Europe Vanlife: The Ultimative Roadtrip along the Spanish Coastline for Alternative Travellers

Europe Vanlife: The Ultimative Roadtrip along the Spanish Coastline for Alternative Travellers


Spain has a coastline in the South and the North that is just interrupted by Portugal in between. This makes it the perfect base for an epic roadtrip all along the Mediterranean and then the Atlantic Ocean. There is something for everyone: buzzing cities, history, architecture, spectacular food with more and more vegan options coming up, beautiful beaches and waves in the North for all the surfers out there. It’s the perfect route for a van or camping tour with loads of breath-taking spots along the way and roads in great condition. Whatever you`re seeking, Spain has it all and this is a one-in-a-lifetime itinerary. 

Please keep in mind: This guide was written during Covid 2020 and changes can apply as the travel industry is changing like never before during those times.

Enjoy!

Itinerary 

Barcelona

Aqueducte de les Ferreres

Ebro Delta

Valencia

Colony of Santa Eulalia

    Pink Lake of Torrevievja

Bateria de Castellos

Granada

Malaga

Gibraltar

Sevilla

Galicia

San Vincente de la barquera

Bilbao 

Gaztelelugatxe

San Sebastian

 

Wild Camping

As nearly everywhere, wild camping is prohibited in Spain, too. But also, like everywhere else, there are certain ways around it and if you behave, the authorities and locals will be much more welcoming. There are several free camping spots where you can fill up water, charge your vehicle if you don`t have solar or empty your toilets. As usual: try not to show camping behaviour or be discrete if there are people around, take care of the environment and respect the locals. 


                                                                    Roads, Rules & Tolls

There are toll roads in Spain, but many highways are free. If you put ‘avoid toll roads’ into your navigation system, you will only end up on the ones that are for free. In general, the Spanish drive much more civilised than other southern European nationalities and the rules are the same as everywhere else. If you got a high vehicle, be aware of the height restrictions. Although they are much looser than for example in France or Italy.

Language & Culture

The deeper you go into the countryside, the less English you will find. Or let`s be honest - probably none at all. A few words of Spanish will bring you very far, but talking with your hands also works most of the time. Spain is full of history and culture; it is definitely worth reading into the different regions. Some even call themselves independent (or want to be); they speak different languages and historically have a different background than the rest of Spain. The weather in the South is a lot warmer and sunnier. In the North, especially Galicia, rainy days are quite common, and the North coast is known as a surfer’s paradise.

Safety

There are parts of the country that are very poor. Many fruits and vegetables for European countries are grown here. They are harvested under miserable circumstances by African immigrants who don`t have anything and get paid less than the minimum wage. This also means, that the crime rate, especially theft and pick pocketing is pretty high, understandably. Instead of being angry at the people who are so desperate that they feel the need to take from others, please try to understand their situation and just protect yourself and your possessions. Within the big cities, keep your valuables close to your body, research the common pick pocketing strategies and follow the guidelines. Spain is a beautiful country. The people are very nice and if you are aware of your surroundings, you are safe in the nature and in the city like you are everywhere else in Europe.

 

South Coast


Barcelona

The metropolitan city on the South coast of Spain is probably the most famous one in the country, right after the capital Madrid. It is well known for its architecture, art community and vibe that is very unique in this part of the continent. If you get the chance to stay here longer, plan enough time as there is so much to do, see and experience. E.g., Tapas bars, hipster cafes and monuments by modern-day icons are around every corner. Compared to many cities in Spain having more of a traditional feel, Barcelona is like a fresh breeze of air. 




What to do

Sagrada Familia

Gaudi’s most famous work, the Sagrada Familia is a one-of-a-kind church in the centre of Barcelona. Still not finished, but nonetheless incredibly impressive - a visit is a must. The entrance fee isn`t cheap though. But even from the outside it will blow your mind and you can walk around it to see the different structures used in the built. If you do want to go in, make sure to check the opening times.


Casa Balto

Another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces is the Casa Balto: a townhouse that is situated along the main shopping road. It is kept in beautiful blue/white colours with loads of flowy decorations. If you like to go inside, you may check out the Barcelona card as it will get you into all major attractions way cheaper than paying for each of them. You cannot miss it, as there are always people in front starring at the stunning architecture.


                                                                            Park Güell

The third artwork of Gaudi that is based in central Barcelona, is the Park Güell. A huge park with different architectural structures and excessive decorations invites you to take a stroll on a sunny day. Please be aware that there is a ticket limit, so make sure to buy one in advance if you`re going in high season!

Montjuic

This hill overlooks the city giving you a perfect lookout, but also holds an impressive cemetery on top. It`s the biggest one in town and nearly vertical. It’s a bit hard to reach, so do your research to find the right path as you can reach it from Las Ramblas or the hilltop. There are many famous Spanish artists buried here and it takes around 3 hours to tour the whole ground, so take your time. There are buses that reach the hill, but you can also choose to walk.

Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter, or Las Ramblas, is the picturesque part of town that you may have seen on photos. Hundreds of little shops, restaurants, cafes and stunning buildings can be found here. It’s well worth a stroll and you can easily get lost in it as there is so much to see by simply walking. There is a lot of greenery around and when the sun hits the promenade, you get the best view possible.

Where to eat

Equilibrium Cafe

Looking for a lunch or brunch spot somewhere in central Barcelona? This cafe is not just very pretty, but the owner puts a lot of love into his dishes and you can be sure to get the best fresh quality. It is completely vegan and the menu ranges from grilled cheese to Cuban specialities, pancakes, and fresh juices. They also have plug-ins and Wi-Fi if you would like to work a bit; the staff speaks English and you won`t be disappointed after a visit here. 

Open Tuesday - Saturday 9:00 - 15:30

Sunday 10:00 - 15:30

Closed on Monday

Carrer de València, 352

08009 Barcelona






 

Parking

Barcelona is known for its high crime rates and car break-ins. I wouldn`t recommend parking close to the city centre but to drive to one of the outside villages and take a train in. Many parking spots have a camping prohibition, even though it was a bit looser during Covid. Just make sure to check and write out several you want to try. The police checks most of them occasionally and they are way safer than any parking in the city itself.

 

Aqueducte de les Ferreres

This Roman aqueduct is the biggest one in Catalonia and also called bridge of the devil. It is situated in a little forest and in an extraordinary great condition, easily reachable from the highway and free of charge. You can walk underneath and even on top of it, enjoying the view people must have had hundreds of years ago. It’s part of the UNESCO world heritage and the name devils bridge has a very similar story behind it than another bridge in the Swiss mountains. 





Ebro Delta

The Ebro Delta is a nature reserve in the southwest of Catalonia. It is considered the largest wetland in the Mediterranean region. It is where rice, fruits and vegetables are grown. There are loads of endangered species living here and you can take a boat tour around the nature reserve. Definitely a place to visit if you`re into nature and need some relief of historical sites!

 

Valencia

The next big city on the way is Valencia - famous for its port and tapas bars. Modern meets traditional here; several beaches are right in front and it’s warm nearly all-season. There are several old cathedrals, churches and bridges – perfect for a day full of exploring after driving through Catalonia’s nature.

Where to eat

Seitan House

This cute little restaurant is run by a lovely lady who does everything by herself. The food is homemade and there is no need for any fancy decor, if you want to experience traditional Spanish food veganised, this is were you have to go! 

Carrer del Periodista Llorente, 4

46009 València


What to do

Central Market of Valencia

This market started off as an open-air venue but got a roof in the 19th century. Nowadays, it is one of the most beautiful ones in the world, with an incredible architecture of steel and glass. There are two stories where you can buy fresh produce, all kinds of food and handmade goods. If you fancy a drink, there is a bar in the middle that is very popular by locals and tourists. The market is open from 7am to 3pm each day, except Sunday, so make sure to plan your visit well to not miss this gem.

Parking

In September, many Spaniards are on holidays, which makes the cities look like ghost towns. It is way easier to park here than in Barcelona. But if you want to sleep in your van, I would advise you again to move outside and get in with the public transport. Navigating in the city is rather easy and parking spots also fit bigger vehicles.

Colony of Santa Eulalia

If you are into Urbexing, this is a rather bizarre place. As it’s on the way, it is worth a quick stop but don`t expect too much as these days many buildings are sealed off. It kinda is an abandoned village in the middle of nowhere within another village. While the centre is full of deserted houses (like a church, a theatre etc.), around it you will see people living in their homes like there is nothing special about the centre square. There are some benches, so it’s a nice spot to enjoy a little picknick while watching this strange scene.




    Pink Lake of Torrevievja

There are many pink lakes scattered around the world, mostly caused by the underwater flora and the salt amount. Sadly, they attract loads of tourists, which is bad for the environment and makes it impossible to visit those places in peace. The one in Torrevievja is an exception: as it`s actually just a part of the lake that has a unique pink colour and you have to search a bit to find it. If you`re in the area, it is well worth a visit but please be respectful to the locals that live in the area and to the environment. Swimming is strictly prohibited. 

 

Bateria de Castellos

These two massive guns in an impressive fortress were built to protect the bay of Cartagena. Some people say it reminds them of a Disney movie set, as the castle has a circular shape and looks picture-perfect. The entrance is free and there are plenty of parking spot, even though the road is long and curvy. The guns were only fired once during the Spanish civil war in 1937, but never again since. Officially, they were held active until 1994, while in reality, they probably have been out of use for way longer.


Granada

Deep inside the Sierra Nevada, there lies a city that looks like it came out of a movie. As soon as you exit the desert, it shows up right in front of you, like a Fata Morgana. The very oriental inspired architecture underlines this feeling - all thanks to the Moroccan influence that is visible all over the place. Strolling through the city is the best way to explore it, especially at night when the lights get turned on and all the monuments tell stories of people long forgotten.



Sierra Nevada

The Andalusian coastline and desert is absolutely breath-taking: driving along, stopping at one of the hidden beaches and getting lost in the mountains where they used to film all those old western movies is an absolute must. This part of Spain looks very different than the rest and was my personal favourite due to its rich nature that makes it almost magical. During the night, the sky is often crystal clear with the most stunning star filled view you will ever come across.

Al Hambra

Above the city you will find the Al Hambra - one of the most incredible monuments in the whole country. Full of mosaics, this palace that represents the beauty of the Orient in southern Europe is an absolute must. The entrance fee is rather high, but if you can afford it, it’s well worth it as this is a place that cannot be found anywhere else in this world.

Parking

There are several free parking spots in town where you can sleep. It is rather safe but of course always check beforehand if you feel ok with leaving your vehicle on its own. The university has plenty of space, but banned parking for RVs, vans, and any kind camping vehicles even when it’s closed during the summer break. 

Malaga

Known as the place to be, if you`re into parties and long, sandy beaches. Malaga also has a beautiful old town. The promenade is perfect for bike rides, you can stroll through town or simply enjoy the calm sea, even though it can be very packed in summer. It is the polar opposite of remote Andalusia and may be a bit of a shock after days in nature. But many tapas bars invite you to sit down, relax and enjoy a glass of wine.

Where to eat

La Vegana

This cute little tapas bar offers a vegan menu with everything you always wanted to try. The aioli is to die for. You can choose from countless option and get as many as you want. There is a cute little outdoor seating area right in front, or you can sit inside at the bar. They also have vegan wines on display and while the staff doesn`t speak any English, they try their very best to fulfil your wishes. Probably the best vegan tapas bar along the south coast!

Tuesday to Saturday 13:00-18:00

Sunday 12:30-18:00 

Monday closed

Calle San Juan de Letrán, 13

29012 Málaga



 

Vegan-Te La Siria

A beautiful little gem, hidden away on a side road of Malaga. Visiting this place will make you wanna come back immediately. The owner is an incredibly inspiring woman from Syria, and therefore, the menu is inspired by the middle east. They make everything from scratch, and you can literally taste the love they put in. The chocolate cake may have been the best I ever had and it`s well worth asking what special they got today! 

Wednesday to Saturday 12:30 - 16:30, 19:30 - 22:00

Sunday & Monday 12:30 - 16:00

Tuesday closed

Calle Ancha del Carmen, 35

 29002 Málaga




 

Parking

At the end of the beach, there is a sandy area where you will find loads of fellow campers. Staying here is free and tolerated. There is fresh water right in front and showers available year-round. Some people stay here for longer, but they are all very kind and it’s a 30-minute walk into the centre.-


Gibraltar

Gibraltar is a very unique place as it belongs to Great Britain and marks the narrowest point between Spain and the African continent. It is tiny, but you officially enter the UK when you cross the border, which also means that suddenly the pound is the used currency, sockets are different, and everyone speaks English. Many expats live here, and it feels very surreal - like a very warm part of England. It was one of my absolute favourite places, as it does have such an extraordinary feeling. 

What to do

Walking around the city, checking out the pubs and the main square, is one of the best things you can do here. Everything is decorated with Union Jacks; you can get British food as all the usual supermarkets are present here. The weather is usually really nice and warm. If you got more time, there are several beaches on the other side of the rock that call for an excursion.

The rock of Gibraltar

Very easy to spot and the centre of Gibraltar: the big rock that you can visit either by hiking up or taking the cable car. That’s also where you will find the famous monkeys and can see Morocco on a good weather day.



Where to eat

Kasbar

In a little hidden sideway, a bit underground, there is this little vegan cafe/bar that offers amazing dishes, covering everything from middle east inspired falafel to cheese toast. The place is beautifully decorated and really gives you a feeling of being somewhere in a British city. The staff has an alternative vibe and it’s the perfect hip place for a little refresh or a drink after a day exploring.

Monday to Thursday 12:00 - 16:00

Thursday and Friday 19:00 - 12:00am

Saturday 11:00 - 16:00

Sunday closed

5 Castle St, Gibraltar GX11 1AA

Gibraltar

Parking

There are places where you can park overnight in Gibraltar itself, but due to Covid during my visit the waiting line at the border was so long that I decided to park in front and sleep in Spain. Whatever you decide, just do your research beforehand (but it is definitely possible). For immigration, you need to fit the same criteria as you would if you want to enter the UK.

Seville

Seville is the capital of Andalusia and Flamenco. There are several impressive buildings all around the city, but it is also the place where the cruel bull fights take place. Again, modern structures meet traditional architecture, even though it slightly fits in a bit better here.

What to do

Royal Shipyards of Seville

The historic shipyard was used in the famous series Game of Thrones, and sadly has been closed to the public for several years now. The plans are to reopen it in 2022, but this may be delayed due to the pandemic. This is the place where the ships for Spain’s big fleets were built until around 1640. Afterwards it got too small for bigger, more modern ships. 

Expo 92 Grounds

The ‘92 Expo was called `The Age of Discovery’ in honour of Columbus’ landing in America 500 years prior. Some buildings were left behind and nature took over, others got turned into a theme park and many are sealed off. During the evening, this place takes you back in time and is worth a visit.

 

North Coast

Galicia

After the Portugal border, Galicia begins. And while the South coast is full of history, pretty beaches and summer tourists, the North is rougher and a surfer’s paradise. Here, the ocean creates bigger waves, just like in Portugal. You can catch some of the best ones in Europe in the Atlantic between Bilbao and San Sebastian. Galicia is a bit of a hidden gem, not as overrun as the more northern destinations yet, but just as perfect for surfing. The weather can be a bit unpredictable, but that just adds to the vibe.


Surfhouse As Furnas

For all surfers: don`t look further if you want to go surfing in Spain. This surfhouse has everything you can wish for and is owned by one of the kindest people you will ever meet: Kathi is an absolute sweetheart, a great cook and an even better surf teacher. Her place will make you feel right at home. What differs As Furnas from other surfhouses or camps, is the fact that you got your own bedroom with a bath; it feels much more like a hotel and it is rather small in comparison to the big party surfcamps. There is a pool, a yoga area, you can get massages and they take you to the best surf spots every day. You can even try skating or learn some Spanish! There is a fully equipped kitchen available if you want to cook for yourself. Breakfast is included, but you can also get what’s on the today’s menu - made by Kathi herself.

 I cannot recommend this place highly enough! Please say hi if you find yourself there.

Open from spring to fall 

 Agra, 66, 15995 Porto do Son

 A Coruña










 

Hercules Tower

The tower of Hercules is a national monument and part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It can be considered the oldest Roman lighthouse that still exists and is working up to this day. It is unique in its condition and cannot be missed if you pass through the town of A Coruna in the northwest of Galicia. There is a huge parking area in front and if you wanna go inside, you have to buy tickets, but it is just as beautiful from the outside.


Playa de las Catedrales

Right at the border of Galicia, there is a beach that attracts thousands of tourists a day. By now, you need an online reservation to be able to visit it. They will check your QR code at the entrance – It is free though. The reason for all of this? The beach is surrounded by a surreal cliffside that forms caves that appear like cathedrals and are the reason for the name. Check the tides beforehand, as it’s only accessible during low tide! There is a big parking right in front and overnight stays are allowed.



San Vincente de la barquera

San Vincente is a cute little town in a river delta that goes right into the ocean. It is best known for the close-by beaches, hikes in the area and most importantly: the surf. Many surfcamps are situated here and the beaches on both sides offer perfect conditions for surfers of all levels, clean beach breaks and a well monitored shoreline. During the summer months vans form camps in the hills and dunes above the sea. If you do your research, you will find a few parking grounds that are actually still free, while others collect a daily fee. 


Bilbao 

Bilbao is the main city in the Basque county, a place where you’ll be able to go through history walking down the small streets of this fishermen town. A city where art covers the city and the Guggenheim museum rises in the horizon. You can’t leave the city without understanding its culture and watching Basque sports it’s something worthy, they are all based on the traditions and the identity of the Basque people: Aizkora, Harrijasotze or Basque Pelota are good options to watch.

Gaztelelugatxe

You may recognise this location once again from a very famous HBO show – Yes, it’s Dragonstone from Game of Thrones. The peninsula is only reachable by foot and it takes around 30 minutes to get there from the parking area (which is huge and even fits the biggest kind of vehicles). The views are incredible, and this was my personal highlight of northern Spain - it`s a truly impressive location that has its very own magic. There are stairs to the top, where a little church awaits you.



San Sebastian

Considered as one of the main touristic destinations of Spain, it’s the perfect combination between Spain and France. A small town where you’ll be delighted by its cuisine and where great chefs go to study. After some amazing pintxos in the old town, you can relax in La Concha or in Zurriola and watch surfers rising through the waves. 



If you got any questions, please leave a comment! Hope to see you soon for the last part of my Europe Vanlife series, and may you will spend your summer in beautiful Spain!

Love,


Faye

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