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30 days Southern France Northern Spain Loop trip Report

Part 1
We did this loop trip June-July of 2016. We loved loved loved this trip and so thought we should share it. Maybe our experiences will help others enjoy this part of the world as much as we did. We tend to stay in small villages if possible and use boutique hotels or b&bs. We find these to be friendlier and feel like we get a more authentic experience. We had a rental car for most of the trip. We are a couple in our early 60s and our health is good so we like to find hikes if possible. This is how it breaks down. Feel free to look at only the part you are interested in:
Barcelona, Spain- 3 nights
Languedoc France-3 nights
Cassis France-3 nights
Remoulins, France-4 nights
Dordogne, France-4 nights
Midi Pyrenees, France-2 nights
Getaria Spain-3 nights
Llano Spain-3 nights
Pamplona, Spain (area)-2 nights
Alquezar, Spain-2 nights
Barcelona, Spain-1 night
Barcelona-3 nights. We flew into Barcelona and took the airport bus and then a taxi to our hotel Circa 1905. This is a beautiful boutique hotel in a good location for sightseeing. The staff were wonderful in directing us to various restaurants and sites. Barcelona has many treasures to share. With only 2 full days we were able to see:

Day 1: Hospital San Pau-incredible mosaics and architecture-I’m so glad we made this a priority. We took the tram and then walked a couple of blocks. You have to book a tour to see this. We had booked it before we left home.
After a much needed nap we walked from our hotel to La Sagrada Familia: Again, booked this before leaving home although for some reason there were not any lines here. We saw this in late afternoon when the sun was streaming in the stained glass windows and it was stunning. A perfect time of day to get the full effect. You might think about this when planning a visit. I understand that mornings are good too.
That evening we enjoyed tapas at Paco Meraldo, which was recommended by our hotel. We sat at the counter and ordered tapas so we knew they were fresh. It was delicious and really fun.

The next morning, we caught the train and headed to Montserrat. We enjoyed some hiking and toured the cathedral. There is also a nice museum near the cathedral. That evening we returned to the same tapas spot because it was so good and easy to walk to from our hotel.
Day 3 After breakfast we walked down Las Ramblas to Boqueria Market. This was packed with people but really fun to experience. Then we toured Casa Battlo. We had again bought tickets for this from home and it paid off as there were long lines here. After that we walked down to the pier and I enjoyed some sangria and my husband got a beer. Off to Palau de Musica: Stunning…don’t miss this! (prebooked from home) They were rehearsing a play when we were there so we got to see some live action without the charges…I would book a performance here if the times work for you. It is a special place. After this we were off to the Cathedral of Barcelona: beautiful…go to the rooftop. This seems like a lot to pack into one day but it worked out good. That evening we enjoyed a dinner out at a restaurant recommended by the hotel called Farola. It was very good.
See the end of this trip report for our last day in Barcelona.

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Hi Lori,

Thanks for sharing your trip report! I'd recommend that you copy/paste the other parts of your writeup into replies in this thread. There's nothing to keep your trip report together otherwise.

Posted by
20632 posts

PLEASE ---- do not post part I and part 2 and part 3 as separate new topics. If you look down the current list of topics you will see that all of those wonderful trip reports get scattered as people respond and bump each part to the top. And the order become completely jumbled. Pretty soon cannot find all of the parts.

Make your first part the New Topic, and THEN immediately post your second part as a response to your first posting. And your third part as the second response --- and so on. That way all of your report will stay together forever.

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178 posts

Thank you for the tip. I didn't think of that idea.

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Day 4 We rented a car and enjoyed a beautiful drive along Costa Brava (in the direction of Palafrugell. This is a beautiful drive with views over the Mediterranean. We stopped in Begur where we found a bar on the beach serving paella. What a treat! There was a little hike along the water that we walked on for a short while but needed to move on as we were then headed inland thru the vinyards to a little town called:
Alet les Bains France-3 nights

We stayed at a comfortable b&b called Les Marguerites. Lovely home, lovely hostess. Besides fantastic breakfasts she hosted dinner one evening in their garden with all of the guests. Delightful! I won’t take you day by day here but I can tell you it was relaxing and a very beautiful area with lots to do. We saw Reinnes de Chateau, Abbaye de Saint Hilaire, Carcossone, Payrepertuse Chateau and Gorges of Galamus.. This is Cather country with lots of castles to see and hiking and wineries. We loved it here.
Day 7 We left our new friends and headed to:
Cassis France-3 nights
We stayed at Villa Andrea which was just up the hill. We learned to walk down into town and take a taxi back! We had stunning views from our private deck here. While in this area we took a boat tour of the Calanques as well as a hike. We went up to Cap Cannille (very dangerous road) and took a picnic and enjoyed incredible views. They had a nice market in Cassi and we checked out a couple of wineries. Ahh….so much fun but we have more to see….on to
Day 11-Provence-Roumoulins-4 nights
This was a long day of driving. We headed toward Valensole to see the lavender fields. Acres and acres of purple/blue and the sweet fragrance everywhere. Poppies scattered the roadside. It was really so special to see this area in bloom. After we headed to a small village called Riez. My husband collects pocket knives on our trips and I had read about someone who makes them with materials from the area and he was going to be at Market in Riez that day. We weren’t disappointed. My husband got his knife and then we bought a baguette, cheese, fresh fruit and some roast chicken that you see at all of the markets for a picnic. Tasty! We dream about that chicken! Afterward we drove to see the beautiful Abbay de Senanque…famous for its lavender and the charming village of Gordes. We finally pulled into Roumoulins and our b&b: Bize de la Tour about 4:30. . The b&b was lovingly restored with beautiful antiques. Our host was helpful and made a fabulous breakfast each morning. Roumoulins is a very small town with just a couple of restaurants but they were very good. We thought this was a good location to base from. We went to the Isle Sur la Sorque market(tons of people), St. Remy (no charm here), Pont du Gard, Russillion, and, thanks to our host for directions had an amazing hike with sweeping views overlooking Le Beax.

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Continuing Spain/France loop:
Day 14-Dordogne-4 nights
En route to Dordogne we took the route that took us across the Millau Viaduct…an amazing bridge that doesn’t seem to end! We found the best view of it from a little village called Peyre. We had lunch there at a little café that looked like a shack from the front but had a beautiful deck with amazing views of the bridge and the Taron River, friendly people and good food. The drive from here was thru beautiful countryside…green rolling hills, farms with beautiful stone farm houses dotting the hillsides.

We booked a charming b&b called Le Clos Lascazes in Le Buisson-de-Cadouin. It was in a peaceful setting in the countryside with a lovely hostess. From home we had booked tickets for Font de Guame and felt very privileged to get to experience the pre historic artwork first hand. On the way we stopped in a village called Limuel, which, in addition to its charm had a beautiful garden. This area is stunning beautiful dotted with chateaus and castles. We regretted not booking a hot air balloon ride here. It would’ve been a ride of a lifetime! We DID go to Beynac and rent canoes up the river looking at the castles and chateaus on the hillsides. What a fun day! We also experienced the stunning Marqueyssac Gardens, LaRoque Saint Christophe and went to Sarlat for market. There were a few more charming villages we stopped at. There is a lot to do in this area…we could’ve used more time here.

Day 18-French Pyrenees=3 nights.

On the advice of our b&b hostess we stopped off in Bordeaux on our way to the Pyrenees. We were surprised at what a beautiful small city it is. We had lunch here and spent a couple of hours but agreed we need to come back sometime. It was another hour drive or so on to our b&b: Chateau Porthos….I mean, who could resist staying in one of the Three Musketeers home! Our hostess sent us to the village of Oloron for a traditional lunch and to see the cathedral built in the 1100’s. Next stop was the Valley of d’Ossau where we tried to hike up to a waterfall (too steep) but it was a beautiful area and we felt like maybe this is what Switzerland looks like. We were glad we got to see it.

Spain
Day 20-Getaria-3 nights
We had already been to San Sebastian on a previous trip so we chose Getaria instead this time to experience more of an authentic Basque culture. Plus they were having a soccer tournament or something and I read that San Sebastian was going to be packed. We went thru St. Jean Pied de Port on our way to Getaria and also stopped at St. Etienne de Bourges to see the Roman bridge (beautiful). In Getaria we stayed at the beautiful Saiaz Getair Hotel overlooking the ocean. We could hear the waves crashing on the beach from our room. Very nice hotel with accommodating staff. Parking was a little sketchy here. We had to back into a tiny garage with a number of other cars from one of those tiny little ally type “streets”. Once we got our car in there we didn’t feel like we wanted to come and go as we pleased because it was so hard to get in and out. There was other parking down by the pier….next time we would park there and walk back to the hotel. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner in Getaria (fresh catch of the day prepared on open grills). We walked a beautiful stretch along the ocean that went from Getaria to Zarautz…a nice surfing town. We spent one day back in France exploring St Jean de Luz (love it), Biarritz and enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the famous Ferme de Ostalpia which was nearby.

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Continuing Spain/France trip:
Day 23-Llanes, Spain-3 nights
We took the coastal route to Llanes stopping at San Jan de Gazlelugatxe to do an exhilarating and exhausting climb up to the church. Our Hotel Rural de Hierba was fabulous. We had great breakfast everywhere we went but this one went above and beyond. It was an event in itself. Our main purpose for coming here was to hike the Ruta del Cares in the Picos de Europa. It was very hot that day and our hosts advised us not to go but we didn’t have a lot of choices of days so we did it. It is a narrow path alongside a canyon with steep drop offs on one side. It is all rock and the heat from the day was magnified there. It is 7 miles one way and yes there are a few hills. I read about a bus you can take coming back but the ride is as long to take as it is to hike so we hiked both ways. We had taken 8 bottles of water but it wasn’t enough on that hot day. In the end I’m glad we got to experience it but next time I would go on a cooler day. Our sangria REALLY tasted good that evening and we had fun watching them pour cider for folks.

In that area we also saw the beautiful basilica at Covadono. This is on a pilgrimage route and is unforgettable for it’s beautiful setting and peacefulness. We then took a scary twisty road up to Covadono Lake. There is hiking here but we were still recovering from the previous day so we didn’t indulge this time.

That evening we explored the beaches of Celorio near Llanes at the suggestion of our hosts. Definitely worth seeing…we really enjoyed climbing on the rocks and taking pictures of the spectacular sea scapes. We could’ve kept busy a few more days here but it was time to go.
Next we headed in the direction of Pamplona. We were not there for the running of the bulls but we saw lots of people dressed in white with red sashes getting ready. We stayed in the beautiful countryside at a b&b called El Secreto Ollo. Built in 1701 it was lovingly restored and tastefully decorated. The hostess here spoiled us with a romantic dinner including roses and candle light. We have met some very kind people in our travels and the hostess here was simply one of the best. She even gave us a Christmas Ornament when we left so we’d have a keepsake of our special time there. While in this area we hiked Park de Natural in Urederra. This is a walk along one of the most beautiful rivers you will ever see. They are trying to preserve the area so visitors are limited. I had booked tickets for it before we left home and we had a great time there. I would highly recommend this to anyone. It was a level path and easy to walk. It is well worth your time to see. The other thing we saw in this area was Olite Castle. I had read that it can get crowded but was practically empty when we were there. It was built by a French King in the 1400s and is very fairy-tale like and beautiful. Again, worth your while to see.

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Last part of the trip:
Day 28-Alquezar, Spain 2 nights
In researching a stop on our way back to Barcelona I read about this medieval village in the mountains of Huesca and I was hooked. I wanted to go. We were going to stop in Torla for a short hike and lunch but we missed the turn and didn’t realize it until we were too far to go back. Alquezar is in the middle of nowhere. As we were driving along it seemed forever since we’d last seen civilization. I was just praying that we’d go around a corner and see a village…..or something…anything! Pretty soon we started seeing some olive groves and then there it was. An exotic village sitting on an outcrop over deep caverns with vultures circling in the distance. We stayed at Casa Alodia, a perfectly run b&b which is decorated tastefully with attention paid to every detail. Our room (Juncal) had an amazing view over the village and beyond. As stunning at night as it is during daytime. We ordered an appetizer tray for that evening and they brought in a beautiful tray on a cart with a huge selection of local cheeses, meats, bread, fruits…so much we couldn’t even begin to eat it all. Oh and some wonderful local wine. What a treat to indulge in such delights while looking at that incredible view. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about that evening. There are a couple of nice restaurants there. We ate at only one because it was so good we went back the next day. There weren’t any shops here that we found but the b&b had some things for sale that were locally made. We bought a couple of homemade clay tiles that replicated some of the medieval doors in the village. They are my greatest treasure from all of my travels. With 2 nights we really only had 1 full day in Alquezar so we chose to do a canyoning tour. There is a beautiful river that runs along the canyon with polished rocks and we climbed and jumped our way along. I was 61 years old at the time and my husband is 2 years older. It was easier for my husband than it was for me but we did it and had so much fun. Our very capable and professional guides took great care of us and made the day memorable for sure. There is also some great hiking in this area but we didn’t have time to explore. We could’ve used another day here for sure. One thing not to miss here is the Collegiate church of Santa Maria. It is 11th century with frescoes and paintings dating 800-900AD. Beautiful. Alquezar is a magical place and we think about it often.

Less than a 3 hr drive back to Barcelona for our last night. Circa 1905 when we first arrived were gracious to receive us for 1 more night. (they have a 2-night minimum) I’m thankful we took the advice of fellow RS forum travelers and stayed here and not in a hotel by the airport. For our last night we booked a dinner show at Poble Espanyol. We got to do some last minute shopping there and then enjoyed a flamenco show. We also saw the magic fountain on our way back to the hotel. What a finale!