Posted in Spain

24th – 30th March – Castles, Monastries and Haro

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In our final week of our wonderful adventure, we turn in land leaving the coast behind and heading into the hills.  The temperatures have dropped and the sky is grey, we start climbing soon and the views are wonderful across the valleys to the mountains beyond. We head higher and realised that what looked like wild flowers from a distance turned out to be snow!  Thankfully leaving that behind we arrived at Morella to see its castle which is located in a spectacular position high on a rocky outcrop between three strategic towns.

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Morella Castle

The walk up to it was tiring as it was steep but to follow was even more exhausting as we gained height through the town itself and up as far as the huge 13th-14th century Basilica of St Mary the Major.  It has two massive gothic doors and the main entrance has a large Moorish wooden door studded with nails. The elaborate interior has a high arched, vaulted ceiling supported by massive columns, in front of the main alter are sculptures and paintings all glistening with gold.  There is a wonderfully decorated ‘snail staircase’ to the pulpit depicting various scenes of people, animals and vegetation.

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The castle itself has origins from 714 AD and was used for military purposes up until 1920’s before becoming a National Monument in 1931.  It is located in a valley between many peaks ranging from 1,400 – 2,100 metres, it used to control over 1,000 square kilometres along the Bergantes River which was a main passage between the Ebre’s valley and the coast.  We walked further uphill to the ruins of the castle itself with 16 towers set into the castle’s main outer walls.  The castle is now having restoration works to preserve it and you can see many of the old rooms, cellars and central courtyard. They are just stone rooms and not very interesting as a photograph.  However, the views from the top are breath taking, no words can describe just how far you can see or the details around it.

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Driving on through hills the wind turbines had their heads in clouds,  passing rocks and olive groves again and admiring the changing scenery.

Finally reaching Valderrobres, a beautiful old town with a medieval bridge, Gothic church and castle, we found a convenient free riverside Aire to stay at.  The town opened up with lots of narrow streets, shuttered windows, small shops, and the castle which looked more like a stately home.  We didn’t go inside but walked around the outside admiring the views from the large paved area in front, then back down the hill to a small pub restaurant where we enjoyed some tapas for our evening meal with beer and wine.

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The following day we travelled on to Vera de Moncayo to a small campsite overlooking fields and hills in front with wind turbines showing white against the dark clouds.  Behind the campsite was a range of mountains all of which had snow on top.

Temperatures had dropped to 3C which was a considerable change from the coast, but we had a pleasant walk along dedicated wide footpaths to the Veruela Monastery.  There was a surrounding wall of nearly a kilometre in length, with two entrances to an interior of nearly five hectares enclosing the remains of the original orchard, gardens, monastic cemetery and all the buildings connected with the Monastery.

The central Cloisters had to be reconstructed after they were destroyed in a war by Castillian troops in 1366.  They were beautiful with a lovely arched roof supported by columns with gargoyles and a central garden complete with a smaller hexagonal building which used to have a fountain, and in the centre were two large trees.

There were several rooms to look at mostly large, bare empty spaces, a large kitchen had an opening which may have held a bread oven, also the blackened roof although there was nothing else to be seen. Next to it was a huge refectory with a elaborate ceiling where the monks dined together.  The most stunning room was the ‘new’ vestry built between 1664 and 1668 and decorated in a baroque style with a really wonderful ceiling.

The abbot’s Church of Santa Maria De Veruela is really the size of a cathedral and work while building it took over 250 years. Inside there are few ornaments but the craftsmanship of the stonework is evident and apparently shows how many financial resources were available to the monastery. The vaulted nave was a work of art and while simple to look at, it was amazing to think how they constructed it all those years ago with the tools available at the time.

 

On the next leg of our journey the scenery quickly changed, much more cultivation, winter crops of wheat and barley, artichokes, broad beans, many fruit trees now in leaf with most of the blossom blown away in the wind. The roadside verges are multi coloured, mauve, purple, white , yellow and the citric lime of the wild spurge, all this beauty is provided by ‘weeds’.

We had a one night stay at Ayegui near the town of Estella, it was a cheap night at 4 euros which gave access past the secure barrier and we parked overlooking a hillside opposite. It is a stopping point on the Comino de Santiago which is a pilgrim’s route from many points in Europe to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia.  The small village held nothing remarkable, however, we found a small bar just so we could put something back into the community and practice our limited Spanish!  We also visited the Bodega and Monastery Irache, shut at the time of our visit, however, there were two free taps, one with water and one with red wine for pilgrims.  It would be rude not to indulge so we had thoughtfully prepared in advance and taken a bottle with us!

Continuing our journey we followed the pilgrim’s route and we saw many walkers getting their exercise and taking in the views. The scenery again held lots of flat plateaus growing many crops, the colours are striking from vivid emerald greens of the corn crops some with sickly lime coloured patches where the crops were not doing so well. One bright yellow field of rape we saw which was in flower already, its March and it flowers in April/May at home. The earth on the vast expanses varied between pale chestnut colour to the pale chalky soils at home in Wiltshire. Overall, the land is extremely flat and windswept, no trees or hedges to break the scenery, acre upon acre of food production, empty roads and huge skies. In the far distance we can again see mountain ranges with snow on top, thankfully I don’t have to drive through them again.

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Enroute to our Haro campsite we stopped off for a walk around a Nature Reserve and a lake backed by a mountain range.  There was an attractive Bodega with its vineyards surrounding it with the vines trained horizontally.  It was a beautiful day, the birds were singing and everything seemed to be flowering including two lovely trees, a cherry and an apple.

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Our final destination was Haro, where we had stopped for our first night in Spain.  We walked up into the town again and noticed how many more cafes and bars were open and now had chairs outside. The trees along the streets had leaves on and it was much warmer than February when we were last here.  With the sun out the following day it was over 23C, there was a lovely opportunity to have a last BBQ lunch.

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So far I have driven safely over 2,000 miles and enjoyed the amazing open roads with guidance from Satnav and Chris to negotiate routes between destinations.  However, yesterday afternoon one of the vicious trees on this site jumped out and bit Della on her back end as she passed by. The result is a small ‘plaster’ on her top and work for a fibreglass guy when we get back!  No trip goes unscathed and so we have learned another lesson, avoid trees.

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We chose the scenic route back to Bilbao and it was certainly pretty.  Going uphill for miles inevitably meant we had to come down again.  It was a hair-raising, steep decent with at least 8 hairpin bends one after the other. This was the time that a warning alarm sounded telling us that we had dangerously low brake fluid and to stop immediately.  As we were still a long way from the valley floor, we proceeded with extra care and realised the alarm only sounded on right hand bends and started to wonder if the guage was faulty.  Eventually getting down to level ground, the alarm stopped completely and we carried on to Bilbao.  Finally on the ferry, we set off for Portsmouth, so that’s all folks for this trip.  Join us when we go on our travels again, soon we hope …….

Posted in Spain

19th – 23rd March – Jávea & Peñíscola

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The drive to Jávea was easy, heading east out towards the coast again. Traveling through acres of orange trees and olive groves the lowlands are surrounded by mountains in the distance, and the temperatures were rising as we neared the sea. Jávea is a small town with a pretty bay known as The Arenal, it has a pebbled beach on one side and sand on the other. A paved promenade just in front of the usual shops and restaurants leads from one end to the other, it is a great vantage point for lots of sea gazing and people watching from the rocks or one of the numerous restaurants and bars.  It would be rude not to, so we stopped to admire everything with a beer and ‘tosta con tomate y aciete olivio’ which is quite delicious. There were a few metal sculptures and my favourite was a man, shading his eyes and gazing out to sea, just as we had been doing.

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The huge rocks at the end of the bay sheltered a pretty harbour with both fishing and pleasure boats, their hulls reflecting in the water, mirroring the blue from the sky and as still as a mill pond. It was so relaxing listening to the gentle sound of water and watching the fish around the boats.

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In total contrast is the sandy end of the bay, full of people, bars, ice cream, kids, bikes, large bellied men wearing sandals with socks pulled up – what is that all about! Someone had started to carve a sand sculpture of castles and figures which looked like it would be very good when finished.  However, we didn’t too stay long but had time for my first sangria since being here, and then went back to Della and cooked up a large paella for ourselves.

After two days we wanted to move on again and stopped off en-route at Pego Marshes for a spot of birding again. There were loads of little egrets, cattle egrets, and glossy ibis feeding in the rice paddies, currently with no crop, also four bright yellow wagtails and numerous gulls. I saw a small flock of sheep and goats who had their own ‘cattle egrets’ riding on their backs, as I tried to get a photo sadly only one remained on board. We could hear frogs and obviously there was plenty of food there judging by the numbers of birds over many acres.

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We stayed for one night just outside Valencia and were on the move again just before 9am.  Satnav took us straight through the edge of Valencia City itself, by now I was not so terrified as I had got used to the road systems, but even so it was a little daunting, with work traffic, roundabouts and traffic lights everywhere.

Luckily I got through unscathed and soon we were heading north through much greener countryside.  The land is less barren, everywhere something is growing or land is built on and there is a noticeable difference from our time in southern Spain.  Many orange trees interspersed with olive and cherry trees, the roads have oleander and lavender growing in the central reservation plantings which it will look lovely in a few months.

20170321_125219After just over 100 miles we arrived in Peñíscola, one third of the way between Valencia and Barcelona. It was Chris’s birthday and we decided to stay for 3 days to relax and do some sightseeing. There was a lovely feel about the place, beautiful beach, castle, old walled town and a  working harbour.

It was a dull, grey day, so after quickly setting up we soon disappeared to the locally known ‘city in the sea’ as it is built on a narrow piece of rocky land about 220 feet high.  The castle is set high up on a ‘rocky island’ with the old town set out below it on the landward side, harbour on the south side and beach on the north. It was built between 1294 and 1307 by the Knights Templar, they were a monastic order who formed after the Crusades dedicated to protect pilgrims.  In 1411 Pope Benedict XIII known as Pope Luna converted the castle into his papal seat where he lived until his death in 1423.  Here endeth the history lesson!

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The castle has many rooms, inner courtyard, towers, beautiful stonework and gardens laid out below, it is well maintained and has information boards, thankfully in English.  The church of Santa Maria is just outside the castle walls, with a plain interior, a high semi-circular apse, minimal decoration and a square bell tower on one side that is 17.5 metres high. Even though it was cloudy, from the ramparts of the castle there are wonderful views over the church, surrounding town with cobbled streets and broad sandy bay and harbour.

High on the rocks is a stone lighthouse standing 11 metres high originally built in 1892 and with electricity added in 1929 and remodelled again in 1970. We spent an hour or so enjoying all the history and views before walking back along the promenade for a rest,  20170322_141529the ‘birthday boy’ opened his Hobgoblin Gold beer which had travelled in Della’s ‘garage’ since leaving Salisbury.  It was very good.  We indulged in a meal out for a treat instead of us cooking and enjoyed a lovely bottle of Rioja.

Next day we walked along the full length of the promenade which stretches the full length of the beautiful long beach that is 3 miles in length, lined with restaurants, shops and bars.  In the evenings the castle is lit up, it looked beautiful and reflected in the sea around the rocks below.

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On our final day it dawned bright and sunny, blue sky and puffy white clouds, and we walked to the south side of the castle to look at the harbour with many fishing boats tied up. The catches were being sorted ready to be sold, nets being laid out and mended while the fishermen sorting the boats out ready to go back to sea.

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Sitting at a tapas bar, we enjoyed a ‘fresh from the sea’ lunch with mixed fish and squid, salad, chips, and a couple of beers while watching the activities in front of us.  It really was a fabulous place to sit and relax in the sun.

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On our return to the campsite, we walked around the old hilltop town just below the castle with its whitewashed houses and narrow streets. There were some lovely cobbling and paving creating patterns on the roads, which was quite slippery and I cannot imagine what it would be like in rain, and I certainly would not want to drive on it. We passed a house on a corner with all the walls covered in shells set in patterns around the windows. Most of the buildings have lovely balconies with ceramic floor tiles set with the design facing downwards, wrought iron railings in different designs and ornate street lamps. A lovely restaurant with umbrellas and several shops selling the usual tourist merchandise were situated on a narrow street overlooking the sea, we did not stop but admired it all the same.

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Peñíscola is definitely a place to visit with lots of history and activity, you can be as active or inactive as you wish, lots of people watching available, and many bars and restaurants.  Only the high rise apartments and hotels spoil the coastline, however, if you can ignore that and enjoy what else is around, it is lovely.  Definitely a place to return to for rest and relaxation.

Posted in Spain

9th – 18th March – Coast & Inland

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Our route around the Murcia area has been convoluted to say the least, driving back to Mazarron to pick up the computer, and passing through lovely countryside with pine trees and small lakes on the lower mountain slopes.  Areas of semi barren land with the pale, sandy coloured soil interspersed with bushes and flowers that flash by outside Della’s windows, which makes it quite tricky to get photos as the scenery changes and disappears with the miles.  Some acres under cultivation can be seen with rows of crops making man-made patterns in the landscape, olive trees with their grey-green leaves and the vibrant green, shiny leaves of the citrus fruit trees making a great contrast against the soil.


20170305_134430The yellow Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-Caprae) has other names African wood sorrel, bermuda sorrel and buttercup oxalis among others; originally from Africa it is an invasive species in many parts of the world.

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It propagates through its underground bulbs, is extremely prolific and hard to eradicate, covering any spare bit of land available. However, I think it does make a very pretty picture under the citrus orchards, by rivers and literally everywhere in between.

Soon we got to Los Delphines Campsite, close to the coast but set back into the scrubland with views up towards the hills.  We have got our set up timing down to 15 minutes with levelling Della on ramps if required, (spirit level is useful for this), this is because apparently the fridge doesn’t work well if the vehicle is too sloped.  We usually fill up with drinking water at the previous site and empty the grey water tank.  Hook up to electricity requires little effort, connecting the cables but you do have to check for reverse polarity as it could cause a potential shock hazard. A handy little light inside tells us if this is the case! We can then turn the continental two pin electric plug upside down and unplug any gadget we are using after use, very technical!

20170311_085507Soon we are checking out the facilities of the site and here the showers, washing machines and dryer are all housed in a well maintained block.  There is a bar and small covered terrace area where the internet is free. The site has small deciduous trees so we are not shaded thank goodness, anyway we do tend to avoid pitches that have any shade.  All the pitches we have been on are compressed gravel which is great because there is no churned up ground and no getting stuck in mud. It is quick and easy to put the matting outside with chairs and tables and the wind-out awning provides a nice bit of shade, if required.

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20170309_175948In temperatures of 25C we walked down to the coast past lovely mimosa trees which glowed yellow against the blue sky. The coastline is dotted with palm trees and has a rocky beach with a curved edge across to the distant end with huge rocks down to the sea.

Walking up onto a promontory gave a good view of the entire area and I found pretty purple wild irises growing only around 5 inches tall to keep out of the wind.

A longer walk the following day onto the wild area behind the campsite provided wonderful views of the hills looking very craggy and barren against the sky.

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black-eared-wheatearWe did lots of stopping to find birds in our binoculars but apart from lots of sparrows, starlings and crested larks there seemed to be little else until a new bird popped up onto a small bare twiggy tree.  Neither of us had seen one before and thankfully it stayed close by for ages, allowing us to remember a good description so we could look it up later. We found out it was a black eared wheatear!  (This is an image from Google.)

ARKive image ARK024331 - Stone curlewWe listened to stone curlews calling in the evening but although we knew they were behind the site, their camouflage is so complete they are rarely to be seen in the daytime unless they move, and they don’t, being a mainly nocturnal species.  (This is another image from Google.)

We enjoyed our first BBQ with a 3-course meal of garlic prawn tapas, dorada fish fillets and vegetable skewer, with strawberries and cream, all accompanied by delicious Spanish white wine at 1.79 euros a bottle!

Moving on again, we stopped off at El Hondo Nature Reserve with some saline lagoons and boarded walkways. We soon spotted red crested pochard, marbled teal, white faced duck, black necked grebe, avocets and more fabulous flamingos. In total we added another 8 birds to our burgeoning list, currently standing at 90! Not bad for happy amateurs.

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From the new campsite at Santa Pola and walked along the coast passing a sad old corpse of a boat now only a skeleton, and along dunes where we added a great grey shrike to our bird sightings. Further along pine trees had established themselves along with various plants and as we followed the path one of the huge black metal Spanish Bulls made a good sight nearer the road.  Other than that, there was little of interest but it was a good walk in sunny weather so no complaints.

Having previously enjoyed a good walk in temperatures of 26-27C we were due for a shock.  That evening the weather grew windy and the forecast rain came down in torrents.  Thunder rolled in and the sky was lit up by lightening which was stunning to watch through the skylight window from the comfort of a cosy, warm bed.  The sound of the rain lashing outside and the wind buffeting Della around we were very glad we were not outside.  We heard on the radio that the downpour had caused considerable damage in the Alicante area, road chaos and flooding during one of heaviest rain storms in the last 80 years.

We visited friends Trevor and Irene and stayed for three nights.  They live in a lovely little village called Parcent, located in the hills west from the ‘nose’ of land that is the Calpé – Dénia area, and a few miles west of Xaló.  We had a very happy time catching up where we left off a few years earlier, eating lunch and having a beer.  Through the afternoon, sitting on their sunny terrace overlooking stunning views, surrounded by plants, their own lemon tree with the smell of jasmine it is easy to see why they love it, and so do we!  The people in the village are very friendly and always appreciate you trying a little Spanish with them, the café/bar/shop is a hive of activity in the morning and a meeting place for a chat with friends.

We had a couple of walks after breakfast walking out along the tracks passing orange trees and vegetables and heading up hill to the pine trees which smell lovely with the warm sun on them.  Views from the top are breath-taking, the valleys below with small houses dotted here and there as they spread out from the village. We passed olive groves, almond trees, orange blossom, trimmed vineyards, artichokes with their grey spiky leaves and rough, barren looking land dotted with bushes and rocks providing a great habitat for birds and presumably wildlife, although we have seen only one red squirrel and two rabbits in our entire trip around Spain so far!  Further along we turn a corner and another vista awaits our eyes, spreading miles towards more mountains with puffy white clouds hovering over the tops.

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Immediately beside the track we admired some tall young trees, slender and topped with wonderful purple flowers that the bees were very busy visiting.  We found out from a local that the trees were only planted a couple of years ago for wood chip production and were fast growing so producing revenue very quickly.  From Google we found out they are Paulownia Trees.

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Paulownia Trees

We passed by the Lavadero de Parcent, which was a public wash house built before there was running water in the village. The water comes from a spring ‘La Font del Llavador’ which rises just beside the wash house where there is also a drinking trough.  It passes into a central reservoir in the wash house, lower passages situated either side for the women to complete their washing on stones set on an angle allowing washing and rinsing in one open air ‘room’.  The used water continues on its way and is then used for watering the vegetable gardens.  When the village houses were supplied with water the use of the wash house decreased, however, renovation started in the 1990s and some people still use it today.

20170317_094504On our way back up the hill we finally see the lovely church in Parcent, it’s spire surrounded by pretty clouds.

After 3 days we collected Della from the Tramonti Restaurant car park at the bottom of the village where Trevor had arranged with the owner for us to park up.

We have been to this restaurant on previous visits, enjoyed the owner’s company and another amazing meal here on this occasion too.  We have been made so welcome and will no doubt return in the future.

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The map has been updated again, see where we are now on the website.

Posted in Spain

1st – 8th March – City and Countryside

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Just before I released the last blog, I had a major computer malfunction – that is to say,  I broke the screen on our laptop causing me much distress.  I had put the mouse between the keyboard and the screen while we had dinner one evening, and later forgetting what I had done, leaned over it pressing the mouse into the screen when it predictably went ‘pop’.

This resulted in an Internet search for an English speaking computer wizard who might be able to perform a magic trick. Chris located Craig from MW IT Services (http://mwitsupply.com) with a business nearby in Mazarron. Having driven for 45 minutes he took one look and within 2 minutes he new exactly what was needed, ordered the bits and told us to come back in a week. A smile was now back on my face.

We drove on through a productive area with mountains surrounding a flat basin of fertile soil with much more intensive crop growing.

We stayed at a nearby cheap and very basic Aire on the coast for a night and swiftly moved on to a nice and well set out Aire at Los Dolores, on the outskirts of Cartagena. By the afternoon we were soon on a bus bound for the city centre with a map of the streets and local attractions.

20170302_151035We saw a statue of Carmen Conde by Juan José Quirós, she was a local  poet, teacher and writer, born 1907,  Chris showed her the benefits of a mobile phone.

 

The streets were lined with lovely buildings. Apologies, there were too many to find out what they were or the names.

 

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There were some wonderful street lamps designs.

We decided on a ‘Roman’ theme and sought out the local archaeology site displaying a thermal bathing pool system, with cold plunge pool, and two hotter ones, plus various rooms to socialise in.  There were flag-stone floors raised up on columns of bricks providing an airspace which was heated by underfloor hot air provided by huge wood fires.  The larger rooms for meetings and social gatherings were decorated with faded geometric designs in red, blue and green, and earthenware storage vessels were displayed against a wall.  There was a large courtyard laid with herringbone brick pattern which at one time had columns surrounding it to support a roof.

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There was so much to see in Cartagena that we went back for a longer visit next day. The harbour was massive and included boat building yards, manufacturing and repairs to ships, and cargo handling areas. Apparently, cruise ships come here but none were in port at the time of our visit.  We wanted to go to the Museum for Underwater Archaeology which included rivers, lakes and marine environments. It was a first class, modern museum with interactive facilities, huge TV screens showing video footage of work on wrecks on the seabed and well lit displays with descriptions in Spanish and English. We spent 2 hours there walking and reading and it only cost 3€ each which was very good value.

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Elsewhere in the city we found a well preserved amphitheatre but were only able to walk around the outside. Higher up the hill was part of a castle, not much left but a great vantage point to see over the city and across to the harbour.

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Panoramic view out over the harbour

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We had an excellent fish and seafood lunch nearby and carried on down the promenade. We found a massive statue of a man clasping his knees entitiled El Zulo by Victor Ochoa, a tribute to the victims of terrorism, particularly the victims of the Madrid train bombings. The harbour had fishing boats, yachts and catamarans and we saw an enormous new looking ship which looked naval not private. Photo below.  It had 3 tall metal masts with aerials at the top, grills over what looked like oval portholes so that the whole hull looked solid, it was a bit spooky really!  (PS Update:  Scroll to the bottom, see comment by ‘Sailingchard’ with a link to details about this boat).

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Now, craving a bit of countryside, we set off for an Aire in the heart of lemon and orange groves for a couple of days in Alquerias.  Finally parking opposite the lemon trees dripping with fruit, birds everywhere and wildflowers around the trunks, we relaxed with a view of the hills. It was so peaceful and quiet, and only one other British motorhome there. We walked into the village to explore and passed several fields of coriander, we could smell it before we saw it, and eventually watched it being harvested by hand by half a dozen people bending double, it looked a back breaking business. Weirdly, we spotted oranges and lemons growing on the same tree several times during our walk, may be they are on grafted root stock or just crossbred trees.

20170304_203104There were collar doves, sparrows, serins, and crested larks everywhere, so many wild plants with seeds to feed on, nothing too tidy and cleared away making spaces for wildlife to thrive.  Back with Della, homemade seeded bread and Chris’ French onion soup, we had a delicious lunch in the sunshine and time to recap on the Spanish lessons for the afternoon. A robin even visited and came inside for any spilt breadcrumbs.

The following day we walked along a track by the Segura river which was rather choked with reeds and debris, even so we saw mallard, moorhens and a couple of cormorants with a Sardinian warbler closer to the pathway. The opposite side of the river had a purpose made walking path and a tarmac cycling track which was also used for roller-blading and good for pushchairs. It was the weekend and so the facility was being really well used and there was space for everyone to enjoy the surroundings.

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We walked back this way and found lovely orchards with pink blossom (which we think are peach trees) as well as a few white blossom trees, as usual the ground between was carpeted with colourful flowers.

Having packed up and stowed everything away we were on the move again, the drive was very different from some of our others, there was a lot more agriculture and only some greenhouses. There were fields of potatoes, artichokes, broad beans and brassicas, fruit trees resided in netted ‘greenhouses’ that must have covered acres, along with the plastic greenhouses with tomatoes and cucumbers.

We were heading for a 3 day visit to La Fuente at Baños de Fortuna, a site north east of Murcia, surrounded by mountains nestled in the lee of a hill.  This was a place for rest and relaxation as there was a wonderful spa pool with Jacuzzis and water jets, at a constant temperature of 36C and being thermal mineral water, it was supposedly really good for you!  With a roof to keep the sun off and open ended, it was sheltered and calm, however, as soon as you got out, the wind rapidly cooled you off. There were sun loungers provided but no cushions, I expect they would perish too quickly in the sun, anyway it did ensure you wouldn’t lie out and fry all day.

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Again we had lovely English neighbours to chat to and they were happy to share 17 years of motorhome experience so we gained a few useful tips. We have some way to go to get to their record!

We also had our first really stunning sunsets.

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The map has been updated with our convouluted route and I shall add a few extra photos under the PHOTOS tab.

 

 

 

Posted in Spain

19th -28th February Coast Hopping

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Leaving Nerja behind the sunshine had disappeared, now turning grey and quite windy we stopped briefly for one night further down the coast. There were kite surfers out on a wild sea and we got blown to bits walking along the beach to watch them.

Driving leisurely eastwards along the coast road, the villages along the way seem to edge the beaches, dotted with unoccupied hotels all waiting for the new season to begin. We can see the Autovia set well back from the coast, some parts on the high, towering ‘viaductos’ edged with blue painted barriers, carrying traffic east and west much faster than we need to travel.

Stopping off next at Camping Don Cactus, near Carchuna on the Costa Tropical of Granada, we found a large well planned site with excellent facilities. The weather is still mild, grey and windy, the waves crash and thunder while the gulls wheeled above and skimmed the waves in equal measure. Walking along the pebbled shore being battered by the wind we watched gannets fishing, white plumage with black wingtips showing well against a dark sky. We saw many spectacular dives from on high, wings folding back like a jet fighter, just as they dived into the sea.

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Many plastic greenhouses in vast, and endless lines are unfortunately a blot on this otherwise lovely landscape. They fill every valley floor and terrace big enough to grow something, it’s not a pretty sight but people want to be fed cheaply and this is where lots of our salad crops come from, mostly growing cucumbers and tomatoes at the moment. More spectacular are the ruins of Castle of Carchuna, built at the end of the 18th century to protect the area against pirate attacks. Also a tower, the Farillo de Calahonda, constructed around the 16th century to protect the port of Calahonda. It was used as a lighthouse at one time, but has now fallen into disrepair and leaning at a crazy angle. The current lighthouse stands high on a rocky outcrop which looks down on a small bay with fishing boats bobbing in the sea.

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We walked a couple of miles along the beach of shingle and sand with small flowering plants gathered in groups in the shelter of a larger rock or piece of driftwood. We found it very relaxing and were soon bird spotting again, mainly gannets, gulls and terns. At the end of the bay we admired the scene whilst being served lovely fresh tapas with our beers. Is this sounding familiar?

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Beach and boats

After two days, we moved further east along the coast to Almerimar and tried out our first Aire. These are places without the frills of a campsite, just somewhere to park up for a night or two, facilities can include electricity, drinking water, drains to empty ‘grey water’ and chemical toilets. They sometimes have washrooms and washing machines too. Best of all they are cheap, this one cost us £13 per night including the electricity! Some of them are even free but would not have facilitites.

There were around 40 motorhomes in this Aire all parked around a pretty marina or looking out to sea. We chose a spot looking out across the bay to the west so no one could park in front of us and we could admire the birds, fishing boats and sunset if there was one. The benefits of this location were a collection of small shops, a supermarket, laundrette and the usual bars and restaurants all within a 10 minute walk of where Della was parked.

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We made a plan to check out the local Puntas Entinas – Sabinar Nature Reserve, an area of reeds, dunes and plant life with two quite large lakes. We packed a picnic, and thankfully as it was still quite grey and windy, we wore closed shoes, trousers and our fleeces. It took 30 minutes or so to get to the beginning and then another 20 minutes getting into the dunes aiming to get to the lake. We soon realised we had made a mistake and were being bitten by mozzies, their horrible wining and stinging bites sent us racing back out to the shore again. Not to be deterred by a mere insect, we carried on and walked for around 2 hours before stopping for lunch on an exposed high dune hopefully away from the mozzies, and from which we could see the lake. There were lovely flowers in the dunes and we did see some birds too, success, we had not been beaten.

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Then we made mistake number two. Not wanting to return using the same route, we decided to walk around the other side using a track and bridge across the beginning of the second lake. By the time we had crossed over, I was feeling quite exhausted and hoped we could find the road and get a bus back. No such luck, no roads anywhere, we walked on tracks for miles and miles over rocky, semi barren land, we passed a goat herder, past endless rows of greenhouses, spotted flamingos and trudged on and on. We had been bitten constantly all over our hands, necks and Chris had bites on his face, I had them on my neck and in my hair. By the time the town came into view I was fantasizing about how to replete my energy level, my hips and knees felt shot and I was running on empty. We eventually got there, me hobbling and cursing, and made our way to a bar where I ordered coffee with sugar for the caffeine, (I don’t even like coffee or sugar in drinks), a brandy for fortification and a half pint of lager, and Chris had a well earned pint.

20170223_171247I checked my pedometer and we had walked 28.6km, which equates to 17.87 miles, no wonder I felt knackered. Chris was tired but not shattered like me!

Our next destination not far along the coast was Cabo de Gata and some more dunes with lots of beautiful low growing flowers.

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We left Della parked on the roadside and walked over to the saline lagoons at Las Salinas which promised lots of water loving birds and we were not disappointed. There were five bird hides along the edge of the lagoons, obviously this was a renowned birding area, we were so glad we had our binoculars. There was a large flock of greater flamingos looking stunning in the sunshine, beautiful shades of pink with black on the wings and Chris also spotted ten white spoonbills, long legged birds with bills shaped like a long handled spoons.

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The dots are greater flamingos
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Image from Google

I saw my favourite wader; 4 lovely black winged stilt with long pink legs, black wings on otherwise white plumage and a small dainty looking head with straight black bill. In all we added another 10 species to our Spanish list, now numbering 79 since we landed at Bilbao.

Just for the record, we are keen bird watchers – NOT TWITCHERS! The difference being, twitchers will be notified via friends, media and electronic devices that a certain species of bird has been spotted, and they will race off to the location to try and see it and put ‘a tick in a box’. It could be 10 miles or 100’s of miles and they go crazy to achieve it. We on the other hand simply enjoy walking, and all fauna and flora.

The drive to our next destination was through very different countryside with empty roads and stunning scenery. The new campsite, Los Escullos, was set in the foothills of extinct volcanos, an area called Pico de Los Frailes, and had the best of both worlds being less than a mile from the coast too. The scenery was wonderful, very different with rocky terrain and peaks in all directions.

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We walked down to the shore over scrub land alongside huge towering cactus type plants, some with tall spent flower spikes, others taller than Chris, and eventually we came out on a sculptured, rocky headland overlooking the sea.

The limestone pavement effect on the surface looked like it had been sand blasted, there were huge chunks of rock that had separated from cliff edges and wonderful formations jutting out.

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We could not believe the amount of wild flowers in many colours, you could smell their perfume and hear bees buzzing everywhere, a real sound of summer. We were told that this year the flowers were very good due to the excessive rain this area has had during the end of last year and the beginning of this one.

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We had another long, but pleasurable walk over flowery open spaces, passed wooden bee hives and along stoned tracks between the hills and the shore on our way to San José. We saw great rock formations showing the fault lines where the volcanoes had spewed out lava and rocks at some time in the distant past. There were what looked like caves higher up, great land slides of rubble, huge bolders and incredibly, tiny plants growing straight out of the rock.

The sea sparkled in the sunshine not a cloud in the sky, a few gulls with wings outstretched gliding on the clifftop air currents. The  views from the top of the hills were wonderful and far reaching. The temperature was rising now, over 20C as we neared San José in time for lunch overlooking the beach, we also needed a good rest.

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The walk had taken 3 hours over rugged terrain, so we decided to walk the road back which had lovely views too. We found a well at Pozo de Los Frailes with a wooden mechanical device for a horse or donkey to raise the water. We couldn’t find the required animal so Chris is demonstrating it.

It took another 1.5 hours to get back to Della – 22.5km or approximately 14 miles – we must be getting fitter! We stayed 4 days in this peaceful place, met some lovely people to share a couple of evenings with, and had some relaxing sunbathing time too whilst trying to learn some Spanish. Adios amigos!

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Posted in Spain

12th – 18th Feb – Torrox Costa & Nerja

After settling down and deciding to stay a while to relax and enjoy the area, we made the most of a beautiful, blue sky day with plenty of sunshine and enjoyed walking through the local village, passing beautiful flowers adorning the walls.  Eventually the tarmac gave way to the local tracks that were marked as roads on the map, and itemised as such by Google Maps!  In reality, they were rough stoned paths with just enough room for vehicles to travel down, but not pass each other. In places it was mostly compacted soil with bits of stone, plenty of weeds and many plastic greenhouses bordering the track.  These greenhouses held a variety of crops, mainly tomatoes, chillies, peppers and young mango trees (we think). The nearby fields were full of potatoes, onions and some sort green vegetable, not quite cabbage or spinach but somewhere in between.

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Track looking towards mountains

There were wild flowers everywhere, predominantly yellow, with many insects buzzing around making the most of the early nectar supply.

We walked down to Torrox Costa following the river beside its stony bed with a noticeable absence of water, what we would call a shallow stream. Birds were everywhere with the best so far being a Sardinian Warbler, a pretty little bird with a jet black head and a conspicuously red eye and eye-ring, and white under the chin and neck.  We were also pleased to see our first swallows and crag martins skimming low over the water, swooping over the vegetation that lined the banks to collect insects.  So hard to believe it is February.

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Another first was one of the finest butterflies I have always wanted to see, a lovely Swallowtail. It is a delightful insect having cream wings with black markings, the hind wings also having blue sections with small bits of red, and its characteristic projections possibly giving rise to the name swallowtail. (This photo is from Google)

The following day the sun was shining and the promised temperature of 18C was most acceptable so we opted for shorts and T-shirts and started a 5 mile walk into Nerja.  The old coast road was relatively free of traffic and the views of the sea sparkling in the sunshine made quite a picture. There were wild flowers along the edges and up on the rock faces bordering the road. It took around 2 hours to complete the walk and finally we arrived at the Balcon de Europa, a large rounded balcony jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea, originally a fortification to protect against pirates and smugglers sailing around the coastline.

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Panaramic photograph showing archways, Balon and church
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Chris, Lucy, Malcolm & Jacqui

We met up with friends Jacqui and Malcolm and enjoyed coffee and beers with ‘tosta y tomate’ for brunch while we caught up with each other’s news.

Later that evening Chris and I visited a small Italian restaurant for a wonderful meal and bottle of Rioja as it was Valentine’s Day.

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Another much longer walk saw us taking a bus initially into Nerja, then walking as we followed the River Chillar up into the hills behind the town.  Again, the river was no more than a stony stream when we walked it, following through a tremendous rocky gorge as it flows through the wooded lower slopes of the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park.  The River was so shallow in places you can walk in trainers without getting your feet wet on the wide expanse of stone riverbed.

We found a concrete ‘lavada’ carrying water down the valley for irrigation lower down and although I scrambled up a steep stope to it, I couldn’t make myself walk along it’s narrow walls with the precipitous drops on one side.  Back down on safe ground we walked on for a while before stopping for a picnic under the eucalyptus trees to enjoyed the peace and tranquillity beside the stream, sorry river!  Our walk ended an hour or so later when we could go no further without getting our feet wet which we did not wish to do in February with no towel to dry off.  Anyway, when we finally got back to our campsite, we had walked 10.5 miles, a record for me.  I felt achy and tired and in need of yet another G&T, great excuse I thought.

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We only had two greyish days during our week long stay at El Pino in Torrox Costa, and even then it was warm.  Our final walk around Nerja on our last day meant we had walked just over 50 miles in total since we got here.  This time we walked from the Balcon, across Burriana Beach where we spotted this huge paella bring cooked on a wood fire.

Then up a hill at the far end taking us along by an old aqueduct which is part of an old hydraulic structure linked to a channel that remains in use today for irrigating the local farmland.

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We carried on back around into town, along the old streets and followed tradition by stopping off for a beer and tapas.  Pepes bar was full of history and many old household and farming implements adorned the walls, a pigs head looking down on the visitors from its lofty perch high up on the wall.  The Jsmon Iberico hanging from the ceiling, from which the bar owner made us two free tapas each with fresh bread, and with two beers altogether it was only 3 euros, around £2.50.

Later we met up again with Jacqui and Malcolm for a late lunch before they kindly took us back to the campsite. It is a lovely area and one to return to, which I know we will as we are planning ahead already …….

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Posted in Spain

8th February – Journey begins ….

Della began her journey to Portsmouth on a dull, grey morning looking clean and shiny, everything we could possibly need for the next seven weeks safely stored inside her cavernous body.  As we set off to the docks to catch the 11.45am ferry we were very pleased to have no rattles inside due to our novice packing, and the hour long journey seemed to pass very quickly.  Soon we were lined up with dozens of other motorhomes, lorries and cars ready to drive into a huge, three floor, multi storey carpark inside the Cap Finistere.

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Entering the port at Bilbao

Twenty four hours later we landed at Bilbao in sunshine and relative warmth. Within half an hour we were off and started our drive of approximately 80 miles to Haro in the Rioja region.  Our new Garmin satnav was sitting proudly on the dashboard spouting directions and showing me the pink line to follow.  Even so, going under a covered section of road, somehow, and terrifyingly we were guided straight into Bilbao itself!  To say the air was not quite blue, but maybe a mid-range of turquoise, was an understatement.  My stress levels soared as I followed her new direction to get me out of the pickle she had created, I wondered if I should trust her to get us to Haro at all.

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Snow topped mountains enroute

Having chosen the scenic route we eventually enjoyed seeing vineyards, pruned hard back ready for the new season, winter corn showing green in the fields but no livestock in sight anywhere.  On entering the Park Natural de Gorbia with its wild open spaces, we soon saw snow topped mountains and stopped by Reservoir Ollerias for lunch.

Finally we found the site easily, parked up and promptly walked into the small town under a bridge to nowhere!  Passing the Bodegas (sadly not open!) with stainless steel wine vats glinting in the sunshine, we walked uphill to admire the old Spanish architecture, golden stone buildings with wrought iron grills at the windows, fancy gables and a stunning church with huge carved wooden doors.

The view from the top of the town over the valley below was breath taking.

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The following morning for our next destination at Riaza, we plotted the scenic route, 160 miles of it, and marvelled at the snowy mountains, it was chilly at -3C.  We made our way along fantastic roads through massive rocky outcrops at 5,600 feet and during a stop for lunch in the mountains, we were pleased to identify 3 griffin vultures circling high on the thermals.  Eventually we lost height as we drove on, the scenery giving way to vast flat land with numerous cattle, sheep and horses, and acres of vinyards.

The site was situated at 3,930 feet surrounded by mountains, all with snow on top, luckily none on the ground where we were but it was still -5C in the morning!  We will be very glad to get further south and find the sun.

The next stretch of 244 miles to Despeñaperros, near Santa Elena, was slightly more hazardous for the first hour or so. Sleet soon set in and against the white snow lying around us the scenery looked monochrome.snowy-road-scene-small  It was like driving in a white-out, although not a blizzard of snow thankfully.  The roads were first class and all dual carriage way, the Spanish must have known more bad weather was on the way because we saw no less than 7 snow ploughs heading the opposite way!

I was very thankful when eventually we left this all behind and the temperature rose from 0.5C to 13.5C after around 3 hours.  Including a stop for lunch we arrived after 5.5 hours at a beautiful pine tree covered site with views over an olive grove with vines behind.

Around 40 + azure winged magpies were feeding under the pines, beautiful birds with a fine black cap, white throat and blue wings and tail, they made such a chattering before heading off to the olive trees. Another walk into the village to stretch our legs and an hour later we found ourselves a nice little ‘watering hole’ to park ourselves in for half an hour to enjoy a couple of drinks.

The last leg of our journey through Spain to the south coast was only 174 miles across varied and beautiful countryside, with acres of olive groves all planted in straight rows so they can be harvested mechanically. Gaining altitude through the mountains, we again admired their craggy outlines with an icing of snow on their peaks

Standing like statues, many wind turbines topped the hills and a few windmills were dotted around the landscape.  It soon became apparent they were in a good location as now Della was buffeted around, especially on vast exposed sections of the Autovia.  There were many places crossing valleys and around rocky outcrops where a massive ‘viaducto’ carried the road, these could be a mile in length and I hate to think how high.  All were very un-nerving as the cross winds shook and blew us around, at over 3 meters tall, Della seemed to catch the wind like a sail.  I tried to take comfort that all the articulated lorries were coping, so I could too, nevertheless, I only relaxed after I got off these feats of engineering.

Passing Granada and heading ever downhill, soon the temperatures improved and we even recorded 18C as we neared the coast, this dropped to 15 by the time we reached the campsite in Torrox.  With many trees to supply shade in summer, we were glad they were bare to let in any sunshine, but as rain was forcast for the evening and over night we just got parked up and opened our bottle of Prosecco!

And so for our first day in Torrox, initial light drizzle soon disappeared, the sun came out and blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds. Bliss. We requested to move Della to a better position and after a tense half hour of manoeuvring on this very full site, we successfully relocated and now are two happy campers.

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Black Knight Beer Bread

Chris made us a beautiful loaf of bread using up the last of the dark beer from Ludlow Brewery which we had at our New Year’s Eve Party, (it had been frozen to bring with us).

We left it to proove and cooked it later, can’t wait to try it.

Soon we set off on a 30 minute stoll down to the sea and Torrox Costa promenade. With rolled up sleeves and sandals in temperatures of around 18C, it was so nice to have the sun and good temperatures after all that snow and freezing weather in the mountains. After more walking we soon located a small bar; yes it has to be done! Sitting there soaking up the rays and sipping our beers we were feeling very smug.

Remember to check out the map section to see our journey and where we are now.