With a surface area of more than half a million square kilometers, Spain has more than enough room for you to travel around. You can wander around there for years and still have the feeling that you haven’t seen everything. We have explored every corner of the country and selected 2 of many beautiful car routes, from the mystical northwest to the Moorish southeast.
Between peaks and mountain lakes, Ruta Pireneo Catalan
From Girona airport, you can reach the Catalan Pyrenees in an hour by rental car. It is teeming with natural parks with great hiking trails along mountain lakes, waterfalls and peaks with eternal snow. Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes I Estany de Sant Maurici is by far the most popular and therefore already quite touristy. To the east lies the Alt Pireneu park with the highest peak of Catalonia, the Pica d’Etats (3,143).
The car route leads through breathtaking landscapes and the highest village in Catalonia, Rubió (1,687 meters). When we drove there, we saw a couple of vultures and eagles above us. Amazing! Drive via Banyoles, Besalú, and Ripoll to the picturesque town of La Seu d’Urgell, home to the bishop of Urgell who since 1277 has also been the co-president of the nearby country of Andorra. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, there is a market in the center. Farmers and women from the surrounding area come to the town to sell their fruit and vegetables. You buy a large bag of peaches there for one euro. Then that trunk of your rental car will come in handy.
Another charming place is Vielha in the Val d’Aran, where you can see the wild beginning of the river Garonne. Don’t take the main route and avoid tourist spots. For example, Espot, the gateway to Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes I Estany de Sant Maurici, is the place where all foreign tourists clump together, while in Esterri d’Aneu, a little further away, only Spaniards enjoy the mountain air on cozy terraces.
Fly to Girona or Barcelona and rent a car there. Our tip: rent a car at Sunny Cars. All the insurances you need and a refund of the excess are included in the all-inclusive price. Even damage to the glass-tire bottom or roof of the rental car is covered as standard. So you know exactly where you stand and have no hassle on site. Sunny Cars has dozens of local partners where you can pick up the car. All choice. Will it be a nice convertible, comfortable family car or a cool jeep?
You can spend the night in the parador of La Seu d’Urgell or in the cozy El Terrat Sobre el Mercat in the center of ‘Seu’.
Also in Vielha is a Parador with a magnificent view of the mountains. Most campsites are situated on the road to Espot. Do bring an extra blanket, because the nights can be cold here, even in summer. Hiking maps are available at the campsite and in the hotels.
Basque fishing villages, Ruta del mar
The Basque country is becoming more and more touristy. Popular is a tapa tour in San Sebastián and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Of course, you shouldn’t skip that. But feel free to take two weeks and drive from one city to another via the magnificent coastal route. On the left side the green mountain landscape, including cows with bells, gives you the feeling of driving through Switzerland, and on the other side the rocks, beaches, and the Cantabrian Sea.
The trick is to get off the motorway as much as possible and follow the coast. You will pass beautiful fishing villages, sometimes with a beach and sometimes only with a small harbor like the fishing village Elantxobe, where the youngsters dive into the sea from the quay. Park your car at the top and then walk down. Don’t forget to visit the chapel of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe on an island in the sea, recently world-famous as the location where scenes from Game of Thrones were shot. The walk there is beautiful but that is not the only reason why this chapel is so popular. According to folk tales, John the Baptist would have been here.
Many Basques believe that there is a healing effect from the island. Nice place to stay is Mundaka, where you can watch the boats in the harbor from Hotel El Puerto. Do take a room at the back because the terrace in front of the hotel is cozy until the early hours.
Our tip: fly on Bordeaux. Easyjet has cheap flights to Bordeaux and from there you can take your rental car and drive around the Basque art. Don’t forget Hondarribia, just across the border. A beautiful historic town by the sea. The route then goes past San Sabastián, Zarautz, Mutriku, Leikitio, Mundaka, and Gorlitz.
In Mundaka, camping Portuondo is popular with surfers because the sea at Mundaka is known as a surfing paradise. There are bungalows for rent.