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Danielm Mar 7th, 2012 04:49 PM

San Sebastian (via French Pyrénées) to Barcelona
I know, there are already posts about San Sebastian -> Barcelona... but I have yet to see one that provides details about the best places to drive through on the French side.

I will be driving from San Sebastian to Barcelona and have two days for that (expecting to leave on Wednesday noon and hoping to arrive by Thursday night or Friday morning).

I was considering going from SS to Biarritz and then continue through Midi-Pyrenees (heard about Chèze and Cauterets..) and south back to Spain and continue to Barcelona. According to Google Maps it's around 600km but considering that we want to drive through scenic roads and magical villages, it might take over 8-9 hours and require an overnight. What can you recommend, without going too north in France (i.e. Toulouse)?

Thanks again!

susanna Mar 7th, 2012 05:05 PM

I"m actually interested in almost the same itinerary, but, I will drive from say Biarritz to Arles, after a week in San Sebastian, taking two days to do so and want to drive through the French Pyrenees also so I'll be interested in the answers that you get

When do you plan to do this? My trip will be the end of June.

Michael Mar 7th, 2012 05:45 PM

You can look at my trip report from last summer, part of which covers the French Basque area; click on my name to find it.

And these are the photos form the other parts of the French Pyrenees. They are geo-tagged so that their actual location is easy enough to follow:

The Languedoc, Roussillon, Tarn Gores Michelin Green Guide probably covers the same area as the pictures, plus some. The Atlantic Coast Green Guide covers the French Basque country.

Michael Mar 7th, 2012 05:46 PM

Tarn Gor<b>g</b>es

Danielm Mar 8th, 2012 03:00 AM

I'm leaving on March 26 and my trip is just 6 days long.

Viajero2 Mar 8th, 2012 03:31 AM

I recommend heading out towards Biarritz, then on to Saint Jean Pied de Port (do NOT miss!), on to Pamplona, on to Barcelona.

Danielm Mar 8th, 2012 03:45 AM

Thanks, is it possible to go from Saint Jean Pied de Port through Parc National des Pyrénées and drive from there to Spain? For some reason I was thinking of driving in France on my way to Barcelona, rather than Spain. Or are there any places that I should not miss from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Barcelona in Spain? (I'm interested in stopping at a vineyard somewhere if you know one).


kimhe Mar 8th, 2012 06:56 AM

In Spain from Saint Jean Pied de Port (agree, do not miss), down towards wonderful little Isaba and then on to Torla at the foot of the spectacular Ordesa and Monte Perdido national Park. Spend the night and morning here and go on to Barcelona after that.


I also love little Isaba down in the valley en route from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Torla.

uhoh_busted Mar 8th, 2012 07:21 AM

Kimhe has your back on this topic. It is beautiful country and you will enjoy it...just may find yourself planning for a longer return trip as soon as you get back ;-)

Michael Mar 8th, 2012 07:22 AM

<i>(I'm interested in stopping at a vineyard somewhere if you know one).</i>

Madiran is in the foothills of the Pyrénées.

Danielm Mar 8th, 2012 07:49 AM

Awesome comments. Thank you ALL. I'm going to check all of these places.

Michael Mar 8th, 2012 08:22 AM

<i>Thanks, is it possible to go from Saint Jean Pied de Port through Parc National des Pyrénées and drive from there to Spain?</i> allows you to plug in an itinerary between two points with intermediary locations and choose the type of road you want to take (direct, scenic, toll free, etc.). You might find the site useful.

Danielm Mar 8th, 2012 09:20 AM

Thanks Michael, I found Google Maps to be more intuitive. Though neither of them provides me with personal experiences regarding where to stop.

Michael Mar 8th, 2012 09:41 AM

<i>Though neither of them provides me with personal experiences regarding where to stop</i>

That was not the question that I answered and which mapping does not answer; it had to do with routing for areas that you seem to have chosen. Fodor's is where you get the personal experience.

Rastaguytoday Mar 8th, 2012 02:50 PM

Several years ago, a friend and I took a trip up into the Spanish side of the Pyranees. We drove from Donostia (SS)up through the mountains and spent the night in Jaca, a very nice town.

The next day we headed north into the Parque Nacional de Ordesa. We then skirted the Pyranees as far as we could, and then drove on to Barcelona.

It was a very enjoyable trip.

zeppole Mar 8th, 2012 05:11 PM


A few years ago I rented a car in San Sebastian and ultimately dropped in off in Barcelona. In between, I crisscrossed the high Pyrenees, from the French side to the Spanish side, mainly spending nights on the French side.

If you are leaving in a few weeks, most of the Pyrenees will be impassable, on both sides of the border. Roads will be closed. In lower elevations, you would still need to be very careful about ice and fog, and generally unstable weather. (I traveled in mid-May, and roads had only just opened).

I found St Jean Pied de Pont unpleasantly touristy. I spend all of 10 minutes in the town. I felt the same way about St Jean de Luz (its neighboring pinspeck of a port, Ciboure, is more charming). It is possible in March, however, that the tourist-corn and tour bus factor is at a minimum.

By skirting along the low foothills on the French side, you can probably avoid weather issues and still find plenty of charm and nice warming food, but the time of year you are traveling is liable to torrential spring rains and unstable weather almost no matter where you go near the Mediterranean. Consult the internet every day for the latest weather and consult the locals too. Avoid gorges and river beds, and other very off the beaten track rural routes without some advance intelligence.

Viajero2 Mar 9th, 2012 03:56 AM

zeppole wrote-- "I found St Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP) unpleasantly touristy." I visited St. Jean Pied de Port in late May 2011 and had The Citadelle to myself (BTW, SPECTACULAR views of the French countryside from that standpoint!). SJPDP is a popular start point for the Camino de Santiago ("French Way") and many of the folks/tourists you see are actually pilgrims about to cross the Pyrenees on to the Camino (which is what I was doing last May :-D ).

I do agree with the warning on weather, it can change abruptly and I noticed long road sections quite isolated. The road SJPDP-Pamplona is a bit tricky as far as hills and curves. Agree also with the strong advanced reconnaissance advice.

zeppole Mar 9th, 2012 06:08 AM

Okay. I found St Jean Pied de Port unpleasant as the starting point of pilgrim crowds. I can't be the only person who has noticed how badly pilgrims often behave. :D

Danielm Mar 9th, 2012 03:38 PM

Ok, so just curious: going from SJPDP and driving east through the foothills of Parc National des Pyrenees, where should I stop on the way to Barcelona? Stopping at either Torla or Isaba means going back and adding more time to my trip.

Michael Mar 9th, 2012 05:11 PM

Use to find hotels and restaurants that you would like.

Danielm Mar 10th, 2012 12:12 AM

Don't mean hotels or restaurants. What cities or villages or worth checkin out?

zeppole Mar 10th, 2012 04:46 AM

There are a couple of online guides to that area, for example:

and the Blue Guides for that area of France are very good. Part of the fun of touring that area with a car is being experimental --- and also being flexible so you don't get caught in weather jams.

Some of the ski resorts and thermal bath towns (Ax-les-Thermes, Cauterets) may have their roads cleared year-round. But you really need to check beforehand.

The area is rich with caves and some cave paintings -- but check ahead for opening hours.

If nothing else, you can stick to the main superhighway and zoom down to the coast, taking in Castelnaudary, Carcassone and Narbonne en route. In off-season, without the tourists, towns like Collioure might be more interesting, and Port-Vendres might be hauntingly pretty with delicious food.

zeppole Mar 10th, 2012 04:53 AM

by the way, Castelnaudary has a reputation for being the home of cassoulet, and March is really the ideal time to eat it. This is an old thread, but it gives you an idea. You should double check on Chowhound for more recent restaurant recommendations:

Danielm Mar 10th, 2012 06:43 AM


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