♥ by Julien
We departed from the Dune of Pyla and the beautiful Arcachon Bay to head South, trying to stay as close as possible to the seaside; our first stop led us to Ondres. To get there, we went through some of the most famous surf spots in France: Mimizan, Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains, Hossegor, Capbreton and finally Ondres. Needless to say that each of these places offered us wonderful views despite a rather rainy weather but some of them have struck us more than others. Lacanau and Hossegor in particular left an impression on Eva and will most likely stay some of her soft spots on the French West Coast.
The next morning, we hit the road to find some sun, hopefully, in the French Basque Country. We first crossed Biarritz, with its lovely Victorian buildings. We took our lunch break here, admiring the coastline… and ended up in a hail shower! In a couple of minutes the streets turned white with a thin layer of ice drops. Thankfully it didn’t last but it shows how the overall temperatures dropped.
We continued to Saint-Jean-de-Luz (looovely place) where we spent most of our afternoon, visiting the town, finding a tapas bar with Wifi and trying one of the local specialities: the Gâteau Basque! Eva took one bite and was in love. I have been addicted to it ever since I spent some holidays in the Basque Country, over 20 years ago.
Next on the road: Espelette, the Red Hot Chili Pepper City!
No, I am not talking about music but about actual chili pepper. This is a lovely town with traditional architecture (white old stone houses with red shutters and doors) and “curtains” of chilies hanging on the walls.
Aside from the culinary aspects that we could develop in a separate post (being a chili lover, I could write lengthy posts about it), did you know that it’s actually thanks to Espelette’s women who kept the knowledge of how to grow and use the “Piment d’Espelette” that it became such an important spice in kitchens all over the globe. Nowadays you can find this chili everywhere – even in
chocolates, like the ones produced by Antton… Props to you, Ladies!
After that we finally crossed the Spanish border and went all the way to Orio (near Zarautz). We pushed so far because we needed to refill our GPL tank and were forced to drive all the way to San Sebastian to do so. Once in San Sebastian, we realized we would need to drive further in order to find a nice and quiet place for the night. (Even though San Sebastian at night was a lovely experience, especially with the Christmas lights – makes you want to dress up and go shopping, and to hell with minimalist life!) So we continued along the coast – which turned out to be a silly decision: The Spanish Basque Country is quite hilly, including the coastline. And with the cold wave that has been hitting Europe, it had actually snowed and was still snowing in the mountains. So we took the main (and only) road leading us to Orio, thinking that since it’s following the coast it will be all right, and went gradually higher until the road was narrow and winding, there was snow everywhere and it was dark. What an adventure! But we made it to Orio and spend a veeery windy night on a parking at the beach to recover.
The following day we drove to Torquemada.
A rather uneventful day, marked only by the slow change in the landscape: We started on the highway surrounded by snowy mountains which changed to snowy plains around Burgos to finally reach the region surrounding Valladolid, still flat BUT without snow.
Scattered on the plains all along the motorway were small medieval towns built in ochre-coloured stone. And as we slowly neared Torquemada, we experienced one of the most intense, surreal sunsets since the beginning of our trip. Bright pink and orange sunlight, so warm shining in the otherwise misty rosey dawn, illuminating the sky and almost blinding us as we were driving. It made us feel all warm inside. Torquemada turned out to be one of those sleepy medieval towns, quite beautiful.
After that we went all the way to Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal. We’ll spend at least a month in this beautiful countr.
The road was getting ever nicer as we were approaching the border. It was amazing to see the landscapes change all the time, from huge fields of barren orange red earth to pine tree forests to a rather lush (for the season) mix of forest and green meadows (Eva loved the rough stone walls separating the fields) to boulder fields. It also became much hillier as we reached the Portuguese border. And finally it’s there: the bridge separating both countries! As we crossed it, two things happened: We lost all reception with our (very) recently bought Spanish SIM card (lol) and we were getting into even hillier highways, this time surrounded by olive tree fields. We decided to drive all the way to Porto, in the hopes that we would spend the next day visiting the city. To do so, we skipped a few places which would otherwise have been totally worth visiting, but the call of both ocean and warmer weather was too strong.
Driving on the Portuguese highway was actually really pleasant (the Spanish highway in the North was also excellent). Most highways are free (at least for the foreigners who are not equipped with the local “electronic appliance” which apparently charges the users as they drive by), well-made and give you the feeling to be on a roller-coaster (uuuuup – we had to sometimes even gear down to 3rd gear, and dooooown – using the motor brakes is recommended). Things get messier around and in the bigger cities as most of the highways have three lanes or more and the locals are frequently gap-hopping.
We reached Porto at night and used our trusted app (park4night) to find a campsite “on the beach”. Unfortunately, there was a road separating us from the beach and it was a bit expensive. We still spent the night there since WiFi was included and it allowed us to better plan our visit in Porto (there’ll be a post about that soon).