Road Trip to the North of Spain
AKA, Bisque Kitt’s Birthday Trip. He is eleven.
It has been an interesting time these past 18 months or so. Covid hit and the world went into lockdown. We recently realized that our last time out of town in a car was February of 2020, just one month before lockdown. At that time we had no idea this would be our last time leaving Torrevieja for over a year. Thankfully it was a great trip exploring the Valencia region our new ‘home’ and you can read about that here.
So here we are June 8 2021 and Bisque Kitt’s Birthday. Our ‘state of alarm’ restrictions were lifted on May 24th meaning, amounst many other things that our regional borders are open and we can now travel freely throughout Spain and leave the Valencia region. We rented a car on June 8. Time to get out of town.
I decided to make this blog all about the logistics of a road trip in Spain. How to do it and the daily costs. This should give you a very good idea of how easy and inexpensive this is. First off cheap car rental. You can hire a car at the Alicante airport for as little as $5 euros per day. Seriously, with no insurance. So this is what we do. However, we rent a large passenger type van that we can sleep in so it is a bit more expensive and I also insist on having full coverage insurance. I have taken the chance before of not paying for the insurance and the added stress throughout the trip is just not worth it, in my opinion. Another thing, have your booking details match your credit card if you buy insurance through the web site. The rental company will place a hold of around 1200, and it has to be a credit card, not a debit card and in your name. We have done this 3 times with three different agencies here and so it seems pretty typical, no big deal unless…
Your reservation does not match the name on your card. I didn’t have mine and they wouldn’t accept Terri Lynn’s. So, we were forced to pay an additional $178 Euros for their full coverage insurance. Doubling the cost of the rental, so it was $354.55 Euros for 9 days or $39.99 per day.
I fell in love with road trips back in the mid nineties. I was on tour constantly, sometimes sleeping in hotels over 200 nights per year. The first trip that stands out was a gig in Tempe Arizona. I drove to San Francisoc to pick up a friend, a street performer called THOTH. We drove all night and showed up to do the gig. Tempe is not for me. It was the only time I walked out of a show early. But this gave us time, a few free days to just go where life lead us. And this is where I discovered the beauty of synchronistic road trips.
So here we go!
We picked up the car at the Alicante airport and drove back to Torrevieja, loaded up the car and got the Birthday boy. Our plan was to make it to Zaragoza, about a 6 to 7 hour drive. That seemed too much so I found a campground just over 5 hours away near a town called Albarracin. This is the point I am making about synchronistic road trips. Our campground was empty in June and being just after the borders opening will make this trip experience something unique, and that will likely never happen again.
‘Choose any spot you want’.
It turns out Albarracin is a medieval walled city, very well preserved and very much lived in. Sometimes you walk through these towns and they feel like a museum. Not real. Just for the curious traveller. But most always here in Spain these are peoples homes. Looking into the windows is a glimpse of normal every day life. Eating, watching TV and doing laundry.
The campground (Ciudad de Albarracin camping) is excellent, bathrooms and showers spotless. I wanted to stay another night saying that this might be the best spot of the whole trip! All alone with this view! But we always move on. The spot here was $18.00 euros and very highly reccomended.
It was a long travel day, picking up the car and driving over 5 hours so we did the easiest thing for dinner. We ate at the campground restaurant. So far, and we have done a few road trips in various regions, the campgrounds in Spain are very nice. Some like resorts with water parks and restaurants and super clean restrooms. We shared a salad, pizza and bottle of wine for $33.50 Euro. It was very nice, the salad was loaded, pizza was good and the atmosphere peaceful.
Waking up in the back of a car feels very normal. I guess we have been doing this for awhile. Bisque Kitt was so excited to see the car yesterday!
We would start our day exploring the medieval walled city of Albarracin. Albarracín is a small town in the hills of east-central Spain, above a curve of the Guadalaviar River. Towering medieval walls and the Murallas de Albarracín dominate the adjacent hillside. At their crest is 10th-century Andador Tower. The ruins of an Alcázar, or Moorish castle, stand on a clifftop in the old town. The 16th-century Catedral del Salvador features a bell tower built on the remains of a Romanesque temple.
The town is named for the Hawwara Berber dynasty of the Banu Razin which was their capital from the early eleventh century until it was taken by the Almoravids in 1104.
From 1167 to 1300, Albarracín was an independent lordship known as the Sinyoría d’Albarrazín which was established after the partition of the Taifa of Albarracín under the control of Pedro Ruiz de Azagra. It was eventually conquered by Peter III of Aragon in 1284, and the ruling family, the House of Azagra was deposed. The last person to actually hold the title of Señor de Albarracín was Juan Núñez I de Lara, although his son, Juan Núñez II de Lara continued on as the pretender to the title until 1300 when the city and its lands were officially incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragon.
It is early June and the perfect time to be here as it is not too hot yet. I can imagine in July and August it would be very hot and crowded with people. Bisque Kitt was able to explore the town off leash. On the way out of town we stopped off at the local Queseria, Quesos Sierra de Albarracin and bought a tasty chunk of 6 month aged cheese. This would be a staple food item for the next week.
It was time to move on and our next stop is Pamplona, the town famous for the running of the bulls. It was another 4 hour drive which would make it perfect for lunch. Remember lunch here is sometime between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. We found parking quite easily near the famous street Estafeta and dove into some local pintxos bars. This area has some of the most Michelin starred restaurants in the entire world so food quality in the region is very high. We were enjoying some pintxos when Terri Lynn realized that we were unknowingly at a Michelin starred restaurant.
After lunch we continued north to the town of Hondarriba on the border of France. We are now officially in Pais de Vasco. It was a long day and we were tired so we settled on the first camp ground we found. We probably should have shopped around. It was pretty ghetto especially compared to the previous night but it was acceptable and clean enough. The name is Camping Jaizkibel and the cost for this camp ground was $23.20 euros. We are making lunch our one main hot meal of the day so dinner resembles breakfast with pate, meats, cheeses and fruits.
Today is an exciting day. We will visit San Sebastian, reportedly one of the best food cities in the world. We took a quick look at Hondarribia and the French border before heading out. We made a quick stop off at Pasai Donibane which is worth a look. A very industrial looking port town.
We came here to eat. And eat we did. A friend from the states reccomended a restaurant here but we made a stop off at a small pintxos bar (Casa Gandarias) first for a few bites and because I saw they had sea urchin.
And now the main event. I know quite a few professional chefs and lovers of food so when someone reccomends a favorite restaurant from across the world you most certainly will make the effort to find it. This was a super small family restaurant and one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The name of the restaurant is Borda Berri.
It was an amaazing experience and all 6 courses with a bottle of wine was only $50.20 Euros. Highly recommended.
It was time to locate our campground for the night and we found a good one! Camping Itxaspe sits on a cliff over the sea. It is run by very friendly camp hosts and is really perfect. They had BBQs so I stuffed a chicken with some of our Albarracin cheese and enjoyed the sunset. The site is $31.40 Euros for the night which will be our most expensive but well worth it.
The campground sits in The Basque Coast Geopark, a small area wedged in between the Bay of Biscay and the Basque mountains and comprising the municipalities of MUTRIKU, DEBA and ZUMAIA.
The Basque Coast Geopark has been part of the European Geoparks Network and the Global Geoparks Network since 2010. In November 2015, Geoparkea was declared a UNESCO Global Geopark, a designation that highlights the importance of geological sites and landscapes of exceptional value. People come here to hike and trails are everywhere so this is how we chose to spend our morning, hiking out to the top of a bluff we could see from our campsite.
This area reminds us of the Pacific Northwest where we used to call home, the Oregon coast. It is lush and green, a world away from our home in Torrevieja. The trail starts out with an extreme decent threough a green forest making it’s way to the sea.
Our original plan was to make it all the way to Cudillero before going up into the mountains but we have already passed the 1000km mark in just 4 days so I am starting to question how much more time I want to sit in a car driving. We made the decision to overnight in Santillana Del Mar. Santillana del Mar is a town in the Cantabria region of northern Spain. It’s known for its medieval towers, renaissance palaces and the Romanesque Santa Juliana Collegiate Church.
We found our campground, Camping Santillana which is $20 Euros per night. We are now at 2 for 2. Two excellent campgrounds and two not so great. The grounds are extremely unkept, just a lawn mower would make a world of difference. Bathrooms not as clean, dark empty restaurant and a store with nothing on the shelves. At night they locked the batrhrooms at 11pm, however they neglected to inform us of this upon check in. The one positive thing I can say is the location is a very short walk into the main historic center of interest along a very nice well maintained pathway under big trees.
Lunch time! As I mentioned our one main hot meal of the day. Santillana Del Mar is a beautiful city and therefore attracts a large amount of visitors which also means the restaurants all fall into a certain category. We walked the town twice looking at every menu and especially the plates of food. It resembles our typical fare in Torrevieja, thin meat simply prepared accompanied by french fries. Which is fine, but this 3 to 4 course menu del dia usually will cost $10 euros per person and come with a bottle of wine. The menu prices here were $18 to $28 euros with no wine. We just couldn’t do it. The last two days, and especially in San Sebastian were so amazing from a culinary perspective that we felt there was no way a meal here could compare, especially at these prices.
So we drove 5 minutes out of town, found a small restaurant on the side of the road with a menu del dia for $10 euros with wine. It was perfectly fine and we felt very welcomed as the only guests there except for the two old Spanish guys drinking liquor. A few more shots of Santillana Del Mar.
That night a group of motorcyclists chose to camp right next to us, it was another empty campground so…? Funny though, at midnight we are laughing because they are all asleep and we are the ones up being noisy. And, just a reminder that the bathrooms closed at 11pm. Not cool.
As I mentioned we chose to not go all the way to Cudillero, I kind of wish we would have especially as the trip is about to change course, but next time. Here is a web site of the town, it resembles the towns on the Cinque Terra on the Ligurian coast of Italy.
Instead we decided to have a rest morning, we have been traveling a lot and seeing many new things and logging a lot of kilometers after not having been in a car for over a year and a half. We found a Mercadona (large chain supermercado) in a nearby town, Torrelavega. We stocked up supplies and drove 30 minutes to the small village of Comillas, Cantabria. We have never, ever been a fan of tourist sites or museums. But, I guess I might be an architecture buff. When we were in Barcelona we visited a Gaudi site, a few actually with my favorite being the Casa Batllo. So when I discovered there was a Gaudi piece on our route I of course was interested.
The Capricho De Gaudi in Comillas is one of his first works. So, much more tame then his later creations but it certainly does give the visitor a glimps of what was to come. It was $7 Euros each to enter.
After visiting the site we had lunch in the town square which was a very good idea. Spain is comprised of 17 Autonomous regions each with their own unique culture, food and often times language. We experienced the Haute cuisine of Basque country and now we are in Cantabria. I was excited to find a local place with regional dishes and the name of the restaurant is Cafetería Heladería Campios. Here they are below.l
After lunch it was time to drive to the Picos de Europas, the grand finale of the trip! We have been hiking in some of the most beautiful places in the world and even though the next two days would be relatively easy day hikes we were excited to see the mountains in Spain. Day one would be a short 4km climb (8km RT) to the town of Bulnes, until recently only accesible by this trail. They have recently built a funicular but, what is the point? Although short the hike is straight up so the return trip takes about 90 minutes but of course we will stay for lunch. The next day would be a longer hike, about 24km but mostly flat. When we reached the campground and the small town of Arenas we were not disappointed. The town is full of backpackers either gearing up for a trip or recovery from days on the trail.
Our camp ground, Camping Naranjo de Bulnes was incredible! Another good one, we are now 3 for 5 on a positive note. Do choose the ‘Rio’ sites as they sit right on the river. The site is $24 euros per night and we are set to be here for three nights.
Everything changes. This is Bisque Kitt’s Birthday trip, remember? Our furry captian started feeling not well yesterday. Today he is not good at all. We are not sure what to do but the one thing we know is that he is not going on any type of a hike. I came up with a back up plan for the day to let him recover and hopefully feel better for tomorrow’s hikes. The highest town that you can drive to here is called Sotres and I suggested driving there for lunch. It was an a amazing drive looking at the mountains and we at least hoped tomorrow we would be able to experience them.
We are now in the Asturias region and so a new type of food! We chose a hostal with a great view and local cuisine.
I Love new food. Not that it is always my favorite food or that I would order again, but when I am in a new country or place with a regional cuisine my pallette has not yet experienced I get very excited. That is a pretty good description of our lunch. New, a little strange, tasty and a wonderful experience. OK, food nerd alert, lets begin. Course 1.
As you can see we had a fabulous lunch in Sotres dining on true Asturian cuisine. A lovely day. We drove back down the mountain and things were not looking good. Bisque Kitt is getting worse. We were so close and we traveled so far but it is looking as if we may not be able to do our mountain trip this time around. All we saw was from the road. It was time to start heading in the direction of home a few days early.
Last night we were treated to a fabulous thunder and lightning show. I stayed awake in the hammock for hours watching the spectacle. This morning we sadly left early without being able to get into the mountains and quite worried about our furry friend. The drive home would be brutal. Our plan is to make it 5 hours (turned out to be 9) to Madrid and overnight before the final 5 hours home.
Remember this is a synchronistic road trip. So even though things went awry we still had 2 more days of travel which means 2 more days of the unexpected.
I missed a turn off. At this point moral is low due to the disappointment and worry and when you miss a turn off on a major freeway in Spain your’e fucked. It could easily be another 40km to the next exit so you may as well just re-route. I preferred this actually because the GPS led us through small towns and country roads and suddenly we were in a small municipality called Baltanas and we saw a sign for Bodegas. Sure, wine tasting sounds good about now.
What we would find blew our minds and that is not easy to do. Suddenly there were hundreds of what appeared to be chimneys sticking out of the ground, it was like the entire town was built underground.
These are not chimneys and this is not a town. These are wine caves, 374 of them and they are hundreds of years old!
Next thing we know we are now on the ‘Ribera Del Duero’ wine route. We love wines from this region. They tend to be bigger then other Spanish varietals and now I can see why. The area is hot and dry which is perfect for producing bold wines. We stopped at a few wineries but they were all closed. Maybe covid.
We finally made it to Madrid and pulled into our first campground Alpha Madrid. Not gonna work. We are now in the center of the country and it is hot and dry and being this close to the city dirty and gross. So we tried another one.
This one was a bit further out of the city, still dry but fine for the night. We are just trying to get our little friend home. My receipt says RESICAMPING S.L. but I can not find it on the internet, it was $28.70 Euros.
Thats it. We drove another 5 hours and made it back to Torrevieja. Bisque Kitt has a vet appointment today at 17.00.
He is happy to be home.
Total cost of trip.
Car rental, Insurance, Bus, Gas, parking and tolls – $531.51
Camping 7 nights – $167.36
Food and alcohol – $378.28
Total – $1077.15 Euros
Not too bad for 8 days and we did see a lot of new places and taste many new foods.
Have you ever done this? You should. Just get in a car and go and see where the roads lead you.