The idea for Spain 2016 developed after we discovered the amazing C1412b on last year's tour. That road was so good, so out the blue, so empty, that we thought we should just hunt around this whole area for a complete trip. The wine tour component of 2015's holiday had also worked really well so a day off doing something touristy was also on the cards for this year. When we decided to return to the Pyrenees and look for more roads like the 1412, Barcelona became an obvious destination with a free day to to loaf around its architecture and attractions. This then is how it all formed.
Of course the ferry to Santander also made a run across the Pyrenees and back a lot more convenient, saving us some 1500 miles or so on car wear and tear and getting us straight into the action albeit after a night at sea. Once we started fleshing out the route we also found what looked like a great hotel halfway across our route in Boltano (a converted Monastery) so we elected to spend 2 nights there as well and have a fun circular itinerary in between those two nights. Spain 2016 was born then and even today it still never got a proper nickname. "Carbon Monoxide tour", "The lazy Gits tour", "Alcoholics Anonymous" ... a few have been offered up but none ended up sticking.
route files here
DAY0 - prep
Last year the 993 was actually only pushing out 190bhp. A very long story but basically in the panic and rush of fitting the new engine and then leaving for last years tour a few days afterward, there simply was not enough time to perform any live mapping. So the car had a temporary stock RS map uploaded which unknowingly had a less than good ignition table so she was very much down on power. We always knew it wasn't right of course but didn't realise quite how much power it was running short of, until that is it went on Wayne's dyno in early 2016. A quick mapping session at Warrington and it was on to a healthy 310+ so it seemed fitting to take it back on tour this year and really give it the once over with it's proper RS engine finally fully on song. I have to say that on the way back from Wayne's it felt like a completely different car; at just 1240kg more than fast enough for the road and plenty of low down pick up. The pops and bangs are there with literally every throttle lift as well.
Almost ready for lift off. Note the USB fan, garden water spray (not in shot) which was basically my aircon, the larger megaboom bluetooth speaker strapped to the transmission tunnel and dual Satnavs.
DAY1 - Portsmouth - Biscay
Day 1 started then with an afternoon run down the A3 to make the 5pm ferry launch. First rally point at Ripley services on the A3. Rich in his GT4 (he's managed to bring a different car every year for 5 years running now), Ant in his 993 Targa with recent suspension fettling at GT-one, oh and some stray Lotus got in shot somehow.
Second Rally point, Tescos in Portsmouth. We collect Malc and his 997 GT3 3.8, Chris in his heavily reworked 996 Targa, Rob and the silver 993 targa and Chimp in the Scud.
We read online that the bar on board closes at 10.30 (turned out to be untrue) so we grabbed a trolley full of beer ... as you do.
Filling up with the GT4.
Queuing for the ferry. By this time I had realised that something funny was going on with the car .... the cabin stunk of ex has ut fumes on the way down. Not good !
Loading wasn't too bad. A small wait but not nearly as long as on the return leg. The only gripe was they put us well down on one of the lowest levels of the ship and that meant a steep ramp which threatened a few splitters here and there.
Entering the bowels and leaving behind some pretty desperate weather.
Bags dropped to the rooms then straight to the bar.
Still drinking (after some surprisingly good food).
Still drinking this time in Moss Eisley That made it a 5pm to 4am session .... one good way to kill time at sea !
DAY2 - Biscay - Santander
I've travelled the Bay of Biscay quite a few times and never has it been so calm. We awoke to much better weather on Day 2 but I think we all emerged from our cabins at strange and differing times with some fairly sore heads. A couple of the guys I didn't see all day until it was 5-ish again and almost time to disembark. Same old same old then, hopefully we might get to do some driving at some point !
Goodbye French waters, hello Spain.
On deck, a few of us emerge from the woodwork.
Yes, that's what's generally known as 'land'. Strange stuff isn't it ?
Outside the Bahia Hotel in Santander. The cars got lots of attention as there was a wedding taking place. A little corporate but a decent hotel with good rooms and right in the centre of it all.
The GT4 in the car park lift.
Great parking. Scud and Clubsport safely tucked away.
Santander looking inviting for an evening of food and drink. Really liked the town in fact. It had quite a lot of atmosphere, some nice squares and gardens and a great seafront.
Simple food but plenty of taste. A great piece of sole and a symbol of what was to come for the tour.
DAY3 - Santander to Jaca
The first day's driving I was struggling with my exhaust fumes a bit and the heat as well. No matter how fast I went, the exhaust still found its way backwards against all that airflow and into my side window. Result was that I had to keep the windows pretty much closed. So really, I started the tour on tenter hooks, not really knowing what the problem was and how it might be fixed or if indeed I was going to be able to actually complete this tour.
Nevertheless, day 3 did offer up some great driving. After Pamplona the run to Jaca is very fast with lots of wide open roads that characterise the Spanish Pyrenees so all was not lost. I highly recommend the NA150.
The temperatures were very hot though, well into the 30's and quite a few of the cars were running just a bit too warm and a few gave out warning signs and had to drop the speeds and revs for a while.
After Pamplona we continued west on the northern NA-150 instead of the more obvious A21. This is a great route. Quite straight but very open and high speed. Recommended.
We did join the N240 eventually for a short burst just before Berdun. This western section of the N240 is also very fast and sweeping.
To take us into Jaca we used the A132 which runs south at 'Puente la Reina de Jaca' and the becomes the A-1205 running back up into Jaca. This last road is a narrower twisty country lane type experience. Good for the smaller cars of course.
Jaca, a strange flat place surrounded by mountains. Not the most sophisticated of resorts but we did enjoy an excellent 6 course tasting menu in the Restaurant Biarritz on the main 'high street'. Spanish meats, sorbet, gazpacho and other delights. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.
DAY4 - Jaca to Oliana
Overall this was a good selection of roads which got better as the day wore on. I had to keep my windows closed again so heat was a real issue for me. The party piece was of course the C1412b at the finale, an incredible road that we did last year which begins as you leave the town of Tremp.
Another road to mention at the start of the route is the A1604. This is a very narrow country track that we first encountered in 2013 during the great tour to Italy. Very tight and not quite enough space for 2 cars but if you get a clear run and have a smaller more nimble car it can be a lot of fun. Good views as well toward the end but do watch out for horses, chickens, goats and any other sort of animal !
From 2013, video clip can be seen here !
Me, Chimp and Chris on the A2205 south to Colungo.
The C-1412b then. Definitely one of my favourites in the whole of Europe and although I was fairly tired and hot, it made this whole day seem worth it and lifted my spirits for the rest of the tour.
As you leave Tremp it begins like a major A road. There might be a few cars here and there are a few big bumps but its very open with long lines of sight. Very fast then with bags of overtaking scope. The Scenery is fairly expansive and there are some long and impressive elevation changes.
After 10 minutes or so you are then rising upwards and the road is cut in between red rock and earth, things get a wee bit tighter and more technical and the elevation changes are steeper and more dramatic.
At Folquer there is another left turn but you are still on the C1412b and it gets a bit twistier here. If you like speed and you like your roads technical but don't like slower corners and hairpin and want to keep up that real sense of fast progress then this is the road for you. I personally have not driven finer.
The 1412b does run all the way down to Gualter but we took another left just before the end to get us back up the LV-5118 to Oliana. The 5118 is a bit narrower and a little more rural but still a cracking road that is plenty fast and highly recommended.
Me and the Scud take the 1412 as a pair.
Room with a view at the 'Can Boix de Peramola'. This establishment wasn't perfect but it eventually won the best Hotel competition which is a bit of a tradition on these tours.
The location of the Oliana hotel was superb. A great pool, good views and some really good food as well.
Not to mention a model of a 997 GT3 RS in the cabinet signed by Walter himself.
The socialising continued from pool to the early hours. Malcolm managed to spill a bottle of red wine over twice in the space of 3 seconds and eventually we all got shouted at for making too much noise and had to retire to our rooms.
DAY5 - Oliana to Barcelona
The morning of day 5 I had to take time out and investigate things a little further to put my mind at rest and formulate a repair plan if possible. Luckily I wasn't getting headaches or nausea or any actual worrying symptoms and keeping the windows mostly closed was doing a good job of keeping the nasty fumes out.
Back wheel off, start the car and we noticed immediately that the muffler was blowing at the back seam quite heavily, firing lots of exhaust out of the rear arch and towards the front of the car. The nearside muffler was doing the same, probably even worse. Maybe the extra pressure/torque from the remap has made them both go at the same time. Anyway, the plan was to try and get some gum gum in Barcelona. I certainly felt a lot better about things knowing what exactly was going on back there.
It has to be said though that no tour is complete without the Jackal flat on his back underneath some yellow porsche. One of life's certainties I'm afraid.
The C26 east from Basella to Solsona deserves particular mention. Great piece of tarmac, very wide and fast, lots of armco and with a long uphill section that is dual carriageway on the eastern side.
We ate in a great homespun place in Borreda on the C26 called the Baix Pirineu. Fantastic cold buffet for peanuts. The C26 around Berga is a great road by the way but quite twisty and narrow in places. Good for aircooled or elise/hatches/caterhams. The Ferrari wasn't too happy here and as a result we decided to alter the route a little, cutting out the eastern jaunt through Olot and instead, heading south on the C17 at Ripell straight toward Vic. The C-17 here was thankfully a great piece of motorway, very twisty and hilly with very few proper straights. Really enjoyed that run and proof that every once in a while you need a really good Motorway blast.
Two aircooled Targas at Borreda.
The GT4, gearing up for the final stride to Barcelona.
The BV5301 heading south to the coast was another narrower section. An amazingly twisty run which me and the GT4 had great fun in but too perilous for the bigger cars. The action begins on the run to Seva and then continues as you go around the town and travel all the way down to Montseny.
The 3.8 Clubsport at Montseny, earning its keep.
Champagne on arrival, much needed.
Nice lobby, great views, excellent staff and a fabulous hotel room ... but expensive as all hotels are in Barcelona.
Rendezvous at the hotel bar.
Taxis out to the top of La Ramblas.
On the march.
It all goes wrong at the Gin bar.
Soon after this point, 30 minutes or so after silly o'clock, I think I made my way back. The same can't be said of everyone though and although the full facts will never be fully known, I am pretty sure some exploration of Barcelona's more clandestine nightspots ensued into the first signs of light the following day.
DAY6 - Barcelona
A chance for a bit of a recharge and some afternoon sightseeing. Again, some of us disappeared for pretty much the whole day.
And time to purchase some exhaust paste to try and seal up my back boxes.
Partially refreshed. Well some of us in any case.
Followed by some superb Tapas at La Plassohla. Best meal of the holiday.
A walk along the marina and for once, an earlyish night.
DAY7 - Barcelona to Boltano
Day 7 started out with a really nice motorway run out of Barcelona on the C16 and C55. The motorways in northern spain are a lot of fun, very twisty for the most part and on some of them its actually rare to get a decent straight. Have I mentioned that before ?
We encountered zero police all tour as well, no traps, no bikes, not a whisker. It was certainly the best tour ever as far as police intervention was concerned.
Leaving the Hotel Miramar.
Tagged along with a nice 991 Turbo leaving Barca. Doesn't quite work in the yellow for me but we gave the driver a good wave.
An early fuel stop and more coffee.
North of Solsona runs the C-462. This was a great road with smooth tarmac, armco and lots of medium speed bends and some great scenery. We had a small interruption halfway as we spied a couple of police cars and then a big film crew. We think the old bill were part of the filming so we didn't count them toward the tour's tally of police encounters.
As you reach Sant Llorenc and the route heads west you climb into the mountains and take the LV4241 and LV401. I don't recommend this unless you like really narrow tight roads and are in a small car. Too much effort and not enough space, even for the fairly compact 993. Some great sounds though with the exhaust high in 2nd gear bouncing off the sharp faces.
The stretch on the N260 between El Run and Campo is truly fantastic. This was the 3rd time in 2 years for us (we did it the other way on day 4) but sadly we encountered a bad queue of traffic toward the end and its the last bit that's really the best. This section of road runs along the Esera river and it starts out in a gorge with very steep cuttings to both sides and a plain concrete wall to the right. There are a few tunnels and then it opens out a little and gets faster and faster but with every type of bend imaginable. There is something about the combination of bends though that makes this stretch very unique; get a clear run and you will be in for a real treat but passing is difficult so time your run carefully.
The other section of the N260 which warrants a mention is from Viuet to Bisaurri. This is a wonderful drive, like a British country lane but smooth tarmac, armco and lots of elevation change, blind crests and kinks. It's a magical bit of road that we've done a number times over the years and you can really work up a good sense of flow on it.
Finally, special mention must go to the approach to Boltano from the east on the N260. This is a very fast open stretch with incredible visibility which I remember very well from last year. The bends are gargantuan sweepers, gentle and very gradual but in an older car with a less adept chassis they still make for real good fun when turning in and powering through. A very memorable road.
Arriving at the Barceló Monasterio de Boltaña. Looks impressive but sadly isn't. The staff here really let the place down. Amongst other sins, a really tedious check in process, some overly complex logistics as far as pool/towels were concerned and some really poor mistakes made at the dinner table. Don't go here is the general gist of it.
Ready for dinner.
DAY8 - Boltano to Boltano
The idea behind day 5 & 6 was to stay 2 nights at the Monastery partly because it looked so inviting with its views, its big pool, spa and historical interiors. We could also just leave all our bags in the room on the 6th morning and have a simpler less stressful start to the day's driving. The latter bit worked pretty well but what was wrong was the actual Boltana Monastery. Also, I think most of us agreed that when you stay in the same destination you lose that sense of the constant movement forward, the sense of adventure on top of adventure. There is a certain forward thrust to a tour, a kind of navigational pressure which gives everything a slightly neurotic feeling of endless travel and motion. This is important, it adds excitement and adrenalin. The visual change in scenery is all part of this as well but more on that later.
Heading out east back on the N260.
At Campo instead of going north and across on the N260 again we took the HU-V 9601. This was a great road, newly constructed by the looks of it, which runs along a mountain ridge. Large and expansive with some massive corners, good straights and lots of elevation change. Hugely recommended and a great find.
Coffee stop at Sentarada
The stunning view, looking east on the C1311 just past 'Figols de Tremp'.
One road I don't advise is the A2211 that cuts the corner between Olvena and El Grado. This is possibly the world's most bumpiest road. Just an awful thing to have to endure. Avoid !
Sticking with bumps the A138 running north towards Boltano past Abizanda, Escanilla and Samitier is really quite a lot of fun. It's fast and open and also has a poor surface but the bumps are the low frequency type so not especially jingly. The car almost becomes boat like, bobbing on the tarmac surface but without losing much speed. This was quite a novel experience and a bit of a challenge taking the road at a good pace. Never really encountered a road like that before, completely unique.
Beauty shot at the Tremp dam
For our second night at Boltano we got the hell out of the hotel and ate at a local tapas place. Great simple food again and cheap.
DAY9 - Boltano to San Sebastien
I think most of us had been to Barcelona before so San Sebastien was the surprise of the tour. This place is a real gem; incredible views, the hills and mountains on one side and 180 degrees of beautiful sea the other. The town was also full of life and intensity and the whole location has a real old world allure and elegance about it. I for one will definitely be returning at some point to spend some more time here.
Our hotel the Mercure 'Monte Igueldo' had poor rooms (there are probably better but we seemed to be put in the worst type) but the actual building was perched up very high on the southern edge of the bay and had the most amazing views and a fabulous rooftop pool and bar. Just below it was a sort of ageing funfair with a flume ride and a small wooden rollercoaster that circled around the cliffs. This place had charm and atmosphere by the bucketload.
The joy and verve of the old town on a Saturday evening. It was absolutely rammed and mostly by the locals.
San Sebastien has the second highest number of michelin stars of any city in the world for cuisine but contrary to previous tours we ignored the fine dining option and went for the more traditional 'Tapas crawl'. You roll up at various tapas bars, grab a selection of delights, a beer or two and then move on to the next establishment of which there are many. The tapas was really great in these places, fairly rudimentary and some distance from the more sophisticated Tapas we had in Barcelona but every bit as tasty and very cheap prices as well.
More bars. Out came the G&T's and the Vodka Limes.
I made it home around 4 or 5am. Some of the other guys several hours after that .... and would you believe, when they left the club at 6am people were still queuing to get in. San Sebastien, one of the food capitals of the world but also vivacious, romantic and full of spirit.
DAYS 10&11 - San Sebastien to Santander to Portsmouth
Our last days driving, a basic run to the port. We were all fairly hungover but it was still a good motorway run with lots of enjoyable stretches.
A big boat race was taking place. Helicopters in the air, crowds on the cliffs, you name it.
Getting back on was a bit laborious. A little too much waiting around but then I suppose that is the price you pay for requesting to be on the very top deck.
A smaller ship this time with slightly less glamorous facilities. Soon as we departed the swell became all too obvious and amidst a chorus of 'oh .. f**ks' we turned to each other with those knowing looks, certain that we were in for a real 24 hour treat as far as the Bay of Biscay was concerned.
That night some of us tried to play poker and none of us touched any alcohol. It was early to bed but the sea had other ideas and we were kept awake by the savage movement of the boat and incessant creaking in the cabins. Kind of good fun all the same though. There is nothing quite like the movement of the ocean; it puts you right in your place and reminds you just what this planet is all about.
Spain 2016 had been a blast. I'm not sure I remember it too well and sometimes I have to convince myself for a few seconds that it did actually take place. The food was superb, the alcohol plentiful and the driving ... well the driving was pretty good but perhaps it took more of a backseat this time round. My car struggled with a major issue and the heat conspired to compromise other people's steeds as well. The late nights and general debauchery also meant that we weren't hitting the zone as often as we'd liked and when you really hit the groove and drive your best, well this is something you have to work for and it does not come at the snap of the fingers. Energy levels, relaxed frame of mind, trust in the car, hunger levels; many things have to come together before you can really have those special fluid and instinctive drives and looking at that list again it's immediately clear to see why this tour was short on them.
In fact, never mind hitting the zone, on many occasions we shortened whole routes completely and decided to make a quick dash to the hotel to rest up cool down. It was the lazy gits tour maybe, the one where the booze and the staying out got the better of us and come daytime, our sense of 'being in the moment' was very much dampened and blurred. The ferry worked well, Barcelona was good and many of the roads were super fast and an awful lot of fun, but everyone did also agree that the lack of scenery change, going over the same roads twice sometimes and the lack of adventure from new destination after new destination made this jaunt a little less compelling than others.
These are things that I'll be rectifying in 2017. The route is already planned; Austria, Slovenia, the Croatian Coast, Montenegro to Belgrade, Budapest and then back through Austria and the Bavarian alps. New places, new roads and endless scenery changes. I'll want to be focused, sharp, alert and very much in the now, super aware of each and every passing moment. A different car might be nice too, something with a sealed exhaust and a dab of aircon to boot. Watch this space.