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.

Jan 19 – La Garrofa & Almeria

Our next stop was to be Lorca. We have made several attempts to get there but for various reasons we have never quite made it. I looked on Search for Sites and came up with a stopover at an autocaravanas dealership at Lorca. We arrived there to discover that not only was it tatty and very close to a busy main road, it was 10 km away from Lorca. We had driven past Lorca to get there but had expected to be able to get a bus. No such luck. As we had already gone out of our way, we put it back on the to do list and trundled on to Almeria. This time we decided to use the ACSI site at La Garrofa. It is a quirky little site with it’s own beach and a handy bus stop.

Beach at La Garrofa

We had a lovely few days on the campsite. Lots of lovely people of various nationalities there and a real party atmosphere. We could quite see why people had gone for a few days and stayed for a few weeks.

On Monday we got the bus into Almeria and did a bit of exploring. It was a public holiday so many places were shut, including the tourist information. We had an interesting chat with a local man who works in the tourist industry in Norway. He was pleased to find some friendly Brits to chat to and we found him entertaining. We were a bit late to really make the most of a visit to the Alcazaba, which had been the focus of our visit, but enjoyed our meanderings. There is an attractive park along the harbourside with fountains and trees.

Dolphin fountain

Next day we went back into Almeria and this time the tourist info was open. We picked up a map of the town and found our way to the Alcazaba. It is free to visit so we made the most of the day and also had our sandwiches sitting on a wall in the sun.

The origin of the medieval city of Almeria dates back to the 9th century when it was the port of Bayyana, situated 6km inland. The small port grew until it became al-Mariyya. The new city was walled in 955 by the caliph Abd al-Rahim 111 who awarded it the classification of a medina. The city prospered and during the 11th and 12th centuries, the city expanded beyond the original walled area.

The Islamic period lasted 7 centuries and the Alcazaba was the headquarters of power for the different governments and kings. The Alcazaba is divided into three enclosures, the first two are of Islamic origin and the third is a castle built by the Catholic Kings after the Cnristian conquest of Almeria in 1489.

The whole site is a mixture of original ruined buildings and renovated walls with a completely landscaped interior which is not as it would have been. The area that has been landscaped would have originally contained the living quarters of the population. However, it is an attractive addition to what would otherwise have been a few remains. There are parts that have survived and the Jayran wall which runs across the San Christobal hill is very impressive.

Jayran wall
Carefully preserved walls
View of the harbour from the Alcazaba
Doorway to main entrance

We walked back via the cathedral but decided not to go in this one. Sometimes less is more, and we had enjoyed the Alcazaba. It had been a very pleasant and unexpected treat to visit Almeria and find it more interesting than we had hoped.

Jan 19 – El Berrio and Sierra Espuna

We returned from the UK on 3 Jan and had an overnight stop at Rojales near Guardemar. That gave us the opportunity to stock up at Lidl and Mercadona and to decide where to go next. We had a look at likely stopping points on our planned route south and, as the weather was so good, we decided to risk a trip inland. There was a campsite in a small village in the Sierra Espuna that looked promising so we made our way there. The route took us along some beautiful, scenic and narrow roads until we wound our way through the back streets of this tiny village. It was a relief to get to the campsite, which was not full, and had splendid views across the village to the hills beyond.

Pretty village of El Berrio

The next day we had a walk through the village and up to the mirador behind the Hermitage. The mirador is dominated by a statue of Jesus which looks over the village and can be seen clearly from a distance.

Statue of Jesus overlooking the village

Behind the mirador, we walked up the hill and looked across to the other side of the valley. The blossom was just starting to appear on the almond trees and will be a picture before long.

View from behind the village
Closer view of the round red building perched on a rocky outcrop

We spent three days at El Berrio which was long enough to get some washing done and recover from the tricky journey there. It is always a bit cooler in the interior and we needed to put the screen cover on the van come early evening. The nights were quite chilly with a light frost awaiting us in the mornings. However, we really enjoyed the lack of light pollution that enabled us to enjoy the stars. The night sky was truly amazing with more stars visible than we have seen before.

There was only one road in and out of the village so the journey out was as exciting again, and with splendid views at every turn.

Sierra Espuna from the mirador
Sierra Espuna from the road

This had been a great start to our 2019 travels and we were ready for a return to the coast for our slow drift south.

Dec 18 Revisiting Alicante

Whilst we were filling time in El Campello, we decided to take the tram into Alicante. We had very much enjoyed our visit to the city last year and were interested to see a bit more. This time, as we arrived by tram, we came in at the top end of the city and walked down to the Esplanada de Espana. After a welcome cup of coffee we walked up the avenue that separates the old and new parts of the city. On the way we came upon this monument in the Plaza De Los Luceros. I wish I had made a note of it’s history!

Splendid fountain

At the top end of this boulevard, there is a set of steps taking you up to a college and the road round towards the Castle and Santa Maria church. I ran up the steps leaving Clyde minding the bags on a bench. The view down the boulevard towards the harbour was quite striking.

Looking up the steps to the college
Looking from the college down towards the harbour
Old and modern in Alicante

The castle was visible across the more modern rooftops.

Back on our walk towards the harbour, we wandered through the historic centre and were a bit intrigued by the colourful street complete with toadstools.

Colour and toadstools in Alicante old town.

Further on we were bowled over by the striking Ficus Macrophylla. It has been carefully paved around. There are several of these trees along the Esplanada Espana too.

Ficus Macrophylla

There are numerous squares in Alicante and at this time of year the colourful Poinsettas are used in displays such as this.

Poinsettas lifting the gloom

Back on the Esplanade we were treated to a striking sculpture by Manolo Valdes. It originated in an image he saw in New York’s Central Park where a butterfly was fluttering around a woman’s head. It is a typical example of his own particular style. It is a fabulous addition to the lovely Esplanade.

The Butterfly by Manolo Valdes

We did not visit any museums or shops on this visit but bought a few Christmas gifts from the arty stalls along the Esplanade and enjoyed a light lunch overlooking the marina. Once again we had a most enjoyable day in Alicante soaking up the atmosphere. We even managed to find our way back to the tram!

14 Dec 18 Visit to Moraira

We were so chilled by the time my birthday came around that we had not decided on a suitable celebration. After considering a tram and bus trip to Denia, for which we had left it a bit late, Clyde had the bright idea of driving along the coast road and seeing where we got to. We were very pleasantly surprised when we came upon Moraira. I had heard it mentioned on the local radio station but had no idea what to expect.

We parked for free alongside a very elegantly railed promenade and walked along to a shady, slightly puddly, car park with a walkway through a nature area to the village.

Elegant railings along the promenade
Plenty of wildlife in this nature area

It was a windy day but bright and sunny. We stopped at a sheltered cafe with a view towards the sea for coffee. It was very relaxing sitting in the sun and watching the world go by.

Pleasant outlook from the cafe

Moraira has a rocky bay and a very interesting looking castle. We were not at all sure of it’s purpose but it made a nice feature by the rocks. The marina was also very attractive.

Rocky shoreline
Moraira Marina

As it is out of season, it was pretty quiet in the small town centre. Down one of the side streets we came upon a cafe run by an English couple from Oxfordshire. As it was lunchtime, we were enticed in to enjoy sausage, egg and chips! They were grateful to have some custom and we enjoyed a chat about their lifestyle change since deciding to take on this small business.

Back on the walk to the van we stopped to admire the two sculptures overlooking the bay. One is of a group of birds and the other is a gentleman viewing the scene.

Bird sculpture
Statue overlooking the bay at Moraira

We decided that we should consider a stay here next time we are travelling along this bit of coast. It is a town with a lovely atmosphere and a picturesque bay and marina.

Dec 18 Altea and Albir

It is tiring being constantly on the move so we decided to have a holiday. We had enjoyed our stay in Altea last year so decided on a two week holiday at Camping Cap Blanch to recharge our batteries before heading home for Christmas. It was very relaxing to stay in one place and just amble out of the gates onto the promenade each day.

Sunset overlooking Albir beach towards Altea

The Christmas spirit was infectious and we enjoyed the rather more laid back approach of the Spanish. On the campsite, the Dutch were in full celebratory mode and had events and cheerful Christmas displays organised.

Along the promenade towards Albir there were Christmas lights which helped with the festive spirit

Christmas lights on the promenade at Albir
On the front at Albir

We tried to ensure that we did some different things this year and one of those that we had not done last year was to walk up to the lighthouse. At the end of the front at Albir is the Serra Gelada national park and the route to the lighthouse is through part of the park. It is a gentle 5 km round trip along a well made up pathway.

Lighthouse at end of a long walk

The views over the Albir and Altea bay are lovely and made for a very enjoyable walk.

Long walk to the lighthouse
View down from the pathway to Albir lighthouse


Altea and Albir bay
Ochre mine remains in Serra Gelada


View from the lighthouse

The lighthouse itself was not operational and although it is supposedly an information centre, it was not open. The views were good as you would expect.

lighthouse Albir

I had another walk up to Altea old town, leaving Clyde sitting in the sun with a cup of coffee. I do love a good view across rooftops and Altea provides that in spades.

View from Altea old town

The white houses are another feature that lifts the spirits. With the bright sunshine and blue skies they always look so cheerful.

Typical Altea old town street

With our batteries recharged ready for our trip home, we moved to El Campello for 3 days so we would be nearer to Alicante for our flights.

Dec 18 Granada

We had planned to visit Granada in February once the weather improved, but we had to leave and go home sooner than expected.  That meant that it went back on our “to do” list.  As we are not in a hurry to leave the Costa Blanca area, we made the decision to spend a few days at Granada then head back to the coast for a warm break before our flights home for Christmas.

I was certain that the campsite close to Granada with a bus service close by would be really busy so, I actually booked us in for four nights.  When we arrived, there were three other vans and by the time we left, there was just us!  However, it was a very pleasant site, the tickets for the Alhambra could be booked for us, and the bus stop was a short walk from the site.  Apart from a damp Friday, the weather was bright and sunny and only very cold once the sun went down.

Something we said?!

View across to the snow topped mountains of the Sierra Nevada

On the friday we went into Granada for the first time and spent the day trying to get an important legal document printed and posted to our solicitor.  I had saved it from our e.mail onto our tablet and into Dropbox.  All we needed to do was find somewhere to get it printed.  Not so easy!  The young lady on the campsite had given us the name of a company that students use for such things and all we had to do was find them.  We went into the Tourist Information to see if they could point us in the right direction and struck lucky.  The young man upon whom I bestowed the pleasure of my custom was more than happy to help.  It was certainly not easy to get the document to the printer but we managed eventually by sending it from Dropbox to his e.mail address.  It then took rather a lot of paper, and his colleagues laughed at him and said he would lose his job.  At last we had the document, I kissed him soundly on both cheeks, much to his chums amusement, and we set off to the post office for an envelope and to post it.

The Correos (Post Office) was close by and we trotted up the steps, to be turned away by a guard!  Deciding it must be lunch time, we went to a large department store to buy an envelope, for Clyde to read and sign the document, and have a bite to eat.  Having achieved that, we returned to the Correos, it was now locked and barred!!  Back to Tourist Info, shut until tomorrow – grrrrr.  We found another Tourist Info and the helpful lady made enquiries regarding the Correos, which revealed that they were on strike.  Honestly, just our luck, so we would have to wait until Saturday to post the letter and get to the Alhambra for our 1330 timeslot.

Granada is a vibrant, university city with many fine buildings to enjoy.  We could have easily spent a few days just exploring the city but as usual, we had allocated a weekend and our main purpose was to visit the Alhambra.  I did get to visit the cathedral, which is quite splendid.

Elegant building typical of Granada

Lovely view across the road from Starbucks

Busy back streets

Royal Chapel commissioned in 1504 by the Catholic Church. It was later united with the Cathedral

Cathedral views

The Cathedral is opulent, as the Catholic buildings tend to be.  The exterior is quite severe but the interior, which was largely completed in the 1800s, is light and bright.  It does not have a long nave but is more squat and square with numerous side chapels.

White and gold decor makes for a light and airy interior

Beautiful domed ceiling

Behind the main altar is this theatrical wall with balconies

One of many striking paintings

Monstrance behind the altar. A riot of gold and silver

Looking toward the main altar

Fabulous organ

Seriously ornate chapel

The Cathedral is surrounded by buildings and therefore impossible to get a complete picture

Looking up to the tower

Side view

On Saturday we returned to the city to get the important letter posted, and to make our visit to the Alhambra Palace.  This time we were lucky with the Correos and we managed to get the letter sent via tracked delivery.  In spite of all negative comments about the Spanish postal system, it was with the solicitor before the end of the week.

We walked up to the Alhambra and managed to find our way to the entrance.  As we already had tickets we did not need to queue.  We decided to pay a bit extra for two audio guides(on i phones) but wished we hadn’t bothered as we then had to juggle the i phones with our own phones and the camera.  The commentary was a bit too much to really take in and my i phone ran out of battery half way around the Palacios Nazaries.  They both got stuffed into our pockets.

When you buy your tickets it is strongly emphasised that you MUST attend at the allotted time.  Entry to the Palacios Nazaries(Nasrid Palace) is on a timed basis for good reason in the busy season.  The rest of the Alhambra complex can be visited around the Nazaries timeslot.  We found that we did not have time to see the entire complex so we focussed on the Palace and the gardens of the Generalife.  We did manage a visit to the Alcazaba as it is close to the Nasrid Palace.

A bit of history

The Alhambra is one of Spain’s architectural wonders and it’s most visited monument.  The construction of the palatial city began in 1238 within the walls of the Alcazaba.  The 11th century Alcazaba was rebuilt by Ibn al-Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, and he added the huge circuit of walls and towers that are visible from afar. The Palacios comprises three palaces that were each identified with the sultan who ordered its construction.  The resulting complex is an amazing mixture of styles but with a strong Moorish flavour.

Generalife

This is a recreational building of the Nasrid sultans with landscaped gardens and agriculture.  From the yew hedged terrace there are commanding views across the valley to the palace and Alcazaba.  We did not have time to go beyond the gardens but we enjoyed the views fromthe terrace.  The gardens are dormant at this time of year but must be a riot of colour in the summer.

Water garden

Yew terrace

View across from the terrace

Palacios Nazaries

We joined the queue at the palace in plenty of time only to be turned away.  It is a very inexact science as there is nothing to advise which entry time is currently queuing.  After a suitable gap, we tried again and munched our sandwich standing in the queue.  This time we were in luck and at the appointed time we were in.  You do have to shuffle through rather and it is difficult to take photos of some of the main features due to posing Chinese tourists.  Here are some of  the highlights:

Tiles – so many lovely old tiles

Tiles and plaster mouldings

Plasterwork

The intricacy of the plasterwork is fabulous.  It has been beautifully restored throughout the palace.  The inscriptions are Arabic.  Some are poetic eulogies to the builders and buildings, others to various sultans and the majority are from the Koran.  The phrase Wa-la ghaliba illa-Llah (there is no Conqueror but God) is repeated throughout.

Intricately decorated cloister around the Harem

One of many plaster ceilings

Close up of plaster text

Part of ornate archway

The Serallo – where important guests were received

Beautiful painted ceilings

The Harem – Patio de los Leones

This has become the archetypal image of Granada and constitutes the heart of the harem.

Romantic garden patio

Patio garden

Jardines del Partal

Elegant portico overlooking a tranquil pool and a pavilion that is a remaining part of a four winged structure that surrounded the pool.

Once we had exhausted the palace we paid a visit to the Alcazaba.  This housed the military residential area and was here first.  It is the earliest and most ruined part of the fortress.  At its summit is the Torre de la Vela, named after a huge bell on its turret, which until recent years was rung to mark the irrigation hours for workers in the vega, Granada’s vast and fertile plain.  I don’t like heights or spiral staircases but I did go up the tower as the views were bound to be amazing.  I was not disappointed.

First level of the Alcazaba

Looking down on Granada

Looking down from the top of the tower

Alcazaba walls

View across to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada

It was a really full day at the Alhambra and met our expectations completely.  We did not get to visit the Albaicin so, maybe we will return one day.  We would certainly enjoy staying in Granada for a few days, possibly in a hotel, as the evenings would be different again.  It was a lovely trip back on the bus in the dark as we were able to enjoy the Christmas lights.

 

 

 

 

Nov 18 Vera to Cabo de Gata

After our stay at Aguilas we had an appointment at Hispavan in Vera on the Monday.  We decided to head there on Saturday so we could stock up with baked beans in Iceland and meet up with some fellow campers, who live nearby, on the Sunday.  Last year we stayed on the aire at the tennis complex and it was very peaceful.  We thought it would be easy to go there again as it is close to Antas, which is where Hispavan is located.  Of course, nothing is ever that straight forward is it!  The road to the aire is closed as they are putting a roundabout in.  We really struggled to find our way to the tennis complex as our map doesn’t have enough detail, and the sat nag refused to believe the road is closed.  We got there in the end and parked right at the top with great views.

View from our crows nest pitch at Vera

View with setting sun

One of many amazing sunsets at Vera

The couple we were meeting live at Vera Playa.  It was convenient as we had already decided to go there for a beach visit.  The beach is unspoilt by tourism and we enjoyed a couple of hours sitting in the sun.

Vera Playa on a beautiful day

Man in hat on uncrowded beach!

After a very enjoyable couple of hours with our friends we took the country route back to Vera and managed to get to the aire without help from “James” or the map.  Our last night on the aire was disturbed by howling gales.  We had parked on the edge overlooking the view so we were very exposed.  I was certain our rooflights were going to be ripped off but they survived.  We had an early cup of tea, struggled to the showers in a headwind, and were ready for our appointment in plenty of time.

Between our stay at Vera and a planned in advance visit to Granada, we had a few days to fill in.  The Cabo de Gata had been on our list for a while, so we thought we would have a quick visit there.  We had forgotten just how much plastic there is in that region.  The journey to Los Albericoques in the centre of the Cabo de Gata area was a bit disappointing as the plastic greenhouses stretch for miles.

Plastic greenhouses stretching towards the mountains

We were also struck by the sheer numbers of , what appeared to be, migrant workers.  We saw them walking along the roads at the end of each day and many seemed to be heading for shanty style dwellings amongst the greenhouses.  During the daytime we saw washing on lines amongst very rudimentary shelters.  Many were constructed from more plastic and tarpaulins.

One of the more substantial looking dwelling blocks

The village we stayed in is called Los Albericoques.  It’s claim to fame is that it was one of the locations used to film the spaghetti westerns.  There is a statue and an information board telling you all about it and directing visitors to the exact locations used.

Cowboy statue

We stayed on a camperpark which was very reasonably priced and provided a good base for exploring. We now know where to free camp and will do so on our next visit.

One of the small towns on our radar was Nijar, a 20 minute drive away. The town is renowned for its colourful pottery and rag rugs.

Pottery in Nijar

More colourful Nijar pottery

As we were there out of season and on a weekday, a lot of the shops were closed.  However, we did find some open and I even made a purchase!

The main street is quite picturesque and the narrow streets of white houses in the old part are attractive.

Main road in Nijar

Narrow street on way to the Atalaya

The central square is currently undergoing a facelift and we had to dodge around workmen to look at the parish church. The exterior is unprepossessing but, inside was a pleasant surprise.

Iglesia Parroquiel

Looking towards the rear of the church

Ornate alter

Wall painting

I started to walk up to the Atalaya which is an old watchtower dating back to the 1500s, but it was too long and steep so I thought better of it and went back down to rescue Clyde from a hard bench!

Atalaya viewed from below

Walking back down the main road we came across some lovely ceramic signs.

Beautiful tiled plaque outside the carnicere

Ceramic officio sign on main street in Nijar

After our visit to Nijar we had a few hours to while away so we went down to the coast. The first stop, for a late lunch, was Los Escullos. We spotted a bit of rough ground near the beach with a couple of campervans parked.  We joined them and had a walk along the beach after eating our lunch. It is a very pretty bay with some impressive rocks.

View from Los Escallos cove

Interesting rock at Los Escallos bay

Los Escullos beach

After Los Escullos, we drove along the winding coast road towards Las Negras.  On the way we came across a mirador which was certainly worth a visit.  It overlooked the sea and had commanding views in all directions.

View from the mirador on Cabo de Gata coast

Inland view from the mirador

View from mirador

Tiled information board at the mirador

Close up of mirador information board

The tiled information board was a work of art.

We just had time for a quick visit to Las Negras and no time to visit the gold mines at Rodalquilar.  Back on the list for our next visit to the area!  Las Negras is a pretty fishing village on the eastern side of the Cabo de Gata.  It is another white village which remains unspoilt.

White buildings against mountain backdrop. Typical of the region

Las Negras harbour

Village against the mountains

As the light was starting to fade, and we had to drive back along a narrow winding road, we left Las Negras for a longer visit next time.

Our stay in the Cabo de Gata was much too short as there is so much to see and enjoy.  We will definitely return and give it some proper attention.

Next stop Granada.

Nov 18 Aguilas

As we are working our way slowly towards Granada via Vera, we looked for a place to stop for a few days.  Aguilas seemed about the right distance and we selected a small campsite away from the coast.  Camping Quintabella is surrounded by orange groves and fields of lettuces against a backdrop of mountains.  The area is also covered in plastic greenhouses, which are not beautiful, but enable tomatoes and peppers to be grown in large quantities.

View from campsite

Natural habitat along the road outside the campsite

The town of Aguilas is a 15 minute drive away and has everything you might need in the way of shops, as well as a fishing port, beaches and a castle.  We found that you could park for free at the port, and presumably stop overnight too.  We were happy just to use the facility during the day.  The fishing port and harbour opened in 1884 and was responsible for the start of commercial development in Aguilas.  The fishing port has one of the largest fleets in the Murcia region.  There were a large number of fishing boats there and plenty of nets stretched out along the fisherman boardwalk.

Having stocked up at Lidl, we had a walk into the town and found the tourist information office.  As it was Monday, the castle was closed and so was most of the town.  We had our lunch overlooking the port which was very relaxing.  We returned on Tuesday to visit the castle.  We had a steep climb up to the castle and once there we only had 45 minutes before it closed for the afternoon.  As it turned out, it was plenty long enough as there is not a lot to see.

Colourful steps up to the castle ramp

The San Juan de Las Aguilas Castle dates back to the 18th century, so it is relatively modern.  It has been restored and a lot of what you see looks quite new.  Due to the restoration, it lacks a certain charm that you get in some of the older, preserved castles.

Castille de San Juan de las Aguilas

Castle viewed from the sea wall

Castle viewed from the harbour

The best part of visiting the castle was the views over the town and the port.  See if you can spot our van down below.

View down to the port

Lovely curved bay – Playa de La Colonia

Looking out from the pathway up to the castle

The guard at the castle was pleased to see us leave and he was already locking up as we made for the exit!  We met a Dutch couple on their way up and advised them it was closed.  They laughed and agreed that it was not a surprise.  We met them again later at Hornillo Bay and they had recovered from the climb with a cup of coffee at the small bar near the castle entrance.  They had also climbed around the castle, on the rocks – crazy!

Back at the port, we walked along the sea wall to have a closer look at the sculpture of Neptune that is visible from the town.  It is a curious mixture of materials and most unusual, but very effective.

Sculpture of Neptune

From the end of the wall you get a good view of the very modern Auditorium and Congress Palace.

Auditorium and Congress Palace

The town boasts a number of decorated staircases, some of which are looking a bit jaded.  However, it is a rather charming idea and does add a bit of interest.

Steps up to the mirador

Nice bit of wall art opposite the harbour

The best we saw was at Hornillo Corner, opposite the beach.  The wide mosaic covered stairs are the work of Juan Martino “Casuco”.

Mosaic covered stairs at Hornillo Corner

Mosaic stairs at Hornillo

Decorated wall alongside the stairs

I was interested to see the Hornillo Pier that was constructed in 1903 by the British South Eastern Railway Company for the purpose of loading ships with iron ore.

Hornillo Pier

From the Hornillo Bay, you can also see the Isla Del Fraile.  The island was inhabited by the Romans and there are still roman, and later, ruins to be seen.

Isla Del Fraile

Tucked away on a small street near to the port we came across this modern building.  The Casa de la Cultura “Francisco Rabal” has a permanent exhibition hall, the library and other rooms.  We didn’t go in as it was lunchtime and it was closed.

A bit of modern building

There is also a Casino which we thought might be worth a look, after the joy of the one in Murcia.  Sadly, this one is a bit unimpressive and can only boast ten alllegorical paintings by the Murcian artist Jose Sanchez.

Inside the casino hall

Allegorical paintings

Given more time and better weather, we might have explored a bit more of Aguilas, but we had enjoyed our couple of days there and were ready to move on to pastures new.

 

Nov 18 Murcia

After the splendour of the swanky campsite in Calpe, we plumped for an aire near to a village with a bus service to Murcia.  The aire is set amongst lemon groves and was a lovely contrast to the busy seaside resort of Calpe.  The owners were very friendly and the resident German camper was welcoming and gave us the wifi code as soon as we arrived.  The smell of lemons in the air was intoxicating(even without the gin and tonic!).

Next day we followed the directions we were given and, after a death defying walk along a narrow road, found the bus stop.  We managed to get off the bus in the right place for the tourist information and the Cathedral, which was a good start.  The first place we came to was the Glorieta De Espana which was colourful and quite busy with tourists awaiting the Bus Touristique.

Glorieta De Espana

Fountain outside the Ayuntamiento

We walked through to the centre, presided over by the Catedral.  Murcia was founded by the Moors in the 9th century on the banks of the Riu Segura, and it soon became an important trading centre and 4 centuries later, the regional capital.  Today it is the commercial hub of the region.  It was largely rebuilt in the 18th century and many of the buildings in the old quarter are of that era.

Typical building of the old quarter.

The cathedral is free to visit but, in common with many tourist attractions in Spain, was closed from 1330 to 1800.  We just had time for a visit before the doors were locked.

Front door of the catedral

This cathedral is quite unusual as it does not have a long nave.  It seems to be composed of numerous side chapels and indeed, there was a service taking place in one of the most ornate chapels.  We managed a quick look before that was locked too.

Back of the organ!

Curved side passageway with chapels off

Main alter

Beautifully carved dome

One of several intricately carved doors

After my fix of cathedral architecture we followed the recommendation of the lady in the tourist office, and went to visit the Real Casino de Murcia.  It cost 6 euros to go in but it was well worth the outlay.  The building dates from 1847 and is quite quirky.  It combines an Arabic style patio and vestibule, an English style library/reading room, a Pompeiian patio with Ionic columns, a billiard room and a French ballroom.  The neo-Baroque ladies powder room has a ceiling which depicts angelic ladies among the clouds, powdering their noses and tidying their hair.  The mixture of styles is fascinating and each room we entered was a lovely surprise.

Vestibule

Detail on the vestibule walls

Gallery with statue

Glass ceilinged gallery

French ballroom

Patio

Pompeiian statue and columns

Close up of statue

Library

Beautiful detail in library

Amazing library floor

Reading desks

Ceiling in Ladies Powder Room

More ladies

The casino is still a private members club and there are areas that are not open to the public.  However, we were really pleased with what we did see and after that, we managed our disappointment in not being able to get into other interesting buildings.  In common with the Catedral, they were all closed until 1800, which was too late for us as we had a bus to catch.  The only other place I had fancied visiting was the Convent of Santa Clara and it was also closed.

Rear view of the Convent

Front door of Convent

We had our sandwiches sitting in one of the squares and watching the world go by, then wandered slowly back to the bus stop.  It was definitely worth a visit to Murcia and, for us, the dangerous walk from peaceful lemon grove to village bus stop.

Lemon grove at Camper Park Huerta de Murcia

 

Nov 18 Calpe

After an overnight stop on an Aire near Gandia, we had another attempt at finding some reasonable weather and headed for Calpe.  It is another place we missed last year and which people often recommend.  It was a very scenic drive with some stunning views down to the coast.  We decided to see if they had any space on the ACSI site, Calpemar Camping for a bit of luxury.  We were in luck, although it was pretty full and was booked up for most of December.  We only wanted to be there for 3 nights so it was not a problem.  The showers are fabulous and I really enjoyed all that hot water.

The seafront is a short walk from the campsite so we went for an evening stroll and admired the view of the Penon del Ifach rock.  There is a natural park around the rock and it is possible to climb to the top.  It was shrouded in mist on the day we went to have a closer look and rock climbing is not really for us.  We are happy to look and marvel!

Penon del Ifach

The next day was dedicated to visiting the historic old town.  We managed to find the tourist information office and collected a map with brief descriptions of the main attractions.

Between the 13th and 14th centuries, the rural community of Calpe was walled to protect it from Moorish attacks.  Part of the wall is still there with a gateway through to the rear of the church Iglesia Antigua.

City wall and historic gateway, El Portalet

City wall and historic gateway

The church Iglesia Antigua dates from the 15th century, and is the only Gothic-Mudejar example in the Comunidad Valencia.  It was built on an old chapel from the Christian Conquest.  What really impressed us was the modern parish church of the Virgen de las Nieves, built in the 1970s and adjoining the old church.  The interior is colourful and modern, and is a complete contrast to the Gothic style of the old church.

Exterior of Virgen de las Nieves

Striking interior

Modern alter

Fabulous stained glass

Striking colours

Close to the church and the historic gateway to the city, is the contemporary art gallery.  When we visited, there was an exhibition of two local artists work.  One of the artists was there greeting visitors and happy to chat about her work.  We were very impressed with the way her works had captured the light that is so evocative of the region.

Contemporary Art Gallery

This old city is full of artistic murals and decorations.

Decorated house in the Placa Mariners

The Carrer Puchalt is characterised by it’s colourful steps and is one of the most easily recognised features of the old city.

Eyecatching steps of Carrer Puchalt

As ever, the old city is on a hill and the streets wind up and down making every turn a photo opportunity.

View of the street down from the art gallery

We had not expected to find such a lovely old town in Calpe.  The beach is an attraction and the old port at the rock end is also worth a visit.  Sadly, on the day we visited, the weather was very poor and we were rained on.  The port was grey and the rock was wearing a cloudy bonnet.  There is also a large lagoon with flamingoes on the way to the port, but they were huddled together on the far side when we went to have a look.

Port and rock in the cloud

Back in the modern town, we found a very nice restaurant in a supermarket and had coffee and cake.  It was a bit more upmarket than Morrisons in Gosport with a charming waiter!  The view over the bay was also rather pleasant.

We would certainly recommend Calpe for a few days visit.  There is plenty to see and all within walking distance of more than one campsite.