The first uphill section is strenuous, but after this it levels off along the coast. The path varies between stone steps, rocky sections and dirt trail.
After lunch we'll take the three-minute ferry back and catch a bus or train back to San Sebastian (approximately a 15-20 minute journey).
For those who don't want to do the walk, there is so much to enjoy in San Sebastian. The San Telmo Museum has some permanent collections that showcase Basque art and history, with frequent interesting temporary exhibitions. A stroll along the white sands of 'La Concha' is ideal for people watching and relaxing on a summer day, while the harbour and the old town are bustling with restaurants and cafes.
Today we take a morning train to the stunning UNESCO world heritage historic city of Segovia. The train takes around five hours, and we'll arrive in the early afternoon, leaving us plenty of time to explore the city on foot with our Tour Leader.
With its huge 1st century Roman Aqueduct, and Disney-like Alcazar Fortress, Segovia is an impressive city. The upper old town, encircled by ancient walls, is centred around the Plaza Major and 16th century Gothic cathedral, from where streets lead to the famed monuments. The magnificent Aqueduct is the defining feature of the city, spanning 17 kilometres and made up of 166 arches. During our walking tour we'll see this in all its glory, as well as walking on some of the old walls surrounding the city.
El Corregidor (or similar)
We have free time in Segovia this morning, which is time very well spent. Walking up to the hilltop Alcazar is worth it for the views over the city and rivers and to admire the slate turrets, the beautiful keep and square with four towers.
In the afternoon, we take a quick train to Madrid, and catch the Renfe (underground system) between Madrid Chamartin Station and Madrid Atocha, where we get transferred to our hotel for the night. After settling in our hotel, we take an orientation walk in the old town. Located on the tiny Manzanares River, Madrid has its share of historic sights, great architecture, nightlife, fine dining, culture and shopping.
Hotel Porcel Ganivet (or similar)
After breakfast, we return to the train station to catch an early train to Malaga. Malaga has an 'interesting' reputation among UK holiday-goers, who normally land there before journeying outside the city to stay at a beach resort. This is a shame, because the historic downtown area of the city is very attractive, and mainly pedestrianised.
This afternoon before our final group dinner, you may like to visit the Alcazar Moorish palace, Picasso Museum or Gibralfaro castle that overlooks Malaga.
Hotel Soho Boutique Urban (or similar)
Our trip ends this morning after breakfast. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Malaga at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport (AGP), which is around 15 minutes' drive.
Why not continue your rail journey all the way to Morocco? Combine this tour with our Moorish Spain and Marrakech tour, and you'll cross into North Africa by ferry, before continuing on the train to the souks of Marrakech. See trip code RLMO for more details.
Across France, from April - August, weather conditions are generally warm and pleasant with moderate rainfall; Autumn temperatures are a bit lower and the winter months (though colder) remain mild. The summer months on the Mediterranean Coast in the south tend to be warmer than the rest of France and have less rainfall, and also more mild winters; freezing conditions are nearly unheard of. The mountainous areas of the Alps, Juros and Pyrenees can be quite different. During summer the morning and evening temperatures are considerably cooler and it becomes much colder in winter with heavy snowfall. Western France, along the English Channel, there can be very strong winds and frequent rain during the winter months Nov - Apr. Wine harvesting takes place in late August/early September.
2 Pin Round
Overall, spring, early summer and autumn are ideal times for a Spanish trip - though the weather varies enormously from region to region. The high central plains suffer from fierce extremes, stiflingly hot in summer, bitterly cold and swept by freezing winds in winter. The Atlantic coast, in contrast, has a tendency to damp and mist, and a relatively brief, humid summer. The Mediterranean south is warm virtually all year round. Spain's Islands the Canaries and Balaerics experience very mild winters and warm summers making them ideal year round destinations.
Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Basque
The UK has a temperate but very variable climate. In general the summers are warm with July and August being the warmest. The winters are cool and the lowest temperatures are recorded during January and February. Whatever the season it is advisable to be prepared for rain!
3 Pin Flat
A selection of optional activities are listed below to help you budget for your adventure. Whilst the tour price you pay before you travel includes a great selection of highlights, we have also built in free time to allow you the flexibility to choose from a carefully selected range of additional excursions and activities. Alternatively, take time to relax; the choice is yours. Bordeaux: Cite du Vin - €20 including a glass of wine Jardin Botanique - €4 San Sebastian: Monte Igueldo funicular - €3 San Telmo Museum - €6
Select your clothing carefully. Remember, you are expected to carry your own luggage so packing light is essential. In summer, most locations will be very hot, while trains will be air-conditioned, so light layers are encouraged, and waterproofs are recommended throughout the year.
Comfortable shoes are recommended for travelling and walking around the cities.
As you'll be taking care of your own luggage, including stowing it on the trains, it's absolutely essential that you bring a small suitcase. If you're travelling in a pair, bringing one small suitcase each is much easier than bringing one large one between you. A suitable suitcase size is approximately 61 centimetres (24 inches) in height. Suitcases with wheels are very handy for ease of transportation. Although our ideal size given might seem small, it should help reduce the chance of overpacking and will greatly improve your enjoyment of the tour!
We advise you bring a water bottle for day to day use. We have a partnership with Water-to-Go, who have developed a filtration system that eliminates over 99.9% of all microbiological contaminants. This allows you to drink from any tap, including on trains, or even streams and lakes. You can purchase your own Explore branded bottle with the discount code EXPLORE15. Sunscreen and a sun hat are advised. A power bank may be useful if you'd like to use or charge your phone while on the train journeys.
Boat, Public Bus, Train
Throughout this trip we use a range of comfortable accommodation, well located for access to train stations and for exploration of these diverse cities. It's worth noting that there may be a short walk of around 10-15 minutes from train stations to accommodation, for which you will be required to carry (or pull) your own luggage. For distances above this, we will take taxis or public transport.
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
France: Visas are not required by UK, EU, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens. Spain: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, US, New Zealand, US or Canadian citizens. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. You should confirm all visa related questions with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. In addition to the above visa information, it is essential that you provide Explore with the correct passport information at the time of booking, as this will be required in order to pre-book any applicable train tickets. Corrections and amendments will incur additional charges, so please double check that the information we have for you is up to date and correct, this includes your passport number, full name as per passport (including middle names), date of birth and place of birth; if customers renew or reissue their passports from the details initially given to Explore, train tickets must be cancelled and purchased again, which involves extra costs. If you intend to renew your passport please let Explore know at the point of booking.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory. Tetanus recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory but Tetanus is usually recommended as a precaution. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at http://www.explore.co.uk/Travelhealth/ and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed before departure.