Christmas and New Year in a Motorhome in the sun (sort of…!)

Apart from a visit to family in Spain almost 25 years ago I have never spent Christmas outside of the UK.
Now I have not only spent christmas abroad, but also New Year AND whilst staying in the van no less 🙂
Plus a New Years Day dip in the mediterranean

It took a while for me to be persuaded to head out to Spain before Christmas and therefore to spend Christmas away from home, but once persuaded I did my best to throw myself into the preparations!

We knew where we were going to be – it’s necessary to make sure you book somewhere if you’re intending to spend christmas/new year touring in Spain; just to make sure.  So we had booked our pitch at Cabopino (as seen on Channel 5’s Bargain Loving Brits in the Sun – and yes we are friends with one of the couples featured, Roger and Jill).  This meant paying a deposit of 60Euros and losing it if (or rather when) we didn’t stay for the full 3 months.  However, we still averaged only 15.98Euros per night so we were perfectly happy.

We arrived on site on 6th December, caught up with friends who were already there (Steve & Denise and Jill & Roger), and quickly set about meeting new friends at the various events that you just can’t help joining in – such as Friday Happy Hour in Jorges Bar and live music in Andy’s Beach Bar on a Sunday afternoon.

Some of these new friends featured in our christmas and new year plans (Jim & his dog, Corrie; Alan & Tracy and Joe & Gayle).

We already knew that we were spending christmas with Steve and Denise (who we met at Cabopino back in 2017) together with Denise’s daughter Marie and her boyfriend (also Steve) and their other friends Sue & Pete (and Pete’s brother, John).  So we were already catering for 9 between 3 of us (me, Denise and Sue)!  But when we met Alan & Tracy who had just arrived and were on their 1st trip abroad with their caravan, we couldn’t leave them to be on their own on Christmas Day.  Then when we found out that Jim didn’t have anything arranged for Christmas Day we couldn’t allow that either – so now we were 12…!

We all put some money in the kitty and, even if I do say so myself, we produced quite the feast between us 🙂 We had the works!  Turkey, beef, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and christmas pudding (provided by Denise & Steve), ham, yorkshire puds, pigs in blankets, carrots, peas, sprouts, roasted parsnips (& carrots) & 2 homemade cheesecakes (provided by me) and red cabbage, cauliflower cheese & roast potatoes (provided by Sue).  And we even had crackers (courtesy of Denise 🙂 )

We set up a couple of tables and requisitioned several chairs in addition to our own and all fitted nicely onto Steve & Denise’s pitch (which was immediately behind ours.  Calv had ‘made’ a gate between the pitches so it was fairly easy to make our way from the van to the table (we had steps beside the 2 foot wall that we had to negotiate).

All cramming ourselves around the tables it wasn’t that much different to having a houseful at home tbh!  Unfortunately the sun didn’t really shine, but it wasn’t cold and we had a lovely time – it was, almost, like christmas at home!

When it got too cold we were down to 9 of us, so we were able to spend the evening in our van (we even all managed to sit down).  We got out the Chase card game and managed to get through it – taking it all a little more seriously after, young, Steve the Quizmaster, told us that ‘We could either play it properly, or not at all!!’  We gave in as he had a bad hip and was on crutches 🙂

So we then had a week to get over our christmas excesses (or rather add to them…) and prepare for New Year’s Eve.  We eventually decided that we would host at our van, but outside if possible.  Although the days are warm at this time of year in Spain the evenings really aren’t!

We set up with a couple of windbreakers, the table, some chairs, lights and lanterns.  We were joined by Steve, Denise, Marie & Steve, Alan (Tracy wasn’t feeling well) and Jim.  As it got colder I brought out all our woolly hats and gloves (which for some reason we have in abundance in the van – they came in very useful) and we just basically drank (6 bottles of champagne were lying on the floor in the morning – the boys weren’t drinking champagne….), sang, quizzed (with the same quizmaster..) and danced (my fitbit recorded me having 19 minutes of aerobic activity at 2am on New Year’s Day!) the night and the early hours away 🙂  We even managed to get in ‘the game’, which we play as a family every year (we managed this on Christmas Day as well 🙂 )

Before midnight we were joined by Joe & Gayle who had been over to Alberts to celebrate, but left early as their friends wanted to.  I do remember the alarm on everybody’s faces when it looked like I might try to do the ‘Dirty Dancing’ lift – to be fair Calv didn’t look scared even though I was running full tilt at him 🙂

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The end of the ‘evening’ NYE 2018 (3.20am 1.1.2019)

We turned the music off at the same time as the camp bar (2am) but the night eventually ended at 3.20am..  I must admit that I thought we were quiet after 2am, but apparently not.. Sorry (but it’s 1 night a year tbf)

In the morning whilst Calv remained comatose I started the clean-up, accompanied by ‘mornings’ and massive grins from our fellow campers.  It was definitely a night to remember!!

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The morning after the night before – 1.1.2019

But our new experiences weren’t yet over.  There is a tradition at Cabopino beach of a mass swim on New Year’s Day.  Now you might think that this is a bit of a cop out being in Spain, but I promise you the water is not warm.  In fact it’s pretty cold!!

Down on the beach for the off at midday, we found cooking stations set up providing bacon butties and sausage sandwiches together with drinks etc.  This is all done by a group of residents and they won’t take any money for it – all they ask is that once you know about it you bring some supplies down so that the food will go further.  Wonderful.

There were hundreds of people thronged on the beach, most of them there to watch but probably about 60-70 of us went in.  You had to just keep running and get in as soon as possible or it would never happen – but once in it was really lovely 🙂  I was in treading water with a group of ladies (including Hannah from Cornwall) when someone notified us quite calmly that there was a jellyfish within feet of us – that was my cue to get out!

 

I’m a little disappointed that I won’t be there to do this again next year 😦  Maybe in a few year’s time though?!

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Ronda – a little Gem high up in the Mountains

A visit to a renowned white town high in the mountains above Marbella. Steeped in history and with unbelievable views.

On arriving at Cabopino we knew that one of the first things we wanted to do was visit Ronda, as we had run out of time with the hire car during our trip in 2017.

This time, of course, we have the little car with us, so a few days after arriving we set off in the sunshine on our daytrip up into the mountains.

Our climb started behind Marbella so we passed some lovely looking complexes on the way, as well as a good number of villas hidden away behind high gates.

It’s quite a long way to Ronda, winding up and up and up, and round and round and round the various mountains!  There are several viewpoints but we left those for the way back.  It’s a very good road all the way, though that doesn’t mean I enjoyed the mountain road anymore than I usually do!

We parked up on the road just before the gates of the old town, completely by accident! So we chose to head in this way – leaving the area of town opposite the gates for another time.

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Our first discovery was the Iglesia del Espiritu Santo (Church of the Holy Spirit).  Fairly unassuming from the outside it’s a different story inside Continue reading “Ronda – a little Gem high up in the Mountains”

A few days of relaxation, exercise and thermal pools – Banos de Fortuna

A spa town in the hills north of Murcia. Amazing thermal pool – well worth paying a little extra for 🙂

On leaving Oliva we were going to head to Isla Plana to stay at Los Modriles (1 of our favourite Spanish sites in 2017), but instead decided to head a little inland to try a new area and different site.

We found ourselves slightly north of Murcia in a little town called Banos de Fortuna, just a few kilometres past the town of Fortuna, but otherwise pretty much in the middle of nowhere up in the mountains.

The clue is in the name ‘Banos’ meaning ‘thermal’.  We didn’t immediately realise this or that this was a proper spa town.  Not until we took a different turn on coming home from the mountains one day and found lots of people wandering around in their dressing gowns!

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We did struggle to find the original spring, although there were a couple of contenders.  There were also 2 campsites; we were staying on La Fuente – not an amazing site but it was home to the, simply amazing, thermal pools 🙂   I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we revisited on our return journey!

The area is very special with the underground water providing a particular environment for rare grasses.  The main picture was taken from our van as the sun went down – and this was our view every morning and evening.

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View from our window at La Fuente – it never got old 🙂
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Our view at Banos De Fortuna

The area was settled originally by the Romans and we rode up into the mountains to find the Cuevas de Negra.  Amazing views but steep inclines on the way – Calv rode his bike all the way up to the caves and then had to come back for mine, as I’d resorted to pushing and was really struggling…

At the bottom of the final incline we found a large abandoned building which was completely open – so we had a look.  This answered some questions about why there are so many ruined buildings around.  There were massive cracks running down the walls.  Calv says that these buildings have no foundations and that is another explanation.  (Also, we’re now convinced that all Spanish buildings are rendered to cover up the diabolical brickwork – we have now seen the backs of many many walls – it’s a shocker!)

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We took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up in the traffic in the, fairly busy, town of Fortuna.  We discussed going further this way, but didn’t really like the feel of the town so headed back up the main road to the site.

On the way we found an English bar, Tina’s Bar, so stopped for a quick drink.  It turns out that there is a large ex-pat community in the area.

The next day we headed out again in search of the original spring and evidence of any roman settlement.  We still have no idea if we found anything, although we did manage to convince ourselves that we might have done!  It was a mini-adventure though coming back down the ‘mountain’ that we had gone up, as the way we went was marked as private land and we ended up clambering down the terraces (which wasn’t as easy as it might sound), and then making our way to the road via an unofficial rubbish tip (that’s what it felt like anyway!!)

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Banos de Fortuna – had we found Roman remains??!!
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Banos de Fortuna

Our final day was spent by the pool.  It cost 6 Euros (which is the normal price for non-campers, but we didn’t purchase ahead of time so got no discount).

It was worth every penny.  Not only was there a constant temperature of 38degrees, there where jacuzzis and massage jets that were every bit as good as having a real massage 🙂

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The pool at Banos de Fortuna
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The pool cover at Banos de Fortuna

All in all a fitting end to our time here.  Our next stop was back on the coast at a site we’d previously stayed at, Mar Azul – we weren’t initially heading there but more of that in my next post 🙂

Related Content:

Campsite used:- La Fuente (click for our review)

Next Campsite:- Mar Azul, Balerma (click for our review)

 

Discovering new places in Spain

The day that we came across the border from France into Spain was, it’s fair to say, a bit stressful…

Firstly we were affected, twice, by the fuel protests happening all over France.  First as we tried to leave Narbonne, and then as we tried to get onto the motorway at Perpignan.  I simply cannot imagine anyone getting away with protests like these at home – making a point and then letting people through, fair enough; burning tyres at the side of the road and not letting anyone through (as happened to us on Saturday) would not be tolerated.  On Sunday they were holding everything up for about 15 minutes and then letting a few vehicles through – I guess thereby keeping the police off their backs.  We were probably held up for a total of about 1 1/2 hours.

Then, once in Spain, we had heavy rain (yay, welcome to Spain!!) and started noticing increasingly bad floods in the fields alongside the road.  As we neared our chosen site we suddenly came across a road closed sign (no diversion or anything…), so we stopped to find a new route, only to have the same thing happen again.  It was due to flooded roads and this time we were sent off on a diversion by the police manning the closure.  A very interesting diversion it has to be said (it was a road, but not really if you see what I mean!) – anyway we made it through and stayed 1 night at a different site (which was actually very nice – Mas Patoxes, Pals) before heading to L’Estartit and our chosen site, les Medes, in the morning.

Approacing l’Estartit via Toerella de Montgris we could see a castle sitting high atop the mountain – every time we passed it over the next couple of days we would look at each other and say – ‘We’re going up there!’ (and we did 🙂 )

But before we did we visited Empuries at L’Escala, a little way up the coast, cycled around l’Estartit – through the floods and getting waylaid by a little bar open outside the marina (oops) and also took in Dali’s castle in Pubol.

Empuries, l’Escala

This is a really interesting site – it is, in fact, 2 ancient cities that have been unearthed (this is actually on-going) – 1 Greek (this came 1st) and the other Roman (bigger, but only 20% so far unearthed).

For just 5.50 Euros each we spent a couple of hours wandering the 2 cities and learning of their history, via the audio guide included in the price; visiting the museum and also having a quick drink in the cafe (2 drinks and 2 cakes for about 6 Euros).  We would probably have stayed longer but our feet were aching!

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The ruins at Empuries
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The ruins at Empuries

This had been a particularly busy day of exercise for me as I had been out for my 1st run in over 3 weeks that morning, surprising myself with how much I enjoyed it!  I had also taken advantage of the indoor pool at the campsite the afternoon before – so I was feeling very smug with myself.

I don’t want to go on too long in 1 post so will write about our cycle ride, visit to Pubol and climb up Montgris to see the castle in a separate post. (See Castello Dali and a climb to see Castello Montgris)

Keep travelling 🙂

 

 

A visit to Carcassone on the way to Narbonne

Looking for a site around Carcassone we were struggling to find somewhere that was still open at this time of year.  So we decided to just visit on the way to the coast – we’d found a site at Narbonne that was open, les Floralys.

What we neglected to do was to decide on where to park when we got there!  So we ended up following the signs for ‘La Cite’ before taking a wrong turn and ending up on a dead-end outside a school.  There was plentiful parking available so we stopped there!  Much to the amusement of the school children milling around.  (What we discovered when we left, after having to get the van turned round and the car re-hooked up, was that if we HAD carried on around the roundabout there was an actual parking area right there!!)

Anyway we unhooked the car and went off in search of parking closer to ‘La Cite’.  We drove around and around the narrow one way system looking – any on-street parking is covered by permits it would appear, but we eventually found a car park by the river where we parked for free.  From here it was about a 10 minute walk up to the medieval city.

Entrance to the city and it’s outer walls is free, but once inside you will pay to visit the castle, school museum and any other attractions of interest.  The streets are delightful and the church (see main photo) is beautiful.  There are the usual souvenir shops in abundance and many, many eateries.  There is also, apparently, a haunted house.  Close to the castle.

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From between the walls at Carcassone
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Carcassone. Look closely – there’s a photo-bomber in there!
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Square in Carcasson

Back to the van for a quick bacon butty (cue more curious stares from the school kids…!) and then we were back on the road headed for Narbonne.

At this point it was lucky that I’m in the habit of following our route with the map as our Aguri tried to take us down a road that didn’t exist and I realised we were heading away from our destination, so we took over with the 2 phones on Google maps until the Aguri eventually caught up with us.

We chose to stay 2 nights, but it turned out we had little choice anyway as we were affected by the mass protests on fuel duty across the whole of France.  We couldn’t even get to the supermarket for milk 😦  And it didn’t stop raining, pretty much, the whole time we were there.

When we couldn’t get to the shop we headed in the opposite direction, towards the sea.  At the first roundabout we came too I said ‘we need to go right’, but Calv said ‘I want to go that way’ – up into the mountains!    So we did, to see some stunning scenery as we wended our way up, and then back down, the mountain road.

Back at the roundabout we took the road towards Gruissan and Narbonne Plage.  We spotted flamingoes out in the lake and a castle up on the hill – so we had to go have a look didn’t we?

Parking up we found our way through the narrow streets to the church and the steps behind leading up to the castle.  At first we thought it was closed, but a quick push of the gate and we were in.  There’s not much to see but there are wonderful views from the top.  Whilst there the wind picked up and the rain didn’t let up, so we headed to an open bar for a quick drink.  This particular bar was a sports bar that actually had a betting office on-site!

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Looking out over Gruissane
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The umbrella stayed the right way round for once!
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Gruissane Castle
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The castle tower, Gruissane

On the way back to the site we managed to get milk in the garage as we headed out of Gruissane.  We did look to see if the protestors had abandoned their post underneath the bridge, but they hadn’t.  They had when we popped out a little later though, but all the shops were shut – we’re not entirely sure that they bothered opening to be fair.

The protestors stopped us from driving in to see Narbonne, and the rain stopped us from cycling, so unfortunately we missed out.

The protestors were still out on Sunday when we left for Spain.  We thought at first that they wouldn’t be as they weren’t at 10am, but they soon started appearing.  We were held up for about 20 mins whilst trying to get out of Narbonne (tyres burning and everything), and then again around Perpignan – this time for over an hour 😦

Everything seemed to go smoothly after this; even the tolls weren’t overly expensive.  It’s best to take the toll road from Perpignan into Spain as otherwise you have to deal with very mountainous terrain – the total cost in tolls from Perpignan to Figueres was 11.50 Euros and it took a whole hour off our journey time!

At this point we started noticing the floods on either side of the roads, whole fields under water.  Then about 10 miles away from our site we were barred from taking our required road by a police blockade – that’s all you get though, no diversion or anything!  So we had to stop and re-calculate a route, which we did, only to be stopped again.  This time the police directed us around the floods, which made for a very interesting 10 minutes or so 🙂  We’d already changed our destination by now as we thought we couldn’t get to l’Estartit, and we were very relieved to pitch up for the night.  Ready to head the 10 miles to l’Estartit in the morning.

 

Toulouse -a French city worth a visit

Leaving Tours we decided that we would have a couple of overnighters on the way south, which meant we stayed at a site, de Montreal, a little south of Limoges.  A lovely little site set out of the way on a lake in St Germaine-les-belles.  We had chosen to take the toll road from Tours to Poitiers, which we regretted as it came at a cost of over 35 Euros!

The next night was spent in another lovely site, de Bois-Redon, in a village outside of Caussade called Septfond.  We then headed down towards Toulouse where we had decided to stay for 2 nights (overnighters are all very well, but, for us, 2 in a row is more than enough!)

Having rocked up just outside of Toulouse we decided that we really should make the effort to go into the city.

We were staying at Les Violettes, a campsite just south of the city (and very close to the Canal du Midi) and managed to find out that we could use a park and ride at Ramonville, about 4 miles away, to get on the metro taking us straight into the heart of the city.

At a cost of 6.10 Euros each we were in the city within an hour of leaving the site – even though both car parks were full when we arrived.  Just a little tip here – it is worth waiting at the barriers as people do come and go and the barriers will go up when there are a few spaces available; we waited about 10 minutes and then we were in!

Ramonville is the end of 1 of the 2 metro lines that serve the city, and you change after about 11 stops (at Jean-Jaures) to go to Capitole, which is a good place to start your visit.

This is where you will find the Tourist Information centre (in a rather impressive building), and where you can then head down to see the Hotel de Ville (a much more impressive building – mostly hidden by the preparations for an event whilst we were there, sadly).

Toulouse & Arround (1)

Here we sat and had a drink before wandering aimlessly along the narrow streets (buying nougat along the way), before finding Continue reading “Toulouse -a French city worth a visit”

Discovering Chateau de Chenonceoux and Amboise nearby

We moved on towards Tours after leaving la Ferte-Vidame.  This route was chosen after much deliberation regarding our route – resulting with us eventually, and reluctantly, deciding to abandon our plan to cross the Millau Viaduct (boooo….); mainly due to the seeming lack of campsites open for us on that route 😦

Having decided on Tours, I thought that we might actually stay for 3 nights, having seen a weather forecast suggesting full sun and a high of 21C on Monday.  Sadly it turns out that there are several towns called Tours in France, and my app had decided to provide me with information for a different one, rather than the main town of Tours located in the Loire Valley.  So we just stayed for 2 nights after all.

We could have hopped on the cycle path and ridden into Tours to visit the old city (about 4 miles away, with the cycle path passing within about 50m from the site – albeit across a busy road); but we didn’t…

Instead we used our 1 full day there to visit the Chateau de Chenonceaux.  There are so many chateaux to choose from to visit; we chose this one as it actually spans the river Cher.  It turns out that it is actually a Unesco World Heritage Site.

We paid 14 Euros each to visit the castle and gardens – other attractions within the grounds include a maze, wine cellar (caves), gourmet restaurant, tea-room, self-service restaurant, 16th century farm with carriage musuem and donkeys 🙂

But the main draw is without doubt the castle itself, where many rooms are open to the public.  One of the interesting facts we learned was that Continue reading “Discovering Chateau de Chenonceoux and Amboise nearby”