It's been about a year since I traveled around northern Spain and southern France for three weeks with my then boyfriend and I'm still thinking about the fun times we had. We started in Barcelona - doing all the touristy things like visiting Park Güell (a definite must) and eating lots of jamón and cheese in the markets (inevitable). We then we headed north to Cadaqués and Parque Natural Cap de Crues, which was unexpectedly fantastic. From that small, rocky peninsula, we booked it west to Logroño for delicious wine tasting and pinxtos eating. Then we moseyed north to explore Basque country (by donkey!) and drive along the stunning Bay of Biscay coastline from Elantoxbe to San Sebastian. For the second half of our trip, we entered into France and slowly made our way along the scenic north slopes of the Pyréneés until we reached the Mediterranean. Then it was back south to Barcelona where we started, completing our epic loop. There were lots of memorable adventures along the way - as can be expected - but these seven really stand out in my mind when I revisit our journey.
Biking through Barcelona
On one of our days in Barcelona, we decided to rent bikes and see the city on two wheels. It was a GREAT decision. Bikes - in my opinion - are one of the best ways to see a place because you can cover some distance, but still have the flexibility to go (mostly) where you want at a slow pace. Cars, buses, and trains simply move too fast to actually see and enjoy a location. We started out in the narrow stone streets of the Gothic and Born quarters, swerving and weaving our way through people, and then made our way down the busy La Rambla to the paved pedestrian pathway that lines the Mediterranean coastline. Once we hit the ocean, we steered our bike handles to the left and slowly pedaled down a wide walkway decorated with palm trees. The sandy beaches that we passed on our right were mostly empty because it was too cold and windy for sunbathing, but we did see several incredibly detailed sand sculptures including a fire-breathing dragon! As we continued on, we had no destination in mind, we were simply enjoying the fresh, salty air and the freedom of being on bikes. When we got to the deserted Parc del Fòrum, which was built for the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures, but now stands mostly empty, we turned our bikes around and headed back to the city for some early tapas and wine.
Hiking in Parque Natural Cap de Crues
I'm not really sure why we chose to make the trip north from Barcelona to Cadaqués and Parque Natural Cap de Crues, but it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. The drive alone from Roses (where the peninsula 'begins') to Cadaqués is stunning - amazing views of the glistening, blue Mediterranean Sea and acres and acres of silver olive groves separated by old stone walls. The town of Cadaqués is equally lovely - whitewashed and quaint. I think many Spanish and French families go there for holidays. The best feature for us, though, was hiking in the Park. After spending the night at a great Airbnb, we explored the rugged coastline and trails for a good 5-6 hours the next day. The area around the lighthouse is great, but there's also a fantastic network of trails in surrounding areas. At one point, we even startled a family of wild boar!
Visiting the Wine Bodegas of Laguardia
I may not be a wine enthusiast (or wine snob if you will) but I definitely have a big love and appreciation for the stuff, so a stop in the Rioja region was a must. Since we were in Spain just before tourist season (late March), there weren't many wine tours or wineries open, but that was fine with us since we tend to shy away from those kinds of things anyways. Instead, we headed to the medieval walled town of Laguardia (no cars allowed in the narrow, stone-lines streets) which is well known for its underground wine caves and bodegas. We dipped down into the underbelly of Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre and sampled wines in different stages of fermentation while breathing in the dank, musty scent of the cellars. All throughout the catacombs there were wines fermenting in open vats, wines stored in big oak barrels, and wines sealed in dusty bottles waiting for the 'perfect' moment to drink. We definitely drank our share of wine that day...
Donkey Trekking in the Basque Country
This may have been - no, this WAS - my favorite part of the trip. You see, I kind of love donkeys. A lot. So when I saw an Airbnb listing in the Basque country with 'donkey trekking' advertised, there was no hesitation. Momo and Django (and Phil - our host) did not disappoint. We took them out for an all day trek and it was fabulous. More than fabulous. We went at donkey speed, so I don't think we actually covered many miles (6 or 7 maybe?), but we got to see some parts of Basque country that not many visitors get to see. Phil even took us into a deep, dark limestone cave that extended well back into the hills. At the deepest point (after wriggling our way through some scary tight spots), there was a bit of graffiti on the cave walls - some entries went back to the early 1900's, which was pretty cool. Not that I support graffiti... When we stopped for lunch at the top of a steep bluff looking out over a valley, I had to defend my tortilla de patata from Momo who tried everything - from sneaking up behind me to extending his neck and lips to full potential - to get a bite. Well, more like a couple of bites because I couldn't resist giving him a taste... The grand finale was riding Django back into town.
We had been told that the 'gem' of the north Basque coast is San Sebastian. And while San Sebastian is great, we thought that Zarautz was even better - more our style: small, laid back, fewer tourists. We had only planned on staying one night, but we extended that to two because we absolutely loved the place. The beaches are beautiful, it's got some excellent restaurants, and we just felt welcome by the locals, a feeling that is sometimes missing in larger tourist towns. The hike that our Airbnb host sent us on was also fantastic. We took some back roads past vineyards that look out over the ocean, walked through a crumbling and graffitied coliseum, and descended over into the neighboring town of Getaria. Part of this hike was on the famous Camino de Real route. Hungry by the time we got to Getaria, we sat down for a splendid three course lunch and split a bottle of wine that went straight to our dehydrated heads. After lazily walking around town for a bit, we headed back to Zarautz via the oceanside walkway that connects the two towns.
L'Ancienne Bergerie Bed and Breakfast and Surrounding Area
What a FIND! We were driving through the middle of nowhere-France, wondering where we were going to spend the night when we happenchanced upon L'Ancienne Bergerie. Becks and Kevin - the proprietors of the bed and breakfast - had transformed an old stone barn into a cozy and luxurious bed and breakfast for off-the-beaten path tourists. Overlooking the slopes of the Pyrenees and situated in a quaint valley with a river running through it, L'Ancienne Bergerie is honestly a gem. Furthermore, Becks is an amazing chef and cooked us - and one other other couple - a gourmet three-course dinner accompanied by flowing wine and great conversation (although I assured the Spanish couple that Trump would never win the 2017 presidential election 😫). The next day, after a breakfast of local jams, cheese, and freshly made hot cross buns, Becks send us out on a walking tour through the backwoods. We got slightly lost, but reorientated ourselves and eventually came across a goat dairy where we ogled over baby goats and purchased some delicious freshly made goat cheese. Our only regret is not staying for another night (or week or month....)
The last stop of our trip before heading back to Barcelona was the picturesque sea town of Collioure in southern France. Whenever we had asked for recommendations of places to visit in southerb France (for our travel schedule is very 'loose'), people would always recommend Collioure first. And for good reason. It's a beautiful little whitewashed, pastel town right on the water with great restaurants, lots of boutique shops, and plenty of room for relaxation. We played cards, walked the artsy streets, explored the royal castle, ate good food, and sipped amazing wines. It was the perfect ending to a great trip.
So there you have it - my top 7 favorite memories/experiences from our three week trip through northern Spain and southern France!