Sep/Oct 19 France

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I am writing this in Jan 2020, as the blog was having issues whilst we were in France. I will have to content myself with a quick tour and a few photos.

After Freiburg we drove into France and stopped at Besancon. Sadly the weather was unpleasant so we did no more than a short stroll around the town. The highlight is the Citadelle but, that was up a lot of steps and too much for Clyde’s knee. As we stood at the bottom of the narrow flight of steps, a massive line of students came rushing down and we were almost swept away!

This town would be worth another visit as it clearly has a lot of history. Victor Hugo was born here in 1802 and Louis Pasteur studied and taught here for 3 years 1839 to 1842. There is more to enjoy in the surrounding area that we missed on this visit.

Road up to the Citadelle and the Cathedral

We did have a look in the Cathedral but it was disappointingly dull.

Our goal at this point was Monaco, and we pressed on southwards. Needing a stopover, we found a nice aire overlooking a lake at Nantua. The town is very small and many of the shops have closed, which seems a shame as it is in such a lovely location. Handily, there is a LIDL just up the road from the aire so we stocked up.

Hills as a backdrop
Very pretty little lake at Nantua
Nantua Palais de Justice

After one night we moved on and came upon another lovely lakeside aire. This one was at Treffort, south of Grenoble. It was a much bigger lake with a watersports centre. There were a lot of French families there enjoying the last weekend of the season. After 2 nights there, we could have stayed on without any facilities for free. However, we were on a mission to get to the south coast so we left the lovely lake and moved to Digne les Bains.

Lake view from our van

We drove through the spa town of Digne les Bains which is very attractive, and worth a return visit, and found the aire on the outskirts. It was a handy stopover for a night but a bit of a walk from the centre. We had a nice evening stroll along the river to stretch our legs.

After much research, we had realised that Monaco does not have campsites or aires. We looked at the map and decided to head for Cannes instead. We could always drive to Monaco another time. I had a sudden rush of efficiency and actually checked the ACSI guide for campsites that were still open. Most of them are closed at the end of September. The one we ended up on, Camping les Cigales, was a bit pricey as they only had a small number of ACSI pitches which were all full when we arrived. We bit the bullet and decided to stay on a luxury pitch in the sun for 2 nights and get some planning done. It was a pleasant walk to the beach, with a footpath along the river, if nothing else.

Our next stop was St Aygulf near Freyjus, after a lovely drive along the DN7.

Scenic stop on DN7
Great rock formations all around
Far reaching views to enjoy

After arriving at a campsite that was supposed to be open, but was not, we found a real gem. This was a holiday park but the touring pitches were separate and each had their own bathroom. We even had a proper patio and all for £15 a night! We quickly shared this news with our friends who were planning to join us for a couple of days somewhere. They arrived the next day and parked next to us. It was lovely to have a catch up and we enjoyed a walk through the nature reserve to the sea front where we had ice cream. Dinner was a combined effort that evening, we had bought frozen fish and chips in the local supermarket. It turned out that the packet, marked Fish and Chips, actually contained two pieces of fish and no chips. As we had bought a packet each, we had 8 pieces of fish and no chips for the four of us!! Oh how we laughed!

Fayance

After Sue and John left us, we had another day to enjoy and decided to visit the hilltop village of Fayance. It was a lovely drive through scenic countryside along a steep winding road, yellow on the map. The village was not too busy but had enough visitors to give it a buzz. We enjoyed a delicious citronade, from an artizan shop, outside in the sunshine before climbing up the steep steps to the viewpoint. The views all around were gorgeous and worth the climb.

One of the back streets on the way from the car park to the centre
Centre of the village
Steps up to the viewpoint
View out over the rooftops

Port Grimaud and St Tropez

Next stop on our list was Port Grimaud. We chose this as there was a campsite with a bus stop outside giving easy access to St Tropez and St Maxime. It was a pretty drive along the coast from St Aygulf to Port Grimaud. The campsite was only open for another week so we booked in for 6 nights and chose a pitch in the pine grove, near the shop and restaurant. It gave me a lovely view of anything happening!

St Tropez

St Tropez was smaller than I expected but very attractive in a slightly old fashioned way. It is described in the tourist guide as a seamen’s village. We walked around the harbour and up into the backstreets before enjoying our sandwiches perched on a bollard near the yachts. It was very busy with visitors and we were entertained by a yacht backing into a berth right in front of our bollard. There was lots of gesticulating from the crew as they manoeuvred the vessel into a very small space. At the end of the harbour is the Tour du Portalet, one of the town’s earlier fortifications. Passing through the Revelen Door you get an entirely different view of the town and the sea. Up through the narrow streets into the old town, there is a tree lined square that was pasture land for animals until the end of the 18th century. Nowadays it hosts a market on tuesdays and saturdays, and petanque is played daily.

La Place Des Lices
St Tropez backstreet
St Tropez harbour

More backstreets
Waterside of the old town from the Revelen Door

Port Grimaud

We walked to Port Grimaud from the campsite. It was quite a pleasant surprise as it is truly charming. We were more enchanted with Port Grimaud than with St Tropez. It is like a wee Venice, with canals and boats and lined with pretty little houses. As we passed an open fronted cafe, we were hailed by a couple we had met on the campsite and stopped to enjoy a welcome beer with them. They recommended scaling the tower and enjoying the view, but the tower was too narrow and spirally for me and too many steps for Clyde after walking there. We were happy wandering round the waterside looking at the boats before walking back to the campsite.

Boats at Port Grimaud
Church at Port Grimaud
Pretty square by the harbour

We caught the bus into St Maxime which has a lovely waterfront and old town. It was a nice place to relax by the water in the sun and stroll along the promenade.

Coffee on the prom at St Maxime

Our stay on the campsite was now coming to and end. The campsite was closing for the Winter. We went for a lovely meal at the restaurant, a few yards away from the van, chatted to a member of staff from Scotland and got the low down on what campsite staff do when the site closes. The Scottish gent was off to Greece for a few weeks, recharging his batteries ready for the season to start in 2020.

We were now on a homeward trajectory. Not many campsites open on our route but we were more than happy with the aires. We drove through the Camargue and stopped overnight at Palavas Les Flots, near Montpelier. Next stop was at an eco site at Royat in the hills behind Clermont Ferrand, really tranquil and unspoilt but with fabulous showers and toilets in a log cabin. We needed another place to aim for and as we had not been to Bourges, we thought it would be a good place to break our journey.

Bourges

We arrived in Bourges after lunch and found the aire in our book. Unfortunately, there are building works taking over the aire. There were a few spaces to park and a couple of other campervans there, so we parked up and walked into the centre to the Tourist Information office. We were advised that the aire has been moved to the other side of Bourges, about 1.5 km away. After much thought we decided to stay put overnight and visit the cathedral in the morning before moving on Northwards. We picked up a walking tour map and did some of it before returning to the van. Once the builders left for the day, it was remarkably peaceful. There were a handful of motorhomes keeping us company. It rained heavily overnight and we got up to a grey and miserable day.

Not to be denied the purpose of our visit, we donned our waterproofs and walked into the centre to follow the rest of the walking tour and visit the cathedral which is renowned for it’s beauty. Entrance was free and we were suitably impressed by the fabulous stained glass and flying buttresses that are a feature of this large building.

Side view from the gardens

Cathedral seen from Bourbonnoux
Tremendous chandeliers!
Bright colours, even on a dull day
Stunning blue glass
Backstreet view of Cathedral
Quaint street in the heart of the old town
Archeveche Garden, behind Cathedral
Palais Jacques Coeur

We spent two hours in central Bourges and got absolutely soaked. We were wet through our clothes and were grateful to get back to our cosy van and dry off! However, we had really appreciated the beauty of St Etienne Cathedral and the charming Medieval centre.

Next day we drove to La Ferte St Aubin, and stopped on the free aire for the night. We stretched our legs with a walk into the village and back along the river. We have been there before and visited the chateau so we knew we would have a peaceful night. I looked at the map to see where we might go tomorrow and realised we were only 3 hours drive from Giverney, home of Monet. As he is one of my heroes, it was a foregone conclusion that we would visit. Motorhomes are allowed to stay overnight in a specially designated area of the car park, which is extremely reasonable and not often to be found back home.

We arrived at Giverney in the early afternoon and in the rain. We decided to wait until the morning for our visit to the gardens in the hope we might get a drier day. We had made the right decision as we were treated to a glorious sunny Autumn day. The gardens speak for themselves, as you can see how Monet’s paintings reflect his love of nature and his garden. The views over the countryside, the flower borders and the water are all evocative of his art.

I was so excited to be here and as we entered the gardens, I shed tears. It was such an emotional experience for me to be here where one of my most influential artists had lived, loved and worked.,

Monet’s house
View from the front steps
Countryside view
Amazing borders in lovely delicate colours
Shades of green
That lake and bridge!

The famous bridge
Winding paths
Bridge glimpse
Autumn by the lake
Reflections
Love the Autumn colours

For me, this was the absolute highlight of this Autumn trip. I would love to visit in the Spring to see those gardens dressed in delicate Spring colours.

We were now on our way to Dieppe for our journey back across the Channel to home. Next trip starting mid November.

Jun 19 More Suffolk

Whilst staying at Kessingland, we made sure we had seen plenty of coast. The Suffolk coast is truly lovely with lots of history and wild unspoilt beaches. I think it is overlooked by many as it is not dramatic and it is a bit off the beaten track.

Dunwich

The village of Dunwich was swallowed up by the sea in the early part of the 12th century. Until then, it was one of the largest ports in England with a population of 4000. Since Roman times, the sea has taken 2km of coastline and reduced it to a population of 100. 12 churches were submerged and legend has it that you can sometimes hear the church bells ringing (nonsense, of course!) There is a very interesting museum explaining the history of the area and showing artifacts from Roman times. We also visited the current church which was built in the grounds of the old Leper Hospital.

Dunes at Dunwich
Remains of the 12th century church of St James. Became the chapel that served the Leper Hospital built on this site

Walberswick

Walberswick was also a busy port in Medieval times, known for its boat building industry. It still has a harbour along the river up to Blythburgh. There is a pretty village green and protected sand dunes leading to the beach. This whole area is a AONB with salt water marshes and reed beds supporting numerous species of birds, and otters.

Walberswick
Walberswick harbour
Walberswick harbour
Salt marshes

Snape Maltings

Snape Maltings is known for its music events championed by Benjamin Britten. The Maltings house a theatre, shops and galleries. They are surrounded by a huge expanse of reed beds and access to a beautiful unspoilt coastal walk. I was also impressed by the sculptures, one by Henry Moore.

Snape Maltings
Walkway across the reed beds
River at Snape
Coastal countryside
Boats alongside the maltings
Sculpture alongside the reed beds
Henry Moore sculpture

Thorpeness

Thorpeness was our next stopping point. It is known for its lakes which were dug out by hand in 1911 to create a Peter Pan type of place. The spoil was used to make islands which were planted with trees and shrubs. It now looks completely natural and you can hire boats to go exploring. I can remember doing just that, as a teenager, with friends.

Thorpeness lake

Jun 19 Essex and Suffolk

Whilst we awaited further action on our sinking floor, we abandoned the family again and set off to Essex and Suffolk. As it was a while ago now, I have selected a few pictures and will keep the commentary brief.

I grew up in Suffolk, in the small village of Risby, near Bury St Edmunds. We had occasional trips to the coast and visiting relatives in neighbouring Essex, so the countryside was still familiar to me. I have not stayed in the region for a huge number of years so it was a lovely treat for me to visit a few old haunts, and some new places.

First stopping point was Colchester. This is the oldest garrison town in UK, dating back to Roman times. We stayed on a small farm campsite and got the bus into Colchester. We did not pay the £20 required to enter the castle but, the walk through the grounds to the river below was very pleasant. I walked to the old Priory whilst Clyde reposed amongst the tourists in the castle grounds.

Colchester Castle
Entrance to Colchester Castle
Ruined Priory
Arches still standing
More of the Priory
Old Roman wall behind Colchester Castle
Gardens behind Colchester Castle

On the way to Colchester we spent a few hours in Coggeshall, as there is a lovely old National Trust house to visit. Paycocke’s House is on the High Street and has a delightful old English garden. The little town is very quaint and I was delighted to find some books I had been looking out for, in the local charity shop.

Back of Paycockes House
Paycockes House at Coggeshall
Gardens at Coggeshall NT house – Paycockes

Whilst in the area, we had a day out on Mersea Island. It was a most attractive area accessed across a causeway and overlooking the Blackwater and Colne estuaries. We stopped on the sea front and had coffee at a small cafe after a lovely walk through a nature reserve across the shingle. There are lots of houseboats here and fishing boats plying their trade.

Beach at West Mersea
Mersea Island views
One of many house boats at West Mersea

After a lovely relaxing few days in Essex, we moved up coast to Suffolk and our first port of call was Aldeburgh.

Aldeburgh is a very popular town on the coast but we were able to park the van on the seafront for a very reasonable charge. We walked along the front and enjoyed the very fresh air! Wrapped up against the chill of a June day, we paid a king’s ransom for some fresh mackerel pate at one of the seafront fish stalls. It was worth it as it was delicious.

Aldeburgh was the home of Benjamin Britten and is the centre of the International Aldeburgh Festival of Arts. There are plenty of lovely old buildings and shops to amble around.

On the beach at Aldeburgh
Old town hall
Old fishing boats on Aldeburgh beach

After Aldeburgh, we found our way to Kessingland where we had booked a proper campsite. It was a good move as the weather changed, the sun shone, and the site was lovely. We spent a day local and walked down to the beach for a cuppa overlooking the sea, then had a day out at Southwold. The bus there went from outside the campsite, so not worth taking the van. We had a lovely day there; it is so typically English, with beach huts, a pier and a town centre with little shops and a lighthouse.

Southwold promenade views
Southwold beach huts
Southwold pier
Pier at Southwold

What a fabulous few days and there were more to come……..

Apr/May 19 England Again

Our plan to prepare for a May trip to Scandinavia was now in question due to the increasing delapidation of the van floor. We had to take the van to SMC on 21 Mar for them to look at the floor and send photos to Globecar for advice. A fix was agreed and we returned on 1 Apr for the work to be carried out. Unfortunately, when they started work they discovered a considerable amount of water under the floor and had to refer back to Globecar. Sadly, we took the van away and decided to do a bit of travelling in England whist we awaited news.

Firstly we had a good family catch up. A lovely day was spent at our very own Stokes Bay with Suzanne and children.

Helpful Grandma
Small bods on the beach
Big beach, small girl!

After a wonderful day, we had tea at “The Cocked Hat” in Gosport. The children got their pyjamas on and cleaned their teeth in the ‘van, then set off home. Sylvie’s favourite memory of the day was cleaning her teeth in the ‘van! Aren’t children wonderful?!

Next day, we set sail for Hereford. We had stayed at a campsite in Moorhampton when I was still working, and we decided it would be a good spot for a bit more exploration. We plotted a scenic route and took the day to get there. It was an interesting experience getting ourselves through Hereford, but we made it after a couple of detours, and were rewarded with a beautiful sunny evening overlooking some lovely Herefordshire countryside.

View from Moorhampton campsite
Herefordshire hills lit up by the vibrant yellow rape

On monday we caught the bus to Llandrindod Wells. It was a very pretty, if expensive, journey through Herefordshire and then into Wales. Llandrindod Wells is an old Victorian Spa town which became popular when the railway arrived in 1864, enabling well to do Victorians to visit the fledgeling spa. The town prospered and became a rival to many of the more fashionable spas and resorts across the border in England.

The town is no longer as attractive but, it still has some fine Victorian buildings, two interesting museums and the rather lovely Rock Park. We walked through the Rock Park with its arboretum and drinking basin, and enjoyed the sense of times past. I didn’t take any pictures as it was a bit dull and I couldn’t seem to get any good views.

We only had a quick visit to Hereford itself on this trip as we have been there before. It is an attractive town centre with black and white buildings and a lovely cathedral that boasts the Magna Carta and a chained library. Well worth a visit.

Whilst at Moorhampton we took a day to drive around the Brecon Beacons and enjoy the scenery. We also stopped off for lunch at Hay on Wye which is famous for its many bookshops and the book festival. It is a charming little town with lots of independent arty and crafty shops as well as tea rooms and bookshops.

Following a few weeks in the bosom of our extensive family, in Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire, we needed another change of scene. We had taken the opportunity of getting medical appointments whilst in Gosport and Clyde was booked in for an assessment on his knee, which is now very painful. That is an ongoing process which will ultimately result in another operation.

We didn’t want to go too far from Gosport, so we decided on a trip to Dorset and booked ourselves into a campsite at Moreton, which is a small village quite near to Dorchester. Moreton was the home of TE Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lt Col TE Lawrence was a British Army officer renowned for his liaison role during the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916-18. He lived at Clouds Hill, until his death in an accident in 1935. Clouds Hill is now a National Trust property nearby. His grave is in the cemetery in Moreton.

TE Lawrence grave in Moreton graveyard

Moreton village was a 2 mile walk from the campsite and has a lovely tea room, a botanic garden and a picturesque river. The church is known for its amazing engraved windows, the work of Sir Laurence Whistler. We were very impressed by the windows and felt it had been worth the 4 mile round trip at Clyde’s slow and painful pace.

River Frome in Moreton
Long walkway across the River Frome
Inside Moreton church
One of the engraved windows at St Nicholas’ church, Moreton
Engraving of the universe on window at St Nicholas’ church, Moreton
More beautiful engravings

We also went into Dorchester for a look around the town. We were able to catch the train from just by the campsite, which made a nice change. The town is most closely associated with Thomas Hardy and indeed, is the “Casterbridge” featured in his novels. It is another attractive small town with some lovely old buildings and the river Frome running by.

We had a few relaxing days at Moreton and I managed a couple of very long walks with my Nordic poles. We had to go back to Portsmouth for Clyde to have an MRI scan so had a break in our travels and went to visit some old friends and got the van serviced.

Mar 19 – Return to UK

We returned to the UK on 15 Mar as the problem with the floor in the van needed attention. We now have a considerable dip in our floor with a spongy area. This is almost certainly due to damp. As the van is under warranty, we had to cut short our travels in order to make yet another visit to SMC at Newark!

We gave ourselves a week to get through France as the weather was not especially wonderful.

After our lovely relaxing stay on the campsite near San Sebastian, we wanted to stock up on wine before we crossed the border into France. I had a look online and identified a Lidl that seemed to be more or less en route. Well, it was but, it involved squeezing the van down some narrow streets lined with cars to discover that it was a very small store and it was closed for lunch! Rather a disappointing waste of time that delayed our journey to Bordeaux.

We had a long and damp journey to Bordeaux and the icing on the cake was the terrible holdups on the ring road around the city. After making an anxious call to the campsite to explain in my best French, that we were were still on our way, we arrived in the gathering gloom at 1800. The reception was still open thank goodness, and we joined the two other campervans on site. I had booked us in for 2 nights so we could get the bus into Bordeaux on the Saturday. Unfortunately it was such a miserable day, we did not venture off the site and wished we had moved on sooner.

Sunday was still damp and gloomy but we headed off towards Poitiers. I had identified a Camping Car Park at a place called St Cyr just north of Poitiers. It was a bit hard to find but when we did, it was in a lovely location near a lake and nature reserve. I had to register for a Pass Etap card in order to access the camping car park. I was a bit stressed by this time but, it was quite simple in the end and I now have an account and a card which is really easy to use. This is a new organisation for camping cars and the sites are apparently, all at beautiful locations. It was 9 euros for the night with electric, which we were very happy with. The weather had let up a bit and I had a very pleasant evening stroll by the lake. I was entertained by an otter which I viewed from a hide and it lifted my spirits.

Lake at St Cyr
Nature reserve at St Cyr

The next day we moved on northwards and after a 4 hour drive through the countryside, and some lovely typically French villages, we ended up on a peaceful aire at Courville Sur Eure. It was a bright sunny day, a bit windy, but very pleasant. The aire is alongside a municipal campsite that opens in May. The river runs alongside the park behind the aire and there is a small village with a square and some shops. It was closed of course, as it was monday, so no vin for Clyde!

Waterwheel at the mill near Courville sur Eure.

On the Tuesday we went for it and headed for Dieppe. We had a few deviations due to roadworks and therefore we spent much of the day travelling. We finally arrived in Dieppe and found a nice spot on the seafront aire. By now it was very windy and the waves were really impressive. We had decided to spend a day in Dieppe before catching the early ferry on 15th Mar. It was a bit of a dismal day on the Wednesday but, we did a bit of shopping and enjoyed walking along the beach with the locals marvelling at the rough seas. The evening was spent in the van with the wind howling around and rain lashing down. It was not so exciting next day when the ferry ran an hour and a half late and took an hour longer to make it across the Channel! It was so rough we could not stand up and the shop was closed. So boring!!

Stormy seafront at Dieppe
A few brave souls on the beach!

And so ended our Winter tour for 2018/19. Little did we know what trouble we were due to encounter trying to get the van fixed!! More of that later.

Mar 19 Bilbao and San Sebastian

We went to Bilbao in order to visit the Guggenheim Museum and on the day we visited we were lucky to have beautiful sunny weather.  It is important to have the brightness as it is the reflections that really make the most of this extraordinary building.  It was completed in 1997 and still looks fresh and new.  The internal structure is as important as the external for impact value.  We were underwhelmed by the exhibitions inside but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Sitting outside with a cooling beer in the 21° sun was a fitting end to our visit.

Curvaceous beauty
So many curves reflecting in the moat
Silver ball tree
Looking back towards the bridge reflecting in the museum walls
View across the river from the Guggenheim
Central architecture
Inside looking up

Outside the museum is a wonderful bridge which adds another colour to the reflections and the whole thing is then reflected in a modern building across the street. A large spider sculpture alongside the river is a contrast to the smooth curves of the museum and there is a bunch of large coloured lollipops to give another dimension.

Striking bridge
Looking back towards the bridge reflecting in the museum walls
Large spider sculpture is very eyecatching
Spider with impact
Guggenheim and bridge reflected in modern building across the road
Colourful piece of art outside the museum

When the museum was inaugurated a statue of a puppy was part of the decoration and was intended as a temporary feature.  However, the Bilbainos clamoured for it to be kept and it is now a permanent fixture. The statue is covered with growing flowers and manages to have tremendous expression. We were very impressed with the design and the well maintained flowers.

Puppy

The other building that we appreciated was the 1930s Mercado de la Ribera.  The curved stairways and stained glass were amazing, and it has obviously had a facelift as it was clean and bright and modern.  There were a large number of fish, meat and veg stalls selling their wares in the morning.  On the ground floor there were three restaurants that were still open when the market was closed.

Front view of the 1930s Mercado
Unusually fabulous glass in this 1930s building
1920s buildings enhanced by the beautiful glass windows in the Mercado
Art deco staircase in Mercado

The old town here is a good place to wander around with plenty going on.  There were some lovely old buildings such as the cathedral and the theatre but we just appreciated them from the outside and saved ourselves for the main event.

Glorious theatre
Example of artwork decorating the archways

The camperstop we stayed on for 2 nights is located on a hill overlooking the city.  The view from the van was quite the most stunning we have had with the city lights spread out in a panorama below.  It was even more exciting when the wild winds started blowing on our second night and rocked the van from side to side!

Evening view of Bilbao from our eyrie on the aire
Daytime view over the city

San Sebastian

After Bilbao, we were looking forward to a town with a difference and we were not disappointed.  San Sebastian is an elegant seaside resort with a lovely old town, beautiful squares and buildings, and a charming promenade that follows the curve of the bay.  There is a long and deep sandy beach leading to the rolling waves, which was in use by swimmers and surfers when we were there but must be a magnet for families in the warmer weather.  On the promenade there is a formal garden with a grand old carousel dating from 1900.  It is beautifully decorated with copies of old Masters which is quite unusual.

Grand Victorian lampposts on the promenade
View from the prom
Expansive beach
Beautiful sheltered harbour and bay
Sweep of the bay with statue in the distance
Ornate 1900 carousel
Statue dominating the town and harbour
Other side of the hill
Town bridge

PICS

This is a place to drift around, shop in the elegant shops, and sip coffee or wine in the squares.  A very lovely end to our time in Spain. 

Beautiful mouldings
Interesting sculpture on this old building!
More sculpture detail
Most impressive front entrance
Elegant side street with fabulous church at the end
Good example of the elegant Georgian buildings
Park in front of Civil building
Lots of these ornate doorways in San Sebastian
Art Nouveau Band stand

Once again we had been lucky with the weather, as it had been wet and blowy the day before our visit and was very wild and stormy overnight and into the next day following our visit.  Thus we headed on into France and the long trek up to Dieppe.

Mar 19 Picos de Europa

After Salamanca, we really needed to get ourselves up to the north coast.  We stopped overnight at Leon on a handy free aire and then moved on up to the coast.  The journey took us through some gorgeous scenery as it is a mountainous region.

Picos journey
Road through the Picos
Picos mountains
Snow tops in the Picos

We had read that Cudillero, on the coast west of Oviedo, is like a Greek fishing village.  This appealed to us and so we had decided to detour slightly from the obvious route to Bilbao and give it a look. 

I had not checked whether the campsites were actually open and so was horrified to discover, at the locked gates, that I had made a bit of a mistake!  A quick look on Search for Sites led us to the harbour where you can park overnight.  In fact, we were happier with that option as we had a ringside view of the little harbour and the village.  It was a most picturesque spot and was divine when the sun set and the lights came on.

Cudillero Harbour
Cudillero from the harbour
Cudillero stacked up!
More Cudillero
Cudillero Lighthouse
Harbour view

The next stop was inland again into the Picos Mountains.  We stopped for the night at a small town called Cangas de Onis.  It has a pretty river running through, and a Roman bridge over the rocks.  All very unexpected for Spain.

Roman Bridge
Under the Roman Bridge
Cobbled walkway over Roman bridge
River at Cangas
Lots of these little huts in the Picos

Onwards into the mountains, we stopped on a campsite so I could do some washing.  The setting was glorious with mountain views and a babbling stream.  Whilst the washing dried, we followed the advice of the lady in the tourist information at Cangas, and drove to Las Arenas.  The drive along the AS114 was fabulous with mountains and gorges.  After a lunch stop we went up a narrow road to the funicular railway at Poncebos.  It wasn’t open but again, the views were stunning.

Picos on AS114
Mountain views
Green pastures
Mountain stream
Arenas
Road to Poncebos
Picos mountains
Poncebos
Gorge at Poncebos

It would be lovely to spend more time exploring this area but we were on a bit of a timescale now so we moved on to Santillana del Mar.  Santillana is a medieval village, which made a nice change and the free overnight parking was within a ten minute walk of the village.  It is a bit touristy with lots of little shops selling gifts and souvenirs but also some nice artisan shops selling local products. We had 2 nights here before moving on to Bilbao.  The countryside all around the area is very Alpine and it was so nice to see green fields and grazing cattle.

Santillana scenes

Fields opposite the parking area
Farmland near Santillana
Wash house
Main square
Council offices
Outside council offices
Main church
Church from the other side
Road to the Monastery
Outside the art gallery
Busy shopping street
Apartment block
Attractive old stonework
Countryside beyond the village

Feb 19 Salamanca

Salamanca is another must see place if you are in this region of Spain.  The lady who owns the campsite that we stayed on advised me that it is very much like Cambridge.  It has a large University population, lots of lovely buildings and narrow streets and a young atmosphere.  We were inclined to agree.

Rather than dash about trying to visit all the historic buildings, we mostly drifted around the busy and historic streets enjoying the old architecture.

One of many monasteries
Courtyard detail
Galleried courtyard
Shop side beautifully decorated with Plaza Mayor image

The Plaza Mayor is one of the best we have seen.  It was full of people, the buildings and arches are beautiful and it was a great place to sit with a coffee and soak up the atmosphere. 

Busy Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor arches
Plaza Mayor entrance. One of four

We had also decided to visit two museums for a change, the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco and the Museo de La Automocion de Salamanca.

The Art Deco museum was full of lovely pieces of sculpture, pictures and furniture from the period. The glass and porcelain was gorgeous and there were a few fabulous Lalique pieces. The building itself was built by a wealthy resident and was a true reflection of the period. It was not possible to take any photos inside, which was a shame, as the glass ceiling is stunning.

Art Deco frontage
Front gate of Art Deco museum

Both of these were located beyond the new and old cathedrals towards the river Tormes. 

River Tormes
Looking back to the city from the Roman bridge

Along the way we also admired the Casa de Conches, looked in wonder at the madly ornate Edificio Historico de la Universidad and the romantic gardens.

Side entrance to Cathedral
Front of old University
Cathedral
Cathedral detail
Looking towards the old town from the romantic garden
Gates into Romantic Garden
House of Shells. Las Conchas

Scattered around the city in various squares are some rather amusing and quirky statues, the work of Xu Hongfei.  No idea why, but they were certainly a talking point amongst the visitors.

Jolly ladies
Ooer Mrs!
In the Plaza Mayor. Don’t try this at home!

There was so much to see that we spent two days in the city. On the second day (a Sunday), the bus dropped us a distance away from the centre as there was a road race taking place. This stumped us a bit to start with and we ended up walking further than intended. The automotive museum was our target and it was a close run thing to get there with enough time to see everything before it closed. Once again, we were disappointed that the museums close for a three hour break in the middle of the day. However, we are getting wise now and try to manage our visiting times accordingly.

We ended our visit with hot chocolate and fartons in the Plaza Mayor where a group of youngsters from some other country, were performing and trying to sell their DVD.  They were very entertaining but we did not buy the DVD.

Feb 19 Segovia

You hear about Segovia and people say “oh you must visit Segovia, it is beautiful”.  So, we found a free overnight parking site close to the town, by the bullring, and went to check it out. 

Bullring

We were knocked sideways when we took our first walk into the town alongside the Roman Aqueduct!  The pictures say it all:

Start of the wall
View of cathedral through the arches
Walk into town
View from the top
Looking the other way
Back on the ground
Town side of the wall

I can’t resist a few facts! The 167 arches are made of granite from Guadarrama and are made up of unmortared, brick-like ashlars joined by means of an ingenious force equilibrium. 

Max height of bridge: 28.10 metres

Total no of pillars: 120

Total no of arches: 167

The Devil from Segovia

According to legend, sloth rather than Rome was the real mother of the Aqueduct.

A young lady who worked as a water carrier, fed up with carrying her pitcher through the steep streets of the city, made a pact with the Devil; he would keep the woman’s soul if, before the cock crowed the following dawn, he had found a means for water to reach her dwelling.

Conscious of her guilt, the young lady began praying incessantly to avoid the loss of her soul.  Meanwhile a storm broke out and the devil started working frantically.  Suddenly, the cock crowed and the devil gave a terrifying shriek: for the sake of one more stone he had yet to place, he had lost the girl’s soul.

The girl confessed her deed to the people of Segovia who, after sprinkling the arches with holy water to wipe out any traces of sulphur, happily accepted the new addition to the city.

It is said that the holes which can be seen even today are the devil’s footprints.

Today there is a sculpture of the devil taking a selfie in front of the aqueduct, in tribute to the legend.

After exploring all aspects of the wall we walked through the town streets enjoying the other buildings and finally the Plaza Mayor. We had coffee sitting in the sun then found a bench to sit and eat our sandwiches.

Lunch spot
Knock out Cathedral
Back end of cathedral
Square with statue

On our second day there, the weather was a lot brighter and we walked on up through the Jewish Quarter to the Alcazar.  It was quite a climb and we had been along the outer road first to get the better views of the city wall.  I left Clyde having a beer at a small pavement café part of the way up and pushed on to see the view from the other side.  I did not go into the Alcazar but the outside was worth a look.

Having satisfied my curiosity, I walked back down the hill and joined Clyde for a beer.  We were then joined by an English couple who live in Spain, and had a pleasant half hour chatting in the slowly setting sun.  Most convivial.

We will now be those people who say “oh you must visit Segovia, it is beautiful”.

Feb 19 Madrid

Madrid was now within reach and we had booked a night in a hotel for Clyde’s birthday.  The hotel Casuel del Teatro is in a side street a short walk from the centre of Madrid and it is located in a building protected by its high artistic, historical and architectural value.  It was inaugurated in 1925 by the Madrid architect Antonio Rubio.  It was influenced by Neoclassicism, with oil paintings on the façade that give expression to the building.  Inside it has high ceilings, mouldings and the original iron staircase balustrade.  All the rooms are decorated to celebrate an aspect of theatre and ours was no exception. 

Breakfast was taken in the rooftop room with views of the buildings around.

Our stay in Madrid was only for two days and we made the most of being centrally located to explore the old city and to wander around in the evening soaking up the atmosphere.  Usually, we have made our way back to our van by early evening and miss the lively evening scene. 

On our first day, we went to have a look at the Palacio Real, the Cathedral, the Plaza Mayor and the Opera.  We walked 6 miles around this area and took in as many of the lovely buildings and squares as we could.  After an evening stroll around the centre, we decided to eat at the small local restaurant that is located next to the hotel.  As ever, it was frequented by locals and was extremely good value.

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Looking out from Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor Arches
Palace
Cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral in full view

Lots of beautiful buildings around the centre. I can’t remember what they all were. Here is a selection.

This was near the hotel
Jardins de Sabatini

On our second day, after a hearty continental breakfast, we walked across to the Parque del Buen Retiro.  On the way we happened upon the Congreso de Los Diputados, which houses the historical documents from the adoption of the Constitution, from 1812 to 1978.  It was free to enter so we thought we would have a quick look.  It was surprisingly interesting and so an hour was whiled away with no effort.  The next unexpected pleasure was in the Plaza de Cibeles.  The Palacio de Cibeles was designed at the start of the 19th century as the headquarters of the National Postal Service.  It took 12 years to build and was inaugurated on 14 Mar 1919.  At the time it was known as Communications Cathedral and for 100 years it was the nerve centre of a powerful and effective communications system that covered all of Spain.  It was municipalised in 2003 and the process started to turn it into the seat of Madrid City Council and of a new cultural centre.  CentroCentro opened in 2011 and is quite an impressive building.  We had coffee, at vast expense, in the cafeteria but we were too mean to pay for the rooftop visit.

Pedestrian walkway towards the Communication Centre

Our last few hours were spent at the Retiro Park which has lakes, glasshouse, band stand, statues and lots of gardens.  It was a great place to enjoy people watching and to relax.  There was an exhibition of modern art in the Palacio de Velazquez and in the Palacio de Cristal which we were able to visit for free.    

Statues in Retiro Park and Clyde
Grand fountain in the park
Retiro lake
Glass House in Retiro Park

Having walked another few miles, we were happy to get on the train back to Aranjuez.

Feb 19 Aranjuez

After Toledo we wanted to visit Madrid and had decided to stay outside the city and travel in by train.  There is a campsite at Aranjuez, which is 40 km from Madrid, and there is a handy train station in the town.  We were totally unprepared for the unexpected charm of Aranjuez itself.  The campsite backs onto the river Tajo and it is a 10 minute walk from the site, over the river and into the Jardin de Principe to the town.  There are also some very impressive public squares that seem so out of place in what is really quite a modest town.

Aranjuez was built to serve the Palace which was mostly developed by Queen Isabel II.  The palace dates from the 18th century and is not of any particular architectural importance.  However, there are numerous rooms of great opulence that are open to the public for a fee.  You are not allowed to take photos so I can’t include any pictures. We were knocked sideways by the awful porcelain room.  It is completely covered in decorative ware from the factory that used to stand in Madrid’s Retiro Park.

Postcard of the porcelain room
Palace

Main square in front of Palace

The walk to the town from the campsite takes you through the Jardin del Principe, which is very attractive, even in Winter.  It also contains the museum which houses a selection of Royal barges from the past.  Entry was included in the Palace ticket and we were pleased we had gone in as they were truly splendid.  The Palace overlooks the Jardin de Isla, with its fountains, statues and peacocks.  Both gardens are open to the public for free.  The fountains were turned off when we were there as it was still winter, but the statuary is still impressive.

Palace overlooks the gardens
Switched off fountain
View of Palace from gardens
Statue of boy with a thorn in his foot

Aranjuez is mostly used as a stopping point en route to other places but it is a worthy destination in its own right.

Feb 19 Toledo

Next on our list for our journey north was Toledo.  We had been recommended to stay at Camping El Greco as it is very convenient for getting a bus or walking into town.  Again, the site was quiet but there were a handful of other campers there.  We were very entertained by a lovely Welshman, Rob, who managed to freeze his washing by hanging it over a hedge to dry overnight.  Temperatures have been zero or lower at night since we left the south.  There was bread to be had at reception in the morning if you were quick.  With so few visitors, he only ordered in a handful of loaves so I felt triumphant when I managed to get my hands on one.

We spent 2 days exploring Toledo which we found very appealing.  As you approach the city, it appears before you with the cathedral dominating the scene.  The whole city has the status of a National Monument and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It sits on a rocky mound and every available inch has been built upon with churches, synagogues, mosques and houses piled up in a spiral of cobblestoned streets. 

As with all the old cities, Toledo was originally captured by the Romans in 192 BC, taken by the Visigoths, and then the Moors arrived in 712.  Moors, Jews and Mozarabes (Christians subject to Moorish rule) lived together here in relative equality to make Toledo the most important northern outpost of the Muslim Emirates.  All these influences can be seen at every turn and it is enough to wander around the streets of the city admiring the views.

We visited the cathedral which is one of the most beautiful we have seen.  The colours, the art (some El Greco pieces) and the amazing statuary, were all incredible.

Chapel ceiling
Cloisters
Painting of a giant in the cathedral
Art gallery
El Greco painting in the cathedral art gallery
Art gallery ceiling
Pictures of cardinals through history
Imagery and statuary making such an impact
This ceiling statuary is like nothing we have ever seen!

The next day we visited the Jewish Quarter.  The views from the city wall here were lovely, as were those on the main road into Toledo from the campsite.

Loved this statue on the road into Toledo
Gateway on road into the city

On our list of places to visit was the church of Santo Tomé which houses the famous painting by El Greco, “The Burial of the Lord of Orgaz”.  Clyde thought it was a bit gloomy, but I enjoyed seeing such a well executed painting.  I even bought a postcard which is now upsetting Clyde nightly from its place opposite the bed!  No picture here I am afraid as it was forbidden to take any in the church.  El Greco being the adopted son of Toledo, there is also a museum, but we decided that the church and the paintings in the cathedral, had satisfied my El Greco requirements.

Postcard of the famous painting

Another place we visited was the synagogue of Santa Maria La Blanca.  It is a feast of Moorish style pillars in white and gold.

There was so much more to see and enjoy in Toledo. Most of the old buildings have been restored and preserved and there are more museums than you can ever hope to visit. There were plenty of Chinese tourists having a jolly good attempt at it!

Lovely curved church

Feb 19 Extramadura Wanderings

After Caceres, we needed a break from old towns so we headed inland to the less developed parts of the Extramadura.  It is a very large area and we only scratched the surface but, we enjoyed the change of scenery and the lack of civilisation.  There was a campsite in the Nacional Geopark that looked appealing, so we turned up at Castenor de Ibor to spend a lonely night with lovely views of extensive olive groves.  The campsite was newly opened and there were no other campers yet.  We had a couple of hours sitting in the sun with our books, a stroll into the rather uninspiring village (no bars open!) and then a peaceful night.  No barking dogs, just a creaky donkey and an enthusiastic cockerel to break the silence.

Driving on through various Sierras, we stopped for a coffee break by a large and scenic reservoir – Embalse de Valdecanas, on the EX118.  We were surprised to discover columns from a Roman Temple that had been moved there to be preserved in 1931 when the reservoir was created.  The Roman temple was called Los Mormoles. Known as La Cilla because it was last used as a granary.  It was a grand sight and added something extra to the very attractive reservoir.

We were heading for another campsite that was supposedly nestling alongside an attractive river.  When we got there, along a dirt track that followed a pretty stream, it was undergoing “works” so we decided not to stop and took to the road again.  This time we managed to find some even more scenic roads through Sierra Gredos.  The CC94 was especially narrow and twisty, and made more exciting by meeting a bus coming towards us on a bend!  On this road we found a surprise at a convenient resting place.  There was a group of stone figures standing on a platform overlooking the steep valley.  The figures were all looking in different directions.  The information board defeated us a bit, but it seemed to be something to do with freedom from dictatorship.

We did not find anywhere we fancied stopping for the night along the way, so we spent another lonely night on a barely open campsite near the village of Hervas.

We were still enjoying the countryside and reservoirs, of which there are many in this region, so we moved again in the direction of Toledo and had a couple of nights at Cazalegas.  This was another campsite but this time overlooking a pretty reservoir where there were signs of life.  We were still the only campers until another British couple arrived for a night on their way south from Santander.  However, there was a very nice restaurant on site which attracted visitors from outside.  We enjoyed a large glass of wine at the bar and watched the world go by.  We had a nice couple of days relaxing here and enjoyed a walk along the shore and into the village.

The journey through this region was always interesting with plenty of olive groves and mountains to marvel at as we drove along. We only skimmed through and would find plenty to enjoy on another trip.

Mar 19 Moving towards home

After almost 5 months travelling outside the UK, we are slowly drifting northwards. By the end of next week we will be in France on our way to Dieppe.

We have been so busy visiting places and moving on, that I have completely neglected my blog. With no free wifi, limited data on our mobile wifi and little charge in our equipment due to a lack of electric, I have had the blog updates on the back burner. Hopefully, over the next few days I will manage to remedy the situation.

Jan 19 Caceres

Caceres is an old walled town in the Extramadura area of Spain. We stayed just outside on a campsite with a handy bus service.  We went into the town for one day and pottered around the deserted streets.  As it was a Monday, the museums and most places of interest were closed, but we saw enough to get a feel for the place.  The Plaza Mayor, which is just outside the gate into the old town, is enormous and we could imagine it in summer with all the restaurants busy with tourists.  We had a more sedate experience, coffee at a quiet café and our sandwiches sitting on a bench overlooking the square.

Here are a few pictures from the old town to whet your appetite. I have yet to meet anyone who has not raved about this place.

Looking across the Paza Mayor towards the walled city
Steps up to the Arco de Estrella
Main city entrance. Arco de Estrella
City wall
Cathedral of Santa Maria
Plaza de Santa Maria
The Con Catedral of Caceres
One of many palaces
1000 year old olive tree that is still alive!
Circular chapel in Palacio that houses an information centre
amazing decoration in a very small chapel
Iglesia de San Francisco Javier in Plaza de St Jorge
Small statue of dear old Jorge!
View from Town wall
Plaza de Las Valetas
Ceramic details on the balustrade
Ceramic gargoyle on the museum
Back of the museum
Old Jewish Synagogue

I am not sure if it was the quiet Monday feeling but, we didn’t really feel as bowled over as we had expected. It is undoubtedly a hugely historic and interesting place but we probably won’t visit again.

Jan 19 Seville

Our next stop was Seville.  We had heard that the marina at Puerto de Gelves was a good place to stay with a frequent bus service into Seville.  It was certainly a pleasant stopping place.  With the river Guadalquivir on one side and boats on the other, we were more than happy. 

Seville has been on our wish list for a long time and we were not disappointed when we finally got there.  It is a beautiful city with fabulous ornate buildings, picturesque squares and the most amazing gardens at Plaza Espana.  With the lovely Andalucian horses trotting through the streets with their carriages full of happy snappers (mostly Chinese!), street performers entertaining the visitors and students going about their daily business, there is a real buzz to the place.

Puerta de Jerez

The old city of Seville is famed for three great monuments at its centre, the Giralda Tower, the Catedral and the Alcazar.  The Catedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and was a most impressive sight.  We visited all three on day one and then the Plaza de Espana and the Setas on day two. 

Cathedral Images

Cathedral from the Tourist Information office
Cathedral courtyard with orange trees
Flying buttresses and ornate stonework
The cathedral is too big to fit in the picture. Look at the amazing Giralda Tower
Sheer scale is so impressive!
Massive columns
Tomb of Christopher Columbus
One of many ornate pilars
Monstrance
Splendid circular meeting room
One of the collection of treasures

The Giralda Tower is considered by some to be the most beautiful building in Seville.  It is named after the 16th century giraldillo, or weather vane, on its summit.  You can ascend to the bell chamber for a remarkable view of the city and glimpses of the Cathedral’s buttresses and statuary.  As someone who really dislikes spiral staircases, I was very happy with the inner construction.  The ascent is made up a series of 35 gently inclined ramps wide enough to allow two mounted guards to pass.

Giralda Tower and views from the tower

Beautiful Giralda Tower
Looking down from the Giralda Tower
Part way up the Giralda Tower. View of higher part of the Catedral
Bells at top of Giralda Tower

The site of the Alcazar has been occupied by rulers since the time of the Romans.  The great court of the Abbadids was built here under the cruel and ruthless al-Mutadid, who needed to house his harem of 800 women!  Later, under the Almohads, the complex was turned into a citadel, forming the heart of the town’s fortifications.  Parts of the Almohad walls survive, but the present structure of the palace dates almost entirely from the Christian period.  Whatever its main influences, it is another very ornate, beautifully tiled and over imbellished complex.  There are gardens and fountains to enjoy and a very welcome terraced cafeteria.

Alcazar Views

Alcazar Grounds

Underground swimming pool. Cool in the very hot summers

The entrance to the Parque de Maria Luisa was a short riverside walk from the bus and we were immediately impressed by its grandeur.  The park used to form part of the vast grounds of the Palacio de San Telmo.  The Palacio’s 19th century owner, the dowager duchess Maria Luisa, donated the park to the city in 1893, and they named it after her.  There are tree shaded avenues, ornamental pools and various pavilions to be found here.  With the horse drawn carriages bowling along the avenues, it was like stepping into an earlier era.

Shady pools
Ceramic pots even in the gardens
One of the many gorgeous Andalucian horses

The Plaza de Espana was designed as part of the Spanish Americas Fair.  It was to be the centrepiece of the fair, which was scuppered by the Wall Street crash in 1929.  It is a vast semi-circular complex with with fountains, monumental stairways and masses of ornamental tilework.  The plaza was used for the Spanish exhibit of industry and crafts and around the crescent are azulejo scenes representing each of the provinces.  We were bowled over by the splendour and exuberance of the plaza. 

Plaza de Espana Images

Mini canal provides opportunity for arched stairways and bridges
One of the Provincial tiled displays
Flamenco at the Plaza de Espana

The last excitement, if you discount the flamenco dancers providing entertainment along the way, was Las Setas.  We walked through the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter to the Plaza de La Encarnacion to visit the most modern of Seville’s attractions.  Las Setas took 7 years to build and is known locally as the mushroom (las setas), although its official name is Metropol Parasol.  It is a 150m long series of undulating wood-waffle flat topped mushroom structures on giant concrete pillars.  It is claimed by it’s German architect, Jurgen Mayer, to be the world’s largest timber construction.  For the princely sum of 3 euros each, we enjoyed the undulating walkway across the roof to the sky deck with stunning views across the city.

La Setas

On the Saturday, we were treated to an opera singer, brass ensemble, living statues and flamenco dancers along the streets and squares.  Having seen quite a bit of flamenco dancing for a donation in a hat, we decided against the very expensive venues on offer. 

Fab flamenco moves
Flamenco for free

Apart from these most obvious attractions we were impressed with the variety of architecture on offer and had a lovely time wandering around the streets looking at the buildings.

Bank of Spain
Palacio de San Telme

There is a lot more to see in Seville so we will probably visit again on another trip to Spain.

Jan 19 El Rocio

We had heard from a few people on our travels, that El Rocio was worth a visit. Once we were ready to move on from Jerez, we looked at the map and saw that El Rocio was well within our grasp. It is a small town in the Donana Parque Nacional, but it is a town with a difference! With its wide sandy streets and hitching posts in front of every house, it resembles a wild west film set.

All the buildings are white and yellow and surprisingly elegant

The largely empty buildings belong to 115 hermandades (brotherhoods), whose pilgrims converge on the town every Pentecost (Whitsunday) weekend for the Romería del Rocío, Spain’s largest religious festival. Around one million people converge on the town, many on horseback or in brightly decorated carriages in multi-coloured caravans that wind across the Andalusian countryside.

Elegant street
One of a large number of Hermandad buildings

On the weekend that we happened to be there, a more muted festival was taking place. There were huge numbers of people, many on horseback and in carriages, and dressed in western style clothing. The shops were open to sell western style clothing and souvenirs and were hubs of activity. The constant movement of horses and carriages was creating sand storms and our shoes and clothes were full of dust and sand. We rinsed the worst effects down with ice cream and beer!

One of the numerous bars
Melee of people and horses outside the church on Saturday
Side view of the church from the lake

In the houses along the streets, families and friends were eating, drinking and partying. Old friends were greeting each other cheerily and the atmosphere was uplifting.

Main street into the town
Horse drawn carriage on sandy street

On the Sunday, the different brotherhoods attended services at the Ermita de Nuestra Senora (The Church of Our Lady). After each service the congregation processed from the church accompanied by drums and music, and carrying banners and ornate staffs. It was not as colourful as the Romerio in Spring, but was a spectacle nonetheless.

One group leaving the church

We sneaked into the church at the end of service to see how it compared with the more formal places we usually visit. We were not disappointed as it is a beautiful place.

Nave view from the back of the church
Simple church with a fabulous altar screen
Detail on the altar screen
Simple nave roof
Slightly more sober side chapel

We could not help wondering how our churches at home would love to see such a turn out as this. We were not so sure about the horses and carriages parked outside!

This town is set in a national park and has a large lake complete with flamingoes and a variety of other birds. It also has some seriously mature olive trees left from the days when the area sported numerous olive groves. There are plenty of green areas around the town contrasting with the sandy streets. There are no paved areas at all and just a simple boardwalk along the townside of the lake.

Massive olive tree

The simplicity and uniqueness was an absolute delight. I read locally that we think of this place as being modelled on the Wild West whereas, in fact, it was settlers from here that took the lifestyle and architecture to the New World.

Jan 19 Jerez

We were so close to Jerez, the home of sherry, it seemed daft not to go there. We had heard about a handy camperstop, Autocaravanas Del Morada, and decided to give it a try. The first thing that happens when you arrive is that they give you a glass of sherry. How is that for a warm welcome?! It was very close to Jerez and had a bus stop just across the road.

Next day we were on the bus for an enormous sum of 1.20 euros each. We found the tourist information office and gathered some useful local knowledge. The advisor was extremely proud of his town and pointed us in the direction of the main attractions of which there are many. He advised us to partake of the free flamenco in Tabanco El Pasaje, rather than paying over the odds. The Tabanco is a small sherry bar in a narrow back street and there is a flamenco turn twice daily. We actually saved the treat for the next day and enjoyed a couple of glasses of sherry whilst being amazed at the male flamenco dancer!

Flamboyant male flamenco dancer in Jerez

The singer and guitarist were excellent and it was a different but enjoyable experience.

I digress. We started off our explorations by visiting the Alcazar and its surroundings. It is a grand building surrounded by a large park with views of Bodegas such as Sandeman, Tio Pepe and Gonzales Byass.

Alcazar
Alcazar entrance
View from Alcazar to the Cathedral
Interesting weathervane!

The cathedral was a bit pricey to enter and did not have a good write up in our Spain book so we spent the money on a glass of sherry in one of the delightful squares.

Cathedral
Lots of horse drawn carriages in Andalucia, and Jerez
Perfect setting for a glass of sherry

Warmed by the liquor, we wandered happily around the streets and admired the squares and buildings. The place was buzzing with activity until 1400 when suddenly siesta time had arrived and the crowds seemed to disappear.

Interesting curved eaves
Statue of Gonzales Byass himself
Small square with orange trees
Apparently there has been a glut of oranges this year!
Main shopping street
So much water in this fountain

We had arrived at Jerez on a monday and had planned to visit the School of Andalucian dancing horses on the tuesday. We were disappointed to learn that they only hold the show on a thursday in Jan and Feb. As we were so close, we decided it was worth hanging on until thursday which gave us extra time to explore Jerez. The show day arrived and, as we were now practically locals, we hopped off the bus close to the school and made our way down the back streets. The Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Ecuestre is an amazing place. The grounds that house the school are tremendous and the museum of horsemanship and the carriage museum were interesting and informative. There is a lot of history around the showmanship that is associated with these horses and their riders. The show itself was wonderful and apparently I had an enormous smile on my face throughout. It is forbidden to take photos in the museums or at the show but we managed a few shots around the grounds.

Fountain in the grounds
The main museum building
Horse in the exercise wheel
Arena before the show
Front gate

The school and the show was the highlight of the visit for me but there was so much to enjoy in Jerez that it would be a worthwhile destination for another visit. I would thoroughly recommend it as a short break destination.

Jan 19 Cadiz and Puerto de Santa Maria

Rather than brave the hurly burly of Cadiz for our accommodation, we went to Puerto de Santa Maria. From there it is a ferry ride to Cadiz across the Bahia de Cadiz. It was a 20 minute walk from the campsite to the ferry terminal and a 30 minute journey across the bay. The cost, as ever, was far less than the 4 minute trip across Portsmouth harbour! However, it was not as interesting.

Cadiz has a 3000 year old history and is said to be the oldest city in Europe. It is situated on a peninsula and was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 AC. Next came the Carthaginians and then the Romans. It was always a prosperous place. The Romans and Visigoths left their marks and then from 711 it was Moorish territory, until King Alfonso the Wise took it back during the second half of the 13th century making it part of the Kingdom of Castile. This province contributed to the colonisation of America during 15th century. Christopher Columbus and other illustrious seafarers used the ports of Cadiz to sail to the New Continent. The 18th century was the golden age of Cadiz and the overseas trade gave the place a cosmopolitan chracter. Today you can see how the different influences have shaped the character of the city, and it makes it an interesting place to explore.

We spent 2 days in Cadiz and there was still plenty to see. As usual we enjoyed the atmosphere of the different areas and selected a few places to visit that particularly piqued our different interests.

From the ferry, the first place we came to was the Plaza San Juan de Dios. This is a main square with fountains, restaurants and the Ayuminiento. We stopped there for coffee and were entertained by a belly dancer.

Plaza San Juan de Dios
Belly dancer in Cadiz


Ayuntamiento building

As ever, I was quite keen to see the cathedral and we enjoyed wandering down the narrow streets until we arrived at the Plaza de la Catedral. The square is home to other striking buildings such as the Iglesia de Santiago. Throughout the city there are splendid buildings to appreciate and we managed to see more that we could photograph. Often the streets are so narrow that you can’t get back far enough to take a picture.

Iglesia de Santiago
Cathedral and Iglesia de Santa Cruz as seen from the Campo Del Sur

Splendid Correos building
Plaza de San Juan de Dios. Ayuntamiento on the right

We had been quite organised for a change and marked the places we wanted to visit on the map of Cadiz. I read that the Oratory of the Santa Cueva was decorated with paintings by Goya, so that was on the list. It cost 3 euros each to go in and at first we were disappointed with the dark and dingy interior. Once we got up to the upper chamber, the beauty was striking. The oratory has two chapels and it is a monument within the history of Spanish art and the most important piece of work of Cadiz Neoclassicism. The building has been used since the discovery of a subterranean cave in 1756 when it was cleared up and used by the members of the Brotherhood of the Santa Cueva.

Upper chamber in The Oratory of the Santa Cueva
One of many ornate plasterwork panels
Altar in the High Chapel
Mural by Goya in the Oratory of the Santa Cueva

This was a hard act to follow but, I bravely scaled the glass steps up to the top of the Tavira Tower. The views across Cadiz were worth the fear (i am not good with heights, spiral stairs or glass floors and the ascent involved all three!). The tower is one of several watchtowers in Cadiz and has now been turned into a focal point. It is situated at the highest lookout point in the old town. At the top of the tower is the first Camera Obscura to be installed in Spain. I had a time slot to attend a presentation in English and it was a fascinating 360 degree view of the city with commentary by one of the guides.

View from the Tavira Tower
Looking out towards the cathedral from the Tavira Tower
View from the Tavira Tower

We strolled along the promenade towards the old town entrance which now houses an exhibition, we were too late and it was closing, and the puppet museum. We went in the museum and were impressed by the variety and quality of the many puppets from different countries.

One of many fabulous puppets in the puppet museum
View from the city wall

There are so many lovely squares and features down the narrow streets, such as the curved corner decorations. I quickly dashed along to look at the Plaza De Espana and found more elegant buildings.

Curved building corner with decoration
Another ornate curved corner
Large and decorative monument in the Plaza De Espana
Old building alongside the Plaza de Espana
Elegant apartment block close to the Plaza De Espana

We had covered a lot of ground during our two day visit and still had more to see but we decided to call it a day and we will probably come again on another Winter visit.

Puerto de Santa Maria

When we booked into the campsite at Santa Maria we had no idea that there was a lovely old town just up the road. Having exhausted our enthusiasm for Cadiz, we thought we had better check out the delights closer to home. We were certainly not disappointed, although we were not able to visit the impressive looking Castillo de San Marcos. The Castillo is privately owned and you can only visit on certain days. When we were there it was hosting a Harry Potter event so was closed to the general public.

Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos from the square
Castillo square

We walked down to the main church, the Basilica Menor Na Santa de Los Milagros. It is very ornate and sports a number of storks nests complete with storks. We were quite surprised!

Basilica front
Front door detail

For a reasonably modest sized town, there is a large bullring with a very attractive statue outside. There is also a fountain complete with bullfighter and bull.

Bullring
Statue of bullfighter

A beautifully tiled building caught our eye as we passed by

Plenty of tiling here

Another grand building impressed us as we turned away from the Basilica.

Across the square from the Basilica

By now we were saturated with wonderful buildings of all ages and styles. We spent the next day catching up with some “housework” before setting out for pastures new. Next stop, Jerez.

Malaga to Gibraltar

Leaving La Garrofa, we moved on towards Malaga. We had an idea that it would be worth stopping at a campsite north of Malaga for one night and we decided on a site at Torre Del Mar. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the site was full. I say fortunately, because we had a free night on a bit of rough ground overlooking the sea instead. We were not alone and it was a short walk from a very nice promenade for an evening stroll.

Early evening at Torre del Mar
Trawler coming into the harbour at Torre Del Mar

We had expected to move south of Malaga and then get the bus or train in for a visit. However, research showed up an Autocaravanas at Malaga Beach. I phoned to check if they had any space and was advised that they were full but, if we got there at around 0900 next day, we could wait for a space. This we did and we were lucky to get a spot close to the beach. The facilities were good and the bus was a ten minute walk away.

Malaga

Malaga has more than 3000 years of history and is now a renowned cultural destination. It is the birthplace of Picasso and it now has the Pompidou Centre to lift its cultural credentials. It retains evidence of the influence of the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs on its culture and architecture. There is enough for a few days exploration but, as usual, we gave it two days. We saw the things that interested us and left a few treats for another time.

The bus took us to the main part of the city where we were close to one of the Tourist Information offices. Whilst there collecting a map, we were approached by a Spanish gentleman who was about to start a walking tour in English and Spanish. We were happy to join the tour as we have had many interesting walking tours in other cities. He was a true local with a love of his city and had a wealth of knowledge and a sense of humour.

We started at the main shopping street which is now full of well known names. It is the centre for all the events such as fiestas that take place during the year and all the apartments above the shops are owned by wealthy folk who use them during such times. Apparently it is too noisy there for people to want to live there permanently.

Calle Marques de Larios. Upmarket shopping street

We ended the tour in the square which has the Teatro Romano and a great view of the Alcazaba. As is often the case with these tours, we were taken to a restaurant for the opportunity to enjoy the tapas and were given a free snifter of something! We didn’t partake of the tapas as we had our sandwiches with us. We had the drink and a coffee then sat on the wall by the ruins to enjoy the busy atmosphere in the sunshine.

Looking across the Teatro Romano to the Alcazaba
Juggler in square by the Teatro Romano

We saw more of Malaga the following day when we explored the various back streets.

Elegant buildings in Malaga

Clyde had read about a fabulous fountain in one of the squares and was keen to track it down. Eventually we found the square, Plaza de la Constitucion, and the fountain. It was a severe disappointment as it was much smaller than he envisaged and it was switched off! We didn’t even take a picture as it was so insignificant. The square itself was quite pleasant with a mixture of buildings. We treated ourselves to a Costa coffee as consolation.

Plaza de La Constitucion

The cathedral was on my list and we both went in at a vast cost. It was possibly more attractive outside than inside but there was plenty of bling.

Malaga Cathedral
Backstreet view of the cathedral
Ornate ceilings in the cathedral
One of many ornate side chapels

I then went to the Picasso museum whilst Clyde walked up to the Alcazaba to enjoy the views. Afterwards we walked through the botanic gardens, which run alongside the main road. There is a beautiful structure which seems to be part of an open air theatre.

Botanic Gardens

This took us down to the promenade alongside the marina and main harbour. There was a cruise ship in and a number of large commercial vessels. The yachts were on the other side of the harbour where a modern shopping and eating area has been developed. This is where the Pompidou Centre is located. We did not go in as were running out of time and enthusiasm. However, it has an eye catching structure announcing its presence.

Pompidou Centre Malaga
Malaga Marina with the Pompidou Centre at the far end
Statue on promenade
Looking across from the marina

Malaga has not always been a tourist destination but in the last few years it has become much more attractive to visitors. The dock area has been well developed and there are plenty of interesting galleries and museums. The Botanic Gardens, which we did not visit apart from the free bit, are also a worthy attraction. The focus on the Arts has added to its appeal. When we were there, there were musicians and entertainers in several locations helping to create a vibrant atmosphere. Once again we were pleasantly surprised.

Gibraltar

We have visited Gibraltar before and been up to the caves and tunnels and seen the monkeys. This time we thought we would wander through the town and see what it had to offer. It was an easy walk from the camperstop at La Linea marina and we then got the bus from the border to Casemates Square.

Motorhomes lined up on the camperstop at La Linea
Marina at La Linea

Casemates Square is named after the British Barracks located at the north of the square. The area was formerly the site of public executions but is now the hub of social activities.

Looking up at the rock from Casemate Square

After a cup of coffee in the sunny square, we set off for the excitement of the main street. We indulged in a little sales shopping before making our way to the library to print off yet another legal form for Clyde to sign. It was soon printed, signed and dispatched from the post office. Much easier than the experience in Granada!

We visited the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned and I also visited the museum of Gibraltar. It was interesting to learn a little about the early life on the rock. The museum houses a collection of original artifacts, old prints and photographs as well as two extremely lifelike Neanderthal models. The lower part of the building is one of the best preserved Moorish Bath Houses in Europe.

Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned
One of many narrow streets in Gibraltar
They have some steep streets on the Rock!

We had lunch sitting outside the pub The Old Ship (I think!). It was all very pleasant and I rather enjoyed our visit. Clyde was less impressed and has no plans to visit again.