My campervan road trip in Spain
Posted on 14/05/2018 by Hazel | guest post
My campervan road trip in Spain in short: 11 days exploring, 1050 miles, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Burgos, Segovia, Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. Camping sites 5 nights, Free camping 4 nights, friends apartment 2 nights. Check out the full story below.
- Things I can do in Dora: Be totally under-prepared in a thunderstorm, sleep 50m from the ocean for free and park in the centre of Barcelona and Madrid.
- Highlight: Sleeping 50m from the ocean and watching naked men play fight in the sea.
- Low light: Las Rosaz overnight stop
- Biggest bargain: Valencia camper park (Betera) and price of diesel – 1 euro/litre
- Biggest Fail: Filling up with diesel before leaving France and thinking that meeting up with my chum Lauren in Barca would result in a couple of quiet nights when we both love cocktails.
From France to Spain: border-crossing adventures
I crossed the French / Spanish border into Spain on day 35 of my exploring adventure. Spain was hot! Like really hot. Hitting 38degC daily, I was a sticky sweaty mess, continually misplacing my trust in coke zero to replace my bodies need for aircon…this was authentic campervanning on the cheap – I loved it. The non-tollway roads were mostly duals, so driving around Spain was fast and cheap – 1euro / litre of fuel, I was in camper car heaven.
On route across the border, I stopped in past Biarritz, I wanted to see what all the fuss back home is about this French surfing hotspot! I spied some sneaky beach campers, their brazen-ness was impressive, while being politely and calmly asked to pack up their tents by the local police. My beach stroll was also enlivened by some naked men play fighting in the sea, I considered joining in, but felt I was 20 vodka shots short. Biarritz is definitely lively, even at 7 am.
San Sebastian sadly didn’t have any naked men play fighting in the sea, it did have photogenic and romantic stone streets, big open squares – the old bullring square was super cool, still having the seat numbers at the windows - and a very proud looking ocean and beach.
Dora was lavishing it up in an underground parking lot in the city centre (no fear with the height restrictions in a camper car) and together we crossed the river maybe 6 times trying to leave the city, satnav demanding I go Northeast when I knew and the road signs new it was South-west out of the city. On passing the same parking lot 3 times, I quietly and slowly realised I hadn’t updated my satnav and she was directing me back to the parking lot. Eeps. This happy realisation helped me avoid permanently driving the city centre of San Sebastian, lost forever in its beautiful pedestrianised one-way road system.
Extending my campervan road trip in Spain
Originally I planned to just edge Spain – San Seb to Barca via Pamplona and Zaragoza. As the Spanish roads were drinking up my A-B’s like I drink up Cosmo’s on Friday’s, I added Madrid to my Spanish things to do list. Burgos seemed like a good stopping off point on the route, but I was still hankering after a bit of Pamplona – having just missed the festival by 2 days in favour of free living at the beach in Capbreton.
It makes no sense, but I headed for Pamplona anyway. Missing the festival meant it was like a ghost town. Less exciting for partying but awesome for exploring the bull running streets in my car – why run when you can drive. Pamplona streets were super cool, tiny cobbled wee things in some places, mostly pedestrianised – no-one about to complain or care or mind if I had to reverse, u-turn, 7 point turn, I drove the sections of the bull run I could find, it was fun to tackle my FOMO – there was something weirdly satisfying about walking and driving streets 24-48hrs after one of the craziest parties in Europe had finished – turned out to be a pretty sweet detour. And a good rekky mission for when I make the festival next year.
I arrived in Burgos from Capbreton after about 200 miles on the road. Spain doesn’t seem to have municipal campsites (MC) like France, they favour up-market campsites that provide cabin accommodation as well as pitches, a swimming pool, a bar/restaurant, a site where you stay the duration of your holiday. I was on the lookout for budget – my overnight stops were necessities.
My daytime tripping was where my exploring was at. I’d give up the swimming pool for a 5 euro saving. I needed an alternative. For now, I stayed 2 nights, my gipsy lifestyle in France required a little taming, laundry and hair washing, food shopping blog writing and some excellent Spanish beer at the campsite bar. I find the first food shop in each new country a little traumatic. None of the food is in the right place.
Foodie hell in Spanish supermarkets
None of the food I want exists! Spanish supermarkets – they don’t have tzatziki (this is traumatic in itself), there aren’t into soya much either, not in small cartons and especially not vanilla flavour, sometimes you weigh your fruit yourself, sometimes not, they aren’t big into muesli, they export their best fruit to France, their tomatoes and lettuce are delicious, their wine is dirt cheap, and their gin, you have to queue to be put into a till queue. Luckily every supermarket so far has canned tuna and Lindt mint dark chocolate, win. I replaced my couscous option with Spanish baguette, my tzatziki with sachets of salad sauce, rationalised that it would be water with my muesli for a few days and went on my way.
Burgos has a nice castle on the hill that gives great views of the city, and old parts to their city, including a massive cathedral – it’s a decent city for a wander. I walked from the campsite early morning – 45mins to the centre – a bike would have been beast. It was a good stop over to refuel everything. The staff here were worthy of a mention, friendly and lovely and my laundry was washed and dried for me (at a price).
The road to Madrid
Next up was my Madrid adventure – The one thing I’d learnt – get in early! Madrid was too far from Burgos (200miles-ish), I’d need one more stop on the route, close to Madrid for a speedy sunrise city entry – Segovia looked, by my eyeballing map standards, roughly less than an hours drive from Madrid, so Segovia it was.
I saw Segovia from a distance and excitedly realised that’s where satnav was taking me. The campsite was Spanish standard - nice, pool, bar – cheap tasty sangria, friendly staff, fair walk to the town centre. I had a quick nap then explored the city and then Segovia blew me away. Maybe it was my low expectations having not heard of Segovia before, maybe it was the long drive or the Spanish heat, Segovia is the most glorious find. It’s a UNESCO city (who knew?) with 72 historical sites, for me the outstanding one being the Aqueducts. Massive aqueducts cutting right through the old city. I spent the afternoon raking around.
Madrid would not happen tomorrow, I needed to see this city from a hill before I left. Sangria and a lovely English couple doing Spain and Portugal on their motorbike scuppered my early rise, so a wee bit of hill (mound) walk in the late morning sun and I got my panorama.
I toyed with the idea of heading into Madrid at night, getting a hostel and doing an organised pub crawl. In the end, my budget won and I opted for a bit of free camping in Las Rosaz about 30 mins outside Madrid. No point in a campsite the night before a sunrise city entry as the most barrier the entrance until 7 am or 8 am …free camping’s a great alternative. I got into Las Rosaz about 4 pm, the heat was striking and I had no energy to do a quick rekky.
Gotta love siestas
I couldn’t sleep in the van in the heat, so found a park nearby to take an afternoon nap (a real Spanish siesta), by early evening a bunch of campers had parked up, so I stayed the night. This stop was a necessity, not a choice, because of the heat and lack of facilities it was a low point, but it did the job. So far I’ve been sticking to the standard free camping rules - take up as little space as possible, don’t make noise, don’t leave rubbish, don’t set your table and chairs up outside, don’t stay more than one night, leave early - basically just being a bit subtle about the fact I’m here overnight and I had no trouble.
I set off just before dawn and arrived in Madrid, a wonderfully quiet Madrid at 6.45am – big city mornings give me butterflies, I’ve no idea what to expect, what the traffic will be like, if it’s an easy city to navigate, if there are roadworks, if the parking is easy and obvious. Madrid on-street parking looked complicated, I couldn’t work out the machines, or know for sure if I was in the correct bay, so I parked underground. I was peeved because on-street parking was free till 9 am but my budget stretched to parking, not parking fines.
Madrid parking turned out to be pretty cheap. Madrid was pretty cool, I saw the palace, a couple of the popular main squares, the bear statue, the main “Schweppes” street and a lot of police even that early. I lucked in when the tourist information office was closed but being cleaned and the man gave me a street map (saved my phone data). Madrid doesn’t have as iconic parts as other European cities, it’s bustling though, it came to life and in its own way amazing. It felt a bit like New York City, it’s the people that make it.
Taking a break on the Spanish coast
The rest of the day was driving, I needed the coastal breeze, I couldn’t handle another night like the last one. 200 miles later I arrived in Betera a few miles outside Valencia to the most amazing campsite. If there was a European campsite competition for value, this one wins. Outstanding value, food, facilities and staff. Valencia Camper Park.
I could pick the 6, 9 or 12 euro spot (close to toilets, further away, and furthest away) 6 euro a night for my spot, awesome showers, free wifi, free sangria on arrival and a swimming pool. The café bar sold good cheap beer and authentic Spanish food (2hr preparation Paella).
A couple of euro’s got the train to the centre of Valencia with the train stops a couple 100m’s from the campsite. Above all, the staff treated everyone like family. I spent the day in Valencia got caught in a thunderstorm on the way home and while the campsite was soaked through with rain, my little camper car was not – at this point I knew, I would never consider a tent as a realistic form of accommodation again – camper car / van all the way for me. I wanted to stay a week but I had plans for Barca so I stretched it to 2 nights and then headed North.
From Valencia to Barcelona
Between Valencia and Barcelona, I found my overnight camper car heaven. The overnight stop I had dreamed of when I set off on my trip. During some random exploring I came across soft sand, calm seas, no real tide so I parked very close to the ocean at the end of the small beach road, there were small café bars close-by and a couple of campers parked up for what looked like their summer holiday, clean public 24hr beach porta-toilets and beach showers.
The beach was lively all day with the summer tourists from the nearby hotels, but by 8 pm it was empty and beautiful. I spent the next day on the beach, once again using Dora as my ginormous beach bag and parasol and then headed as close to Barca as I thought I could get without it costing a fortune. I was sticking to the coast in the hope of finding another gem, but the closer to Barca the crazier the number of tourists, I ended up in Les Boutiques Del Mar, a cool little busy seaside town – I would have stayed at their 10 euro a night campsite but couldn’t get out before 7 am – no use for my Barca centre dash – so I spent the euro’s on dinner and chatted to the loveliest family from Cologne, then kipped as stealthily as I had ever done before on the street across from the beach.
If I was going to get asked to move on it would be here. Instead of the police waking me it was rain, crazy rain, the streets were filling up…it was dark and 5 am and I was leaving. The storm lasted most of the way to Barcelona and meant that I decided on the toll roads instead of the back roads – gah the 13 euro tolls – this made my face grumpy, Spanish roads were doing so exceptionally well for my budget until this point. And then I remembered that at least I wasn’t in a tent!
My chum stayed in the most amazing location in Barca, right off Las Ramblas…awesome for sight-seeing, partying and wildly challenging for my driving prowess, eek! I was in early and stuck to my basic Hazel city plan...get 0.5miles from where I wanted to be without hitting anything and focus on parking – I parked in a secure underground place across from the metro L1 & L4 lines (“Urquinaona”) – super central and after some span-English managed to get their standard 3 day ticket for 53euro.
I meandered to the Cathedral and had some breakfast in the local café before meeting my chum Lauren for 2 days of fantastic Barcelona debauchery along with the discovery of a delicious red pepper cocktail, savoury crepes on the side, the Spanish lust for doing their weekly food shop on a Saturday night, that my parasol Daisy is unable to handle the Barcelona beach breeze, the pitfalls of wooden shutters and the luck involved in having that bar-tender not fancy you.
The rest is best remembered and unwritten. I left Barcelona after my hangover had subsided, about 3 pm and noticed how easy and direct it was to leave, it couldn’t be my good navigating, I reckon major cities focus on making it super easy for people (especially van wielding foreigners) to leave cities for traffic flow…from now on I no longer feared to leave cities, or even needed to plan for it…I just had to get in. Get in early and big cities are easy. Yes! Time to leave Spain…you were awesome! Where to next, hmm…Andorra might be cool…
To sum up my campervan road trip in Spain
46 days exploring, 3200 miles, campsites 29 nights, free camping 15 nights, with friends 2 nights. It was.... AWESOME.
Posted by Mark Beaumont's Media Team
Mark Beaumont's challenge: around the world in 80 days
Latest blog posts in Europe adventures
Roadtripping in the most beautiful countries in Europe
There are countless routes you could take in Europe to experience the most beautiful countries in Europe. Here is a fantastic route that gives you an...
How to have fun in Barcelona without breaking the bank
Despite Barcelona quickly becoming one of the more expensive cities in Europe, it can still be done on a budget, without sacrificing experience. The city is...
A Guide to the Best Road Trips in Europe
We don’t think there’s much competition when it comes to road tripping. Europe as a continent offers so much choice and every single destination has its...
13 of the best adrenaline activities in Europe
What’s the point of going on holiday if you’re not going to live a little? Spending time away from home means trying new things, and that...