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Northern Spain, Tolouse, France Road Trip

Hi everyone - I'm currently planning a road trip from Barcelona to Toulouse, France. At first, I was going to rent a car in Barcelona and drop it off in Toulouse but it's pretty expensive. We were thinking of renting a car in Barcelona, driving to the destinations we wanted to see - Talamantes, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Andorra, & Figures - before heading back to Barcelona and taking a train into France. I had a few questions -

1) can anyone recommend what town to stay in when driving from Bilbao to Andorra? The drive seems to be about 6.5 hrs and we will be heading out after spending the afternoon at the Guggenheim.

2) I'm going to Figures to see the Dali Museum and would like to see his house in Port allegations. I don't think we will have time for both and could see the Dali Museum in Barcelona instead. Is the Dali Museum worth going in Figures?

3) We will have time to visit a town or two in France before we fly out of Toulouse. Any recommendations on what towns to take a train from Barcelona to?

I really appreciate any advice.

Posted by Jazz+Travels
3551 posts

I don't think we will have time for both and could see the Dali Museum in Barcelona instead.

There is no Dali Museum in Barcelona.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
9383 posts

What time of year is your trip?

For driving directions and times I suggest ViaMichelin. Although I've never driven in Europe, folks here seem to like VM but feel it tends to be a bit optimistic about times. VM gives 3 routes, two of them at 7 hours and one at 7-1/2. Those times do not include stops, traffic delays, getting lost, searching for parking, etc.

Are you planning to drive through France or through Spain to get to Andorra? There's a 7-hour VM option through each country.

The French route takes you through or near Zumaia/Getaria/Zarautz (small coastal villages), San Sebastian (which you mention so presumably will already have visited) and Hondarribia (larger coastal border town with quite a bit to see) in Spain; and St.-Jean-de-Luz, Biarritz, Bayonne (those all in French Basque Country) and Pau in France. I've only been to the Spanish towns, but the French ones are on my list for the future.

The other 7-hour drive takes you through on near Logrono (probably too close to Bilbao), Zaragoza, and Lleida/Lerida. I've only been to Zaragoza, which is a worthwhile stop. You'd drive within perhaps 30 miles of the charming hill town of Laguardia, but it would come up quite early in the trip. This route is estimated to cost about 25 euros more than the first option due primarily to higher tolls.

The 7-1/2 hour drive takes you through or near the very nice city of Vitoria-Gasteiz (probably too close to Bilbao), Pamplona (worth an hour or two of wandering, but for me not all that interesting) and Lleida/Lerida.

However, I'm confused about your routing plans. Do you have to hit all your stops before Bilbao? Talamantes is pretty close to Zaragoza, so not terribly far off one of your possible Bilbao-Andorra routes.

Even bigger question: Do you have a reason for including Andorra? There is lovely mountain scenery in the area, of course, but the town of Andorra la Vella was no great shakes back in 1972. Since then it has become (reportedly) more or less an outlet mall. Just beyond Andorra are Seu de Urgell and Puigcerda, both of which are very pretty towns. Just a few miles from Puigcerda, back across the French border in the uninteresting town of Bourg-Madame, you can pick up the SNCF Yellow Train, a narrow-gauge RR through the Pyrenees to the fortified (and very touristy) town of Villefranche-de-Conflent.

Jazz is right: There's no Dali museum in Barcelona. It's possible there are some Dali paintings in one of the city's museums. You might check the website for the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. Otherwise, you have the Theatre and Museum in Figueres and the house in Port Lligat near Cadaques. I have not been to the T&M, but friends really enjoyed it, especially the jewelry exhibition. I found Cadaques lovely in July 2016--all whitewashed houses dripping with bougainvillea. I did not go to Port Lligat, but I've read nothing that makes me think the Dali house is an interesting as the T&M.

The 4-1/4 hour TGV routing between Barcelona and Toulouse doesn't make many stops on the French side of the border--just Perpignan, Narbonne and Carcassonne. Perpignan has points of interest but is not a beautiful-everywhere-you-look town. Narbonne also isn't quite a Class A destination. I skipped Carcassonne because of its reputation for being overrun by tourists, but it is indubitably popular.

Toulouse is handsome and worth more than a full day. Albi would be a good side-trip.

If you lay out your full itinerary, we may be able to help more.

Posted by estrellita0 OP
6 posts

Hi Acraven & Jazz + Travels,

Thanks for the reply. Noted on there not being a Dali museum in Barcelona. I definitely want to fit it in Figures then.

As for timing, we would pick up the car at the Barcelona airport (after spending a few days in Barcelona) on Sunday Nov. 19th. We fly out of Toulouse on Monday Nov. 27th. We'd ideally spend at least one night in Toulouse and we'd like to arrive there by Saturday afternoon, so on Nov. 25th.

I'm currently using Rome2Rio site for figuring out driving distance and padding each destination with 2 hours to accommodate for stops and any other thing that comes along the way.

The reason for Andorra was more for the novelty factor of saying we've been to Andorra and checking it out but it sounds like it might not be worth the detour and our time will be spent better in other towns like Figures and Port Lligat.

I was also thinking that since we will be in San Sebastian at some point with our rental we can travel up to France and visit a combo of St.-Jean-de-Luz, Biarritz, Bayonne or Pau, depending on how much time we have. Then when dropping off the car back in Barcelona, we take the train straight to Toulouse.

I'd love some thoughts on this.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
9383 posts

Yes, from San Sebastian it is quick and easy to cross the border into French Basque Country if you have a rental car. However, this sounds like quite an aggressive list of destinations. Of course, you'll have a car, whereas I was slowed down by my dependence on trains and buses.

Just keep in mind that Barcelona has a great deal to see and do. I wouldn't cut that city short to squeeze in a quick trip to the French Basque Country.

Posted by djp_syd
David in Brisbane, Australia
7038 posts

The only way I think this can work is if you fly to Bilbao from Barcelona.

19..Fly from Barcelona to Bilbao (1)
20..To San Sebastián (2)
22..Pick up car & drive to Talamantes (1)
23..Drive to Andorra, or ?? (1)
24..Drive to Figueres (1) & return car
25..Train via Narbonne to Toulouse (2)
27..Depart Toulouse

Posted by jaimeelsabio
1263 posts

Andorra isn't on any good route from Bilbao. Taking the northern (France) route, the road is mostly better, but no place to conveniently turn south to reach Andorra. The southern (Spain) route is more direct, but the roads are not interstates. From Bilbao, take one of two routes to reach Pamplona. Those are interstates (A or AP - autopista / autopista de peaje [peaje-toll] From Pamplona take the N240 towards Jaca. A little further, the N240 merges with the N260. Stay on the N260 until you reach the N145 at Le Seu d'Urgell. It will take you directly into Andorra. The "N" (nacional) are generally good roads. They were the interstates before Spain had interstates. Most wil be 2 lanes each direction and well maintained. They do go through towns rather than around them and will turn more than the autopistas. In the mountains they may be reduced to 1 lane each direction. Speed limits will be lower than the autopista. In France, a town that looked interesting was Foix. It sits up on a hill and had a castle. We didn't stop there due to time constraints on our way to Zaragoza. If you're leaving Bilbao later in the day, then Pamplona might suit your needs since it isn't too far a drive and would cut your drive to Andorra the next day by a couple hours. You could also each it before sunset.
The one route acraven mentioned through Logrono and Zaragoza has more interstates (faster speeds) but takes you further south. At some point you'll still need to get off the interstates and onto the smaller roads.

Posted by estrellita0 OP
6 posts

Thanks so much for all the advice. My itinerary is coming along quite nicely thanks to your suggestions. I will definitely be skipping Andorra. I do need some advice in towns to stop by/spend the night in between Zaragoza and San Sebastian. I currently have Pamplona. Any other suggestions?

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
9383 posts

Tarazona is a bit off the direct path. I visited it on a day-trip from Zaragoza and found it picturesque.

Closer to Pamplona and just off the highway is Olite. It has a less-busy feel to it but a quite impressive visitable castle. Not furnished, as I recall. I went to Olite on the basis of an old guidebook's description that "you may starve, but you will not be bored", or something like that. It is true that the town doesn't have a great number of restaurants, even as of 2016, but it was worth 2 hours or so for walking around and seeing the castle.

I wasn't terribly fond of Pamplona, though the historic district is perfectly OK, and I think there's a museum. I much preferred Vitoria-Gasteiz, but that would require you to swing west on a different route and add at least two hours of driving time.

Posted by djp_syd
David in Brisbane, Australia
7038 posts

We stayed at the parador in Olite, and enjoyed very much.

22..Pick up car & drive to Olite (1)
On the way spend time exploring Pamplona
23..Drive to Zaragoza (1)
24..Drive to Figueres (1) & return car
On the way spend time exploring Vic