With roadtrips making a huge comeback for obvious reasons, we thought we'd put together a series of some of our favourite routes through France and Spain, as we've covered some serious ground visiting the UK from our home in Malaga.
Anyone can go on Google and plan out the quickest trip down, but these routes include interesting stops, detours and a few key places to hunt out. We have a route that takes you through some of the best food and wine regions in Europe; a scenic route through mountains and across lakes, and the ultimate city-break stops. In this post-lockdown life it's all for the taking!
So whether you're looking for alternative travel ideas or just looking for some inspiration for when things seem more stable, sit back and enjoy the first in the series - the Gourmet Gallop!
1) The Gourmet Gallop - cheese, wine and pintxos galore.
Classic French Cuisine in La Bouille
Calais to La Bouille (3 hrs)
Job one is getting to Calais and from there it's all about the first night. I wrote a whole post about that critical first night - to get you in the mood with some good food and letting that holiday feeling settle in.
Our favourite stop is La Bouille - a charming little village on the banks of the Seine. It's just far enough into France to make a dent, but not so you're totally wiped out on your first day. The charmingly quirky Hotel Bellevue is everything we want from our first night away - easy to get to with a reasonably priced restaurant and great food, fantastic service and comfy rooms. Having done a lot of the bigger towns and cities on the way through I can't recommend the simplicity of this stop highly enough.
Lazy wine tasting along the Loire
La Bouille to Vouvray (2 hrs 45)
Looking at the map, the next obvious place for a stop is Tours, but veer away from the centre and head towards Vouvray instead (approx 5-10 mins from the motorway). Not only does it keep you out of a busy city centre, but is a great place to recharge the batteries on the banks of the famous Loire River.
There are plenty of restaurants and cafes (although bear in mind the French eat early!) but we usually grab a picnic from the deli at La Scala and eat on the river bank. There is a clean, wide path all along the river which is a great place to stretch your legs, and being in the heart of wine country there are plenty of 'caves du vin' to taste and buy some fantastic local wines.
It's a logical lunch stop, but if wine tasting and the lure of the Loire appeals, then don't discount an overnight stay. There is plenty to keep you occupied for an afternoon and evening in this charming town.
Sampling the local tipple in Cognac
Vouvray to Cognac (2 hrs 45)
From Vouvray you could zip straight down to the Bordeaux region in about 3 hrs 30, but if you've got the time to take an hour's detour to the pretty town of Cognac then it's worth a stop. Not only is its' namesake a delicious tipple, but the town itself has plenty to keep a Cognac connoisseur busy - with everything from tastings and cellar visits to cooking classes and walking tours. Check out Tour de Lust for a great guide to the city.
The best of the Bordeaux Region
Cognac - Saint Emillion (1hr 30 approx)
From Cognac you could head straight to Bordeaux... or you could bypass the busier roads of the city and head to Saint Emillion - one of France's most famous Medieval villages renowned for both its' beauty and its' exceptional vin rouge. Plenty to see, do, eat and drink with a good choice of hotels and chamber d'hotes as well. It's a really lovely town - you could easily spend a day and a night wondering around the pretty streets, or ambling between vineyards.
Detouring along the Dordogne
Saint Emillion to Bergerac/Dordogne (3hrs 45)
The quickest way down is straight to San Sebastian but if you have the time, and aren't quite finished with the incredible wine and cheese, then this detour along Dordogne could be for you. With no strict itinerary in mind, it would be a great place to lose yourself for a couple of days... lazily soaking up the atmosphere of this beautiful stretch of France and its' stunning riverside villages.
Tapas touring in San Sebastian
Saint Emillion to San Sebastian(3hrs 15) or Bergerac to San Sebastian (3hrs 45)
There are some lovely places to stop and graze on the route down to the foodie capital of San Sebastian. We've found ourselves in the the village of Guethary a few times and never fail to be charmed by the classic Basque houses nestled amongst the hills winding down to the fabulous beach. With some great places to eat and stay, it's the perfect base to explore the chocolates and ham of Bayonne, the glitzy resort of Biarritz or the laid back coastal resort of St Jean de Luz if you have time.
If not, then it's straight ahead to San Sebastian and all the pinxtos and local txakoli (chah-kuh-lee) wine you can consume! Again if you have time this place is certainly worth a night's stop - wondering around the tapas bars is a true slice of Spain and you're best following the advice of The Boy Who Ate the World, Conde Nast or Culture Trip for a suggested route around the bars. Our favourites including ordering the barman's recommendations at Zeruko and the unmissable cheesecake at La Vina.
With two floors of total relaxation overlooking the ocean, we loved a little R&R at the La Perla Thalassotherapy - it's a great place to unwind and work out some of the knots from the drive down with massaging water jets and jacuzzis. They have everything to hire, but if you take your own towels and flip flops you'll leave the rental - I think it was around €20/pp including the compulsory swimming caps.
Roadtrippin' in Rioja
San Sebastian to Logrono (Rioja) (1 hr 45)
Next stop is the famous Rioja region of Northern Spain. Roughly speaking you're looking at Logrono on the map (with an easy pitstop in Pamplona) but there are plenty of beautiful places to stay in this region, on and off the beaten track. Logrono itself is the pretty capital of the wine region and a great base in itself, or you could hunt down a couple of good vineyards in the countryside with accommodation nearby. Wine tasting and tapas in the hills - what could be better!
The vineyards of Madrid - Arganda del Rey
Logrono to Arganda del Rey (3hrs 30)
If you're driving through the centre of Spain it's hard to avoid the capital if you're looking for a quiet escape... but we've found a way! The vineyards of Arganda del Rey provide a more peaceful alternative to the whirlwind of the city and this lesser-known wine producing region is an interesting place to try some new vintages and local dishes. Fruity Tempranillos and interesting dry white wines await in this relatively undiscovered wine region.
The must see Mesquite in Cordoba
Arganda del Rey to Cordoba (4hrs)
While Granada has the Alhambra, in Cordoba you have the awesome spectacle of the Mesquite which easily rivals its famous counterpart in what used to be the capital of Islamic Spain.
The old town has plenty to keep you interested with hidden plazas, churches and famous courtyard patios at every twist and turn. An exciting tapas scene means there is plenty to choose from when you're walking around the old town, or the modern Mercado Victoria is a great place to sample plates from different vendors and is a little like the Time Out market in Lisbon. With different cooled terraces and outdoor spaces, its great for a fun lunch on a hot day.
Olive oil and almonds in the hills
Cordoba to Antequera (1hr 15)
The scenery in the hills in this area is where we fell in love with Spain. This slice of the real Spain is breathtakingly beautiful - olive, almond and orange groves as far as the eye can see. You could easily lose yourself in this region for days and we highly recommend that you do!
Antequera is really just a point on the map to aim for as there is so much going for this region.
Lake Iznajar and the village which overlooks it is a great place to visit. You can use the lake itself, or just wander around the town and have a drink and some tapas in the square overlooking the lake.
The town of Antequera itself is a decent stop-off for lunch. Interesting architecture, beautiful churches and the Alcazaba make it a nice place for a wander.
Bodega Gross Hermanos - great little vineyard in the foothills of Antequera where you can take a tour and enjoy the wines and lunch in beautiful surroundings.
Caminito del Rey - just give this one a google! It's a truly unique experience walking the paths and rope bridges in this stunning gorge... but you need a head for heights! The area around the attraction has a lot to offer too - the lake is beautiful. At the time of writing the gorge walk itself is closed, but like all things it will undoubtedly change.
El Torcal - this national park has some spectacular rock formations which make up it's unique outlook. Great place to stretch the legs after a long drive!
La Samiaja - this olive oil experience set amongst the groves is a great place to learn and taste the exceptional local export. Simple tours and tastings or lunch experiences are available and well worth a detour!
There are some fabulous places to stay in this region - the private villa and house rentals around here are stunning and incredible value. There are also some great small hotels and B+B's.
Our favourite B+B's and places to stay are:
Almohalla 51 - in the white village of Archidona, this stunning boutique hotel has been lovingly and beautifully restored into a chic, authentic and relaxing oasis just steps from the centre of town.
Lazy days starting with a freshly cooked breakfast, followed by relaxing by the pool, and are broken only by the choice of where to eat or what to explore nearby. It's a really special place. Whether it's relaxing in one of the many cosy nooks or taking long lie-in's under Egyptian cotton or exploring the town which has some fabulous places to eat from classic Spanish to modern cuisine.
Hotel Rural de Paloma - this great little hotel is about 20 mins from Iznajar. It usually has some amazing rates, and the pool provides a welcome relief after a day in the car.
One of the best things about this charming place is the food, as the owner is an Italian chef. We have spent many lunchtimes on the terrace enjoying a perfect carpaccio and homemade pasta.
Cortijo La Haza - nestled within the almond and olive groves, this place is a a quiet gem. Rustic and homely, the rooms and spaces that surround the fabulous pool are well considered and comfy. It's a place to really relax. They do a great breakfast and set menu in the evening, leaving you free to explore during the day.
The Vineyards of Ronda
Antequera to Ronda (1hr ish)
Ronda itself is a well visited town, set high up overlooking the valley below. While the famous bridge is the image synonymous with the town, it is the vineyards that surround it that is where our interests lie on this route!
This map gives you an idea of how many vineyards and bodegas there are to visit in the area, and there are a few resources to help plan your visit.
El Vino de Ronda has a write up on some of the best winemakers in the area.
Or try here for an extensive list of vineyards
Using the town as a base to explore means you ahve the pick of Ronda's restaurants and there is a thriving culinary scene to accompany these excellent vintages.
The best tuna in Europe?
Ronda to Costa de Luz (2 hrs)
Ronda was due to be the last stop on this route until I remembered the incredible feasting on one of our favourite stretches of coastline - the Costa de Luz.
Forget everything you know about coastal Spain...this is windswept, unspoilt rugged beauty at it's best. Looking at the map you're aiming for that stretch of sand between Cadiz (also meant to be a great food/wine stop!) and Tarifa.
We stayed inn Zahora and El Palmar de Vejer - both had great restaurants but Zahora was our favourite for sure - it had more of a heart to it and we loved the sandy streets. Either way you're looking at huge sandy beaches, big Atlantic waves and a totally laid back vibe.
The area is famous for Tuna and is referred to as the tuna of the world with reportedly 80% of the catch making it's way to the best sushi restaurants in Japan. El Campero in Barbate is pitched as the best tuna restaurant on the coast (if not the country) and it is undeniably excellent.
We had some sort of tuna and truffle toast that blew my mind! You can book in the restaurant or wing it in the bar like us for a more relaxed atmosphere. It's worth a trip but not a stay... Barbate has very little else to recommend it being honest.
Our favourite though was La Traina in Zahora - a gorgeous garden restaurant with some of the best tuna carpaccio I've ever eaten and a mountain of perfectly grilled vegetables to go alongside.
This was closely followed by Casa Juan in El Palmar where we had some beautifully presented dishes which played with flavour and served up some really interesting plates.
There is no shortage of great places to eat, walk, cycle, sunbathe or drink in this area. From sitting with a cold beer on the terrace at Sajorami at Zahora watching the sunset, to stomping through the dunes to the Trafalgar lighthouse - its a really special part of Spain and a great place to end this gourmet gallop.
And our product pick for this trip... a cosy cashmere blanket. There may have been some napping in the car under one of these along the way ;) and it definitely came in handy for the "breezy" Atlantic coast beach evenings.