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Barcelona-Languedoc-Basque-Madrid-Barcelona ... too much driving?

Barcelona-Languedoc-Basque-Madrid-Barcelona ... too much driving?

Jun 13th, 2009, 10:50 PM
  #1  
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Barcelona-Languedoc-Basque-Madrid-Barcelona ... too much driving?

I'm mapping out a trip for April, 2010, flying in and out of Barcelona. We plan to drive up into France to explore Languedoc and the south midi-Pyrenees. Then, I thought we could return to Barcelona through Andorra, but I understand that's not possible. So, now I'm looking at driving across France to Basque country, cross back into Spain, then return to Barcelona.

We have 14 days, and I'm also wondering if it's possible to include Madrid in our itinerary without shortchanging other towns and regions along the way. Am I considering too much driving for the time we have?

My husband and I are in our 50's, pretty fit, enjoy meeting people along the way, love to eat, speak French but not Spanish and prefer small/charming/quirky accommodation over hotel chains with wifi connection and a gym. Any tips or suggestions for routes, sites, hotels (** or ***), restaurants, museums, would be greatly appreciated.

thx!
just27 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 02:26 AM
  #2  
 
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No, not at all, but try to work in some time to stop the car and see something.
Aduchamp1 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 02:43 AM
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Would it not make much more sense to fly into France, explore where you will, then drive South? You could then cross back into Spain via South West France, proceed South to Madrid and then finish in Barcelona.

This way you're not backtracking, although I have to say that this amount of road time in such a short time doesn't leave much time to see the places through which you're driving.

If you think that this is a preferable route, then come back on for a few suggestions.
Lifeman is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 02:57 AM
  #4  
 
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I would see Barcelona and then leisurely drive up the coast to France; fly home from Montpellier. You'll have both a city and small town experience and will find time to eat as well.

Why can't you go through Andorra?
adrienne is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 03:14 AM
  #5  
 
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adrienne you plan is fine but have you thought about drop off fees for one way rentals ( hire in one country and leave it in another)?
ribeirasacra is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 04:51 AM
  #6  
 
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ribeirascara - No, I haven't thought about drop off fees for the car rental. But I would think the drop off fees for returning the car in France are much less than the gas and tolls for the OP's plan of driving from Languedoc through the Pyrenees to Madrid to Barcelona plus the drop off fee for returning the car to the airport. LOL
adrienne is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 05:31 AM
  #7  
 
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I am wondering why it should not be possible for you to drive through Andorra. Usually, you are not even stopped at the border.

There are several roads crossing the border, one goes through Andorra, one through Puigcerda.
traveller1959 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 06:00 AM
  #8  
 
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I am also wondering why you can't go through Andorra. ????
StCirq is online now  
Jun 14th, 2009, 11:24 AM
  #9  
 
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Just27, how about flying open jaw? You can fly into Barcelona and home from Madrid.

Another idea is to fly round-trip into Barcelona with a 2 or 3 day stopover in Madrid on your return. You could complete your loop out of Barcelona and then the airline covers your flight from Barcelona to Madrid.
InMiami is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 12:47 PM
  #10  
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Yep, the drop off fees for one way car rentals are huge, especially between Spain and France (I checked with Europcar re Barcelona to Paris and the "penalty" was close to USD 1,000).

We're using American Airlines miles, so have to fly in and out of cities served by AA. If we do open jaw, we could fly into Barcelona and home from Madrid ... great idea! (I hadn't thought of that as I was still shell shocked after checking the one-way rental fees if we flew home from Paris!)

Re not going through Andorra, I understand that the rental car companies will not let you drive there (I haven't checked that myself, but saw it on several other postings on this forum) ... and, that many of the roads are closed or still impassable in early April. I didn't want to back-track from France back to Barcelona, and when I heard the Pyrenees are too challenging at that time of year, I started thinking "go west."

I know this sounds like a bizarre itinerary, but I started thinking about Basque country as my husband's great-great-greats are from there.
just27 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 01:12 PM
  #11  
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I just looked up "OP" ... thrilled to see it meant "original poster" and not "old person" ...
just27 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 01:20 PM
  #12  
 
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Re Andorra:

>>>I understand that the rental car companies will not let you drive there<<< I cannot believe this. Must be a misinformation.

>>>that many of the roads are closed or still impassable in early April<<< Andorra is a skiing paradise. Skiing tourism is Andorra's main industry. Of course, the roads are cleared. You will drive the E9, which is a trans-European road. Of course, it will be cleared of snow and ice.
traveller1959 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 02:12 PM
  #13  
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Good point, that skiing tourism is Andorra's main industry. I'll email the rental car company for confirmation that it's not excluded. (Note to self: confirm all information posted before making decisions!)
just27 is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 03:04 PM
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About 3 years ago we took just over a month (Sept/Oct) and drove all over France and parts of Spain, including Barcelona. It was wonderful...and we did most of the trip sans reservations so we could adjust our itinerary as we went along. We dropped Madrid as we figured we will be back to do the rest of Spain and Portugal some time in the future. Taking a look at your need to start and end in Barcelona, and seeing that you've got a bit less than half as much time as we had, I suggest you might consider something along these lines: WARNING: There were a lot of one-night stops, interspersed with 2 or 3 nights where we felt we wanted to chill out and just explore.

Arrive Barcelona, pick up car and drive to Zaragosa. (You can visit Barcelona at the end of your trip, after you've dropped off the car). Zaragosa is a beautiful city with much to enjoy. You only need to stay there one night. Then head for Basque country.

Bilbao surprised me, and it is a lovely city. We never actually visited INSIDE the famous Guggenheim, but we walked all around it, and enjoyed the old part of the city. We spent one night in Bilbao.

We fell into a little city named Lekeitio - well, actually we found it in Cadogan's and Lonely Planets' Spain guides. But we stayed at a fabulous inn called Hotel Zubieta http://www.hotelzubieta.com/eng/zubieta.asp and used this as a base for several nights while we toured around the really beautiful countryside. We'd made this decision after visiting San Sebastian and just not "connecting" with it as a place to stay -- however it was lightly raining and gray so if it had been nice, San Sebastian may have been much more appealing!

Another interesting stop in Basque Spain is Vitorrio. Look for the cute Hotel Dato -- which I'd hoped to stay in, but it was booked when we got there. Turned out there was a big Rennaissance Fair type event in town that weekend. They sent us a block over to a perfectly comfy Hotel American.

The other place we spent one night was Pamplona. I really enjoyed Pamplona. Lots of fun places for pixtos!

Cross the border into France at Roncevalles. Did you read Chanson de Roland in French Class in HS? Well, border crossing are nothing anymore since the EU, but this one at least has some history.

It's kind of funny writing this because everything is in reverse from how we drove -- but I'm trying. You'll need to get your own set of maps & guidebooks to plot your trip. We had more time and zipped around a bit more.

We stopped in St Jean de Luz for lunch and what a lovely seaside town it way. I found it way more appealing than San Sebastian (although actually you could drive straight up the coast from San Sebastian to St Jean de Luz -- bypassing Pamplona and the Roncevalles border crossing.

Once in France -- and I'm just winging it here, because we'd been through Languedoc a couple of years before -- I THINK you can head East from either the coast (St Jean de Luz) maybe via Tarbes on the A64 to aim for Toulouse where you can catch the A61 to Carcassonne. You will likely want to spend a night in Carsassonne, but I would suggest you then spend time visiting two of the Cathar castles - Peryrepertuse and Queribus. We did this from a base in Collioure, which is a simply lovely, charming beach town. Or perhaps you would like Perpignan...there are a number of options in the region.

This also puts you easily on the way back to Barcelona, via Figueries (if you want to stop to see the Dali museum. You can't miss it, it is the only building in Spain with giant eggs on the roof.)

Drop your car off at the airport in Barcelona. (On our trip, we DID the reverse, up to Collioure and then Provence...but we left our rental car parked at the airport in Barcelona as it was cheaper than any parking one might be stuck paying in the city...and driving in that city would have been way too challenging.) Take the airport bus downtown or perhaps a cab. Actually, I think there was a deal on the bus that gave you a round trip plus coupons for reduced admissions to some of the big Barcelona attractions...or maybe it was a Barcelona card that included the bus...I forgot.

Whew. This was a long response - but I think you can see how you MIGHT build a driving itinerary that gets you Barcelona-Basque -Lanquedoc-Barcelona. You'll want to make your own choices along the way, but this really does give you a super opportunity to see a lot of Spain AND a fascinating region of France as well. The tolls on the highways in France and Spain are high -- but some days you really do just want to eat up the miles. Other days, you will want to try alternate routes, when you are based someplace and time isn't an issue.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 03:10 PM
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Obviously, there is the alternative of doing this in the opposite order --spend a two or three nights in Barcelona, then head out on the road. The drive from Collioure, France, to Barcelona is beautiful and not terribly difficult to make in a bit over half a day, if you don't stop in Figures for Dali.

Have fun planning this adventure! We basically planned our route, and made only a couple of changes during the trip, but traveling without reservations (except I do not recommend that for Barcelona) gave us freedom to let things slide a day or two in several places.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 03:20 PM
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I'm sorry - I meant to put a paragraph before talking about the drive from Collioure to Barcelona - and, if you were to go to France from Barcelona before heading into Basque Spain, your last leg would be from Zaragosa to the Barcelona airport.

Not far from Zaragosa, by the way, we visited a really gorgeous little town called Tarazona -- 10th - 12th century walls, buildings, with some Moorish elements.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Jun 14th, 2009, 07:51 PM
  #17  
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Great info, uhoh_busted, thx for all the ideas. I've never traveled in Europe without reservations (well, since I was a teenager) ... I see the appeal and flexibility, but I'm wondering if I'd be anxious all day about where I was spending the night. (And whenever I've done that in the US, I finish up paying much more than booking ahead.) How did you decide on your night's lodgings? Just driving past ... or asking at a tourist center, or what?
just27 is offline  
Jun 15th, 2009, 08:51 AM
  #18  
 
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We researched the internet and used our guidebooks -- and we made reservations for the first two stops of our trip and the last (Paris) before we left. We have a phone we can use with French/Spanish/whatever sim cards, and we had numbers for choices in places we expected we might be -- but to be honest, we rarely used the phone.

We were traveling in Sept-October, so there were few crowds anywhere...We stopped at the tourist office in San Sebastian, but were not impressed at the level of assistance -- they just gave us a big magazine directory of hotels, etc. However there was a film festival going on so perhaps the staff were pressed for time. Our guidebooks mentioned several nearby towns which is how we found Lekeitio and Hotel Zubieta. We ended up with a suite and stayed for two nights. They had internet access in their lobby, where we made checked out possibilities for Bilbao, our next stop.

We lucked into an apartment in Barcelona from some touts on Placa Catalunya after spending one night at dreary place booked via the Tourist Office. We negotiated 4 nights for just over 300 Euro and it was perfect. No AC, but good fans, super clean and about a block from the Placa. We had spent a good deal longer getting to Barcelona than expected, so it would have been problematic to make reservations ahead of time. I would probably not recommend that approach to anyone else! It shouldn't be your problem as you plan to start & end there.

Everywhere we stopped, even the small towns, were "travel destinations" and we used some Tourist Offices (they are better in the smaller cities and towns) to get local maps and recommendations. But we had thoroughly researched the places we wanted to visit so we knew there would be hotels/guesthouses/etc in our price range available.

In the cities, parking can be a problem - but in Spain there were often underground garages which turned out to be just fine. It seemed we were always prepared to pay more, but sometimes their machines were out of order and we ended up parking for free, or only paying for a couple hours while we'd been there overnight.

In the Basque region, many signs are in Basque rather than Spanish, so language - well, we really depended on those maps! Get Michelin maps specific to the areas as the "national" maps are not detailed enough. One day we parked in a Basque seaside town for lunch, and as we went to put money in a meter, a little old man came flying up gesturing to NOT pay. It was a week day, and not tourist season, so maybe those meters only need feeding then...or maybe he was making a political statement (Basque banners and flags were all over).

Back to the lodging question, though: We really didn't find it to be a hassle. I guess we spent about 11-12 nights in Spain. With - I think it was 33 days and we had the car for 28 - we covered a lot of ground in Spain and France. We'd spent a couple weeks driving in France on previous trips and we saw a mix of places that were new and places we wanted to revisit. Off season, we got wonderful lodging rates -- and while we generally tried to save money with 2star places, we also treated ourselves when offered something we couldn't turn down. If we spent a couple nights in simple places for 30-50Euro a night, our next stop might be something nicer. You don't want to do more than three "one-night-stands" in a row.

Collioure was lovely and as a "beach" town, there are a lot of places to chose from. It is a wonderful base to visit the Southern portion Cathar country from, and getting there from (or going to) Figueres, Spain was a fantastic drive. We went up the coastal drive - which I think was as challenging as the Amalfi Coast drive except that there was little to no traffic when we were there (I suspect April may be similar).
uhoh_busted is offline  
Jun 15th, 2009, 09:09 AM
  #19  
 
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I avoid tourist offices wheneve possible. You never know how places are added to their recommened lists. Additionally the advice can vary from excellent to totally stupid and you never know until you get there.

The Basques are very proud of their culture, language, amd historical accomplishments but I am not sure that has anything to do with parking meters. Or they could have been following the advice of Bob Dylan-Don't follow your leaders, watch the parking meters.
Aduchamp1 is offline  
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