‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.’
It’s a saying popularized in the 1964 movie “My Fair Lady” in which Rex Harrison was trying to get ‘cockney’ Audrey Hepburn to speak like a proper English lady.
Actually, most of the rain in Spain falls along its northern coast and mountains – a spectacular region of Spain. Leaving the regions of Spain that could be called ‘plains’ quite dry and with a semi-arid climate.
So there is your geography lesson for the day and an appropriate introduction to our 2-month road trip around Spain.
Winter Sojourn in Spain
Having just finished a 3-week housesitting assignment in one of our favorite French cities, Montpellier, and the small French village of Callas, we were chasing the winter sunshine hours.
Spain seemed to be the logical choice to avoid the chill that many other places in Europe suffer from November through to the end of February.
So we decided to give ourselves a two-month road trip around Spain. It meant we could meander our way down to the southern coast and return to France via the northern coast.
By taking it slow, we could avoid the larger cities to stay in the smaller towns and villages along the way. And we could spend longer in a place we enjoyed.
As we had previously spent 6 weeks exploring Andalusia while housesitting, our road trip would take in new places as well as revisiting other places some 30 years later.
It was time for us to head south.
Road Trip Map around Spain
Renting a Car in Spain
We love taking road trips because we love the freedom it offers. We often find new places we have never heard of, see amazing landscapes, and discover more than the big cities.
It’s one of the reasons for renting a car in Spain is your best option. It gives you the flexibility to stop along the route to:
- enjoy local dishes at small cafes and restaurants
- take a photo of those ancient castles dotted along the hills
- spend time at an amazing look-out
- book accommodation away from the big cities
And if you are wondering, is it safe to drive around Spain, the answer is yes.
Unless you are unfamiliar with driving on the right-hand side, there are mandatory rules of wearing seatbelts, driving to the speed limit, especially in built-up areas, and not using your mobile while driving.
For more information on Spanish road rules, visit this website Driving in Spain.
To hire a car you’ll need:
- valid driver license with an international driver license
- additional insurance to cover flat tires if visiting rural areas
- to consider car rental at the airport or at inner-city offices
- MapsMe app to locate carpark in large cities or small towns
- credit card for tolls (Autopistas)
If you don’t intend to return the car to your starting point, you will be charged a one-way fee.
Now all you need to do is plan your road trip around Spain.
Ideas for a Road Trip of Spain
Spain has so many interesting places to see from mountain ranges, fabulous beaches, wild coastline, lots of UNESCO sites, and amazing cities.
Depending on how many days you have planned to see Spain, you have so many options to plan an amazing road trip.
You’ll want to allow plenty of time for the drive between places depending on the roads you have chosen or the places you intent to visit.
You can combine different itineraries to see Spain by car and train between the big cities, the coastlines, or a specific region.
Suggested road trips are:
- Andalusia region of Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba and Granada
- Northern Spain of Bilbao, Santander, San Sebastian and Leon
- Madrid to see Todeldo, Segovia and Salamanca
- Barcelona via Zaragoza to Madrid
- Seville, Malaga to Valencia
And part of your planning is to know the roads and travel times.
You can travel via:
- regional roads
- motorways – Autopistas and Autovias
Autopistas has tolls on most sections and provides a quicker route than the lower speed limit of the Autovias.
We found we did a mixture of driving both roads depending on what stops we have planned. Allowing for tolls and no more than six hours driving between stays.
Begin your Road Trip of Spain
Our starting point for our two-month road trip was Montpellier, France where we left on the 31 January traveling 687km and 7.5 hours to Zaragoza.
We had started early as we had planned to stop at Perpignan to get the best Pain au Raison in the world from Le Levian de Helios. These delicacies are enormous and are filled with raisins and custard, a scrumptious feast for only €1.50.
While we enjoyed our small feast and coffee with a view of the mountains, our plan was to drive inland to Zaragoza. We bypassed Barcelona and Tarragona having previously spent time in both places the year before.
They are both great options to experience the fabulous architecture of Barcelona or the Roman ruins of Tarragona.
You can read more here:
Instead, we made another stop at the 14th-century history of Girona.
Stop at ancient Girona
If you are heading south from France, and want to avoid the bustle of Barcelona, we can definitely recommend a stop at Girona.
Here, you can park the car in the massive area called Avinguda de Franca near the Pont de Preret. It’s then an easy walk to the River Onyar.
From here you can walk along the river to cross over the bridges – Pont de les Peixateries Velles or the Pont d’en Gomex.
Both bridges provide spectacular views of the colorful buildings of Girona rising up from the River Onyar. As you wind your way up behind the houses, you’ll find plenty of beautiful medieval buildings and Roman architecture.
Two of our favorites were:
- Old Quarter (Barri Vell)
- Força Vella fortress
But the highlight was a walk along the 14th-century walls known as the Passeig de la Muralla. Not only are you walking along with history, but you also are shown the picturesque old town, the stunning cathedral, and views of the distant Pyrenees.
And if you aren’t driving onto Barcelona, then well worth a stop for your Spanish road trip is a detour to Zaragoza.
See Zaragoza in three days
The overriding memory of Zaragoza is driving over the Puente de Santiago, which crosses the River Ebro, to see an enormous church rising on the opposite side of the river.
The sight of the magnificent Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and all of its domes and towers are absolutely breathtaking.
Our plan was to stay 3 nights in Zaragoza giving us time to explore the city and the nearby towns of Huesca and Tarazona.
Hotels.com had a deal with IBIS Standard for 3 nights, pay for two which included a plentiful breakfast, large room, and car parking available.
So what did we love about Zaragoza?
We found Zaragoza is an easy city to navigate on foot where you don’t feel overwhelmed by noise and bustle.
You can take relaxing walks along the River Ebro with fantastic views of the Basilica. You can explore the old Roman ruins. And in the early evening, enjoy the great vibe of tapas bars as you wander the narrow lanes.
Zaragoza is the capital of the medieval region of Aragon which stretches to the Pyrennes in north Spain. Lying inland between Madrid and Barcelona means you can book a fast train to Zaragoza arriving within 1.5 hours.
You can then explore the highlights of Zaragoza:
- UNESCO listed 11th-century Aljafería Palace
- Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
- 14th-century Stone Bridge (Puente de Piedra)
- Cathedral of the Saviour
Day Trips from Zaragoza to Huesca and Tarazona
Huesca was a stop on the way to Zaragoza to visit the medieval hilltop town with its gothic Huesca Cathedral and the Abbey of San Pedro el Viejo. The abbey is a significant national monument that dates to the 12th century with the tombs of two Aragon kings – Alfonso I and Ramiro II.
We parked across the river and walked up to the stunning pink square, meandering along old streets with ornate old buildings with street art.
But the best of our two-day trips was to Tarazona and the Monasterio de Veruela.
Monasterio de Veruela was our first stop as the monastery dates to 1146 and took over 20 years to complete. The beauty of the small abbey church, walking over the well-worn flagstones, to the Byzantine cloister like Westminster Abbey. To meandering through old rooms to find a wine museum.
The setting is tranquil and when the hostel accommodation is complete, it would be a perfect place to stay awhile.
Spend a Day in Tarazona
Near the center of the old town is a large free car parking area. From here, it’s an easy walk up to the 12th-century gothic cathedral, constructed after Alfonso I of Aragon conquered the city.
The cathedral is impressive with an amazing arc of steps leading up to the entrance. It was so large, we had to walk further along the nearby street to get a full photo.
The cathedral was rebuilt in the Mudejar style. We googled its meaning to learn there are different interpretations. But basically, the cathedral has Islamic artwork produced by Christian craftsmen.
As we made our way down to the Queiles River, we found the old bullring constructed in 1790-1792. You can’t miss the bright yellow octagonal shape.
It was built with 32 apartments on 4 levels for wealthy families of the city to view the bullfights from their balconies. While the bullfights moved to a new arena in 1870, families still reside in the apartments.
What a cool way to preserve the building.
Walking over the Queiles River, the views back to the Cathedral is breathtaking, as well as the walk up the hill.
On this side of the river, you can visit the Palacio Episcopal, originally a Muslim fortress and residence of the Kings of Aragon.
But our favorite place was the Tarazona Town Hall.
When you first approach the town hall, your eyes are drawn to the amazing frieze – a story of Tarazona.
Along the front of the building, the frieze displays the history of Tarazona. We googled to understand who the various people portrayed were, while clicking off lots of photos.
The building was the city’s first stock exchange which probably explains the exquisite 16th-century facade. Originally used for the markets, it became the town hall in the 17th century.
Having spent the best part of a day, we did leave enough time to make it back to Zaragoza for an early evening river walk. But importantly, we gave ourselves plenty of time to explore more of Zaragoza’s tasty Tapas bars.
Getting to Zaragoza from Madrid or Barcelona
Madrid to Zaragoza by Fast Train
- book in advance a fast train with Renfe AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) Spain’s national railway company
- Allow one and quarter to one and a half hours
- Cost from €30-65 depending on seat booked
The alternative is the Media Distancia trains which can take up to two hours.
Barcelona to Zaragoza by Fast Train
- book in advance a fast train with Renfe AVE (Alta Velocidad Española)
- Allow one and a half to two hours
- Cost from €30-65 depending on seat booked and time of day
Zaragoza Delicias Train Station (for fast trains) is located just under 5kms from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
Our suggestion would be to take a taxi to avoid wasting time crossing major streets, the river and the summer heat.
However, to reach Huesca and Tarazona, your best option is to hire a car from the city center.
Another interesting place only 50 minutes from Zaragoza is the memorial town of Belchite.
Visit the Memorial town of Belchite
Leaving after another scrumptious breakfast, our road trip from Zaragoza was planned with a stop at the Spanish Civil War memorial town of Belchite.
Belchite was destroyed in the 1937 Battle of Belchite and lays abandoned as a stark reminder.
Unfortunately, when we arrived, the memorial wasn’t opening until 10.30 am. But not to be deterred, we drove a little further down the road to get some photos.
While I got a little distracted messaging one of our sons, Terry went wandering to get some photos. Thinking Terry should be back, just as I left the car, he re-appeared at the top of the bank, a little flustered but fine.
If you don’t know, Terry has a thing with his cameras only lasting a year. So having navigated his way up the bank, he was to trip and roll down the other side while holding the camera aloft.
Thankfully, no icy water in the ditch below, no insurance claim, only some mud to wash from his jeans. And he got the photos he needed.
Traveling from Zaragoza to Valencia
We continued our road trip along a secondary route with views of snow-covered hills in the distance. Needing a toilet stop, we came across a small bar in the middle of nowhere.
As it was Sunday, we found a group of men keeping warm inside enjoying their coffee and something stronger. No doubt their better halves having been to church, were now at home cooking the Sunday meal.
They were all a little surprised to find foreigners from New Zealand interrupting their chatter, and maybe if we understood more Spanish, we would have understood what was to come further along our road trip.
As we passed over the next hill we saw the black ice on the road and snow piled to the side. Finding an area to pull off, we had a snow fight for about a minute or two and got back into the warm car.
But as we passed over the second hill, we drove straight into a blizzard. Our second experience of a snowstorm while driving in Spain. The last snowstorm was our road trip from Tarragona to Andorra during the blizzard known as ‘The Beast from the East.’
As we drove, the snow was being lifted and swept across the road.
Did we stop? The answer should be yes, but alas “No.”
Because we couldn’t see the road ahead, we were driving so slow, Terry was using Google Maps to navigate the bends in the road. It was one of those YouTube moments “two idiots driving in a blizzard.”
Normally our research is top-notch, but somehow we had missed reading the mountain range of Sierra de San Just – one of the coldest and rugged areas of Aragon.
Having seen the elevation sign of 1,300 meters, we were pleased to make it to La Puebla de Valverd for a lunch break. Still snowing, we were surrounded by skiers stopping to enjoy their hot food and drinks.
Terry took over the driving and literally drove five minutes down the road into brilliant sunshine.
Oh well, at least there were now views of hillside castles, blue skies, and Valencia was the next stop on the itinerary. We will tell you about what we saw in Valencia and other places along the coast to Malaga in our next post.