“Sat here with a glass of cider, in the beautiful sunshine getting excited, and ready, for our upcoming trip – might start work on the blog tonight…!”
So I thought I’d better make a start.
The main reason for starting a blog is our year off travelling around the UK (mostly) in our motorhome in 2017. Before that (30th May 2016 to be precise) we’re off to France for 5 1/2 weeks.
So I thought I’d get a bit of practice in before next year (bearing in mind I have no idea what I’m doing…)
Currently we’re making sure that everything is in place before we leave. We’ve spend the past couple of months starting every weekend agreeing that we must get some ‘stuff’ done. So, here we are with just over 3 weeks to go, and we’ve finally got started!
Okay, so we’ve done a few bits and pieces. Mainly buying in extra provisions – such as rice and high juice. Yes, I KNOW they have shops in France but last time we were there we found that it was impossible to find certain items, or when we did they were insanely expensive (for instance, I got a hankering for chocolate spread – no, I don’t know why either – and although we found it, it cost about £4)
Today, Calvin has made a space in the back cupboard to hang a couple of storage containers in – we can keep shoes, loo rolls and other provisions in there. He’s also modified the bike rack so that we can fit our new bikes on without scratching them. He really is very useful!
Oh yes, of course, we bought new bikes a few weeks back. Electric bikes… meaning we can go a little further on them (rather than me always wanting to turn back before Calvin does). I’d taken a couple of months to finally make the decision to buy. Calvin decided in 2 minutes flat while I was making a final decision on which bike to buy. So, we’re looking forward to making good use of them on all those cycle paths & routes in France (particularly in the Pyrenees).
So far we love them (went out for a short 6 mile ride this morning actually before coming over to the van).
Tomorrow we’ll carry on emptying out the cupboards and getting rid of anything that really isn’t needed. I’ve already filled up 1 cupboard with books, and another with DVDs.
Next week we’ll give the van a good clean, and finalise the modifications to the bike rack. We will also check if we can get the NOW TV box to work as long as we’ve got WIFI – if anyone knows if this is likely please feel free to share 🙂
Finally I have just 3 weeks left to lose all that weight that I promised I would lose some months ago. I’ve failed miserably so far, so must try harder!
In my next post I’ll share our route through France.
Are you travelling to, or from, Spain via France? This is the route we took on the way home last year and the overnight stops we used (all free). It’s a route we would definitely use again 🙂 (GPS included)
Whilst trying to decide what route to take home from Spain last year, we were thinking of heading up to Pamplona and taking the motorway from there to France, maybe visiting Biarritz on entering France.
But then somebody told us about the Somport tunnel which goes through the Pyrenees. We had no idea! After a bit of investigation we decided that this then would be our route home 🙂
We didn’t have to alter our plans too much as we were using the same road north through Spain, just leaving it a little earlier.
As we approached the tunnel (well a few miles away) on the Spanish side, we stoppped at our last service area, I think it was at Jaca, where there was a rather lovely chocolate, patisserie shop. We managed to resist before heading off on our last stretch of road in Spain, which was punctuated by charming little villages and blue sunny skies. We would probably try to stay at least 1 night in future in this area.
The tunnel itself is free to use and 5.3 miles long. It’s amazing to think that you’re driving through the Pyrenees! So we left Spain’s sunny skies and emerged on the other side in France to drizzly rain!
But there were still lovely features – better roads for a start… Also an old railway line (I believe the Pau-Canfranc) running along the side of the road, in places this seems to have been restored. Again, we would like to stop in this area on a future trip and making sure we visit the Canfranc International Railway Station on the Spanish side.
We found the roads absolutely fine for our 8.56m motorhome towing a Citroen C1 behind, although, I have to say, Calv IS a lorry driver and very confident in pretty much any situation.
I think that perhaps we travelled too far on the French side on our first leg, and unfortunately, despite some investigation, I can’t remember the name of the town/village we stopped in. Sorry – I’ll do better next time!
We arrived in the dark and the parking was all taken, so we parked on some ground next to it which was being used by coaches to park up overnight – we parked next to a Morello! We set off nice and early in the morning though and then headed to our next stop, which was to be Montreuil-Bellay, apparently celebrities as diverse as Edwina Currie and Mick Jagger have homes here – I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a lovely area and it wouldn’t surprise me 🙂
Although we were aiming for a different overnight stop (3 spaces behind a wine cellar at GPS, N47.13.522:W0.11121), when we got there it turned out to be too small really for us, so we set off looking for the other stop (Les Nobis – 30 spaces at GPS, N47,13272:W0,15835), which would have been easy to find had we not already left the main road! Trying to make our way through town was not easy, entailing leaving the van parked up, unhooking the car and driving round and round in an attempt to find the site… (There are areas in town where it’s not possible to take a camper or caravan; low, narrow arches and suchlike).
We discovered what a beautiful, historic town this was and eventually found our destination. And how amazing it was too – a dedicated area big enough for a couple of dozen vans, located in front of an outdoor swimming pool and next to a nice looking campsite (closed out of season), alongside the river and with a wonderful view of the castle 🙂 See the pictures below:-
And those photos are just of the Aire! We actually stayed 2 nights as the town was so lovely. Photos of the town follow 🙂 Most of these pics are within a 5-10 minute walk of the Aire.
Once we managed to tear ourselves away and get back on the road we headed on up to Le Mans, where we had already decided to stop overnight – the medieval old town is something special, known as Cite Plantagent as Henry II was born there in 1133. The Historic Quarter comprises 20 hectares of cobbled streets; still inhabited and a wonderful walk.
The Aire is immediately at the foot of the Historic quarter, on the Quai Louis Blanc (N 48 ° 0’45.0036 ”E 0 ° 11’55.7628) , at the end of a series of large car parks (it’s a dedicated area but several cars choose to park there during the day, despite there being more than enough car parking spaces in the other car park areas…).
It is next to a busy road, but this does quieten down outside of rush-hour, and it’s opposite the river with a lovely view of an old mill and an historic bridge almost exactly opposite. The real downside is that, although there is water available, it costs 8Euros!! Just make sure you have enough onboard before you get there would be our advice 🙂
We only stayed 1 night, but arrived fairly early in the day so were able to explore the historic quarter at our leisure, including a lunch watching, yet another, French protest. This time lorry drivers who were no longer to be allowed to park up in front of the new town hall. They had been blocking the road for the last 24 hours, with another 24 hours to go – or so we were told by one of the policemen looking on (there were many, many policemen).
We had 1 more stop before the ferry – we were going from Caen. We chose a small stop behind the town square of Hermanville, with a 5 minute walk to the British War Cemetery (GPS, N48,97026:W0,31243). A lovely little find with a shop, bakery, florist and hairdressers right on hand Plus a nice little walk around the village and a 10 minute drive to Caen.
We spent the afternoon in Caen and discovered the old part of town as well as the beautiful beach; although this does evoke mixed emotions when you consider the history of this whole area.
And of course, knowing that you only have a 10 minute drive to the port in the morning for your ferry is very welcome!
A final Spanish stop on our way home. Another little find; another place to revisit (especially as we missed the best part of the Monasterio del Piedra – the park itself)
Our final stop in Spain before our run through France to catch the ferry home. We chose Nuevalos via the ACSI book mainly for it’s proximity to Calatayud, not realising it’s a lovely area in it’s own right.
The drive was interesting with the SatNav taking us along a narrow, bendy road through the mountains for the last 20 or so kilometres. Luckily we didn’t see too many other cars, and when we did we were close to passing points (with the little car on the back it’s not so easy to reverse). For most of this section there was nowhere to go on the right hand side of the road. Calv would have loved it if we had just been in the little car; in the van – not so much! Anyway, we survived and made it to our campsite on the lake, Camping Lagos Resort, Nuevalos . This is a nice, terraced site overlooking a beautiful lake. Quite steep in places and unfortunately, at the time we were there in mid-March, there were alot of little, annoying, flies 😦
We stayed 4 or 5 nights and were lucky to enjoy some beautiful weather (although we couldn’t really sit outside the van due to the flies). We visited Calatayud, a pleasant town about 10 miles north, where we were able to stock up on groceries. We also wandered along the lakeside, around Nuevalos itself and took a longer walk to the Monasterio del Piedro.
We enjoyed a wonderful stopover in Albarracin and would highly recommend a visit to those touring Spain. Possible if you’re heading north either towards France (via Somport Tunnel) or to either of the ferry ports.
Sometimes, when you have no idea where to go next, the ACSI book supplies a corker!
When unsure where exactly to head we decide on a general direction and roughly how far we want to travel – then we simply get the ACSI book out and see what’s available! (This doesn’t always work of course. At which point we get out the ‘Motorhome Stopover’ book and/or defer to the internet).
On this occasion though we knew that we were heading for the Somport Tunnel as our way out of Spain (as we were towing the little car we were avoiding Northern Spain), so we were to head in the direction of Zaragoza – further away from Valencia than you would think!
We were originally considering the town of Teruel but on checking the ACSI map saw a site a little further on at a place called Albaraccin. A quick check online confirmed that this could be a nice place so the satnav was set accordingly. The A23 (non-toll) took us most of the way before we headed off onto the 234 just after Teruel, and finally onto the road running into Albaraccin. This is where we really started to get a feel for where we were heading as the scenery was stunning as we headed through gorges and past ruins high up on the hills.
Camping Ciudad de Albaraccin is located on the outskirts in the ‘new’ part of town. By going this way you also understand that there is more to this region than just the beautiful old town (cave paintings/bouldering/walking/dinosaurs…)
Once parked up (with amazing views of the old fortification walls forming a spine on the mountain) we set off to explore immediately (we were only staying overnight).
Our pitch at Ciudad de Albarracin
The old town beckoned. With little time we took the little car and headed back out to park in the big car park we’d seen as we took our first left towards the campsite. Even this was pretty with a little stream running alongside.
Wandering through the lower part of town we found a couple more carparks (possible for motorhomes perhaps to park – not sure about overnighting though) before starting on the long climb up to the main old town. One thing we didn’t manage to find though, on a warm Tuesday afternoon near the beginning of March, was a cafe!
No matter, what we did find more than made up for the lack of a beverage 🙂
After finding the Torre Blanca (sadly closed for visits) and the stunning scenery surrounding it we made our way towards the castle, the el Salvador cathedral and, eventually after a wander around the narrow, steep, winding cobbled streets – at times together, at times separated by my desire to explore a little set of steps or a covered alley, we found the Plaza Mayor (from where the main picture was taken). On my circuitous route to this spot I also found the base of the wall snaking it’s way up the mountain. Although there were 3 lads clambering up towards the wall itself it was definitely way beyond my capabilities!
We decided on a final visit to the coast before heading for home, choosing a site near Valencia (Camping Valencia) in a small town called Pucol.
Even though first impressions of our chosen site were, shall we say, less than favourable, we managed to move to the nicer part of the site on the 2nd day and ended up extending our stay to a whole week 🙂
We did spend a fair bit of time simply relaxing here, but we also visited the nearby town of Pucol on our bikes – there are many opportunities for cycling, with a really good cycle/running path into town. We also cycled the other way along many green lanes/farm tracks – of which there are many 🙂
Days out were 1 day driving to Valencia, failing miserably to find a parking space so parking on the outskirts and riding back in! More on that later 🙂
We also drove in the opposite direction to visit the ancient town of Sagunto, which is well worth a visit.
So let’s start with our visit to Valencia. Having parked on the outskirts (I’m sorry I can’t tell you where exactly (it might have been Benimaclet), but it was adjacent to the cycle path and we parked for nothing). I do know that we headed past the university and into the city before finding our destination of The Turia Gardens. We had heard that this was a wonderful way to cycle the city situated as it is through it’s heart where the Turia River flowed until it was diverted to prevent further flooding.
With numerous exits and entrances to this 8km long area we joined a little way before the futuristic Museum of Arts and Sciences, an amazing building bordered by numerous wasterways and fountains. A beautiful, tranquil area to relax.
We simply cycled along the paths of the gardens, eventually stopping for some lunch near the old city – I think it was the Bar Baja la Puente Calatrava (no. 7 on this list of Turia Garden eateries from JuliaEats). I do know that we enjoyed our lunch and that there was plenty of parking available for our bikes 🙂 I also know that whilst we were sat there there was a long series of VERY loud bangs, which startled us but seemingly nobody else! We later discovered that this is a daily occurrence in the weeks leading up to The Fallas Festival – The Mascleta; read all about it here.
We left the gardens at the Puente de Flores, bordered as it is on both sides with beautiful floral displays 🙂
We came out by the old gateway to the city (that we saw on our last visit), had a little cycle around the fountains before returning to the gardens and heading towards the car. Which we eventually found – even though we took a completely different route!!
Our other day out was to Sagunto, a small town with a big history. There was a market on the day we visited so we couldn’t drive directly into the old town; after a detour of about 2 miles (well it felt like it anyway) we found ourselves about 100m up the road and on the other side of the old town – these were very narrow streets! Even in the little car it felt tiny. We had to be really careful as many of the streets turned out to be dead-ends and it was pretty awkward reversing back down the steep hills whilst navigating the amazing Spanish parking!! We finally spotted a space by the side of the road. Leaving the car we headed up one of the steep roads towards the hill holding the massive castle.
I say massive – this castle is visible from miles away (including from the campsite), and during our visit we discovered it actually ranges across the top of the hill for about 1/2 mile.
We followed stone steps and pathways up, up and then down, down the hill. Which was a little disconcerting! We passed a small white chapel on the way before coming across the Roman Ampitheatre, free to visit and definitely worth a visit.
Around the hilloutside the ampitheatre was the old cemetry (Judio Cemeterio) consisting of graves dug into the hill itself. We walked passed many more as we made our way up the steep hill towards the castle itself. Also free to visit we maybe managed to see half of what there was to see! There are extensive ruins to be seen, although it is a work in process of renovation. I would suggest taking a picnic and spending the day exploring 🙂
I need to point out that the beach at Pucol was lovely, but unfortunately we didn’t really have the weather to take advantage of it 😦
All in all we had a lovely time here and there were a couple more excursions that we could have taken, but we just wanted to relax by then!
Here’s hoping I manage to finish off posting about our last trip before we head off on our next one (in a couple of month’s time!!)
On leaving the desert plains of the Cabo de Gata we decided to head back to the Banos de Fortuna with a view to finding the ruins of the Roman baths – which we summarily failed at on our last visit!
This time we had a couple of days at the back of the site (Camping La Fuente) with no electric before moving back to the access road with electric for a few nights. We would have been really happy to stay where we were, but couldn’t as there was someone booked in. (Note: If you have a non-electric spot the swimming pool is included in your 15Euro nightly charge – bonus!)
Anyway we were very happy to be back – and it was very much hotter this time! Our first mission was to find the roman ruins, which turned out to be much easier than we thought. It helps if you talk to the right people of course! Straight up through the village past the church, slight left and hop over the ‘chain’, follow the track – the ruins are on the right, but it’s worth looking to the left as well 🙂
We were really surprised at how much there was left and also at the fact that nothing is being made of them at all since an earthquake (I would have loved to have seen them before the earthquake). Apparently this is actually only a tiny proportion of the original site, much of which is now buried beneath the ‘modern’ buildings (built in the 18th century). See here for more information on the area.
Having finally succeeded in our mission we tured our attention elsewhere. On searching for a new gas bottle (we should have just bought it on the site) we drove past, for the 2nd or 3rd time, a reservoir that looked to be worth a visit. So we headed back out there and followed signs to try to find somewhere to park up and explore.
We found somewhere and were able to walk across the top of the dam, from where we found the water didn’t appear quite so enticing 😦 We chatted to a couple of other Brits who had attempted to walk around the reservoir – they told us that it was very uneven and you never really get close to the water, and having walked for a couple of hours they didn’t really seem to have got very far! So we decided against it 🙂
Instead we had a little wander finding a couple of abandoned old buildings, and also plenty of evidence of drug taking and, seemingly, someone taking potshots at bottles (lots and lots of glass). So not the best of expeditions, but at least we know now!
The other thing that we did that we hadn’t managed on our last visit, was to visit Tina’s bar properly and eat there (we had fish and chips – very good).
The only other activities that we engaged in whilst staying here was taking advantage of having free entry to the pool for a few days, finding new running routes and basically lounging around doing very little 🙂
We would highly recommend a visit to this area. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here (on both occasions).
Moving further north-east along the Spanish mediterranean coast we finally made it to visit Cabo de Gata, an ancient volcanic area which is the driest area in Europe.
We had been looking forward to visiting this area for some time, so were a little disappointed to find that the dreaded plastic came right up to the edge of this protected natural park. Not only that, but it was worse than anywhere else we had been so far – shanty huts and towns (complete with garages and satellite dishes) were in evidence everywhere. The saddest sight was massive sheets of plastic discarded amongst the landscape..
This did all stop, of course, as soon as you entered the park proper, but only right at the edge.
We found a camper stop in Albaricoques; Camper Park Olivades, which was absolutely perfect for us (at 13Euros per night we had toilets, showers, laundry and electric). There are many film locations (particularly spaghetti Westerns) in this area, and Albaricoques is no exception hosting the stars of For a Few Dollars More (film name of the town – Agua Caliente), amongst other films. The streets pay homage to this history, bearing names such as Calle Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef and Ennio Morricone.
On the edge of the park (near the main N344 road) there are 3 big theme parks based on Westerns – I would love to have visited one of these, but they were prohibitively expensive (in that we weren’t prepared to part with that sort of money!)
You need to either be a serious cyclist or have a car to explore the area properly. In our few days there we drove around the whole area, but perhaps missed out on some of the internal villages. We enjoyed Las Negras on the coast not too far from Los Albaricoques (there were many, many campers wild camping in this area), Isleta del Moro (a small village with many sailing and surf schools – and again, many wild campers) and San Jose, which is perhaps a little more commercialised. It has a lovely beach, though fully overlooked by the restaurants in the harbour.
On the other side of San Jose you can access some wild, windswept beaches down a rough track. The one we stopped at Monsul beach which is back by a huge dune; the walk down to the beach from the car park shows evidence of outdoor showers – I don’t know why that stuck with me; I guess you’d probably be more interested in the couple sunbathing nude on top of the dune….. (no pictures, sorry!)
Of course, we also visited the Cabo de Gata itself (which is a little like visiting Lands End or The Lizard in Cornwall). We continued on for a while and then went back to get the car and take the narrow, really rather scary road (pot-holed track), up to the lighthouse. I’m glad Calv was driving…. (Don’t attempt it if you care about your car..!)
There were some spectacular views from up there (plus lots of tracks off the main track taking you down to hidden beaches and coves). We could also see that it was possible to walk (or even drive if you had the keys to get through the gates) along the edge of the cliffs to get to the beaches at San Jose. I wouldn’t have fancied driving that track at all, but Calv would have liked to have a go!!
Probably our favourite day (well, mine anyway) was when we went for a walk into the caldera of an ancient extinct volcano, Caldera de Majada Redonda. Not a particularly long walk (but long enough) but lots to see along the way, including the site of a house high up in the hills and an abandoned (?) car filled with rocks! (Calv insists that this car shell must have been carried up the mountain..)
I would definitely recommend taking a couple of hours to do this walk 🙂
Before heading back to the van we quickly visited the coast again at Las Escullos, where there was a trio of men taking photos of jeans laid out on the rocks! Some more unusual landscapes to appreciate here.
A definite recommendation for a visit when in Spain – certainly different to what you normally see in the Costas 🙂
On the way to Carchuna, near Almeria, we stopped off for 3 nights free stay Cala de Mijas which is just down the road from Cabopino, meaning that we were able to visit friends while we were there. As well as a night out in Biddy Mulligans of course 🙂
We were then heading towards the Cabo de Gata but needed somewhere to stop off on the way, which is how we found ourselves in Carchuna just north of Motril on the south coast. Whilst there is some stunning coastline in this area there is no getting away from the plastic poly tunnels and the black beaches. From the motorway you can simply see a sea of plastic all the way to the coast. Unfortunately this means that there is not an awful lot that is obvious to attract you to the area.
However, we found a lovely campsite, Camping Don Cactus, and ended up staying to recharge our batteries for a full week. We had to travel quite a way, to Motril, to do a spot of shopping. The road took us through Torrenueva Costa – which we had no desire to revisit…
We did head back south to visit the famous caves at Nerja which was a nice day out (although we have definitely visited better caves in our time and so were a little disappointed). After our visit to the caves (you are given a time slot and go around with a guide) we wandered across the bridge to the little village of Maro (I was looking for a cash machine – no luck!) where I have just discovered we missed a waterfall into the sea, The waterfall of Maro!
Maro itself was a very small village with a couple of eateries. We chose 1 carefully showing that they took cards (as we had so little cash on us), the food was okay but when we went to pay they told us their card machine wasn’t working… Oh dear… So we gave them all our cash (except 1Euro which I had already put in my pocket earlier) and they said we could come back tomorrow with the rest (about 2Euros..)… It was lucky we’d kept the euro as that’s what we needed to get out of the car park by the caves 🙂
Just outside of Maro on the way to Nerja there is an impressive viaduct, Aqueducto de Aguila (The Eagle Aqueduct), which was built to carry water to the local sugar refinery (the remains of which can be seen a little further along the road).
We finished the day in Nerja itself with a little sit on the beach (and I managed to get some cash – although I broke my golden rule of never paying to get my own cash out!) We quite liked Nerja itself and would recommend a visit if you’re up this way.
Below are some pictures of this part of the trip 🙂
Having just relaxed for most of our time here, we headed out on our last day. We were trying to find a way up some of the mountains that sit back from the sea in this area. We didn’t find a way up and concluded that all the trails were private and led to the water reservoirs that we could see, and are clearly built to serve all the growing in the area.
We did however find a lovely little village high up in the hills where we stopped and had a little wander around. Here we found one of the historic communal outdoor laundries that you find occasionally in Spain, this one beautifully restored.
This was the highpoint of our stay in this area and it just goes to prove it’s worth going a little further afield (and that at times you really need a car!)
My next post will be from our time in Cabo de Gata (the only designated desert in Europe).