After Salamanca, we really needed to get ourselves up to the
north coast. We stopped overnight at
Leon on a handy free aire and then moved on up to the coast. The journey took us through some gorgeous
scenery as it is a mountainous region.
We had read that Cudillero, on the coast west of Oviedo, is
like a Greek fishing village. This
appealed to us and so we had decided to detour slightly from the obvious route
to Bilbao and give it a look.
I had not checked whether the campsites were actually open and so was horrified to discover, at the locked gates, that I had made a bit of a mistake! A quick look on Search for Sites led us to the harbour where you can park overnight. In fact, we were happier with that option as we had a ringside view of the little harbour and the village. It was a most picturesque spot and was divine when the sun set and the lights came on.
The next stop was inland again into the Picos
Mountains. We stopped for the night at a
small town called Cangas de Onis. It has
a pretty river running through, and a Roman bridge over the rocks. All very unexpected for Spain.
Onwards into the mountains, we stopped on a campsite so I
could do some washing. The setting was
glorious with mountain views and a babbling stream. Whilst the washing dried, we followed the
advice of the lady in the tourist information at Cangas, and drove to Las
Arenas. The drive along the AS114 was
fabulous with mountains and gorges.
After a lunch stop we went up a narrow road to the funicular railway at
Poncebos. It wasn’t open but again, the
views were stunning.
It would be lovely to spend more time exploring this area but we were on a bit of a timescale now so we moved on to Santillana del Mar. Santillana is a medieval village, which made a nice change and the free overnight parking was within a ten minute walk of the village. It is a bit touristy with lots of little shops selling gifts and souvenirs but also some nice artisan shops selling local products. We had 2 nights here before moving on to Bilbao. The countryside all around the area is very Alpine and it was so nice to see green fields and grazing cattle.
Salamanca is another must see place if you are in this
region of Spain. The lady who owns the
campsite that we stayed on advised me that it is very much like Cambridge. It has a large University population, lots of
lovely buildings and narrow streets and a young atmosphere. We were inclined to agree.
Rather than dash about trying to visit all the historic buildings, we mostly drifted around the busy and historic streets enjoying the old architecture.
The Plaza Mayor is one of the best we have seen. It was full of people, the buildings and arches are beautiful and it was a great place to sit with a coffee and soak up the atmosphere.
We had also decided to visit two museums for a change, the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco and the Museo de La Automocion de Salamanca.
The Art Deco museum was full of lovely pieces of sculpture, pictures and furniture from the period. The glass and porcelain was gorgeous and there were a few fabulous Lalique pieces. The building itself was built by a wealthy resident and was a true reflection of the period. It was not possible to take any photos inside, which was a shame, as the glass ceiling is stunning.
Both of these were located beyond the new and old cathedrals towards the river Tormes.
Along the way we also admired the Casa de Conches, looked in wonder at the madly ornate Edificio Historico de la Universidad and the romantic gardens.
Scattered around the city in various squares are some rather
amusing and quirky statues, the work of Xu Hongfei. No idea why, but they were certainly a
talking point amongst the visitors.
There was so much to see that we spent two days in the city. On the second day (a Sunday), the bus dropped us a distance away from the centre as there was a road race taking place. This stumped us a bit to start with and we ended up walking further than intended. The automotive museum was our target and it was a close run thing to get there with enough time to see everything before it closed. Once again, we were disappointed that the museums close for a three hour break in the middle of the day. However, we are getting wise now and try to manage our visiting times accordingly.
We ended our visit with hot chocolate and fartons in the Plaza Mayor where a group of youngsters from some other country, were performing and trying to sell their DVD. They were very entertaining but we did not buy the DVD.
You hear about Segovia and people say “oh you must visit Segovia, it is beautiful”. So, we found a free overnight parking site close to the town, by the bullring, and went to check it out.
We were knocked sideways when we took our first walk into the town alongside the Roman Aqueduct! The pictures say it all:
I can’t resist a few facts! The 167 arches are made of
granite from Guadarrama and are made up of unmortared, brick-like ashlars
joined by means of an ingenious force equilibrium.
Max height of bridge: 28.10 metres
Total no of pillars: 120
Total no of arches: 167
The Devil fromSegovia
According to legend, sloth rather than Rome was the real
mother of the Aqueduct.
A young lady who worked as a water carrier, fed up with
carrying her pitcher through the steep streets of the city, made a pact with
the Devil; he would keep the woman’s soul if, before the cock crowed the
following dawn, he had found a means for water to reach her dwelling.
Conscious of her guilt, the young lady began praying
incessantly to avoid the loss of her soul.
Meanwhile a storm broke out and the devil started working
frantically. Suddenly, the cock crowed
and the devil gave a terrifying shriek: for the sake of one more stone he had
yet to place, he had lost the girl’s soul.
The girl confessed her deed to the people of Segovia who,
after sprinkling the arches with holy water to wipe out any traces of sulphur,
happily accepted the new addition to the city.
It is said that the holes which can be seen even today are
the devil’s footprints.
Today there is a sculpture of the devil taking a selfie in
front of the aqueduct, in tribute to the legend.
After exploring all aspects of the wall we walked through the town streets enjoying the other buildings and finally the Plaza Mayor. We had coffee sitting in the sun then found a bench to sit and eat our sandwiches.
On our second day there, the weather was a lot brighter and
we walked on up through the Jewish Quarter to the Alcazar. It was quite a climb and we had been along
the outer road first to get the better views of the city wall. I left Clyde having a beer at a small
pavement café part of the way up and pushed on to see the view from the other
side. I did not go into the Alcazar but
the outside was worth a look.
Having satisfied my curiosity, I walked back down the hill
and joined Clyde for a beer. We were
then joined by an English couple who live in Spain, and had a pleasant half
hour chatting in the slowly setting sun.
We will now be those people who say “oh you must visit
Segovia, it is beautiful”.
Madrid was now within reach and we had booked a night in a hotel for Clyde’s birthday. The hotel Casuel del Teatro is in a side street a short walk from the centre of Madrid and it is located in a building protected by its high artistic, historical and architectural value. It was inaugurated in 1925 by the Madrid architect Antonio Rubio. It was influenced by Neoclassicism, with oil paintings on the façade that give expression to the building. Inside it has high ceilings, mouldings and the original iron staircase balustrade. All the rooms are decorated to celebrate an aspect of theatre and ours was no exception.
Breakfast was taken in the rooftop room with views of the buildings around.
Our stay in Madrid was only for two days and we made the
most of being centrally located to explore the old city and to wander around in
the evening soaking up the atmosphere.
Usually, we have made our way back to our van by early evening and miss
the lively evening scene.
On our first day, we went to have a look at the Palacio
Real, the Cathedral, the Plaza Mayor and the Opera. We walked 6 miles around this area and took
in as many of the lovely buildings and squares as we could. After an evening stroll around the centre, we
decided to eat at the small local restaurant that is located next to the hotel. As ever, it was frequented by locals and was
extremely good value.
Lots of beautiful buildings around the centre. I can’t remember what they all were. Here is a selection.
On our second day, after a hearty continental breakfast, we walked across to the Parque del Buen Retiro. On the way we happened upon the Congreso de Los Diputados, which houses the historical documents from the adoption of the Constitution, from 1812 to 1978. It was free to enter so we thought we would have a quick look. It was surprisingly interesting and so an hour was whiled away with no effort. The next unexpected pleasure was in the Plaza de Cibeles. The Palacio de Cibeles was designed at the start of the 19th century as the headquarters of the National Postal Service. It took 12 years to build and was inaugurated on 14 Mar 1919. At the time it was known as Communications Cathedral and for 100 years it was the nerve centre of a powerful and effective communications system that covered all of Spain. It was municipalised in 2003 and the process started to turn it into the seat of Madrid City Council and of a new cultural centre. CentroCentro opened in 2011 and is quite an impressive building. We had coffee, at vast expense, in the cafeteria but we were too mean to pay for the rooftop visit.
Our last few hours were spent at the Retiro Park which has
lakes, glasshouse, band stand, statues and lots of gardens. It was a great place to enjoy people watching
and to relax. There was an exhibition of
modern art in the Palacio de Velazquez and in the Palacio de Cristal which we
were able to visit for free.
Having walked another few miles, we were happy to get on the
train back to 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.
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
Aranjuez is mostly used as a stopping point en route to other places but it is a worthy destination in its own right.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
There is a lot more to see in Seville so we will probably visit again on another trip to Spain.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
A beautifully tiled building caught our eye as we passed by
Another grand building impressed us as we turned away 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
We saw more of Malaga the following day when we explored the various back streets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
There are numerous squares in Alicante and at this time of year the colourful Poinsettas are used in displays such as this.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The views over the Albir and Altea bay are lovely and made for a very enjoyable walk.
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.
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.
The white houses are another feature that lifts the spirits. With the bright sunshine and blue skies they always look so cheerful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Cathedral is surrounded by buildings and therefore impossible to get a complete picture
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.