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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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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. 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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