One Hour from: Bilbao

Escape the heat in San Sebastian, darling
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The Independent Travel

Discover the secret haunts of the Spanish jet-set, from the grandest cathedral to the grooviest city

Discover the secret haunts of the Spanish jet-set, from the grandest cathedral to the grooviest city

San Sebastian

The Spanish jet-set has been flocking here for years to party and to escape the blistering heat of southern summers. Framed by gorgeous green mountains, San Sebastian curves around a superb shell-shaped sweep of beach, La Concha. Down a cerveza in the bustling old town – don't miss the Plaza de la Constitucion, the porticoed and cobbled square lined with pretty arcades, which was once a bullring. Light a candle in the beautiful churches of Santa Maria and San Vincente.

By car: take the A8 east and follow signs; journey time approx 1 hour. By bus: frequent service from Bilbao station; journey time approx 1 hour 10 mins.

Haro

Give your taste buds a treat in the capital of La Rioja's wine-producing region. Before trailing the wineries, get the lowdown at the Museo del Vino and stock up at the Todos los Vinos de Rioja wine store. Wander around the Plaza de la Paz and look out for the stunning Renaissance church of San Tomas. Time your visit to the last week of June and take part in the riotous fiestas, including the batalla del vino, which involves getting soaked from head to foot in wine.

By car: take the A68 south and follow signs; journey time approx 50 mins. By bus: frequent service from Bilbao bus station: journey time approx 1 hour.

Santander

Much overlooked as merely a ferry port, Santander, with its beautiful beaches and pretty old quarter, has long been a favourite summer haunt of vacationing Madrilenos. To get away from the crowds on the Playa de la Magdalena and El Sardinero hop across the bay on the taxi-ferry to the long stretches of dune-backed sands at Somo and Pedrena.

By car: take the A8 west and follow signs; journey time approx 50 mins. By bus: frequent service from Bilbao bus station; journey time approx 1 hour.

Burgos

Spain's greatest Gothic cathedral dominates what was once the capital of Old Castile. Burgos was the home of El Cid back in the 11th century and its historical associations go back to 884. While the twin-towered cathedral, a decorative masterpiece, is the big draw, also worth a look are two monasteries on the outskirts, the Monasterio de las Huelgas and the Curtuja de Miraflores.

By car: take the A68 south, followed by the N1 and follow signs; journey time 1 hour-plus. By bus: frequent service from Bilbao; journey approx 1 hour-plus.

Vitoria

Vitoria is crammed with Renaissance palaces and churches. It's become northern Spain's hippest city, thanks to the lively student population who party at the up-for-it bars and clubs. Old town highlights include the porticoed Plaza de Espana, the church of San Miguel and the Escoriaza-Esquivel Palace.

By car: take the A68 south, followed by the N622; journey time approx 45 mins. By bus: frequent service from Bilbao bus station; journey time approx 55 mins.

Argomaniz

The Parador de Argomaniz, located in the practically abandoned village, is a former 17th-century palace, which once housed Napoleon. Expect haughty grandeur combined with luxurious comfort and you won't be disappointed. Book ahead if you consider staying, but well worth a visit for a meal or drink in one of the many lounges.

By car: take the A68 south, then the N622, followed by the N1 east and look for signs; journey time approx 1 hour. By bus: frequent service from Bilbao to Vitoria, then taxi to Argomaniz; journey time approx 1 hour plus.

Magic of Spain (0870 027 0400; www.magictravelgroup.co.uk) offers three nights at the four-star Hotel Ercilla in Bilbao from £480 per person, including return flights from Gatwick and car hire.

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