Tolosa – A Little Bit of Heaven in Basque Country
It’s six o’clock in the morning of the second of February, and I have to click on the calendar to find out what day of the week it is. Sunday. It is Sunday. And Iggy the Hymer motorhome is parked up at a huge parking lot with about thirty other vans, in Logroño, Rioja country, in Northern Spain.
It is “catch up with the blog day”, and before I can tell you about our day in Logroño yesterday I must first skip back a day. Back to Friday and Iggy rolling out of the French motorhome aire in Saint-Lon-les-Mines, and heading for the Spanish border and the little town of Tolosa.
Donostia/San Sebastian is the obvious stop when taking this route into Spain. It’s a really lovely place to visit, and it was tempting me quite a lot. But we have stopped there twice before, and my driving force is always to explore. To seek out new places, make new footprints in my own, personal sand. I have always been an explorer at heart, and this is why, when we travel, I learn nothing about our destinations until we reach them.
Each day, or maybe the day before, I pick a likely looking spot from Google and Park4night. Roughly the distance we want to drive, and roughly in the direction of the furthest point we can reach on our current tour. And for this day,Tolosa was it. A small town in the Basque country, with a free motorhome aire and a pretty looking picture on Google images.
Even though our destination was only a hundred miles away, we were going to take the scenic route through the hairpin bends of the back roads, and it was a good three and a half hours drive away.
Our long six hour drive days through France were behind us though, and we were looking forward to the trip on this beautiful, sunny and warm, last day of January. These last few miles of France always take a while off the toll roads, but the scenery is much better. It was the third time now that we’d driven this route, and the twin spires of Bayonne cathedral were like old friends when they appeared through Iggy’s windscreen.
We commented that we really must stop here some day – as we always do. And I exclaimed over, and over again about the beautiful views, all the way from Bayonne to St-Jean-de-Luz. Where – once again as we always do – we commented on how we really must stop here some day. Maybe even on the way back this time. Instead of Donostia/San Sebastian.
A few minutes further, and we reached the final town in France, Hendaye, which quietly and without fuss, turned into the Spanish town of Irun as we crossed the river Bidasoa over a short bridge. It was the last border we would cross as EU citizens. Perhaps forever. And I turned my mind resolutely away from whatever was happening back in the UK and focused on the road ahead. Time enough for the battle against the nastiness of Westminster politics when we had to go back.
We’d had a late start this morning, and had stopped for an hour for lunch just outside of Bayonne, so the afternoon was moving on as we spiralled our way through the Spanish countryside towards Tolosa. It was a fantastic route with small twisting roads, and gorgeous villages and small towns along the way. Jay had his work cut out for him as one hairpin swung into another, but the roads were easily driveable for all their size. And after a couple of hours at 30 miles an hour we pulled into Tolosa just as the sky was starting to tinge pink from the setting sun.
By the time we’d squeezed Iggy into a space at the busy motorhome area (43.133858, -2.083607) dusk was rapidly falling. The air was still warm though, and after the long five days driving from Scotland we were determined to finally treat ourselves to a taverna. Having the furry one restricts us a lot when it comes to eating out, so we love warm places where we can sit outside with no fuss.
I’d left the camera at home, but I couldn’t resist snapping a few shots with my phone as we strolled the few minutes along the river into the town centre. It seemed like everyone else in Tolosa was of the same mind, and we were immediately reminded of our night in nearby Beasain nearly three years ago.
We found a seat at a busy taverna full of happy, laughing Basque people. Marley ran straight under the table, and lay down to wait for treats. Children climbed and ran and laughed at a playground area next to the taverna. Babies, boys kicking balls, girls on skates. Cool teenagers, adults of every age, waggy tailed dogs. A smile for the strangers. A hello kiss for a friend. Octogenarians flirting with youthful, twinkly eyes. Everyone was out. Out enjoying the mild evening. Enjoying the weekend. Enjoying each other. Enjoying life. Just sitting here was to bathe in a fresh, warm sea of happiness.
It was too good to hurry away from, and we lingered over our drink and a couple of pinxtos. In no hurry to go home we wandered on down the street to the next group of tavernas and paused another hour for a second drink there. It was a toss of the coin whether to dawdle for a naughty third or make or way home. Naughty won hands down and we had another round of pinxtos to go with our nightcap before we strolled the ten minutes or so back to Iggy and into a rosy, wine coloured sleep.
We’d fallen in love with the happy atmosphere in Tolosa, and it felt like the tour had finally, properly begun. But we hadn’t explored far, and with more still to see I wanted to head back into the old town in the morning with my camera.
I nearly changed my mind, torn between getting some photos and getting on the road. But I was getting a bit fed up of not getting a proper wander round places on this trip – so the camera won. And oh I was so glad it did as we passed on down the river beyond yesterday’s ramble and came upon the stunning sight of the old town buildings lining the river bank, a mountain rising in casual majesty behind. I took photo after photo, but it is one of those fabulous places that, really, you just have to experience for yourself. A true feast for the heart and soul.
We stopped at a little pasteleria next to the Saturday food market for coffee and pastries. Dropped a euro in the buskers’ hat as they played Spanish folk music in the archway of one of the old city gates. And reluctantly turned back along the river to the motorhome Aire.
Wednesday was getting closer and Salobreña was still a long way away. It was time to say goodbye to Toloso and get back on the road south again.
But if you’re ever passing, and you feel like stopping for a night or two… Take the slow road up from Irun. Let your shoulders relax a little. Don’t hurry. Don’t forget to put your phone down. To breathe the fresh air. Drink in the smiling faces of the locals. And when you raise your glass in the bright Basque sunshine… whisper to Tolosa that Fi and Jay say hello.