One Pleasant Day on Our Pyrenees Road Trip, 2014
We are in the planning and reservations making stage for our upcoming Italian Alps road trip in September. Just 3 years ago at this time, we were making all the final arrangements for our 2-week Pyrenees road trip from Bilbao to Barcelona, Spain. I started thinking about the day we drove from San Sebastian, Spain to Arette, France on that trip. It was a wonderful day for a drive, and we saw lovely Basque towns, the beginnings of the majesty of the Pyrenees, and some natural wonders with lots of livestock and wildlife along the way.
I used Google maps extensively in planning, as it allows you to actually "drive" the roads on your computer screen--as much as possible we wanted to be on lesser travelled secondary roads, but, on the other hand, we did not want to end up on goat trails. Google maps worked out great--except for the few times we went through some larger towns, we never had any type of traffic problem, even on some of the smaller roads that we took. The roads, though sometimes narrow (like 1-1/2 lanes wide), were all well-maintained and presented no problems for our fiesty little Skoda rental car.
The western end of the mountain range was more rolling hills and mountains than the craggy rock towers that the Pyrenees become the more eastwardly one travels. The heart of Basque country (I have written about this area before, so excuse me if it seems familiar), there are numerous picturesque towns worth seeing, most convenient for us were Sare and Ainhoa. Both worth a stop to sample the local food and drink and take a lot of photos. You can find a lot of photos of both of these towns online. Every Basque town had its pelota (pilota) court--all unique in how they were exactly laid out and the shape and extent of thegame wall. We enjoyed these little towns very much.
From Ainhoa, we headed south across the Pyrenees back into Spain, only to head back across the mountains into France heading from Erratzu, Spain to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This entire leg of the day's drive was extremely scenic, especially when crossing the mountains. From here, we headed east-southeast with our goal being the Gorges de Kakuetta for a short scenic hike along the stream to the waterfalls. This drive was through mostly "empty" country in the sense that there were no real towns until we went through Larrau, which looked to have maybe 200 inhabitants. At any rate, we got to the Gorges de Kakuetta and took a couple of hours hiking up through the gorge--very scenic and much of it paved or with a wooden walkway, but there were some spots further up the gorge that were a bit rougher, though never requiring any mountaineering skills. Still, I would wear sturdy shoes as opposed to the high heels or flip flops that some folks were stumbling along on.
Again, the route itself was the main attraction--animals, mountains, broad valleys--I guess the word "vistas" comes to mind most readily. From the gorge, we headed further east and then up the D132 to the small village of Arette to end the day. It was a long day--though a lack of light was not a problem in early June--but one of the nicest, most visually stimulating/scenic road trip driving days I can remember. Of course, the next day's drive to Viscos, France was also one of the nicest road trip driving days I can remember. And a few days later when we drove from Viscos to Arties, Spain--yes, also one of the nicest road trip driving days I can remember! We had lots of them on this trip.
I do have exact route info should anyone be interested. Though, in our research, we decided there were several routes that would all be pretty much equally nice.