Around 1400 kilometers, six days, about 101 delicious pintxos (traditional tapas portions from Northern Spain), countless sighs in front of verdant and stunning views, 30 kilometers of tunnels in the wine cellar of the Codorníu winery and many many promises to myself to save up and purchase a summer casa in the North of Spain as a part of my 40-year plan in life.
We did a road trip from Barcelona through Zaragoza to Biarritz and San Sebastian and back again through the charming small town of Olite and stopping for one night and day in the cava village of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. We travelled from one sea to an ocean, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. To see, listen and to sniff the sea is something that simply makes me very happy.
It was beautiful and intense. Visual and savory. One year ago we did a road trip from Bilbao towards the west, to Santiago de Compostela and Vigo. This year we wanted to explore the Basque Country to the east of Bilbao. The Basque Country (País Vasco) is an autonomous community of Northern Spain. Its biggest city is Bilbao and the capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz. The culinary capital of the world, San Sebastian, was high on our list as we planned our trip. We got to know that it is also the European Capital of Culture this year, or as was indicated there, Europako Kultur Hiriburua. Visiting Andorra was on the wish list too, but timewise we had to leave it out to wait for another adventure.
Someone wise wrote that life is made out of moments. The precious moments of this journey were, to select a few: having pistachio ice cream on the beach in San Sebastian by night and marveling at the changing of low tide and rising tide; climbing up to the Phare de Biarritz, the Biarritz Lighthouse, and finding what else than a wine kiosk next to the lighthouse on the top of the hill (a glass of rose with a view); sniffing the scent of fresh cut flowers in the beautiful market hall in Biarritz; hearing the love story of a couple who found each other again after thirty years; enjoying such rich and full tastes of the Basque delicacies; feeling the wind in my hair, pure happiness and vibrant freedom on a beach boulevard in San Sebastian and watching three senior ladies walk hand in hand on the streets of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia on a warm and soft Sunday morning. Holiday. Life.
And then from moments and moods to practicalities, a few tips will follow. We stayed overnight in four cities. I found it good to spend a bit longer time in one place (three days in San Sebastian). I think our choice of destinations and our road trip plan proved to be great, but any more cities would have been too much for the six days of time. When travelling I want to see and experience a lot but without feeling travel stress.
When you calculate your driving budget, remember to take into account road tolls. The roads are in very good condition but sometimes the tolls were frequent and rather high, for example 26 euros for one part (around 100 kilometres). I was joking that maybe we also got a patch of land nearby with that money in addition to the right to use the road. The amount of tolls depends on the area and on the province.
When choosing the towns or villages where to stop for a (lunch) break we found it sensible to drive to a rather small town along the route; with big cities it can take quite some time to reach the center. One recommendable stop-over is the town of Olite, located in the province of Navarra: you’ll find a Gothic castle/palace there and the service in the restaurant of the Parador de Olite was excellent and the lunch tasty.
And the most important tip when it comes to the North of Spain: go! You’ll very likely want to go again. And again.