spanish basque country road trip

After our 24ish hours in Bilbao (see more here, if you like), we had our wheels and we were ready to go.  We set off first for Logroño, a decent sized city on the Ebro River.  However, before we could even get there, we were sidetracked by the freedom that having a car offers.  

"Do you think that town looks kind of nice?"  "Yeah, maybe."  "Should we stop?"  "Umm...I don't know...sure."

Ten minutes of driving later... 

"Oh look!  A bull!  Can we stop?"  (No response because of course we were going to stop.)

(Obviously we left our self-control in Bilbao and got to Logroño, and finally, our Airbnb,  much later than planned.)

D - To be honest, if you had asked me for my feelings on road trips a year ago, I would have told you "meh" best!  However, after our first real road trip as a couple around the Isle of Skye (in the spring of this year) turned out to be pretty amazing, I was more open to the concept.  Still, I wasn't tremendously excited when Shannon first pitched this trip idea my way.  I think my hesitation primarily stemmed from the fact that I felt that, in general, driving long distances is boring.  Now I feel totally differently!  I now feel that driving long distances, especially through unknown and interesting landscapes, is a relaxing and reflective activity.  Additionally, as mentioned already twice above, you just can't beat the flexibility (or the potential for fun, spur-of-the-moment stops) that a road trip offers.  

On another note, we love these bulls because they are scattered all across the Spanish countryside.  It's a simple and cool way to unify a country that is composed of so many different regions and cultures.  I think America should have these but I'm not really sure what would be a good symbol.  An eagle?  A hotdog?

We almost skipped Logroño completely because we were running so far behind with our stops in Briones (the tiny town that we had just spontaneously stopped at) and at the roadside bull and vineyard, but once I make an itinerary, I love to stick to it, and in this case, we were glad we did.  It was a beautiful time of day to make a pitstop in Logroño - or probably most anywhere, for that matter.  

We drove about 45 minutes farther to our home/Airbnb for the night, which was located in the small town of Estella.  We arrived after dark when we couldn't see much, which meant that we were in for a pleasant surprise in the morning.  The town is a stop along the Camino de Santiago - we encountered pilgrims and travelers all throughout our trip but especially in towns that are right on the Camino - and is calm and pretty, especially in the early morning.  

We didn't linger too long as we had planned to go hiking at Nacedero Urederra en Baquedano.  Quite a mouthful for a hiking trail, but worth it, I promise.  (Another promise: our photos, while never really the best, definitely don't do this place justice.  I almost don't want to post any because they're all just kind of lame compared to the real thing.)

D - So true!  This is definitely a place where you would want to hashtag #nofilter with all of the pictures you post because the water is so blue it's unbelievable.  Sadly, all I want to do when I see pools of water like this is jump in, but swimming here is STRICTLY forbidden.  The hike takes a couple hours or so (depending on how frequently you stop to ooh and ahh and take pictures) and much of it is next to this magical looking water!  One of my favorite hikes of all time! 

After PB&Js back at the car, our next stop was supposed to be Ochagavia (a little bitty town in the Pyrenees) but of course, we got slightly sidetracked, this time by the village of Esparza de Salazar.  

At this point in our trip we were officially in the Pyrenees, so it seems like a good time to stop and say something.  I was really surprised by the Pyrenees, probably because when I think "mountains" I specifically think "Rocky Mountains," due to growing up in Colorado, but I also just think of rocky and jagged peaks that are often covered with snow at the top (at least part of the year).  Well, we kept driving and driving and I thought: mountains?  More like hills!  (Sorry Pyrenees!)  I think you can find mountains with snow at the top in parts of the Pyrenees, for sure, but where we were just looked more hill-ish. 

We continued to our next mountain town (lol), Ochagavia, and it seemed to be to split along a river/stream.  Really nice.  There was also some sort of festival happening that day, which made it all extra festive and fun during our short visit.

D - This is where I realized that some of my favorite architecture in Spain is in the north.  Though I've yet to actually go to Switzerland, it feels really Swiss to me and it's all so quaint, and cute, and all those types of adjectives.  Walking through some of these towns, and Ochagavia especially, often feels like walking through a real life Disneyland.

We drove on towards our Airbnb, which was slightly off our path towards France and the coast, but it seemed like such an amazing place that we were willing to take a detour.  Sadly, the place was not so great, and we wouldn't recommend staying there (it's called Ekolanda, just in case you ever come across it!).  ALL of the other Airbnbs we stayed at on our trip were great, and I'd be glad to give recommendations if you're in the area, but this was our one letdown.  Thankfully, the scenery there and back and all around was not so bad ;)

In the morning we started driving toward France, but before we arrived in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, one of Danny's favorite moments (one of those "Are we going to stop?" moments that didn't have to be answered because it was so obvious) of the trip occurred: we came across a pony on the side of the road.  

D - Don't deny it.  You would've stopped too.

We spent the rest of the day and the next morning in France, and I'm saving all that for its own "French Basque Country" post mostly because this one is getting to be as big as a medium-size novel, and I had to find some way to break things up.  Spoiler alert: The first time we went to France, I may have sworn I'd never go back.  But time heals all (most?) and I've got French fever now.  

Back in Spain, our first stop was San Sebastián, which I'm also working on another post for.  San Sebastián is kind of a big deal in Spain - it has one of the best urban beaches in Europe, it's well-known for it's pintxos and food, and this year (2016), it's the European Capital of Culture.  When we went to Malta in January I saw that Valletta, its capital, would be the European Capital of Culture in 2018, I looked up other past, current, and future European capitals of culture and determined to try to visit San Sebastián if at all possible this year.  So - more very soon!

When we left San Sebastián we were on a mission to get our rental car back to Bilbao by 4:30pm, and then to get on the train back to Madrid about an hour later.  However, the coast in between San Sebastián and Bilbao is worth seeing and I had plenty of little towns I wanted to stop at, even just for 10 or 15 minutes to get out and stretch our legs and enjoy the view.  Only in one or two did we really wander around - most of them were really brief stops as we were watching the clock pretty closely.  

Zarautz was our first stop...

...and the drive continued.

On through Getaria, Deba, and Ondarroa (very brief stops)...

...and an extended stop in Lekeitio, a really beautiful and lovely town.  Seems like a great place for a relaxing beach weekend in the summer.  

Our very last stop on our Basque country trip was Butrón Castle in Gatika, a place I'd seen on Pinterest and realized it was not far off our route back to Bilbao, and from the pictures, pretty cool.  But, it's Pinterest, never know how it's going to be in real life...

As we turned the corner on the slightly sketchy road, this was our first view:

Not bad.

(Thanks to our rental car for acting as a tripod for the last photo here.)

D - The really interesting thing about this castle is that it seemed to be in good shape, and yet simultaneously, it seemed to be abandoned.  Normally those two characteristics don't really go hand in hand.  It struck us as really odd that we didn't see anyone for the first ten or so minutes we were there until another touristy looking couple drove up to also take pictures.  After doing some research since our visit, I've learned that it's privately owned, and it used to be opened for tourist visits but was closed due to a lack of success.  Too bad!  I once said that the most castle-y castle that I've visited is the one in Manzanares El Real just north of Madrid, but I've changed my vote to Butrón Castle.  It's awesome.

We drove the final 20 minutes to return the car, got a last look at Bilbao on our walk to get dinner to eat on the train, and were back home in Madrid in time for bed.  We had a day to do laundry and go to the grocery store and then we started school the next day!  It was a whirlwind start to the school year, but wow, looking back through the photos and thinking of all we saw and did...I'm pretty glad we made it work.  What a gorgeous and peaceful part of the world.  It was a great introduction to driving in Spain for us (even though I never got behind the wheel, I did all the planning and navigating, so that counts for something, right? ;) and undoubtedly the best way to see Basque country is by car.  

As much as I enjoyed Bilbao, I enjoyed the road trip portion even more - leisurely driving around, stopping when we wanted to explore pretty towns, never wanting to pick up my Kindle because everything out the window was worth looking at, the varied landscapes from "mountains" to sea - I can't say enough good things.  If you're planning a trip to Spain, consider a Basque country road trip (both Spain and France if possible!).