Exeter

After spending Easter with the family and doing a spot of grandparent duty enjoying the grandchildren, we felt the need for a change of scene.  We are a bit stuck in UK for now but making the most of the opportunities to explore.  We had never been to Exeter so we booked a few nights at the racecourse campsite.

Exeter Racecourse campsite
View across the heathland beyond the racecourse

On our first day we went in search of the park and ride into Exeter.  The nearest park and ride allows campervans but was very full.  However, we finally managed to obtain a space and headed into town for the afternoon.

As luck would have it, we were just in time for a free tour of the cathedral.  It is a stunning building with so much history.  It was started in 1114 and was remodelled in the Decorated Gothic style between 1270 and 1350. The vaulted ceiling is particularly impressive and it is the longest unsupported vaulted ceiling in the world.

Longest vaulted ceiling in the world

There are more than 400 bosses which act as locking stones for the vaulting.

Bosses on vaulted ceiling

There is an astronomical clock dating from 1484 which is still operational, and there is a hole in the bottom of the door below the clock which was cut sometime between 1598 and 1621 to provide access for the Bishops cat to deter rats and mice!

Astronomical clock

The organ is unusually placed in the centre between the nave and the choir.  There are further organ pipes along the West wall that provide the lowest notes.  The longest pipe is 36 ft tall.

There was so much of interest inside the cathedral but it is equally attractive on the outside and it can be seen from the modern shopping centre with a particularly fine view from Debenhams cafe.

Cathedral front
Cathedral Yard view
Seen from shopping centre

Next day we were earlier to town as we wanted to join a tour of the city.  There are a number of tours offered free by the Exeter Red Coat guides.  We spent 2 hours with our guide and gained a much better picture of the development of the city.  One of the oldest parks is Rougemont Gardens which are on the site of the castle, following the city wall.

Rougemont Gardens Introduction board
Castle built into city wall
Garden view

There was so much more information provided by the guide but too much for here.

Decorated wall in the back streets
Original entrance to the city

The last place on the tour was the Guildhall.  It is the oldest civic building in constant use in Europe.  The ceiling in the council chamber is very ornate.

Ceiling in council chamber

After the tour we went down to the quays for a wander.  There are some little individual craft shops which needed my attention.  I spent some money there and we also had coffee overlooking the river.  Quite a pleasant spot even on a rather dull day.

Exeter Quays

Altogether an interesting city.  There are a lot more places to visit in Exeter but they will have to wait until next time.

Short stopovers

On our way between Gosport and Bedford we needed an overnight stop.  We took a chance and parked in a seafront car park near Titchfield Haven. It was completely deserted except for the odd dog walker and lots of birds.  In the morning we enjoyed a walk along the beach as the sun rose.  Rather lovely.

Early morning view from car park
Harbour at Titchfield Haven
Early morning gathering

Continue reading “Short stopovers”

Short visit to Peak District

Still on our mission to remain in the UK in case we were required, we looked for somewhere we had never been before.  We were due at Newark on 28th for some warranty work to be undertaken on the van so, after studying the map of UK, we decided to head for the area around Buxton (a pleasant cross country trip to Newark).  There was a reasonable deal on at the campsite in Blackshaw Moor, so we booked in for 6 nights.  The location provided us with a number of small towns, lovely countryside and National Trust properties to explore.

The campsite at Blackshaw Moor was ideally situated between Leek and Buxton and had good views all around.

Campsite view
Hill view from our pitch

It was not long since the heavy snows, and there were places where it was still very much in evidence.  As it was still rather wet everywhere we stuck with visiting the attractive small towns and a couple of National Trust properties.

Our first excursion was to the spa town of Buxton.  We caught the bus and had a dashing ride along the hilly and winding roads.  It was nice to be able to view the passing scenery rather than having to constantly scan the road.  Once there, we enjoyed a visit to one of the oldest surviving tea shops, Hargreaves, which had been in the same family for generations, the Pavilion Gardens which were opened in 1871 and the Concert Hall in 1875.

Buxton Pavilion
Totum pole carved in a single tree trunk in the gardens
Pavilion Gardens

There is also a fabulous Victorian greenhouse attached to the Pavilion building which has undergone a restoration project.

Inside the Pavilion Greenhouse

The town boasts many fine Georgian and Victorian buildings and the famous Crescent is the latest restoration project underway.

With all the history, elegant buildings and beautiful gardens, it is a place well worth a visit.

After a day at base trying to shake off our colds, a 5 mile round trip on foot to Tittesworth Reservoir (nice visitor centre) notwithstanding, we decided to have a National Trust day.  The chosen venue was Biddulph Grange Gardens.  Although it was a dull day, we found the gardens very attractive and could imagine the grandchildren enjoying the many secret gardens contained within.  The carp in the small lake were enormous and very keen to enjoy any offerings that came their way.  We were charmed by the Chinese garden and intrigued by the God versus Darwin exhibition.  You would have to visit to appreciate its uniqueness.

Chinese garden at Biddulph Grange
Chinese bridge

After lunch we decided to go back via the small market town of Leek.  Being a Saturday, the market was an antiques and collectables market.  There are several small independent shops around the market place which we had a look around.  I bought some wool in a lovely little craft shop.  After Buxton, the town was a bit less interesting for us.

Next day found us heading for another National Trust property.  This time we visited Little Moreton Hall which involved a very scenic drive from the campsite.  The Hall is unique as it has been largely unmodified since it was built 500 years ago.

Little Moreton Hall
Little Moreton Hall from the car park
Decorated end wall in the Long gallery

The reason for the level of preservation was that for 200 years, it was tenanted.  The tenants lived in one part of the building and the other rooms were only used when the owners came to visit.  The long oak table in the main hall is an original and it is fascinating to imagine how many people have sat there over the 500 years.  The table comprises boards set on trestles.  The boards are so long it is clear that they came from a very mature tree and it would have been a tree that was growing on the land belonging to the owners of the house.  The boards would have been leant against the wall when not in use to provide a clear space for sleeping.  They would also have been used as a stage for travelling actors (hence “treading the boards”).  There were so many interesting facts, it was a thoroughly enjoyable visit.  We treated ourselves to an afternoon cuppa in the garden whilst we soaked up the atmosphere.

Tea garden
The fireplace is level. Nothing else is!
Long Gallery. Look at those beams and the floor

 

The next lovely town we visited was Ashbourne where we enjoyed the old buildings and church.  We had lunch in a quirky little delicatessen down a side street.  Strangely, I didn’t take any photos here so you will have to imagine it!

On the way back to the campsite we took a different route to enjoy the beautiful scenery and stopped at Parsley Hay.  This is the site of an old railway junction and is now a walking and cycling centre.  The far-reaching views were fabulous.

View from Parsley Hay
Little bit of history

Next day we were on our way to Newark otherwise we would have stayed for longer.  There is still a lot of the Peak District for us to return to.

Visit to Warwick, UK

We had spent a few weeks now with the family and, as things were on an even keel for a bit, we had a break and booked ourselves onto the racecourse campsite at Warwick.  The campsite is perfectly situated for walking into Warwick and for catching buses to Stratford-on-Avon and Coventry.

We were well entertained exploring the lovely old town of Warwick with it’s attractive old buildings and history seeping from its pores.

Timbered shop in town centre

The castle is a real highlight and we remarked upon it’s invisibility.  In the Spanish towns, the castles were always on a hilltop and easily visible for miles around.  Oddly, it seemed, we could not see Warwick Castle until we were almost upon it.  I imagine it would have been more visible from the countryside beyond.

Warwick Castle from the grounds

Warwick Castle has a chequered history which moves from its construction as a Wooden Motte and Bailey castle by William the Conqueror to a massive stone fortress.  It is situated on a strategically planned location at the bend of the River Avon.

After the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror established a motte-and-bailey castle at Warwick in 1068 to maintain control of the Midlands as he advanced northwards.

In 1153, the wife of Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick, mistakenly handed the castle over to the invading army of Henry of Anjou (later Henry II) after she was tricked into believing her husband was dead. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Roger de Beaumont actually did collapse and die when he heard what she had done.

The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, during the reign of King Henry II (1154–89).  In more recent history it was used as a stately home.

We were a bit shocked at the entry fee, which we had booked online the day before.  However, after spending an extremely enjoyable day there, we felt that it had been worth the price.  After all, there is a considerable amount of maintenance to be done on such an old and historic building.

View from above the castle

There are a number of free tours throughout the day which adds to the pleasure and helps with understanding the history of the place.  There were also two bird of prey demonstrations on the day we were there.  I believe that during the main tourist months there may be more.

Bird of Prey handler
Bird of Prey over the Castle grounds

They also have special event days such as the jousting tournament.  We were really impressed when we entered the Great Hall.  It is full of displays of armour and weaponry.

Amazing display in the Great Hall in Warwick Castle
Suits of armour in the Great Hall

Although we had focussed on the castle, we also enjoyed wandering around the town with its small independent shops and historic buildings.  Altogether an interesting place to visit and there was plenty that we left for another time.

Old Dispensary in Warwick town

Lord Leycester Hospital – Mediaeval buildings which were never a hospital!  We did not go inside as we needed to pay another fee.  We would like to go on another occasion.

Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick
Front of Lord Leycester Hospital
Information board on Lord Leycester Hospital wall

Collegiate Church of St Mary – The Collegiate Church of St Mary is a Church of England parish church in the town of Warwick, England. It is in the centre of the town just east of the market place.

Collegiate Church of St Mary
Inside St Marys Church

Whilst in Warwick we enjoyed lunch in a small cafe full of locals and shopped in an independent bookshop where the staff were helpful and welcoming.  Numerous parks and a riverside walk would be on the agenda for a longer visit.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time as we were due back on Grandparent duty in Bedfordshire for the weekend.  We will almost certainly return one day.

Long journey home

For family reasons we decided we should cut our trip short and return home.

We left Almerimar on 3 Feb and headed to El Campello of which we had heard good things.  Unfortunately the campsite we selected was a bit shabby and disappointing.  However, it was only for one night and the onsite bar had a roaring fire and cheap wine to cheer us whilst we used the free WiFi.

Next stop was an Aire, Camping La Volta, at Peniscola for one night.  Not the best end of Peniscola but an adequate stopping place.  We started to feel the drop in temperature as we travelled North.  It was down to 8° here.

Next destination was North of Barcelona at Pineda del Mar.  The site was located right opposite a lovely beach and must be great in the Summer.  Sadly for us the weather was terrible by now and we had heavy rain and low temperatures for most of the long journey there.  We needed to make a decision on the ferry home so paid for WiFi.  Much surfing resulted in a decision to stick with DFDS and see if we could bring our booking forward from 27 Mar.  We now knew which route we would take through France and planned our stops and daily mileage target for travel.  As there were no campsites open this early in France, we settled on some likely looking Aires.

The trip through the mountains from Spain to France was interesting as there was snow dusting the landscape and the Spaniards were up there in numbers, enjoying the experience.

Snow in Spanish mountains
Just over the Spanish/French border. Snow topped mountains in the distance
Lunch stop just into France

First stop at Palavas les Flots near Montpelier.  This was a marina Aire and although somewhat cooler than that at Almerimar was also very attractive.  Mind you, it was a lot more expensive!  There were snow flurries in the evening but they had not laid when we got up in the morning.

Next day we set off for an Aire in a place called Perignat-les-Sarlieve, near Clermont-Ferrand.  There was a lot of snow on the way which was a little alarming.  As we got higher through the Massif Central, so it got snowier.

Starting to climb
View from a motorway stop
Tunnel entrance

We managed to get into the Aire through the snow and had a lovely stroll into the village.  We bought some divine cakes in the boulangerie.  The Aire was overlooking the chateau and was very peaceful.

Chateaux view

We left next day with snow falling.  The roads were becoming more challenging so we decided to break our usual rule and use the toll roads.  There were miles of stacked lorries as the poor driving conditions were managed by the gendarme.

Lorries stacked on the toll road
Hilltop town seen from the snowy toll road

Our next aire was in a village called Saran, north of Orleans.  The parking place was thick with snow but overlooked a lake and was very pretty.

Lake at Saran

We had a wander into the village again but did not find anywhere to buy milk as we had hoped.  Next day it was snowing again so we stuck with the toll roads and struck out for Dieppe.

Van parked on Aire in Saran
Saran. Cold but beautiful
Leaving Saran

After another long and challenging drive, we made it to Dieppe.  There was no snow after Rouen which was very welcome.

The aire at Dieppe was very handy for the ferry.  We stayed for 2 nights and had a relaxing day in the town on the Saturday.  It was market day and there was plenty to enjoy before the rain and gales set in!

Dieppe from the aire
Central Dieppe

Next day we caught the 0530 ferry to Newhaven.  It was an extremely rough crossing but we arrived to a lovely sunny English morning.  European adventure on hold for now.

Beautiful Newhaven harbour

Almerimar

After Mojacar we went to Vera where there is a Globecar dealer.  We had some warranty work to be done and the staff were really helpful and (bonus for us!) they spoke English.  We booked the van in for 10 days time (the soonest they could fit us in) and spent the night on an aire a short distance away.

The journey to the aire involved travelling down a dusty, narrow road towards a tennis complex.  However, the accommodation was nicely laid out and there were showers and a laundry.  The views were seriously unremarkable, in spite of the elevated position and therefore I have no pictures to share!

Whilst at Vera we arranged to meet some friends at Almerimar the next day.  We were originally heading for Almeria via the Cabo de Gato but, as we needed to be back at Vera, we changed our plans.  The trip to Almerimar was different as the landscape became full of plastic greenhouses as far as the eye could see.  They grow all the tomatoes and peppers in these plastic worlds but they are quite an eyesore.   Once off the main road, the scenery approaching Almerimar improved markedly.

We had read that the aire at Almerimar is very popular and this was borne out when we arrived at 1400 to find it pretty full already.  The aire is run by the marina and has lovely views of either the bay, or the marina.  Our first night was spent overlooking the marina but we moved across to the sea wall for the next 2 nights.  It was a very attractive location with a selection of bars and shops around the marina and for 10 euros a night without electric, was quite acceptable.  The following pictures give an idea of the beauty of the location, particularly in the evening sun.

Lighthouse lit by early evening sun
Old lighthouse used as admin centre for the marina
Lots of masts providing atmosphere
Stunning evening reflections
Sun setting over the bay
Our van enjoying the view!
Evening reflections
Could this be an old Dutch Master?!

The marina area was the best part of Almerimar so we did not explore further.  We did enjoy strolling around the extensive marina and along the prom.  A very reasonable meal was enjoyed one evening in a British restaurant.  We chose it as it seemed to have the most lively scene and cheapest food.  We were not disappointed at the quality either.

We noticed that there seemed to be snow on the mountains in the distance.

Snow on mountains in the distance

As Anne and David were intending to visit Granada next, there was consternation.  As it turned out, they remained for over a week waiting for the weather to improve.  Whilst at Almerimar, we decided that we needed to return to UK for family reasons and so we went our separate ways.  After 3 lovely relaxing days we cancelled our van appointment and started the long journey home.

Mojacar

Next trip was to Mojacar.  This is a hill village with white houses.  They are very striking against the surrounding mountains.  The village is a member of the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Spain.

White houses of Mojacar

The North African Moors established themselves in Spain in the early 8th century and Mojacar became part of their heritage.  On June 10th 1488, the leaders of the region drew up a pact of free trade between the Moors, Jews and Christians.   It expanded until the early 18th century and then went into a period of decline until the tourist industry began to reverse the trend.

Today the village is a colourful and attractive destination and we enjoyed the narrow streets, various shops and eateries.  There are numerous small squares in which to relax and soak up the local atmosphere.

Typical shopping street
Oranges growing freely on the street
Inside the Iglesia Santa Maria
The garden outside the church

We had a light lunch overlooking the valley below and enjoying the view.  Considering the location, the food was extremely reasonably priced.  We could not help comparing it with similar tourist destinations in the UK!

View from the terrace
View from the road overlooking the valley

I treated myself to a necklace featuring the El Indalo.  The townswomen, when finishing their houses white wall washing, would draw this symbol over the doors to keep their homes safe from bad spells or storms.  This magic symbol gives luck and protection when given as a gift.   As a gift to myself, I am hoping the magic works.

We spent a few hours wandering around the village enjoying views out across the hills.

View out towards the sea
Simple mountain view

After we had our fill of this delightful village, we headed down to Mojacar Playa.  We managed to find a spot to park for the night overlooking the sea and close to a handy supermarket.  Another free night which was very welcome.

Bateria de Castillitos

After our stay near Cartagena we headed towards Bateria de Castillitos at Cabo Tinoso.  The battery is located 218 metres above the sea on a rocky cliff top overlooking the Golfo de Mazzaron.

How did they build up on this ridge?!

Castillitos is one of a ring of batteries encircling Cartagena as part of the Plan de Defensa of 1926. The battery emplacements were constructed between 1926 and 1933 as part of the sophisticated defence network which aimed to protect Cartagena and its important military arsenal.

The guns were only fired once in action against Nationalist forces in April 1937 but, it was enough to demonstrate the havoc they could wreak and thus served as an effective deterrent. The enormous Vickers 381 mm guns are still in place and are seriously impressive.

One of the Vickers guns
Vickers gun overlooking the coast

The road up the mountain was narrow with some passing places and twisted its way to the top.  It was very scenic for most of the way but, the driver was unable to enjoy the views lest we plunge off the edge.  The navigator managed to tear her eyes off the road occasionally in order to report on the unfolding scene, and attempt to take photographs through the windscreen without obscuring the view of the road!

View from the cab on way up the mountain
View from top of the road to Castillitos

I had read a review of the camping opportunity at the top, and we had an idea that it would be a stunning location for a night.  However, the parking availability was limited at the top and we decided that it would feel too isolated once the handful of other visitors had gone home.

The walk up to the guns was very attractive and definitely more ornate than our local equivalent (Fort Nelson) on Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth.

Battery ahead with guns in sight
The road up to the battery

The journey back down the hill was equally exciting, and we made for a German run aire at Calnegre for the night.  Next stop – Mojacar

Visit to Cartagena

26 & 27January – Visit to Cartagena

After the pleasure of being at home visiting family we were raring to go.  We stopped off at La Marina to stock up on food and spent the night on a camperstop by the petrol station.  It was cheap and remarkably peaceful given that it was in a very busy location.

We selected an Aire near to Cartagena for our next stop as we were intending to stay a few days.  The Aires at Los Dolores fitted the bill as it was handy for the bus into town.  The proprietor of the Aires was very friendly and helpful.  She gave us a map of Cartagena, instructed me in the correct pronunciation, and directed us to the bus stop in the village.  Being unusually organised, we went on a recce so we would not waste time the next day.  We also found a handy local supermarket for re-provisioning.  The road into the village was a bit dicey as it was very narrow with no footpath.  There was much leaping into verges and flattening against walls!

Next day we caught the bus to the old town and visited the Tourist Information office.  We acquired more information and worked our way down to the port end.  Our main focus was the Roman Theatre and Forum.  However, there are many other interesting museums to cater for all tastes.  The Naval port is visible from the sea front and there is a Naval Museum and military arsenal.  There is also the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in the same area.  There are so many things to do and see that you could spend several days in Cartagena.

On our first day we headed for the Roman Theatre where we were welcomed by a very informative and enthusiastic young man on the reception.  On his advice we bought a three attraction ticket which made a good saving.  The theatre museum was very illuminating before we finally arrived, via a tunnel, at the theatre itself.

It is very complete and was every bit as impressive as we had hoped.  The Roman city had been covered up for generations and there are still remains of the cathedral of Santa Maria de Grazia which was built over part of the Roman Theatre.

Santa Maria de Grazia

Clyde could not resist the opportunity to stand on the stage and give a quick performance of “friends and Romans……”.

Clyde as orator

I was interested to learn that the theatre was a crucial element in the urban regeneration programme pursued by emperor Augustus who wished to restore the traditional values of Roman culture.  The theatre could seat 7000 spectators and came to play a vital role in the political and social machines of Carthago Nova.

View down onto Roman Theatre

It was interesting to see how the modern city has been built amongst the historic parts. This was reinforced as we walked down to the historic attractions when we came across an uncovered Roman road that has been left there with an explanation but no protection.  What is interesting on rereading one of the notices, is that they have re-covered a Punic house in order to preserve it until they can enhance its real value

Roman Road on way to old port area
Explanation of excavation policy
Modern flats overlooking Roman Theatre

We spent a long time exploring this fascinating monument and decided to save the other attractions for the next day.

Day two saw us heading for the Castillo de La Conception which is built on the highest of the five hills of the city.  We had paid to use the panoramic lift up to the ramparts.  Quite brave of me considering my fear of heights.  In fact it was not a clear glass lift as I had expected but had a grill type construction so, although it was quite windy, I felt reasonably secure.  Even so, I did not venture along the platform that jutted out from the hill front.  I left that to Clyde who is much braver than me.

Panoramic Lift to Castillo
Far reaching view from the Panoramic Lift
View of the Roman Amphitheatre, not open to the public

Once we were at the top, we had a walk up a tiered pathway, complete with peacocks, to the large walled parade ground with it’s commanding view of the port and the city.  We enjoyed our packed lunch there in the sun.

Castillo peacock
Good place for a picnic overlooking Cartagena from the Castillo

The Castillo was built in the 13th century, the site having been an important strategic and defensive location for the city for centuries.  The museum that is housed in the keep gives an interpretation of the history of the area dating back to the Middle Ages.

View towards harbour from the Castillo

Our next historic experience was the Roman Forum. This is one of the largest urban archaeological sites in Spain, with a modern roof protecting the remains of a whole block of the old Roman city.  There are two blocks separated by streets and comprising three buildings: the thermal baths of the port, the atrium building and the Shrine of Isis and Serapis.  It is possible to see what the various rooms looked like and there are wall paintings and mosaic floors.  According to our favourite guide, who was on the reception of the Forum today, there is a large part still to be uncovered.  He took us across the street and through another door where we were invited to go and have a look at an uncovered main street.  Work is still on going to uncover more of the street that will link with the Forum over the road.

Part of a decorated wall in the Forum

Interestingly, most of the work to uncover the old city has taken place since 2000.  Talking to the young guide, there is not as much interest in the old history as you might expect.  The focus seems to be more on the beaches and fine weather where tourism is concerned.

There are many other places of interest to visit.  The town hall was one of these, but we were there on a Saturday and it was only open for guided tours.  However, we were able to have a look at the entrance hall and two small exhibition rooms.  Just the entrance hall was stunning:

Galleried staircase in the Town Hall
Detail on the staircase
Part of the very ornate ceiling
Glass ceiling – colourful crest

We strolled along the harbour and spotted this unusual looking vessel.  I am sure it is a British ship and for some reason I have Bristol in mind as its home?  We thought we could see a Union flag flying but it was too far away to be sure.

Rather unusual vessel moored in the port on the Naval side

We enjoyed Cartagena for it’s history and the attractive port and old town.  It would certainly bear another visit in the future.

 

 

Trip home 12 to 24 Jan 17

We had decided to fly home to visit the family after Christmas so stayed in Alicante area.

As ever, the arrangements for leaving the van in an airport storage caused grief. We had to notify the insurance company and pay an extra premium after answering many searching questions about their security arrangements. Nothing ever simple!

It was wonderful to spend time with the family and especially the grandchildren.  We also caught up with some of our bestest friends and had good laugh.

Once back in Spain we stocked up at LIDL, spent the night at a camperstop in La Marina, then headed for Cartagena.

More of that on a new post.

L’Alcudia

After our excitement in Elche we were keen to visit the historic site of Ilici, which was the original settlement which became Elche.  La Alcudia, the hill, is the place name of Arabic origin by which the site of Ilici has been known since mediaeval times.  The site is owned by the University of Alicante and houses a museum and preserved arcaeological remains.  This is where the Lady of Elche was discovered.

A model of the Lady of Elche displayed amongst the ruins

This is a large site that spans over 6000 years of history.  It commenced with the Neolithic period (5000 BC) and was in use until the beginning of the Islamic period in the 8th century.  It’ most important periods were the Iberian, Roman and late Roman eras.

Until a few years ago, the site was a farm.  It also lies within Elche’s Palm grove, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is an unusual mixture of farmland, palm grove and historic monument.

Central area of the old city of Ilici – L’Alcudia
. Columns within the old city site

This was quite an exposed site and it was very quiet when we visited.  As it is a work in progress, it would certainly bear another visit in the future.

 

Jan 18 – ELCHE

Whilst staying at Guardamar, we had some excursions out around the area.  One of the places we had briefly visited was Elche which is a city immersed in a palm grove that was declared a Unesco World Heritage  Site in 2000.  The city is proud of its heritage and the Lady of Elche, discovered at nearby L’Alcudia in 1897.  More of that later.

We decided that there was enough of interest here to justify staying in the area for a few days.  We started our New Year by moving from Guardamar to Crevillent.  The town is unremarkable but, there is a good bus service to Elche and Alicante.  We stayed on a very pleasant campsite located in the grounds of a traditional Spanish hotel.  The hotel staff were friendly and welcoming and we could see why people might decide to stay for the Winter.

Our first excursion into Elche was to the old town where the Tourist Information centre was located.  Although it was a Monday, the TI centre was open!  We were provided with some directions for the most important museums and the palm groves.  We were also advised that as it  was Monday, the museums were all closed!  The Basilica de Santa Maria was supposedly open but not on this particular day.  We contented ourselves with exploring the famous palm groves and the Municipal Park with it’s fountains, dovecote, bandstand and visitor centre.  All very attractive and peaceful given its central position.

Centre of the Municipal Palm Gardens. Band stand in the background
Dovecote in the Municipal Park. There were a large number of doves making use of it.
Beautifully tiled fountain in the central park
Palm tree with several trunks

We had a memorable walk through the palm park as we went exploring and found a number of pathways leading to – a WALL!! Not to be beaten we managed to find a bit of wall low enough to scramble over and after consulting our excellent tourist map (ahem!), we navigated back to the centre of things.

Basilica de Santa Maria
Sculpture in the old quarter. Seemed to be something to do with women but I couldn’t find out what!

Since we had only whet our appetite looking at the outside of the Basilica and wanted to see the inside, we decided to return when everything was open.

Tuesday was a more successful day in respect of getting inside some of the historic buildings.  We also managed not to get lost amongst the palms.

The Basilica was open and was worth a visit.  There were many beautiful features and I ave included some here.

One of the extremely ornate alters in the Basilica
Close up of the detail. So much in this particular piece to marvel at
A beautiful model of the virgin Mary. Dressed in actual clothes rather than moulded plaster
Very detailed dome with gold centre piece
Close up of the detail in the dome

We also visited the Modern Art Museum, not worth hanging about for as we had done.  However, the walk along the Riu Vinlopo was interesting due to the extensive decoration

Part of the long walkway along the Riu Vinalopo
Riu Vinalopo. Now a very small channel for water with either side decorated in colourful paintworks

Following the tourist guide we also paid to enter the Callahora.  All we knew was that it had a spectacular decorated ceiling.  Well, what a sell, as they say.  We were no wiser after visiting but, there was a fairly ornately painted wooden ceiling!  Sorry, no picture available.  We were underwhelmed.

Altogether we had a couple of very enjoyable days in Elche and would recommend it.

Parque Montana

Just for a change of scene we have moved inland to Crevillente. This Natural Park is about 20 km inland from Alicante. There is a wild walking trail and far reaching views.

On the day we visited there was a party going on complete with very loud music.  However, we were happy to see the area being used by so many Spanish people.  We were the only non-Spanish parked there.

The trip to the park was along narrow, partially unmade roads.  Challenging at times for the driver!  Happily, it was not busy and there were signs to the parque along the way, which is not always the case.

View from Parque Montana

22 Dec – Alicante part 3

Yes, here we were again!  This time we made sure we arrived in time to visit the Modern Art Museum.  We even set the alarm for 0730, that was a shock to the system.

The Modern Art Museum is housed in the city’s oldest surviving civil building.  It is in the baroque style and is located next to the Basilica de Santa Maria.

Front of Santa Maria Basilica

It houses an important collection of 20th century art mostly donated by Eusebio Sempere.  There are works by Chillida, Picasso, Dali, Bacon and Miro among others.  We were struck by how extremely modern the building was inside.  It was free to visit and we were almost the only people in there.  There were also some modern art films running which captivated us for quite a long time.  Altogether an enjoyable couple of hours and worth the extra visit to Alicante.

After the bit of culture, we took our sandwiches down to the marina to soak up the sun.  This time we explored the far side of the marina complex and were struck again by the dominance of the castle.

Castle at Alicante viewed from the marina

We also treated ourselves to a cup of coffee sitting on a very comfy sofa on a marina side restaurant terrace.  We paid dearly for the experience, but it was rather lovely.

There are still places that we did not visit such as the matador museum, the secondary cathedral of St Nicholas, the palm park etc….However, what we did enjoy was the atmosphere and the buzz of the place.  We would definitely go to Alicante again.

20 Dec – Orihuela

This is another small Spanish town nestling in the shadow of the mountains with an old town which is worthy of a visit.  It is about 20 km from Alicante and is a pleasant drive along minor roads from Guardamar.

Our first success was to find a large car park on the edge of town where we had acres of space and there was no charge.  We struck out for the centre of town and the Tourist Information office (wait for it!!), but after much meandering and head scratching, we had still not located either.  A charming young man spotted our puzzled foreign faces, and asked if he could help.  In his much better English than my Spanish, he directed us to the old town square.  Once there we discovered the TI office, closed for the next 3 hours!  Oh well, as usual, we managed to amuse ourselves.

We went into the cathedral as it only cost 4 euros.  It was a good mixture of opulent and gloomy.

Extremely elaborate Gilded alter
A monstrance in the cathedral Treasury
Cathedral Choir Stalls enclosed by elaborate wrought iron railings

On our wanderings we had also stumbled across a Theatre called theTeatro Circo.  It was originally a semi-permanent structure for housing circuses.  It was installed in Alicante until 1907, when it was moved to Orihuela.  It was refurbished in 1995 and is now become a permanent fixture used for theatre and public acts.  It is located in a very attractive tree lined square.

Teatro Circo in Orihuela

To get to the old town we walked along the river which, in common with most in this region, is almost completely dried up.  At the old town end, there is a beautiful paved area beneath which the river seems to flow and wells up over the colourful paving.  Sadly, as the Tourist Information Office was not open, we still have no idea of the significance.  There is an interesting triangular clock tower on the bridge over this part of the river too but no explanation.

There are a number of very attractive buildings here and we could see what we believe may have been the town hall high up overlooking the town.  It looked a bit of a trek to get up to it and no way to ascertain if it was drivable in the van, so we contented ourselves with viewing it from  the square below.

Square in old Orihuela

As we could not lay our hands on any real information here, we had to be contented with strolling around the attractive streets discovering interesting buildings by chance, delicious coffee in a tiny back street cafe, and the pleasure of plenty of fresh air and exercise.  In common with a lot of places we have visited, it was not busy and many shops and the Tourist Information were closed when we were there in the afternoon.  In fact, the small towns are almost like ghost towns at this time of year and the only busy places are the restaurants that the locals frequent.

 

Lazy days based around campsite

Spending a whole month on a campsite has been informative.  We now know for certain that we prefer to be on the move regularly.  The thrill of exploring new places is what drives us.  Setting off from a fixed base is a bit limiting but, we have made the most of the time by exploring locally, relaxing, preparing for the next part of our itinerary after we return to UK in April, getting to know a few people etc.

There are people on the campsites all along this coast, who come to the same place every Winter.  They typically spend 3-6 months, book their same pitch in advance, turn their pitch into a home from home and get involved in activities such as petanque, line dancing, quiz nights and so on.  Although we could understand why they would do this, it depressed us to contemplate it.  It is not for us and we will not book anywhere in advance for so long again.

Places we went :

The beach

You can walk down to the beach along a dusty footpath which crosses a small river and leads to a palm plantation.  This is another part of the Nature Park that stretches all along the Southern Costa Blanca and protects the area from sand incursion.

There is a weir across the river where, we were alarmed to observe, there is a large collection of plastic bottles.  However, our fears were allayed when we were advised that this is a collection point for a recycling plant a little further along the footpath.

Collection point for plastic bottles washed down the river

When you reach the beach, there are wooden walkways to provide access without needing to walk on the protected dunes.

Walkway across the dunes near to campsite

From here you can see across the main river to the marina, mentioned in a previous post.  Sadly, there seems to be an awful lot of litter washing up into the inlet that does not seem to be part of the recycling scheme.  It is a shame as it spoils what would otherwise be a rather lovely nature reserve.  There are a variety of sea birds, cormorants, egrets and herons frequenting these waters but they are pottering about amongst the rubbish.

Rubbish strewn inlet from the sea

Inland countryside

We went exploring in the van and followed a road behind LIDL which took us through an urbanizacion (unsigned, so no idea which one!) and onto the road to Elche.  We had Elche in our sights for another day so, followed our noses and drove through a number of small towns such as Dolores, San Fulgencio and Rojales.  They are all set against a backdrop of mountains and have large, dry plains irrigated by a network of pipes and fen type drains.  There are also extensive reed beds and palm plantations which make the scenery very different to ours at home.

Our wanderings took us down to the main coast road and we were near to the lagunes at Torrevieja.  There is a nature park here “Lagunas de La Mata-Torrevieja”, with a visitors car park.  We decided to stop for a wander and to enjoy the view.  There is a viewing point with a few benches that certainly makes the most of the view with the mountains reflected in the lakes.

There are marked pathways for walking in the area which we explored on a subsequent visit but, the view above was the best bit.

La Mata

We met a couple at the Lagunas, who recommended La Mata as a nice little fishing village worth a visit.  We do love a recommendation so, we placed it on our must visit list.  On Boxing Day, we headed off to enjoy our lunch at said lovely fishing village.  Sadly, we did not find it particularly charming and headed on up the coast to Santa Pola.

Santa Pola

There are a number of beaches to visit here but, we rather liked the Platja del Carabassi.  This promenade overlooks the island of Tabarca which is the only inhabited island in the land of Valencia.  Berber pirates used the island as a plotting centre in the Middle Ages.  The area where we parked, known as the chain, is the closest point in the peninsula to the island.

Prom at La Cadena, Santa Pola

A bit of history regarding Tabarca

We followed the coast road from here towards Alicante and discovered a popular parking place for campervans.   We noted this for when we leave Marjal on 4 Jan.  A bit of free camping will be very welcome.

Santa Pola again

We made another visit to Santa Pola, as we had seen a sign to a port, but taken the wrong turning and got side tracked on our previous visit!  This time we got it right and ignored the sign to Playa Lisa, where we had gone before.  The port was well worth finding as it also boasts a large marina, and the mixture of high end yachts and working fishing boats is different from the usual offering.  We noticed some working boats coming into the port and walked round to have a look.  The crew were unloading their catch and a queue of people were there waiting to purchase fresh fish directly.

Punters awaiting the catch of the day at Santa Pola Port

There were also a cloud of gulls circling as more boats came in.

Cloud of gulls at fishing port as boats come in
Marina side of Santa Pola Port

 

On the way back we drove along the N332 which passes through the salt lakes, complete with pink flamingoes.  We stopped to take photos but the flamingoes were on the far lake on this occasion, so you will have to take my word for it that they exist!

Salt flats near Santa Pola
Salt mountain near Santa Pola

Alicante – Second Visit – 14 Dec

For my birthday treat, we went back to Alicante where we drifted around the shops and market stalls before enjoying a long lunch overlooking the marina.  My birthday present was duly purchased from one of the craft stalls.  Two lovely individual necklaces and matching earrings.

 

Marina view from restaurant terrace

This visit we managed to locate the Tourist Information office which is now at the railway station.  Very sensible place for it and if only the signs directing us to the Council Offices had been updated, we would not have wasted so much time looking for it!

We had intended to visit the Museum of Modern Art but, once again, we ran out of time and agreed to visit on another occasion.

It is easy to spend time in Alicante as it has such a lovely atmosphere and so much to see and do.  We realised that we would have to be more focussed if we wanted to get to the Art Museum.  A trip for another day.

We had to rush back a bit earlier as we were due to attend a meal and entertainment in aid of Help for Heroes back at the campsite.  It was a good evening for a birthday treat!!  Very reminiscent of Mess events.  Stand up bingo, raffle with masses of prizes and live music to dance to.

Alicante by bus

We discovered that there is a bus to Alicante from outside LIDL, just a short drive up the main road.  The reception gave us a timetable, just as well as the one displayed at the bus stop is out of date.  We like to take the bus into cities rather than take the van as it is not always easy to find uncovered parking.  We also get to look out of the window at the scenery rather than scanning for “helpful” road signs.

We were delighted with Alicante and made three visits during our stay at Guardamar.

Visit 1 – 12 Dec

This was an exploring visit.  Unfortunately, we could not locate the Tourist Information office so only had the map we picked up at the campsite.  However, we had done research via our Spain Guide and the internet.  The old town was easy to find and the Castell de Santa Barbara cannot be missed as it dominates the city from its position on the top of Mount Benacantil.  At a height of 166 metres, it is one of the largest medieval fortresses in Spain.

 

View of Santa Barbara Castle from Postiguet Beach promenade at Alicante

We walked along the Esplanada de Espana towards the old town, where there are a number of stalls selling various craft type goods.  The Esplanade itself was very attractive and bustling with life.

Esplanada De Espana, Alicante

We enjoyed wandering along amongst the stalls but, our aim was the castle.  Although it is easy to spot, it is not quite so clear how to get to it.  Eventually we spotted a sign that directed us to lifts.  We did struggle to locate the lifts up to the top, which we needed to use on account of Clyde’s unbending leg.  Eventually we struck lucky and arose in style almost to the top.  I had to pay 2.70 but Clyde went free (being an old codger!).  There is so much to wonder at and it really is one of the most impressive, and well preserved, castles that we have visited.  The views from all around were spectacular.

View from Santa Barbara Castle over Alicante
Clyde being daring at the castle!
View from the Albacar Vell part of the castle
Looking down towards the bullfighting museum in the old ampitheatre
View from the castle across to the mountains behind Alicante

We enjoyed our visit to the castle so much that we were there for several hours and had to dash for the bus home.  There was a lower level that we did not have time to explore so, there is something for another day.

Guardamar by Van

Our reconnoitre had identified easy parking next to the Parque Reina Sofia.

Name stone at Reina Sofia Parque, Guardamar

We decided to take the van and enjoy our lunch overlooking the park.  It did not disappoint as there are a series of small lakes running into each other via small waterfalls.  There is a good variety of wild waterfowl including peacocks.  We were quite surprised to see so many peacocks strutting about freely and also sitting in the trees.  This is a really lovely area for families as there is also a well designed childrens playground.

Lakes and waterfalls at Reina Sophia Parque complete with peacocks

This became one of our favourite spots in Guardamar.

7 Dec – Long Walk to Guardamar

The campsite is near to Guardamar but there is a small problem, it is the other side of the river!  Once more we discussed this dilemma with locals and were advised to turn right out of the site, along the river towards the road bridge, then across the river.

Off we set complete with sandwiches and water.  The walk along the river was OK with tall reeds obscuring much of the view.  However, we could see the tower blocks that line the route to the marina on the other side.  Eventually we reached the road bridge, no pedestrian access, what to do?  After some exploration we spotted a rickety wooden sign towards a paved crossing amongst the reeds.  Thank goodness we thought, nearly there.  Wrong again, we now had to walk even further, back in the same direction but on the other side of the river!

Not to be beaten we plodded on towards our goal and eventually reached the marina that we had previously admired from the other side of the harbour entrance.  We gratefully sank onto seats on the marina restaurant terrace and ordered a beer each.  At least it was not cold or wet.

Marina at Guardamar viewed from the restaurant terrace

Having revived ourselves, we sat on a bench and ate our sandwiches whilst deciding what to do next.  As our plan was to visit the promenade we made our way around the marina and onto the walkway through the palms and sand dunes.  It was another long walk and when we arrived at the prom it was siesta and nothing except eateries was open.  However, we found a town plan on a board and photographed it so we could use it to get back to base.

Our route back was via the park and the main street of the town.  All very pleasant but the Tourist Office was closed until 1700 and we were there at 1600!  We noted the layout of the town and park area and declared that we would bring the van next time!  We had to walk back the same way, which had not become any shorter, and were greatly relieved to arrive “home” before darkness fell.  We had walked 9.5 miles.  Our advisors were amazed to hear that we had WALKED to Guardamar.  They all go by bike – arghhhhh