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Madrid to the Basque Country

After purchasing tickets in and out of Madrid, I've become wary of travel in southern Spain in mid/late June because of the hot weather and am now rethinking our plans. What city or village would be a good jumping off point to tour the Basque country? I'd like to spend the night in Madrid, then travel by train the following day to some hopefully picturesque village in the Basque country, spend another night, then rent a car. Any thoughts are welcome and appreciated!

Posted by
9110 posts

Your idea probably won't work, mainly because you won't be able to rent a car in a village. You'd have to stop short (Burgos?) or backtrack somehow. Bilbao, Pamplona, and San Sebastián will have pretty good rental choices and are all served by train.

The second problem is that you can drive from Madrid to either Bilbao or San Sebastián faster than a train can make it. Ex: To Bilbao is an easy four-hour drive and you get to pass through Burgos to boot.

As far as villages or smaller towns go, Vizcaya is full of them. Guernica is full of history. Out on the coast, Bermeo and Plentzia are both pretty good. The old coastal road between Bilbao and San Sebastián beats the freeway for the scenery along the cliffs.

Posted by
56 posts

This is very helpful. Thanks so much for responding. It's good to have some direction in mind before diving into research. Thanks again!

Posted by
56 posts

This is very helpful. Thanks so much for responding. It's good to have some direction in mind before diving into research. Thanks again!

Posted by
832 posts

Driving from Madrid to Basque territory... Cost might play a role in your decision. Looking at my Spain road atlas, I think you can drive from Madrid to the north coast without using a toll road and still being on four lane highways. The E05 and the E90 are the best possibilities, but find out if they are toll or not. If it were 100% toll between the two areas you might pay as much as 50 Euros each way. I had thought of renting a car in Barcelona and going to the north coast and then returning to Barcelona as it avoids the dead head drop-off fee. Then I found a web site that said using the AP highways (many highways are labeled either with an A or an AP. And AP seems to be roads that are toll roads.) one way (Santander - Barcelona) would be 50 Euros. So I am dropping the car in Santiago and coming out a bit ahead (gas, tolls, stress, and time) even with a drop charge.
During the housing boom in Spain (bigger than in the USA) there was also a road building boom for the massively expanding economy. Many of these new privately built roads are currently in bankruptcy as locals are driving on the old roads rather than pay the toll. So the old roads are crowded, and the toll roads are lightly used. I would expect any proposed four lane highway in your atlas is still incomplete, as road building has stopped.
wayne iNWI, forecast to be -17F

Posted by
9363 posts

Www.viamichelin.com will show you toll information as well as estimated driving times and distances, and will give you a choice of routes, if available. It is my favorite resource for planning driving times in Europe.

Posted by
9110 posts

The penultimate post is a false alarm. There are only three toll roads up there:

Burgos to San Sebastian.

Bilbao to San Sebastian.

Bilbao to Logrono.

Burgos to Bilbao has a toll of about twenty euro and is, in fact, the E-5. To duck it, you'd have to go up to Santander and then across - - more gas, more time (at least an hour and a half and everhow much gas that is). Bilbao to San Sebastian is about ten bucks and you'd miss it if you used the coastal route.

Toll roads in Spain have the designation 'AP numeral '. P meaning you gotta pay. Ex: AP-1 vs A-1.

Posted by
56 posts

You are all giving me great info and resources to pursue. Thanks. I'm now considering starting our trip by taking the AVE train Madrid to Barcelona for a few days, then somehow connecting Barcelona to the Basque region of France and Spain for 5 or 6 days, then driving from Bilbao to Toledo for at least three nights, then back to Madrid for at least 2 nights and a full day. Should I rent a car in Barcelona, or can we train somewhere and rent a car from that town? If you see any gaping issues that make my ideas unrealistic or awkward, I'd love to hear your thoughts! We arrive in Madrid mid June and will be in Spain for a total of 15 nights. Is this too much travel and too little time at each destination?

Posted by
9110 posts

Zaragoza will have cars and the drive to there from Barcelona is pretty dull.

With your short amount if time, you'd have to pick whether to spend the night there or in Pamplona. Both are good.

Posted by
56 posts

You are right, Ed, I think I'm trying to squeeze too much in. I'm now considering training from Madrid to Huesca, renting a car and spending a couple days in the Pyrenees, then driving to Pamplona and continuing to San Sebastian and Bilboa. Thanks for everyone's input.