Santander to the Costa del Sol in a motorhome – how to enjoy this journey :)

Parked up at Area de Autocarvannas in La Guardia de Jaen

Last time we took the ferry to Spain in January 2017 we went into Bilbao and had to then spend 5 nights at our 1st site in Zaurutz whilst waiting to get my tablet back (I’d left it in our cabin…) This wasn’t a major issue though as we were taking our time to reach the coast, via Pamplona.

This time however (January 2022) we docked in Santander (after a nightmare journey – read about it here), and the intention was to travel in the most direct manner south. Together with our travelling companions, Steve and Denise, we decided on the next night’s stop each evening. Actually, let’s be honest here, Steve and I found each evening’s park up between us!

We decided on 3 overnight stops before reaching the coast – it can, of course, be achieved quicker, but we wanted to enjoy the journey and see some new sites on our way.

So the 1st leg was Santander to Aranda de Duero just south of Burgos, roughly 150 miles in total. We stopped in an approved area with services, by the river and had a wander into the lovely little old town across the river. I also met a lady who had the misfortune to have had the same horrendous crossing as I experienced – only this poor lady hadn’t benefitted from the comfort of a cabin 😦

The following day we made it a further 125 miles south to the beautiful town of Aranjuez just south of Madrid. We had been somewhat concerned about negotiating our way around or through Madrid, but it was Sunday and we decided to head straight through (on the motorway of course!) You just need to keep your wits about you and make sure you follow the signs for Cordoba/Granada. I think I was more stressed than Calv trying to ensure I got the navigation right!

This time our stop off was by the side of a river, and just before a campsite (Camping Internationale). We parked up and headed straight across the bridge to the Palace Gardens to follow the river into town. Sadly the Royal Palace was closed, but plenty of bars were open, and we took full advantage. This is a lovely place and we would happily return for another visit.

We had a slightly longer journey the next day (about 175 miles) heading to an Area de Autocaravannas that I’d found in La Guardia de Jaen– it looked wonderful but some of the reviews suggested that we might struggle to reach it in our van. We decided to give it a go anyway as we were coming from the north. Absolutely no issues were experienced and this spot is an absolute gem 🙂 We stayed 2 nights in the end. The only problem was that it took us 3 attempts to find the little supermarket open, and the only bar open at all while we were there was a very local one – Calv poked his head through the door and said it looked like someone’s front room filled with men (exclusively) smoking and drinking.

We saw a red squirrel in the trees in the valley by the area, and Calv and I walked up to viewing point high above us – a very steep climb; one of those that was as bad coming down as going up! We also walked around the town and up to the castle (sadly closed), around the back of the castle to the church (similarly closed) where there were additions tacked on where families were living, down to the garage to get drinking water – there was another bar here that was actually open – entailing another steep climb back up to the van.

The guy in the van beside us also stayed a few days and he used to go off cycling for miles while his wife sat in the sun relaxing 🙂

Click on the link above for advice on how to arrive at this area (i.e. we would recommend that you don’t try and come through the town itself, you need to approach from the north, which might entail going past and then coming back on yourselves). This is probably the best free stopover we have ever stopped on (although Algodanales in the hills north of Ronda comes a very close second 🙂 )

After La Guardia de Jaen we headed for the coast and 1 last free night (in Cala de Mijas) before arriving at Camping Cabopino for a few weeks. We had to go via Granada having found a Caravan Dealership where we could buy ACSI cards (we had ordered ours before christmas but they hadn’t arrived before we left home).

This final stint we did in 1 hit (apart from the stop to buy ACSI). We know the free area in La Cala (de Mijas) well from previous stays, but on arrival we were shocked at how many motorhomes were there! It’s normally very well policed, but they were spilling over outside the accepted area – there must have been 3 times as many vans as would normally be allowed 😦 We decided to stay for 1 night however (it’s very handy for a night out)). We were now able to head out to do a proper shop – we tried the Aldi (not too keen tbh), and then headed back out to Lidl in the morning for the bits we couldn’t get in Aldi!

A meal in El Gusto (because Biddy Mulligan’s shut the kitchen at 5pm – their loss, we discovered El Gusto next door and will return!) was most welcome and very, very good.

We did see last week that the car park has now been cleared of the excess motorhomes and there is just the corner now available (as per usual – there’s still about 30-40 vans in there though)

We’re now settled at Cabopino for a few weeks and in my next post I’ll tell you about trips to Marbella Old Town and La Cala de Mijas (on the bus!)


Suggested Route & Overnight Stops when travelling through France to Spain

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!

Stopped on the French side of the Somport Tunnel (blue skies on the Spanish side!) (video above is the approach to the tunnel on the Spanish side)

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:-

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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.

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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 🙂

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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).

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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.

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And of course, knowing that you only have a 10 minute drive to the port in the morning for your ferry is very welcome!

Sunday on Cullera seafront and Monday in Valencia

Sunday 29th January

A very special day this – my brother-in-law, Paul’s, 50th birthday!!


Happy birthday Paul – hope you enjoy cricket in the Caribbean (don’t forget to wear your new sunhat 🙂 )

We had a lovely relaxing day yesterday. Calv did go out on his bike and found a few things that he was keen to share with me today. So we set off on our bikes for the seafront promenade (empty for Calv the other day, much busier today!)


We headed off the other way first and found our way to the Lighthouse (faro), to find it was actually a lighthouse (converted into a private residence). We eventually turned back and headed down the way he’d already been. He wanted to go all the way to the end of the beach where he’d found an Aire. So what? thought I! However we then continued down the road to find dozens and dozens of vans simply parked up on wasteground. This is where we found this little beauty (and it wasn’t the only one either; there was a pretty new looking van with a mural of an alligator wrapped around it…)


We worry about parking on Aires and sometimes you do actually have to pay for them – we prefer to pay a little extra and have the extra security.

We stopped on the way back for a pizza and ended up giving in to an ice cream (why are they always so much bigger than you expect?!) We didn’t need much at teatime, put it that way! We only actually dared order an ice-cream after we saw a Spanish couple doing the same…


In the evening we sat out with a couple of other British couples (I say evening, it was about 5pm and by 6.30pm it was too cold to sit out any longer!)

Monday 30th January

The day we went to Valencia! The bigger adventure though was getting to the train station and getting our tickets – we literally just made it onto the train. I mean we jumped on the train as it was there because we didn’t have time to check it was the right one – luckily it was J

Although it was nearly 3 miles to the station, and we needed GoogleMaps to get us there, we’re glad that we did walk as we saw much of the old town that we would never otherwise have seen. We couldn’t stop though because we were a few minutes late leaving (as Bob was trying to find a text to show us a campsite in Portugal). Anyway we made the train J

We arrived into Valencia North, a small (by city standards) but beautifully formed station at the gateway to the Old City. Also right next to the bullring (rather more impressive than that in Pamplona…)

The old city itself is a mass of small streets, squares, ancient buildings and monuments, graffiti, modern buildings and ramshackle (as in falling down) buildings. The latter are usually denoted by the netting hung in front of them (to stop the rubble falling onto the road I guess..) There are plenty more that will need the netting very soon.


We ate at a place called ‘Birra & Blues’ which, with 3 courses of tapas, cost us 10.50 euros each (plus a drink of course – I’m getting into the Sangria). I was very proud of myself ordering something that I didn’t know what to expect, and then eating it even though it was something I wouldn’t normally eat!

We then set off to see some more sights. There was an indoor market, we think, a cemetery in a building (but don’t quote me on that – there was a lack of information on most of these buildings. Well, I guess they’re two a penny in the old city!) and a Silk Merchants Hall. This last one we were able to go into for just 2 euros each. Calv refused to pay for the audioguide though because it cost more than the entrance fee (3 euros)! He’s so tight J


Next I wanted to head for the cathedral as I knew we could go up the tower from where we’d be able to see the whole city. On the way there we saw many more ancient buildings and also, one of my favourite Spanish traditions – signs made out of tiles. I love them!


Also some graffiti that was clearly somebody trying to imitate Banksy.


Not bad, but not as good as the one we saw in Arramonche last year.

(See my post on Normandy from last year) – Day 38 – The Last Post

It also cost 2 euros to go up the tower (208 steps up a spiral staircase – I’m getting better and prefer going up to down..) Once at the top we found ourselves with a party of English schoolkids. Now that’s a nice schooltrip isn’t it? Valencia! I can’t really complain as I went to Germany and had trips to Munich, Salzburg and various castle around Bavaria, including Neushwanstein (the castle that inspired that in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).

The views were pretty amazing. You just see towers and domes everywhere. We also spotted a rooftop restaurant and guessed you’d probably need to be in the know to find that one.

This bell struck 3pm while we were up there. Wish we’d realised the time as we would have recorded it! Suffice to say it was loud!


By now we were getting tired (and I’d done something to my left heel. I have no idea what but I was limping and by bedtime I was having trouble walking. I’m still aware of it, but it’s a lot better now and I was able to ‘walk through’ it today!)

Our last adventure was still to come though. We managed to get the bus when we got off the train (having managed to get on the right train again – we were concerned for a little while though)! The driver seemed to drop us off in the middle of the road when we rang the bell – he’d clearly guessed we were from the campsite though and we were pretty much as close as he could get us.

Another lovely day in Spain! See you all soon