The eyes stare into the colourful vastness ahead and then, in the desperation to quench the thirst for that free spirited journey, the right foot presses deeper into the pedal-box. It brings a smile to the face; a deep breath of calm.
Meandering through the curvy tarmac, taking detours to the most amazing hidden spots, journeying on roads is an excellent way explore the lands — and what a land Spain is! Its highways and motorways rank high among the many gifts and boons bestowed upon the country.
A fantastic means of exploring the country, Spain’s roads offer vistas into different worlds — from glaciers and mountain peaks in the Pyrenees and volcanic formations and tropical vegetation in the Canary Islands to picturesque, white villages in Andalusia and delightful, seafaring towns in northern Spain. From the beauty of the small towns to the rich history, culture and cuisine, Spain is an unmissable experience. Here are some routes you can take to soak in its brilliance.
The Silver Route
The nearly 800-kilometre Silver Route from Gijón to Seville is best covered by motorbike. A modern version of the ancient Roman road, travellers can follow either the A-66 dual carriageway or the classic N-630 road, with lower speed limits but with very interesting landscapes. Seville is as good a starting point as any for this journey, and it is worth one’s time to discover the city’s history, culture and architecture (with gems such as Giralda, the Cathedral, the Real Alcázar fortress and the Torre del Oro or Golden Tower). En route, one encounters the archaeological site of Itálica, the first Roman city founded in Hispania. And when one enters the province of Badajoz, two UNESCO World Heritage Cities — Mérida (also known as ‘little Rome’) and Cáceres — should be on one’s radar. Other stopovers include Béjar, Salamanca, Zamora, León, Benavente and La Bañeza — each having its own distinct charm. The route concludes as it passes through the districts of the Central Asturias Mountains with its incredible natural lookout points before reaching the splendid town of Gijón on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea.
The Green Spain Route
This 800-kilometre-plus route in northern Spain takes one past charming villages, extraordinary cities and fantastic nature reserves across provinces such as Basque Country/Euskadi, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. Starting from Donostia-San Sebastián, one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, one travels along the N634, a picturesque highway running parallel to the coastline which crosses many seafaring villages such as Zarautz and Getaria. Moving further on, a detour to the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, in Vizcaya, one of the best-preserved wetlands in southern Europe, is recommended, while in the province of Cantabria, cave art and UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the Altamira Cave and medieval towns such as Santillana del Mar await one’s arrival. In the same province, the Picos de Europa national park takes one’s breath away with its bewitching natural beauty. In Galicia, one encounters lighthouses, fishing villages and virgin beaches such as the ones in Ribadeo (Lugo) and A guarda (Pontevedra). However, the journey is really incomplete without a visit to the Estaca de Bares lighthouse, the northernmost point on the Spanish mainland, in the district of Mañon (A Coruña) and Cape Finisterre, long considered to be the westernmost point of the earth.
The Pyrenees: From the Mediterranean to the Cantabrian Sea
The iconic, 430-kilometre-long Pyrenees range, which forms the natural frontier between France and Spain, can be explored by car or a motorbike along a trail that totals over 650 kilometres. Extraordinary waterfalls, valleys and forests punctuate this adventure. If one begins their journey from the east, the starting point is Cap de Creus (Girona), where the Catalan Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean Sea. The Cap de Creus nature reserve is home to the easternmost lighthouse in mainland Spain. Close by, one finds the coastal town of Cadaqués, where the great Salvador Dalí once lived. The Dalí Theatre-Museum pays tribute to the eccentric genius of the master artist, also revealing to aficionados many of his works and where he created them. Moving westward through the province of Girona via the N-260 highway, the next stop can be at La Garotxa, known as the volcanic region, to visit the nature reserve there. Halts at and detours to places such as Besalú, a beautiful medieval town, and Castelfollit de la Roca, one of Spain's smallest villages, are also recommended. As one enters the Aragón Pyrenees in the province of Huesca, Pico Aneto, the highest peak in this mountain range, looms large. This province is also home to fairytale-like mountain villages such as Benasque, Aínsa, Sallent de Gallego and Ansó. The final phase of the journey lies in the Navarre Pyrenees, which is accessed via the A-21 highway. Here, one encounters Pamplona, the city much loved by Ernest Hemingway, and home to some delicious Navarran cuisine. Plan a trek to the beautiful Tapla mountain pass, if only for a glimpse of the colourful Selva de Irati, one of the biggest and best-preserved beech and fir forests in Europe which is best visited in autumn. One finally finishes their journey through the Pyrenees with a visit to two small villages in the Baztán Valley in Navarre where time seems to have stood still — Amaiur and Zugarramurdi.
The Wine Route
At 95 kilometres, the Wine Route in the Rioja Alavesa region of Spain is among the shorter motor routes in the country. But, it more than makes up for that loss with the wealth of beautiful vineyards and avant-garde buildings and wineries it offers. The starting point is in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country and the province of Álava, a delightful, green city and a magnificent old town with a good selection of bars and restaurants. Travelling through the A-2124 highway, which is also a mountain road over the Herrera Pass, one is treated to spectacular views of the Ebro valley and some glorious lookout points from where one can see the whole of the Rioja Alavesa and part of the La Rioja Region. The journey continues on the N-232 highway, surrounded by beautiful vineyards and towns such as Laguardia, the capital of the region. Two buildings are worth checking out here — Bodegas Ysios, which perfectly blends in with the surrounding landscape, and Bodega Viña Real, a building of red cedar shaped like a vat. The magnificent centrepiece of this journey, however, is Elciego — in particular, Frank Gehry’s City of Wine complex for the Marqués de Riscal winery in the city. The complex rises from the ground like a vine and boasts of spectacular interiors, a luxury hotel and restaurant, a wine-therapy spa, a meeting centre and a museum. One finishes this ‘journey of the senses’ in Logroño, in the neighbouring La Rioja Autonomous Region, where one can immerse themselves in the history of its churches and palaces and partake some of the best tapas and locally produced wines to their heart’s content.
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