Access to Spain by land is by crossing the Pyrenees from France and Andorra, from Portugal or from British territory in the form of the isthmus of Gibraltar. With the advent of the European Union there are no restrictions on the frontiers of member states, i.e. France, Portugal and the United Kingdom – at least until the Brexit finally happens! But there are passport and customs controls in Andorra, the Spanish customs, Aduanas, stops and frequently searches every vehicle that passes for contraband – note also that the mountain passes are also monitored, with many road checks on the minor roads leading down from them.
Political tension between Spain and the United Kingdom over the sovereignty of Gibraltar can arise suddenly, especially over environmental issues such as waste leaks, especially from Royal Navy vessels, and at these times there can be serious delays at the frontier, with consequences for riders continuing on to Morocco via the via ferry crossing to Tangier.
The motorway crossings at either end of the Pyrenees can be avoided easily enough. At the north end a rather pleasant ‘Conrnche’ road runs from Sant-Jean-de-Luz in France to Hendaye and over a bridge into Spain at Irun where a short detour to the Cabo de Higuer lighthouse, which marks the very furthest extent of the Pyrenees, leads on to another pleasant coat road to Lezo and on into San Sebastian – one of the loveliest cities in Spain!
A more practical quick route into North and Central Spain is the N-121 to Pamplona from Ainhoa just love the French border. This is a lovely road with fast sweeping curves and is surprisingly quiet. Many people ate tempted to cross following the Camino de Santiago pilgrims route (The Way of Saint James) from Sant-Jean-Pied.de-Port to Roncesvalles bur although it sounds obvious it is actually quite congested with, er, pilgrims travelling foot, by bicycle and even with pack mules, so even though the road is lovely it’s worry avoiding as part of a long distance trip – much better to explore the numerous other small passes in that area, using Sant-Jean in France – expensive! – or Izaba in Spain as bases for a few day’s exploration.
At the eastern end of the Pyrenees the motorway and older trunk road – the N-II at La Jonquera – are best avoided as both have heavy traffic and unless the destination is the Costa Brava resorts north of, say Girona, it’s better to cross further west – see below. However if it is the case the old ‘Corniche’ road via Cèrbere-Portbou is actually really lovely and a very ‘romantic’ way to enter Spain – despite warnings to the contrary I’ve always found it almost deserted, unlike the coastal roads further down along the Costa Brava!
Crossing into Spain in the central Pyrenees: the road on the map to Zaragoza is the Portalet route from Pau to Huesca via Sabiñánigo. This route is certainly leads directly into the heart of Spain and the extensive motorway network for long quick hauls to the south but, like mist Pyrenean passes, the road on the French side is very narrow whereas once in Spain there are fast sweeping bends all the way to Sabiñábigo where the motorway networks starts, albeit in sections as far as Huesca.
This leaves Andorra, where the advice is simple – DON’T GO! The road up from Foix is both bring and heavily congested and the road out to La Seu d’Urgell, although recently improved, is not much better while the onward route, the C-14 to Lleida, is positively dangerous! There are various minor routes, that really being to a guide to the Pyrenees, but the two alternative ‘high-level’ routes from Central France into Central Spain are via the Vall d’Aran – which is an anomaly being Spanish territory on the north side of the watershed along the Pyrenees – from Montrejeau in France to Lleida or the more scenic Bielsa Tunnel route from Lannemezan in France to Ainsa in Spain. This is more scenic and the Bielsa tunnel can cause serious delays as it is controlled by traffic lights – you can freeze waiting in the fogs that haunt the French side almost any time of year!
Apart from the northern border along the Miño river the crossings into Portugal are surprisingly few and far between. This is due both to the terrain and pains historic isolation, and animosity, with that country. Probably the most useful is the motorway from Ciudad Rodrigo to Guarda, which takes you directly into the Sera de Estrela mountain range, which is in fact an extension of Spain’s Sistema Central.
Destinations for ferry crossing are related to Spain’s three seaboards: from Britain across the Bay of Biscay to Bilbao from Portsmouth and to Santander from both Portsmouth and Plymouth; and to Gijón from France at Saint Nazaire, the Atlantic coast from Tarifa for Morocco (Tangier) and Cádiz to the Canary Islands of Lanzarote (Arrecife), Gran Canaria (Las Palmas), Santa Cruz de La Palma and Santa Cruz de Tenerrife, and the Mediterranean for North Africa, including both Morocco and Spain’s enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, as well as Italy and the Balearic Islands. Working southwards down the Mediterranean coast the ports are:
- Barcelona for Italy (Civitavecchia, Genoa and Livorno, plus Sardinia at Porto Torres), Morocco (Tangier) and the Balearic Islands Mallorca (Alcúdia and Palma), Minorca (Ciudalella and Mahon) and Ibiza (Ibiza city). There is also a very long crossing to the Tanger Med port in Morocco.
- Valencia, for Italy (Tangier, Livorno and Mallorca (Palma), Minorca (Mahon) and Ibiza (San Antonio), as well as Italy (Livorno) and Morocco (Tangier).
- Denia for Formentera, Mallorca (Palma), Minorca (Mahon) and Ibiza (San Antonio).
- Almeria crossings go to Algeria (Ghazaouet and Oran), Morocco (Nador, Tangier) and Melilla.
- Malaga for Melilla.
- Algeciras to Ceuta.