Ea Spain

The Trip to Spain (and Portugal)

No, not the Coogan-Brydon inspired road-trip-love-in. But our own epic, of similar proportions. Here are our stats (in case you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing):

– Route: London, Il de Re, Bilbao, Porto, Bilbao, Orleans, London
– Miles Travelled: 2,637
– Traffic jams encountered: 1
– Storms driven through: 3
– Fuel Stops: 8
– Amount spent on fuel: £647
– Amount spent on Pringles: £12.73
– Speeding Fines: None (got home yesterday)

There’s not much going on over Christmas and New Year in the UK, and the smallest member of the team has Spanish Grandparents that were offering a few days babysitting. How could I resist? The Grand Tours tour bus was packed, and we were off; part family holiday, part recce for the driving holidays to Pau and Vila Real.

It’s a bit of a drive to Bilbao. But any thoughts that we should have flown were quickly dispelled as we drove past the 5 mile tailback headed to Gatwick Airport. Not only that, but that storm that closed the M23 had also caused landslides closing the trains into Gatwick too. The trusty tour bus was steadfast in its ability to deliver us to our destination.

Crossing into France you are quickly reminded just how horrendously vehicle-clogged British roads are. And how most British drivers have woeful lane discipline. It was 714km from Calais to our first stop, Il de Re, just off the coast of La Rochelle. Lets not focus too hard on the maths, but i was fairly confident that we could get there in around 5 hours. That was until we caught up with the storm, or the storm caught up with us. In any event, we hit a storm. When you’re doing circa 70mph and unable to see more than a car length in front of you, but also unable to slow down too much, as you know the car behind can’t see you either, you wake up. Or want to cry. Or both. Having to judge your position in the road by the only thing you can actually see (the armco barrier to your left) is not fun. This happened not once, but THREE times.

We came out of the storm, not stranded by the hard shoulder with a destroyed car, but seeing signs for La Rochelle. A cold beer and a warm hotel were not far away! Il de Re truly is a Royal Island. Stunning beaches backed by rows of pine trees. The spray misting off the waves gave the impression of being on a stormy pacific island, rather than a few miles from a French port. We stayed in the main town of St Martin de Re. In the summer months this would be a perfect stop on any Grand Tour. With bijou cafe’s and restaurants lining the Marina, ladies in floaty dresses wafting past, and small sailing vessels bobbing on the surface. In late December, it’s basically shut. So the next day, we left.

The drive from La Rochelle, through Bordeaux, and towards the French border is as unremarkable as it is long. But head south east of Biarritz, through the border with Spain, and it’s a different story altogether. You immediately hit a snaking dual-carriageway, beautifully smooth tarmac, well highlighted ‘safety’ cameras, and no other traffic. Select ‘M2’ mode and you will absolutely fly. If the Caymans and 911s that litter most tours are designed for the Alpine Passes, the M5 is designed for these roads. The 560bhp on tap is utterly effortless, and while there’s no shortage of body roll (this is a 2 tonne car), everything feels tight and accurate. If I had any complaints, it was that Bilbao came too soon. But in Bilbao everyone always has their drinking-pants on, so I was happy enough.

Four days later, and the second leg commenced. If i mentioned that French roads are way quieter than British roads, and Spanish roads are quieter than French roads, then Portugal has to be the quietest place in Europe. The road from Leon to Porto is arrow-straight. At fractionally more than 700km door-to-door, you could quite easily do the drive in four hours. But we do not condone such behaviour. And anyway, you’d need a bigger fuel tank.

Happy New Everyone!