It doesn’t seem possible that it’s time to head off to Spain again. But it is – it’s the start of November. This will be my twenty-second winter spent in Spain or Portugal with a caravan, having sampled it for the first time in 1994 by staying just four weeks. Earlier winter trips we had done by flight and apartment rental. Over the ensuing years, as family commitments reduced, so the period away got longer. Now I go for the maximum time allowed by my Red Pennant travel policy – four months.
For many weeks now I have been planning my route and deciding where I want to visit, and what I want to see on the journey south.
When I leave Bilbao I’ll be turning west along the coast road towards Santander, then heading inland on the A67 Autovia. This route gives me twenty miles extra driving but it avoids a 100 miles of toll-motorway. The plan is to make my first stop 300 miles away at Salamanca where I’ll probably stay for a couple of days. Other stops will be at Caceres, Merida and Olvera. Of course, route plans are subject to change. Last year my plan was to stop at Riaza before heading to Segovia, but the weather in northern Spain was so appalling that I carried on driving south; not stopping until Aranjuez, where I found the weather much better. My sight-seeing trip will be spread over about twelve days with an expected arrival in Torrox on the 14th.
Packing the car and caravan had gone on all week – bit by bit, with each item being ticked off from a four column check list. By early-afternoon I moved the caravan out onto the drive and hitched it up ready to leave. It’s only a 65 mile drive down the A3 to Portsmouth, and with the fog showing signs of returning, I decided to leave early.
Traffic was light on the journey down and I arrived at the port just before 5pm. Check in was already open so I joined the two queues of vehicles already there. Before long, I had my windscreen label and cabin key and directed to one of the boarding lanes. Once there, I settled down in the caravan for an early dinner and a long wait for the ferry to arrive
Cap Finistere docked at 7.45 and after what seemed like an age, unloading began. The ferry has three garage decks however entry and exit to all the decks is via the lowest level with internal ramps giving access to the upper ones, so when unloading begins decks 5 and 6 wait until deck 3 has been emptied. Consequently unloading takes almost an hour. In due course my line which consisted of towed caravans was called forward. We drove on board and I saw we were being directed to the ramp leading to deck 5. I slowed sufficiently to allow the ramp to clear before driving up the wet, greasy surface.
From a previous year I remember having difficulty getting a grip after coming to a standstill. Eventually I got parked and made my way to my cabin on deck 9. The ferry finally departed just before mid-night. Shortly after wards I made preparations for bed and slept really well.
At 8.30 on Monday morning I took a walk out to the open deck area on level 9 to find the skies had cleared and the sun was shining. We were just arriving in Roscoff. The ferry docks in the small harbour to allow for the change over of crews
By 10.30 we were on our way again. The fine weather followed us across Biscay with sunshine and calm seas. Many passengers took advantage of the weather by sitting out in sheltered spots on deck.
Our arrival in Bilbao is scheduled for 6.45 tomorrow morning so it will be an early awakening for every one. With that thought in mind,
I gave the entertainment a miss and decided on an early night.
The sound system on board ensured that we were all awake by 05.30 this morning. The ship had made up lost time and arrived on time
Although the ferry docked at 6.45 I didn’t actually start my engine until 7.30.
A Rolls and a Merc that were also on board.
Once off the ferry, I was fortunate in that the two vehicles in front of me were the ones chosen to go to the security inspection bays, so I was able to join the queues for passport control. By 8.15 I was on the AP8 driving towards Santander. Not long after wards, the rain started. I pulled into the first service area on the A67 having done 63 miles. I filled with diesel and considering it was a motorway station I was well satisfied with paying 73p per litre. At the 123 mile point I decided to stop for an early lunch – followed by a 20minute snooze. With one more cuppa stop I reached Salamanca at 3.30, having completed 295 miles. With a strong head-wind and a climb to 3250ft, I was not surprised to see my fuel consumption for the day’s drive was a poor 26mpg.
I’ve chosen Camping Regio for my stay. It stands back off the main road with the Regio Hotel being nearer the highway. In the winter months the camping reception stays closed so booking in is at the hotel reception. I decided to stay for three nights. ACSI card is accepted so site fees are €16 per night. A quick count of outfits shows about 15 vans and motor vans on site. Toilet and shower block are close to hand and are well appointed. The power boxes have seen better days with many of the old type sockets having lost their covers. Pitches are fairly spacious, however many look water-logged so I’ve copied other vanners by parking on the roadways. Hopefully the weather will improve by tomorrow.
By bedtime the rain had really got going and continued throughout the night. Daylight didn’t provide any let up for it continued through the morning and right up till lunchtime. By early afternoon the rain stopped but the sky still stayed leaden. I decided to drive the three miles into town where I found a parking spot close by the Lidl supermarket. I unloaded my bike and set off along the bike track running along the river bank. Within 300 yards I came to the Puente Romano where I needed to cross the river.
Parts of this Roman Bridge have been rebuilt but fifteen of its arches are original Roman of the 1st Century BC. Today it acts as a pedestrian footway across the river. I pushed my bike across it then up the hill into the Centro Historico. Before long I came to the New Cathedral, started in the 16th Century and finished in the 18th.
Its title serves to distinguish it from the old cathedral built in the 12Century.
The next frontage I came to was the ornate University building
In the 15th Century Salamanca was renowned for its university which was founded in the early 1200’s. It became one of the most important centres of learning throughout Europe Theories formulated here were accepted throughout the known world Columbus sought advice from the astronomy faculty before setting out on his voyages of discovery. Its fame continued until the start of the Inquisition. Then followed a time when freedom of thought was dangerous and unsafe. Many books were banned and the faculties of mathematics and medicine were closed down. Today, Salamanca is regarded as one of the lesser universities in the Country however, its language school seems to be popular with young Americans students.
As I rode on through the town I came across a group of young people who seemed to be fascinated with their bubble blowing
Who knows – maybe it’s a new university course?
Next I came to the Plaza Mayor, a huge square built in the Baroque style between 1729 and 1755. The entire square is made up of 88 porticoed arches with shops and restaurants built beneath them.
Above the arches are hundreds of carved medallions with the faces of dozens of Spanish rulers and other famous people. In a far corner of the Plaza I found the medallion of Dictator Franco still showing its signs of removed graffiti.
I left the Plaza through one of many almost identical streets……………….… and got myself completely lost. I spent a worrying half-hour or so riding up and down unfamiliar streets. Eventually I found myself back at the plaza. For my next attempt I looked carefully for familiar landmarks before finding my way back to my car.
Slightly better weather today – although still no sun. The forecast is for cloud. But I’ll have to make the best of it because I want to see Avila, before moving on tomorrow. It isn’t shown on my edition of AutoRoute but I’m told there’s a new motorway linking the two cities. I set off at 09.30 and sure enough I found the dual carriageway just off the first roundabout. An hour later I arrived at the outskirts of the city having driven on a lovely smooth motorway with hardly any traffic.
I made my first stop at Los Cuatro Postes. This is a shrine a short distance outside the walled city. A cross of granite covered by a four-posted canopy. The shrine marks the spot where Santa Teresa who was born in Avila into a noble family, at the age of seven, in company with her brother, were caught by her family members and taken back to Avila. The story goes that the two children were running away from home to seek martyrdom in battle with the Moors.
Later, I drove to the town and parked outside the City walls where I had lunch and then unloaded my bike. The most interesting monument here is the imposing walls
Building was started in 1090 after Alphonso took the city from the Moors. He used the Moorish prisoners for labour and the work took nine years to complete. The perimeter has a length of 2750 yards with the walls being almost 10 feet thick. I pushed my bike up the hill from one of the nine gateways
Eventually I reached a plaza where I stopped to consult my map.
My route took me through another arched entrance where I found myself outside the walls. I continued round, finally coming to the Cathedral which is built into the city walls. It was started in 1091 and is devoted to Sant Salvador.
Want to carry an offensive weapon?
One of the mummified hands of Santa Teresa has been returned to Avila. Apparently it was recovered from the bedside of dictator General Franco after his death in 1975.
Today is the first time I have seen the sun since leaving the ferry on Tuesday morning……….……………………………..……..In the early hours of Wednesday morning my CO detector woke me. My gas bottle was turned off so assuming the device was faulty, I removed the battery. Next morning I replaced the battery but 30 minutes later the beeping started again. I took the battery out again. Later in the day I noticed in the caravan an unpleasant smell. I began looking for a likely cause in cupboards; behind the fire; in the wardrobe and finally under bed lockers. That’s where the smell was strongest. I went outside to look in the battery box and found the battery was too hot to touch. I disconnected the positive terminal. Just a short while later I replaced the battery in the CO detector. No more beeping! I concluded the caravan battery had died. And yet when I used the mover before setting out from home on Sunday, the battery seemed in excellent health. Now I desperately needed a new battery. Before moving on I went to Carrefour in Salamanca. I couldn’t find a leisure battery so instead I bought a 90AH diesel starter battery. There are those who will say No to that, however before buying this present van, I have always used the same type of battery in the van as that in the tow car. All without the mover presenting problems. And I very rarely use sites without 240 volts.
So with battery shopping, it was later leaving than I intended. I had 120 miles to do in order to reach Camping Caceres. The road was good with very little traffic, however unless I had left the motorway at an exit, there was nowhere to take a break. Consequently, I arrived here without having had a stop. Although my recollection of the journey is that there were lots of hills to pull up, the tendency was to loose height. 3000 feet at Salamanca and 1500 feet at Caceres. Consequently my fuel consumption was a much improved 34.5mpg.
From what I have seen so far, it is an excellent site. Pitches are quite large with a high green plastic cover over part of the pitch in order to give shade. Each pitch has its own brick built shower room, nicely tiled with lighting, handbasin and toilet. Water is really hot. Also on each pitch there is a water connection with a 5 metre hosepipe. To one side of every individual toilet block is a power point, table and two plastic bar chairs.
An internet connection is obtainable every where on site. And all for £11.50 per night with an ACSI card.
I stepped outside this morning to find a cloudless sky and the sun just coming up. It looked as though it was going to be a beautiful day. I set off early on the short drive into Caceres. My AutoRoute showed a carpark quite close to the walled city. I noted the coordinates, programmed them into my Tomtom and it took me to the entrance to a multi-story carpark. Not quite what I expected however, I took a ticket and found space on the second floor. I made my way to the street level and followed everyone else who seemed to know where they were going. A series of narrow streets and steps brought me to Plaza Major, a huge rectangular square lined on three sides with porticoed pavements and on the fourth by the city walls.
Although Caceres was in existence during Roman times, much of its buildings date from, and were built by families who brought back their wealth from the New World.
I climbed the steps and entered the city by the Torre Bujaco. That brought me to the Plaza Maria where the Cathedral is situated.
A further short walk brought me to yet another Plaza. That of San Jorge. I returned to the Cathedral, paid my €1 entrance fee and went inside.
It was built during the 15th&16th Centuries and as cathedrals go, it’s fairly small. It was the altar piece which I found most interesting. It was made by just two craftsmen (and probably their apprentices) between 1547 and 1551. The entire piece is carved from Walnut. After my tour round the naves I persuaded myself to climb the bell tower.
Oh dear! Just one less than a hundred narrow steps on a circular stairwell with only a rope handrail. But in addition to having a close up of the bells, there was a grand view over some of the city. On my return to street level, I decided I should retrace my steps back to my car. I’d been away for an hour and a half. With some curiosity I inserted my ticket into the machine and was surprised to find the parking fee was only the equivalent of 75p.
A slight change of plan. I should have moved on today to tow the fifty miles down the motorway to Merida where I intended to stay for two nights. But instead of winding the legs and hitching on, I decided to see Merida just as a day trip. I was ready to leave by 9am and with the motorway being almost free of traffic, I reached Merida before ten. I’d already noted the parking area by the river on street view of Google Earth, so with the GPS co-ords put into Tomtom, it took me to where I wanted to be. Being Sunday, and quite early, there were lots of spaces. Once there, I unloaded my bike and set off armed with a print out of AutoRoute’s map of the town. Merida probably has more Roman Antiquities than any other town in Spain. First I cycled to the Roman Arena and Theatre. I discovered that the admission ticket gets you into all the other historical venues in the town. And all for €6 (due to my OP status) – €12 for our younger brethren.
Most arenas of the Roman period are built to a standard plan. Only the size of the building changes, according to the status of the town. Oval in shape with tiered seating, and the floor of the arena being sanded with the central area covered with removable wooden planks. Below the floor were cells where gladiators and animals awaited their turn to appear. This one has been dated to the 8th C BC and was constructed to seat around 15000 people.
Next door to the Arena is the Roman Theatre built by Marcus Agrippa, a Roman general and son in law to Caesar Augustus. It has seating for 6000 spectators.
Another consultation with my map and I biked for a few streets and arrived at Diana’s Temple. Apparently It has only been known by that title from the 17th Century. Latest studies have it being built in honour of the Emperor Augustus since many artifacts relating to him and his family have been found here. In the 15th Century someone had the bright idea of having a house built in the centre of the temple.
A quick look at my map and a few hundred yards on the bike brought me to the river. It’s here where the Romans built a bridge to carry their road from the south to the north of the Iberian peninsular. It was first erected in 25BC and because the river is wide and susceptible to flooding, it is built on huge rectangular blocks with 60 arches.
Midway across the river, the Romans built a huge island on which to carry some of the roadway. Because of the width of the river, the bridge is the longest existing Roman bridge throughout what was the old Roman Empire.
Close by the Roman bridge is the Alcazaba which is an Arab castle built on the site of an earlier Roman construction in the year 835.
From the walkways along the tops of the walls there are some beautiful views across the river.
Another half mile or so on the bike brought me to the Villa Mitreo where several mosaic floors and foundations have been excavated. In the same complex but 500 or so yards away is a Roman burial ground where there are several family vaults and dozens of tomb stones.
The photo shows a memorial plaque for a lady, Valeria Allage who died in her 60th year. Also for a younger woman (maybe a daughter) who died at the age of 38.
Then it was back to the car and a drive to the other side of town to see the Circus Maximus; a huge oval shaped track with a central raised platform and tiered seating along both sides.
Finally I went to see the Aqueduct Los Milagros which the Romans constructed to supply the town with water collected from a cistern three miles away from the city. Now it serves to make a nest support for the local storks.
By now it was long past my lunch time however, I drove the car back to a quiet spot by the river where I enjoyed a packed lunch and a cold beer from the cool box.
I should have continued on my journey south today. I didn’t – Instead I drove the thirty or so miles to Trujillo. I parked in the underground car park my neighbours told me about. This town is the birthplace of Francisco Pizzaro, the head of a large and wealthy family, who together with his Conquistador friends used extraordinary cruelty to defeat the Inca tribes. Not only did they plunder their treasures but they also took with them ‘old world’ diseases like small pox, flu, chicken pox and typhus which decimated the tribes of the New World. On their return from their voyages they were able to build themselves palaces around the Plaza Major.
After I’d had a wander around the square and a visit to the 16th Century church,
I set off through a warren of narrow streets on an uphill walk to the Arab castle built in the 8th Century on the hill‘s highest point.
With a hot sun beating down in the early afternoon, it was not an enjoyable climb. Even worse – when I reached the top, I found there was a car park – virtually empty.
In spite of my weariness, I couldn’t resist a climb to the battlements. I was rewarded with some spectacular views.
I thought it was time to drag myself away from this lovely site at Caceres. The facilities really are first class. First there is the site-wide free wifi which has a good speed Then there are the individual shower rooms attached to each pitch. The key to the room also serves as the electronic tag to operate the barrier. Each shower room is around 4 square metres in area and beautifully tiled both on the walls and floor. The room has lighting, a toilet pan, a handbasin with hot and cold and a shower with removable spray head. Since they have electric water heating, the water is always hot. There’s even a reserve toilet roll supplied. Pitch sizes are ample and most have permanent plastic shading. .
I was ready to leave by 9am and headed north towards Salamanca for a couple of miles before joining the motor way and turning south. Traffic was extremely light and the motorway surface was excellent. Unfortunately no rest areas are provided. At one point I left the motorway to try and find a stopping area but all I did was travel for 5 miles on a parallel N-road before rejoining the motorway. By mid-day I’d reached the northern outskirts of Seville and when I saw the signs of Atalica I turned off and headed towards Santiponce. I recognized the area from last year and found the housing estate that was abandoned at the start of the financial crash. The roads with their parking bays were completed but no houses were ever built. Now it provides an ideal spot to park when visiting the Roman Excavation at Atalica. There was ample room to park the car and caravan for a lunch stop. After lunch I took a quick walk around the arena.
By the time I’d reached Seville, I’d traveled 170 miles. I still had another 65 to do to reach Olvera, and I considered stopping overnight in the city, however I decided to continue on my way. I finally reached the site around 3pm. Camping Pueblo Blanco is a large site built on a hill side, however all the pitches have been leveled.
They are of ample size with electric bollards and water taps close by, and each pitch has a capped waste water drain. There is an internet connection however, it’s charged at €2.60 per 24hrs.
The sunny, cloudless days which began on the morning I left Salamanca look set to continue. This morning I was ready to leave by 9am so I set off on the 30 mile drive to Ronda. Parking was impossible to find in the streets so I went into the underground car park. I emerged on to the Plaza Espana,
and from there to the main street. I turned to the right, hoping to eventually reach the main attraction of the town. But after walking more than half a mile, I had to retrace my steps for I’d turned the wrong way. Upon regaining my starting point, I found what I was looking for just 200 yards down the road. I joined crowds of photographers taking pictures of the gorge from the Puente Nuevo.
It’s called the new bridge but building started in 1751 and took more than 40 years to complete. The bridge stands 390 feet above the river. Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor to Ronda and in his book “For whom the bell tolls”, he describes the execution of Fascist sympathizers who during the Civil War were thrown from a cliff. It is thought that he based that part of his story on events which took place in Ronda. As I continued walking I came to the Bull ring.
Ronda is the birthplace of modern bull fighting. It was here where a matador first fought a bull without being on horseback. Now the bull ring is a museum. I stopped for a coffee before returning to the underground garage and after paying my fee, realized I’d been gone just over two hours.
I programmed the Tomtom with the coordinates for Acinipo and discovered it was 12 miles away. Before long I’d turned off the Seville highway and took a road which twisted and turned up into the mountains for another ten miles. Eventually I arrived at a small car park occupied by three other cars, two of which had taken the only shade. I approached the entrance booth and, with the guy pointing and saying “English?”, he handed me a page of notes. In this remote spot more than 3250 feet high on a limestone plateau was once a thriving Roman town. It was of sufficient size and importance that it was able to mint its own currency. Today there is not much still standing.
The area is covered with mounds of building stone which have been gathered together when the ground was being prepared for cultivation. What does still remain on the skyline is the remains of the theatre which judging from the seating cut into the limestone rock would have held around 2000 people.
Lower down the site are the remains of the Roman baths. From Acinipo I returned to Pueblo Blanco by the mountain roads.
Last day today at Olvera so I thought I should go and have a look at the town. Olvera is one of the white towns, built on a hill, which is topped by the church and even higher, by an Arab Castle
I drove around the narrow streets getting quite close to the church, but sadly, I couldn’t find a parking spot. I had no alternative but to drive back down to the bottom where I found a space. Fortified with a cup of coffee, I started the climb up the hill towards the church. First thing I noticed were the lights across the streets “ Feliz Navidad” – and it’s only the 12 November!
Walking up the extremely steep streets took a lot of effort with many stops for rests, but eventually I arrived at the plaza close by the church. I paid my €2 and went inside. At least I got a seat in the cool. For a small town, the church is particularly well endowed with shrines along the aisles.
After a tour around, I returned to the plaza and took a seat on the shady side and contemplated the climb to the top of the Arab castle.
I decided against it. Instead I returned to the car, had another cup of coffee and set Tomtom for the Via Verde.
During the years of Franco’s dictatorship Olvera benefited from the building of a railway line which was planned to start at Jerez and end at Almargen, seventy-five miles away. Although the railway station was built at Olvera, together with all the tunnels, the track was never laid.
It stayed abandoned for many years however, it has now been converted to a cycle-cum-walking path which travels through olive groves and some beautiful countryside.
I unloaded my bike and rode along the track for a few miles before returning to the car. I ended the day with a shopping expedition to Mercadona before returning to the site. (Thanks Bill – Tomtom took me right to the entrance to the underground car park)
I was hitched up and ready to leave Camping Pueblo Blanco by 9am, so I made my way down to the reception area, only to find it all locked and barred. I rattled the door without any effect so I went along to another door where I rang a bell. Eventually the door was opened (by the maintenance man) and I pointed along the road and questioned, “Reception?”, only to be told that it would open at 10am. I was appalled at the prospect of having to wait almost an hour when I wanted to get started on my journey. I calculated what I owed and asked him if he would take the cash, at which point he used his mobile phone. At the end of his call I presumed him to say that the receptionist would arrive in five minutes. And that was how it tuned out to be. I settled up and was on my way by 9.25. For any readers who may be using the site in the future, it might be advisable to settle your site fees the previous evening.
I had 105 miles to do to reach El Pino at Torrox which I completed without a break; not because I wanted to, but the Spanish are not good at providing rest areas, so at about 11.30 I parked up the road from the entrance.
I was greeted by Sylvia in reception with the comment, “Hello John – maybe people will now stop asking me when you are due to arrive.” El Pino have a policy of not accepting bookings for pitches however, caravanners who have stayed there for a few times get a little bit of ‘pull’ with the management, so for me, an email to the site in September ensures that my favourite pitch is kept for me. The plastic tape around the trees is the give away that I’m on my way. After booking in and paying the first month’s site fees, I went back to the car and brought the outfit on to the site. Without a mover, it would be impossible to get the caravan into the position I like it.
Positioning, levelling and connecting electricity and water would normally take 30 minutes or so, but with so many opportunities to chat, it was 2pm before I’d completed. And I hadn’t even had lunch. But it was really good to see and meet friends whom I hadn’t seen since last February. Graham, who was my neighbour last year was my first visitor. He has parked in another area of the site next to our mutual friend, Bob. They are both motor-caravanners who live full time in their vans. I’d spent so much time chatting that I decided to leave the awning until the next day.
My friends William & Yvonne have still not arrived, so I was going to have to do the awning on my own. I carry a light alloy, four-tread step ladder with me so it was useful when I wanted to spray a little silicone furniture polish along the awning track which ensures an easy slide when pulling the beading through. Two people – one to feed and one to pull makes that part of the job so much easier and fortunately a German caravanner whom I’d talked to the previous evening happened to pass by. I gratefully accepted his offer to assist. With him feeding and me pulling, the beading was quickly fitted After that I carried on on my own and had the job finished by lunchtime.. I spent the afternoon installing my kitchen.
Having been here for six days now I‘ve slipped into a familiar routine. The first part of the morning is taken up with the usual caravanning chores; grey water disposal, aquaroll filling, then cleaning or laundry – maybe even a spot of baking.. The remainder is taken up with internet time or just sitting in the awning with a book, or even just watching the world go by. After lunch I ride my bike down to the sea front
then along the prom – maybe to sit awhile with a beer at one of the beach bars.
Temperatures are still very good. Night-time temperature falls to 12-13C whilst by lunchtime, it’s up around 22C. Sunset is at 6pm. The sea temperature must still be reasonable because on most afternoons there are a few swimmers in the water.
It’s more than two weeks since I arrived here at El Pino and nearly a month since I set off from home. Almost every day there are friends and acquaintances from previous years arriving on site so it’s nice to catch up with their news. The weather is superb still, and there’s been no rain since since those few wet days as I travelled to Salamanca. Most afternoons I take a bike ride down the hill to the lighthouse then along the promenade.
Next door to the lighthouse is a raised, cantilevered viewing platform with a glass floor. From it, in every direction there are some spectacular views. Directly below, through the glass floor can be seen excavated buildings; all that is left from an industrial area of the 1st to the 4th Centuries of Roman occupation. There is archeological evidence that there was a busy Garum factory here, together with a pottery where containers were produced in which to export the sauce to other parts of the Roman Empire. Garum was a much loved ingredient in Roman cooking made from the intestines of fish which had been dried in the sun, and then allowed to ferment in water. It was the fermented water which was the ingredient. In the grounds of the Lighthouse are the foundations and floors of an extensive Roman Villa.
On my ride down to the sea front I pass a property where sometimes there’s not a feral cat to be seen………….
but at others, they are there in force. They all seem to be able to detect food from a considerable distance. Further on the ride, alongside the (currently) dried up river bed there are some gorgeous flowers and shrubs still in bloom.
Yesterday I thought it time that I took a ride out in the car. I fancied taking another look at Alcaucin, the village situated in the foothills of the Sierra de Tejeda mountains. My journey began with a five mile drive along the A7 coastal motorway before turning inland at Velez-Malaga. Then the road wends its way along the valley bottom for several miles, through plantations of olive groves and greenhouses growing salad produce. Then after five or six miles the road suddenly climbs to another plateau, with the main feature being Lake Vinuela –
which isn’t really a lake but a reservoir with a dam built at one end of it to supply Velez-Malaga with drinking water.
I stopped for a while to take in the view before continuing on to Alcaucin. Sadly, at the entrance to the village there still stands the abandoned estate made up of hundreds of partly built dwellings – some just at foundation stage but others almost completed and ready to move into. All now deserted and over-grown just as they were left when the crash came in 2008.
Alcaucin has no through roads so the only traffic is that heading to and from the village. Which is fortunate because all the white towns which date from the Moorish period, all have extremely steep and narrow streets.
I found a parking space on the outskirts and started my walk. First I stopped to see the Moorish fountain,
La Fuente de San Sebastian, with its beautiful tiles and five spouts of fresh spring water. The running water never stops and is said to contain health-giving properties. Local folk-law also has it that if a person without a partner drinks from the middle tap, that person within the year will marry someone from the village. But I tried it last year — it didn’t work.!!!!
From there, I climbed a short distance to the tiny Plaza de la Constitución where the town hall and church are situated.
This is a beautiful little square lined with orange trees – unfortunately spoilt because of parked cars. The church was locked but it’s a 17th Century building with (we are told) a fine timber roof. I moved on to climb higher through the village, up to the hermitage and cemetery. As I climbed the hill I couldn’t help but admire the road surface,
The method is used a lot in Spain and it’s something they seem very adept at laying. It’s patterned, coloured concrete laid with impressed designs of paviour blocks and crazy paving. Finally I reached the top of the hill where I found the hermitage and cemetery containing the usual rows of tombs.
Also near the entrance is the small memorial to those killed during the Civil War years.
I made my way back to the car and set my Tomtom to find it’s way to the close-by Castillo de Zalia, a fortress built by the Moors on the foundations of what is believed to be a Phoenician castle. It sits on a plateau guarding what was the Arab trading route connecting Granada with Velez-Malaga and the sea. I found a spot to leave the car then scrambled up the steep slope to where the remains of the fort stands.
There’s very little to be seen (other than some spectacular views down the two valleys. The fortress and the plateau owe their name to the Arab Queen Zalia, who was said to take daily baths in the river down below. (Looking down into the valley far below, that story takes some believing.) Records show that the Castle fell to the Christian army in September of 1485. Back at the car I decided to follow the modern road which zig-zags its way upwards to over 3000 feet to reach the mountain pass of Boquete de Zafarraya.
From the pass, there is a wonderful view back down the valleys to the sea – 14 miles away, but 22 by road. The route continues onwards passing through the Arab town of Alhama de Granada, but that’s a visit I will leave for another day.
We are now well into December. One or two caravanners have said a temporary farewell as they make their way to Malaga airport on their way home to spend Christmas with family. Those who are staying have already dressed their awnings and vans with decorations and lights.
I’ve had my first breakdown in four years of ownership with my electric bike. One side of the rear brake rim has a short piece broken out. It may have been like that for some time but once I’d seen it I was afraid the tyre and tube would explode off the rim and leave me stranded, maybe miles from the site. I had no option but to put it in for repair, however having wider wheels than a normal bike, the repairer is having difficulty finding a replacement. I had spent a miserable three days without a bike when friends Martin & Joanne offered me one of their bikes. It’s been brilliant to get out and about again.
One of the first rides I did on it was to Nerja. From the site, the road wends its way down a hill to the coast road. Once there, the road is level although by no means straight, as it follows the beautiful coast line for two and a half miles.
At the outskirts of Nerja I turned to ride along the dirt road at the back of Playazo Beach.
Eventually a promenade is reached which twists its way around several promontories. On one of them at Torrecilla beach there are the remains of an 18thC gun battery.
On reaching The Bamboo, one of my favourite restaurants, the promenade stops so I took to the narrow streets through the town. Fortunately most of them have been pedestrianized. After a short distance the Balcon is reached,
which is a broad, tree lined promenade built on a high promontory overlooking tiny
beaches on both sides. Being Spain, the Balcon has its colony of feral cats but having the Balcon Hotel close by, they all look extremely well-fed and fit.
On the cliff top once stood another fort which historical records show, together with the Torrecilla Battery were bombarded and destroyed by the British warship, Hyacinth in 1812 so as to deny their use to Napoleon’s armies during the Peninsular War. Local legend has it that the Balcon was built at the suggestion of King Alphonso XII after he visited the region in the aftermath of the 1885 earthquake.
To commemorate the fact, the local council have erected a life-size figure of the King standing at one of the rails. The Christmas lights are already in place and very soon I hope to visit the Balcon after dark to see them.
Last Sunday was the annual Migas Festival at Torrox Pueblo . Migas is a peasant meal whose chief ingredient is bread crumbs and traditionally every December Torrox celebrates the Festival by serving to everyone a dish of Migas, accompanied by glasses of wine.
The migas is served from long counters by volunteers whilst the wine is dispensed from barrels placed around the venue and in the adjoining street.
As part of the Festival there is a wine making competition held during November in which the local wine producers take part. It is from the winners that the wines served at the festival are chosen.
Local craftsmen were busy giving demonstrations and selling their work.
In the Plaza de la Constitución there is a statue of a young man blowing into a conch shell. The statue commemorates the old tradition where the workers in the vineyards
and olive groves stopped work for dinner and siesta when they heard the conch call. They were served a meal of Migas. To one side of the venue many organizations had set up their cooking fires.
Huge pans supported on blocks with a wood fire beneath. Into the pans went olive oil and diced stale bread flavoured with garlic cloves. Then were added pieces of sausage, lamb and ham and diced red pepper together with various spices.
In the centre of the area stalls were set up where traders were selling cheeses,
hams, sausages, pastries and leather goods. In another section there were stalls selling hot-dogs and handmade crisps. And then there was the largest barbeque I’ve ever seen –
built up on a four wheel trailer where they were grilling sides of pig and whole legs of pork. Several assistants were kept busy slicing the meat and serving it in opened baguettes.
Meanwhile over in the Plaza de la Constitución a platform had been erected where teams of dancers dressed in traditional Spanish dress took turns to perform throughout the day and long into the night.. Looking at the crowds sitting in the sunshine at tables set out on the patio, it’s easy to forget that it’s December and the middle of winter.
The good news is that I’ve got my bike back from the repairers. The mechanic had difficulty finding a rim of the correct width.. One was finally found – but 350 miles away in Madrid. Then it was a time consuming job removing the motor from the damaged wheel and rebuilding it into the new rim. Together with some new spokes, a new brake cable and new blocks, I was pleasantly surprised to be charged only €49 – the equivalent of £35 for the complete job. It was great to have my own bike again.
Tuesday was an exciting day. I needed to be at Malaga airport by 14.00hrs to meet one of my daughters who was arriving to spend Christmas week with me. Well – not with me but close by in a rented apartment. Once she’d got settled in, we went out for dinner to the Mirasol in Nerja. Afterwards we took a stroll through the town to see the Christmas lights at the Balcon and in the adjoining streets.
The day before Christmas Day we took a drive along the coast road towards Motril. The road twists and turns around the coastline and with the new A7 Autopista taking most of the traffic, the coast road makes a very pleasant drive. We stopped once or twice on the promontories to view some beautiful scenery.
Finally we made our way down to the front at Salobreña where we settled our sun loungers on a deserted beach and enjoyed a picnic lunch. Later we walked/cycled the length of the promenade along to the Peñon, a lump of rock projecting out into the sea two hundred yards or so, cutting the water into two separate beaches.
Several hundred yards inland is another huge outcrop of rock on which is built a Moorish Castle and the old town, both dating from the 10th C. Between the base of the rock and the sea are a few remaining fields of sugar cane, the last of what was once a thriving industry.
Saturday was another beautiful day so we left during the morning and first drove up the hills to Frigiliana, a beautiful Moorish village built into the hill side with the remains of an Arab fort at the very top. The village is a maze of narrow, steep, stepped streets.
Visitors’ cars are forbidden in the old Arab quarter so it’s necessary to park elsewhere then walk or ride. On the surrounding hillsides traces of Moorish terraced agriculture can still be seen.
In the early afternoon we left Frigiliana and drove east along the coast road to La Herradura which is set in a sheltered horseshoe shaped bay. The name is derived from the Arabic which means horseshoe. The road runs along the back of the bay and drivers are able to drive off the road onto the firm sand and park. No restrictions! No parking charge! Again, we unpacked our chairs and had lunch there.
Later Jenny took a walk along the beach whilst I got out my bike and kept to the road. As I rode along, I was thrilled to see a beautiful Mk2 3.4 Jaguar parked at the roadside looking as though it had just left the showroom and yet it must be all of 55 years old.
The bay is hemmed in by the Punta de la Mona in the east and Cerro Gordo in the west. On both headlands are the remains of Arab lighthouses and 18thC watchtowers.
We awoke to a strong wind on Sunday morning. It was certainly strong enough to rule out sitting on a beach. We decided to try Lake Viñuela instead. We drove inland for seven miles to the reservoir and were surprised to find there wasn’t a breath of wind; so much so, the surface of the water was like a mirror. The sky and the mountains looked stunning reflected in the water.
We stopped at several view points before parking and unloading our sun-loungers. The area around the lake has been well laid out for walking, cycling and picnicking. Dozens of stone barbeque ranges have been built amongst the trees and being Sunday, many were being used by Spanish families.
By early afternoon the mirrored reflections on the water had disappeared and by the time we were ready to leave, the water was more than slightly rippled. We finished off a lovely day at the Bamboo restaurant, followed by a drive back to Frigiliana to see their Christmas lights.
On Monday I noted down the coordinates for the promenade at Almuñecar. Having entered them into my Tomtom we were directed through a maze of narrow streets to a car park at the far end of the town. Again we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the beach before walking and cycling along the promenade. A mile and a half along the prom we met up at the Peñones de San Cristobal, a huge rock, around one hundred feet high and jutting out into the sea. Fortunately steps have been formed in the side of the rock but it’s still an exhausting climb to reach the platform. But the views in either direction make the effort worth it.
Some of the safety railings around the platform had attached to them hundreds of padlocks. It seems to be a Spanish tradition for couples to express their devotion to one another by engraving a padlock, attaching it to the railings and throwing the key into the water.
Close to the base of the rock is a statue of Abd Al-Ramán I, an Arab leader who invaded Andalucia – on the 15th August 755 – so the inscription tells us.
Just as we got back to the promenade the clouds began to gather and before we reached the car, the sun had completely disappeared. We ended the day by returning to Mirasol for dinner.
Tuesday 29th – The rain began at 5am – the first rain I’ve seen since those wet days when I arrived at Salamanca on the 3rd November. That’s 55 days without any rainfall and no wonder Lake Viñuela is at the lowest level I’ve ever seen it. But rain or shine, we had an appointment at Malaga airport since it was the day for daughter to return to Gatwick. We did the 40 miles along the A7 in drizzle but no sooner had she checked in than the clouds cleared and the sun reappeared. After our goodbyes, I returned to El Pino for a late lunch and a sit in the awning. More than once during the afternoon I was asked by other campers, “Are you alright? I haven’t seen you around.” ———————- It’s been a busy and energetic week but one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
Over the past four weeks so many people here at El Pino have talked about the Malaga Christmas lights that I thought I should go and see them for myself before they are turned off for the last time tomorrow night. Tonight (the 5th of January) is the Fiesta de los Tres Reyes – the arrival of the Three Kings. In traditional Spanish families it’s tonight when children receive their presents and Christmas is not considered to be over until the end of the 6th. Later tonight the Three Kings Fiesta will take place through the street of the neighbouring town at Nerja.
And so yesterday I decided to drive the 40 miles to Malaga to see what I’ve been missing for many years. Parking is a nightmare in the city so I drove to a shopping precinct close to the airport and took the train into the city. I arrived whilst it was still light and headed for one of the main shopping streets, the pedestrianized Calle Larios. I took the first pictures at about 5.15pm.
There were several street performers doing their thing.
Spanish families are equally divided as to whether Christmas Day or the 6th January is the more important. For those who celebrate on the 6th, most towns throughout Spain organize a Fiesta de los Tres Reyes – a Three Kings Carnival. Some caravanners staying here make the journey to Malaga to take part in their Fiesta, but I usually go into nearby Nerja. The carnival forms up in a large carpark on the edge of the town with local groups making up their own section.
Young people who have joined wind orchestras and bands turn out dressed in their uniforms.
Each King together with his retinue has his own float drawn by a tractor.
The Kings have sacks of sweets on board and throughout the procession, throw sweets to the waiting crowds, with the children madly scrambling to gather them up.
The event is lead by girls walking on stilts.
The procession meanders it’s way through the town, eventually arriving ninety minutes or so later at the Balcon where a stage has been set up with a Joseph & Mary & baby Jesus already installed in a stable. Upon arrival, the three Kings and Queens descend from their floats and process through the crowds, up to the platform where they present their gifts.
In previous years I have arrived in time to watch the forming up and departure from the car park. Then I have gone to a local restaurant to have dinner and by the time I had cycled round to the Balcon, the procession was close to arriving. However on Tuesday night I had difficulty finding a parking spot, therefore the event was well under way when I arrived at the marshaling point. I managed to catch up with them a few streets later.. Sadly, shortly after the rain also decided to start. How frustrating – only the third period of rain in the last two months. I decided to call it a night and return to El Pino. For a while the rain fell steadily but within two hours it had stopped and so far, has not rained since. Such a shame for the parents and children who will have worked so hard to make it an enjoyable evening.
A few mornings ago was chilly first thing but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and not a breath of wind. By 9 o’clock the sun was peeping over the hill tops. And by 10, I was sitting out in the awning with a coffee. What should I do on such a beautiful day? How about packing up some lunch and a can of San Miguel and setting off on the bike to do a circular ride? I was ready to leave by 10.45 so I began by cycling down “the road which leads nowhere”. That’s a surfaced road which stretches up into the hills for a mile and a half. It has pavements done in lovely rippled grey tiles, and verges planted with orange trees. Street lighting is installed although not connected.
There are roundabouts, parking bays and even pedestrian crossings. And that’s it. The roads suddenly ends and the dirt roads take over. Eight or nine years ago the plan was to build a new urbanización, but instead, the financial crash came so not a house was built. Now we have a mile or so of concrete road with wildly overgrown verges and long-dead orange trees. The beautifully stone clad electric supply cabins have been vandalized for their equipment and thick copper cabling. The millions of Euros that must have been put into this project is mind-boggling. And throughout Spain, there are thousands of such like abandoned projects.
Once I was off the surfaced road my ride continued along a track which follows the contour of the hill side.. I got off my bike and looked back towards the sea. In the near distance was the comparatively new dual-carriageway emerging from a tunnel but then built up on stilts to cross the ravine from one side to the other.
This motorway – the A7 – when it is finally completed will stretch from the French border at Le Perthus all the way to Algeciras – nearly 800 miles, some peaje, some toll-free. It’s been years in the building, but understandably so because much of it is either built on long viaducts, through tunnels or through some very deep cuttings.
From where I stood, down below me was an electric sub-station. Probably built for other dwellings besides the new estate because the humming noise indicated that it was ‘live’. Since it appears to be a permanent feature, I wondered why the transformers were fitted on trailers.
Back on the bike, the white town of Torrox Pueblo was perched on the far side of the ravine.
On the steep slopes below the town are the terraces originally built for agriculture during the Arab occupation, with some of them being restored. Gradually the road dropped downwards to where the road crossed a bridge, but immediately began to rise again, until eventually I was able to look down on the flat roofs of the houses,
with the road I’d just travelled along being clearly seen on the far side. I found a seat which overlooked a very pleasant view down the valley. It was the ideal spot to have some lunch and a beer. After a while I continued my ride through the old Arab quarter where the streets and lanes are extremely narrow.
Some of the houses are empty and dilapidated; some even with collapsed roofs but others are well-cared for with neat courtyards filled with pot plants. As I journeyed through the old quarter I passed one of two Arab watch towers,
then eventually came to the Plaza de la Constitución, the square which was the venue for the recent Migas Festival. I sat for a while enjoying the sunshine and tranquillity. Not far from the square, the road becomes the main thoroughfare leading down the hill and to the sea front at Torrox Costa, however at the bottom of the hill my route turned left, crossed the bridge over the dried up river bed and up a short,
but steep hill which brought me back to my starting point. In total, I had ridden around eight miles.
A few days ago I was sitting having a chat with my new neighbour, Sean. We got to talking about the 19th Century villa which is set back off the main road at Torrox Costa. It’s known as the Villa El Recreo; a beautiful building with a still imposing driveway, in spite of the avenue of palm trees having been cut down. Sadly a large Aldi supermarket has now been built to the left of it but much closer to the road, wth a Lidl supermarket built to its rear. A high rise apartment block has been built close to the right, so the villa now looks rather insignificant, surrounded by all the concrete. But no doubt in its day it would have been a splendid house with superb views right down to the seashore.
For many years the property has stood empty and neglected. Locally there is intriguing information about the ownership of the building. The local authority appears to be very tight-lipped about who the owner is, but local gossip has it that in the late 1930’s, General Franco, the Spanish dictator gave it as a gift to Eva Braun, the girl friend and 40-hour wife of Adolf Hitler. It would be interesting to know the authentic history.
A few night ago “the earth moved”. No! – it really did – at 5.30 in the morning. Had it happened a few hours earlier, I would have assumed that some revellers on their way from the bar had rocked my caravan from side to side. The motion lasted several seconds and was sufficiently strong to bring me wide awake. Within an hour or so the internet was telling us that there had been an under-water earthquake out in the Mediterranean Sea which registered 6.1 on the Richter scale. Earth tremors are fairly frequent in the area, although there hasn’t been a severe earthquake since the late 1800;s
It was time to have another day out. After some thought and map browsing, I decided to visit Antequera. The quick route is along the A7 to the outskirts of Malaga, then the motorway in the direction of Seville. However, I thought it would be more enjoyable to go across country. My route took me along the familiar road up to Lake Viñuela. The water level is even lower than when I last saw it. When I wrote about the Lake several weeks ago our recently departed forum friend, T00ts commented on the views of the Lake from a village higher up the mountain, Los Romanes. Not ever having been there, I decided to make a detour.
Yes T00ts, the views are spectacular. Even more so with the almond blossom appearing on the trees.
The purpose of my visit to Antequera was to see The Dolmen de Menga which is a megalithic burial mound which dates from the 3rd Century BC. It is considered to be the largest in Europe. It measures twenty-five metres long, five metres wide and four metres high. It was built using thirty-two huge squared stones, some of which have been calculated as weighing 180 tonnes. The chamber served as a burial place, probably by the ruling families, and once the structure was completed, the stones were covered by earth and built up into a hill.
The grave was opened in the 19th Century and archeologists found and removed the skeletons of several hundred people. A short distance away is another similar structure, The Dolmen de Viera. This one has a deep well excavated into the floor.
In the park where the Dolmens are situated there is an interesting sun dial.
From the Dolmens, I drove through the town to the Castle. The castle here was built by the Arabs and held for the next two hundred years before finally being taken by the Catholic King in 1410.
Since it was close to my journey back to El Pino I did a slight detour so that I could visit El Torcal, the nature reserve which is famous for its unusual limestone rock formations. Several millions of years ago the area was under the sea. Earthquakes forced the rock upwards into hills and mountains. The limestone still kept its layered formation and because of this, over millions of years the rain and wind have worn away at these layers to form incredible shapes. Two circular tours, one taking about an hour, the other rather longer, have been marked out around the reserve. I satisfied myself with a stroll to the viewing platform.
There’s nothing the Spanish like better than a street party with a fancy dress parade around the town. They do it eight or nine times every year. Already, here at Nerja we’re just into February, and they’ve already had their third carnival. This latest one, held during the past week was some serious partying because it went on for four days.
Most Spanish fiestas have a religious connection and this one is to mark the beginning of Lent, and in the distant past was the start of a period of fasting lasting until Easter. The fiesta began on Thursday at the Cultural Centre. I didn’t go but It includes speeches and performances – usually of a comic nature.
On Friday, competitions for best fancy dress for both adults and children were held in a huge marquee erected in the Plaza de España, just across from the Balcon de Europa.
Saturday night was the night of the big parade where all the costumes from Fridays competitions were shown off. Although all the fancy dress competitors take part, anyone can dress up and join in the procession. The carnival assembled in one of the streets at the edge of town. The entertainment began with the removal of vehicles whose owners had chosen to ignore the parking restriction notices that have been posted for several days.
Once the street was cleared, groups and individuals together with the displays for the floats began to arrive. Some of them must have taken weeks of work and considerable expense to put together.
When it was well past its scheduled starting time, the procession finally got under way accompanied by the playing of several bands.
After parading around the town, the procession ended in the marquee at the Plaza de España where a party was held and the winners of the costume categories were announced.
Sunday evening was the night for the ‘Entierro del Bogueron’ or Burial of the Sardine. Yes, that’s right – a funeral for a sardine with many of the local dignitaries dressed as mourners.
Anyone can dress in bizarre funeral finery and join in.
Several guys take the opportunity to come along in drag.
Once assembled in the Plaza de España they then follow a bier containing a huge model of a sardine.
The procession was accompanied by groups of drummers and several bands playing jazzed up funeral music.
For the next ninety minutes the column dances its way around the town before arriving back at the Balcon where the pall bearers and chief mourners eventually carry the bier down to the small secluded Calahonda Beach.
However, once the procession got under way, I took the short walk down to the promenade to have dinner at the Mirasol. An hour later I retraced my steps back to the Balcon where to the west could be seen the last rays of the setting sun,
whilst in the east the cliffs and Calahonda Beach were already getting dark.
The Balcon was packed with spectators and before long the sound of drums announced the approach of the column. The pall bearers carried the bier to the end of the Balcon, then paused for photographs, before returning and carrying it down the steps to the beach and to the water’s edge.
Once the beach was cleared of mourners and pall bearers, fireworks shot up into the sky,
with the display ending with a huge explosion where fish and bier disintegrated and burst into flames.
Having visited the Costa del Sol each year for nearly twenty years one would think there would no longer be any new places to see. But not so!. A couple of weeks ago my friend Willy asked me if I’d been to Marina del Este, further along the coast. Apparently he had arrived at it by chance but I was unable to visualize the route he described. I spent some time searching on Google Earth. Eventually I found it along the coastline on one of the headlands. I noted down the GPS coordinates and one day last week, accompanied by my daughter who was staying for a few days, set out to find it. We travelled along the old coast road which carries very little traffic since the A7 AP was opened. After several miles of familiar and beautiful coastline, Tomtom directed me to turn. The narrow road led up over the top of a headland and then by many steep twists and turns, the road ended at a small car park with a harbour close by. The sign declared that we had arrived at the Puerto de Punta de la Mona.
Squeezed in at the foot of the cliffs was a small sandy cove, sheltered by a rocky inlet.
A little further along was a peñón – a huge off-shore outcrop of rock. There are several of them along this section of coastline. Adjoining this one, an angle of dockside had been built so that between the rock and the shore, a very well sheltered marina had been created.
Standing on the breakwater looking across the bay I could identify the town of Almuñéca.
We spent a very pleasant two hours or so having lunch and wandering along the beach and around the port but on our way back to the car we couldn’t help but see the dark clouds sweeping across the sky. We hurried back to the car and within minutes, the heavens opened and for a short while we had torrential rain. But before long the cloud rolled away and we were back with sunshine. We set off to retrace our route but made a wrong turning. The road took us over the headland, through an urbanización – then on to a familiar road. We found ourselves coming down onto La Heradurra beach – one of our favourite spots.
But it was getting late. We decided not to stop. We had an evening appointment at The Bamboo for dinner. Before we went into the restaurant, we stopped to admire the last rays of the setting sun.
The weather has forced me to rethink my plans. I was planning to leave El Pino on Saturday and spend the week dawdling my way back to Santander. But on Thursday, the day I’d planned to take down my awning and pack away my ‘kitchen’, the rain began before it was light and continued throughout the day. Friday was only slightly better so my departure has been postponed. Tuesday is the next planned departure date, which of course requires a reorganized itinerary.
Yesterday morning I saw this little ‘outfit’ leaving the site. Since it carried the same French number plate as the towing vehicle, it wouldn’t need a carte grise and its gross weight would be less than 500Kgs. I would like to have seen it in use – with its tiny door, levitation would come in handy!
It’s nearly four months since this adventure began and it was time to start thinking about returning home. I had planned to leave Torrox on Saturday the 20th but during the week the weather suddenly turned wet and it prevented me from taking down the awning and getting it packed away. Consequently I left three days later which required a change of route plan. Instead of spending two nights at each stop, giving me a day to sight-see, the journey north had to be done quicker and more direct.
I was ready to leave the site by 9am on Tuesday with most of my Goodbyes being made on Monday afternoon.
Within five minutes of leaving, I’d reached the A7 motorway heading east on an undulating dual carriageway for twenty miles or so before turning inland and climbing upwards to Granada. Although Granada is only 30 miles from the coast, it stands at over 2500 feet and the outside temperature indicator showed a drop from 17C down to 9C – but still nice and sunny. With one coffee stop, combined with a fuel fill-up I’d reached Camping Despeñaperros at Santa Elena by 12.45 with175 miles completed.
The camp site is pleasantly situated in a wood at the end of the village. ASCI cards are accepted and as there is a site-wide free wifi, it’s excellent value at €15 per night. The toilet blocks are central on the site area with toilets and showers being beautifully tiled. It’s a pity the owners have decided not to fit toilet seats. The village of Santa Elena is perched on the edge of the Desfiladero de Despeñaperros. The name literally means ‘dogs plunging into the gorge’. Not far away from the village is the site of one of the last great battles between the armies of King Alphonso of Castile and the muslim ruler of Spain which took place in 1212. It became known as The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. A section of Alphonso’s army was led through the pass by a shepherd and the Moors suffered a defeat with thousands of their wounded being left on the battlefield. One authority has suggested that the ‘dogs’ which plunged into the ravine were captive soldiers.
After I’d had some lunch I took a stroll through the village then later drove the five miles to La Carolina. In both places there are monuments commemorating the battle.
The monument at La Carolina was erected in 2012 which was the 800th anniversary. It shows the Kings Alfonso, Pedro of Aragon, Sancho of Navarra, as well as several Archbishops who took part. The figure in front of them, pointing ahead, is the shepherd who showed them the path through the mountains.
Santa Elena and its close neighbour, La Carolina, together with ten other nearby towns were all built in 1767 as part of a plan to populate the area around the Despeñaperros Gorge. Although it was known as “the gateway to Andalucia” it was a desolate spot and a notorious point on the Cadiz-to-Madrid road for bandoleros to attack groups of merchants and travelers. King Carlos III sanctioned a plan that would bring into the area six thousand settlers from north European countries. His plan was to give to each family land and livestock consisting of five chickens, five goats, five sheep, two cows, and a pig. Because these twelve towns have a comparatively recent history, they are laid out on a grid pattern rather than the narrow, winding streets of the older Moorish towns
By nightfall there were ten outfits on site. I was ready to leave by 8.45. Just as I was leaving a flock of strangely coloured birds descended.
Within five minutes, I was on the motorway heading across the gorge on the newly built flyover.
Prior to 2014 convoys of HGVs snaked their way down one side of the ravine, along the bottom, then backwards and forwards up the other side. Yesterday, for the sake of nostalgia I drove down the old road, where the flyover crosses the ravine 100s of meters up in the sky.
The flyover was reached within minutes of leaving the site. Immediately my out-dated Tomtom was thrown into confusion and remained so for the next fifteen minutes. From the gorge, the road climbs gently for several miles before reaching a flat plain which stretches for the next one hundred miles before dropping down into the valley surrounding Aranhuez. The site at Aranhuez is another popular night halt on the way north or south, but I wanted to be north of Madrid before stopping. There’s a choice of three motorways when crossing Madrid; the inner one, the M30; then the M40 takes a wider circle and finally the M50 which swings wider and adds 10 miles or so to the journey. Tomtom chose the M40 but he was over ruled and I turned off at Junction 17 for the M50. The route carried very little traffic. I joined the A1 at Junction 21 and pulled into the next service area for another fill-up. Very soon after, having completed another 200 miles, I reached KM57 where I headed for Camping Pico de la Miel. This large site is filled with rather old static mobile homes. I would imagine in summer the place will be heaving with weekenders from Madrid. But in winter, with the sombre back-drop of the mountains,
it has a depressing appearance. Again ASCI cards are accepted but with wifi being charged at €4 per day extra, it’s quite expensive at €19 – €23 with the wifi – per night. After a dull day’s drive, the temperature on arrival was only 5C and shortly after I arrived, the rain began.
It’s rained on and off throughout the night and I’m hoping that later this morning I will be able to tow off what must be some wet and soggy ground.
Fortunately the rain had stopped well before I was ready to leave. The ground, which I hadn’t noticed when I arrived was a firm packed sand. Consequently, by the time I had packed away the hook-up cable and water containers, the surface was quite firm, so I pulled away easily.
Within minutes I was back on the motorway with just twenty miles to do before reaching the highest point on the entire journey – Puerto de Somosierra – a pass over the Sierra de Guadarrama. The road reaches a height of 4700 feet and has a final climb of about 1500 feet over three miles. But the road is a well-engineered three lane motorway with no more than gentle curves. By selecting fourth gear early on, my engine easily pulled the caravan at 2000 revs all the way up to the tunnel at the peak. Although there were no signs of snow, it was forecast for the next few days. As usual in the mountainous areas of Spain, the highway authorities are always prepared.
There were several gritting lorries and snow-ploughs at strategic points all manned and ready to go. I came out on the other side of the tunnel to quite dense fog which continued for several miles.
One of the few picnic areas on the route came up at 95 miles into the journey so I took advantage of it for a coffee break. The fog had cleared but the 4degreeC temperature felt cold after my four months on the Costa del Sol. It was nice to get back to the warmth of the car.
It was my intention to stop for the night at Burgos but when I was still 30 miles away the rain started. As I drove along I considered my options. It was still only 11.30am but it was raining hard; the temperature was only 5c at nearly mid-day; Burgos stands at nearly 3000 feet; and two days of snow was forecast for the weekend. By the time I’d reached the outskirts, I’d made my decision – I would carry on for another 115 miles to reach Santander. With a lunch stop and another stop for fuel, I reached Camping Virgen del Mar at 14.30.. (The next paragraph is cut and pasted from last year’s blog.)
The site is very handy for the ferry terminal since it’s just six miles (and six roundabouts) across town, or nine if you do the journey by motorway. It’s a large site but in the winter months most of it is closed off with only a small portion being used.
When I arrived the pitches were very water-logged so it was suggested that I parked on the hard-standing close to the entrance. The pitches are extremely narrow, and defined by trees, but quite deep, making it almost impossible to erect an awning. Toilets and showers are very nicely tiled, although the shower cubicles have nowhere in the dry to hang clothes or towels. Also the lighting is on a timer switch so “don’t dilly dally on the way” otherwise you’re left in darkness. Site fees are charged at the same rate throughout the year, thus making it expensive for a winter ferry stop-over. Being on my own, the two night’s fee was an eye-watering €42, the most expensive site-fee of the entire journey from Torrox. Also, they don’t allow dogs on the site. There is one change since my last visit. They have a surprisingly good wifi connection. And – it was free.
By 9am, to my surprise, the sun was up into a fairly clear sky. Not at all like the forecast suggested. After completing the usual chores, I drove down the road to the big car park on the cliff tops. Just a short distance off shore is the Isla Virgen del Mar which has in its centre a chapel originally built in the 12th C but because of storm damage has been rebuilt several times.
The ermita contains the statue of the Virgen del Mar which once a year is carried to Santander Cathedral. The Island is connected to the shore by a foot bridge. I wandered across the bridge and climbed the hill up to the building, but it was locked so I couldn’t see inside.
By the time I was back in the caravan the day had completely changed. Gone were the blue skies; storm clouds were rolling in. Very shortly afterwards the rain started and a strong wind was beginning to make itself felt. The long sea crossings to Spain in winter are always at risk of cancellation because of Biscay storms, so during the afternoon I was perturbed to see a text message arrive from Brittany Ferries. But to my relief it wasn’t a notice of cancellation but a warning about possible delays caused by snow falls on the higher ground in northern Spain. The weather deteriorated throughout the afternoon so that by bedtime, I thought the noise of the wind and rain would make sleep very unlikely.
But I was wrong – I slept quite well. But each time I awoke the rain was falling and the caravan was rocking in the wind. At 9.30 I ventured out to take a look at the sea. What a change in 24 hours.
Sea and sky were dark and threatening with huge waves crashing against the rocks. With wind and sea spray, it wasn’t pleasant to be out. I returned to the caravan and spent the next couple of hours cleaning the shower cubicle, toilet, hand-basin and sink – all the unenviable tasks that have usually got to be done after returning home. To my surprise, no other vans had arrived last night in readiness for tonight’s sailing. Whilst I was out I also took the opportunity of asking the site owner if it would be in order to delay my leaving the site until 3pm. Before closing down the computer I took a look at the Spanish motorway camera website. Seems last night’s forecast was right.
Now all that remains to be done is to publish this last section to complete this current blog; wind up the legs and make my way down to Santander dock area.
As I did last year I’ve compiled a list of expenses for the benefit of would be travellers who might be contemplating a long stay. These costs cover 122 days away from home.
Ferry for car, 7 mtr caravan and a cabin. Both fares including a ‘friends’ discount.
Inward £321 Total £637
Site fees incl electricity El Pino £703
9 nights out £113
4 nights back £55 Total £871
Miles towed outward 835
Miles towed homeward 660 Total 1495
Total fuel at av 30mpg Total £150
Toll charges Nil.
Red Pennant insurance for 122 days £280