On a whim and a prayer

No moneys but hungry for holidays and a little adventure? No problem at all as we can recommend two very cheap, very adventurous and very fun trips around Europe! And planning is for losers anyways, the most memorable trips are those taken on the spur of the moment so read on for some inspiration and then pack your bags

Cycling Bilbao to Biarritz

Words & photos by Poppy Smith

When looking into flights for my boyfriend to join me in Biarritz, those to Bilbao were considerably cheaper. The only problem was getting the 112 miles from Bilbao to Biarritz on a budget, and with a bike. Always one to ride rather than get public transport, however far, the boyfriend said he’d cycle. Thinking he was a little mad but that it sounded a laugh, I said I’d meet him in Bilbao and we could ride to Biarritz together. There was zero planning. I bought a cheap tent and sleeping bag from the hypermarché, borrowed a blanket (which doubled as a towel and beach mat), shoved a few clothes in a rucksack, strapped the lot to the pannier rack on the back of the old Chick and got the train from Biarritz to Bilbao (the trains are refreshingly bike-friendly in France and Spain).

We decided to meet at the Guggenheim, as neither of us knew Bilbao and Jeff Koon’s Puppy seemed a good landmark. He arrived, three hours late pouring with sweat, having been around the ring road twice, with a brief foray onto the motorway. We spent a night at the boutique Miró Hotel in Bilbao (, going out for a squid-ink paella (when in Rome…) that turned our mouths comically black for many hours.


Fortunately we  found a map that had both Bilbao and Biarritz on it the next morning, result. Getting out of Bilbao was the most confusing part of the whole trip, and the climb in the midday heat wasn’t fun, but once we’d left the city below us, the route became more clear as we headed for the coast. We stuck to quiet B roads as much as possible until the sun started to set and our thoughts turned to where we were going to stay that night. Nearby Playa de Laga sounded like a nice place, so we bombed it down to the beach, jumping in the sea as the sun set blood-red. We couldn’t put our tent up as camping wasn’t permitted, but weirdly sleeping on the beach was, so we spent the night under the stars.

The next morning we set off early before it got too hot, spending a few hours swimming in the clear, warm water at Lekeitio and chilling on our blanket-come-towel on the beach. With our wet swimming cosies dangling off our bikes, we pushed on towards Zarautz. The road between Lekeitio and Ondarroa was one of the highlights of the trip. Winding high above the sea, with magnificent views, it had a new, smooth surface and hardly a car passed us. But once we got to Deba, the road to Zarautz was inland and full of big trucks hurtling past.

After a disappointing meal on Zarautz seafront (avoid the tourist trail and head into the town) and a couple of bottles of rosé to make up for it, we zig-zagged up a hill towards a tent sign we’d seen on the map. And lo, we came across rather a posh camp site( with showers and a sea view. NB: Although refreshing and tingly, toothpaste is not a good substitute for shower gel.

View over Bilbao

The climb out of Zarautz was the first big climb we encountered, a short, sharp 407 metres that had the faint markings of an old race route just visible on the tarmac. At the top were giant picnic benches overlooking the sea, so we rewarded ourselves with the bottle of rosé we’d conveniently stashed in a bottle cage. Luckily it was all down hill to San Sebastian.

After an evening of pintxos, more sangria and rosé, and fresh fish in the old fishing port of San Sebastian, we headed east out of the city, hoping to find somewhere to camp, ignoring the notable absence of any tent signs on the map. We continued in foolish hope, drooling over the back gardens we passed. But after pushing up a hill for too long (it was dark, we were drunk), we finally admitted defeat and turned down a track, pitching the tent in a copse of trees. It was then we discovered that the sleeping bag had fallen off the back of my boyfriend’s bike at the bottom of the hill. (If “unofficial” camping isn’t your thing, then Pension Balerdi ( is a fantastic hostel in San Sebastian.)

When the sun rose, we saw we’d found ourselves a nice little spot with a sea view, and some farmer-type men eyeing us suspiciously. We must have been on their land. Packing the tent away as subtly as you can when it’s bright blue and silver, we snuck back onto the road and realised we were a little way up a recent race route – a 7.5 mile climb no less. And what a view at the top! San Sebastian in the distance, the sea to our left and about 12 huge vultures circling unnervingly close overhead, perhaps waiting for the hill to get the better of us.

The Vulture Climb

After the vulture climb, as it shall forever be known, it was downhill the whole way to Biarritz (kind of). We crossed over into France (no border control as far as we could see), stopping for moules in Hendaye and a beer in the pretty Basque village of Guéthary before finishing our journey at Biarritz lighthouse, eating pizza, and watching the sun set over the Basque coastline we’d just ridden.

The next day we rode 25 miles north to Soustons Lake for a party, and did some more unofficial camping deep in the forest. We were woken at about 4am by the blood-curdling roars of what google later revealed to be a Lynx.

A Cornish surf road trip

A surf road trip to the Cornish coast – photo: Greg Martin

Words by Demi Taylor

Road trip. This short hand for escape and adventure is perhaps my favourite two-word combo in the English language. It means taking time out, going slow and enjoying what’s around you, with no timetables or itineraries. But for me, an epic road trip doesn’t need to be about covering vast distances, it’s a state of mind and a statement of intent. And it was with this in mind that I proposed a mini-road trip around the toe of Cornwall to my boyfriend. Now he’s a fan of the campervan – we’ve travelled from the north of Scotland to the deserts of Morocco and back again in one sitting without too many arguments about maps – but tents… hmm not so much. But with a few days off and clear skies overhead, I decided it was time to rekindle his love of all things canvas. We loaded up the car, strapping boards and his fishing rod to the roof to make the transition more comfortable for him, and if he really didn’t like it, well, we hadn’t left the county.

First stop, 25 minutes down the road, Godrevy. As we stood on the boardwalk looking southward across this four-mile stretch of beach toward Hayle river-mouth the gods of fate and weather charts were on my side. Along its length, the beach was peppered with perfect little 3ft peaks and still relatively quiet. The great thing about this stretch of beach is that there’s usually something for everyone and often in a big swell, the further south you head, the smaller and less powerful the waves get. There’s also St Ives nearby where at Porthmeor you can surf watched over by the Tate – culture and surfing in one neat package.

The surf mobile!

We glanced at each other, grins breaking over our faces and bundled back to the car to get changed and grab our boards. Two hours later the tide had dropped out and with smiles as broad as the bay we headed in. Scanning the beach something caught the boyfriend’s eye. “Mussels should be pretty easy to do on the camping stove,” he said enthusiastically, completely forgetting the fact that he’s supposed to hate camping. After a quick refuel at the Godrevy Café, drinking in the bay views while inhaling a large chunk of homemade chocolate cake we were back on the beach foraging for our supper. We pitched up at Gwithian Farm (, a relaxed spot handily opposite the Red River Inn village pub. It was also only a 10-minute stroll to the beach, so we thought it’d be rude not to grab a few waves before thoughts turned to dinner.

The morning after started well with phrases such as, “Wasn’t that bad I ‘spose,” being bandied about and a wake up surf in a diminishing swell to refresh spirits. Breaking camp, we followed the coast road winding west to Sennen and Whitesand Bay, stopping en route at my childhood village of St Just to stock up on trips down memory lane, Warren’s pasties for lunch and local sausages for the evening’s BBQ. Trevedra ( is just your basic farm campsite, but it knows it’s not the main event, just the facilitator.

We followed the trail through the tents and crossing the stile, taking in what well-versed estate agents would call “sea glimpses”, the sight of which urged us on towards the cliff edge. On this blue-sky morning, the azure Atlantic washing the white sands of Gwynver was doing a startlingly good impression of the Caribbean and the swell had a little more size to it. That’s the beauty of Whitesand Bay – sitting on the toe of Britain, jutting into the ocean it is probably Britain’s best swell catcher and while at high tide Gwynver is cut off, at low tide it joins up with Sennen to create plenty of possibilities. Plus it includes handy things like a surf shop, and a decent pub.

Demi chilling in her tent

We had our fill of fun waves before the wind picked up, returning to the beach for a sun-downer BBQ of sausages and mackerel, courtesy of the boyfriend who was looking increasingly pleased with himself. We sat watching the groms rip up the chop while others stood looking on from the water’s edge, arm around the waist of their board, unknowingly recreating the classic Greg Noll shot. “Today was a good day,” said the boyfriend smiling as the sun sank low over the horizon. “I think we should stay an extra day, then head over to Porthcurno. Then the next day maybe Praa Sands, south coast, there’s a new swell coming and a decent campsite there.” I didn’t think now was the time to remind him about the epic hike back up the steps to the campsite. No need to ruin a perfectly good day and the start of his new found canvas love affair.

Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.