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.

Astudillo

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.

Castrojerez

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.

Elciego

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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.

Mertola

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

Algarve

algarve-motorhome

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

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.

mikkis-place-to-stay

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.

ossos

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.

villa-4

villa-1

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.

ria-formosa

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-cycle

 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.

loule

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.

antonios-moncarapacho

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.

P1000762.JPG

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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!!

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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.

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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 :).

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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.

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Motril 

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.

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Motril promenade and the only 2 tourists around

 

 

Home time

Monday morning, just arrived at Santander docks and sat on the quay waiting for the ferry – 24 hours of sea ahead, can’t wait, praying for calm seas please.

Slight problem this morning – arrived at ferry terminal to find it gone – literally, where the gate and the quayside were had been demolished. Then followed a frantic tour of the city one way system to try and find a new ferry terminal. After two trips around we found it, got parked up and had a couple of hours around the city. Somewhat of a culture shock after 3 months of villages and sleepy towns to suddenly be in the middle of noise, traffic, bustle and people everywhere was a real wake up call.

Each time we go away someone asks the “fuel consumption” question, and I have not a clue. So in the spirit of recording useless data and statistics here are a few kept over the last 3 months.

Miles driven to date : 2706
Total fuel bought. : 92 gallons
Fuel usage : 29.5 miles p/gallon
Total nights away : 80
Average miles driven per day : 33
Weetabix eaten : 240
7 kg Calor gas bottles used : 1
Dutch campsites in Portugal : 7
Total views of our Blog : 6897
Average fuel cost per litre €1.40

Worst bit – day 1 and discovering no electric plug so no electric for 3 months – (women will understand this means no hair straightening i.e. disaster).

Top 5 best bits
1) Finding the electric cable plug on day 2 rates fairly highly:) (See worst bit).

2) Visits from Sian and Al and the 116’ers were very special.

3) Places – Fatima, extreme in many ways but wouldn’t have missed it – closely followed by Convento De Cristo and the Ria Formosa.

4) Octopus and bread porridge – because it sounds so terrible but tastes so good.

5) Iain when he got caught in a freak wave (you had to be there but trust me it was side splittingly funny).

There endeth our Blog for another trip – we had the proverbial ball as always, met some lovely people, saw amazing places and made many wonderful memories.

Thank you Bus driver for making it all possible, you are a star x.

Tomorrow we start saving for the next adventure:)

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The Spanish Serengeti

After 2 days driving we have now arrived on the northern coast of Spain. We stopped overnight yesterday at Salamanca, along with a convoy of 20 Dutch caravans, as they were up and away with the lark we followed suit. Incredible drive up, very few cars on the roads, loads of sunshine, skies full of red kites and the snow capped mountains in the distance. We were in Santander late afternoon so went out to find our campsite in Somo and settle in for the evening.

Ok so less a campsite more a ‘spot the piece of ground not covered in tarpaulin’. To be fair calling it a 5 star dump would be generous. Iain popped into reception to be told its €32 a night! No way Jose we are off to find somewhere else. Problem being no other sites open with 30 miles. We parked up on the beach and had tea whilst we thought of what to do next.

Plan B is to go for an aire and we find one on Sat Nav 10 miles away in a National Park. We think its a bit of a clearing in a forest – not ideal but as its getting late we will brave it for a night.

Up through little lanes, looking bleak then we turn a corner and its like we have arrived in a glorious little bit of Spanish mayhem. Tiny old fashioned village, stone church in the middle, several pubs and bars, tacky shops galore and 5 or 6 motorhomes parked by the lake. There are Spanish family picnics galore – groaning tables of food with 4 generations all speaking very loudly at once. We are liking this a lot – lovely place, great atmosphere oh and its not €32 its free:)

A quick walk to the pub for a drink once we are parked up and it gets really weird – there is a field in front of us full of elephants. No we have only had one drink each honest – these are big, real live elephants, about 30 of them. And in the next field there are camels. We are not sure where we have landed – but we are liking it lots:)

Obviously this place is well known in motorhome circles as they are turning up every 10 minutes. Looks like a lively night as the local picnics look set to go on long into the night. Tomorrow we investigate the Serengeti.

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