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FRANCE, SPAIN BY CAMPER

Trip report: being crazy in Pamplona, surfing on the Atlantic and kayaking in the Ardèche
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BASQUE COUNTRY BY CAMPER: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Here below some of the most fascinating photos from this camper trip to France and Spain. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/france-spain-camper.htm.

Hendaye
Hendaye

FRANCE AND SPAIN BY CAMPER: TRIP REPORT AND PHOTOS

On a Friday evening of July, after work, two friends and I left the Italian Riviera and we set off in the direction of Spain. We were driving an old Mercedes Vito with a roof-top tent. After five hours of boring highway between Liguria and French Riviera, we stopped at the nice Aix-en-Provence when it was already 1 AM.

We left early, taking turns at driving. Montpellier, Narbonne, Carcassonne (a beautiful view), Toulouse, Pau... In the afternoon we finally left the motorway and we headed towards the Pyrenees. We stopped in the charming medieval village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, one of the starting points of the Camino de Santiago, a very good business, and in fact it was full of tourists. Deservingly so, as the citadel is beautiful.
St Jean Pied De Port
St Jean Pied De Port - This quaint town is on the Santiago de Compostela trail.
A few miles later, we arrived at Roncesvalles Pass and then in Spain. We drove down to Pamplona, our first destination. It was seven o'clock in the evening when we entered the town, greeted by surreal images. Groups of hundreds of people, all dressed in white with red scarves and belts, walked the streets. It was in fact the first day of the week-long San Fermin festival.
Pamplona San Fermin
Pamplona - San Fermin - All roads of Pamplona's town center get completely full.
We parked next to other vans, in a large area, not far from the center, dedicated to campers, the dirtiest place I've have ever seen. Almost everybody was drunk.
We climbed up to the walls of Pamplona and its historic center.
It was a real mess. Crowded alleys, drunk people, broken glass, music, people dancing, strong smells… We ate some bocadillos with jambon serrano (ham sandwiches) and we drank wine and sangria, but mostly we wandered randomly through the city.
In Pamplona, during the week of San Fermin, every morning at 8 AM it is held the "encierro", the bull run. We walked along its route, looking for a good observation point for the next morning. We memorized a small square in a good location.
When we arrived at the square where the race would start the following morning, we saw the bulls, locked in a fence. The festival of San Fermin was vey strange and lively and fascinating. In Pamplona the night was crazy. It was 2 or 3 AM when we went to sleep.
The next morning we woke up at 6 AM with the hope to find a good place to watch the bull run. Being the first Sunday of celebration, there were a lot of people around: Basques, tourists, runners and drunks from the night before.
Despite the chaos, we found a place in the square we had noticed the day before. Many runners were in the street to run with the bulls and try to touch their horns, hence showing their courage (or insanity). The police drove away from the road the drunks and everybody wearing a backpack. People perched on the fences were thrown in the middle of the track.
There was a bell sound in the distance. The multitude of people on the race course began to run. The bulls suddenly appeared, impressively strong and fast. In two seconds they run through the part of the course that we could see from our place. In those quick moments, we noticed someone falling to the ground.
The tension level in the crowd suddenly dropped. Some people were disappointed because they hadn't seen anything. There was an injured person on the road who was rescued by the police. Shortly after some cows run by. No-one considered them, poor things: the show was all about the bulls.
We started walking following the crowd towards the bull arena. The "Plaza de Toros" was the final destination of the race. We entered it with many others. By climbing and pushing and shoving, we found a place with view on the centre of the arena. It was an impressive sight.
Pamplona Plaza De Toros
Pamplona - Plaza De Toros - The bull arena of Pamplona hosts exciting and questionable shows.
The stands were full of spectators who were singing and shouting. In the arena, there were hundreds of people: the ones who had run with the bulls, and many others. They all wore the usual white and red uniforms, of course.
At the end of the race, the bulls were locked inside the stables and then released one at a time inside the arena.
It was a funny show. A fat guy fell to the ground and had his trousers ripped off. His white ass remained in display for the spectators' enjoyment.
Pamplona Bull
Pamplona's bull - A bad moment for one person, but a great moment for the crowd.
We left the arena and the delirium continued around the city. Parties and people everywhere. Then it was the moment for the traditional processions of Pamplona, which were very unusual.
San Fermin
San Fermin - Entertaing processions are held around the city.
After lunch we returned to the van and, a bit sleepy, we headed towards San Sebastian. An hour later we were on the beautiful bay of La Concha that the city overlooks. The arc of beach is very popular and enclosed by two headlands and an island. We walked to the town center, then we stopped to doze and sun bath on the beach of the second bay of San Sebastian, Zurriola. Back to the van we drove just outside the city, where there was a nice camping among the hills.
San Sebastian
San Sebastian - Arguably one of the best beach cities.
The pintxos (San Sebastian tapas) are small tasty dishes. They cost from one to four euros, depending on the ingredients, the size and the restaurant. The day after we drove to San Sebastian (where car parks are expensive) and we rented three kayaks from a sailing club.
Pays Basque
Pays Basque - A kayaking trip may lead to some beautiful scenery and cliffs.
From La Concha we paddled along the cliffs to the west of the city and it was a very interesting three hours.
It was a beautiful landscape with impressive rock walls. Accustomed to the Ligurian Sea, we noticed two major differences: the long ocean waves and the vegetation on top of the cliffs. There were green meadows instead of Mediterranean trees.
Kayak San Sebastian
Kayak at San Sebastian
We paddled back to San Sebastian. After a little more beach life in the city we were back to our van and we headed west. We stopped early to admire the panorama on the city from Mount Igeldo. There is an entrance fee and on the top of the mountain there are a playground and a huge hotel. We began noticing that in the Basque Country (and in Spain in general) they have really overbuilt the coasts. Luckily, the view over La Concha bay was amazing.
San Sebastian
San Sebastian from Mount Igeldo
We resumed our trip by following the road along the coast. We met beautiful viewpoints and beautiful beaches, but also towns ruined by too many constructions.
Zarautz, for example, was clearly overbuilt. However, it had the advantage of being a haven for surfers thanks to its long, wide beach.
Pays Basque
Pays Basque
Getaria was smaller and more characteristic, with its nice marina. Zumaia was quite chaotic, but the nearby cliffs were fascinating.
When it was dark we stopped to dine in Mutriku. It had to be a quaint fishing village, and indeed it was... with an annoying skyscraper in the center. We stopped to camp in our van in a large car park on the sea-front, overlooking Barreiatua beach, just before Ondarroa. We walked to the village of Ondarroa for breakfast. The modern buildings were no masterpieces of contemporary architecture, but thanks to the river and the beaches the town had its own charm.
Flyboard
Flyboard
We continued our drive on the winding road that runs along the sea. Now the coast was steeper and wilder (luckily it was too difficult to overbuild here). We stopped on a hill above the sea, with a beautiful view over Lekeitio.
Lekeitio
Lekeitio - A pretty town with surfing opportunities.
We parked and we went walking in a forest and then on a large green lawn. We enjoyed some truly remarkable views. Lekeitio seemed like a nice town, with lots of buildings, of course, but not too messed up. By van we went into town. As usual we had a hard time finding a parking place, but in the end we did it. We walked to the harbour, where we had two tapas, and then to some beautiful and popular beaches interrupted by a river.
Lekeitio
Lekeitio
We arrived at the long beach at the foot of the green hill mentioned above. In front of the town there was also a small island connected to the mainland by a subtle sand strip. We liked Lekeitio a lot, even though it was a bit crowded.
Lekeitio Island
Lekeitio Island
Back to the van, we got to the highway and drove to Bilbao. For such a big city, it was surprisingly easy to get downtown and to park a short walk away from the Guggenheim Museum.
Bilbao Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao
Bilbao - A modern and lively city, to be visited.
This innovative edifice, built in 1997 to give luster to Bilbao riverfront, is one of the finest examples of modern architecture. The curves of its metallic walls have unusual shapes and reflect the sunlight and the river ever-changing colors.
Bilbao Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao Guggenheim Museum
It was almost sunset, so we couldn't visit the interior, but there were a lot of people walking on the riverside to admire the Guggenheim Museum and the surrounding quarter.
We moved into the city center and our excellent first impression of Bilbao was confirmed. It was a beautiful city, rich and well-kept, where history and modernity successfully coexisted.
Bilbao
Bilbao
Bilbao
Bilbao - An original place for SUP.
There were many restaurants offering fixed menus from 15 to 25 euros. We chose the one that attracted us more and we had dinner outside, in a lively alley.
The day after we drove to Zarautz, where we rented two surfboards. The waves were pretty low, but it was ok for a longboard and ideal for beginners.
We left the gigantic beach and we drove to Pamplona. We arrived about at 5 PM to watch the Corrida. In fact, every evening at six PM, during San Fermin week, the bulls who had run in the encierro were killed in the Plaza de Toros. It was a show we didn't approve, but we wanted to judge by person.
On Wednesday the city was less crowded, but there were still many drunk people dressed in white. Especially around the arena there was a lot of chaos.
Regular tickets were sold well in advance, so our only chance was to find some dodgy persons for black-market tickets. It wasn't difficult to recognize the shady sellers, so after some time spent bargaining and looking for the right offer we spent between 20 and 35 Euros per person. The crows in the Plaza de Toros was partying with food, drinks, music, dances... it was a crazy show!
Corrida
Corrida - The show on the pitch is cruel, but in the meantime there is an extremely funny show on the bleachers: the Spanish crowds go crazy with drinks and foods and songs.
The Corrida instead was a cruel show. The picador, a knight with a long spear, entered the arena and began to hurt the bull, weakening it. Then it was time for the Banderilleros. They ran against the bull and with a quick move they stuck the banderillas (small flags) into the bull's neck.
Pamplona Corrida
Pamplona - Corrida
Finally, it was the matador's time. The show was all his. With elegant moves, he made the bull run just past him. However, he missed his shots with the sword and the crowd started booing and insulting him. In the end, the bull was killed by the peones with a knife.
Anothe bull, another matador, more skilled, and the show continued! A bit shocked, then we walked around Pamplona. There was always some party going on in the streets.
After a lively, beautiful night, we went to sleep in the van. In the morning we woke up pretty early and we drove towards the coast. This time we left the Spanish Basque Country and we stopped at Hendaye, France, just beyond the border.
Hendaye
Hendaye - The French part of Pays Basques boasts some amazing scenery.
We quickly admired the long promenade and we decided to have a walk along the wild coast to the east of the city. The large bay was in fact closed by a small peninsula with steep cliffs and green fields on the top.
Hendaye
Hendaye
It would have been nice to spend hours and hours walking along the coast, but we couldn't run the risk of being trapped by the high tide, even if it would have been an exciting experience. So, after a while we decided to follow a steep and uncomfortable trail leading up to the top of the cliffs.
Hendaye
Hendaye
Tired but happy, after the hike we went to the van and drove to the nearby city of St Jean de Luz, where we found a seaside campsite.
Saint Jean De Luz
Saint Jean De Luz - A nice town with lots of good seafood restaurants.
Saint Jean De Luz has has a beautiful old town. There were many tourists who crowded the restaurants. We studied the fixed price menus and we picked a bistro. We ate clams and snails and mussels and then a rich fish soup.
The day after we barely touched Biarritz and then we took the highway and drove to Camargue, 570 kms away. After a six hour drive we finally arrived at Saintes Maries de la Mer.
Saintes Maries de la Mer is a beautiful seaside town. Its small white houses are very characteristic. Here we walked around, had a good dinner and watched a horse fair (horses are one of Camargue's major tourist attractions: a ride through swamps and flocks of pink flamingos is a beautiful way to enjoy this region).
For the night we drove to a remote dirt road, in the middle of a quiet and dark dunno-what. We had a good sleep in our comfortable van.
Camper
Camper in the Camargue
We woke up in a beautiful moorland, featuring ponds and quiet flamingos. We wandered for a while in that characteristic landscape, then we headed north.
Click here to continue with the second part of the trip, to the Ardeche river in France.
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