Driving from UK to Santander

I am generally useless at planning holidays so whilst Marie and I have been thinking about it for a while the only trip planning that I have done so far is to book the ferry back from Santander to Portsmouth in a few weeks time.

We live in London so the plan is to hop in the car when we can (my boss has not committed to the actual day that I can disappear off on holiday, but we will have a week to a week and a half), take a ferry across the channel and then meander to Santander via Bordeaux, San Sebastian and maybe Rioja (time permitting).

One complication is that Marie went and broke her metatarsal last week so won’t be doing much walking. She is strangely keen to still go though since it will be sick leave for her and I will be doing all the driving!

I realise that this is a broad remit but any suggestions on restaurants, vineyards, hotels etc. would be very welcome for any of the above areas, bearing in mind that long walks around cellars probably won’t be on the cards for one of us at least.

Classic route would be down to Loire then onto Bordeaux - perhaps across to Rousillon before heading back up through Spain to Santander…but that may be a lot of driving for even a week and a half

There are several pieces written about French Wine region travel options:
Bordeaux trip
Bordeaux holiday advice
Loire Valley Trip

Main advice would be to pre-book any visits you want to do…it might alter your plans slightly - extra days stay etc



I did the same trip (opposite direction) some years back, French toll roads are boringly straight & direct, you eat up the distance - but once in Spain even the main roads are twisty and slow whilst beautiful. It takes twice as long to get anywhere so Rioja might be a stretch. Maybe try some unpronounceable Basque wines instead ?

Saumeur is definitely worth it for Cab francs or Chenin Blanc (great tank museum) or if you go via Angers then visit Savennières, the best reserve wines from the vineyards are rarely available in the UK.

Personally I find Bordeaux to be ‘meah’ - you can get all the clarets from TWS. St Emillion is a tourist trap but out-of-season is lovely with great restaurants & Unesco heritage site for good reason: vist the Saint-Émilion Maison du Vin for ALL the wines under one roof, plus tastings, food etc.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao is fantastic. Apparently the restaurant scene is great - but I cant advise.

Have a great time!

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I would be agreement with @JamesF with regard to your trip being quite optimistic in terms of distance covered . 10 days to get to Rioja and back is challenging especially if you do want to see some culture and arrange winery visits. Maybe make a list of “must do’s” and plan the journey around that.

One suggestion would be to drive to Royan and take the ferry across the Gironde to the tip of the Medoc and drive down to Bordeaux past all the chateaux. That way, you won’t miss the vineyards.


In terms of places for one nighters I can recommend this chateau just north of Poitiers. No restaurant but rooms have their own kitchen so you can take your own food and drink. Rooms are amazing and the breakfast is good too.

Then just before you get to Spain is the beautiful St Jean de Luz. We stayed right on the beach at this place

Easy drive from here to Santander and Rioja country.

If you want a spectacular coastal view and visit to a special place in the hearts of the Basque people then a detour to the unpronounceable Gaztelugatxeko Doniene is a must. It’s between Donostia-San Sebastian and Bilbao.

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I love St. Jean de Luz, my aunt used to live there and ran an internet café which for obvious reasons is now gone. Beautiful place though and not too far from St. Sebastein .


We drove to Rioja (Haro) and back last September. Two overnight stops en route each way using hotels from the Logis de France group and we had time to visit Monet’s garden and house on the return journey.
I used some autoroutes but due to the high tolls also drove significant distances on route nationales. If I had used all the peages to keep the driving time from the tunnel to under 12 hours then it costs about EUR 110 each way.

Thanks for the suggestions.

The trip was meant to be two weeks but a project date got pushed back a week hence the shortening. I realise that there will be some decent driving stretches in there but we are used to covering distances in the car as long as there is a reward at the end of the day.

We have been to both Rioja and the Loire in the last few years. In Rioja we stayed in Haro and at the Marques de Riscal hotel and got round a few vineyards so any detour there would probably be only to fill up with favourites Rioja Alta and/or Vina Tondonia. We have always regretted Easy Jetting and hiring a car last time given the baggage restrictions on the way back.

Savennières is a very interesting idea as we both love the few wines we have tried from there and we were only introduced to them on our last day in the Loire last time. Does anyone have any specific recommendations for there?

The Saint-Émilion Maison du Vin sounds like one to aim for as well. I have too much left bank Bordeaux in storage from over-enthusiastic EP purchasing when I started accumulating wine but not so much right bank. Plus tasting lots of different wines in one place is more appealing now I will have the car keys all the time!

Any hotel on the sea will be a hit with Marie so the Hotel Bel Air may well find itself in there as well…


depending upon route, can be just as quick to take the ‘bac’ over from Blaye …and can stop at Blaye and look around the citadel. You land at Cussac Fort Medoc 1km from the D2

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for Savennieres I like - Domaine de la Bergerie …with its own Michelin starred restaurant ‘on site’

D’Epiré from Savennieres is great especially with a bit of age.

I highly, highly recommend stopping in Bilbao for lunch at Azurmendi. It is quite simply astonishing (they also have their own small vineyard from which the sweet dessert wine is a cracker).

(Lunch there and a last night in Bilbao would also give you options of non-wine related things in that town (Guggenheim etc.) too. And Azurmendi is but 10mins from the centre, so check-in, leave car, get taxi and you can sample away.)