We toured Spain for just over 100 days from January to April. For a fortnight we volunteered at an organic farm in the Sierra Nevada and for a week we stayed in a villa near Ronda with our friends Cath and Paul.
Vicky, having spent less than 24 hours here previously, was particularly dubious about what we'd find. Neither of us liked the idea of spending much time in high rise resorts occupied predominantly by sun seeking brits who demand full English breakfasts and a good chippy. Whilst we did find areas like this, they were easy to avoid and we discovered so much more in this beautiful and characterful country.
We are very fortunate to have been able to spend so much time in one country, but Spain is a big place with very different areas and so we'll just have to do our best to summarise our thoughts on it succinctly!
So, how will we remember Spain?
🗑 Things we'll be happy to leave behind:
Scary speedbumps and huge kerbs - we don't like speedbumps at the best of times but the ones in Spain seemed gargantuan. Unless we slowed down to about 10kph they would scrape the underside of van and flip the back end up, so anything that wasn't bolted down would find itself in mid air!
Lunch time shutting - although things seemed to get better the longer we spent in the country, Spain's shops has the longest lunch time closing of any we'd so far found in Europe. From noon or just before, the town centre shops remain closed until 5:30pm or later. The large out of town supermarkets are open but we missed the interactions with small shop keepers, because we found it difficult to adjust.
Parking vs camping - Spain has campsites and it has aires and wild camping spots. You are allowed to camp in campsites and but only park in the others, meaning that in the vast majority of places we stayed, we weren't allowed to leave anything outside, such as chairs, drying clothes, mats, the bike or canoe. It was our choice to avail ourselves of the free accomodation and we can see the sense in the regulations, so did adhere to them (many didn't), but it meant we felt more restricted than in some other countries.
👍 What got a thumbs up?
Great bins and recycling - All domestic refuge and recycling is disposed of via communal bins so we were never far from a place we could empty our rubbish. There are also standard bin colours throughout the country, which made things easier for us.
Free places to stay with free services - we spent a grand total of €74 on parking and services and 60 of this was for 2 nights secure parking in central Barcelona. There were some beautiful wild camping spots and plenty of free areas de autocaravanas whose services remained accessible throught the winter. There were only a few urban areas that were struggling to cope and had 'no van' signs up.
Good quality roads - having spent last winter in Italy, we were super impressed by the quality of the roads. On the whole they had smooth surfaces, were well layed out and other drivers were reasonable. The low population density meant we often had the highway to ourselves. The only difficulties we encountered were the pull offs used to cross the carriageway (like roundabouts with the main road running through the centre), these were fine once we got used to them. Torrential rain in March also caused road closures and meant you needed to keep your wits about you.
Eating out - we really enjoyed the tapas culture and it was cheap enough for us to eat and drink out regularly. The food wasn't spectacular like it had been in Italy, but it was tasty and changed with the regions, so there were often new dishes to try. Bars would open from 12noon or 1pm and everywhere gave the option of alcohol free beer, sometimes on tap. Excellent for when you are keeping an eye on your weight and health.
Access to Nature - Spain has a huge number of national parks, regional parks and natural parks, all with good parking and walking trails. The countryside was beautiful and often stunning. We loved watching the numerous Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, as well as spotting more birds we'd never seen before, including a Wallcreeper and Iberian Magpies.
Cleanliness - on the whole we found only small amounts of litter and rubbish. Some areas had a problem with dog mess, but we saw a lot of street cleaners and litter pickers in towns and cities and they made a big difference.
Open throughout winter - in other countries, many shops, attractions and services shut down out of season, but apart from a few hyper touristed areas such as the Costa Brava resorts, places remained open.
Low population density - where the UK ranks 10th highest of all European countries in terms of population density, Spain comes in at number 34. Sure, there were places like Madrid and along the south coast where the high rises seemed endless, but for the most part it was sparsely populated and very easy to find some rural patch of peace and quiet, even at the beach.
Fuel costs - we travelled several thousand kilometres in Spain, but it didn't break the bank because on average we paid €1.19 for a litre of diesel. We could have bought it for less, but chose to pay extra at stations with van facilities and those that employed people at the pumps. Spain's youth unemployment is high at 36% and this was one of the ways we contributed to the economy.
Horse culture - ok, so this was more a thumbs up from Vicky than from Will, but we may well have seen more horses in Spain than in all the other countries we've visited put together! We saw a lot of men riding, as opposed to just women and girls we'd expect to see in other places and many of the horses were of arab descent, making them a joy to watch.
👀 Overall observations:
》The weather was mixed while we were in Spain. Although undeniably warmer than in the UK, we had our share of snow, sleet and ice, even experiencing one night at -12.3°C; the coldest temperature of our trip. In March it warmed, but the rains came, causing landslides and road closures. This being said, we still got our fill of southern sun!
》Before we entered Spain, Will had learned a good amount of Spanish on Duolingo. However, this was Mexican Spanish and the language it is most similar to, Castilian Spanish, wasn't the first language in the regions of Catalonia or Galicia, nor was it the only language in Basque. It was interesting to see the changes, but they often made communication and comprehension more difficult for us.
》As we left Northern Spain and entered the central band, we were shocked by the vast areas of exposed, dry earth that seemed, to our eyes, almost like desert. Many of the reservoirs we'd seen were well below expected levels and had been for some time. We feared the further south we went the worse it would get, but to our relief the mountains and the change from sea to land brought about more precipitation. The soil type also changed and plants were able to get a foothold. We found the these changes fascinating and thought provoking.
》The police had more of a presence on motorhome aires here, than in any other country we've visited. The Guardia Civil would often drive by on a morning and evening, noting down number plates and checking on the state of the aire. They were friendly enough and we were never made to feel unwelcome.
🤔 Our Treasured Memories:
(In no particular order)
☆ City visits: bar nights in Barcelona and Madrid and spontaneous street dancing in the latter. Will fulfilled his ambition of visiting the remarkable Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and we were both captivated by Seville's Alcázar.
☆ Stunning Sierra Nevada mountain landscapes covered in almond blossom. Vicky will always remember riding through it!
☆ Charming Alpujarran white villages
☆ Tapas culture
☆ Sand, Sea and yes, Sun. Will got in plenty of swimmimg, snorkelling and even a little surfing.
☆ Countryside walks and the wildlife we discovered on them
If you've managed to get to the end of this lengthy outpouring, well done! As you can probably tell, we think Spain is brilliant. Sure, it has some drawbacks, but these are outnumbered and outweighed by the huge list of wonderful experiences the country has to offer. We felt very relaxed living in the van here and if it wasn't for the impending heat, we would have found ourselves very tempted to stay!
Gracias España!Read more