Le dernier article (pour le moment)

Trundling along on our way to the Loire, checked the weather forecast and it showed heavy rain. Not fans of too much driving in the rain so we pulled off at Montmorillon, found the municipal campsite and settled in for 48 hours. As you would then expect we had about 25 minutes of rain! Never mind “tidy Friday” was completed, we had the campsite to ourselves and visited somewhere we had previously never heard of.

Montmorillon is is bi-famous (if that’s a word), firstly for macaroons – there is even a macaroon museum. For the sake of not missing we visited the oldest macaron bakery in town which was established in 1920, Maison Rannou-Métivier. There were some free samples, but not the coloured shinny ones a’la Mary Berry – these were like weird little cakey biscuits. At a price or €15 for 6 tiny cakes – we passed.

Secondly for books, it’s the Wigtown of France. Known as the Citie De L’Ecrit, there are more small bookshops than you could shake a feather quill at, surprisingly even one that specialises in English books.  The town is your typical medieval affair, old cobbled street up the hill at the top of which is an 11th century hospital come monastery.  One claim they don’t make is for giant sized objects, however we found a few including a fairly large pile of books and a massive bike.

montmorillon (9)montmorillon (7)

With just over a week left we were planning to spend most of the time around the Loire. We arrived at the white-town of Saumar, a place where everyone seems just a bit too cool and trendy when you have been travelling for 4 months and don’t own an iron! For us it’s the Lake District of France, so many lovely things to see which equals more people than you really want to see doing the same things as you. We did have a quick pit stop for lunch at the chateau, one of the iconic images of the area and worth battling with the crowds to park up outside and brew up.


Chateau at Saumur

We ended up a few km along the river at Turquant. More our style, a small village set just back off the Loire that contains a great number of troglodyte dwellings, many of which are now part of the arts and crafts village. By early evening the village was filling up fast, the small aire we were on was packed to overflowing with more motorhomes arriving late into the evening. The arty people were opening up for the season so a good few had demonstrations taking place in their gardens, their were bands and food-stalls booked for the main opening day, of course that was going to be the day after we left.

We moved off in the morning deciding that further along the Loire maybe quieter. on route we came across the village of Rochemenier, one of the most complete cave (troglodyte) villages in the Loire.  The museum is two former farms that were inhabited until the 1960’s. Fascinating to walk through the caves and see how people lived – and we loved that as the family grew the parents just carved out another nook in the limestone walls to place an extra bed. There is a constant temperature of 12 degrees in the caves, so no we wont be moving into one anytime soon :).

Les Ponts De Ce

We finally found somewhere that took our fancy just outside Angers, on a small island at the town of Les Ponts de Ce. The site had just opened for the season so we spread out and took advantage of having it to ourselves. From outside the gate more fabulous Voie Vert cycle paths,  on the first day we cycled along the Loire, miles of cycle path and quiet farm lanes, we hardly saw a soul. We stopped for lunch by a bridge and soaked up the sunshine, looks like the tourists don’t arrive in this area just yet as only us at the picnic area sitting watching the river rush by.

The next day we headed in the opposite direction, along the river for a few miles and then intending to head up and around Angers on the long loop back to camp. Just as we arrived outside the city the heavens opened, being prepared as always (never) we didn’t have any wet weather gear with us. Thus we needed to get back to camp and that meant the route straight through the city. There were cycle paths they but to the French they mean nothing in the city. Bendy-buses are going to win any disagreement over who owns the lane, cars nipping in and out of side streets are also not to be messed with. By the time we were back I was not at all worried about being soaked to the skin – more my nerves were in shreds and I needed a strong tipple to steady them after surviving the French road systems best attempts at taking me off my bike.

With just a couple of days left we hopped over to Brittany to catch up on the the attractions we missed in the fog on the way down.  Mont St. Michel has been high on our list to see for a long time, we pulled into the car-park, took the ticket from the barrier machine and were then just a little startled to see the price for parking ping up at €124!!! As we were both climbing back up off the van floor a lovely French mademoiselle came scurrying up on her bicycle to tell us we  had inadvertently entered the coach park and needed to move to the next car-park being the one for motorhomes. Even then it was €17.90 and we were sure we could find cheaper.

Mont St. Michel – absolutely worth the return visit

We drove a couple of km down the road to a Camperstop, €10.80 for the night all in – more our range. We took the bikes off and cycled back toward the causeway. We had been told there was a restriction on taking bikes over, but plenty were riding down so we followed suit. Sign of the times I guess, but we were a bit disappointed to see they have built a bridge over the causeway. We cycled over, mixing in with walkers, the local buses and horses and carts, with over 3 million visitors a year time and tide really doesn’t wait for man here – the bridge means its now a constant throng in each direction.

Last few days we have spent along the coast between St. Malo and Cancale, it has been a bit of a culture shock to see so many people. Cancale was packed to the rafters, bars and restaurants all fulled to overflowing with people eating and drinking and not a parking space to be seen. As its known as the oyster capital of France we didn’t feel we were missing out too much on the particular village. From the viewing point above the village we both felt Cancale could easily pass itself off as Tobermory if they used a few pastel paints and moved the church a few hundred yards. From there we drove right around the headland, but with only a couple of days we missed out on so many walks and cycle rides we have decided to go back in the autumn for a few weeks summer holiday.

cancale brittany


We left possibly our biggest surprise to the very last – St. Malo. Expecting just another port were were stunned at what a beautiful town it is. We hadn’t left enough time to see anything other than quick cursory glance around from the van – another reason to return. The weather has been amazingly kind to us this trip, we have counted less then 8 days rain in just under 4 months. Iain looks incredibly well for all the sun – I on the other hand am suffering from insisting on wearing sunglasses all the time, I bear more than a passing resemblance to Ronnie Racoon!


A picture of health 


And so another trip ends, but one always ends with plans for the next one. So it’s back to work, save some money and 2018 we plan to head for Russia, Finland and some more of the Baltics.

France – South West and middle bits

Not sure how or where but we arrived in France! We pulled off the main road and saw road-signs saying France was in 1km but nothing really happened, no border signs, nothing we were just suddenly there. We were on the coast looking back at San Sebastian – seemed very built up so we gave the coast a miss – probably not the best thing to do but we can always come again.

We fancied visiting Lourdes, somewhat surprised to find nearly 5 hours drive (it was only 6 hours from our starting point at Navarre in Spain?). Putting hands in pockets we paid the tolls and €18 and 2 and half hours later arrived in Lourdes. First thing, where were all the people? so quiet we could not believe it. We visited the grotto, literally us and five other people there. Inside the Basilicas it was very much the same, a few people milling around but no crowds anywhere.

Lourdes France (4)We thought we would try our luck and see what the queues were like for the baths. Iain was straight in – no queue for men. I waited 40 minutes which wasn’t too bad. We were both totally unaware of what this was going to entail. Basically, it’s skinny dipping with several other people you have never met, whilst praying, in the coldest water you can imagine.                                                                                    

 (not our photo – pinched from internet

You go into a bath area which looks like a hospital ward, strip off, whilst an assistant stands holding a cloak behind you. As you are called into the actual bath they wrap a wet sheet around you to preserve your modesty as they whip off your cloak. Two assistants walk you to the bath, you step in and walk forward, then as they say prayers they pull you backwards so you are sitting down up to your neck in water than less then 11 degrees i.e.. absolutely freezing.  So much so it took my breathe away, I couldn’t breathe or speak, I honestly thought I was going to be the first person who died in the baths instead of being cured 😦 :(.  The two assistants seemed to notice my inability to breathe or join in with the St Bernadette prayers and whisked me out fairly pronto. Once you are out they hold up a sheet and tell you to get dressed – no towels, only wimps get dried first – just pop on all your clothes whilst you are soaking wet – awesome.

It is an fascinating place to visit, the various churches and basilicas are in the main incredible to see, although the underground St. Pius did, to us, resemble a concrete car-park with seating for 25,000. There are more shops selling religious artifacts than you could ever imagine. Bernadette graces everything from pens to candles to jackets to jewellery, with prices from a few cents to upwards of thousands of Euro.  And to cap it off there is a castle dating from the 11th century right in the centre of town, perched high on a hill it gives wonderful views over the town and the Sanctuary.

Lourdes France (5)

Lourdes – taken from  the castle

Winding our way up through France we happened upon Condom. It would be easy to be immature, I cannot believe there is a Brit who visits who doesn’t have a school-child snigger!! Ok, that aside, its actually a lovely place. It doesn’t seem to have a major claim to fame and therefore is low on the tourist trail rankings. The main street is the usual cobbled affair with shops dedicated to the local specialities of Armagnac and Foie Gras, alongside some tres chic boutiques and cafes. At the lower end of town the Baise river runs out through several miles of parkland, we found a beautiful free aire a few miles along and called that home.


The only other main claim to fame for Condom is its connection to D’Artagnan and his Three Musketeers.  He was born in a castle nearby and hence the town has a very large reminder of him placed firmly in the town square.

We were unaware of the number of Bastide towns in the South West of France, again our ignorance meant we thought there were one or two fortified medieval towns, and yet it seems there must be many more (we found out later over 500) as we passed one every few miles. Those we visited, including our favourite Vianne, were very un-touristy, just a few shops and a cafe or two in a small square, considering they date back to between 1200 and 1400 the walls are astonishingly complete.

Traversing the Midi Pyrenees we were aiming to find a decent canal path for a good bike ride. Our best bet looked to be the Canal Garonne, miles of towpath and not a road in sight.  We had a night at the start of the canal but decided to move on to an aire 15 km up the road to cycle from. As we neared the aire, literally 3 km away we hit a diversion. My French is way to poor too understand what it was about other than we were too wide and only 1 cm under the height restriction. Therefore we followed the yellow divertion signs, and followed them and followed them. We stopped at Tonneins for a lunch break and re-stock of the cupboards, then we got on the diversion trail again.


We finally arived, an hour later and over 35 km detoured. At this stage Iain convisgated my Sat Nav for a look.  Lets just say he wasn’t the most pleased he has ever been. The low bridge was about 1 km after the aire we were heading for – so we really didn’t need to take the detour at all! From my view adds to the trip – from his – adds to the fuel 🙂

The canal cycle ride was worth the minor skirmishes, mile after mile – all off road and not another soul to be seen barring our good selves. We planned for a stop for coffee and something cakey at the first cafe, not a great plan as we didn’t see an open cafe in over 40 miles of cycling. 

This region of France is challenging for campsites at this time of year. Open ones do not appear to exist. Sure we have found websites showing campsite, we arrive they aren’t open. It drives me mad. We went to Duras, purely to get a campsite and do some washing. The kindly British owner told us he wasn’t going to open for a few more weeks – then why advertise including a hoarding on the nearest roundabout saying open? On the upside Duras threw up a quick visit to the chateau and the lady on the information offered us a free night parking around the back!

Chateau Duras

It was then time for us to sample the delights on the famous Dordogne. We followed the river across and came across beautiful village after beautiful village. It does get a bit confusing though, some villages are “one of the most beautiful” others “one of the plus most” etc. etc. Suffice to say its all a bit over-whelming. Just when we thought we had seen the best of something, another one pops up ahead and its even better than the last.

The Dordogne

We ‘happened’ across Limeuil (wrong turn, not mine), apparently this one comes in the “Plus Beau” category, easy to see why to be fair. A steep walk up to the top of the village where every house would have looked perfect on next years kitchen calendar. We missed the one where  the exit of the latrine falls straight out to the path right below! It is hard to miss that so many of the voices your hear are English, in a small village I heard several people in gardens and around the lanes speaking English, a few German and even a couple of French :).  We have met several Brits living in France, at least half of whom tell us they don’t really speak French as they don’t need to. Must have badges if you live here then as we find most of the French want us to speak in French, although we are pretty sure its just for their own amusement.

Limeuil – Dordogne

After a final night in St. Cyprien we left the chocolate box land and headed into Limousin. Still any number of cutesy villages but it much less touristy.  We did stop off at Brantome, an island village totally surrounded by a river, unlucky for us we arrived on a Monday and nothing at all was open, so we had a quick scoot around and moved on. Driving around we saw more and more empty and derelict buildings, we were told its one of the cheapest areas in France to buy property, obviously we then visited a few estate agents 🙂 yup we can just about afford a shed and that would need some renovation.


For us we had two reasons to visit Limousin, first to ride the Voie Vert cycle path at Chalus, yet another old railway line, as it our addiction. Yet more perfect piste for cycling used by no-one other than us. The cyclist here seem to prefer the roads, although quiet they are mainly hills – whereas railway lines are fairly flat so we will stick with them.  Lucky for us the chateau at Chalus was closed, if not then I as an Englishwoman (Iain wouldn’t have felt obligated as a Welshman) would have needed to visit the place where Richard the Lionheart died – and more importantly where his entrails are still held – how yuck is that? (other parts are scattered around France).

The other reason was to visit Oradour Sur Glane, where 642 men, women and children were slaughtered by the SS in June 1944, the town was then pretty much destroyed.  A new town was built after the war but the original town was left as was as a memorial. The entrance is underground and leads through some exhibitions from where you are free to walk through to the memorial village. It really speaks for itself, buildings and cars left as they were after the massacre. Plaques on the remains of many of the houses just show the family name and the profession of the occupants.  At the church where the women and children were killed there are some very simple plaques and prayers, and along the streets are plaques that tell of people being tortured or bodies found in certain places, you cannot fail to be touched by the horrors that took place.

As usual we were lucky with the time of year we are visiting as very few people around. Although we had been told that taking photographs was prohibited at one time there was no restriction as the few people there were wandering around with cameras mainly observing the requests for silence.  We both felt very privileged to have been able to visit Oradour, I think it will stay with us for a long time to come.

Eleven more days for us before its time to head for the high seas. Forecast of storms tomorrow then good weather to see us through to the ferry – here’s hoping 🙂 🙂


Camino De Santiago and other places

Hola Espana

We crossed into Spain at a little known border crossing of Bemposta, a single track road on the dam crossing the river. The road right up to the border had been so quiet, we saw a car every 20 or so miles and that was it, staying off the main roads brought us through lots of tiny villages and mile after mile of green farmland. A very different Portugal than we have seen before, and for sure one we would visit again.

Spain border crossing sign

After crossing our last ‘barragem’ then our first Spanish must see on the list would be a ‘presa’. This one being the Almendra Dam, to me a big expanse of water, to Iain something of a huge engineering feet. We had been able to see the dam from our overnight spot in Bemposta, at least 45 minutes drive away. It is to be fair an impressive sight. Driving over the 2.5 km over the dam wall  there are a couple of good size viewing places from where we could see back over to Portugal.

Almendra Dam

For me, best part of the morning was the realisation that the flock of birds above us were a volt of Griffin Vultures – yup indeedy, a group of massive birds flying over a hydro electric dam are called a ‘volt’ (Wikipedia says so, therefore it’s true). We stood with a couple from a Portuguese moho for at least 20 minutes trying to get a decent vulture photo  – this was my best effort, zoomed many times.

vulture griffin

We took the minor roads up top Zamora, skirted around it and went North. No particular reason other than to travel across Spain below the coast but above the mountains. As our intended stopping place was closed we drove a little further and ended up at the teeny village of Aguilar De Campos in  Castile and Leon. One of very many villages that time seems to have forgot in the province. They mainly consist of a castle, flowing down from which are numerous cave-houses and the chimneys of same; a massive church with bricked up windows and 75% of the village houses in dire need of repair and in most cases completely roofless. Despite that there are always groups of elderly men wandering around the streets passing away the day, the female counter-parts usually found on benches in the shade watching the world, and the odd motorhome, pass by.

Aguila de campos (1)Aguila de campos (2)

Aguila De Campos cave-houses

Castile and Leon is part of Spanish central plateau – known as the Meseta. Although its very flat it lies between 2200 and 3280 ft, mile after mile of gently rolling fields with the odd hillock. We seem to drive forever without seeing anyone. The odd car or van does pass every so often but it is incredibly peaceful driving on these roads. Some of the roads were so straight we could count three or four villages ahead, just the massive church and a few buildings repeated into the distance.

The Meseta

At Palencia we were greeted by Cristo Del Otero, appearing to direct the traffic off the motorway and into town. He has been in situ since 1931, and does look a bit past his best, I guess most of us would standing next to a motorway for 80 odd years. He is 21 metres (69 ft) high and stands on top of a chapel, which in turn stands on a knoll. On a hot, sunny day there was not a soul nearby. No-one walking up to it, parked at the bottom taking photos – seemed he is a bit forgotten even by the Palencians.

cristo del otero

Needing a lunch stop we pulled into one of the multitude of castle villages on the route, Astudillo. Yes again there was a castle, wine caves, caves-houses, we walked over the grass mounds with chimneys sticking out – bit like the hobbits. The streets were cobbled and the front doors of the houses were the thickness of the walls. Places of incredible history and beauty and not another soul in sight. Just us and the odd rabid dog that attaches itself to you in the hope of food, we found it amazing that tourists aren’t flocking to these places and that the locals aren’t savvy enough to make a Euro by charging you to get in or selling ice-creams and fridge magnets.


By sheer force of luck we stumbled onto the Camino De Santiago. Having seen the symbol a few times on road signs we finally clicked to what it was and that we were on it. Our campsite for the next couple of nights was also on it, literally. Castrojeriz is a bit of a diamond, we understand similar to most villages and towns along the route just larger. There are several churches, two monastery and one convent ruin, a live convent, a castle high on the hill and a stack of cave houses dug into the hills above the town.


Camino De Santiago sign posting 

Pilgrims having been passing through the town for over 1000 years on the 500 mile pilgrimage. You would struggle to get lost anywhere on route as signs abound at every path and junction. We did our bit, albeit by bike, as some do. We cycled 20’ish miles along the pilgrims path and were surprised at seeing 23 walkers in just under an hour, all bar two were individuals and ranged from teenagers to peoples of our generation. The path weaves in and out of villages with most pilgrims / walkers stopping in small hostels on route where they use their pilgrims passports to record their stop and eat and sleep for very low prices. As we drove on over the next few days we saw hundreds of pilgrims along the route, and we were told this is the quietest time as July and August are the peak months.

The Pilgrims Path – Camino De Santiago

 Hontanas on the Camino De Santiago

Just off route is the convent Santa Clara, aka  ‘cake convent’. You go into a reception type area and there is a wooden shelf that rotates. You ring a bell and a nun shouts a “Hola”, you ask for cake and the revolving shelf turns and your box of cakes appears – you put your money in its place and it disappears off on the next turn. At no time do you see the nuns, its a brilliant little idea – and in all honesty the cakes were top class sponges filled with fresh cream – worth every Euro and one of our favourite experiences in Spain :).

Our route out of Spain crossed Rioja. It has been said that I don’t have great taste in wine, my absolute favourite is a good cheap Rioja so that said it was essential for us to drive through the Rioja region. So many vineyards, so little time! Every turn has a winery selling by the bottle or cask, offering tasting sessions or just tours of their museums.

Glorious Rioja

In the heart of the region is the small town of Elciego.  A superbly restored historic centre is surrounded by more winery that you could visit on a full weekend.


Whilst that is a good enough attraction to warrant the visit the first thing that hits you as arrive in town is the Hotel Marques De Riscal, which looks as if giant sized reels of steel ribbon have escaped from the front and back of the building.

Designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao it is no shrinking violet, causing us and many others to head up to the entrance to see it up close and take photos. A very charming, very large, Spaniard blocked the way , telling us no entry unless you are staying. I begged a photo, no way Jose said your man on the gate. I and many other disgruntled tourists trundled off. They do allow you into a very grand and expensive “tourist area” posh term for shop selling tatt, very expensive to be fair but tatt none the less. If we can’t take a photo of your hotel we aren’t buying your junk is our motto so we left.

Never to be defeated, we took the van up the vineyard roads, possibly not that suitable for a motorhome but needs must. A few km later, we turned into a small track and hey presto a great view of the hotel and as many photos as we wanted. From there we ventured back to the town and walked around the old buildings. Being Saturday afternoon and 22 degrees the Spaniards were out in force, enjoying a glass of wine and wearing enough clothes to warrant a winters day in Wales.

We continued through Rioja, stopping off for a weekend’s rest (all this travelling gets tiring!) in Estella, where we did nothing much other than sit and watch the grass grow. Rather than take the quick route up to the border at Irun we went over the mountains, a rather long and tortuous journey without too many rewards – well until we reached the summit at Lizzaraga. It wasn’t so much what we could see as what we couldn’t well above the cloud line we had an incredible view over the clouds with just the mountain tops peeking out – stunning.


Adios Espana and the Osborne bulls








Portugal – the boondocks

We can always tell when are back on the road less travelled (for us), we find so many things to take photos of, hence this post is going to be somewhat overloaded with images.

Somewhere we had planned to visit a couple of times but never seen was up the Portuguese / Spanish border at Minas Sao Domingos, a deserted open pit mine which closed in 1966. Since then it has become a popular tourist destination as many of the old mine buildings and the open cast pit are very much in evidence. There is an English graveyard that contains the graves of mine managers and their families who originated from Cornwall. The old pit houses looked well cared for and appear inhabited although there weren’t many people about other than motorhomers.


Minas Sao Domingos

On our way out of Sao Domingos we re-traced our route back to Mertola. A spectacular sight from the approach road, set on a rocky spur overlooking the Rio Guadiana. We spied a road sign for a viewpoint, up a fairly uneven and rocky track, we thought it would be a km or so, more than 7 km later we reached the viewpoint – it was worth it for the photos, not so sure the van enjoyed the experienced quite as much. When we arrived in the town we climbed the cobbled hills  up to the small castle, from which you can view the many white houses and a picturesque church that was once a mosque.


We were going to stop off for a night at the Camperstop in the village, but we met a Brit guy there who was full of telling us how he had been living in his massive Hymer moho, in what was a car-park, for the last 3 weeks and was staying at least another two as it was free.  For us the reason that so many places are putting up height barriers so we moved on and had a stop off Castro Verde instead – not much there but what there is – well kept, a surprising good little municipal campsite, more surprising in that of the 40’ish vans on site over half were Finnish, seemed to be the hip place for the Finn’s to be meeting up. We stayed a few days to do the boring stuff, washing, cleaning, shopping and left with a fresher odour in our wake.

Destination Odivelas Barragem but on route the gorgeous little town of Alvito made us re-consider. We parked up for a lunch stop and a few cars pulled in next to us with folk sporting cameras with lenses like telescopes. It seemed we were on route for the Alentejo Volta cycle race, part of the European tour. Never ones to miss some free entertainment we decided to stick around and watch the race pass (in less than 40 seconds) and stopover on the local barragem at Alvito, followed the next day by a short hop and a stopover at the Pego Do Alta barragem. Portugal has over 300 barragems (reservoir / dams) every few miles a sign points to one, some are magnificent but it does becomes after a while – seem one, seen most of them – due to this we decided no more and aim for the coast again for a while.

Alvito town square

The Alentejo Volta 

To avoid Lisbon or not – yes lets. We took a stretch of tollroad – highway robbers were out at €9 for less than 20 miles. Due to this we took the next exit and the long and winding, and more winding road to Mafra. We probably didn’t save much as a 35 minute toll road journey took 2 hours on non-toll roads – but then again sometimes it’s all about feeling you have won :).

The first sights of Mafra Palace remove any thoughts of tolls, times or distance. It is a colossal building with a limestone facade over 200 metres long with towers at each end, set right in the heart of the town.  It took from 1717 to 1755 to build (the King had promised to build his wife a convent if she gave him offspring – he paid out and then some) and has been both a monastery and a palace.

Lucky for motorhomers there are parking spaces right alongside and opposite these stand the army guards for the barracks at the rear of the palace – safest place we have ever parked yet! Surprisingly there were just a handful of tourist around

Mafra Palace

We were both so impressed with Mafra we decided to backtrack towards Lisbon and see the two of the “Seven Wonders of Portugal” Sintra and Pena Palace. What a bloody nightmare. We being we, don’t park as far away as possible and walk in. Nope we drive in as far as we can, and we see the error of our ways as roads shrink in width and buildings close on our wing mirrors. Luck strikes and we see a signpost pointing away from the medieval lanes but as we turn to it a helpful little GNR fella shakes his head and points us left – great we are now climbing little cobbled lanes that the small family car in front looks rather big on, if I stuck my hand out of the window I could have rung doorbells as we passed.

We achieve the height of Pena palace entrance – and a dead end, so turn around and start nightmare all over again back down the hill, this time with traffic still coming up and having to pull into passing places where they can. Iain spotted a sign for Lisbon, we took it to escape Sintra, left the city and high-tailed back up the coast to Mafra. Lesson learned for the umpteenth time – do not attempt to take motorhomes into medieval towns (but it will happen again).

Agreeing that all the historical culture was well over-rated instead we visited Buddha Eden, the largest oriental garden in Europe. Possibly one of the best places we have been recently, €4 each, free parking and a  over 35 hectares of gardens created as a reaction to the destruction of the Buddhas of Banyan. There are oodles of Buddhas – ranging from a few feet to some over 21 metres high and 700 startling blue terracotta life-size soldiers, and when that all gets overwhelming there are Modern, African and Contemporary sculpture gardens containing over 200 sculptures set around 1000 palms.

It is a surreal place, at bit of the Far East in Portugal, with some Africa thrown in. We absolutely loved it, taken for what it is you cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer number of sculptures, Buddhas etc.  And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy it is part of a vineyard and they sell their own wine at very decent prices.

Next stop, Obidos, wiser this time finding a small German owned Camperstop a few miles out of the village where the kindly owner was happy to ferry us around on a taxi service for a few Euro, instead of us driving up lanes more suited to a pony and trap.

The town itself is jaw dropping, completely surrounded by a crenellated wall, the historic centre is a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets, alleyways and steps. The whitewashed houses have splashes of yellow and blue painted edgings and flowers spilling out of every possible window and to top it off there is a pretty spectacular castle at the top.

The main street is full of tourist shops, the tour buses come in, for an hour its manic, then they go and its bliss. We read that many people feel its too touristy so miss it out visiting – a top tip from us – don’t miss it, – no matter how many people are there it is beautiful and worth the effort to see it.

Every shop sells shots of the local cherry liqueur from tables outside on the street. These are poured into small chocolate cases, you drink the liqueur then eat the cup – Iain was in liqueur / chocolate heaven.

The other main attraction in the area is Peniche, set on a headland and surrounded by sea. It is still very much a working town which mixes with several campsites and a good deal of watersports but doesn’t have any of the charm of the inland villages.  More to our liking was the surfers haunt of Baleal, a few miles along the coast. White sand, a few bars and cafes and a minimum of 50 surfers in the sea at anyone time. The actual island is reached over a causeway, we didn’t attempt it – the tide was coming on and I could picture the headlines as we floated away!

Iain improving his surfing at Peniche

At this point the plans fells by the wayside, they had been to visit the canals of Aveiro and then Porto and head North to Vigo. But we happened across a website detailing the Ecopista Do Dao. Basically a 49 km cycle path on a old railway line, tarmac all the way running from Viseu to just outside Coimbro.  We took the Atlantic coast road up, much quieter than the Algarve, still plenty of people around but not as many high-rise hotels and we found camping costs half of those in the South.

It would be remiss to not mention the weather – the further North we went the hotter it was. We left Obidbos and it was 25 / 80 degrees – by the time we reached Combrao it was up to 28 / 85 degrees. Hate to say it, but it was too hot! We even went in the sea (briefly and paddling) at Pedra De Ouro, for the Atlantic in March is was warm enough. I wasn’t as impressed when a massive wave caught me unawares paddling and I got soaked head to toe :(.

We skirted around Coimbro city as we have visited before and took a detour to a former monastery at Lorvao instead.  We went in and asked if we were allowed to look around, the amazingly kind gentleman offered us a personal tour for €1 each. We spent the next 50 minutes seeing and hearing a very detailed description of every artifact, we could probably produce our own guide-books as there is really very little we don’t know about the place!

Home for the weekend was one of the best places we have every stayed -Terra de Iguanas. Many places offer a bread service, where your rolls are delivered for a few cents daily. Here they gave us a bag of 6 rolls each morning for free, proper home brewed coffee, wifi, showers,  etc. etc. €10 a night!  Add to that our wonderful hosts offered a service to take our bikes up to the start of the cycle path at Viseu so we could pedal back.

So we spend my 54th birthday cycling the 54 km from Viseu back to the campsite, it was a bit breezy but other than that a perfect ride. All along the track the old stations are in the process of being converted to cafes or other municipal buildings, we even came across a train and carriages at one stop.

Its nearly time to start the long trek North so today we ambled up through Northern Portugal. We stayed off the main roads and took minor roads through the Serra De Estrela mountains, hardly any traffic on the roads and loads of places to just stop and look at the incredible scenery. We ended our day at the teeny town of Meda,  there is a clocktower on a rocky outcrop at the highest point of the town, from there the view stretched out across to the Spanish border, impossible to capture on camera, one of the most mind-blowing views we have ever seen.

The view from Meda



This year we were ready, our Peage was pre-paid in the UK, no fear of the motorway. Why then as we crossed the border did the lane instructing “foreigners” to pull over and register for tolls strike fear into us?  Piffle, we didn’t follow instructions keeping every limb crossed our pre-pay €40 was in operation (we will know when we get home and find a big fine if we have done it wrong).

Instead of heading straight along the Algarve we went inland and followed the border up to Alcoutim. On a clear Sunday morning we stood in Portugal looking over the Guadiana River to the Spanish village of Sanlucar De Guadiana. As Portugal is an hour behind Spain its fairly interesting when the village clocks chime – each one within shouting distance of each other over the river – the one in Spain chimes one one bell for 1 o’clock whilst in Portugal they ring out the full 12 o’clock. We took a walk down the cobbled streets into the  modest little village square and from there down to the riverfront to look over at the mirror image village and castle in Spain.


Sanlucar De Guadiana

We stayed at Odeleite on  a camperstop (N 37 19 54 W 7 28 06) good views down to the Barragem, an ace little coffee house in the teeny village of Alcaria – the only negative for us was Portuguese owner man decided we could share electric with the French couple next door, and plugged us into their supply by joining our cables to their on their van!. In theory fine, in practice we had less than 2 amp so just having our fridge on when they boiled a kettle meant we continually tripped out the electric. We gave up and disconnected and saved ourselves €4 which we spent in Alberto’s village cafe on a couple of milky Sidal coffees.

Loving the inland we took the scenic route west through the countryside and then down Moncarapacho. Where the hell did all these motorhomes comes from??? Route 66, last time we visited 3 vans on the site – this time 70+., they offered to find us a pitch, run electric over roads etc. We declined sure we knew of plenty of other sites. Next stop, Caravans-Algarve, uhh sorry full up. A new campsite has opened in the village, takes 60 vans – well it now takes 70+ as its full and they are also parking in the arrival area queuing up to 3 days for a pitch. Plan B, head for the beach Olhao and Fuseta – reliably good for a spaces on massive sites that take over 300 vans, not a one!!!

We are told the police are moving on Free Campers off the beaches and therefore the sites are all now much busier, add to that Morocco is not that preferred destination that it was for many of the French and its motorhome chaos in some places. We were surprised just how many new campsites, aires and motorhome parking sites have sprung up, there must be hundreds upon hundred of new pitches – however didn’t help us as the ones within a 30 miles radius of us were rammed full.

Seeing our bottoms with the area we decided to head to Lagos, knowing we would easily get on the site massive 5 star site at Espiche we left the crowded sites behind. Just over an hour later we arrive at Tursicampo Espiche, to be told they have 3 spaces (and the 3 were rubbish). We paid up, booked on, put our shoes on and went to the restaurant for a meal to celebrate Iain’s birthday.

On the upside, Portugal is showing some serious sunshine, change of pitch and lets bake. Factor 15 on and still reddnning gloriously. After a week done the attractions of Luz and Lagos as been to both a few times and nothing new. We needed a site near Albufeira for the arrival of the Bates. I found a reasonably new one and emailed the owner to check if they had space. Knowing things were tight on lots of site I went for the impressive email that is translated into their native language. Bit of Google translate and boom – press send. An hour later a response saying they will find us a space, oh and well done with the email translation – really well done into Spanish – when the site is Portuguese and the owner is Dutch anyway!!

Moving onto said site, all we could say was “wow” Mikki’s Place to Stay is gaining both fame and notoriety in Portugal. Mikki is a ceramic artist and has a studio slap bang in the middle of the site, together with a tres chic little hippy bar and cafe. The man in charge is Arno, who has built one of the best sites ever, a massive swim hole, as someone else put it – an oasis in the middle of the sand and dust of the Algarve.


The Bates arrived and brought even bluer skies with them, plus a stock of Tetley Tea Bags for Iain. Binty kindly cooked paella for us at Chez Posh Knob villa they were staying at, we thinks they were a tad concerned with our jalopy being parked in the complex as some will have thought we were Free Campers using the car-park as a handy overnight!

Over the many, many times we have driven up and down the N125 we have never gone into the village of Alcantarilha, mainly because the road diverts you around the edge but also because the mecca of motorhomes, Aldi, is on said ring road. To make up for missed visits we walked into the village – worth it? totally. Very small, a little run down maybe, not very touristy. The side streets were cobbled, the church was built in 1586, we went in for sit. It was beyond our comprehension this place for 450 years old. At the top of the village another church, for us the pièce de résistance a “bones” church. The ossos was built using the bones and skulls taken from local cemeteries – it’s not our first ossos and probably wont be our last.


The other place we always intend to call in at is Loule, we should have done so before. It’s fantastic and the Bate / Baxter day trip enjoyed it immensely. The indoor market is half fresh fish market, the remainder holds stalls of local crafts, wines and foods. A slight damper was Loule had the average rainfall of Snowdonia in about 2 hours. Rather than grow webbed feet we moved on to Vilamoura, same amount of rain so we took cover for lunch in the Old Navy on the marina, where Emyr offered (was forced??) to buy lunch for one and all. No matter how long we are away its always a massive treat to see friends and family from home – the Bates cover both.



Back down the coast, again, to Moncarapacho to wait for the next visitors, Alex and Alistair. Much better prepared this time with a few new sites, the first had opened 2 weeks previously and just a couple of Brits on, we were in and on before lunch. We walked down to the village, despite it being Sunday there were a fair few people around but nothing had changed, and that’s all for the good. (N 37.08030 W 7.71031), highlight of any trip to the Algarve for me, the Moncarapacho pottery shop, some of the best ceramics we have found anywhere, made locally and at really good prices.

We will be here for at least 8 days, whilst the campsite was good I felt we were a bit isolated for such a long stop. A quick reccy at Quelfes and we found another new small site, O Sol de Quinta, the gates were open and there scene was a bit devastating , torrential rain over the last 4 hours had brought torrents on water down from the hills, the drains and land couldn’t cope and water has flooded through the owners house and over the campsite. Iain parked us on the higher ground and sorted out our electric etc, I took to my bucket and helped the French campers start clearing up the rubbish. A little later the owner knocked on our door and handed over a bag full of home-made cakes in thanks for the assistance with flood clear up, then the next day a French couple came over with half a gateaux they had left over – seems we look like we need cake deliveries and we accept without question.


We spent the week trying to outwit that old adversary of ours, the Algarve cycle path. Possibly the most well hidden path in the history of cycling – when you do find it there is nowhere better to ride. Then suddenly it disappears meaning you need to cycle on the main road, or carry your bike over rivers, fords and railway lines. We managed to find a complete route from Olhao to Tavira and a few minor routes off, each time all roads led to Fuseta and a great little beach cafe so we called it a draw between us and the path.


 Fuseta coffee stop

The end of the week and Baxters Number 1 and 2 arrived. We forgot to order sunshine so it was cardigans and hoodies on and some exploring at the Ria Formosa national parque and salt pans, Alex testing our his telescopic snake hook (kid you not), and some trying out the possibles for ham and cheese at various cafes. We made a second trip to Loule, this time in blazing sunshine, everyone was getting ready for carnival, the streets were being decorated and they had ordered proper sunshine, a relief for us as we were feeling slightly guilty that the good weather might not show.


The finale of the visit – dinner at Antonio’s in Moncarapacho, food was incredible, wine as I like it, Spanish and tasting of grapes and the fig grappa was something that you could possibly run a tractor on. Suddenly 2 days had disappeared and time for flights home for some – and time to explore the hinterlands of Portugal for us.


Dinner at Antonio’s

Spain West and Rocio 2017

Cut a long and boring story short – drive a long way to campervan shop at Malaga, find campervan shop closed down, still no water cap. Slightly fed up as we aren’t too keen on the area anyway, its just a bit too busy for us – decide to leave the coast.

My extensive Google research (which didn’t included checking shops are still in business) also had another potential water cap supplier near Seville and as we wanted to visit El Rocio it was a perfect excuse to take A45 up and up, just a few miles and we were well away from the metropolis and mile after mile of olive groves lined the roadsides. Hardly a car on the road for hours, then suddenly three cars in a ditch, a lorry on it’s side and another car parked on the outside lane! Not sure how on earther they had all managed to be in the same place at the same time but everyone was milling around on the road waiting for the police so there weren’t any serious injuries.


We had visited Humilladero a few years ago and remembered there was another small site a few miles away on the side of the gigantic lake so we agreed to give this one a go even though we read a few reviews that said it was too good. Five minutes up the road and Laguna Fuente De Piedra loomed ahead, as did the little eponymous village next to the lake. The campsite, Rosa De Los Vientos (N37 7 44.4 / W 4 43 59.4) was at the end of the village, looking very rural and as if it has been there a long, long,long time. A kindly chap let us in and told us to park where we wanted, as no one else was staying we had all the choice we could want. Nothing there for us not to like, old, a bit worn and seemingly seen a few better days – bit like us then  :).

From the campsite we walked down through the groves to the Laguna and the visitor centre, which although open all year was for some reason closed the day we were there. A walk around the village showed a reasonably lively place, few shops, but many bars so easy to see where the locals priorities were on the food versus entertainment.

Another couple of hour up the road and we found Campervan heros, Hidalgo caravans yard, shop and aire (N 37 19 43  W 5 48 20) was in our sights. We pulled in, parked up and were told its fine to stay in the guarded parking overnight for just €4.50. Cheap as chips will do us, Iain went into the parts shop and found a watercap with key – hurray that’s another €17 gone, and whilst we are there our bike rack needs a stronger bar, €20 – right so a €4.50 stop just cost us €41??? That said, it’s a life saver place where they carry out repairs in their workshop and stick pretty much any parts and accessories you could think of. I did feel the need to be honest with Iain – this company has a shop less than a mile from the one that didn’t exist in Malaga – oops should have mentioned that when we were then!!

As we were stopping we had a quick look on internet and the town of Alcala De Guadaira looked worth a visit. I checked it out thoroughly and assured Iain it was less than 3 km walk to the centre, see the stunning castle, coffee and 3km back. What could be better and easier. A good couple of hours later, at least 5km and no sign of any castle, just lots and lots of houses. We gave up and trudged back, our only success being a 10 km walk. I double checked my information, ah it was an 8km walk to the castle, no wonder we didn’t find it. On the flip-side, sun was out, skies were blue, tans were improving and we visited somewhere we wouldn’t have seen otherwise – so all was good.

acala de guadaira.jpg

El Rocio – always on our lists, always the last time we will go. Couldn’t resist so yet again we checked into La Aldea, on Sunday morning and walked the 10 minutes into ‘cowboy’ town. We have seen a few fiestas there before but this one was certainly bigger than our previous experiences, hundreds of people around, many of whom were posing on their horses strutting around outside the church whilst the parades wait to enter church. We tried to go into the church, not a chance – sardines would not be as tightly packed.

el rocio church.jpg

For me, one of the attractions is always the tacky shops selling religious paraphernalia. I cannot resist a bit of tatt, this time a very swish bracelet that in some way is related to the Virgin Mary, who cares €3 well spent, the sun beating down and fireworks cracking in the air no where better to be on a Sunday morning.


The other main draw here is the Donana National Park, the large National Park in Spain and home to some of the best bird spotting anywhere. There is a visitor centre on the edge of the village, we walked down and spent a couple of hours treading the board-walk.  Our ‘tick’ list had hoopoes, storks, glossy ibis and even purple swamphens with 10 minutes of arriving. Obviously, we (well I) love a bit of spotting, Iain will trudge along and actually is the better spotter, if not the better identifier. Not being content with a  morning here we rode the bikes the 10 km down to the next visitor centre the following morning and sat amongst the azure magpies eating our picnic – it feels like being in the desert in Africa, fascinating place and so worth visiting I cannot praise it highly enough.

As we have battery bikes now (lazy we know before anyone else tell us – but so much fun we  🙂 ) we tackled the ride down to Matacalanas  on the coast. Down the main road but a good hard shoulder with plenty of room and not too much traffic. Considering its is literally miles from anywhere it was much bigger than we imagined, with more than its fair share of 1970’s eyesore hotels and apartment blocks. Take that away though and the beach still makes it a place worth seeing. Miles of sand, gentle breakers – oh and bizarrely it’s known for having an ancient upside down tower on the sand called Torre la Higuera, a base of one of the seven defense towers built in the 16 century by Philip II – left in the sea for aesthetic purposes only, as the sign nearby says it’s a €200 fine if you jump off it. matalascanas-beach


That’s Spain for us, time for a bit of Portugal next :).

Spain North and Costas 2017

Finally into Spain we both felt in dire need of seeing that little yellow fried egg in the sky for a few days so we agreed on a fairly straight line down through Spain to the coast and hopefully some warmth. We found an aire near Pamplona but it looked a bit sad and empty, I had an alternative ready just up the road so we set off for that. As we turned off the main road and started heading East we also noted that ‘just up the road’ was more like 40 km up the road and in the wrong direction.

Never letting something that minor get in the way we continued to the tiny hamlet of Aoiz – and the small Hotel Ekai. Nothing there to say it was a stop so Iain popped into reception where they said we were welcome to park up next to the fields, no charges and also use their wifi. A peaceful night was broken only by the revving engines of a couple of tractors pulling in for breakfast at the hotel, peeking out the windows we were so pleased to see a thick frost yet again, but at least the sun was out and clear skies.

It was only three hours to Zaragoza and the campsite (N 41.63803  W 0.94318) used by the world and his wife on route to the coast. As food and milk stocks were low we got directions to Lidl, easy to find, in fact easy to find at least three times as we drove past looking for a parking space. Each trip around took in most of the city on the one-way system, after an our we gave up, just as we got back to camp we saw a Mercadona! Without a doubt we love Mercadona not least because they sell Tremeco – of which we purchased a few large jars – and spent the afternoon over-dosing on preserved lupin seeds.

Next morning we were away early for the long run down the A23 to the coast. Not sure where everyone else was, hardly any traffic, breathtaking views, plenty of good stopping places – it’s right up there with some of our favourite roads anywhere. The plains of Spain are, in our opinion, vastly under-rated.


Our first option was Monmar Camping at Moncofa Plage (N 39.80855 W 0.12751) – one look and we both nodded it was for us. Big pitches, very quiet, exceptionally clean, a few minutes walk to the pebble beach. What’s not to like, well accept I was a little unsure how much I loved the idea of glass frosted doors on the loos. Working on the basis I could clearly see people wandering in and out of the facilities from inside the cubicle, then my belief is they didn’t have such a good view either!


The town is about 30 minutes walk, on January 5th we headed in for the Three Kings Festival. Due to start at 6pm it finally started at 7pm, a drum band followed by ‘Minions’ throwing sweets, followed by Three Kings on pony and traps – also throwing sweets for young children to scramble over the road collecting and then hoard into bags. The atmosphere was one of family and having a good time, it felt very friendly and safe to be wandering dark side streets in a strange place, not something we would often do back in the UK.


The area is very flat – pancake flat. Good for bikes and even more so as there are bike paths everywhere. Painted a pale pink they mainly take you through citrus groves but many run alongside the main roads too. We cycled out to Marcella – 20km off road to a well worthy of the effort walled village. The Spanish cycling fraternity were out in force, we passed group after group, lycra clad and pedalling hard and fast. We felt a little in the way at time as we ambled along with our batteries on.

Moist bizarre spot of the day, a young Spanish lad “guarding a dead goat”. Assume it was road-kill, he had carried it off the main road to a side road and rung for ‘Goat kill Assistance’ as we passed a truck stopped, two older blokes got out and threw dead goat into the back and were away in nano seconds – seems the art of getting first dibs of road kill is well practiced here. We stopped for our picnic, settled on a wall and opened the rucksack to discover the picnic was still in the van! My distress was far greater than Iain’s, we shared a banana and then headed back to camp.


Iain developed a liking for Thermal Baths when we were in Hungary, so he was muchly impressed to discover there were some at Fortuna. To add to his pleasure I duly researched and found a campsite that was not only open but had said thermal waters pumping directly onto their site. With Iain doing giddy kipper impressions we set off inland to find said baths. Has to be said the 3 hour drive was worth it, into the mountains, hardly any traffic and mile after mile of olive groves, red earth and spectacular views.

fortuna motorhome.jpg

We arrived in the hamlet of the thermal baths and campsite, all quiet as is the case in Spanish hamlets, just a wizened old man puffing on a ciggie sat on his door step, turn the corner to the campsite entrance – BOOM – more German motorhomes than you probably see at a Hymer convention. The campsite was heaving, motorhomes everywhere, then we walked up to see the thermal swimming pool – rammed with Germans (most of whom had natty swimming caps on). We enquired at reception who told us the campsite was full – but we could park on a bit of carpark for €15 but the thermal swimming pool would be included.

Forget that, our plan never included sharing a pool with a few hundred others. I had an alternative plan, there was another campsite a few km up the road, we would go there and then walk back to the municipal Spa in the middle of the village, pay a few Euro and spend a day taking the thermal waters without our German bretheren.

We drove to the campsite, were allocated our plot and settled in. We soon realised that actually it was just us in a motorhome, everyone else lived in statics. The English owner told us people turned up for a few days, then decided to stay, bought a static and rent the pitch for many years. We just nodded knowing that was going to be the case and he would get 2 nights maximum out of us. We took a walk into the municipal spa – to find a sign explaining it had been closed for 2 weeks as from that morning for maintenance!!!!


We returned to camp to sit in the sun and moan about our bad timing, a short while later a mamouth British motorhome turns up and stops next to us. The couple keep making gestures at us, so I walk over and say hi. The guy tells me if we move our chairs he can fit his motorhome onto our pitch. I tell him nope, its our pitch we paid for it. He and wife grumble a bit then squeeze their motorhome into a space with about 3 inches around the edge of their van outside their static.

To cap a pleasurable waste of a 3 hour drive Iain heads for the shower, and heads straight back as their isn’t any hot water. The English site owner is around so we tell him and he sets off to have a look. After a good hour of clanging around with the gas tanks, spanners and taps he admits he has not idea why there isn’t hot water and says no one has used the showers for ages. He did offer to not charge us for our stay but it was so cheap there we paid up anyway.

Being slightly inland was suiting us and I had another Camperstop penciled in at Totana, about 45 minutes down the road. Iain had been studying the maps and wasliking the look at the coast at La Manga, are you sure? yes he is sure, I am somewhat amazed as I couldn’t imagine why he wants to go but he doesn’t often get a choice so La Manga it was – 2 hours later we hit the metropolis. Camspite a ginormous 950 pitches, we ask if any spaces – just a few!! Iain fancied the area as the map shows an awesome spit of land forming an inland lake – not so good to look at when its covered with high-rise hotels and no way we wanted to cycle it.

Instead back to the hills McGregor, 4 hours on we are at Totana which would have taken 45 minutes  first thing. Bikes off and we followed the canal path for around 12 miles, incredible views down to the coast – and a gale force wind which a times attempted to side swipe us off our bikes. Another Brit on the site had told us we wouldn’t make it to the end of the canal in the wind, an obvious challenge to us so we had no choice but to do just that and then to make a point cycle a few miles in the opposite direction too.

Back to coast and down through the Cabo de Gata to Maz Azul at Balerma.- 2 year old site, very busy but looks fine in the middle of plastic jungles mile after mile after dpressing mile. However we eat salads and they need to make a living so we squint our eyes enough to stop looking at it. On stopping we find water cap is missing. Iain firstly blames me for not securing, then moves on tot hinking another camper pinched it last stop – unlikely as most of the vans cost upwards of £65k am not sure they sneak out in the night and pich €14 plastic caps.

cabo de gata.jpg

More importantly, there is a whacking great trampoline at the entrance to the site and not a soul on it – would be rude not to surely :).


We spent a good for days, cycling to the marina, looking at buying a boat – we still think of getting a boat and sailing off into the sunset, we appreciate we don’t have the skills or talent so probably safer to keep this as a pipe dream to enjoy whenever we are at marina- rather than involve the lifeboats of several small countries on a daily basis.

We had made our own water cap, a very inventive use of a folding water bottle tap, tapped up to enable it to be jammed in gap. It looked stupid but was doing the trick stopping any creepy crawlies make there way in for a bath night.



Time to move on, we followed the coast but found too many people, too many cars and nothing to see but mile after mile of hotels. Motril was less busy, possibly as the beach is a few miles out of town and maybe because the sun had done a disappearing act for 24 hours. We didn’t find much there other than a ferry terminal which we assumed to be heading for Africa due to the people waiting for the next departure. Yet again we discussed the merits of travelling to Africa, Iain vetoed me yet again so we packed up and were back on the road – Malaga was plugged into the Sat Nav to find a water cap and then inland.


Motril promenade and the only 2 tourists around