Road Trip from France to Portugal (Photo Essay)

Monday, March 23, 2015

I love road trips, don't you?

I love the feeling of freedom on the open highway. I love listening to unfamiliar music or having a good conversation while sitting inside the car. I love looking at the changing landscape, the road signs and the myriad of sky colors. I even love stopping at the restaurants, coffee shops or gas stations while checking out the local food and delicacy. Most of all, I love the anticipation- that feeling of being in between places.

When I'm on the road, my heart expands with every breath.

I went on a road trip with my husband and daughter recently. We drove from France to Portugal and it's one of the longest trips I've been in a car. The distance from Versailles (France) to Viana dos Castelo (Portugal) is about 1,600 km. You can probably do that in a day with a few stops, but we chose take the leisurely route. We wanted to do it in 2 days so we can stop in Biarritz for the night and continue the journey towards Spain then Portugal the next day.

France to Portugal1

The French highway is called the autoroute and the rest stops are called "Aire". So you would often see a sign that says "Aire de ____" and some icons to indicate if that stop has a restaurant or gas station. Some stops only have picnic tables and toilets. Others have restaurants, playgrounds, hotels, and grocery stores.

Our first stop for brunch in France had a Paul, a boulangerie and  patisserie that sells bread and pastries. I couldn't resist getting a chausson aux pommes or French Apple turnover for the road. I bit into my pastry and nearly choked on something hard. I found a ladybug inside! 

What a great way to wish us luck at the start of our journey!

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Unfortunately, I had little sleep the night before so I slept a lot on the French autoroute. The landscape was not very interesting on the first leg of the journey. All you can see is one highway after the other. But I did manage to wake up just before sunset and take this picture:

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We arrived in Biarritz around midnight and found a ghost town. February is off season in this surf capital of France and it doesn't get busy until the start of summer. We stayed at Hotel Palym and they had a comfortable, small room that was perfect for our little family.

France to Portugal4

France to Portugal5

We woke up early so we have time for breakfast and a quick stroll nearby. It was my first time to see the ocean in over a year. I stood on a cliff overlooking the bay and soaked it all in. I couldn't believe we were here!

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Even though it was still cold, the sun was out and we took our little girl for some Vitamin Sea.

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France to Portugal8

France to Portugal9

We could even see a few peelers in the distance. We saw a few people swimming though no one was surfing. Ben says it's a privilege to see Biarritz like this- quiet and peaceful. He says he wouldn't want to come back in the summer where you have to fight for a wave as all the surfers flock here.

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From a distance, we could see the Pyreenes mountain range that forms a natural border between France and Spain. There are only a few places on earth where you can see this type of landscape- white snow capped mountains in the background and blue green ocean in the foreground.

France to Portugal11

I would have wanted to spend a few days in Biarritz but we had to save that for another time. Ben was eager to get back on the road as we still had thousands of miles ahead of us. The landscape changed a lot when we got back on the highway. We went from the monotonous autoroutes to the scenic mountainscapes.

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We were getting closer to Spain- a dream come true!

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We loved listening to the radio- the foreign languages, the mix mash of accents and tunes that hinted where we were even if we didn't look at the signs.

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France to Portugal17

Crossing the Pyreenes is exhilarating for both the driver and passenger. There was still a lot of snow and there were many turns on the road. I definitely couldn't fall asleep here! There was so much to see and I was smiling in anticipation.

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Ben looks at me and tells me how much he loves being on the open road. There's something special about the seeing the horizon, the sky, that line that separates heaven and earth. It's like a dazzling display right before your eyes. The best part is, you can just open a window or even stop and be a part of it all.

France to Portugal18

I wondered if there would be a huge sign to welcome us after we've crossed over to Spain. In the Philippines, even in small towns, it's common to see billboards saying "WELCOME TO ____ CITY! ENJOY YOUR STAY AND COME AGAIN!"

But if I hadn't been paying attention, I would have missed this:

France to Portugal19

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in France anymore."

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By nightfall, I was eager to arrive in Portugal. I've been wanting to see this country that Ben has been telling me about ever since we met. He is part Portuguese after all, and so is our daughter. I prepared my camera to take a shot of the Portugal sign. Ben told me I wouldn't even notice it.

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I did. But it went by so fast! And this is all I got:

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So we stayed at another hotel in Portugal for the night. We went to the Miño River the next morning to take this:

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France to Portugal23

France to Portugal24

It was so wonderful to be reunited with the sea again! I couldn't resist getting close to the water even if it was freezing. Portugal boasts of a coastal area with some of the world's best surf spots. And we were not disappointed.

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Do you see lines? 

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This fantastic view is from the Portuguese side overlooking Spain.

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We walked on the beach to see the sunset- my first in Portugal.

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France to Portugal29

It's amazing to note that the mountain behind me is Santa Tecla in Spain. But I'm actually on the Portuguese side. And with that sunset, we ended our first day in Portugal. We look forward to exploring more of the region. I have a feeling we will stay here longer than expected...

Do you love road trips too? Don't forget to share your best memories in the comments section!

Lois has traveled extensively and have lived in Asia, the United States, and Europe. She just recently got married and now has a baby girl. She is currently based in Europe trying to find a home base for her family. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of We Are Sole Sisters.

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2 sole trails

  1. It's beautiful. Reminds me how much I love my home country!

  2. I'm starting to love your home country too Marie! Hope to meet you here one day!


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