Spain and France 2013 - Facts and Information

Planning and Travel

Background information

Above Potes
Below Potes
S of Potes
Around Lerate
S Martín de Unx
S Maria de Eunate
Around Unzué
Puente la Reina
Fab de Orbaitzeta
Monast de Irache
Around Foix
Foix and around
Camon & Puivert
Two Abbeys
Latou Valley
To the Dordogne
W of Borrèze 1
W of Borrèze 2
Urval & Cadouin
Vézère Valley
Maison Forte
First thoughts
Our first trip to France in 2011 had partly come from interest aroused during some time in Labrador when we discovered the role of Bretons in the earliest seasonal settlements over there in medieval times. Other major players had been Basques and later thoughts led to a desire to see some of the Basque Country followed by more southerly parts of France than we had previously visited plus the Dordogne.

Still satisfied with Brittany Ferries in terms of ease of booking, gîtes and general quality of service we decided to stick with them. Schedules (and the march of the seasons) made it more sensible to start in the south and work our way north. There were limited arrivals at a sensible time so we settled for a lunchtime arrival in Bilbao which would give us adequate time to get to our first stay (having stocked up with provisions on the way) in daylight.

Most of the properties available were on the coast but we did not want these (rainy, touristy) but preferred to be inland. Two matched our requirements, one in the Cantabrian mountains the other further inland in Navarra. The Spanish properties had the advantage of those in France of offering midweek arrivals and lets of less than a week. In France we aimed for a week in the Hautes-Pyrénées in a small hamlet in the hills just above Montferrier followed by another week in the Dordogne deep in the hills above Borrèze. As on our previous trip to the Auvergne the drive to the ferry at Caen would have been too long for a comfortable day. Again we had B&B at Le Clos de la Fontaine at Massay near Vierzon which could provide a small studio bedroom in which we could prepare our own dinner.
Because the trip involved more than one cottage we could not book via the web but had to do it over the phone. This was hassle free.

Transport and getting around
We had an outside cabin for the 24 hour sailing to Bilbao but didn't see much and didn't want to go on deck as the previously good weather had turned to murk and later torrential rain in Bilbao (sadly an omen for the next few weeks). As it would be dark for the return from Caen we saved a bit by booking an inside cabin. Cabins are typical ferry offerings and were comfortable and clean.

In general we avoided the main routes (be advised that drivers on Spanish dual carriageways don't move over for joining traffic). There had been a lot of investment in road building in the parts of Spain we visited and even minor road were well surfaced (although sometimes a bit narrow and bendy so needed special care). Driving in Hautes-Pyrénées and the Dordogne needed more care on the narrower minor roads.

To stay legal we had a GB plate on the car (we refuse to have EU registration plates), beam deflectors, high visibility vests and two breathalysers inside the car, plus two warning triangles, a spare set of spectacles and spare bulb set. (The second triangle is required in Spain by Spanish, not foreign drivers, but it seems not all the cops are aware of that distinction so it is best to take a second in case you get stopped.)

In Cantabria at Acenaba we had a two floor unit in a quiet and peaceful setting in the hills. It was warm and well equipped. In Navarra at Lerate we had a chalet on a large campsite which we guessed could be noisy in season. The chalet was cramped with very basic equipment including a glacial hob which would not get past a simmer. We did not feel it offered good value for money (although to be fair it served our purpose). In Hautes-Pyrénées at Barthale we had a house in a quiet location which was quiet and well-equipped but cold. In the Dordogne at Pechmezel we had a well-equipped cottage in a very quiet hamlet. (Exact locations of properties can be seen by zooming in on the
interactive map.)

Shopping and things
At Acenaba there was an excellent traditional bakery with wood-fired ovens on the way into Potes where there was a supermarket. The site at Lerate had a very basic shop
so we tended to take pot luck for shopping as we drove around. In Hautes-Pyrénées there were two basic shops in Montferrier which sold bread and very good cheese and a Super U nearby in Lavelanet. When we were in the Dordogne the local village had no shops but there were good bakers (and a very poor Intermarché) in Salignac and a good Super U in Souillac.

We enjoyed sampling the local cider in Spain.

We had planned the trip for May expecting reasonable weather which would be quite warm. In the event we were to be very disappointed as most days were cold with a lot of cloud. Apparently much of southern and central Europe suffered the same.

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