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French and Spanish Basque Region Itinerary

French and Spanish Basque Region Itinerary

Old Jun 26th, 2010, 09:21 AM
  #1  
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French and Spanish Basque Region Itinerary

We are planning a trip to this region next May. I am starting to formulate an itinerary now as we want to use FF miles and the earlier we can reserve our flights, the better chance we have of getting award seats. With American Airlines that is 330 days ahead so I want to figure out now where we should fly in and out of for this trip.

On AA we can fly directly to Paris or Madrid or open jaw flying into one and out of the other. We have 11 nights for this trip, and I know that will just be scratching the surface. We have been to Paris and Madrid on previous trips, so we do not need to spend more than a couple of days in either of these two cities.

After doing some research on this forum and downloading Maribel's guides, we have some idea of where we want to go. We would like to rent a car, and Ideally we would like to visit:

Pays Basque
Biarritz
Bayonne
St. Jean de Luz
Ainhoa
Esplette

Pais Vasco
San Sebastian
Bilbao
El Rioja area staying two nights in Elciego at the Marques de Riscal.

I need help figuring out how to do this itinerary with the problem of the rental car drop off fees and not backtracking too much to drop the car off in the country we started from. I am even thinking maybe we should concentrate on one of these regions and just do Paris, Bordeaux and the Pays Basque OR Madrid and the Pais Vasco, adding a few other cities to either itinerary to make 11 days.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.
glsebs is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 09:55 AM
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I did a trip to that region in May, but I ended up in Barcelona to drop of my rental car. One of the joys of my life was skirting down the Pyrenees in May, when the spring has the waterfall rushing and the new leaves are so green they make your eyes hurt.

I also visited St Jean de Luz and thought it was a touristy bust. I hung out in Ciboure (it's adjancent little port town), but while St Jean de Luz may be an atmospheric summer resort for those who stay awhile with their families, as a "day trip" destination I think it's just a souvenir shopping experience.

The French basque coast in beautiful but not quite as beautiful as the Spanish basque coast, which is breathtaking. Almost everywhere, the French have developed their tourist and scenic destinations very rigidly, and the Spanish basque coast and mountains retain more adventure and a touch of the wild.

If you go to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, do not eat in the cafeteria and please do see the Richard Serra artwork -- the very best thing about the museum.

Personally, I would either spend all the time in the Pais Vasco and other nearby rural Spanish destinations, or I would repeat my last trip, heading from San Sebastian down through the foothills of the French pyrenees, occasionally ascending to the breathtaking peaks around the Pont d'Espagne (or that area), then down again to get to selected places in Catalonia, along the Costa Brava and in the interior foothills. I would eliminate all the French basque towns, and all French beach spots in general. I drop off my Spanish rental and fly out of Barcelona.
zeppole is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 10:21 AM
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We did a very similar trip in May. Flew into Madrid, rented a car and drove to Segovia for 2 nights. Enjoyed Segovia.
From there we drove to San Sebastian for 4 nights. We liked SS and really enjoyed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (day trip).

We dropped our car at the San Sebastian airport, which is almost on the French border, took a cab to Hendaye in France and actually on the Spanish border to pick up another car, saving us a large dropoff fee. The ride was about 15 minutes and the fare was about 20Euro.

We really loved the French Basque region, particularly St Jean de Luz, where we stayed for 5 nights. We took day trips to Ainhoa and Esplette as well as cute little other Pyrenees towns and enjoyed that as well.
halfempty is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 12:35 PM
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We had 11 nights on the French Basque coast last month (May). We stayed in Bidart, a gorgeous, traditional Basque village, between Biarritz and St Jean De Luz. We rented an apartment with a fantastic view overlooking the coast.

We made one day trip to Spain to see San Sebastian (definitely worth it). It was only 45 minutes drive. The rest of the time we spent in France - mainly on the beach (it was hot) and walking the coastal path on the French side.

Can't help with car hire etc as we are from the UK and took our own car. However I just wanted to say the region is beautiful and you will have a great trip!
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Old Jun 26th, 2010, 01:12 PM
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There does not seem to me to be any advantage to going to Paris at all on this trip. Regardless of the details of the itinerary you plan later, nowhere yo want to go is especially near Paris or far from any other destination on your list. If you start and end in Spain the car drop of issues recedes.
jubilada is online now  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 01:13 PM
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Zeppole: could you give a bit more detail of your route after leaving San Sebastian? Thanks.
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Old Jun 26th, 2010, 02:21 PM
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If you wanted to, you could make the drive in a single long day, via Pau and Toulouse. But I took 10 days.

I first went up along the French Basque to St Jean de Luz, but disliked it, and headed south for St Jean Pied de Port. I had the misfortune to pull into town just at the same moment as 3 or 4 tour buses, so I whipped out my red Michelin and to find another town for lunch.

I picked the Hotel Restaurant Etchemait in Larrau without realizing it was at the apex of a famous climb of the Tour de France, and that getting there would take me straight up some of the highest mountains I have ever driven, and it was gorgeous.

http://www.climbbybike.com/mountainp...e_Larrau_1.jpg

http://www.climbbybike.com/mountainp...e_Larrau_1.jpg

I next went off to Cauterets (via Lourdes-- horrifying!), and toured the area of the Pont d'Espagne, filled with rushing waterfalls in early May, and the best water I have ever tasted in my life

http://www.mulcares.com/town.htm

I then dipped down to St Bertrand des Comminges and other pastoral valley towns, and then back up to Ax-les-Thermes

http://www.francethisway.com/places/...ecomminges.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ax-les-Thermes

At this point, as you may have gathered, no longer had an itinerary but was just having fun, so I crossed over into Spain (I'm now sorry I didn't do it via Andorra), down through Puigcerda and Bourg Madame to take the spectacular drive to Ribes de Freser

http://image04.webshots.com/4/3/98/2...0NlzkKK_fs.jpg

I then went back to France via Camprodon (Spain) and charming Prats-de-Mollo, and stayed in Collioure France

http://commondatastorage.googleapis....al/7649159.jpg

http://trip.weburger.com/img/france/collioure_jpg.jpg

Okay, so here I will just pause to note again that obviously I could have had a really charming and beautiful time just heading along the main highway that goes south from the Basque Coast to the Mediterranean via Pau and Toulouse, with views of the Pyrenees plus no end of beautifully preserved historic French villages and Cathar castles -- but I got addicted to mountain driving.

I got really bored in Collioure, so I spent a few days wandering around that part of France (Ceret, Perpignan, Foix, Banyuls sul Mer), but finally I just headed back into Spain for good. I could have made a bee-line for Barcelona at this point and been there in a few hours, but I had time to spare, so I visited the Catalonian foothills and the Costa Brava -- (Cadaques, Calella de Palafrugell, Castello d'Empuries, Vic, Girona) and I really enjoyed it. I drove my car to the Barcelona airport and took the train into town.

From there I went to Madrid to fly home because I know people there, but I just as easily could have flown to the US from Barcelona.
zeppole is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 02:25 PM
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I meant to give you a link to the Hotel Etchemaite in Larrau.

//www.logishotels.com/fr/hotel-Hotel-Etchemaite-8347.html
zeppole is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 02:31 PM
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I also see my photo of the drive to Ribes de Freser didn't link properly. Try these:

http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/med...n-pyrenees.jpg

http://www.ddgi.cat/atles/imatges/835.jpg
zeppole is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 05:15 PM
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I am the OP and thanks everyone for your advice.

Halfempty, I really appreciate the information regarding dropping off the car in San Sebastian and then renting another one across the border in Hendaye. Where did you rent the car in Hendaye and what rental car company did you use? I think this is a great solution for us!!

Also, I am curious where you went after the Pays Basque....where did you take the return flight?

Also, going to Segovia straight from the Madrid Airport would be a good option for us as well. That way we could get the car at the airport, drive to Segovia which is relatively close to Madrid, get over our jet lag and experience a new city. How long a drive is it to Segovia from Madrid and how long a drive to San Sebastian?

Again, thank so much for your advice....this forum is the best!
glsebs is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 05:27 PM
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I loved Ainhoa, stayed at the Ithurria.
cigalechanta is online now  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 06:59 PM
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We rented the car in Spain from Autoeurope and we rented the car in Hendaye (dropoff in Toulouse) from Avis, the only company we could find that rented in Hendaye (at the train station.) We had to book the rental and then check back in a few days to see if they would have a car for us, which they did; no problem. It surprised me at how quickly and smoothly the car dropoff in Spain, taxi ride and pickup in France went.

Froms the Pays Basque we drove to La Rochelle. I'm guessing it was about a 3 hour drive. (You can check on viamichelin.com.) After 3 enjoyable days in La Rochelle, with a side trip to Ile de Re, we drove to Tremolat for 3 days in the Dordogne. We ended our trip in Toulouse and flew from Toulouse to Frankfurt to NY. It was a great trip!

The drive from Madrid airport to Segovia, I believe was about 1.5 hours and was an easy highway drive. We brought along our GPS, which has European maps and worked just fine,but I think you still need to have a detailed map handy. The drive from Segovia to San Sebastian I think was about 4 to 4.5 hours, but again check on www.viamichelin.com.

Enjoy your trip and if you have any other questions let me know.
halfempty is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 07:12 PM
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Consider going to Bayonne to see the Basque museum there and also to eat chocolate!
jubilada is online now  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 10:11 PM
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Why fly into Paris? It does not fit. You could do into Bilbao and out of Madrid or vice versa and save yourself some time. I did a similar trip last may. St Jean de Luz is worth a visit. Maybe not an overnight but don't discount it despite the opposition on this thread. Same with Bayonne, though accommodations suck. Make the trip. In any case skip a flight to Paris on this. It is way out of the way.
cherrybomb is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2010, 10:18 PM
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Also, if you fly in and out of Spain you won't pay rental overcharges for multicountry dropoff yet can still do all the French basque travelling you want.
cherrybomb is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2010, 12:40 AM
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I would agree with the advice to just fly in and out of Spain. Its different as we drove from the UK, but, we took the ferry to Santander, Spain in order to avoid driving long distances through France.

The French Basque country is small and can be easily reached from Spain if you still want to see some of it. I agree that St Jean De Luz may be worth seeing. The coast road from Hendaye to St Jean is gorgeous. I would also recommend Guéthary, just north of St Jean, if you want to see a traditional French Basque village - its beautiful, as is Bidart just up the coast again. These are worth a visit if it can fit into your itinerary. It is only 45 minutes from San Sebastian.
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Old Jun 27th, 2010, 04:12 AM
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I'll point out that if you choose a version of half-empty's route and end in Toulouse, you can drive to Barcelona from Toulouse in 5 hours. It's another way to avoid switching cars and mutli-country drop off fees, plus you can get non-stop flights back to the US from Barcelona.

You'd have a marvelous drive over the Pyrenees peaks if you like that sort of thing. You go through the high peaks of the Puymorens

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi..._puymorens.jpg
zeppole is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2010, 04:56 AM
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We did the same trip a couple of years ago, flew in and out of Biarritz (via a change in Paris), rented the car, stayed in St Jean du Luz and took day trips to all the places on the Spanish and French side, it was perfect.

we stayed at La Maris - perfect and a great value:

http://www.hotel-lamarisa.com/
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Old Jun 27th, 2010, 08:10 AM
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The reason I mentioned flights to or from Paris on this trip is that I always try to work in at least a couple of days in Paris whenever we are in Europe if possible. It is my favorite city, and it is easy to drop the car in Bayonne and take a train to Paris for a couple of days before our flight back to the US.
glsebs is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2010, 08:15 AM
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You can also easily fly out of Bilbao to Paris.
zeppole is offline  

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