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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Walking back down the main road we came across some lovely ceramic signs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the end of the wall you get a good view of the very modern 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.
The best we saw was at Hornillo Corner, opposite the beach. The wide mosaic covered stairs are the work of Juan Martino “Casuco”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
This old city is full of artistic murals and decorations.
The Carrer Puchalt is characterised by it’s colourful steps and is one of the most easily recognised features of the old city.
As ever, the old city is on a hill and the streets wind up and down making every turn a photo opportunity.
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.
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.
They say you should never go back and usually we thoroughly agree. However, we were happy to make an exception in relation to Valencia. We even stayed on the same campsite as last year. The main excitement was the journey through Valencia in the van, during the rush hour! All credit to Clyde for keeping his cool and getting us safely through the chaos.
The weather has not been as good this year and so we have needed to keep on the move a bit more. We caught the bus into the city and tried to visit the places we missed last time. The tourist map, collected from the tourist information office, was not very helpful to us as the locations of the historic buildings we wanted to visit were not very clear. The very helpful young man in the TI office did his best to point us in the right direction but we were a lost cause!
We started off with a cup of coffee in the Plaza Reina, just across the square from the cathedral. There was a busker playing some jolly music on his guitar, which added a bit of atmosphere.
I really wanted to visit the Plaza Tossal, which is at the centre of the area boasting some amazing graffiti. Sadly, due to the vagueness of the tourist map, we found ourselves at the central Mercado. Not to be too picky, we went in to soak up the atmosphere. We went downstairs to use the facilities and Clyde missed his footing and fell down the stairs. He was a bit shaken by the experience but worst of all, he twisted his bad knee. That rather put paid to our exploration plans. Whilst he sat on a wall outside the Mercado and waited for the painkillers to take effect, I went back inside for a look at the building. It is very attractive both inside and out.
Opposite the Mercado is a row of very attractive buildings, now housing cafes. It was bustling with students and tourists and provided a good opportunity for people watching.
After a rest in the sunshine we decided we had better make our way back towards the bus stop. We still had our sandwiches in our backpacks, so we pottered along to the Plaza Adjuntament to sit by the fountain and have our lunch. Once again I abandoned the wounded soldier and went to have a look around the square.
The fountain is fabulous and the numerous water spouts shoot water out at varying heights making a mesmerizing display.
We walked slowly, with poor Clyde hobbling painfully, back to the place we caught the bus last year. Typically, it has been moved! Not to be outdone, I checked around the corner on the main road and with my eagle eyes, ascertained that the stop was not too far away. As we waited for the bus we admired the Porta de La Mar (at least, I think that is what it’s called)
It is always nice to have a pleasant outlook whilst awaiting the bus.
We had a slightly longer stay on the campsite than planned but, it meant we had time to explore the area a bit more in the van. We had a lovely tour around the Albufera lagoon and enjoyed coffee in the sunshine at the beachside restaurant in El Saler. We also had some very nice fellow travellers on the campsite to chat with. Altogether, notwithstanding the unfortunate injury, we enjoyed our return visit to the area.
We left Peniscola to travel south towards Valencia and were drawn to the town of Sagunto which is 24 kilometers north of Valencia. We stayed at a small place called Playa de Pucol which has nothing but a beach and a couple of campsites, but is within reach of Sagunto. We had to take a bus into the little town of Pucol then walk to the train station for a train journey of 6 minutes to Sagunto. All quite painless. Once at the station in Sagunto, we had to guess which way to the historic part of the city and in our usual fashion, we took a slightly longer route than was necessary. However, we managed to find the tourist information and were provided with some helpful information, a map and directions.
Sagunto has a long history due to its geographical position. There is evidence of bronze age habitation in the surrounding hills and according to the tourist information sheet, Sagunto was so strategically placed, its conquest by Hannibal led to the starting of the second war between Rome and Carthage. Ultimately, it was reconstructed under the protection of Rome and that led to an artistic and economic development. During the 5th to 7th centuries Sagunto was invaded by the Barbarian peoples and during the 8th century it was devastated by the Arabs. However, the Muslim dominance brought the flourishing of agriculture, pottery and commerce as well as the building of public baths, palaces, mosques and schools. And so it went on, with the Christian conquest in 13th century and rivalry between the Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The 20th century brought an economic boom in the agricultural and industrial sectors. Today, it is considered to constitute a pillar of the economic sector of the Valencian Autonomous Region and has the second largest population after Valencia.
We were most interested in seeing the Jewish Quarter and the castle. We had not realised there would be a Roman Theatre as well. When we were there a lively school party were enjoying the Roman ruins. The theatre seems to have been partially rebuilt and we found it a bit disappointing after Cartagena, Orange and Arles.
The route through the old town up to the castle took us past the entrance to the Jewish Quarter. The streets here were very narrow and we could imagine how it would have been before the Jews were expelled.
We passed the Iglesia Santa Maria but it was closed so not able to have a look inside. It is closely surrounded by narrow streets and the best view was from the road up to the castle. It’s construction commenced in 1334 in the same place as the main mosque of the time, and was completed at the beginning of the 18th century! Apparently its interior consists of 3 naves over 20 meters high with buttresses that form the side chapels. Such a shame we couldn’t go in. It was declared a National Monument in 1982.
The castle is nearly a kilometer long and is built on the last hill of the Caderona range. It has commanding views across to the coast in one direction and to the mountains in the other. It was tremendously windy up there too. There are different areas that had different purposes. Unfortunately the information was a bit sketchy so I am not sure what was which. It was very Roman and ruined!
The castle was declared a National Monument in 1931. It is free to visit and although there was a lady in a hut who issued us with a ticket, you are free to wander. There were signs of work going on so they obviously do their best to retain it for future generations. We were surprised not pay anything as it must take a lot of money to carry out the essential preservation work.
After our descent to sit in the Plaza Mayor with our sandwiches, we followed a more direct route back to the railway station. We were just in time to catch the next train back to Pucol and rest our weary legs for the 6 minute ride. Once back in Pucol we stocked up on essentials and went in search of a bus back to the campsite. No luck as we had just missed one and we had a 2 hour wait. Using the wonders of modern science, I googled up a taxi. Marvellous, if a bit pricey. 😐
We did not expect to find ourselves back in Peniscola almost exactly a year after the last visit. Due to a late start to our Winter trip, we had to change our itinerary and travel down the east side of Spain instead of coming down through Portugal. After our stay near Barcelona we decided that we would stop off at Peniscola and visit the castle. Last year we enjoyed the old town but did not go into the castle.
The sight of the castle from the promenade is still stunning, especially if you catch the sun shining on the white buildings.
The colourful letters proclaiming the name of the town with the old city as a backdrop is eye-catching. It was so popular with the tourists that I had to wait a long time to get an unadorned picture!
Peniscola is called “The City in the Sea” as the spur it sits on is surrounded by water everywhere except it’s northeast corner. Due to its position, it has been popular with a number of civilisations from the time of the Phoenicians. Between 1294 and 1307, the Knights Templar built the Castle upon the remains of The Arab citadel. The castle was the residence of Pope BenedictoXIII when he was in exile from Avignon in 1411. He changed the castle into a palace and papal library. Today the castle is a historical preservation area and is an interesting place to visit, with fantastic views.
We focussed on the castle on this visit and enjoyed the increasingly splendid views as we climbed up through the steep streets to the top. It is a bustling town with lots of touristy shops and plenty of restaurants. The residents have an interesting journey through the steep and narrow streets in their scratched and battered little cars!
Here are a few pictures from the trip.
The artillery gardens have been developed on the old artillery storage deep in the rocks below the castle. There are many old caves hewn into the rocks which have stood the test of time and were home to weapons and gunpowder. Today, the landscaped grounds are a peaceful spot and home to several birds of prey. We didn’t manage to ascertain why they are kept there but they seemed to be quite content on their perches in the shade of the palm trees.
The weather was a bit unsettled whilst we were here but, I managed to get the washing done, stir my lazy bones with some brisk walks along the promenade and excite my brain with a bit of history. It was definitely worth the return visit.
After our stay in Beynac, we had intended to visit more of the beautiful villages but the weather had turned nasty so we had a brief stopover in Port Vendres, howling winds and horizontal rain included.
We then fled the rotten weather in France and agreed to meet up with some friends at Vilanova I Geltru. At their suggestion we stayed on a campsite with a bus service to Barcelona. Very handy.
It is a long time since we last visited Barcelona. On that occasion, we flew from our home in Germany and met up with some friends from the UK. We all stayed in the same hotel on the Ramblas. We had a thoroughly good time visiting all the Gaudi attractions as well as enjoying late meals in the lively old part of the city and soaking up the atmosphere along La Ramblas.
This flying visit was a chance to revisit the Ramblas and have a stroll around the port. It did not disappoint, which is a relief when revisiting old haunts. The food market, Mercat de la Boqueria, was vibrant and the human statues suitably impressive.
We were delighted to see one of the human statues take a call on his mobile!!
We passed the Iglesia Betlem and decided to have a quick look. It was built in 1681 in Baroque style for the Jesuits, but was completely gutted in 1937 as anarchists ransacked the city’s churches. It is an interesting mixture of styles.
At the port end of the Rambles is the Mirador de Colon. This is a striking statue that commemorates the visit made by Christopher Columbus in June 1493.
The old port (Port Vell) is a great attraction and has been transformed into an entertainment zone. The wooden swing bridge takes you across to restaurants, boutiques and gift shops. There are splendid views of the harbour and you can also enjoy a walk around the marina marvelling at the multi-million pound yachts.
After our walk around the marina we explored a few of the small roads and squares off La Ramblas. There were plenty of tourists livening the place up.
By now we had sore feet so we found our way back to the bus. Our return trip to Barcelona was very enjoyable and less hectic than last time. On that occasion we had visited all the main attractions. This time we just soaked up the atmosphere.
Beynac-et-Cazenac is one of the Beaux Villages. After our sobering visit to Oradour, we thought it would be uplifting to stroll around a beautiful old village. We had already identified this as a possibility en route to the East coast of Spain and it also has an Aire for us to stay overnight.
We arrived at the village late afternoon and the warm sun was lighting it up and shining on the river Dordogne.
We parked on the aire and walked down to the town just in time to see two hot air balloons rising into the sky.
It was so pleasant that we treated ourselves to a glass of wine at the riverside terrace restaurant along with a few of the locals. It was so nice that we booked a table for the next evening, as it was our wedding anniversary, and thus decided to stay for 2 nights.
The site of Beynac has been occupied since the Bronze Age and the naturally defensive site became the seat of one of the four baronies of Perigord during the Middle Ages. The castle was besieged by Richard the Lionheart in 1197, then demolished by Simon de Montfort. It was rebuilt before being recaptured during the Hundred Years War(1337-1453) by the armies of both the English and French kings. It was abandoned during the French Revolution and fell into disrepair. It’s owner began restoration work in 1961 and it is still on going. The castle towers over the village below and is a most impressive sight.
The village was very quiet when we were there as it is out of season. We climbed the steep, narrow streets carefully as the cobbles are uneven and would be slippery in wet weather. However, we were treated to some stunning vistas on the way and were struck by how medieval it still seems.
The castle has a few rooms with furniture to give an idea of its splendour but, it is mostly empty.
Outside the castle grounds afford splendid views of the village and valley below.
There are splendid views across the Dordogne valley and you can’t help marvelling at the work involved in building such a commanding bastion.
After another night in the peaceful aire we started the trek southward, hoping to escape the increasingly chilly temperatures.
You cannot fail to be moved by the experience of visiting the Centre de La Memoir at Oradour. We had heard about it from fellow travellers and, finding ourselves heading this way, we could not miss it.
We parked at the free aire on the other side of the current village of Oradour and walked to the memorial site. On the day we visited we were lucky to have a beautiful sunny autumn day. The horrors of the events of 10th June 1944 were very much at odds with such a lovely day.
The memorial centre traces the historical events from 1933 to 1953, from the growth of Nazism in Europe to the Bordeaux trial. There is too much to recount here but, the massacre that took place on 10 Jun 44 was a terrible reprisal for attacks by French maquisards.
On that day, a Waffen SS unit of the “Das Reich” division encircled the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane. They hearded the women and children into the church, used the men to search for weapons and dig their own graves. Some villagers were held in the village square. Simultaneously the soldiers shot all the villagers. They set off a gas bomb in the church and when that failed to kill everyone they threw in grenades. This was a massacre of 649 innocent people in order to subdue the occupied population of France and send a warning to the resistance. After the murders, they piled the bodies up and set fire to them followed by the village buildings. Before burning the buildings the soldiers looted them, removing anything they could carry.
The entire village has been preserved as a shrine. There are rusting cars, bikes, sewing machines and, in the church, a child’s toy pram. Some of the signs are still there such as those on the garage. The post office still has it’s facade and the bread ovens are still there in the boulangerie. There is a cafe table outside one of the village cafes. It is an extremely moving memorial to those 649 people.
Outside the memorial village there are further monuments to the people who died.
The village was entirely rebuilt in the following years. The buildings were all a subdued grey as befitted the occasion but, in more recent times, colour has started to return. The people of Oradour honour their murdered relatives with two silent memorial events each year and by continuing to live and work here. Life goes on but this atrocity will not be forgotten.
We had to spend some time at home sorting out family business and giving the van a good clean. After a few nights free camping in Gosport, visiting the dentist and other tedious tasks, we found ourselves free to get moving again so, I phoned DFDS to book a ferry and we were all set. We called in to visit Marcus in Emsworth on our way through to Newhaven and dashed off to spend the night at the ferry terminal. The crossing next morning was very pleasant, sunny and calm. We decided to stay on the aire at Dieppe before starting our journey south.
Last year at this time we had just started our adventure of living in the van and travelling as much as possible. We have learned a lot in that year. On that journey, we travelled down the west coast of France and into Spain which meant that we cut through the middle and popped out at Peniscola. This year we have decided to travel into Eastern Spain and I am looking forward to visiting Toulouse and Carcassonne on the way. We have no other plan except to be at Alicante airport for our flights home on 22 Dec.
Our first stop was Chartres, another small old town dominated by an enormous Gothic cathedral. We booked into a campsite that is handy for walking into the town and enjoyed the Autumn sunshine. It was Sunday when we made our first sortie into the town and as ever, there were people enjoying coffee and food at the many establishments. There was also a flea market on in the covered market place which was attracting a few shoppers. Chartres is a very old historic town with Roman origins but became an important centre in the Middle Ages.
The town and the cathedral were given new life in 876 when Charles the Bald donated the holy relic of “Mary’s Veil”.
Following that, the cathedral has had a long and chequered history with several devastating fires and resulting rebuilds. Chartres suffered badly from the Black Death in 1348 and the town became smaller and the outlying districts were abandoned. In 1979, the cathedral was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The cathedral has been granted a 15 million Euro facelift and the difference is very visible where the work has already been carried out. There is still a long way to go but, it will be almost like seeing a new cathedral. There is a film running of the restorers going about their craft and numerous information boards explaining the history and how the current work is enhancing and preserving the building.
The dimensions of the cathedral are tremendous and you can only marvel at the skill of the many craftsmen who must have worked on it. I wonder who project managed it!
The exterior is also eyecatching and we sat on a bench in the sun to soak it in.
The left tower, which is much more flamboyant, is the newer addition dating to the 16th Century. The right tower was built in the 12th century and is much less detailed. The rose window in the centre dates back to the 13th century.
There is much more to Chartres than the cathedral and there were so many places to visit that we missed. We did walk along the Esplanade De La Resistance in our search for somewhere to buy some fruit and milk. A very nicely laid out memorial walk.
The church of St Pierre is a well preserved gothic masterpiece apparently. Unfortunately, we were not able to go inside due to work being carried out.
Wandering around the back streets on our second day, in search of provisions, we saw this tromp l’oeil. It was really successful as a deceit to the eye.
As it was a bit nippy and dull on our second day in Chartres, we wandered no longer. Tomorrow we move on to Limoges.
Who hasn’t heard of Whitby Abbey? We had intended visiting lovely Whitby on our journey north but ran out of time before meeting our friends at Berwick. Unexpectedly, due to the weather, we found ourselves able to fill in the gap. We stayed on a campsite just outside the town and walked in. The bus back was very welcome after a long day walking around the town and up to the Abbey.
The cliff top ruins of Whitby Abbey are very striking and can be seen from miles away. Possibly the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous “Dracula”. It’s monastery was founded in 657 by St Hilda of Hartlepool, daughter of King Oswy of Northumberland, and by 664 had become important enough to host the Synod of Whitby, an event of seminal importance in the development of Christianity. As with all such buildings there is a long and varied history to be discovered in the Visitor Centre.
The route up to the Abbey involved climbing the 199 steps up to the church of St Mary. The stairs are now paved, but originally there was a wide wooden staircase built for pall bearers taking coffins up to St Mary’s. The church is a mixture of styles but sadly, it was not open for me to enjoy.
Having scaled the heights, I had some splendid views down over the harbour and the town.
We walked along the pier in the wind and enjoyed watching the powerful waves crashing into the sea wall.
The town is in two parts, either side of the River Esk. There are two piers and two lighthouses, both sides of the river having it’s own identity. There was plenty to enjoy in the way of small independent shops and eateries, and boat trips to suit all fancies.
Captain Cook was 9 years in Whitby learning his trade and his ship “Endeavour” was a converted Whitby built collier. His first voyage to the Pacific was 250 years ago. A replica of the ship is alongside in the harbour.
There is a lot to see in and around Whitby but as usual, we only managed a whistle stop tour of the main bits. We didn’t even partake of the famous fish and chips, a source of bemusement to our Northern friends!
Our next stop was Robin Hood’s Bay which is situated between Whitby and Scarborough, a long awaited treat as we have heard so much about it. This is the most heavily visited spot on this stretch of coast and is made up of gorgeous narrow streets and pink tiled cottages toppling down the cliff-edge site. It is an old fishing village but, in the 18th century, it was reportedly the busiest smuggling community on the Yorkshire coast. It has a recorded history dating back to 1322-1346 when a letter from Louis Count of Flanders to Edward 111, pleaded for the return of his ship which was taken to “Robin Oode Bay” by the people of England. There are many other historic facts and tales relating to this village which makes it a most interesting place to visit. It is also very picturesque.
The Old Coastguard Station has been taken on by the National Trust and has been turned into a visitor centre with displays relating to the area’s geology and wildlife. We didn’t see any of the more exciting wildlife, but did enjoy the geology of the bay.
It was a good walk up and down the narrow streets and across the beach. We definitely enjoyed the welcome break back at the top.
This was a great place to spend the day and we were delighted that we had managed to find a gap in our schedule. We would love to visit again.
We were nearing the end of our sojourn but could not miss Scarborough. This is the oldest resort in the country which first attracted early 17th century visitors to it’s newly discovered mineral springs. The Victorians enjoyed it as a “Watering Place” but, it was transformed after WW2 when it became a holiday haven for workers from the industrial heartlands. It still retains it’s holiday resort persona with a mixture of beautiful sandy beaches, amusements and old town streets. The more modern shopping centre stretching down from the railway station is less attractive.
We rather liked the bay and could just imagine spending happy days here with the grandchildren. We have a friend who is very likely to do just that as she is a Scarborough girl. Clyde was less than kind in his comments about Scarborough on Facebook, and rightly incurred the wrath of some of our Northern chums! Personally, I rather liked it although, Robin Hood’s Bay is more my “cup of tea”.
The tramway down to the beach is still running and we made use of it after a long walk around the headland. Scarborough is a proper old seaside resort with much to commend it.
By now, it was nearly time for us to be in Newark on 28th Sep, but we just had time to call in at Beverley to visit the magnificent Minster. Beverley is a small market town with a tangle of old cobbled streets and elegant Georgian and Victorian terraces. The Minster dominates the town with it’s Gothic twin towers. We were treated to an impromptu tour by an enthusiastic German lady who is an enthusiastic adoptee of the town.
This was the last stop on our way back towards central England and some overdue family time.
After a very rough night, we were glad to have the Culloden visitor centre to visit. We learned so much about the battle that resulted in Bonnie Prince Charlie making his famous escape to Skye. The events leading up to the battle on 16 April 1746 are well documented here and the interactive theatre, really brings it to life. It was a surprise to learn that the battle, which had been on the cards for quite some time, was over in an hour. The conditions on the day were atrocious, and we could sympathise given the Continue reading “Sep 18 East Scotland”
Now we were back on the mainland, we were back on our intended trip north to Ullapool. It is a long way from Skye along fairly narrow roads. We used the A890 and A896 via Kinlochewe. By the time we got to Kinlochewe we were ready to stop for the night. It was quite windy and a bit wet too so we were glad of the break. On the way there we had stopped at some delightful viewpoints alongside Lochs Carron and Torridon.
Torridon village is very picturesque, sitting at the top of the loch. We considered staying overnight in the village car park but we hadn’t got far enough on our planned route. Definitely on our list for another time.
As we travelled along towards Ullapool, we came upon Inverewe Garden, overlooking Loch Ewe (believe it or not!). I had seen a feature on the gardens on Gardeners World, years ago and I was really happy to have the opportunity to visit. We were also delighted to be able to enter for free as members of the National Trust.
The gardens are insulated by the North Atlantic Drift and therefore, plants from all around the world thrive here. From the 1860s, Osgood Mackenzie, a man of vision and determination, succeeded by his daughter Mairi, transformed this once barren, windswept headland into a beautiful and unique garden. It is referred to as the Oasis of the North.
There are some fabulous ironworks, interesting sculptures and, of course, several different gardens.
As the day was rather inclement, we continued along the A832 along Wester Ross, past Loch Mares, Little Loch Broom and Loch Broom. All very pretty but due to the increasingly heavy rain, not as spectacular as we had hoped.
We decided to stay overnight on a campsite as it was getting so wild. Search for sites came up with a site at Ardmair Point. We had a lovely pitch overlooking the Loch and were gently rocked to sleep! I managed to see a couple of otters in the morning, which was a thrill. Sadly, I could not get close up pictures and Clyde could not see them at all. I did see them, honestly!!
In the morning, we went into Ullapool to get provisions and checked the weather forecast again. The storm Ali was upon us and it was due to get worse over the following week. As we needed to be back in Newark by 27 Sep, we decided to abandon our North coast plan and head across to the East side of Scotland. Decision made, we picked up the A835 to Inverness and crossed the Moray Fifth. Culloden was a convenient place to head for and we booked into the Caravan and Motorhome club site for 2 nights. The site was very handy for a visit to the famous battlefield and visitor centre the next day.
Refreshed after our rest day, we stocked up with provisions at the Co-op in Kyle of Lochalsh, and headed over the bridge to Skye. The first place you come to once across the other side is Kyleakin. We parked up there and had a look around the harbour. There is also a visitor centre which provides information about the author, Gavin Maxwell, of the famous book “Ring of Bright Water”, which was about his relationship with the otters that he kept as pets here on Skye. The book was published in 1960 and is considered a literary masterpiece by some.
Before the bridge was built, the ferries across to Skye arrived here. It was also a fishing port and there is still a small active fishing harbour there today. It is a picturesque place to start a visit to Skye.
From here we drove along the A87 to Sligachan where we decided to spend the night. Sligachan is overlooked by the Cuillin Hills and is a popular spot for campers and walkers.
Keeping to the A87 overlooking the Sound of Raasay, we stopped off at Portree, which is the capital of the island. Here we enjoyed the picturesque harbour, along with a contingent from a visiting cruise ship! The weather was rather unsettled so we decided not to stay in the sea front car park overnight.
From Portree we took the scenic A855 coastal road along the Trotternish peninsula and stopped to view a few of the sights.
This part of the island boasts some bizarre scenery, particularly on the east coast, where volcanic basalt has pressed down on the softer sandstone and limestone underneath. This has caused massive landslides which, in turn, have created pinnacles and pillars. First stop was The Old Man of Storr.
This is a tall pillar of rock on the plateau of Storr that towers over the road. We parked alongside the road and I embarked upon the long walk up to the stone but, the rain was coming in and visibility was falling rapidly, so I beat a hasty retreat back to Clyde waiting patiently in the van. The views must be stunning from up there on a good day so it was disappointing to be rained off.
The next stopping point was kilt Rock and Mealt falls. We also visited Staffin which is just a little further along the road. The scenery on the peninsula was varied and often dramatic.
By now we were in need of a plan for the night so we cut across from just North of Staffin to Uig. This is a small port where you can catch a ferry to Harris. We stayed overnight on a small family run campsite near to the ferry port. The mixed weather treated us to some dramatic light and a double rainbow.
Our cross country route on a very minor road had been quite challenging for the driver but, at least he was used to the van and driving on the left. We met an American couple who had hired a motorhome and had some traumatizing experiences to recount! It was very interesting talking to them and hearing about their experiences. They had been wowed by the scenery on their 3 week tour of Scotland.
I had rather hoped to visit Dunvegan Castle which is on the west side of Skye but.as ever, we were running out of time if we wanted to see more of the north of Scotland. I compromised and we stopped at Dunvegan village in the mistaken belief that we would at least be able to see the castle from a distance. No such luck, as it was well hidden by the trees.
We followed the A863 to Sligachan and stopped for a wander along the streamside. It was so tranquil there we were tempted to stay again but, I was a woman on a mission to visit Armadale Castle so we pressed on.
Armadale Castle is actually a ruin now but is situated in some lovely gardens with a view of the Sound of Sleat. Clyde decided to stay in the van as he is a bit less enthusiastic than me when it comes to old ruins. I had a walk around the gardens and then improved my knowledge of the history of Scotland in the visitor centre. It is an extremely interesting exhibition with plenty of facts to interest all ages. The museum tells the story of the Highlands and Islands through the story of the powerful Clan Donald.
From Armadale we retraced our steps along the A851 to Broadford where we booked onto a new campsite for the night and stocked up once more in the local Co-op. It was our last night on the Isle of Skye and we reflected that we had enjoyed every moment of our visit. There are beautiful views wherever you look and plenty of wildlife and history to enjoy.