We only pre-booked summer before leaving Canada, thinking Europe would be a busy place. As August came to a close, we’d been tossing around some ideas on where to spend September and October. Anywhere from Poland to Greece to South of France or even going back to Italy. Every day it was a different location and we just couldn’t decide! Finally, before heading to Bordeaux, we decided to spend a week in Saint-Jean-De-Luz as a potential home for September. We enjoyed Saint-Jean but it wasn’t well suited for Kasm and the cost of living was rather high, not to mention we brought the average age down by A LOT !!
Some friends and family had been suggesting we go to San Sebastián, Spain. It’s only an hour away so why not! Finally a sort of plan in place, starting in San Sebastian – slow travel through Spain to Portugal. That idea lasted about a day before I suggested we rent a car and do a road trip. Hmmm, how did I go from wanting to settle somewhere for a month to bounce around every day?
And it was an awesome idea. We had such a blast driving through Northern Spain. Off-the-beaten-path was the goal and we certainly achieved that. Just a warning, this is a long post so get comfy and grab yourself a drink (Rioja might seem appropriate). And before we start, a huge thanks to my awesome husband, Bruce, for getting the photos done for me. It was a lot of work
We arrived in San Sebastián by bus. It was a stunning drive from Saint-Jean-De-Luz. The hour on the bus felt like 15 minutes as we soaked in the beautiful surroundings. The bus station in San Sebastián is one of the coolest we’ve come across so far.
We headed to our hotel as quickly as we could to drop off our bags. We had less than 12 hours to explore or I should say eat San Sebastián! Once we secured yet another sim card (I’m starting to have a lovely collection), we made our way to the old town to find Atari Gastroteka (Thanks Linda!). The food was fantastic. We managed to eat as much as we could and then set out to walk it off to make room for the next round of Pintxos 😉
We meandered most of the afternoon and finished with a walk along the boardwalk. A quick rest at the hotel and we were ready for round 2 of Pintxos!
Recharged and refreshed, we headed out to find yet another awesome Pintxo bar. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the recommended place but we stumbled upon another which again was delicious. Our serious waiter even cracked a smile when I ordered their local drink, Txakoli.
Even the rain didn’t keep people inside. Everyone seemed to be out and about enjoying the city so we decided to go back to Atari and grab a drink. We sat on the church steps people-watching while Kasm monkeyed around us from step to step. But as the rain picked up, we were forced to go inside. Unlike our North American bars, Spanish don’t mind you bringing a kid into a bar!
We sheepishly intruded on a small table and being Canadians, of course, we had to apologize, which broke the ice and we had a lovely chat with Steve and Mairead from London. We told them about our road trip and how we didn’t have any plans. They had just finished an incredible 3-day stay at an Airbnb in the Basque Country and recommended we give it a try which we did! I’ll tell you all about that soon
Even Kasm was having a great time hanging out with grown-ups and got to chat with Steve about cars. It was so nice to meet this lovely couple and we hope we’ll see them again.
Eventually, we had to pack it in and get the kiddo to bed. What an awesome time we had in San Sebastián. It’s definitely a place where we shall visit again some day.
Let’s hit the road!
We picked up our rental car and named her … “Putt Putt”. A little Skoda that served us well for 2 weeks, though the next driver may not like the gears much 😉
It took a while to get out of the city as Helen, our trusty GPS, was having a bit of a spaz attack and sent us around in circles for a while. Literal circles! What is up with all these roundabouts! We eventually made it on the highway and barely 15 minutes into the drive, saw a cute little village. I’m pretty sure it took longer to get out of San Sebastián than the drive down the highway to Zaroutz. Oh yah, you have to sound like Groot when you pronounce this town. Ok, maybe not. But it sounds more fun ;-). We spent a couple of hours watching the surfers followed by a lovely lunch at a Pintxo bar before continuing towards Bilbao.
And that’s when it got a little tricky. I found a Pensione just outside of Bilbao but we missed our exit and ended up smack middle of the city and Helen decided to go fritzy on us again and I mean total wacko. We drove around circles for an hour or so before finally getting out of the city. We had a good laugh about it later but boy oh boy!
We finally made our way to this so called Pensione but the area made us a little uncomfortable so decided to get in the car and just drive to the next village, Castro Urdiales.
And the rain began! It wasn’t just a drizzle! It was raining cats and dogs. Driving a standard, not knowing where you are going and not speaking the language – Ok, perhaps this whole let’s see where the road will take us isn’t such a brilliant idea! The town looked like a decent size beach resort but no hotels! What is up with that?! We found one Pensione but parking and location were rather iffy and that’s how we ended up in an expensive hotel where the bathroom was literally bigger than some of the flats we stayed in! It’s one night so let’s just enjoy it. Tomorrow we’ll hit the reset button and get organized . Oh, did I mention they had bathrobes! Yup, I got excited about bathrobes 😉
Let’s hit the road… AGAIN!
That night, I booked a Pensione not far from Bilbao. Since it was going to be rainy we figured the best thing to do is visit a museum. We are not far from the Guggenheim and it would be a shame to miss it. With minds at ease knowing we had a place to sleep that night, we headed to the museum. If you are in Bilbao, do not miss the Guggenheim. It’s a must-see place. The outside is even more gorgeous than the inside.
Once we had our fill of the museum, we headed to our Pensione in Zierbena. We couldn’t quite figure this place out. One hotel with 4-5 restaurants scattered about at what seemed to be fishing port but there were no people about!
That evening we met George and Debbie from Vancouver Island. Huh! Another Canadian staying at this place? Even the owner was shocked that he had two Canadian reservations!
George and Debbie were taking a cruise from Spain but they ended up at the wrong port. We chatted for a while and offered to drive them in the morning.
The next morning we drove to their port of departure, had breakfast and got to chat with them for a bit. What an interesting couple. They travel quite a bit. They do Couchsurfing which inspired us to look into it and give it a try one of these days.
The Beautiful Asturias
We said our goodbyes and headed to our next destination. Three nights in a farmhouse in Asturias run by a German couple.
We continued our drive towards Asturias along the coast and stopped at some gorgeous beaches. One in particularl had us in stitches because of the name. Helen the iPhone GPS kept saying Poo and who doesn’t laugh at that?! Playa del Poo was the beach. Spanish sure have a sense of humor with names 😉
We visited another beach with a hidden entrance. We wouldn’t have found it if we didn’t follow some surfers in It was stunning and lots of surfers about enjoying some big waves.
We got to our Airbnb run by German expats, Barbara & Thomas. Kasm was quite excited. They have two dogs, two cats, and a goat! Our apartment was huge. We had more space than we knew what to do with. The place was perfectly located. We were no more 20-30 minute drive from some awesome sites which we got to explore over the next two days.
Cangas de Onis & Picos de Europa
Today’s plan was to drive to the Lakes of Covadonga atop the Picos de Europa but before getting there we made a stop at Cangas de Onis to explore the town. One of the notable sites here is the Roman Bridge, the best-known symbol for the principality of Asturias. The Bridge dates back to Medieval times.
One thing that caught our attention was the gorgeous mansions (Casas Indianas) that are just abandoned, left to slowly recycle back to nature. Their haunting beauty is mesmerizing and rather sad. How can they just be left like this? Apparently, in the mid-1800s there was a big wave of immigration between Asturias and Central and South America. The wealthy Asturians with ties back to their homeland built these stunning colonial homes but I suppose at some point decided to abandon them.
After Cangas de Onis, we headed towards the Lakes of Covadonga. But beware as the drive up to the lakes is terrifying. It’s steep, winding, and there are no barriers between the narrow road and the sheer drop into a gorgeous scenery (which I only noticed on the way back down). I couldn’t even look out the window and Kasm had his eyes closed most of the drive up. I’m convinced the car was just a couple of inches away from a horrifying drop. The distance from the village to the top is just a few kilometers but it felt like an eternity to get there. And what a relief it was to pull into the parking lot! You instantly forget how terrifying the drive was once you see the lakes. They sit at an altitude of 1,108 meters between Llucia and Bricial peaks. There is also an old mine near the lakes which was still active in the 1970s. Kasm really enjoyed running through it. We almost missed it as Bruce and I wanted to go in a different direction than Kasm but he was persistent and I’m glad we complied.
Beaches Of Asturias
Even though it was too cold for swimming, we still headed over to check out a couple of beaches. First one is an inland beach,Playa del Gulpiyuri , which only fills up when the tide is in. We went too early but it was still a pretty sight and we could see the caves where the water from the ocean comes in to fill it.
We then headed over to Playa del Silencio and Kasm even changed into his bathing suit hoping to jump in the water. It’s a bit of a climb to get down to this beach but it’s stunning. Unfortunately, you can’t really swim at this beach. We soaked in the beauty around us before heading to a town nearby for a late lunch.
This place, hands down is one of the prettiest seaside towns we’ve ever been to. The camera clicked away non-stop while we roamed around. Lunch was quite delicious too and of course, there was the bottle of wine that got served with our meal! We just couldn’t get used to restaurants serving us a whole bottle of wine every time! It’s included in the price of the meal which is very reasonable. You get a 3-course meal for 12€ (18CAD) and that includes the wine!
Ok back to Cudillero. Since we consumed a bottle of wine, we needed to walk it off before heading home. It gave us a chance to really enjoy this pretty town and snap lots of photos. The town is built on a hill (of course!) facing the ocean and as you meander up the narrow alleyways uphill you get a gorgeous view.
We had planned to go back to Playa del Gulpiyuri to catch the tides coming in but we were just too tired and headed back to the house. Oh well, next time!
Next Stop: Santiago de Compostella
As some of you might know, our adventure was inspired a by a movie called “The Way”. Bruce and I turning 50 and 40, wanted to do something big to celebrate. We considered the Camino walk or just taking a summer to travel and I suggested why not travel for a year and Bruce’s response, “Great Let’s Go”. And that’s how the site was born !
We were only a few hours from Santiago and couldn’t miss seeing the end of the “El Camino de Santiago”. We booked one night and hit the road. The town surprised us by its beauty and we both wished we had booked more than a night. We meandered through the narrow typical European streets and watched as the hikers trickled in heading towards the famous Cathedral. The Inside of the Cathedral is stunning. Unfortunately, the outside was under construction so we couldn’t really take any photos.
To La Rioja, With A Quick Stop In Léon
We had a long drive back to La Rioja so decided to break up the trip and spend a night in Léon. Another pretty town that we didn’t really get to explore. We did have a nice meal and our apartment was very comfortable. We were anxious to get to our next destination. We had booked four nights at Casa Verde in La Rioja and very much looked forward to it after bouncing around every night!
The Wine region was everything we had hoped for and we spent three full days exploring it from visits to Bodegas to a 160-million-year-old cave to ruins of a Monastery from the 7th century to simply taking a walk to a serene river near our bed & breakfast. We enjoyed it so much that it deserved its own post and you can read all about it here.
Back To The Basque Country
We’d been looking forward to this part of the trip! Kasm couldn’t wait to get there. Steve and Mairead in San Sebastián told us about Phil’s Airbnb. It’s a totally off-the-beaten-path rustic farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Keep in mind that you need to be a nature lover to spend time at this place. We arrived at the tiny village of Elortza with population 11! I think that’s what Phil told me 😉
We booked two nights which gave us a full day of exploring and the only thing Kasm wanted to do was check out the caves and hang out with the donkeys. Once we settled into our room, we took a walk to check out the area. The creek across the street amused Kasm as there were crayfish and other sorts of critters in it. He really wanted to meet the donkeys so along with Phil, we brought the donkeys some water. Momo and Django are some cool donkeys. Kasm got to even feed them some apples.
That evening, Phil made us Pizza and we sat around and shared some stories over drinks. Teaching us about Spanish history and sharing stories about some of the lovely folks he’s met. We managed to get to bed on the early side as we had an adventure-filled day ahead of us. Phil was up long before us preparing a picnic for the trek. This place was by far one of the most generous places we’ve stayed at. Our host shared his lovely home with us, he cooked all our meals during the stay and shared his precious time to bring us on a trek and caving. The experience was very much appreciated.
We loaded Momo up with the picnic and Kasm got to ride Django. Along with Phil’s trusty dog, Tximista, we headed up the mountain to check out Phil’s cave and what a cave it was! This is no tourist cave. We actually had done a tour of 160-million-years old cave in Rioja but it had been tourist-proofed, with a locked doorway, great lighting and a steel grate floor in most parts. This was something else!
If you didn’t know the cave, you would have easily walked past the entrance. It’s just a small hole in the ground. We got the headlamps on and headed into the belly of the cave. I’m a little claustrophobic so I didn’t know how this was gonna go down.
The cave is pitch dark and maybe a little scary but so much fun. We had to slither through openings sideways and even crawl on our backs through a hole that’s no wider than our bodies. I’m shocked and proud that I did it! This is SO COOL!
When we finally got to the end of the cave, we turned the lights off and sat in total stillness to soak in awesomeness of the cave. Not a sound to be heard. It was incredibly peaceful.
On the way out of the cave, one of the permanent residents decided to make an appearance. A horseshoe bat that didn’t mind sitting for a portrait!
And that was an awesome end to our Spanish road trip. It was exactly what we hoped for!