Chris and Clyde had long dreamed of a life on the open road. This came to fruition in Oct 17 after purchasing a suitable long term touring 'van and Chris retiring from work.
We worked hard preparing to leave our home as we had decided to rent it out for a few years. We booked a ferry from Portsmouth to Caen but otherwise we had no plan except to head for warmer climes to kick start our adventure.
The plan is simply to amble around Europe (that includes the UK), and Scandinavia, for a few years exploring as the fancy takes us. Previous travelling experience has been unplanned and reactionary and we see no reason to change our modus operandii. We have studied full timers’ blogs and listened to the wisdom of more experienced folk but, ultimately, we will have to follow our own path. That is part of the fun after all!!
This blog is for our family and friends to enjoy as well as providing a record for us. It is not intended to look professional or contain fancy links to all sorts of things. No doubt it will evolve as we go along. The posts will be sporadic as we will be relying on free Wifi. Please be patient!
Guardamar is on the Costa Blanca coast. It has 11 Km of sandy beaches protected by the dunes that run along the length of this coast from North to South. Guardamar itself was founded in 1271 but an earthquake in 1821 caused the destruction and abandonment of the the old walled town. Work to construct a new town designed by the engineer Larramendi followed on from the earthquake. By the late 18th century the town started to suffer an invasion of sands. The engineer Mira led a reforestation intitiative that overcame the threat of desertification in Guardamar. The result of all this is a coastal woodland providing a backdrop to the dunes. There are walkways all along this coast to protect the dunes.
We walked along this route from the marina at one end to the town promenade at the other. To be honest, it is not the most scenic route but there are a number of wooden walkways onto the beach between the dunes if a glimpse of the sea is required.
You can also take a number of different pathways to the housing areas and also to the Reina Sofia Park, which is most attractive. More of that later.
As previously documented, we had booked ourselves into Marjal Guardamar Camping for a month from today. Something made me wonder whether we were actually booked into the right site as we had been informed by fellow campers, that there is a bigger, sister site called Marjal Costa Brava. I phoned to check and discovered that we were indeed booked into the wrong site! Panic was averted as they were able to change our booking – phew!
It was lovely to be on the move again, albeit not very far. The new campsite was quite acceptable with good facilities and the only issue was our pitch. The people on the pitch we had been allocated had not left as expected and we had to endure 2 nights on a place next to the new holiday bungalows building site. A small issue really and on Weds we moved to a huge sunny pitch. Again we were surrounded by mixed nationalities, all very friendly. Some come every year but there are others like us that like more variety. We were not sure how we would feel about staying so long but decided to get out and about as well as joining in with some of the onsite jollities.
Groan ye not! We just had to go to Benidorm as it was so close. Once again we consulted the local oracles and took their advice to catch the tram. Luckily we had asked the lovely reception lady for guidance as we had no idea where the tram stop was. She gave us a map of Benidorm and pointed out the best and worst bits (The bit that the Brits go to!). Also efficiently, we went for a walk to locate the tram stop the day before which was just as well, it was cunningly concealed down some rough looking urbanisacions. These are what we would call suburbs.
Next day we set off complete with sandwiches and water, as you never know what might happen. We found the ticket machine on the tram a bit confusing, but apparently had bought the correct tickets, as there was a fierce ticket inspector onboard and she spared us the glares and tuttings that other poor foreigners received.
Once at Benidorm we managed to find our way down to the old town via a pedestrianised old river bed. It was quite a pleasant surprise as it was very attractive and even had an open air theatre.
The old town was extremely busy until 1400 when some of the little shops closed for siesta. We treated ourselves to a cup of coffee in one of the cafes before heading down to the front to eat our sarnies. The beach and marina were extremely pleasant and we wandered along to a peaceful and secluded small bay below the promontory.
We walked up the steps to the seafront church and a rather lovely area overlooking Benidorm Island where a man was playing a guitar and singing.
After enjoying the civilised part of Benidorm, we headed down to the bay that is frequented by hoards of British tourists. At this time of year it is quite pleasant. There were a few old folk on tandem motorised scooters and definitely more English tourists than other nationalities but nothing to be ashamed of. I suspect it is rather different in the Summer.
Altogether a very enjoyable day out. The tram back was fine, correct tickets again.
Whilst at Vila Joiosa, we visited the old town of Finestrat which was only a few kilometres away. We took the van and set off in the direction advised by neighbours on the campsite. Of course, they were all either cyclists or motorbikers! That should not have mattered but, when it comes to small towns and parking a campervan, there is a difference. We drove into Finestrat and up through the town and out the other side without finding anywhere to park.
The resulting journey up the usual winding mountainous roads up around Puig Campana mountain, took us to a wonderful high road above Benidorm. There were fantastic roundabouts complete with fountains and a parking place with far reaching views across Benidorm to the sea. However, we did not stop as we were determined to get to Finestrat. Now we had our bearings, we made another assault on the mission and found a space outside a covered car park right near the town.
Unusually for us we had managed to get there before siesta and the Tourist Information centre was open. We picked up a map and information and followed signs that took us around the best bits of the old town. We enjoyed a wander around the narrow streets, popped into the church where piped music broke the silence (rather nice), and called into a lovely little shop to buy savoury pastries and cake for our lunch.
Now that we were practically locals, we managed to find our way back up to the parking place with the lovely views and put the kettle on. Our spoils from the shop in Finestrat were greatly enjoyed with a nice fresh cup of tea.
One strange thing about Finestrat was that it has a beach that is not attached to the town. Unless we were really mistaken, it was actually nearer to Vila Joiosa. Still, we had not gone there for the beach so we never got to visit. There is a street of houses hanging over the rocks apparently. We missed that particular spectacle. You can’t see everything.
We had made a slight error in our calculations whilst in Northern Spain and assumed we would arrive in the Alicante region by early December. Experienced Winter in Spain travellers had advised us to book somewhere for December as it gets very busy. We innocents abroad soaked up this intelligence and booked a campsite South of Alicante for a month. By the time we realised that we would be beyond there by mid November, it was too late to change. So, we decided to make the most of it and give the places we stayed more of our attention than usual.
Our Spain guru from MMM, Andy Stothert, had kindly visited this area and written about it. He advised that La Vila Joiosa was exactly that. With great expectations, we studied our ACSI guide and identified a nearly new campsite at the very location. We tipped up unannounced and were fortunate to be given a very pleasant pitch with mountain views. We met some very nice people there too.
On the second day we decided to walk down to the old port. It was quite a trek through some very unprepossessing back streets. However, once there, the seafront was interesting and there was a well developed promenade along to the old town. In fact, the port end was not up to our exacting standards so we didn’t return. I did spot this rather unusual figurehead on a boat that was under construction.
Our next trip to the town involved a visit to the Tourist Information office, as usual in Spain, cunningly hidden! The gentleman in there was very informative about the five chocolate factory shops/tours and not much else. We accepted a map of the area and followed our unerring sense of direction towards the bits that looked interesting.
The old town is renowned for it’s colourful buildings. There is not a lot more to the town but it is comprised of the typical Spanish old town narrow alleyways and has a charm of its own.
We had a couple of trips out from here and they are documented on the next post.
We left Altea and the campsite full of geriatric Dutch and German folk. The excitement was getting too much!
As we had been on the coast rather a lot, we were looking forward to a trip inland and upwards to El Castell de Guadalest. This is a hill town based around a castle built by the Moors on a rocky crag. It is an impressive sight as you approach.
We were directed to the lower car park and advised that we could stay overnight. The princely sum of €4 was exchanged for 24 hrs parking.
We walked up to the village square and had a look in some of the rather touristy shops. The highlight of the day was lunch at the terrace cafe overlooking the valley.
Next day, after a very peaceful night with some friendly German neighbours to chat to next door, we went back to see the castle.
The castle had been beautifully lit up in the evening but we were unable to take any really effective photos. However, we were glad to be staying close enough to enjoy the spectacle.
It was a good, healthy climb all the way up. The entrance to The castle is through the family house Casa Orduna. Also an interesting place (family home for many centuries),but overshadowed by the chapel next door. As we approached, we heard singing and so, in we went. There was a group of 4 men taking advantage of the acoustics for the sheer pleasure. It was an amazing sound and all the better for being impromptu.
The climb up to the castle afforded ever changing persectives on the view. The clock tower was a good measure of how far we had climbed.
After another visit to the terrace cafe for coffee, we couldnt resist the view, we headed off to our next destination.
We had exhausted Javea so decided to move down coast a few kilometres to Altea. The Rough Guide to Spain advised us that it is a pleasant seaside town with the usual old town to enjoy. We did not need any persuading, being suckers for an old town. We had heard that there was a sea front campsite so off we went. The campsite situation did not disappoint and the promenade was all it was cracked up to be.
We had not realised that we got two towns for the price of one. The promenade also runs along the front of Albir. No old town but a great small town atmosphere and handy local shops.
We were impressed with the old town of Altea. It was a bit of a trek and plenty of steps up to the church which was the highlight at the very top of the hill. We could see it from the sea front and had a good idea of the climb in store.
After the climb we emerged into a square which was dominated by the church. However, we were unprepared for the interior:
There had been many highlights on the way up as the views were impressive and the narrow winding streets a delight.
There was a lot to enjoy at Altea. The early morning and evening strolls along the promenade were a real pleasure. The campsite was like a mini Holland but we enjoyed our few days of mixed cultures.
Javea is situated approx 100km South of Valencia. It has a delightful sea front with a nicely developed promenade. The beach is sandy and curves gently between two rocky outcrops. It is surprising how mountainous it is so close to the coast.
We were surprised at how much we liked the Bay with its restaurants and shops. Being low season it had a relaxed atmosphere. It was a lovely place for an evening stroll.
There is also an old port which is still an active fishing port. Again, it was surrounded by mountains. Some have been built upon but there are still plenty of undeveloped areas. On our second day we walked along the sea front road to the port. We walked along the sea wall taking in the scenery and had coffee and cake sitting in the sun.
The next day we walked up to the old town which, as usual, was all uphill. We were directed by the campsite staff through the orange groves.
We still managed to take a wrong turn but were redirected by a helpful English couple who are regular visitors to the town. The old town was well worth the trek and we returned via the port, and Lidl. Plenty of exercise!
Spain has some of the most fabulous modern buildings I have ever seen, but if you look close enough you see that things are very often not finished properly. Multi -million pound shopping malls have lifting floor slabs and wall tiles have fallen off. Broken door locks have a piece of wire and a nail to close them, this is fine when you realize that that is the Spanish Way.
However, when you are driving down very steep hills from the Sierras with S bends, Z bends and switch backs and the only thing between you and a 3000 ft sheer drop is a Spanish manufactured and installed crash barrier, you tend to find yourself steering towards the centre of the road………
Valencia was our next main port of call. We booked into a campsite just outside the city, recommended by our favourite travel writer from the Motorhome Monthly Magazine. The campsite was nothing to shout about but was certainly convenient for getting into Valencia. The bus stopped just outside the campsite gates.
We had 4 sorties into the city as there is so much to see. The first trip was to the old centre with it’s ornate buildings. Too many to include here but just a taster:
This was so over ornate it was almost ugly. We actually paid to go in expecting it to be full of amazing ceramics. It was in fact a preserved home with a mixture of horrendous ceramic imbellished furniture. Still, it cost 3 euros for me and was free for Clyde.
I also pursuaded Clyde to undertake a tour of the Catedral with me and I had to agree that it was not the most uplifting experience! We would far rather have been in Lincoln Cathedral which is far more interesting and beautiful.
We also made a trip to the two historic markets. One is renowned for it’s fish and meat and the other now houses a number of flower stalls and restaurants. Both are extremely ornate
On the way into Valencia we had passed the modern part and promised ourselves a trip back to enjoy the architecture. It is such a contrast and very much our type of thing:
We were so impressed with the sweeping curves and the extensive mosaic tiling over the outside of these enormous structures. The reflections in the water enhanced the visual impact.
Having enjoyed one trip along the winding roads, we decided to visit Morella. This involved a trip back along the same winding road and was equally exciting.
Morella is an ancient walled town overlooked by a castle. It s located in the province of Castellon. The views from the village are stunning.
The village is a member of the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Spain. There are 44 villages in the Association and they have all signed up to the agreement to preserve the character and history of the villages. The villages have to undergo a rigorous process to be accepted into the scheme and it is the responsibility of all the inhabitants to ensure the standards are maintained. This will ensure a steady flow of visitors that will support local businesses.
We stayed on an aire which was located within a reasonable walk of the village and had amazing views of the castle.
We had a very pleasant amble around the ancient streets with their traditional shops and restaurants. It was definitely a place that we would recommend.
The eager anticipation of the trip to Spain could not be denied any longer. We were now approaching it from a different starting point and decided to head down the N121 which would take us through the Pyrenees, around Pamplona and eventually to Pensicola. It is a jolly long way so, we decided to break the journey at Vera Moncaya – the usual hill village complete with monastery.
After a pleasant stopover (the beer in the little bar frequented by many locals was very welcome), we headed on across the sierra Moncayo. The road was long and twisty and then steep and twisty!
The driver remained calm and was rewarded once we arrived at Peniscola with a soothing dram. We just happened to have packed suitable nerve repairing licquor.
Pensicola has an amazing old town and castle on a promontary. Well worth a visit.
The sea front is also a delight and I suspect it gets quite busy in the Summer. The castle is really what makes this place so special.
The weather was still beautiful in France so we made a split second decision to delay Spain and go to St Jean de Luz. We were lucky to find space on a very pleasant campsite overlooking Ellamardie Plage.
It was a 40 minute walk along the cliffs into the town or a quick bus trip.
We decided to go into the town the next day as it was our anniversary and we would treat ourselves to a nice lunch. Unfortunately there was nowhere we really fancied so, after a stroll around the town, we had an ice cream and wandered along the promenade to await the bus back.
All was not lost as there was a little bistro at the edge of the campsite and we had an interesting tapas meal instead. Washed down with plenty of house white of course!
While at La Rochelle we decided to get organised and plotted a route to Toulouse via Bordeaux for two nights.We selected a site near Toulouse no 119 I closed the site book and Chris asked me to mark it so she could enter the co-ordinates in the morning.
Following morning sat nav set, off we went, half an hour into journey Chris said ” she ( Jane sat nav) is sending us in an odd direction and I cant find those road numbers”. An hour later I took a wrong turn onto a toll road and Chris was able to locate where we were, 200 KM in the wrong direction!
Last night when Chris asked me to mark site 119 in the site I opened the book and marked 119 not realizing that each region of France had sites marked 1 2 3 etc I marked the wrong 119, so we decided to press on and finally arrived at a large Aire among sand dunes, climbing the dunes we found ourselves looking at the Bay Of Biscay 10 foot waves , surfers and miles and miles of sandy beach called Capbreton so we stayed two nights and altered our entire plan.
We decided to head for the Ile de Re, but on the way decided on La Rochelle. There were 3 Aires to choose from and we could find none of them. However, we did spot a row of motorhomes on a car park overlooking the marina and joined them for the night. Very pleasant and free!
Next day I was accosted by an officious frenchman wearing a visivest who advised me that overnight parking was interdite. Not wishing to incur his wrath in the shape of a fine we made another effort to find the new official aire and headed there for a night. It was OK as it had free wifi and we caught up with some admin. (Not this blog, obviously).