Last summer my friend and I embarked on a journey by road starting out in the UK and driving through France and Spain. I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do and learned many interesting facts along the way. Making sure we had our road trip packing sorted (there’s lots to remember!) we travelled via train to Dover, where we took a P&O ferry across the Channel to Calais. From here we collected our hire car.
So, once we collected the car we set off on our journey through France. I was not very confident to drive on the other side of the road, but I received a few helpful tips beforehand to help prepare me! Two hours later and fortunately no crashes, we arrived at Le Harve. This was a pleasant town, but rather boring so we quickly moved on to our first tourist stop- the D Day Beaches in Normandy. This is the place where the battles of Normandy took place and were very interesting to see, although also slightly sombre.
Once we had visited the beaches it was time to pitch up for the night and we found a camp site around an hour’s drive south. It was raining and getting dark so putting up the tent was a challenge, but we got there in the end! Among other advantages, having the car with us allowed us to take as much luggage as we wanted (a luxury we are not used to when flying!) and we could wrap up warm for the night,tomorrow we were heading to warmer climates!
The next day we jumped back in the car and travelled further south, paying brief visits to various places along route including the impressive Mont St Michael, France’s second most popular tourist attraction. At the end of the day we camped out at a delightful little campsite in the countryside. We popped to the local supermarket in the car and picked up some delicious French wine, baguettes and cheese and spent the evening relaxing over the camp fire.
Having the car was such a Godsend, it meant that we had the freedom to come and go as we wanted and our itinerary was planned to suit all of our needs. If we felt like sleeping in longer in the morning we would, if we fancied stopping for lunch we would and if we saw an interesting detour we would scrap our original itinerary for the day and head off on a new adventure! Throughout our trip we visited many wonderful sights that simply wouldn’t have been possible without the car (and the bargain price)!
One of my highlights was the Dune de Pilat- huge sand dunes that are constantly moving due to the wind, they have moved so much that they have even swallowed buildings and trees! I never knew there was anything like this in Europe but I’ve since heard that there are dunes like this in Lithuania too.
Another highlight was visiting Oradour Sur Glane. This is an area that was horrifically attacked by the Nazi’s in 1944, and to this day has been left untouched. The town has sunken cars, furniture and household goods still intact and you can see bullet holes and evidence of the massacre everywhere you look. It is eerily quiet and it really does feel like you have stepped back in time. This is one of the saddest, but most interesting tourist sites I have visited, and it is off the beaten track so does not attract the mass tourist. Again, this is another place that would have been difficult to reach without the car.
In third place for my favourite attractions in France that I visited as part of the road trip is Lascaux ii. This is a replica cave containing some of the best known upper paleolithic art, claimed to be17,300 years old! This was another site that was off the beaten track and certainly tops my list as the oldest thing (ok it was the replica but it did look/feel just like the real thing!) I have ever seen!
After a fantastic few days in France and a quick trip to the lovely coastal area of Biarritz, we took the car across the boarder to Spain. Here we explored some of the beautiful Spanish countryside and beaches including San Sebastian and Bilbao and had a relaxing few days. Had we timed it differently, we could have caught the much acclaimed Festival de Jazz de San Sebastián. Nonetheless, the weather by this time was great and we could sit outside in the evenings drinking sangria and cooking food on the barbecue.
From the west coast we drove across to Pamplona for the pinnacle point in our trip- San Fermin festival. San Fermin is an annual festival held each year in Pamplona and is better known as the Running of the Bulls. For three days we drank lots of cava and sangria and partied hard in our traditional red and white outfits. The atmosphere was absolutely fantastic and everybody joined in the celebrations, from children to the elderly. The bulls ran each morning and the very drunk or very competitive decided to join in the run, being trampled and pushed about in the process (fortunately nobody died whilst I was there, but it has been known!).
Finally, we drove back through Spain and France to Calais. We had a fantastic trip. I met locals, practiced both my French and Spanish (of which neither are fantastic) and we saw so many things that just would not have been possible without the hire car. As an independent traveller, I love to have the freedom to go and come as I please, and this trip was fantastic. I would definitely recommend!
Despite being so close to home, this has to be one of my favourite trips I have done.
Thinking of going on a road trip through France and Spain? Do it, do it, do it!