Just back from a month-long motorhome trip throughout northern Spain, I’m beyond excited to share all the juicy details of this epic adventure and insider tips for you to make it happen.
Picture this: cruising down charming country roads, discovering hidden gems, and soaking in the awe-inspiring beauty of dozens of stunning destinations. From picturesque towns to jaw-dropping natural wonders, this guide has got it all.
Let’s dive right in and unlock the secrets of RV travel and road-tripping this remarkable region together, shall we? Adventure awaits!
A bit of context to get started
For those of you who are new here, I bought a vintage motorhome when Asia was three months old. The main motivation behind this bold move was to enjoy as much time with our little bundle of joy when she was little, without breaking the bank. But the truth is we’d wanted to do so for a long time and it felt like it finally was the right time.
Koala – a trusty Ford Transit, model Koala – was not cheap (van life bubble is underway y’all!), considering it’s an RV in its mid-30s but it did not feel like money wasted. On the contrary, a year and a half later I can say it was the best thing I did in 2022 after having a child.
Since then, lots of short trips and a few longer ones followed. Today, I want to tell you about the last semi-long one. It began right after Autumn officially started in the Northern Hemisphere and ended 29 days later.
The road trip route: Our experience
Where did the road take us this time?
Starting on the Western Galician coast, we pretty much hopped our way to the Catalonian Pyrenees from natural park to natural park during the first 3 weeks.
The weather forecast was simply exceptional (nothing to be very happy about, as I believe climate change has lots to do with the high temperatures and drought South West Europe experienced in early Fall this year) and so we abandoned our Mediterranean plans and headed to the Pyrenees instead.
The last week came with heavy rain and strong winds. It was spent heading back with a few detours here and there to visit friends and family, some more nature parks and preserved spots, stopping in some cities we’d usually skip to favor greener areas, and overall following a newer route.
4 Weeks road trip itinerary through Spain’s Northern half
Traversing Castille and Leon: Bierzo, Riaño and Montaña Palentina
Embarked on an unforgettable road trip, we started our adventure in the charming town of Noia, our base.
From there, we drove to Villafranca del Bierzo and immersed ourselves in its medieval architecture and enchanting cobblestone streets before our first night on the road.
Continuing our journey, we headed to the mighty Faedo de Ciñera.
Next, we made our way to the serene Porma reservoir (embalse del Porma, Boñar), where we enjoyed the traditional early Autumn deer bellowing and overall basked in the tranquility of the beautiful lake at night without any other company.
What a time to be alive!
The road led us to the picturesque village of Riaño, nestled amidst the breathtaking Picos de Europa mountains.
We marveled at the awe-inspiring alpine landscapes and indulged in an Instagram-worthy photoshoot.
Driving through the stunning countryside, we reached Camporredondo de Alba, where we embraced the beauty of the natural surroundings and stayed overnight.
Continuing onwards, we arrived at the charming town of Cervera de Pisuerga, surrounded by rugged mountains.
Exploring Las Tuerces, we were captivated by the surreal limestone formations that left a lasting impression. Our journey then took us to Las Loras geopark near Aguilar de Campoo, where we ventured into the magnificent Cueva De Los Franceses, marveling at its stalactites and stalagmites.
We enjoyed panoramic views from the Mirador de Valdecabado and explored Espacio Natural Covalagua, with its fascinating rock formations, diverse flora and fauna, and – sadly dry – waterfall.
The village of La Población was our base that night.
Continuing on, we wandered around Rioseco Abbey ruins before heading to the majestic Cascada el Peñón.
After a dip under its stunning waterfall, we entered the Montes Obarenes-San Zadornil nature reserve, which has incredible landscapes and hiking trails.
Frías, a medieval village perched on a hill, fascinated us with its castle and winding streets. Its riverside was the perfect backyard for that night.
Dwelling in the Basque Country: Gorbeia, Garaio, and Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Parks
Continuing our journey, we explored the Monte Santiago Karst route to the massive Salto del Río Nervión and Gorbeia Natural Park.
Afterward, we arrived in Vitoria-Gasteiz. The city greeted us with its vibrant atmosphere, beautiful parks, historic buildings, and a funky Middle Ages-themed feast across the old town.
After a quiet night next to Garaio, we went for an al fresco lunch at Saldropo before checking out Otzarreta forest.
Salvatierra/Agurain welcomed us with music in the streets but we skipped a good night’s party for our beauty sleep at La Leze.
The next day, after checking its stunning cave, we indulged in a barbecue before heading to the Millenary oak forest (SL-NA 137 – Sendero de los Robles Milenarios) and spending the night in Etxarri Aranatz.
Both offered a picturesque and peaceful ambiance, perfect for relaxation.
Slow traveling through Navarre and the Irati Forest
We then set off on our road trip to Parque Natural Urbasa y Andía, a beautiful park full of nature trails.
We enjoyed stunning views from Balcón de Pilatos/Mirador de Ubaba and stopped at Artavia/Artabia’s bridge for a refreshing dip.
In Estella-Lizarra, we marveled at its rich history and architectural beauty.
Iranzu Monastery and Santa María de Eunate Chapel captivated us with their intriguing stories and unique structures.
Before heading to wilder destinations, the city of Pamplona embraced us with its vibrant energy and renowned pintxos scene.
Driving through Ochagavía, we admired its picturesque setting and quaint streets.
Casas De Irati resulted to be the perfect spot to start exploring the majestic Selva de Irati. We went on two forest hikes – one to Cubo waterfall and a 2km circular path.
Spending a couple of days in the scenic French Pyrenees doorstep
Continuing our journey, we reached the Larrau pass.
There, right between the border between France and Spain, we spent a tranquil night along with a few other vans and motorhomes.
After stepping into France, the surroundings of Passerelle d’Holzarte, the village of Tardets-Sorholus, and the fantastic ski resort and mountain area of La Pierre Saint Martin fascinated us with their natural beauty and unique attractions.
Falling for Aragon and Ordesa National Park
The lookout points and refuge of the picturesque Larra-Belagua valley was the last stop before Arrako Bidea, a trek we never got to take because one of our front windows suddenly crashed. That incident, and a couple of other issues, hindered our progress. We thus spent three days in mechanic and repair shops in Huesca and Sabiñanigo.
Mallos de Riglos was a very quick stop on our way there, as we were really trying to get there before Friday evening.
Anyway, we explored Sabiñanigo’s surroundings with friends over the weekend, including the lively Jaca, beautiful Balneario de Panticosa, quaint Biescas, and awe-inspiring Orós Bajo waterfall.
Once everything was fixed and our motorway was ready to keep going, we reached Torla-Ordesa.
From there, we visited the stunning Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido on a hike from La Pradera to the Estrecho waterfalls.
We stopped briefly in the charming Valle de Bujaruelo on our way to Bielsa and Valle de Pineta, only to be impressed enough to make plans to return and explore further. The cascading waterfalls and sprawling meadows of La Larri, albeit a challenging steep trek – if you happen to babywear a 15kg toddler even better – were absolutely stunning and worth the effort.
Admiring the Catalonian Pyrenees, Aiguestortes National Park, and Lleida surroundings
Aínsa showcased its medieval charm and in Boí, we marveled at the renowned Romanesque churches that make up the UNESCO World Heritage site. Caldes de Boí and Taüll provided a peaceful escape with their mountainous surroundings and ancient architecture.
For skiers, El Pla de la Ermita was the perfect spot to spend a night, with a motorhome parking lot at the doorstep of Boi-Taull!
The day after, we embarked on one of the most famous Aigüestortes and Estany de San Maurici hikes to Estany Llong and the tranquil Refugi d’Estany Llong, where we had lunch.
Continuing our journey, and after an unremarkable night in Tremp, we spent a full day in the climber’s paradise that is Sant Llorenç de Montgai with a couple of friends who happened to be in the area.
L’Albi and Sant Jordi d’Alfama seaside castle were two other stops we enjoyed before reaching Ebro’s Delt.
Reaching Delta del Ebro and the Mediterranean Sea
At Bassa de les Olles in L’Ampolla, Catalonia, we learned about the local biodiversity and enjoyed the natural beauty of the area. We enjoyed a boat ride to the unique confluence of the Ebro River and the Mediterranean Sea and later visited Platja del Trabucador, renowned for its breathtaking sunsets. A pristine beach, a captivating sunset, and a trillion mosquitos were waiting for us there.
Exploring the coastline from Delta del Ebro to Valencia
Driving through Vinaròs and Benicarló, we reached the historical town of Peníscola, where we wandered through the picturesque streets of its famous walled old town after spending some time on the beach.
Overnighting in La Vall d’Uixó, we then enjoyed the beauty of Parque Nacional Las Tablas de Daimiel already on our way back.
Admiring Castile–La Mancha’s Unesco-listed cities and preserved nature areas
The view of the iconic windmills near Puerto Lápice and Molinos de Consuegra (where we spent one night) was awe-inspiring, but storm alerts made it too dangerous to explore.
Instead, we continued on to Toledo, a city steeped in thousands of years of history. Despite the heavy rain, we explored the ancient streets and admired some of its architectural wonders before reluctantly returning home, drenched from head to toe.
Back to Castile and León
Ávila welcomed us with its traditional walls and captivating atmosphere. We stopped in the only paid parking lot of the whole trip due to the inclement weather, and the day after we enjoyed lunch in Medina del Campo.
We then visited my family in Valladolid before driving on to Simancas. Renowned for its impressive archive building, we stayed one night by the riverside stone bridge.
Last, but not least, we stopped in Benavente, where Jose was able to catch up with an old friend from his years studying in Salamanca.
A final stop in Galicia before reaching home
Allariz, already in Galicia, enchanted us with its well-preserved stone medieval streets and picturesque setting.
As our road trip drew to a close, we returned to Noia, reminiscing about the incredible memories and picturesque landscapes that filled our month-long trip through Northern Spain on our trusty vintage motorhome.
Detailed route map: Interactive Northern Spain road trip
How many km did we drive daily?
The pace of this road trip was not slow but definitely wasn’t fast either. We drove an average of 120-130km per day.
A few things contributed to this: Koala isn’t the newest kid on the block and the typical speed is around 80km per hour (legally, it can drive up to 90), our baby can only be so much time tied to her seat, gas prices are currently a joke, the carbon footprint of our trips is something we also take very much into consideration and, in the end, we particularly enjoy slow travel so there you have it.
And, although we drove way more km per day on our way back (it took us three weeks to reach the farthest point and just one to go back to where we started), for the record we determined that ideally 2 hours and 100-150km is the maximum we want to travel each day.
How much did we spend?
We spent approx. €2500 for two people and one one-year-old baby, or €43/day/person (not including baby). This is the expense breakdown:
- 425€ in groceries
- 6.4€ in tolls
- 1250€ in bars and restaurants (the largest amount indeed!)
- 640€ in diesel
- 520€ in auto repair shops (we had a couple of issues two weeks in)
- 6.45€ in parking lots
- 12€ in a paid overnight trailer park (in Ávila)
- 26.75€ in taxis (4-wheelers in Aigüestortes National Park)
- 7€ in laundry (after a couple of weeks, it was much needed!)
- 12€ in entry tickets (to caves and something else I can’t remember right now)
- 7.4€ in pools (a great way to get some cheap entertainment, baby time water fun, a nice full body stretch, and a shower!)
A few things to consider:
We eat out frequently, sometimes twice a day. It’s not that we don’t want to cook, but cooking and cleaning the dishes after takes precious time, and involves more time and resources dealing with water refills and grey water emptying. Plus having a baby and moving at a pace where you get to stay overnight in new places every day calls for exploring the culinary scene.
That said, we tend to avoid overspending (just a few times during our trip) and try to stay within budget by opting for the daily menu (menu del dia) when offered. This set menu typically includes a starter, main, bread, drink, and either dessert or coffee for 12-25€.
On the other hand, as much as we like to eat outside and spend our money on food, we minimize spending in some other ways. For starters, we avoid paid overnight parking, camping, and motorhome-ready areas unless there’s no other option, as we prefer to stay close to nature and go with the flow.
Planning your North of Spain getaway
Now it’s your turn to embark on this incredible adventure! Making your dream road trip through Northern Spain a reality is easier than you think. Here’s how you can make it happen:
- Plan your itinerary: Take some time to research and decide which destinations you want to include in your road trip. Consider factors such as travel time, attractions, and accommodation options in each location.
- Use the interactive route map: Our interactive route map will be your trusty companion throughout the journey. Take advantage of its features, such as customizable stops, suggested routes, and points of interest, to tailor your road trip to your preferences.
- Prepare your vehicle: Ensure that your vehicle is in good condition before hitting the road. Perform necessary maintenance checks, pack essential supplies, and familiarize yourself with driving regulations in Spain.
- Pack wisely: Remember to pack essentials such as clothing suitable for different weather conditions, comfortable footwear, biodegradable toiletries, and any necessary travel documents. Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the stunning landscapes along the way!
- Embrace flexibility: While it’s essential to have a plan, be open to spontaneity and unexpected detours. Sometimes the most memorable experiences happen when you deviate from the original course.
- Immerse yourself in the local culture: Engage with locals, try regional cuisine, and immerse yourself in the unique traditions of each place you visit. This will enrich your road trip experience and create lasting memories.
- Stay safe: Always prioritize safety during your journey. Observe traffic rules, avoid distracted driving, and be cautious while exploring natural areas. Stay informed about local regulations and any potential travel advisories.
Now it’s time to hit the road and embark on your own adventure through Northern Spain.
Here are two quick ways to save LOTS of money
Remember our detailed budget breakdown? Well, here you have the best two ways to do pretty much the same for cheaper:
- Slowing down: Both driving in a steady, smooth, and slower way but also taking a slower approach to the whole adventure with shorter driving times involved each day. Both will cut your gas costs.
- Ramping up the motorhome-based meals: Ditching so many restaurants, the eventual bar drinks, and street delicacies and opting for cooking instead is also guaranteed to take care of your finances. And, at the same time, do wonders for your health!
Low-budget motorhome travel offers countless advantages, the greatest of all being the ability to journey for extended periods of time.
Useful apps, info hubs, and planning resources
During these four weeks, a few tools made our life easier. These were the ones we couldn’t have done without:
- Google Maps: Self-explanatory. From saved lists (that we’ve been curating for years) to the satellite view (great to see where motorhomes and vans gather among many other things), this is hands down the best resource for road trips there is right now!
- Park4Night: When everything else fails, this one usually points out some good options – with recent reviews – to spend the night. Life-saving tool!
- Gas Stations Spain: Color codes gas stations according to price, distance from route, and savings.
- Facebook motorhome and van life private groups: No matter where you go within Spain (there are many other groups for other countries), someone from ‘Camper adictos’ or ‘Adictos a la autocaravana’ has probably been there before and knows a thing or two about how to get around and where to park at night. Highly recommended.
- Splitwise: Great expenses tracking tool, a must to bring you detailed reports afterward!
- Google Podcasts: (Soon-to-be YouTube music I heard) Screen-free entertainment and endless travel inspiration while on the go. A great travel guide if you need it to be too.
- Wikiloc: Jose swears by this one. The most comprehensive hiking trails library available out there.
- Weather forecast: When you are based out of a vehicle for quite a while, priorities change. And knowing what’s the weather like where you are headed might help you ensure you have a memorable experience. Changing your destination last minute is also possible as no reservations or pre-bookings occur.
Here are the remaining travel apps that occupy a significant amount of storage space on our smartphones.
Taking care of daily tasks and responsibilities
If hygiene and safety are key concerns to you (spoiler alert: they should be!), keep in mind that traveling this way has its own set of unavoidable issues.
Basic tasks such as showering, doing laundry, emptying and refilling wastewater tanks, grocery shopping, carrying safe drinking water, sweeping the floors, and filling vehicle gas tanks must be accomplished daily or every few days.
Planning can avoid wasting time researching where to perform the required tasks, particularly the disposal of wastewater which must be done at specific facilities only.
In Spain, finding a free or low-cost motorhome area or campsite is typically just a short drive away (not everywhere though, touristy spots like Mallorca can be tricky to navigate by campervan. However, remember to allow time in your vacation for tasks like running errands.
Planning a road trip through Northern Spain (or any other part)? Here are four main transportation options:
Getting your motorhome or campervan. If budget isn’t a concern, a new motorhome or campervan is the best option for longer motorhome trips. For those on a tighter budget, used models range from €10,000 (basic, or older) up to a price you’re willing to pay. Here’s a quick guide to the best vans for van life.
Renting a vehicle: Either going for a company or a private deal isn’t a bad idea either. Especially if you are short on time. Indie Campers (we tried them on a road trip from Porto to Lisbon), Roadsurfer (I created content for them before welcoming Asia into our lives), and Van Van Go (we also worked with them in a Galician coastal adventure three years ago) are all companies we can vouch for. On the other hand, we know Yescapa helps individuals rent their vans but we have never used their services so far.
Using public transport: If you’re short on time, public transport may not be the best option. However, buses and trains can get you to most places worth visiting and it’s always a great idea to take advantage of public transportation for an efficient, cost-effective, and eco-friendly trip. Need to go a bit further? Catch a taxi for an additional cost.
Taking part in the shared economy: From old-school hitchhiking to popular and more contemporary resources such as Blablacar (safer, as reviews and references are given to drivers and passengers) the spectrum is as broad as the time you want to dedicate to make this happen. Just a word of caution, use your third sense to avoid dangerous or sketchy situations. I know it’s easier said than done but experience will take you there.
Life on the road is unpredictable, and it’s only after you hit the road that you can identify what’s going well and what needs improvement. To make the journey smoother, begin implementing processes.
Keeping up with stuff
Packing must be kept to a minimum if you want to move freely. No matter if your vehicle holds more or less space, if you fill it with items, you won’t be able to enjoy the experience as much. Not to mention you’ll need to invest more time to keep your clutter organized and clean.
Storing food and water
Food and drinking water provide freedom. Store a few days’ worth of each for every passenger. Choose semi-ripe produce and good, long-lasting sourdough bread.
Consider the storage conditions when selecting a place to keep your food; the temperature and layout of the cabinets should be taken into account. Large fruits, veggies, and bread can be stored conveniently in hanging net bags.
You might be on holiday but there’s no housekeeping to clean after you. Hence frequently sweeping the floor and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom surfaces is a must. A single door typically separates your vehicle from the outside, letting sand, mud, and dust in. Keep them at bay by removing them as soon as possible, preventing other things from becoming dirty.
Finding a good spot to spend the night
Knowing the regulations is key to avoiding fines. Additionally, a good parking spot is necessary for a good night’s rest. Apart from doing some research and trying to arrive before dark, below are five non-negotiable requirements for us:
- A place that gives off an overall feeling of safety. Even if you can’t explain why, you should trust your instincts. There are no rules here: Sometimes secluded areas might be fine but for others, we will go with spots near well-lit areas or other campers. There’s just one rule: If something doesn’t feel right, keep searching for better vibes elsewhere.
- As away from man-made noises as possible: The side of highways, factories, party-oriented places, and other loud environments are better avoided. If anything else fails, silicone earplugs can help muffle the sound. But the best is seeking out more peaceful and natural environments such as quieter parks, nature reserves, or campgrounds away from busy roads.
- An even terrain is not always easy to find, but it pays off. Camping on even ground makes things as basic as cooking way easier or even possible, as opposed to being on an uneven, steep parking lot. But besides making cooking and everyday activities easier, it can also provide stability and comfort for sleeping arrangements that light sleepers will be thankful for. Once again, nature offers superior options with numerous uneven spots, giving more flexibility to design your backyard and choose the best slope for you.
- Be mindful of water sources, as sudden floods or heavy rainfalls which can affect camping areas near rivers or streams can catch you off-guard.
- Finally, if wildfire alerts are on, steer clear of dense, fast-burning forests. It’s also important to stay updated with local fire authority advisories and follow their instructions for safety.
One last, crucial tip
When traveling with companions, take into consideration everyone’s preferences and ensure that everyone’s needs are met throughout the trip. That way, you can ensure a fun and memorable experience for all involved!
We created a list of 10 dream experiences per person and tried to make as many of them come true.
Baby Asia’s needs were met with libraries, pools, time in nature and close to wildlife, and frequent playground visits.
Jose centered his wants around food experiences mainly, and being able to capture awesome landscapes in the best light possible. He also developed an early morning trekking habit and being able to spend an hour or two before breakfast became essential to him.
As for me (Inma), I worked to keep a balanced routine during this month-long trip. Time for swimming in pools, beaches, lakes, rivers, and showers was essential. I also set aside some time for reading, even if only for five minutes some days, self-care (looking after a one-year-old is like holding two full-time jobs!), and attending the occasional music gig.
Conclusion and next trips
Going back to the mundane and fast-paced routine of everyday life often causes uneasiness that only intensifies over time.
So every time we come back after a few weeks or months-long trip, we itch to go back to the road as soon as possible.
That’s why our Dreams Factory department is already working at full capacity to make the next motorhome adventure happen soon.
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