Mixin’ it up with a Spanish Road trip
A chance to explore the many different sides to Spanish food, culture & life
Spain is a wonderful country to explore, full of surprises. It truly is epic.
You may know from our 'Return to the land of Paella & Flamenco' post, the inspiration behind this road trip, and that had given us a plan.
As always on these trips I have my own guidelines
We all don't have 3 weeks to spare
We appreciate this was a fairly ambitious 3 week break to cram in as much as we did. In 2014 we did a similar road trip over 2 weeks - Our Xeres & Tapas trip. We've highlighted a few of the likely destinations, and as you'll see we HAD to go back to Seville.
Hopefully this will inspire you to get behind the wheel and create your own Spanish Road Trip adventure.
So time to hit the road
The journey from home to Portsmouth has to be the least favourite part of the whole trip - no wait, it's the journey from the ferry back home after the trip - This is the second worst part of the journey. (Actually to be fair, it wasn't a bad journey after all)
Our ship is Brittany Ferries - Cap Finistère.
Progress through the port is slow, and boarding seems to take an age (but I suppose there are potentially 500 cars boarding). This is the chance to view your shipmates for the next day.
A mix of those on a similar touring schedule - be it by motorbike or by car, those returning to their Spanish bolthole for winter and the truck drivers.
So a mixed bunch.
A helpful guide
There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning road trips. I often use the DK Eyewitness books, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our Spanish road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.
The slow boat to Spain
The ferry crossing times vary, some with one night on board, others with two. We've selected ours with just the one night - more time on the road.
The crossing forces you to slow down a bit - that's not a bad thing. Time to settle into this trip, pick up a good book. I have opted for 'Don Quixote', or to give it it's full title 'The history of the valorous and wittie Knight-Errant Don-Quixote of the Mancha', it'll be a while before we're heading across the plains of La Mancha though.
My attempts at slipping into a Spanish frame of mind are hampered, because, rather obviously, this Brittany Ferries ship has very French feel to it. So I get to practice my very poor, broken, French, before assaulting the Spanish with my equally bad attempt at their language. I stick to my basics though; "please", "thank you" ,"beer" & "wine", oh and smiles & thumbs.
If you're travelling to Santander your ship will dock right next to the town. In Bilbao you have a relatively short drive of around 6miles/10kms to the centre of town.
Point to Note
As yet, technology in the wi-fi arena is limited. Wi-fi is only available in selected areas, and the bandwidth is errrm - stretched. So save your frustration and go off grid for a day or so.
A little piece of advice
In planning your adventure don't overlook Bilbao or Santander.
Both port towns are firm favourites of mine, Bilbao has a great mix from the old of Casco Viejo to the shiny Guggenheim, despite being nearly 20 years old it still looks stunning.
Santander - I'll get to that later.
However, the thing about both places was the people. We came across a lot of smiles, and a lot of warmth. We also came back with the Calimocho in Spanish or Kalimotxo in Basque - basically red wine and cola - don't knock it until you've tried it.
For more of our adventures in Bilbao, check out Janis's post 'Bilbao, A rough diamond in Spain’s Basque country?'
Along the Northern Spanish Coast
Heading onto our next destination, we opt for a quick motorway sprint past Santander, but decide to visit the historical Santillana del Mar.
We then take to the backroads onto our destination for the next couple of nights of Oviedo. Make sure you check out their statues & sculptures and it won't be hard to remember you're in cider country.
The sight that sticks in my mind is of those hiking the Camino de Santiago.
This taster of the Northern Spanish coast has confirmed a belief that this deserves a tour of its own at a more leisurely pace. Noted for a later escapade.
Before heading south we opt to seek out Mount Naranco, with its imposing statue of Christ overlooking Oviedo.
On the road again, where possible avoiding the 'A' roads & motorways and sticking to the 'N' roads. As you leave the Asturias region and head into Castile y León you'll notice the lush green landscape gives way to a dry vista. The apple orchards that provided the Asturias with their cider, is now replaced by vineyards.
Were we prepared for this?
Segovia made the itinerary because of a BBC documentary on the Romans
However, nothing prepares you for the first sight of the aqueduct. To see this nearly 2,000 year old structure is truly impressive.
My GPS's desire for me to nearly drive into it, is less impressive.
This is the first time that Audi's inbuilt Sat-Nav has let me down on this trip - but we all know that the GPS is there as guidance. So time to try to resolve the issue.
The three nights in Segovia are just enough for us enjoy all it has to offer.
We dined on suckling pig, a local speciality, next to the aqueduct, but we actually preferred hanging around Plaza Mayor, admiring the beautifully lit Cathedral at night.
We now move from one Unesco town to another, Cáceres via another, Ávila.
Romanesque Spain at its best
To be honest we only had a couple of hours to appreciate Ávila.
One of the ways we enjoy a place is to feel its atmosphere, to pull up a chair at a bar in a square and watch the world go by. All the better whilst enjoying something local - normally alcoholic - but this being a road trip that thought is banished and we stroll around admiring this city.
It was a surprise that so much within the city is new, and it doesn't always blend seamlessly with its historic neighbours.
The majestic walls of this city contain all number of treasures - sadly we don't have the time to enjoy them.
The welcome of a Parador awaits.
Things to remember when staying at a Parador
When planning these trips we check out the locations with Google's Streetview where we can.
We're travelling in our own car, and we've got ourselves into a tight spot on one or two occasions.
Cáceres turned out to be another occasion where it got a little tight.
As I said we checked Streetview before booking the Parador. The roads around the historical centre of the town are tight, and fortunately a number only flow one way.
However outside the hotel in Streetview is a minibus and a decent size Mercedes, hence the assumption that my Audi should be able to manage the roads.
The problem was all the available spaces at this particular Parador were taken, and some of the parking was, shall we say, interesting.
So we decided to use the available off-site parking, and the minibus transfer.
Point to Note
The thing to remember is that by being a Parador 'Amigo' you get a reduced rate for the parking, and becoming an 'Amigo' is free.
Also our experiences are that the Paradors normally offer complimentary parking on a first-come, first served basis - but spaces are limited.
It's worth bearing this in mind when planning your road trip.
Once parked up, keys safely stashed we headed into Plaza Mayor, selected our bar of choice and enjoyed as dusk enveloped us.
That crisp cerveza was well earned.
Despite the near scrape, Cáceres is not to be missed. Check out 'The Moors left their mark, Cáceres'
You can see we like our history, no surprise then as we head south towards Andalucía we checkout 'Mérida'. This is another potential for 'Road Trip III - You just can't get enough of Spain'
The next destination was inevitable wasn't it?
How could we? Well we couldn't
So this is our second road trip through Spain, and when we put the pins in the map for this adventure we came across a problem.
That problem was Seville. On our 2014 road trip we discovered Seville, and it was love - for both of us.
So when we happened to have a spare week of annual leave in late 2015 there was only one choice - Seville again.
Not to Miss
If you're visiting Seville you cannot miss the Plaza de España. The best news it's free. And also take time to explore the adjoining Parque de María Luisa.
Then how could we come to Spain again and miss Seville? Well we couldn't. Again Seville did not disappoint.
Our choice of accommodation was 'Sevilla Central Suites Apartamentos Puerta Jerez', somewhere more relaxed, with parking but incredibly central. Also being an apartment suite it allowed us to launder - essential on a three week break.
If you're planning on visiting the Alcazar, and we would suggest you do, book in advance. The queues can get quite long and standing in the Spanish midday sun is no fun. This is the link to the official site
The one question…
That people always ask when we said we're planning a road trip through Spain was 'Are you going to Córdoba?' Well this time, the answer was yes.
Seville to Córdoba was a relatively short journey - the problem is that English weather ensued, and yep it rained. Therefore the plan to visit Setenil de las Bodegas was thwarted. There will be another chance.
Córdoba provided one of the highlights of the trip - the stunning 'Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba'
Not to Miss
It has to be the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba - firstly sitting in the Orange tree courtyard (free of charge) looking up at the bell tower is amazing. However the €10 entrance fee is well worth it. Trust Us.
Do you like Olives?
This question divides people. However, heading between Córdoba to Úbeda I would imagine you will get a resounding yes - you are in olive country after all.
After driving through mile after mile of olive groves I decided it was time to launch the drone.
To be honest I was pleased with the results. It gives an amazing view of this wonderful landscape.
On to Úbeda then, but it would have been remiss not to have visited its UNESCO partner, Baeza too. This is Renaissance Spain at its finest.
Arriving at Palacio de la Rambla, we now had the task of shoe-horning the Audi into what was once meant for carriages. The staff managed to squeeze us in, whilst the audible alarms from the car's parking sensors cried out in defiance.
A couple of nights in this charming town and I've learnt a little more about olives, and discovered Vermouth. It's also confirmed what we already knew - there's so much of Spain to explore, and it's amazing.
And talking of amazing...
And talking of amazing
The next destination is Cuenca, and its amazing hanging houses. However before that we have another stopover planned.
On out 2014 road trip we took the time out to visit the windmills of Consuegra, this time we head for Campo de Criptana. I now snigger as I think of Don Quixote charging down these giants.
A word of warning
On arrival at the Parador in Cuenca we are 'greeted' by an individual who 'assists' us in parking. However I had already seen mentioned in the reviews of the Parador on Tripadvisor.
These individuals do not work for the Parador, and are in search of payment for their 'services'.
We had already selected the secure parking option at the discounted Amigo rate, so parked up safely in their secure carpark.
The walk to the town across the Puente de San Pablo is interesting, and to be avoided if you're acrophobic.
The town has some fantastic sights, but appears to go to sleep once the towns tourists depart on their day trip coaches.
The call of Rioja
As the journey north continues, so we hit more of the inevitable - rain. It is mid-October after all and this was to be expected. It's only light drizzle, and it doesn't distract from the stunning environment.
The route is to cut across country to Calatayud, before heading towards Soria and onto Logroño. The dramatic landscape, with rock faces either side, and the colours of autumn provided a road trip to remember. It may not have the full glory of New England in the fall, but it is impressive.
The rain has given way to grey skies, and then the blue skies. The view alternates between twisty roads, and those long open stretches that seem to extend as far as the eye can see.
The reason we selected Logroño was for Calle del Laurel - a street lined with Tapas bars, bustling with people late into the evening.
Logroño gave another view into the Spanish soul through Rioja & Street Art.
If it hadn't been Logroño…
… It would have been Burgos. So as we head onto our final destination we decide to check out the city. Let's see what we missed. Okay, we're scouting - after nearly 3 weeks on the road we've not had enough. That's testament to this beautiful country and it's wonderful people.
Burgos does not disappoint. We spend a couple of hours soaking up this wonderful city, and you know from experience that it's only going to get better after the sun sets. I think we'll be back.
Those azure blue skies have returned and we head to our final destination.
Didn't we say
Don't overlook Bilbao and Santander - we didn't. Bilbao was wonderful, although hard to believe that was just 3 weeks ago, but Santander is also worthy of your time.
Why does it surprise me that this town oozes elegance? Maybe not in that traditional Italian style, this is Spain after all.
To see couples, young & old, promenade along the Paseo de Pereda in the warm Spanish evening air is just a beautiful way to end this adventure.
Santander has been great again, and we're glad we squeezed in an extra day to see more of this town.
Will we be back? You bet.
So that's it ...
We picked 10 stopovers (excluding the ferry), was on the road a total of 26 nights (including the ferry, so road & sea I s'pose), visited 8 regions of Spain. It was an amazing trip and one that left us wanting more.
The disappointments, not many. I wish we could have visited more places but that's an excuse for the next trip.
Driving in Spain
I find driving in Spain easy, the drivers are relaxed, the roads well sign posted and off the beaten track quite quiet.
It's worth noting that in historical cities the centre can be pedestrianised, one-way or generally difficult to navigate through.
My advice is find a car park just outside the centre of any town and walk in. If you're unsure, pull into a petrol station before you hit the centre and plan where you're going to go.
On our route we did not encounter any tolls
The shortlist for the next road trip
This is a list of some of the places we couldn't fit in this time around.
So what have we missed?
What other gems are there hidden in Spain? Where should we be heading on our next adventure?
About a month before I set off on any road trip I refresh myself of the local laws and requirements. In the UK I have come to rely on the AA website, and for Spain there is a dedicated page.
As of October '16 the notable requirements were
- 2 warning triangles (You're only legally required to carry one, but you may be fined if you do not display 2 in an accident)
- Reflective Jacket for anyone getting out of a car in a breakdown situation. It's best to carry them inside the car rather than stowed in the boot.
- If you wear glasses whilst driving, you are required to carry a spare pair in your car.
It used to be a requirement to carry a spare set of light bulbs & a first aid kit. I still have both in the car, but according to the latest guidance they are no longer required.
Explored Spain by car? No? So what are you waiting for? Getting booking and enjoy an experience of a lifetime.
Inspired to plan your own Spanish Road Trip?
Want to explore the real Spain? From the beautiful north, to the plains of La Mancha, onto the Moorish influenced South.
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