“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.
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).
A little further east through the mountains (on very good roads it has to be said) we arrived in Humilladero for visiting Antequera and El Torcal, both situated a little way south of our chosen site (La Sierracilla – which was lovely despite some reviews almost putting us off..)
Humilladero itself appears to be a fairly new town, laid out largely in grids, with lots of plots that have not yet been built upon – great for a run! However, click on the link above to discover a little more about the town (something we failed to do during our visit 😦 )
What we did discover a little of was the recreation area located behind the campsite. We walked a little way in but if we had carried on we would, apparently, have scaled the mountain behind and had a good view of the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra. This was somewhere that we did manage to find 🙂
A couple pitched up next to us had cycled there the previous day but we chose to take the little car for the short (about 4 miles) trip to the lake which is famed for it’s flamingos.
There are miles of walks around the lakes, and we set off to our right, walking about a mile before we got frustrated at our inability to get close to any flamingos… We could certainly hear them. And we could see them in the distance, but there was no way of getting closer to the water. In frustration we turned around and headed back to the visitor centre, at which point Calv refused to walk anymore, so I headed off in the other direction by myself and phoning him 5 mins later to tell him I had found flamingos 🙂
Definitely worth a visit 🙂 On leaving the visitor centre we drove some way further around the lake stopping off at various viewing points along the way (there are lots of these areas). Unfortunately we didn’t come across anywhere where we could see the flamingos any better than we already had. Overall we were a little disappointed if I’m honest.
This area is big on olives and olive harvesting (with lots of factories presumably producing olive oil). We saw a lot of harvesting going on which was fascinating – we watched the process of laying a massive sheet around the trees (using a tractor, you wouldn’t have been able to do it by hand), and the ‘shaking’ machines that clamp the tree and, well, shake it!
On the way home we were in search of a supermarket and google maps was telling us that we would find one in the village of La Fuente de Piedra (The Stone Fountain). This proved to be incorrect, but we did find a lovely little village centre where we sat for lunch in the sun. Again bordered by another olive processing factory (there are so many in the area).
We also visited Antequera and it’s Dolmens. Antequera itself is far bigger than I imagined but, apart from finding a Mercadona (there was more than 1, + Lidls etc.) we only visited the old town. We actually approached from the south having tried to visit El Torcal on our 2nd day. Being a Sunday there was no parking in the visitor centre car park, and we were directed to park at the bottom of the hill and take a bus up (there was, of course, a fee for this). We smelled a scam (it turns out we were wrong, but there are several parking scams operating in Spain) so decided to return another day.
On the way back to Antequera we stopped in a recreation area and headed off for a walk to take in the scenery. Calv was a little reserved and eventually, after about 10 mins, said to me ‘have you left things in the car’? Which I had. He was a bit concerned for some reason so we headed back. All was okay though. We carried on to Antequera, making our way through the old town (I think you could probably say we were lost) and eventually finding somewhere to park on Calle Fresca.
We wandered around finding the minimal remains of the old castle and then eventually finding the main plaza, Mirador Plaza de Santa Maria, on which stands the Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor and Alcazaba. After a bit of indecision we decided to visit the alcazaba (we have visited a fair number of alcazabas…) but it was worth it, with lots to see 🙂 The majority of the complex has been pretty much rebuilt, although there is a photo below that includes a small section of wall that appears to be original.
Colegiata de Santa Maria
Roman Thermal baths of Antequera looking towards the Colegiata
Castle remains, Antequera
The Alcazaba walls of Antequera
From inside the alcazabar at Antequera
Once again tired and ready for a relaxing evening in the van we headed back to the car. Where we were both surprised to find that we hadn’t locked our doors…. Very strange. When we arrived back at the van and went in the boot for something we found that the parcel shelf had been pulled out. Now we knew that someone had broken into the car (we then realised that they’d used a screwdriver on the passenger door, as we had a little trouble using the key in this side).
However, all’s well that ends well, as we had taken absolutely everything with us when we parked up (after Calv’s ‘feeling’ earlier when we were out for our walk), so the rotten b*****s got nothing 🙂 Small victories and all that!
On our way to El Torcal the next day we went via the Dolmens of Antequera, which are ancient burial mounds which are free to visit (although you must get a ticket first..!) There are 3 to visit – Menga, Viera and El Romeral. These monuments are UNESCO world heritage sites, and will take up maybe 45 minutes of your day (including the drive between them). Still, worth a look 🙂
Finally though we made it the best visit (one of the best of our whole trip to Spain), El Torcal – a landscape of limestone rock formations through which there are several trails to walk. We had done the right thing in wearing our walking boots; the walk, of course, takes you through the formations and there are many areas never touched by the sun and so the mud never dries out! We did see a lady walking barefoot – she’d obviously worn completely inappropriate footwear and was with a much younger man; I thought maybe her son, Calv disagreed…!! Either way seeing here walking through this terrain barefoot made me cringe – it wasn’t always an easy walk and the mud itself (I don’t like mud) would have given me nightmares (yes, I have nightmares about mud 😦 )
We also spotted an ibex on top of one of the formations – it waited patiently whilst we scrabbled for cameras, but moved the minute we had them! Of course 🙂
There were many other trails to walk and we will almost definitely return next time we’re in Spain 🙂
Next stop back to the coast at Cala de Mijas to meet up with Steve and Denise for a couple of days (they were still at Cabopino). I promise to be better at getting this blog up-to-date – please bear with me!!
On leaving the coast behind in El Puerto de Santa Maria and heading back into the mountains, we were going to head to a site in Olvera, but at the last minute I spotted a free motorhome service area shortly before Olvera in a little town called Algodonales, about 20 miles north of Ronda. Not only free but with electricity included – seemed too good to be true? It wasn’t! We ended up staying 4 nights 🙂
Once parked up we became aware of lots of music that seemed to emanate from the town itself, which was about a 10 minute walk away. We also spotted a number of walkers heading that way; so we decided that we should head into town ourselves. It’s quite a steep climb past chickens, building yards, lemon & orange groves and numerous streams.
The noise escalated as we neared the main square, where we found a finishing tunnel and an announcer with a microphone welcoming runners (and walkers) back on finishing the Viboras Trail (a run/hike up into the mountains and back – see below).
The route of the Algodonales Víboras Trail (which translates literally as “Cotton Snakes Trail) is a homage by us to one of the most testing routes in Andalusia. At 16 km in length and 916 meters of accumulated ascent, this route is a level three, and is a speciality trip that can only be accessed by club members. https://xcmag.com/travel-guide/guide-to-algodonales-spain/
We sat at a bar (very busy but we still managed to sit after a few minutes) and enjoyed a drink while watching these amazing people returning from their latest challenge 🙂
On the way back to the van we could see a white town in the distance. We thought we might cycle there in the morning, but then we looked on Google maps and saw how far it actually was! Back at the motorhome area the paragliders, that we’d spotted jumping off the mountain when we first arrived, Continue reading “Algodonales – a paragliders dream”
Before we left on this trip I knew that 1 of the places I wanted to visit this time was Cadiz, on the south-west coast of Spain.
What I didn’t know was that it is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, partly because they ‘capitulated’ to the Romans, meaning that they were able to keep most of their own customs and leading to Cadiz (Gades, as it was then) becoming one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire (and also one of the most infamous, due to the inhabitants lifestyle – and their Gaditan dancing girls).
Cadiz is a tiny city – it wouldn’t actually be difficult to walk around it, taking in all the principal sights, within a day. And, it certainly didn’t disappoint! But before we finally managed to visit (more on that later) we explored the immediate area around the campsite we stayed at (Playa las Dunas, El Puerto de Santa Maria), and also a visit to Jerez.
Our campsite was immediately in front of a beautiful beach. There is a lovely promenade stretching a couple of miles, although the cycle path goes further (we cycled it on a VERY windy day!) There is also a large pine forest backing onto the beach, well used by locals at the weekend for picnics etc.
There is a ferry that, apparently, will take you directly to Cadiz.. We tried 3 times before giving up and driving! The first time we really couldn’t understand why the ferry was cancelled – we actually took a video of the placid waters leaving the harbour.. The other 2 days we must admit it was a little lumpy (although the Isle of Wight ferry would have, without a doubt, been sailing!!)
Our first day out though started as a quick cycle ride along the promenade and ended in the narrow, quirky lanes of the old town (the advice when arriving in a motorhome is to make sure you DON’T try to go through the old town – we took a detour of a couple of miles just to make sure. We were glad we had once we saw the streets!)
This is a charming little town which reminded us both of Havana. Funnily enough we later learned that Cadiz itself is often called ‘Little Havana’ – we could see why, but we actually thought that El Puerto Maria was more of a fit for this name.
Bullring, El Puerto de Santa Maria
Church in El Puerto de Santa Maria (complete with Stork nests)
The narrow streets of old El Puerto de Santa Maria
The Alcazaba at El Puerto de Santa Maria
Pine forest, El Puerto de Santa Maria
The next day saw our first attempt to catch the ferry to Cadiz. And our first failure! We didn’t fancy the ‘replacement bus service’ (which would have taken us well over an hour), so headed off to Jerez instead.
Approaching on the main road there is nothing for miles and then suddenly in the distance you see this settlement – what I mean is, there is nothing and then you can see the city plonked in the nothingness! Once in the city the traffic is busy so we decided to just head for 1 of the underground parking garages (which wasn’t overly expensive), and we emerged into the main square, Plaza de Arenal, where we stopped for a drink – sat outside (where it wasn’t overly warm!)
The tourist office is in an amazing building here, and we had a quick look before simply following the signs towards the Alcazaba. This was an impressive building bordering by the Alameda Vieja, which I discovered means a ‘tree-lined avenue’, often Poplars. It also contained a bandstand and has recently been extensively renovated. Very popular, yet peaceful (as I said, it wasn’t the warmest of days!)
Our next discovery was the Iglesia de San Miguel. Set in a tiny square set with orange trees, we paid 5Euros each (but this also gave us entry to the cathedral and bell tower). The cathedral housed the most intricate, impressive nativity scene that I have ever seen!
Small and delightful I think just about covers this 🙂
On the way to the cathedral we saw many ancient buildings, including the church of Dionisio. Admittedly it would have been nice to take advantage of the CityBus (tourist open top) which runs through the city, but unfortunately there was no sign of it on the day we visited.
Bandstand on the Alameda, Jerez
Iglesia de San Miguel, Jerez
Iglesia de San Miguel, Jerez
Plaza de Arenal, Jerez
Iglesia de Dionisio, Jerez
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned sherry, which is obviously what Jerez is most famous for? Well, there were several bodegas and Caves (some very large), but neither of us actually like sherry and so we’re not drawn to these places as most other people are, but there is plenty of choice if this is what you’re looking for!
We also didn’t visit the famous equestrian school (Fundacion Real Escuela). I would have liked to but it was a little way out of town and at a price of approx. 20Euros each for a show we decided against it. You can visit the school and museums for a much lower price, but for me it would be the show I wanted.
The next day found us attempted, once again, to catch the ferry to Cadiz. Once again the ferry was cancelled (admittedly it was a little more blustery this time). So we decided to go for a bike ride the other way along the promenade. A lovely ride, finding more beautiful beaches, a sailing school and marina (Puerto Sherry), places for motorhomes to park up by the beach and a ruined castle atop the cliffs. It did get extremely windy though so we turned back after about an hour.
Impressive cacti in the ruins of Santa Catalina castle
Playa Santa Catalina from castle ruins
Tower at Playa de la Calita
Ruins of Santa Catalina castle
Castle ruins nr Puerto Sherry
When we tried the ferry again the next day, we decided to give up and drive! It took us about 1/2 hour, taking us past the wetlands of Cadiz (with their many paths and bird-watching opportunities), and over the, rather impressive, la Puente de la Constitution 1812 (there is a choice of 2 bridges), and parking underground (this is normal in Spain :))
Cadiz is absolutely charming. And very compact. Once again it was very windy when we visited, which meant we didn’t visit the castles sites slightly offshore and accessible via a causeway – I was worried we might get blown into the sea!! On leaving the centre we had driven around the coast road, and as I didn’t realise how small it was I was completely disoriented, not believing we had actually passed by all the sights I should have been looking out for! They are in the process of laying a proper cycle path (i.e. smooth – unlike the one at Puerto de Santa Maria. Which, at first sight, looks excellent, but is actually made of bricks, many of which are now rising meaning that you have to really concentrate when riding along it).
In the centre there are several walks to follow. Quite literally! In a couple of the following photos you might notice a coloured line on the road? You simply follow the colour that you want to – very easy 🙂 Incidentally we visited on a Saturday, and found that you could visit the cathedral for free (although not the bell tower), after the service.
Also in the square in front of the cathedral there were scout and guide troops on a day out playing numerous games – great fun to watch 🙂
We also watched young ladies learning flamenco, of which there is a rich history in Cadiz.
There is so much to see in this little city and I wouldn’t be surprised if we returned another day. Highly recommended 🙂
A few days on the south west tip of Spain with it’s stunning beaches 🙂
From Casares we headed back to Castillo Duquesa to pick up the little car, and from there it was off towards Tarifa for a few days.
We had decided on Camping Valdevequeros from the ACSI book, which wasn’t our favourite site! However, it was opposite the most beautiful beach – Valdevequeros – which reminded us very much of Portugese beaches.
So we spent a very pleasant afternoon on this beach – I even went in paddling (the water was cold but I got in up to my belly!) We found an area where many campers were parked up – unfortunately we couldn’t take advantage as we had a problem with the gas that Calv didn’t fix until we got to our next site).
We also found out about Baelo Claudia, an extensive site of Roman remains just a few miles away that is free to visit and has lots to see – we spent a good couple of hours here.
Along the road where Baelo Claudia is there are several areas where campers are parked up – we didn’t really fancy any of these areas though. But we did drive on up past the roman remains until we couldn’t go any further on the rutted road (we were heading into a military area…)
Cattle at Bolonia nr Baelo Claudia
Cattle at Bolonia nr Baelo claudia
We also went into Tarifa on the Saturday. Once we had parked just past the port we took a footpath down towards the beach (this isn’t such a nice beach!) where we explored a few abandoned houses – there were many that looked abandoned but on closer inspection they were several that were clearly lived in, as well as a couple that seemed to house several dogs – that liked barking!
Once back up on the road we headed into the old town. The town was very busy on a Saturday afternoon, with the tapas bars full and lively. When we wound our way round to the castle we found that we had just missed the chance to visit as it was closing to new visitors. It was all pleasant enough, but certainly didn’t grab us as several other places have. Still, worth a visit.
A wonderful discovery in the mountains above Manilva 🙂
Finally tearing ourselves aware from the comfort and familiarity of Cabopino, we were aiming to spend a night or 2 at the spot in Puerto Duquesa that we had scoped out on the day we visited the Banos de la Hedionda (click here for relevant post), followed by a couple of nights in the free aire on the outskirts of Casares.
If you’ve been reading regularly you will know things don’t always go according to plan! This time everything seemed fine to start with. We arrived in the car park by Castillo Duquesa, parked up and had a cup of tea. All was fine as a policeman did his rounds and was perfectly happy, so we spent a couple of hours on the beach – which was idyllic at first as we had it pretty much all to ourselves, the sun was out and the van was but metres away! It was lovely even though the beach is not the nicest (slightly grey and gritty sand), and after about 1/2 hour the sandflies decided they liked the look of me!
So after a lovely couple of hours relaxing we returned to the van, to find 2 more vans parked behind us, and popped the kettle on again. At this point (it was after 5pm by now) the police returned, there were 2 of them this time, They proceeded to move everyone on, saying camping wasn’t allowed – indicating our step being out as being ‘camping behaviour’… We’re pretty sure the problem was really that whilst they will tolerate 3 or 4 vans, anymore causes an issue. The 2 vans parked behind us took the number stopped there to half a dozen.
Not wanting any more run ins with the police we moved – being our first time trying to park free of charge – to the nearby site of Bellavista (at 31 Euros for the night…) In the morning I went for a run along the seafront promenade and saw that 3 of the vans were still parked up where we had been – possibly confirming our theory relating to why we were moved on.