Most Customers who travel to Portsmouth stay the Friday night at the Holiday Inn Express North because it is only 5 mins from the ferry terminal. Please remember vehicles over 5 meters long and 2.65 meters high will incur a surcharge; for example, a Ford Ranger is just over 5 meters long for which an additional charge will be payable. Please ensure you refuel before boarding the ferry.
I will be waiting for you to ensure the check-in goes smoothly. When everyone has boarded we will meet to hand out 2-way radios and discuss the arrangements for disembarking the ferry in Santander.
We will arrive in Santander at around 2.30 PM. We will disembark and wait for each other at a pre-arranged point as discussed at our meeting on the ferry. When we are all together, we will hit the road to St Jean Pied du Port where we will spend our first evening in France; St Jean Pied du Port is the start of the famous Santiago Compostela Pilgrim walk and there are many interesting places to visit and the town has some excellent restaurants for our evening meal. The hotel for the evening is the Hotel Camou, only 5 minutes walk from the centre of town.
It’s time to start our adventure. After breakfast, we will visit the supermarket to pick up supplies for the day and refuel. We have lunch most days in the mountains, so it’s a good idea to have a cool box and picnic set (table and chairs) and a jet boil for hot water to make your “Yorkshire Tea”. We head back over the mountains towards Spain where we travel through lush pastures and high meadows; expect to encounter loose horses and cattle just about everywhere. We cross the border into Spain at about 1000 meters heading into dense forest before descending towards Lumbier, where we will stop for refreshments. From Lumbier we descend further and then on onwards to the Bardenas Reales desert region where we are in for a treat as we ascend 500 meters via a series of hairpins on a dirt track to a hotel with a 360 panoramic view of the area. The views are outstanding and we must make sure we catch the sun going to witness the amazing changes in colour the sunset displays.
After breakfast and a desert photo opportunity, we head back down and skirt round the desert, stock up on supplies and refuel then and head off into the park itself; it’s one of the wonders of Spain and quite strange. Once out of the park we pass by Roman aqueducts, castles and into another dry region with rolling hills. farmland and vast views for miles; rarely do you see anyone at all in contrast to the morning in the park; even the towns and villages appear empty. You will pass through narrow streets where they still have bull runs. At this point, we are not too far from Pamplona. We spend about 3 hrs on a track that finishes near the town of Luna, where we rejoin a tarmac road for a run along the foothills of the Pyrenees to Ayerbe which will be our base for the next 3 days. Our hotel is in the town square in Loarre which has the magnificent backdrop of Castle Loarre. It’s a super place to spend our evenings with a good choice of restaurants and other places to visit.
We first undertake what has become a morning ritual, a visit to the local bakery to pick up supplies for the day before heading into the hills. We will pass the stunning town of Murillo de Gallego before heading onwards to Aguero, a village set in the foot of a huge rock formation, then it’s onwards into the forest for a day of muddy tracks and water crossings and through wild boar clearings and deserted villages that have been lost in time. We end the track in Luna by the bull ring and rejoin tarmac for the drive to Ayerbe, where we will explore the town and perhaps enjoy a little tapas before heading back to the hotel.
A refuel and we are off again. It’s a short that includes a fantastic route with great views, tracks and a bit of technical driving thrown in. We finish the day at the castle around 3 PM, giving you a chance to have a look around or enjoy a chilled beer while watching the birds of prey and Griffin Vultures overhead. We are here for 3 nights and, if you wish, you can have the afternoon or day off and relax.
We leave Loarre for the last time and head towards the town of Huesca. We will refuel, grab food for the day and hit the trails. Clinging to the mountainside, you will experience it all including viewing points, birds of prey, vultures, mountain tracks, deserted villages; it feels like you have entered a time-warp of forgotten lands. Lunch is at a local beauty spot with ash trees, streams and rivers running through it. A tarmac drive follows through a canyon where we quite often have to pull over for loose horses and cattle on the road. It’s then back on to a track into a village that has been empty for years, why we don’t know, and it’s a shame because it must’ve been stunning in its prime. Once again, we rejoin a tarmac single lane road running towards the mountains for our last night and it will be one to remember. We arrive in Ainsa, a medieval town with ramparts, narrow streets and a beautiful square for our last evening meal.
After breakfast, we say our goodbyes to those that have joined only for the first week as they head off to catch the evening ferry from Santander to Portsmouth.
We leave Ainsa and head off into the mountains and cross the border into France having travelled through the Bielsa tunnel; we travel high mountain passes along part of the Tour de France cycle route and into the Spa town of Bagneres-de-Luchon. From there we descend back into Spain for lunch at a tapas bar in Bossost. From Bossot it’s a short drive to the hotel in Les, Hotel Europa. It’s a family-run hotel on the side of a river; we have time to check out the duty-free shops and enjoy an evening meal at the hotel once our guests have arrived who are joining us for week 2. We spend two nights at this hotel.
The second week begins and it is a massive contrast to the first week. In the morning we drive lush forest tracks in a loop that takes us back to Les. We then head to Bossot for lunch at a tapas bar, after which we head for a track that makes you feel as though you are on the top of the world and keep driving onwards and upwards and may encounter snow at Pic de Montlude at an altitude of 2517 metres; hopefully it will be passable and, if so, there are absolutely amazing views to be enjoyed. We head descend to Les for our second evening where we will dine at a local restaurant in the town that the locals frequent. It’s excellent!
After our usual morning ritual of buying supplies and fuel, we hit the road to the Val D’ Aran valley. The first part of the journey takes us through what the locals call avalanche valley where we stop for refreshments at the Sauth Deth Pish waterfall. At 1553 metres, the road has the notorious reputation of being one of Europe’s most dangerous. It gets more interesting as we climb higher and higher towards Col de Varrados where we normally run into snow around the summit at over 2000 metres. From here we ascend into the valley bottom towards the modern ski village of Baguergue. There are ski resorts at every turn as we travel towards the Refuge Montgarri where we will stop for lunch. The refuge is close to the French border and was used by people escaping France during the war and it is steeped in fascinating history. We then travel the beautiful valley alongside a river for many miles, encountering, again, more loose horses and cattle including the occasional fearsome-looking bull. It’s then onwards to the Hotel Victor in Rialps where we will spend the next 3 nights. If you want to have an afternoon or day off to rest, this is the place but trails in this area are magical and a shame to miss.
After refuelling and buying supplies for lunch an amazing day awaits us. It starts a little unusual as we head back up the valley on tarmac to the ski resort of Port de la Bonaigue. Why? Because there are 37 hairpins as we ascend to the top and the child in me says its got to be done. We stop at the summit for a drinks break and enjoy the scenery at 2072 metres. We now descend the same route we came up and it’s amazing to watch Defenders mimic rally cars on the way down. Just makes sure you had your brakes checked before coming on this tour because you will need them now more than ever. On to the tracks high above the ski resort of Super Espot we will probably encounter snow again as we crest the Col d’Exoil and cling to the side of the mountain looking out over mountains as far as the eye can see. Cattle and horses are everywhere as we travel all afternoon through the mountains until we finally start to ascend but not before passing through an abandoned ski resort where we see the most amusing road signs warning of flying cows and horses. From here we head for the hotel; you can also visit the town of Sort if you wish. We will eat at the Pizza restaurant in the village this evening but there are also tapas bars in the village if you so wish.
It’s the usual morning ritual of refuelling before we head off to what appears to be the top of the world, the Ski resort of Port Aine. But it’s not and we continue even higher through and along the pistes to the very top of the resort; the views don’t get any better. We stop at a Refuge for lunch, this is your main day and its a long one on tracks nearly all day with very little tarmac driving. We are at altitude looking across to Andorra, travelling through villages just wide enough for our vehicles. It’s a stunning day and we will roll into Rialp around 6 PM. We normally eat at the Tapas bar in the village, but the choice is yours.
Rialp to Andorra via the smuggler’s route, hopefully dining at the restaurant in Tor if it’s open. Today is not a long day, we do not need to leave Rialp until 10 AM and we only need enough fuel for 50 miles; we refuel in Andorra. To say the smuggler’s route into Andorra is famous is an understatement. It’s mind-blowing and the views as we climb to the summit into Andorra are staggering and photographs do not do it justice. We arrive in Andorra around 1 PM, check-in at Hotel Pyrenees in the heart of the city. It’s a major city and a huge contrast compared to the last few days. The hotel has an underground car park which takes most 4×4’s and costs 10 Euro’s a night. Now it’s time to hit the duty-free shops that Andorra is famous for or chill by the pool if it’s warm enough. We dine at the hotel for our final night of the adventure.
We leave Andora at 7 AM for the 700 km drive to Santander. It takes approximately 8 hours and it’s easy driving but a long day. You can check in to Brittany Ferries and leave your vehicle then go into town if you so wish. We sail on the cruise ship Cap Finistere departing at 8 PM.
Relax on the cruise ship as we head back home. We should arrive in Portsmouth around 8.45 PM.