We'll be travelling around Northern/Central Spain for two weeks this April (3-18). The first week will be Semana Santa and I'm wondering how much we should account for shops, restaurants, museums, sights, bodegas/vineyards, or anything being closed during those days? What activities would you recommend for those Semana Santa days? We wouldn't mind seeing some traditional Semana Santa celebrations but it’s not our main agenda.
We are planning a route from Barcelona (straight) to Bilbao & San Sebastian (Donostia) to La Rioja to Madrid to Cuenca and/or to Valencia to Barcelona OR vice versa, the other way around. Our main interest is in the Northern parts (Bilbao area)! We are planning our route so that we will see a couple interesting cities (in addition to Bilbao we'd like to see Madrid and Barcelona - not dead-set on anything else yet) and some quaint small towns/villages along the way. We'd like to see some main sights but generally tend to gravitate towards the "off the beaten track". We haven't book the transfers yet but planning to use trains, busses or rent a car, whichever makes most sense, also flights (e.g. BCN-Bilbao) if necessary.
Does it make any sense to go to Bilbao & San Sebastian to La Rioja to Madrid during Semana Santa or should we make the circle the other way around so that we would tour Barcelona - Valencia/Cuenca - Madrid during Semana Santa? Is there anything on these areas we should especially avoid during Semana Santa (i.e. what is completely shut down and which days)?
Is it necessary to book the accommodations (we'll use hostels and other budget options) and transfers (trains/busses) in advance? My travelling partner is sure that we'll manage without booking but would be no problem to do it -- once we have our itinerary in order!!
Is it possible to make a day trip to visit bodegas/vineyards from Madrid or Bilbao or should we stay somewhere in Rioja/Ribera del Duero? Any other suggested wine regions/bodegas closer to our stops? Any suggestions for Cava wineries? We are mainly travelling on a budget but can (and plan to) splurge a bit every now and then :)
Lots of questions - I've read a lot of the TA forum posts and will keep on reading... But will help a lot if you could shed some light in these queries! Thank you for helping in advance!