Late last summer my wife and I headed to Spain for a few days. She had previously visited France and Italy and knew a thing or two about Europe, but this was my first trip to the continent. At my urging this particular trip found us mostly outside the bounds of normal tourism, driving with abandon throughout the Pyrenees Mountains of northern Spain.
Neither of us are fond of the congestion of big cities but don’t mind driving long distances, and this trip reflected our small-town, open-country personalities. We opted to fly into Barcelona instead of Madrid, and this slightly-smaller city offered less traffic and a quicker exit into the countryside. The car rental counter at the airport gave us a compact manual-shift diesel (a Ford C-Max), which is typical of Europe. We both knew how to drive a stick, and before long the benefits of a compact car with diesel torque would become obvious.
We headed directly out of town, and soon we were out on the open expanse of Spain’s excellent highway system. The autovias (designated by A-) are much like interstate freeways in the United States. These high-speed multi-lane roads are well-marked and well maintained, featuring great signage and entrance- and exit-ramps. Autopistas (designated AP-, or any letter with a P before the dash) are toll roads, and we easily avoided those routes. From Barcelona we headed west on A-2, picked up some Euros at an ATM in the nice little city of Igualada, then got on A-22 in Lleida before heading north on N-240 then N-123 near Barbastro. These “national roads” (designated by N-) are much like US routes in the United States but vary greatly depending on the terrain. In open areas most are wide, but in the mountains some aren’t much wider than a single car. This presented us with some white-knuckle gasps at times as we seemed to just barely squeak past a truck going in the opposite direction.
As we wound through the increasingly rural countryside the scenery continued to improve.
Near Olvena we headed north on A-138, and this took us past the serene Reservoir of Grado I.
Further north was the medieval city of Abizanda. The tower stronghold here was built around 1023 to defend Christian Spain against Muslim invaders from the south. This part of Spain is full of historical buildings. The more impressive examples like Abizanda are significant monuments, but other, smaller ruins also litter the landscape.
Near Ainsa we headed west on N-260 where it follows the Rio Ara through the Pyrenees. The views here were amazing.
Near Janovas we headed off the highway onto a gravel mountain road that would lead us to our accommodations for the duration of this trip. In some places the road was deeply rutted and partially washed out, and in other places larger boulders littered the path. Although our little Ford C-Max lacked ground clearance and four-wheel drive, its diesel torque was all too eager to thrust us over these obstacles.
Just before dusk we arrived at Casa de San Martin, a remote but relatively luxurious small hotel. This was our home base for the next two nights, and there were no finer accommodations in this part of the world.
Continued in Three Days in the Pyrenees of Spain: Part 2