After traveling through Bilbao, Santiago de Compostela, Barcelona, and Madrid, we meet back up with Stellar Travel Advisor, Denise Larson, in Valencia as she road trips throughout southeastern Spain. Read along to see where the journey takes her.

Valencia: 2 nights

Located on Spain’s east coast, the 2,000-year-old city boasts wide sandy beaches, striking architecture, and a buzzing food scene – without crowds in other large Spanish cities like Barcelona and Madrid. A place full of contrasts, you’ll find a charming old town next to futuristic buildings.

Travel method: We took a three-hour rail from Madrid to Valencia, where we picked up our rental car. I recommend renting from an onsite company, such as Sixt, EuropeCar, Budget, or National, where counters are located within the station. Some companies, such as Hertz, are off-site and can be challenging to find.

Accommodations: The Las Arenas Balneario Resort. I LOVE this resort and would give it 4.5 to 5 stars.  It is on a pristine beach with a lovely spa, multiple pools, and several restaurants. The breakfast buffet was the largest we have ever seen at a hotel. Book an executive sea view room for a panoramic ocean view from your large balcony, breakfast included, parking included, discounts at the spa, and one complimentary spa circuit visit per person!

Activity: We both had a massage in the spa and did the “spa circuit,” which was very large and had many different experiences. The Executive sea view room includes one spa circuit per person.


Granada: 1 night

Granada is a city in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s known for grand examples of medieval architecture dating to the Moorish occupation, especially the Alhambra.

Travel method: We drove from Valencia to Granada.The scenery in this area reminds us a lot of Eastern Washington, with rolling hills and farm land.

Accommodations: We stayed at the Áurea Washington Irving Hotel, which had huge rooms with balconies overlooking the Alhambra and General Life Gardens. An excellent restaurant onsite served dinner and would convert to their complimentary breakfast area in the morning.  Parking here is by valet only, as the hotel is located at the Alhambra, and the valet has to park your car offsite.

Activity: We opted for a walking tour of the Alhambra palace and fortress with Context Tours, who only use Ph.D.-level specialists in the field as their guides. Our lovely guide Blanca explained everything so well about the history of Alhambra, why it’s essential, and how it fits into today’s life in the area. She even took us to her family’s shop/dwelling on the Alhambra grounds to see how her aunt and grandmother live there now, at certain times of the year. She also arranged a private visit with the official furniture maker to restore the ancient furniture throughout the Alhambra. We highly recommend any tour Context offers worldwide.

Ronda and Estepona: (day trip on the way to Estepona)

Ronda is a mountaintop city in Spain’s Malaga province set dramatically above a deep gorge. Its two halves lie on either side of the El Tajo gorge and are connected by the spectacular “New Bridge.” It is one of the most visited destinations in all of Spain.

Travel method: We drove to the medieval, cliffside city of Ronda. This is a spectacular town to visit, very popular and walkable. You can visit Ronda by tour bus, but the streets are narrow, and the bus drop-off point is at the bottom of the gorge. This can be challenging for disabled people during summer when temperatures are high. I recommend driving yourself there or getting a private car & driver. From Ronda, we drove to Estepona on the southern tip of Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea.

Estepona is a resort town on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. A palm-lined promenade, the Paseo Marítimo, runs next to the Playa de la Rada beach. The whitewashed old town centers on the flower-filled square of Plaza de las Flores, home to the eclectic artworks of the Colección Garó.

Accommodations: We stayed at H10 Estepona Palace in a Double Privilege Superior room with a panoramic sea view and a large balcony. The perks of the Privilege level include a better room location, twice daily maid service, exclusive restaurant seating, priority pool, and beach areas, a private lounge with an open bar and rotating snacks and canapes, and more. While we thoroughly enjoyed the hotel room, pools, spa, and on-the-beach location, we weren’t thrilled with the limited availability of the meal plan options. We would stay at this hotel again, but likely without the meal plan.

Activity: On our last full day in Estepona, we drove to the Rock of Gibraltar, followed by a lovely meal at Plan B Restaurant. We found the Rock and the area around it fascinating and full of history but were surprised by the 45-minute line at the border (since Gibraltar is a British protectorate, we had to do a border crossing). Be sure to have your passports when entering and leaving, and reserve time for border crossing, especially during the high season.

Though you cannot drive yourself to the top of the Rock, a twenty-minute round-trip aerial tram costs 19.00£ per person. A taxi service can also take you to the top for 35.00£ per person in an eight-person shared van. I recommend using a credit card in the area to avoid getting return change in British Pounds that you must convert back to Euros.

Madrid to Frankfurt: homebound!

Travel method: We returned our rental car in Malaga and traveled by rail to Madrid to catch a domestic flight to Frankfurt, where we had an overnight layover.

Accommodations: Hilton Frankfurt Airport. After a 15-20 minute walk from the Lufthansa gates to the hotel lobby (located within the airport), we settled into a room with a comfy bed and a large selection of English programming on the TV. We booked the option that included breakfast in the main restaurant, which was excellent.

While flying home, I listened to my husband as he excitedly recapped his highlights from our trip and listed the places he wanted to return to see. And even after my fourth trip to Spain, I already missed it just as much as he did!

Ready to plan your trip to Spain? Contact Denise Larson at

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