Time For A Road Trip

Having fun on 6 wheels!
  • Day653

    Visiting Valencia

    March 20 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Camping Valencia, 20km north of Valencia, made for a great base from which to visit Spain's third-largest city by train.

    The original city of 'Valentia' was founded on the banks of the Rio Turia in 138BC but was later destroyed in 75BC. The Moors made Valencia an agricultural and industrial centre, establishing ceramics, paper, silk and leather industries and they introduced rice cultivation.

    Its golden age was in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the city was one of the Mediterranean's strongest trading centres, before Seville took that title away and a decline began. The industrialisation of the 19th century led to the development of a lucrative citrus trade to northern Europe and to this day Valencian oranges are everywhere.

    Severe floods in 1949 and 1957 led to the Rio Turia being diverted away from the city centre and the dry riverbed was converted into a park, that winds through the city for 9km, providing the Valencians with a large, green space on their doorstep. How original!

    We arrived at Estacion del Norte, right on the edge of the historic centre, and made our way to Horchateria de Santa Catalina for a glass of horchata, a Valencian speciality, and - don't laugh - fartóns! The sugary, opaque drink is made from crushed chufas, which despite the name tiger nut, is actually a tuber. Into this you dip large finger-shaped buns called fartóns.

    Fortified by fartóns, we headed across the square to visit the cathedral where an excellent audio guide navigated us around. Built over the mosque after the 1238 conquest, the cathedral is mostly gothic in design with rich italianate frescoes. Recent renovations include a modern museum where you can get up close to centuries old artifacts and paintings. However, we could not get very close to the cathedral's crowning glory, the Holy Grail, the cup from which Christ sipped during the last supper. Apparently, the dating of the cup would suggest it could be true.

    After a delicious and great-value 5-course sampler lunch at Restaurant Delicat, we wandered the narrow streets and squares admiring scenes that reminded us of our time in Sicily. We climbed to the top of Torres de Serranos, one of only two remains of the imposing 14th century city walls and looked across the rooftops of the city and down into part of the Turia gardens. We weren't the only ones there though, groups of French and German students were all eagerly taking selfies, taking the volume levels up a notch or five!

    Whilst Valencia is a large and elegant city, it does have a laid-back feel as if the locals are very happy letting Madrid and Barcelona take the limelight, leaving them to get on with enjoying life there.
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  • Day653

    Jávea, Costa Blanca

    March 20 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    The drive to our next destination, Jávea, took us along the coast road, past busy Alicante and even bigger and busier Benidorm, and through the centre of pretty Altea before the road became steeper and twisty as we began to climb higher before turning off and heading down to Camping El Naranjal.

    Jávea is a small town, set in a beautiful bay, that has resisted the high-rise developments. Divided into three areas; the old town, the marina and the beach, and surrounded by the mountains of the Montgó Natural Park, it is a place that we quickly felt at home in.

    Our campsite, once an orange grove and still surrounded by them, was small and friendly with the beach area and most other things just a 5 minute walk away. The old town, with its great market, narrow streets and inviting restaurants and shops, and the marina, were further away but made for a good walk which was rewarded by a cool drink and tapas overlooking the bay.

    With the bike we went to the most eastern tip at Cabo de la Nao where, on a clear day you can see Ibiza, but not the day we were there, though the dramatic cliffs and indented coves below made up for it. On another trip, we took the narrow, twisty scenic road over to Denia, a major passenger port for the nearby Baleric islands. There were some very fancy boats in the marina there, which is much larger than the one in Jávea, but the old town is very attractive to wander around with lots of interesting restaurants set in pretty squares. On the way back, we stopped halfway at the lighthouse for a fantastic, panoramic view of Javeá and the bay.

    Our visit also gave us the opportunity to meet up with friends Ray and Mel who have made Jávea their home after many years in Asia. Though we hadn't seen each other for a long time, it did not feel like that at all as we caught up on news and enjoyed each others company, as well as Mel's paella!

    As we enjoyed a sundowner, watching Montgó mountain change colour in the evening sun and with the orange blossom fragrance filling the air, we wished we could stay longer but it wasn't possible on this occasion. But that was OK because we will definitely be back.
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  • Day645

    Mennems in Murcia!

    March 12 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    From our base at Lo Monte campsite in Pilar de la Horadada, on the Mar Menor, we were only a few miles from friends Michelle and Shaun, whom we had met the previous year when skiing in the Sierra Nevada. A lovely catch up and lunch next to the beach was followed by a surprise visit to see Orlando, Michelle's ex-racehorse. Eager to show us what a beauty he is, she asked if we would like to ride him. It wasn't for me, not being very confident around horses, but Chris was very happy to switch from a motorbike saddle to a horse saddle for a walk around the paddock.

    It was also a great base from which to visit the city of Murcia on the banks of the Rio Segura. What a gem of a city it is; small enough to visit on foot, full of beautiful architecture and elegance, and delicious tapas.

    The 1748 baroque facade of the Catedral de Santa Maria reminded us of our time in Sicily, though this had originally been built in 1394 on the site of a mosque, like most of the cathedrals and churches in Spain. Whilst the interior was impressive, the chapels, choir and main altar were all behind black iron railings which gave a feeling of oppression rather than welcome. We found that very strange.

    Next we visited the Real Casino de Murcia (Royal Casino), which opened as a gentlemen's club in 1847, and remains so though the ground floor is open to the public. It has quite recently been restored to its former glory and given the Royal seal of approval by King Juan Carlos. The building is a melting pot of different designs and an audio guide navigated us through a colourful Moorish-style patio, a classic English-style library with 20,000 books, a ballroom with glittering chandeliers, and a ladies powder room with a ceiling fresco of cherubs and angels.

    Feeling peckish, we headed over to Piazza San Pedro which was buzzing with restaurants and tapas bars. We ordered a selection of impressive tapas including a mouth-watering ceviche that we could have eaten over and over again, cod with pork fat crumb and squid-ink sauce, and croquettes of mushrooms and black pudding. All delicious.
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  • Day643

    Time to visit Vera!

    March 10 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    We headed to Camping Indalo, on the outskirts of the town of Vera, to see our friends Yvonne & Ross who live close by. Having never been to this campsite before, we followed the directions and began to wonder where we were going when we ended up on a road that was taking us into the Spanish back of beyond and then through a tennis club, that led to the campground. We needn't have worried when we picked our spot on the top terrace with panoramic views of the surrounding multi-coloured rocky hills, which changed colour throughout the day as the sun moved across them.

    Our first night there coincided with an Open Mic Nite in the campsite restaurant where Chris was enthralled by a Cajon, a complete drum kit set-up within a wooden box. Small and compact, yet with a big sound. I can see a purchase coming on!

    A stroll along the beachfront and then lunch overlooking the beach in Mojacar with Yvonne and Ross was the best way to spend a brilliantly sunny day.

    The coastal road north of Vera looked very inviting and so we took a bike ride up to Aguilas where we found the town in full on party mode getting ready for the final night of their Carnival celebrations. It was much more peaceful from the castle ramparts where we could see for miles all around as we surveyed the land and sea. The castle had been recently restored and gave the visitor a good idea of how life would have been in the 16th century. Chris was quite taken by the kitchen display and could see himself preparing a meal for us without too much difficulty.

    We look forward to returning before too long.
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  • Day639

    Cabo de Gata - Europe's desert

    March 6 in Spain ⋅ 🌬 18 °C

    With less than 200mm of rain in an average year, Cabo de Gata, which sticks out into the Mediterranean, is described as Europe's only true desert, and with good reason. The 340 sq. km area of coast and hinterland is a protected marine and land nature reserve, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1997.

    Of volcanic origin with an extremely arid climate, rich in mineral deposits and yet sun-baked and wind swept, you feel as though you are in a completely different world from the Iberian peninsula that lies behind.

    We stayed at Los Esculos campsite and enjoyed visiting the area by motorbike. The roads were made for two wheels. Small, white villages with cubist buildings stood out against the deep red and green background with a dusting of colour from the spring flowers, though we were told that the dry winter meant that the flower displays were much smaller this year.

    As well as the dramatic cliffs of the coastline, the town of Nijar, 24 miles inland, is also included in the nature reserve and is well worth a visit. Located on the lower slopes of the Sierra Alhamila, the many springs ensure a constant water supply, which was of great importance in the towns development over the ages. We climbed the steps up to the old lookout tower for a panoramic view of the area. On the way up, we came across some wonderful cave houses, that are available to rent, and met the friendly British owner, Chris, who showed us around. Nijar is a very traditional town with locals producing quality ceramics, and woven goods.

    The only downside to this area is the belt of plastic green houses running close to the main road, providing year-round fruit and vegetables for much of Europe. We have no issues with the greenhouses, but we were astounded by the amount of disguarded rubbish and shabbiness of this area. A few people were living in make-shift homes, part fallen-down wall, part plastic sheeting, who obviously had no respect for the environment but then we didn't see any signs of rubbish bins or collection by the local council. It was a very strange sight on the edge of a nature reserve.

    Despite this, we would come back here to enjoy the remote and wild nature that it has to offer.
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  • Day633

    Andalusia Day in Malaga

    February 28 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Our journey from Portugal to Spain took us around busy Seville (which would have been quicker had the outer ring road been completed!) and then on to a campsite overlooking La Vinuela lake, a perfect location in order to visit our friends Nigel and Tracy whom we hadn't seen for a year.

    Unfortunately, Tracy was back in the UK but we entertained ourselves in her absence with a trip into the historical centre of Malaga. It was a beautiful day and the streets were packed with Spanish families enjoying the outdoors but shouldn't the children have been at school and the parents at work on a weekday? Normally yes, but it was Andalusia Day and everyone was making the most of a day off.

    We wandered around the old town, which has been beautifully restored; pedestrian streets flanked by both modern shops and traditional tapas bars, as well as a Gothic cathedral and the Alcazabar complete with a roman amphitheatre. The port area has been rebuilt and now welcomes cruiseships to swell the town's coffers.

    There are lots of green spaces throughout the busy centre with wild parakeets screeching through the treetops and a golden, sandy beach along its edge.

    The next day we met up with Peter and Sally, friends of Nigel and Tracy that we had met the year before, for a beachfront lunch. Fish, octopus, lamb and goat were all enjoyed as we caught up with one another.

    Wish we could have stayed longer but we look forward to returning later in the year.
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  • Day628

    It's been a busy few days!

    February 23 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    A weekend of absolutely gorgeous weather made for getting out and about on the bike and it started with 168 of them!

    Our campsite location coincided with one of the 5 stages in the 45th Volte do Algarve, a professional cycle race across the Algarve with international teams taking part. As we joined other spectators on the side of the road, the police arrived and, at the appointed time, closed off the road to allow the huge pack of riders through. We looked in amazement as the cycling throng descended the hill before us and then swiftly divided into two packs to circumnavigate the roundabout. Blink, and you missed it.

    Out on our bike, we did a three-centre day trip taking in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which looks eye-to-eye with Spain across the Guadiana River, the impressive 14th century castle and lunch in Castro Marim which is a typical Portuguese town of white-washed houses, and finally Cacela Vehla, a tiny cobble-stoned, historic town overlooking the start of the sandy islands that make up the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.

    As if that wasn't enough, the next day we headed down the road to the fishing village of Santa Luzia and Praia do Barril, a stunning offshore beach with miles and miles of white sand that ranks in the Top 10 beaches of the Algarve, if not No. 1 in our opinion. We crossed the bridge that connects the mainland with the island, and then rather than taking the small tourist train to the beach, we chose to take the path instead and read the story-boards about the various birds on the way. Buildings that once housed tuna fishermen and their families are now home to a couple of restaurants, but fortunately the tourist factor has been kept low-key here. Alongside the buildings is an anchor cemetery where rows of varying sized anchors lie part-buried the the sand as a reminder of times gone by.

    Santa Luzia is famous for its octopus and we were looking forward to sampling some. Chris made a great choice of an octopus stew with black pudding, smoked ham, beans and rice. I didn't make such a good choice in deep-fried octopus patties but the location was superb, as we sat in the sunshine overlooking the beach front.
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  • Day627

    Friday in Faro

    February 22 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    From our new base at Campsite Ria Formosa, near Tavira in the eastern Algarve, we jumped on the bike to visit Faro, the capital of the Algarve and a place that is sometimes overlooked by visitors who just pass through heading to and from the airport.

    We spent our time wandering around the cobbled streets of the old town and around the marina. Within the medieval walls the centrepiece is the cathedral, completed in 1251 but, like everything else down here, it was badly damaged in the 1755 earthquake and todays version is a mixture of gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture. The interior was beautifully decorated with tiles, painted wood and a gilded alter. The baroque organ was being played and added atmosphere to our visit. We think all churches and cathedrals should have music playing or choirs singing in between masses. It really makes a difference! The cathedral also houses a small museum of priestly vestments, chalices and grisly relics of St. Bonifaces forearms. However, more macabre was to come outside with a shrine built of monks skulls and bones! We climbed the tower and came out onto a terrace housing the bells with magnificent views across the city and the Rio Formosa Nature Reserve, where the sand banks would make for tricky navigation.

    The square in front of the cathedral was lined with orange trees that were in full blossom and their fragrance filled the air as bees and insects gorged on the nectar.

    We had lunch outside on the upper floor of a restaurant overlooking the marina and enjoyed the sun shine while watching the world go by below.

    A lovely day.
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  • Day625


    February 20 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Tavira has played an important role here in the Algarve. The Romans built the seven-arched bridge across the Rio Gilão at Tavira to link Castro Marim, near the Spanish border, to Faro. The Moors occupied the town in the 8th century and then Dom Pères Correia reconquered it in 1242. As the closet Portuguese port to Morocco, it became important during the Age of Discoveries, serving as a base for expeditions to North Africa. By 1520 it had become the Algarve's most populated settlement and was raised rank to a city.

    Its decline began in the 17th century when North African expeditions were abandoned and the river silted up. If that wasn't enough, the plague struck in 1645, followed by the earthquake of 1755! After it's tuna fishing and canning industry also declined in the 1950's, tourists have now become the biggest source of income and it is a lovely place to visit.

    We climbed to the castle ramparts for views across the numerous terracotta rooftops where we glimpsed a young couple having lunch on their roof terrace in the sunshine. Whilst today's structure is a reconstruction from the 17th century, the castle is believed to date back to neolithic times and was rebuilt by the Phoenicians. In the small interior garden we saw what we can only describe as an upside down hydrangea tree. The huge tree was laden with heavily-scented pink hydrangea flowers that hung downwards. It was beautiful. After crossing the Roman bridge we came across another beautiful garden that was small but well manicured.

    As we wandered around we noticed a lot of building renovations going on so it looks like Tavira is working hard at its reputation as 'arguably the Algarve's most charming town'.
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  • Day620

    Friends and family visit

    February 15 in Portugal ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Friends Yvonne and Ross made a road trip from their home in Spain to spend a few days with us, staying in one of the bungalows at our campsite. We have been blessed with great weather this winter but unfortunately their trip happened to coincide with a cold snap. Despite some blustery and wet conditions, they were still happy to do some sightseeing and our laughter made up for the lack of sunshine.

    Not long afterwards, my sister, Audra, and her husband, Gavin, flew in from the UK for a few days. Like Yvonne and Ross, they too stayed in one of the bungalows. However, unlike Yvonne and Ross, they had much better weather during their stay. We had a busy few days together visiting our favourite places from the beaches of Alvor, up to Foia, the highest point in the Algarve, where Audra was able to buy a thick, knitted cardigan to keep her warm back home in Yorkshire.

    Our time in the eastern Algarve is almost at its end, so now we are getting ourselves ready to hit the road again. We have loved our time down here and look forward to returning again at some point.
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