Are you considering renting an electric car for your road trip from Bilbao, Spain? Then I have some unmissable but easy tips to make your electric road trip in Basque Country a smashing success! Buckle up because an electric car hire in the Basque Country is simpler than you might think!
This post is specifically geared towards hiring an electric car from Bilbao Airport in Spain. Of course, you can rent electric cars from other places in the Basque Country too. If you have your own EV and want to drive to the Basque Country for an E-route of the region, you can start at tip 2 and you might be more familiar with the other tips.
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Electric Road Trip in Basque Country
My goal is to one day own a fully electric car at home. Unfortunately, the costs of purchasing one are a bit out of reach at the moment. So I continue to drive my regular, gas-fueled Fiat 500 at home. I do like to travel as sustainably as possible and I took the train to San Sebastian Spain. I wanted to discover more of the region this time, and wanted to take a road trip around Basque Country to discover more than just Bilbao!
When I was researching car hire prices and car rental options, I noticed the possibility of hiring an electric car! That is how the idea was born to make this a low-emission trip by combining the train trip with renting an electric car! It would be my first time and I had no idea where to begin!
8 Easy Tips to Make Your Electric Road Trip from Bilbao Epic
If you’re anything like me, or you just like to learn from my experiences, these 8 easy tips will help you plan your electric road trip in Basque Country and have an epic adventure!
1. Book your Electric Car online in advance
Did you know that Bilbao Airport has some of the most affordable car hire options I’ve seen? Both in Europe and in Spain. Of course, you can rent a car from San Sebastian airport, or San Sebastian city, or Bilbao city. But you’ll find the most affordable options (and the most diverse fleet) at Bilbao Airport.
I use car rental comparison sites to find the best car rentals, and I always compare a few sites. But I’m a big fan of Easyterra as they not only have the no-worry deals but also the option to select fuel type.
Of course, you can use a comparison site like RentalCars. Unfortunately, they only offer a limited selection of more expensive Polestar Electric cars.
So, I’d recommend Easyterra. Just select Bilbao Airport and your dates, and you’ll get a whole list of possible car hires available. On the left-hand side, you can filter all kinds of options. Select Fuel type Electric and you’ll get a whole range of fully electric cars for hire. Of course, the more expensive Polestar and Tesla models are available here too. But I selected the smaller and more familiar Fiat-500 E for my road trip!
I paid €150 for my 9-day EV hire with all insurances covered. Yes, more expensive than a regular Fiat 500 car hire, but I didn’t have to get any fuel.
2. Find a great itinerary for your Electric Road Trip
The second step in making your electric road trip around the Basque Country a reality is to plan (or at least research) your route. You have to take into account the range of your electric car and how far you’ll want to drive each day.
The Basque Country in Spain is quite compact and has a lot to offer. There are amazing cities like Bilbao and San Sebastian, sun-soaked beaches, the wine region, and the rural countryside.
The tourist office of the Basque Country has put together their E-Basque Route. It is only available in Spanish at the moment. You can find their English leaflet with suggested itinerary and mileage between sights here.
Unfortunately, their site doesn’t offer useful tools or links, so I used it as a base to plan my route.
My 9-day electric road trip in Basque Country
- Day 1: Arrive at Bilbao Airport to pick up the electric rental car – stay in Bilbao
- Day 2: Visit Bilbao and drive along the coast – stay along the coast
- Day 3: Explore the coast of the Basque Country and drive to San Sebastian – stay in San Sebastian
- Day 4: Drive the scenic route to Vitoria- Gasteiz and Rioja wine region – stay in Rioja
- Day 5: Explore Rioja wine region – stay in Rioja
- Day 6: Take the scenic route to Santander – visit Añana Salt Valley – stay in Santander
- Day 7: Take the scenic route to Picos de Europe – stay in Picos de Europe
- Day 8: Explore Picos de Europe
- Day 9: Scenic route back to Bilbao Airport
As you can see, I decided to combine the Basque Country and the neighboring region of Cantabria to explore the Picos de Europe. If you only have 1 week, skip the last 3 days. After San Sebastian, you can go straight from the Rioja wine region (via Añana Salt Valley) to Bilbao Airport. You can add a day in Bilbao or San Sebastian, or along the coast if you like.
When you have an itinerary or at least a rough plan of what you want to do, you can start scheduling your hotels and overnight accommodations.
3. Book hotels with EV charging
There are quite a few EV charging points along the main highways between San Sebastian and Bilbao and Bilbao and Santander. But if you go further inland, take the b-routes along the coast and into the mountains to explore tiny villages, you’ll have more difficulty finding charging points.
Because I like scenic driving, off-the-beaten-path destinations, and rural villages, I decided to look for hotels and accommodations with EV charging points.
This way, I would be able to charge my electric rental car overnight. And then leave each day with a fully charged battery for the next leg of my road trip in the Basque Country.
Hotels in the Basque Country with EV charging options
I always use Booking.com for my hotel bookings. If you select the region and your dates, you get a list of all accommodations. On the left side, you can choose under facilities >> “electric vehicle charging station”. Make sure to read the fine print of a hotel. Because sometimes it is a public parking place with EV charging options.
Here is the list of accommodations that I have used or considered, based on their EV charging options and price/quality/location ratio:
Hotels in Bilbao with EV charging options
- Bilbao has many options for hotels with EV charging stations. Check them all here. Most hotels are bigger chain hotels with EV chargers for guests. Smaller guesthouses and apartments in the old city will most likely refer you to a nearby charger.
- Occidental Bilbao would be a good option as it is close to the ring road.
Along the coast between Bilbao and San Sebastian
If you’re driving from Bilbao to San Sebastian (or vice versa), there are many interesting villages to stop for the night and explore. Have a beach day, or explore the interesting history of Bermeo and Guernica. There are a few good options for hotels where you can charge your electric car:
- Mundaka – 40 km from Bilbao (more if you take the coastal road) – Hotel Luruna Palacio Larrinaga (105 km from San Sebastian)
- Lekeitio – 58 km from Bilbao – Hotel Silken Palacio Uribarren – 71 km from San Sebastian
- Zumaia – 77 km from Bilbao – Hotel & Talasoterapia Zelai – 35 km from San Sebastian
- Zarautz – 85 km from Bilbao – Hotel Ur Bare – 21 km from San Sebastian
Because it was a holiday, most of the places were fully booked. I stayed near the small village of Orio/Aia. It is 87 km from Bilbao and only 18 km from San Sebastian. I stayed at a small locally run apartment called Oribar Casa Rural.
The place is run by the lady of the house. She doesn’t speak much English but somehow, you’ll manage. The apartments are located in a fully remodeled annex. It has loads of wood features, amazing views of the town and the coast on one side, and the rural backyard (donkey included) on the other. The rooms are spacious, luxurious, and very comfortable.
And the breakfast. I ate way too much but everything was super delicious! Home-made jams, local charcuterie, fresh bread (probably also homemade), and organic produce to add to your morning cereal.
To top things off, you can charge your electric car here too!
Hotels in San Sebastian with EV charging options
It turned out to be a bit more difficult to find electric car chargers in San Sebastian. There are many slower options, but no super-fast chargers. A lot of hotels and pensions say they have EV charging options available. But they’ll refer you to the nearby car garage and on-street parking (every single one I saw was occupied during my time in the city).
- Even the super swanky (and luxurious) Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel, refers to a public parking option for EV charging.
- The exception seems to be both the Catalonia Donosti Hotel (private parking on site) and Sercotel Hotel Europa (private parking nearby). They are both located closer to La Concha Beach, so be sure to book ahead!
I stayed at Cristina Enea Rooms. It is quite central and close to the train station (not in the old town). The outside doesn’t look that great as it is a big grey building. But on the 2nd floor, you’ll find the apartment-style rooms. It felt a bit like old student housing converted to hotels. But the rooms are really neat and clean and great!
They have a deal with the nearby car park for a reduced rate of parking. And the parking garage has EV chargers available. Win-win for me as it was easily accessible (both by car and by public transport) and cheaper than other options.
Hotels in Vitoria-Gasteiz and La Rioja with EV charging options
I didn’t stay overnight in Vitoria-Gasteiz but it is the capital of the Basque region. And very charming and interesting. The city is very green with bike lanes and nice monuments and landmarks. A option for staying overnight with EV chargers:
- Kora Green City – Aparthotel Passivhaus, very affordable studios for rent with hotel facilities
I did stay in the La Rioja wine region and it was great. The landscape is completely different and.. wine! Be aware, that drinking and driving is not allowed in Spain, so be careful with your wine tasting!
Laguardia is the village and the place to be for the La Rioja wine region of the Basque Country. But the town itself doesn’t have EV charging options or hotels in the village that do. Your best bet is to find a winery with hotel and EV charging options
- Hotel Marqués de Riscal, a Luxury Collection Hotel, in Elciego. The super fancy-designed hotel and winery are great for a visit. You can go wine tasting, book a spa treatment, eat in (one of) the Michelin-star restaurants, and charge your electric car.
- Hotel Eguren Ugarte north of Laguardia.This is a great option if you still want to sleep at a winery, with amazing views of the vineyard and still have money to buy wines.
As options were limited, I drove a little further and left the Basque Country. I stayed in La Rioja region in the small town of Navarrete. Hotel Bodega FyA – GRUPO PIÉROLA is also a working winery, with great views of the vineyard and the village. Their EV charging stations were right outside the front door and free of charge!
Where I Stayed in Cantabria and Picos de Europe with EV charging options
Because I had some extra time, I also visited the Cantabria region. I didn’t go to Santander, but I stayed nearby to break up the long drive. And to visit some smaller villages on the way.
I stayed in Solares, a smaller village close to Santander. Great if you get off the boat (or will catch the ferry first thing the next morning to the UK). I stayed at Castilla Termal Solares. They have spa facilities and several restaurants on site. Everything was a bit so-so but it wasn’t expensive so you can’t expect too much. They had only 2 EV charging stations. So I had to check several times for 2 big Porches to finish charging before I could hook my little car up.
I visited the Picos de Europe national park. Unfortunately, due to the weather turning really bad and I caught a terrible cold, I didn’t get to explore much of this amazing nature range in Spain. I stayed in a tiny village called Colio at Apartamentos Los Picos de Europa. It is close to the Fuente De cable car the cute village of Potes.
The apartments are self-catered and the whole place is decked out with warm water boilers, solar panels and the works! I could charge the car for free here too and the sun provided the electricity to charge it! Zero-emission road trip!
4. Research the charging options near hotels/sights/beaches
When you embark on your road trip to the Basque Country, only charging at your hotel at night, might not be sufficient. My E-Fiat 500 had a radius of 280 km. I looked up the specs of this type of car at home so I knew what mileage the car could handle.
Because I didn’t know how the EV charging would work, I researched some options along the route before I set out.
Online you can find many apps and websites that promise a full overview of all EV charging points on a map. Therefore, I downloaded Electromaps for Spain before I left. However, I haven’t actually used it in Spain as I didn’t find it that complete. It seems like all maps and apps only provide information for a few charging stations.
I searched online in Google Maps for EV charging points on the map and found several options. The downside is they don’t show availability or what type of charger this is. However, it reassured me that there would be enough EV chargers in Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vitoria-Gasteiz.
In the end, my car also showed (some) EV charging options along the route on the navigational display.
5. Download a few apps before you leave
Before you leave home, download the Google Translate app (from the App Store or Google Play). You can already download the Spanish and even Catalan language. The app works on mobile data, but if you download these languages, it also works offline. This way, you can use the camera function to translate full information signs in the basement of the car park (where there is zero cell service).
Before I left, I downloaded and signed up for a few EV charging apps. In the end, I used the app of Iberdrola – Recarga Pública Iberdrola the most. Download it from the App Store or Google Play here or visit their website.
They have a wide network of fast public charging points, with availability and easy payment. Make an account and add your credit card information for easy charging and payment options. The fast chargers are not the cheapest options, but they are fast (20 minutes for 80%) and widely available.
I also used the app of Total Energy Services. Download it from the App Store or Google Play. I found it a bit more hassle, and not as user-friendly. I mainly used it to charge at charging points that were not on their map. So it is not very useful for planning. But it might come in handy when you encounter one of their charging points.
Repsol is a gas station brand in Spain and it offers many charging stations on main highways. I couldn’t make the app work and connect so I gave up in the end.
6. Get to know your electric car before you set off on your road trip
I always leave the car hire place with sweaty palms, the AC blasting, the radio off, and frantically trying to multitask between finding my way, while watching the traffic, trying to find all the right buttons and not freak out.
For me, this was the first time driving an automatic car (I drive a stick at home). The car was brand new and had an elaborate panel for navigation, audio, and whatnot.
Unfortunately, the people of the car rental company were no help with information on charging or functionality of the car. So I drove off, took the first exit, and ended up in a deserted car park to get to know my car.
I first synced my phone, figured out the navigation, and adjusted the AC and radio settings. Then I walked around the car and checked the charger outlet, and the charger cable and adjusted the seat. I played with the navigation to see which settings worked for me, and then I took off.
The next day, I didn’t have to charge just yet, but I pulled into the first charging station I could find, just to see how it all worked. This made me much more confident about starting my road trip in an electric car!
7. Charge whenever you can
Especially at the end of the day at your hotel, even when you’re still at 60% or so, just charge it. This way, you’ll leave each day with a full battery.
I had to charge a couple of times on the road and used the super-fast charging (80% in 20 minutes). But I also looked on the map or apps to find car parks near the attractions I wanted to visit that have EV charging.
This way, I could visit the beach of Zarautz, while my car was charging in the car park, at the only available spot in the parking garage.
Or when I was exploring the village of Comillas in Cantabria, I charged the car just a little bit to make sure I’d reach my destination of the day.
Be aware: On main highways along the coast and between major cities, you’ll find plenty of bigger gas stations. They sometimes have EV charging stations, although they are not mentioned on the information board on the side of the road. If you need to charge and you see a major gas station coming up, give it a try and see if they have EV chargers.
8. Enjoy the ride in your electric holiday rental car
Call me crazy, but I was very giddy and excited and enjoyed my car re-charging while I used the engine to slow down for traffic lights. Or in the mountains, I’d see how energy efficiently I could drive going up and regenerate when going down the mountains.
I loved the silent humming and I felt really good in my pink metallic Fiat E-500. Yes, it might have had something to do with the fact it was a Fiat, or it was pink metallic, but I loved it. It gave me a buzz every time I walked up to it or when people stared at me from the streets.
Besides, it seems the Basque Country is made for a road trip. Being an electric road trip or not, that doesn’t really matter. Get out there and explore the mountains and small villages, the beautiful coastline, and the amazing roads!
Ok, the new vibe might wear off when in the end, but knowing you drive around with very low (to zero) emissions is great! I’d say: Vamos! Enjoy your ride.
Is your Basque Country Electric Road Trip possible?
I don’t know if electric cars can outnumber regular cars, but I’d say the Basque Country is ready for electric cars. They have a great network of fast chargers, a lot of hotels with EV charging, and the region is made to explore by car!
I found it a great way to experience what it is like driving an electric car and I’d hire an EV on my next road trip in the Basque Country.
I hope you found my tips for electric car hire from Bilbao useful and can plan your own road trip in the Basque Country in an electric car. What are you waiting for?
Let me know if you have any questions or comments. You can drop them in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve liked my tips and stories, please share them with friends and family and come back for more travel stories next time.