Tips & advice: The Tripologist
I WILL BE IN PORTUGAL AND SPAIN IN MAY FOR 18 DAYS WITH MOST OF THAT TIME IN SPAIN. IN PORTUGAL, WHERE WOULD YOU RECOMMEND I VISIT? LISBON AND PORTO? HOW WOULD I GET AROUND? WHAT ARE THE GOOD AND SAFE CENTRAL HOTELS? IN SPAIN I'M THINKING OF VISITING SAN SEBASTIAN, BARCELONA, GRANADA, MADRID, SEVILLE AND CORDOBA. HOW COULD I PLAN AN ITINERARY FOR THESE CITIES, HOW MANY DAYS IN EACH AND HOW TO GET AROUND? I ALSO HEARD THAT INSTEAD OF A HIRE CAR IN EUROPE YOU CAN PICK UP A BRAND NEW CAR, WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES?
A. TRUONG, HUNTERS HILL
Lisbon is wonderful, but I'm not sure if you have enough time for Porto. I like to stay three nights minimum in each stop. That gives me two full, non-travelling days for exploring. Your wish list has eight stops and I'd suggest you cut two out. The logical choices would be Porto and San Sebastian. That's a shame – Porto is charming, while the Basque seaport of San Sebastian is food Valhalla - but they sit out on a geographic limb from your point of view. Except by air, San Sebastian is not particularly easy to reach from the other stops on your itinerary.
Since all your stops are cities, there's no good reason to have a car. Intercity rail services are excellent and fast, and driving and parking in European cities is not fun. In May, you should be able to book your train travel as you go, with no real need to book ahead. A car would be essential if you plan to tour in an area such as the white villages of Andalucia, and that's something you might consider, but you could certainly hire a car for just a few days from Seville if that appeals.
While the car lease deal you refer to (renaulteurodrive.com.au) is a great way to put yourself behind the wheel of a brand new vehicle, the minimum lease period is 21 days.
One of the hotel sites I like is Sawdays (sawdays.co.uk). The website has plenty of suggestions for small, atmospheric hotels. Cross-reference your choices with reviews on TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com.au). Safety is not a major issue. Apply the same precautions as you would around Sydney and you have no reason for fear.