Since we were bitten by what we like to call “the road bug”, that kind of virus that forces you to perceive all trips as an adventure en route, the dream of traveling in a motorhome across Europe was becoming bigger and bigger. It took us a long time to make the decision. Maybe it would have been nice to have had an article like “The dream: Europe by motorhome” to take away all the fears that anyone used to the small dimensions of a car has when thinking of a monster of 7 meters high by 3 tall.
But after months and months of thinking and rethinking about it, of saying “yes, we do it” and “no, we better go by car and sleep in Airbnb”, we take the great decision to travel the European continent with our house on our backs. It was August 23rd 2017, and the dream of driving around Europe in a motorhome was about to become a reality.
- 1 ¿HOW TO CHOOSE THE IDEAL MOTORHOME?
- 2 THE BEST MOTORHOME ROAD TRIP AROUND EUROPE
¿HOW TO CHOOSE THE IDEAL MOTORHOME?
The first challenge that we had to face was the most important one: choosing our motorhome that would be our home for the next 90 days. It is not a decision that we should take lightly. If you are going to fulfill your dream of traveling by motorhome you have to do it well, otherwise, it is better not to do it. Therefore, there were several factors that we had to consider: size, autonomy, price, and most importantly, that the company accepted pets (our dog would come with us).
THE SIZE OF THE MOTORCYCLE: Here we are not talking about what I said before. The size you choose has nothing to do with the fear of driving something big. Here you should pay attention to comfort. The first thing you have to ask yourself is “How many are we?”. We could have easily chosen a campervan since we only needed one bed. But we were going to be three months living there and we considered that for our little son it was better to have a living space where he could walk and play at night or during the rainy days (when the motorhome is parked, of course. There is no need to say that when you are in motion everyone must be seated and with the seat belt fastened).
AUTONOMY AND PRICE: I will not dwell on this point as everything related to this topic can be found in our article “A beginners guide for a motorhome road trip”. But it is more than clear that when deciding on a motorhome instead of a car one of the first things that comes to mind is “will it be very expensive?”. You will find the answer in that article that I told you about.
“PET-FRIENDLY”: Leaving our dog in the care of someone for 3 months while we went out to travel Europe in a motorhome was not a possible possibility. So we had to find a company that would accept the four-legged furry in their vehicles. That’s when we discovered Caravaning K2 (author’s note: the company does not pay us for this, we only consider that a company that accepts pets in their vehicles without putting any downside is worth being named).
Now that we had the “technical part” decided, it was time to think about the itinerary. Where should we go? Do we follow a fixed itinerary or do we let ourselves go? What would be the best option?
THE BEST MOTORHOME ROAD TRIP AROUND EUROPE
This title you have just read has no answer. It would be absurd to talk about the best itinerary in Europe in a motorhome without lying. There is no better itinerary. The best is the one that best suits your tastes and needs. The only thing I can definitely say is that the best itinerary is the one that has a sketch written in pencil to erase it and write it again. The best itinerary is the one that allows you to improvise on the fly, which gets more important having a motorhome, a hotel in tow, a mobile kitchen. So that was the itinerary we decided to take. We knew that our destination further east would be Poland. We would not go further by a matter of time. We knew that we should finally return to Alcalá de Henares, from where we left. But the roads left us with endless possibilities and improvisations that would take us through the most wonderful adventure of our lives. The one that left the road bug quite satisfied.
We are going to divide this series into several articles, by country, where we will tell you where we went, what we did, and where we slept with the motorhome. We will also give you some tips on the way so that when you decide to fulfill your dream of traveling by motorhome in Europe, you can go a little more prepared than us. Shall we start?
PART 1: SPAIN IN A MOTORHOME
STAGE 1: ALCALA DE HENARES TO BARDENAS REALES – 300 KILOMETERS
We could have done thousands of stops in the middle because Spain has that: every few steps, a village, a gift of nature, a vibrant city. But we had already toured Spain for three months and this first stage was going to happen faster. So we decided to get used to driving the motorhome rather quickly and drive a good stretch of 300 kilometers from Alcalá de Henares (from where we rented the motorhome) to the Bardenas Reales, one of the most unknown Spanish National Parks, even by the Spaniards themselves. But we had heard about a place that looked taken from a movie from the far west, and the legends were true.
But a torrential rain forced us to stop the motorhome because you could not even see two meters away. But we were inside a house so we just sit down and saw the rain falling down and hitting our roof as a concert.
For that reason, we left the visit to the park for the next day and went to our first night stop: the Motorhome Area of Arguedas, just in front of the troglodyte caves. Before going into detail of this place let´s see the following:
Now, let’s talk about this first stop. The Arguedas caves are just 11 kilometers away from the Bardenas Reales Natural Park, so it became an ideal place to spend the night. Beyond the basic facilities, the most attractive feature of this service area is its location: just in front of the caves that were excavated in the wall of the hill at the end of the 19th century with the objective of housing the inhabitants who, due to financial problems, could not have their own home. The interior of the caves maintained a constant temperature between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius, be it winter or summer. Until the decade of the 60s, these caves continued to exist -in 1940 there were 52-. They were abandoned since social houses started to be built. Today they can be seen from the outside, on a path delimited on the hill.
That first night we slept in direct contact with nature and with the first great view from our window.
Location of the service area:
We talked about this park countless times as in our article about the 5 natural wonders is Spain to disconnect, so we will make a brief summary: Bardenas Reales is a Natural Park of semi-desert landscape of 42,500 hectares declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It is located in Navarra and few know of its existence – few considering that other parks such as the Picos de Europa or the Pyrenees receive a huge influx of tourists. It is a place of soils and mountains that were eroded by the action of water and wind that gives us the feeling of being in a film from the far west.
The entrance to the park is free and it can be visited by car, on foot (not recommended in summer due to the extreme heat), and even by bicycle, from 8 in the morning until an hour before sunset. The trails are very well marked and along the road, there are places to stop the motorhome and take walks or simply admire nature at its best.
This spectacular landscape was formed millions of years ago (and continues to form and deform). One of the most striking formations and therefore the Park’s icon is Castildetierra, a formation that allows us to understand the power of erosion. I will not go into technical or orographic details that talk about how the erosion process was since you can find it on Wikipedia. But I assure you that being there, on the edge of these formations, makes you feel the magnitude of the power of nature.
As long as we take care of the sun and hydration matters, the Bardenas Reales Natural Park is an ideal place to visit with dogs and children, as it offers them a new world, almost from another planet, where they can discover shapes and textures that they had never seen elsewhere. It was in Bardenas Reales where we enjoyed our first lunch inside the motorhome, on our own, in the shade of our vehicle, with the imposing desert as wallpaper of our windows. Those same windows that would, later on, be witnesses of endless worlds.
Fun fact: For Game of Thrones fans, Bardenas Reales was one of the scenarios for the series. This, in the fantastic world of George R. R. Martin, is the Dothraki Sea, and it is there where Daenerys Targaryen is taken as a prisoner by the army of Khal Drogo.
STAGE 2: BARDENAS REALES TO AOIZ – 169 KILOMETERS
We continue our journey through Spanish lands and in less than an hour and a half we are going to radically change the landscape. Without leaving the Foral Community of Navarre we will go from the arid and desert lands of the Bardenas Reales Park to a place where the river moves like a snake in its passage between cliffs and trees. We left our motorhome in the parking lot that is right at the entrance to the Green path of the Irati River, we paid the parking fee of 2.5 euros and we decided to start our “gorge” day. In this parking lot, it is forbidden to stay overnight, although there are many who stay when the guard leaves at 10 PM. We prefer to be responsible travelers so we do not recommend it. The coordinates for the parking:
On our right, the waters of the Irati River were heard crossing the rocks. To our left and also crossing the river, huge cliffs of reddish walls and trees rising from their cracks rose several meters high. And up there staining the deep blue of the sky, dozens of griffon vultures flew over our heads, with their wings spread looking for the wind currents that would take them back and forth. We have never seen so many birds of prey together, leaving their nests, dominating the heights of a rugged landscape that in its easy 1300 meters long journey invites you to cross caves and a path suitable for all, pets included.
The path will lead us through caves that in summer will become a wonderful and refreshing break in the shade. These caves were created to allow the passage of what was the first electric train for passengers in Spain, the Irati, which traversed the 58 kilometers that separated the towns of Pamplona, Aoiz, and Sangüesa. Today 6 kilometers of that road are conditioned as a green path for the enjoyment of travelers. Of those 6, 1.3 kilometers are those of this beautiful walk in the Lumbier Gorge.
The gorge system of Navarre is one of the richest in the whole country, and it is the Arbayún Gorge that offers the most impressive aerial views, with the griffon vultures flying this time below our feet. We are in the Iso Viewpoint, right where there is a parking lot to leave the motorhome (with the possibility of staying overnight). There from above, we can feel like birds for a while. On a balcony that rises over a free fall of 300 meters we can appreciate the magnitude of the Arbayún Gorge, a natural wonder of 5.6 kilometers in length created by the erosion caused by the passage of the Salazar River. This Natural Reserve and Special Protection Area for Birds offers an unforgettable sunset from the viewpoint.
We could have stayed overnight there and enjoy an awakening in the gorge solitude. But we needed to load and unload waters, so we continued on to the place where we would spend the next two nights: the parking lot of the Ekai hotel, in Ecay-Aoiz, just 26 kilometers away from Pamplona. You can park for free and it has a beautiful playground for children. The people at the hotel are super friendly and allow you to use their wifi. It is recommended to consume something in their bar, but you are not obliged to do so. The location:
STAGE 3: AOIZ TO RONCESVALLES – 33 KILOMETERS
Roncesvalles, a very important place along the Saint James Way -since those who follow the French Way enter to Spain right there-, would be our last Spanish stop on this trip to Poland (we would return to Spain later on, at the end of our journey). History says that the Celts, the Barbarians, the Goths, and Charlemagne himself, entered Spain through this small town that now has only 21 inhabitants. But now it is the pilgrims who surpass the population. They stop in front of the sign that marks the distance to Santiago de Compostela, tying their shoelaces for the last time and arranging their backpacks.
Have you seen our interview with the Saint James Way pilgrims once they reached Santiago?
We enjoyed the good weather and stopped for a picnic next to the Church of the Royal Collegiate of Santa María de Roncesvalles, the 13th-century Gothic church which is perhaps, along with the Pilgrims Hospital, the most important religious monument in town.
Between pilgrims who came and went, and were looking for a place to rest their feet, or were on their way to Santiago de Compostela, we relaxed on the lawn and said goodbye – for now – to Spain, the first country on our road trip around Europe in a motorhome.
For the second part of our adventure click here.
LIKE IT? PIN IT!