During the Spring I decided that I wanted to have a driving break in France & Spain as, despite having visited both countries several times, I’d never driven over there on my own. I am, by nature, a solo traveller and apart from my road trip around the Western Highlands of Scotland in June 2013, I’d not been on a proper solo road trip for many years.
My initial plan was to take the ferry across the channel and basically drive down through France and Spain and go where I wanted, when I wanted, finding somewhere to stay each evening. This would give me the total freedom to roam where I pleased that such a solo trip should allow. I knew from previous visits that both countries had an abundance of sleeping options from posh châteaux to lower end b&bs but there was a problem with this plan – the time it could take to find such places every evening !
So, much as I loved the idea, I didn’t want to be using up valuable touristy time looking for a place to sleep from about 4pm each afternoon and maybe having to settle for somewhere just because it was getting dark and mild panic was setting in. I suddenly had images of sleeping in the car some nights and I’m way too old (and my car too small) for that crap.
I also needed to go at the very start of the warmer summer weeks as my little Renault Clio is very basic and has no air conditioning. I would be driving many miles each day and spending a lot of time in the car so I did not want to be doing this in a hot oven on wheels.
It was at this point (at the end of March) that I went to visit Liverpool for a few days and for the first time, I stayed in an Ibis hotel as it was close to the famous Liverpool Docks. I loved it. It was basic but it was clean, had a great bed and a wonderful shower and that’s all I ever want in a hotel room. It was also very cheap and with a buffet breakfast thrown in, the classic light bulb went off over my head. Were there such hotels in France and Spain ?
A quick Google search gave me my answer……yes. I discovered Ibis hotels were everywhere as the parent company, AccorHotels, was French and owned 3,700 hotels in 92 countries. Perfect.
Immediately I started on Plan B which was to still drive down through France and into Spain but adding up the miles, I soon realised the overall distance involved was beyond my idea of a “relaxing” 3 week road trip. To drive directly from my home in Leeds to the bottom of Spain and back again was almost 3,200 miles and going anywhere “directly” was not the idea at all. I wanted to explore. I wanted to stay off the French and Spanish toll roads and experience their classic small towns and villages at a much slower pace. I wanted to drive along scenic country roads and not fast paced highways.
I wanted to see beret wearing, Gauloises smoking, onion carrying Frenchmen on their clapped out push bikes; I wanted to see km after km of colourful crops and vines, smell the fields of lavender, come upon beautiful medieval hill towns or classic seaside resorts and sit outside small cafes on warm evenings having coffee from ridiculously tiny cups, bemoaning the lack of wifi !
I wouldn’t get much of that whizzing along 130kph toll roads trying to get from A to B before nightfall.
It was time for Plan B, Version 2.
Plan B.2 was made possible by using a combination of Google Maps and the AccorHotel web site. It was also made possible, or I should say financially more acceptable, by my signing up for a Halifax Clarity Credit Card which has no fees whatsoever and you simply get charged the Sterling/Euro exchange rate at the time of the purchase. More of this in later posts.
For several days I was tied to my laptop planning an interesting route down through Western France, avoiding toll roads and visiting places I’d always wanted to visit. The reason for going down the West side was because I’d decided to go along the top of Spain as that would be a new route for me and that way I could drop down into Portugal which would be a new country for me to visit. I found Accor hotels easily enough all along the route and so I was able to book my accommodation for every night of my trip. I used the Halifax card each time as a guarantee although in a few cases I had to use it to actually pay for the room in advance.
And that was it. I’d bought my ferry ticket weeks before to get the best price (£62) and now I had my route planned out and a bed booked for every night. The first and last nights would be at my favourite b&b near Dunkirk and every other night would be in an Ibis hotel, 14 of them in all.
That just left purchasing medical/holiday insurance and getting some Euros cash.
Because of my “ongoing medical condition” as the insurance companies call it, cover for my 22 day trip cost me £112. As for cash, I only got €310 (from Tesco) as I decided I’d not need more as I planned on using my new Halifax credit card for as many purchases as possible and if I needed more cash, I could get it fee free from an ATM. Another benefit of this specific card.
(All this made it very easy to work out how much the entire trip cost me as apart from the ferry and the insurance costs, everything else either came out of the €€€€’s I’d taken with me or were on the Halifax card.)
Based on my hotel stops, this was my route…………
And finally, after weeks of planning, at 07:15 on Monday 8th June 2015, the road trip began with the 277 mile drive down from Leeds to the DFDS ferry at Dover…………..