Posted in Spain

7th December – Revisiting Old Haunts

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Abandoning the usual gentle pace on country roads, I just wanted to get around Malaga so chose to use the Autovía as white fog shrouded the surroundings from view. An hour into the drive, gradually glimpses of the scenery appeared as the day warmed up and the air around us cleared, revealing hills and countryside to our left with the sea far away on the opposite side. We had spent many night on free Aires and needed to charge the toothbrushes and electrical devices again, so opted for a few nights at a campsite in Torre del Mar. Being right on the edge of the town enabled us to walk on tracks beside the fields planted with brassicas of some description. Sparrows, goldfinches and serins were everywhere feeding on the weed seeds, giving us bright flashes of colour as they flew to the bushes when we passed by. Wild flowers including a beautiful Morning Glory lined the fences and ditches, a stream with tall bamboo type rushes and lush green surroundings gave views of egret, mallard and moorhen, while the loud call of Cettis warbler exploded from the depths of the reeds as we came out onto the beach.

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In the other direction there were many attractions of restaurants and bars alongside the beach. Ignoring numerous high rise apartments, we chose to admire the 12 meter wide promenade with the patterns made up of white, black and red stone, all so clean and litter free. Alongside that was a dedicated cycle path of red tarmac used by all wheeled vehicles from mobility scooters, electric bikes, children’s electric cars and roller-skaters. Added to this was lovely wide garden with meandering pathway, benches under palm trees with colourful flowers and a bandstand where we saw an exercise class taking place.

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Children had a dedicated and well equipped play areas while adults were not left out, having outdoor gym equipment, tennis courts and nets for volley ball on the beach. Bars and restaurants were spaced along the promenade, the smell of fresh sardines, cooked on a stick by olive wood fires tempted us a couple of times with a refreshing beer on the beach.

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Torre del Mar has several interesting buildings that we saw. The lighthouse in Torre del Mar was built in 1826 and stands at 26 meters tall. To accommodate the growing town it has been moved several times and the iconic and elegant, blue and white lighthouse is situated on the promenade where the beam can be seen 13 nautical miles out to sea. A shorter stone lighthouse stands next to it which had undergone a recent restoration.

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For something a bit different we visited a renovated sugar mill building, now an exhibition centre, addionally three tall, brick chimneys originally part of the sugar extraction business still stand nearby. Information boards, partly in English, told something of the industry history in the area and there were photographs of Torre del Mar showing the development during the last 30 years. It has grown considerably from a small, sparsely populated, beach-side town, having fishing and the remnants of the old sugar mill industries, into a significantly built up, tourist attracting ‘hot-spot’. There were models of local buildings, churches, farms and the river in central position within the exhibition and some of the details were amazing.

On the top floor was an unusual museum; it shows a Frenchman’s collection of over 2,000 ‘irons’ some dating to the 16th century. There were flat irons, coal heated irons, gas and electric irons; in fact I couldn’t believe the number of styles and transformation this humble, household gadget had been through. The display had irons from all over the world with various decorative additions on the metalwork and the style of handles. One exhibit was a cylindrical container that held hot embers, with cradles to hold multiple irons around its circumference, this enable teams of ladies to iron vast quantities of cloth/clothing with continuous hot irons – quite ingenious for the era. There were also some of the first ‘powered washing machines’ which looked like half a wine barrel with the ‘old style dolly’ suspended on a lid, this in turn was powered by a belt driven by a small motor on the floor beside it. If you had all the mod-cons, there was also a powered mangle to squeeze out the excess water. I feel so lucky to live in a modern world of labour saving machines.

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Calhetta is located about an hours walk along the promenade with a harbour of fishing boats and a few pleasure boats. It didn’t seem as busy as Torre del Mar, more laid back in this low-season with only a couple of small bars open; we didn’t walk into the town itself but contented ourselves with a picnic lunch on the wide sandy beach watching the gulls.

Along the coast a short drive away is Nerja, a place we know quite well having been several times and it is always a pleasure to return to. Luck was on our side to get parking next to Burriana Beach with views straight over the sand and sea. Soon we were relaxing on our sun loungers in warm sunshine for a while before meeting up with a friend, Malcolm, and we caught up with each other’s news over lunch.

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Plans made to meet up again were thwarted by a sudden change in the weather; grey, very cool and thoroughly wet. We used the day to travel, the first 2 hours in horizontal lashing rain with the headlights on and wipers on fast mode. A brief pause for lunch an onward again as we broke through into sunshine at last with views opening up in front of us. After endless plastic greenhouses the landscape changed eventually and took on a green hue as vegetation covered the ground among the rocks. Mountains in the distance added scale to the panorama of fields, crops of artichokes with their grey spiky leaves and acres of cauliflowers being harvested by teams of pickers, all bent double and swiftly filling the large plastic crates. Olive and orange trees lined up in rows took up swathes of the fertile, flat lands between the low, stone farm houses, while fruit trees of some variety were protected from birds and insects inside large net greenhouses.

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After a drive of 220 miles we arrived in Bolnuevo, near Mazarrón for our final week, we wasted no time in relaxing as this was also a return site for us. A walk west through the small town soon lead us to the wonderful, naturally eroded sand sculptures, their shapes and colours against the blue sky meant that I couldn’t resist taking photographs again.

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A longer walk to Mazarrón, via the beach, rocky islands and two harbours was most enjoyable after three days of little activity. The day warmed up considerably making it very pleasant to stand around looking at the array of boats from simple fishing vessels and sailing yachts to rich boys toys; the large plastic looking motor cruisers covered in cushions and chrome.

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By the harbour we has a two course Menú del Día of wonderful fish and seafood accompanied by a glass of wine each for the princely sum of €13 a head, after which we walked more leisurely back beside the sea to relax on a nearly deserted beach; we didn’t eat another thing until the following day!

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Away from the coast we walked on the tracks and fields around the village of Bolnuevo with the idea of spotting a few birds. Rows of tattered, plastic sheeted greenhouses which had seen better days, situated adjacent to the next generation of rigid plastic panel greenhouses bursting at the seams with tomatoes. Further into our walk we found two tractors with very high-tec machinery; firstly preparing the ground into ridged rows four at a time, then the next tractor laid irrigation pipe into each row and put holes in ready for the plants to be dropped into. Finally we found a field where the process was complete and the plants growing in this optimum climate, plenty of sun and constant irrigation.  A short while later we eventually found a small lake with some pochard and a few white headed ducks, new for our list this trip and now standing at 106 species. A paella cooked on our BBQ and enjoyed alfresco was a welcome feast after our lengthy walk.

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After 7 nights in Bolnuevo it was time to move to our final destination for a single night at Villajoyosa, a beautiful site with views of a mountain and range of hills. As usual we set off to explore setting off downhill to a harbour and wide sandy beach, we will get walking trail leaflets from the tourist office when we come back.

This is our longest trip yet, travelling through France, Portugal and across Spain; in 11 weeks I have driven a total of 3,126 miles, we have walked 254 miles, seen many wonderful places including lovely countryside, beautiful cities and many deserted beaches. So now it is time for Christmas with family and friends after our flight back to UK tomorrow. We will return and continue travelling in Spain at the beginning of January 2019 …..

Posted in Portugal, Spain

27th November – Portugal into Spain

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Moving inland from the coast pausing for brief overnight stops along the Guadiana River which forms the boundary between Portugal and Spain, we moved north to experience the countryside and visit the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana. The small village of Alcoutim was first with an old ruined castle, narrow streets and the river with views across to Spain. It was not a peaceful night with noisy barking dogs and two lots of church bells chiming the hours, one on Portuguese time, the other an hour ahead on Spanish time, definitely not staying for a second night. Fog from the river blotted out the view, but as we made our way up the hills we came up into sunshine and blue skies, the eucalyptus trees with peeling bark and Holm Oaks dominated the fields. At Mértola located in the Parque National, we crossed a beautiful old white arched bridge to a lovely Aire by the river with uninterrupted views of hillside, a herd of goats complete with their tinkling bells, mallard on the river along with a few boats.

 

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The small town meandered uphill over cobbled streets, some so narrow that a car filled the road, shops and small bars edged the roadway with an occasional larger hotel. At the top of the town was a very old castle ruin that had been maintained to display the tall keep and 3 other small corner towers, with information, displays and aerial video footage of the location. The castle sat on a high rocky peninsular with the River Guadiana on one side and a smaller tributary on the other, the castle buildings were long gone but it’s position in the landscape looking down over the church and town was wonderful.

 

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Our final night in Portugal was at Mina de São Domingos staying on our 3rd free Aire looking out over lakes created by dams, it was both peaceful and picturesque. There were many ‘Strawberry Trees’ or Medronhos Tree (arbutus undeo) that had both the beautiful delicate bell shaped flowers, creamy in colour with a faint pink blush, and the vibrant red fruit that looks similar to a strawberry. The fruits are edible but are better cooked, they are also made into a strong liquere, Aguardente de Medronhos known as a local fire water!

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A walk through the village lead us to explore the old mining area with amazing colours created by the iron and sulphur from the rocks. The inky black water that filled the pits looked foreboding but showed great reflections of the colours. Abandoned crumbling buildings of the mines gave us an idea how large the workings must have been, with a large workshop, loading and railway sidings, and offices. Two of the locomotives used at the site were actually built there, the ore was transported to Lisbon and eventually to England for processing. The mine only closed in 1966 and it was quite shocking seeing the level of decay of the buildings and general area, and to think of all those men working hard in such tough conditions only 50 years ago.

 

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And so onward into Spain crossing the border over a huge bridge spanning the River Guadiana again, using our preferred rural routes across country we immediately found the road surfaces were better, some with white paint too! The fields had multi coloured goats, sheep and young lambs and also the pale golden cattle. Large fields with studded with numerous Holm Oaks are known as a Dehesa, they have grass and shrubs below and it is where black pigs are raised slowly, fattened on the acorns in the autumn which then produce the most wonderful Iberican Jamón that is dry cured and hung up to age.

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Essential fuel, gas and food shopping completed in Huelva, we took the coast road east eventually turning inland to El Ricío. We stayed here previously and it certainly deserved a return visit, it is a lovely old ‘wild-west’ town with sand roads and a tidal lake complete with flamingos, spoonbills, godwits, numerous species of ducks and my favourite wader, the elegant black winged stilt.

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The weekend was buzzing with activity, in the town centre were numerous mules harnessed up to four-wheeled carriages for tourist rides around the town and into Doñana National Park.

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Fine horses being riden around, ladies riding side saddle and men showing their handling skills, even Shetland ponies giving rides to children. The small town is famous for its equestrian links hosting the largest annual pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary every May and attracts over a million people from all over Spain and other locations in Europe.

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The beautiful church was a focal point for everyone with music and drums, elaborate decorative staffs, flowers and banners being paraded through a huge arched door to the sound of the church bells. It was so colourful and full of energy, young and old together for a weekend of celebration.

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Moving east along the coast we stopped at Zamora with its beautiful long beach and lighthouse, then Barbate with a pretty harbour before making our way to Porto de la Dequesa to catch up with friends. There was a wonderful free parking area for a couple of nights with views directly overlooking the beach, we watched a beautiful sunrise, fishing boats going in and out of the harbour and looked at the cormorants on the rocks close by as they dried their outstretched wings.

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After a good long walk along boardwalks by the beach stopping to read the notice boards about the native flora, we eventually turned around and walked along the sand for the return journey. The marina full of yachts and motor boats forms a central focus for cafes and bars, a lovely place to have a drink and watch the sun go down.

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