The weather changed dramatically as I headed to northern Spain and Basque Country.
I thought I might have got lucky with the advent of spring by choosing to travel in the middle of March from the south of Europe to the north and England. But my fond dreams of birdsong and plumes of daffodils were premature. The cards of the weather gods were still being dealt in favour of the winter sports brigade.
The road from Madrid to San Sebastian near Spain’s border with France was straightforward, mostly A1/E5 but hitting San Sebastian at night to pick up the road to St Jean de Luz, just over the border in France, was a bit nerve-wracking. A lot of road tunnels and not a lot of useful signage to an English driver.
San Sebastian is an interesting city in itself boasting one of the best in-city beaches in Europe but I will have to enjoy it on another day. I reached St Jean de Luz late in the evening in time for stroll around its marina and harbour before bed.
The historic region of the Basque people is the western Pyrenees and the area spans both sides of the border between Spain and France. St Jean de Luz is a typical French Basque village with whitewashed houses boasting shutters and timbered rooves.
A great stop on a tour, if a little pricey, and a place I would like to revisit in warmer weather. It was getting colder and colder as I headed north. The T-shirt weather had gone and people were wrapping up. How I wished I had set off in April.
Next morning I popped in to the local tourist office in St Jean de Lux for some directions to pick up the N10. As I had set my mind on not paying road tolls I thought I would try the N10 which seemed the most direct route to Caen, Normandy, where my ferry awaited.
I spent about an hour on the D810 minor road before hitting the E5/E70/A63 and the N10. This provided a good stretch of two-lane motorway like our A1. A bit congested with lorries and tight lanes but I was able to 120 kilometres an hour most of the time.
This took me to Bordeaux where I spent about 20 minutes on the city’s ring road waiting for the sign for the E606/N10 to Angouleme and Poitiers. It comes after the sign for Bergerac. This again provided an A1 type stretch of road and about 8 kilometres from Angouleme there was an Auchan superstore easily visible from the road. It was selling the cheapest petrol I had seen in France at 1.55 euros a litre for 95 octane unleaded.
I made good time to Poitiers but from here on the route was very slow and winding towards Tours. Very interesting though and I saw so many villages I would like to be able to stop off at on a more leisurely tour that I will visit again.
The snow was starting to lie on the roads as I headed towards Le Mans and at this point I thought it would be safer to give up on my attempts at toll-free motoring in France and join the auto-route. It got steadily worse.. See my clip below. You could play Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas at the same time and maybe have a glass of sherry!.
The highway authorities were closing motorways and I was lucky to get through to Caen after being allowed to pass a whole fleet of stranded lorries waiting for the A28 to reopen.
Around midnight, I was the only vehicle on the autoroute and was often negotiating packed snow.
I wondered what I would do if my car broke down. It was a strange experience all round and one I wouldn’t care to repeat.
Caen was covered in snow and the roads to the ferry terminal from the city’s peripherique ring road were somewhat confusing. An armada of snow ploughs and other vehicles were on the move.
I got there in the early hours and was able to curl up on the back seat of my car and wait for the ferry terminal to open up about 6.30pm. Later in the day I was in Portsmouth, England, and had left the snow behind, for a little anyway. I had spent a total of around 17 euros on toll roads travelling from the Algarve, Portugal, to England.