Most people visiting Spain choose to fly. If it’s just a long weekend then flying is the only realistic option. But if your stay is for a week or longer, then driving has a lot going for it.
There’s the flexibility of being able to change your travel plans, of stopping off to check out attractions en-route. There’s the considerable advantage of being able to take so much more luggage, with no worries about whether half your goods will be conviscated or end up damaged on an airport conveyor belt, or even lost forever. And you get a real sense of making a journey, of seeing the landscape and architecture change as you travel, something you just don’t get when you fly. It goes without saying that you also avoid the stresses associated with airport security, check-in, and for many people, of flying itself.
A drive to Spain can either be a leisurely trip taking several days, or it is perfectly possible to reach Northern Spain in a day from the Western Channel Ports. The route you take largely depends on your final destination, as well as your departure point in the UK.
If you live in the South-East then Dover to Calais/Dunkerque (or Folkestone to Calais if you prefer to use the Channel Tunnel) is your best option. Heading for the Mediterranean coast and Barcelona does involve a lengthy drive to the Spanish border of about 11 hours, so unless you’re in a big hurry you’d be advised to stop off in somewhere like Clermont Ferrand on the A75. This motorway passes through some spectacular scenery in the Auvergne and crosses the stunning new bridge near Millau.
Coming from Calais/Dunkerque means traversing Paris. Unfortunately there is no easy way to circumnavigate Paris to the West, so the best route is to take the A16 from Calais, then the N104 towards Aeroport Charles de Gaulle, the A1 towards Paris, then the A3/A86 signed Lyon, and finally the A10 to Orléans where you join the A71/A75. This takes you all the way to the Mediterranean at Montpellier, where you take the A9 to the Spanish border.
Leaving Calais and heading for the Western Spanish border between Biarritz and San Sebastian means taking the A16/A28 to Rouen. This city still doesn’t have a by-pass, but there’s a good dual carriageway through the town. Once in Rouen follow the signs to Caen and the A13, then look out for the A28 which takes you via Le Mans to Tours. Here you join the A10 to Bordeaux and onwards to Spain on the A63. This jouney also involves about an 11 hour drive.
But if you take one of the ferries from Portsmouth to St Malo and drive to the A10 via Rennes and Nantes, the driving time is reduced to just over 9 hours to the Med, or only 7.5 hours to San Sebastian. You can leave St Malo at 8 am after a good night’s sleep and be swimming in the beautiful bay at San Sebastian before tea.
If you really don’t want the drive down through France there’s the ferry from Plymouth to Santander, which only takes 16 hours, leaving Plymouth in the afternoon and getting to Santander after breakfast. Or the longer crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao, which takes 36 hours and is more like a cruise than a ferry trip, even offering the chance for some whale and dolphin spotting!
When you get to Spain you’ll find that the Spanish police are now very active in enforcing their traffic laws. No problem if you abide by the rules, but if you do not you run the risk of incurring hefty on-the-spot fines. You might not believe it, given how the Spanish drive, but radar speed traps and unmarked police cars are common-place. Spain was the first of several countries to introduce a law requiring you to carry a high visibility vest for every occupant, to be used in case of breakdown. These vests must be in the car, not the boot. You also need a spare pair of spectacles if you need them to drive.
Bail bonds are no longer required, but make sure your car insurer knows you are driving abroad, and check there are no restrictions on your policy. Note that although non-Spanish vehicles are only required to carry one warning triangle, Spanish vehicles must carry two. We know of cases where this has caused difficulty, so you are advised to take two. And remember to signal when pulling in after over-taking. Motorists have been fined for not doing so.
All the information you could ever need about driving to Spain, as well as driving in other European countries, is on the Drive-Alive website. And if you’re looking for en-route accommodation and great ferry prices, Drive-Alive’s interactive holiday planner is the place to book. So enjoy the freedom of having your own car, obey the law, and have a great time driving to and in Spain.