This is part one of our epic 6 week summer Grand Tour of the 43rd parallel north, Europe in my beloved Westfalia Florida VW LT campervan. After this head on over here: 2015 France Travelogue.
(Part One – in reverse chronological order:)
4th July, Saturday – Holiday apartment, Valras Plage, Mediterranean coast, France – 3,139kms
Well it worked – we had half an hour to ourselves at the end of the day so the (cheap) Spanish-bought Farngelico came out and helped the nocturnal dehydration! We’d had a lovely stay here at Camping Pré Fixe, Cassagnabere-Tournes and would recommend it to anyone. Funnily enough it was mostly Brits but they were all very pleasant – a couple from Newcastle in a T5 with twin-sliders, a family with 2 daughters, one Lola’s age, in a tent at the end of their first week and happy with our recommendation for Ile de Re for their 2nd week, and a young couple with a young son away for 6 months in their new van.
The site itself, although rural, small & peaceful is accessible, has views of the Pyrenees, and at the end of our pitch had a field full of sunflowers looking at us. Bliss. Lovely pool too (a different pool each day is making us a bit pool-snobby!)
However we were on a mission and upped and left after a last swim. We drove through lovely countryside and Aurignac before joining the boring old peage again! Although I longed to at least drive to Foix I new it would extend the journey and mean that the girls arrived hot and bothered so I grinned and beared hoping to be back here again to do more of the Pyrenees one day.
We stopped briefly at a hot aire for croques & rappee before passing Carcassonne with a view of the amazing castle there from the motorway, eventually turning north on the Perpignan > Montpelier road, all the time Flo pulling well with the tail wind. Soon we found junction 36 and pulled off for Valras Plage and our bolt-hole for some r ’n’ r.
Read the full review and the second part of our epic 6 week Grand Tour in 2015 France Travelogue.
3rd July, Friday – Camping Pré Fixe, Cassagnabere-Tournes, Haute Garonne, France – 2,704kms
Thankfully we slept well and this morning I pried Lola out of mummy’s bed and took her down to wave jump and watch the surfers on this excellent stretch of coast. Luckily for us the forecasters were wrong – this morning was glorious.
So it’s nearly the end of this leg of the trip and nearly the end of this travelogue. Just one last epic leap across the south of France from coast to coast to complete.
And we started it in style filling up with food, fuel and GPL gas for the tank for the fridge and the cooker which was now almost depleted after 2 weeks of use.
We broke the journey at a L’Eclerc outside Tarbes and then pressed on on the RN 814 towards Toulouse. Despite the glorious site of the Pyrenees, in some instances snow capped to our south it was really hot. When we returned from the shops the temperature gauge in the sun in the van was an unbelievable 60 degrees!!!
After some minor wrangle trying to find the right road we found our campsite for the night at xxx, almost equidistant from coast to coast. With plenty of time tomorrow to get to our 4pm appointment for key collection in Valras Plage we leapt into the most divine pool in this most gorgeous of welcoming secluded, proper rural French campsites (and filled with Brits!)
What we liked:
- friendly hosts
- rural, peaceful, intimate, pretty setting
- pool & kids facilities
What we didn’t like:
- too bloody hot again!
- little off the beaten track
- pool could have been bigger
2nd July, Thursday – Aire de Camping Car, Anglet Plage, Biarritz, France
We hung around for the pool to open at 11 and were the first in the lovely big pool at this site. Then it was on again, north & east, through the hills that had appeared in the North and then onto the auto via towards first the ghastly industrial Vitoria-Gastriez and then on to San Sebastian, Irun, the boarder and Biarritz.
Here, instantly feeling the warm welcome of the country that we both love so much, we left the peage for the coast road into the town, passing one camping car aire and then getting stuck into the one-way system through this lovely town *twice* and finally settling for another aire in the north of the town, right on the beach. It was however the most un-flat parking ever and everyone was “up on their cheeses” (if you’re in the know you’re in the know!)
After speaking to the municipal gendarmes who were reassuringly patrolling the place we jumped on 2 buses (the first one free, the 2nd one who politely waited while I ran to get change for a €50 note) and arrived in town to promptly plonk ourselves down and (funnily enough) eat tapas, drink beer and people watch (and control our increasingly feral daughter!)
Biarritz (as with the rest of France) was heaven. A lovely stroll, some shopping and a nice dinner in Place Eugenie down near the front and we were very content. We even managed to navigate to the bus route back and were soon wrestling Lola to sleep in the heat.
What we liked:
- the town and the beach
- secure/patrolled aire
- good bus service
What we didn’t like:
- one way system nightmare
1st July, Wednesday – Camping Rioja, Logrono, Spain – 2,228kms
We barbecued and sat out late into the night. The wind changed and a few clouds came over. Thankfully the van cooled. This morning we woke to cloud cover again – that weather front seemingly following us inland. We were determined to leave as early as possible and rolled on up and out at 9.15. Amazingly the 2 other couples who’d turned up (one who’d walked 18ks and were clearly off for another 18kms today) had both already departed too.
We climbed back up and over, thankfully returning to the N road via a more drivable route. With each change of road the drive became easier, until one last steep valley descent, hairpin river crossing, and ascent of the far side – a really beautiful drive worthy of some sort of top 10 list – and eventually we were spewed out onto the auto via de Camino de Santiago towards Leon (and Madrid).
Today we knew we were going to doing a lot of driving. We now had 3 days to get to the Med coast. We’d started badly though with lots of windy crawling, and sure enough, even after 2 short breaks and one long one for lunch at a service station near Leon, we’d driven for 7 hours by the time we finally reached a campsite near Logrono in Rioja.
Flo did an amazing job today. Towards the end of the day I was driving by the temperature gauge, but for at leat a couple of hours we were cruising at 120 km/h (75 mph) in heats up to 34 degrees. She has a tick when she gets this hot – she stalls when changing down. Something somewhere decides to give up helping the fuel mix keep the engine going so I either have to double de-clutch in time or restart the ignition which is always a bit of a worry. So we limped into the campsite and through ourselves in the lovely, refreshing, and oh-so-needed pool, hoping that she’d be OK in the morning. I’m so in awe of this amazing old girl! 🙂
What we liked:
- the pool
- convenience on our route
What we didn’t like:
- very popular with long stay/locals
- shabby facilities
- run down with odd caravan shalets!
30th June, Tuesday – Camping Canon Do Sil, Galicia, Spain – 1,717kms
Today we were to say goodbye to the west coast, and actually it made sense to do so as we woke to 100% cloud cover. Shame as we wanted to revisit the beach and swim, but hey-ho – fate makes it’s mark.
We found a mini Carrefour supermarket to stock up and hit the road again, first towards Vigo to the south then from Pontveranda east for the first time proper. It felt weird (and disappointing not to be following signs for Portugal), and indeed we found with the wind against us that it was harder going, however we were soon at Ourense where we drove slowly through then around and down onto the river bank and pretty much accidentally stumbled upon the municipal swimming pools and a shaded car park – a rare thing in these parts. We ate in the heat of the shade of the van and then stripped off and ran barking into the waters of the kiddy pool with fountain and the positively enormous main pool which stretched itself elegantly along the bank of the river – luxury. You don’t see the UK opening this kind of thing for the summer in times of austerity!
The road to tonights’ stop was a more windy N road up into the hills and eventually to a point where we needed to turn off and climb up to the high banks of the Canon do Sil – the River Sil canyon. And boy was it a climb! The road deteriorated to road single lane but then climbed and climbed. We were down to first gear and crawling, and looking at eachother I wondered for moment whether Flo would make it without doing a wheelie! We summited next to a family of wind turbines and eventually crawled on along through the tiny village of Parada do Sil to Castro and the only campsite in the whole of this region.
Now to me this sort of rural campsite is just heaven. Built simply and to blend into the landscape it was small, simple, staggered in groves, with a little cool cafe bar, nice basic facilities, no one else there, and the most incredible view over the canyon. Heaven. Of course the girls were a bit more cooked, shaken and less impressed with the in-the-middle-of-nowehereness about it all but I was delighted to be welcomed by Carlos (who knew English after crewing luxury Mediterranean yachts but this year as there was no work had come to look after the campsite for the 10 weeks of the summer that it’s open) to have a nice cool beer, sit on their cafe veranda, push Lola on the swing, and absolutely gawp at the enormity of the views of the dreamy, peaceful canyon.
What we liked:
- the definition of rural!
- amazing unspoilt canon views from great viewing jetties
- peaceful, well landcaped flat terraced pitches with friendly staff (and a nice bar area)
What we didn’t like:
- a LONG way off the beaten track
- a little overgorwn
29th June, Monday – Camping Playa Canalas, Porto Novo, Ria Baixas, Galicia, Spain – 1,519kms
So that’s the 2nd of 3 west-coast nights without a sunset 🙁 Fingers crossed for the 3rd. However with Lola causing fairly tortuous nights resulting from sleep-talking & unpleasant dreams most nights I guess it’s taken the shine out of our evenings. Just as well she’s such a joy to be around the rest of the time! We woke to relative peace, and sure enough the only other bodies in the large swimming pool were flying ants. They were being trawled rather pathetically by one girl with a tiny net for such a large pool. Didn’t put Lola and I off and in we went.
As it started to warm we trundled on down towards the coast, a beach and another campsite with a pool. Today we had motorway most of the way, and headed down to the next Ria Baixa and what was billed as one of the most up-market resorts on this coast! With a lot to live up to A Texo of course failed. It turned out to pretty much be a gated community with no centre and no point in stopping. So we headed back across the causeway to O Grave and stopped for lunch on the harbour there.
Anyway a supermarcado reared into view so we shopped instead of having pizzas! Not wanting to drive on we ate in the comfort, and heat of the van on the harbour front.
The campsite I’d seen was just along the coast at the unpronounceable Sanexenxo. On our way round we drove along the beach at A Lanzada which just looked gorgeous – great breakers close to roadside beach parking, plenty of campervans, GORGEOUS looking sea, and even another Westfalia Florida to top it off! However we plunged out round, found a lovely small shaded, stepped campsite with two pools (small one with slides), only to find that we were again too far round for the sunset. I tried again to summon the effort and energy to cycle round for it but once again dinner got in the way!
What we liked:
- pretty & peaceful compact campsite on a west coast location
- beach easy access
- convenient base for exploring the area
What we didn’t like:
- nearby port not that great or easy to get to
28th June, Sunday – Camping Rural Rio Arosa II, Ria Baixas, Galicia, Spain – 1,386kms
How lovely to wake up to the subtle incessant crashing of the Atlantic just a hundred feet below on our own private beach! This is the Spain that I had seen in the movie The Young, The Old and The Sea and after a brief encounter with a French/Spanish couple travelling out of the back of a Vito the vision was complete!
Lola and I jumped up and headed down to the beach. The Mrs joined us for a run around. The grey skies remained but the joy of being the first people to set foot was unsurpassed. I even had time to make the first fresh coffee of the trip with my new hand grinder (oo’er missus!) but the ground was far too fine!
The journey to the western-most point of mainland Europe from here was fairly non-descript. The roads were actually very good and the scenery equally but it wasn’t until the last up-and-over that the climate changed and the views started extending over the water to the south – finally, the west coast.
Cape Finisterre itself was as to be expected. To many it’s the end of the world, and that’s what the name literally translates as. We’d past many walkers on this last stretch of road as we joined the Camino di Santiago. As atheist as I am I was impressed to see so many making such an effort of simple self-mutliation to walk with their stuff on their backs at the side of a pretty barren, completely sun-baked road for their beliefs. Something to remember I guess!
We parked, leapt out, took some shots, discussed whether it really was the end of the world or not (Lola just wouldn’t believe it!) and pressed on again on our relentless mission. Today we were to make up time as we had fallen behind the (albeit rather quickly planned) schedule as we had a date with what I perceived to be a rather gorgeous looking hillside campsite with excellent views to the west and the sunset from the pool! Well they did have a pool and it was rural, but none of us expected that they were open to the public AND had some some of smart party going on there too! Jesus we pick ’em. I had to persuade the girls to stay! Luckily they reassured me this wasn’t the usual and was way over the normal amount of people for a considerable size pool. However we eventually found a nice shaded spot away from the clamour of the sound system, had a quick dip and then settled into a nice bottle of chilled local Rio Baixas white wine.
What we liked:
- rural, shaded spot
- properly chilled rosé thanks to being allowed to chill it in their fridge
What we didn’t like:
- pool open to the public on Sundays!
- pool full of midges on Monday!
- not quite how it looks on the website!
27th June, Saturday – Seaia Plaia, Malpica, Cost de Morte, Galicia, Spain – 1,135kms
We’d been told that the bread delivery arrived at 11 which was quite frankly pointless so instead we decided to leave early and continue the plunge west. However on packing up disaster struck – one of the skylight side windows in the top bunk sheared it’s old rivets off and came away in my hand! Merde. A mild panic ensued as I ran around trying to figure out where I could get exactly the right screw from. In the end it was too much faff and we drove off with a hole to be inspected at our next stop.
The Praia do Catedrals (beach of cathedrals) was touted as another destination by the Eyewitness Guide. We got there as the tide was coming in, so a little late to get the full impact but the scale of thing was much smaller than expected. The Algarve has better rocky coastline than here. So instead I set about gaffa taping the skylight in. I know – bummer 🙁 Hey ho – now we look like proper travellers!
Immediately the road plunged upward into the hills again, this time almost steep enough to come down to 3rd gear but not quite. We ended up in the clouds for stretch though, but thankfully came down the other side towards A Coruna in the sun.
A Coruna is a lovely, popular old city. Evidence of that fact that you can fly direct from Gatwick and that huge ships like the Royal Carribbean one moored today came from English accents all round the old town (when we eventually found it). We had a lovely pavement lunch (although we did find it hard to find a restaurant until we stumbled upon restaurant street later!) and Lola had a run around and a play in the park on the port front. We visited the famous Plaza Maria Pita with it’s glazed balconied buildings around it’s capacious open centred, typical of this region.
It was now late in the day and we didn’t want to do too much more driving, however with Lola asleep in the back we pressed on a way towards Malpica to the west in search for a campsite listed on coolcamping.co.uk. It really wasn’t up to much though so we drove down into the little port town realising that as it was Sunday tomorrow we should buy some extra provisions. Then we decided to be ballsy and follow a couple of beach signs – first to a road that became so narrow a tight 3 point turn had to be conducted. This caused much amusement to a group of leathery tanned senior citizens of the area who were perched on some shaded roadside benches. Then we chanced across a level car park at the end of a short dust track and decided to try our hand at a spot of wild camping 🙂
What we liked:
- first wild camping spot of the trip!
- beach to ourselves!
- no cost (apart from money spent in local shops into the local economy)
What we didn’t like:
- nearest campsite wasn’t worth its’ recommendations
- lack of security & possibility of noise (neither were issues)
- no facilities (!) but fresh water from a font nearby
26th June, Friday – Camping Ribadeo, Galicia – 965kms
We broke camp in a steady manner and were on the road before the swimming pool opened at 11. We plunged back down the same route we came up in the blistering sun until we reached the last gorges towards the North coast and then lo-and-behold – cloud 🙁 Yup the coastal weather had changed and we even had drizzle. No surprises in this part of Spain of course but a real shame as we skirted the northern flanks of the Picos with no view 🙁
Today was a long days driving. The girls are doing well but of course Lola doesn’t really get it and the Mrs has really been involved with the how’s and why’s of trip planning. Again Flo (the 3rd female member of the party!) did really well – a joy to drive on the frankly excellent Spanish motorways.
We stopped for fuel and tried to use the GPL to fill the camping gas tank. Despite the attendants use of an adapter that fitted both out tank and the nozzle she couldn’t get a seal so we went without.
We plunged on to Oviedo and tried to stop for lunch near the cathedral. This proved impossible – it looked lovely and the Mrs ran round to take a photo but we had to instead settle for a giant Carrefour supermarket experience, which – let’s face facts – is always a joy! The town itself was very smart and very clean – quintessential chic Spain.
Ribadeo – the end of todays route, and the gate town to Galicia from the north coast – was not what our guide made it out to be. Nor indeed was Camping Ribadeo which was chosen as it had a pool. However the pool was very much gerscloschen and the site reminded me of some Eastern Block campsites I’d stayed in with my parents on trips out that way when young, but it was late and we were in no mood for more asphalt. As it was it turned out to be a very pleasant peaceful evening but this area was really nothing to visit.
What we liked:
- quiet & convenient for Praia do Catedrais
What we didn’t like:
- advertised pool not yet open
- generally shabby with no effort spared
- nothing nearby
25th June, Thursday – 2nd night Camping La, Isla, Potes, Picos de Europa
We made it! We’re in Galicia. Almost 1000 kms since we left Hove. Just beyond one of the first coastal towns in the region and just before the Praya de Catedrals that we’ll stop at for breakfast.
Yesterday we managed to get out of the van and onto the bikes, the Mrs braving the idea that led to cycling back uphill at the hottest part of the day! Potes was only 2.5kms away, downhill, so it was an easy run in. It’s a nice town/village to potter around in but very much the tourist centre of the region so mainly used as a base for exploring, climbing, trekking, 4×4 adventures, etc. We had lunch in the same cafe we had coffee in before returning back to the campsite. The ride was easy enough, even with Lola astride my cross bar sitting on some thick pipe lagging.
Back at camp I decided that I just couldn’t resist the call of the mountains so left the girls basking in the pool, rolled the awning back up, unplugged the outdoor stove, and head off on the 23km trek upwards with a promise to be back in 2 hours with dinner that I had no intention of keeping!
However the roads were more of those excellent sweeping winding bends that Flo loves, and I was quickly round and into the incredible valley that is Fuente De, and from here, after parking and mounting the sun screen, I jumped into a cable car and shot up quickly, almost vertically to a plateau with amazing views of the caldera and the valley below. A great little extension to our Picos trip.
I even managed to get back ahead of my given deadline, but instead of hitting Potes during siesta I decided that I would throw myself in the pool and cycling back down when the shops were pretty much guaranteed to be open again. Of course, come the time the butcher didn’t speak a word of English so if it wasn’t for a previous customer who fancied a challenge I wouldn’t have come back with the most enormous entrecote steak on the bone for the barbecoa! I needed a beer for the ride back after that!
A lovely evening meal ensued, etc. Buenos noches.
24th June – Camping La Isla, Potes, Picos de Europa – 646kms
While the girls leapt up and jumped into the pool old muggins here packed up and got everything ship shape. I have to say – I do love to make and break camp. Whether or not I’m still saying that on night number 35 remains to be seen, but for now it’s a delight unpacking everything we’ve carefully stowed away in our house on wheels. We want for nothing. Although having said that the Mrs is quids in as I’m quite happy to take on almost all the chores.
We bid Joyel farewell, almost forgetting to stump up the rather high €35 for for the night (hopefully the most expensive stop this side of France).
We were soon back on the E8 West (feels good) and found the turning for the Cabarenco Parc that I’d stopped at on my first night. I don’t know why but I’d never looked at the fee when I overnighted at the air at the entrance on my first night, but when we arrived with just a few hours to visit the €65 it would have cost had our heads spinning. Thankfully as they span we noticed elephants… wait… what? Yes, elephants just the authorised of the barrier in a large open, mountain-backed area. Well elephants without paying was of course enough for a 4 yr old, so instead we pulled up by the same lake I pulled up at first time round and had a lovely picnic lunch, speaking with a few other brits who were either heading home of heading south in their vans. Heartily recommend this spot.
So now we were, thankfully, slightly ahead of schedule (yes I know – we shouldn’t be so thorough in our planning, but I do want to see as much of this part of the world as poss in the 11 nights we have!) so we were delighted (maybe me more than the girls as they clearly hadn’t been doing their reading up!) to turn south on the road signposted Picos de Europa.
The road quickly stared winding upwards and then joined a river, before starting it’s meandering path up a very steep ravine. It was lovely drive – nice and slow, for Flo, the girls, and me actually, and soon the Mrs’ head was lolling beside me as I gaped and wowed at the beautiful wonder of these majestic hills. It started to get hotter too, which was at odds to the fact that we could now see snow on the hills. Flo pulled hard. The LT loves uphill sweeping slow roads though, and with the traffic thinning we really didn’t have a care in the world other than keeping half an eye on that temperature needle reaching 2 o’clock at it’s worst.
We trundled through Potes, the provincial town we’d (I’d) read about, and pulled into our pre-selected campsite, yes – you’ve got it – with a pool (something I completely agree with the Mrs on at the end of a long days’ drive), and checked ourselves into a shaded spot this being siesta hour (or 3). We stopped the engine and were instantly cooled by the sound of the rushing water backing the site. A good find. Very laid back, and half the price per night of Camping Joyel on the coast (€18).
All the paraphernalia came out for this 2 night stop (the last till France… are we crazy?!) and we were soon in the pool and down to the restaurant on the river bank for dinner.
What we liked:
- rural and peaceful river bank location. Good base for the area
- clear air and lots of nature!
- quiet swimming pool
What we didn’t like:
- a bit of a cycle ride to Potes in the heat
- no kids club
23rd June – Camping Playa Joyel, Noja, Cantabria – 456kms
Yesterday was, I hope, a lovely introduction for the girls to Northern Spain. We rose in our own time and were on the 10.30 bus down to Bilbao safe in the knowledge that our €15 afforded the van security while we were sight-seeing (this wouldn’t have been the case if we’d driven in). After my sortee I knew that we basically needed to see the Guggenheim (exterior at least) and the old town would be nice for lunch. As it happened the exterior was all we wanted to see with Lola in tow, and a play area was a worthy enough distraction to break the visit before heading of for lunch. This was a hit and miss affair as the Mrs felt that pinxto would have been a bad choice for Lola’s lunch.
We returned, packed up and set off to the west – the start of a long push to the Atlantic west coast and the cape of Finisterre. Tonight we just needed to put some distance between us and Bilbao and got as far as the start of the good beaches at Noja where we eventually found a proper resort-style seaside campsite – Camping Joyel.
Campsites like this serve a definite purpose but aren’t ever cheap. We were to pay €35 in the morning. On top of this we couldn’t resist paying €8.50 for Poulet Roti (or whatever the Spanish equivalent is). We were straight in the pool, instantly breaking the rules by not wearing caps! As it’s the beginning of the season everyone (bar the reception team) were in good moods and the lifeguard even leant us some spare caps so that I didn’t have to traipse dripping into the shop!
We barely saw the beach but had a pleasant evening, that is until we turned in and discovered that the little nearby town not only had a very late running ‘petit train’ complete with constantly ringing bell, but that there was some sort of event on which involved several bands playing both ghastly covers and ghastly originals until 1 in the morning! Merde
What we liked:
- nice pool area
- smart, large campsite near beach
- poulet roti on-site
What we didn’t like:
- staff already looked pissed off even at the beginning of the season
22nd June – 2nd night in Bilbao
We’re dining al fresco and enjoying the bliss of a beach front campsite just west of Santander tonight, but first the story of my last day of solo travel, and of a rather embarrassing van incident!
It was another leisurely start for me from my perch overlooking Bilbao and as the girls were arriving in the evening I knew I needed to stock up the van. I also knew I needed to find a nice spot to do some last solo r ’n’ r. So, following on from a mention by Dan from the VW LT Owners group on Facebook I decided to head on over the hills to the coast and check out a once famed surfing spot – Mundaka!
As it was en route I also checked out the airport which was further away than I anticipated, but it was when I stopped at a giant Carrefour supermarket in the outskirts (yes thankfully they have them in Spain too!) that disaster struck. It was one of those supermarkets where they’d cleverly left sheltered parking for cars underneath so obviously nowhere obvious to park a 3.5m camper. There was access to the rear for deliveries etc so I drove down and was directed by a man in a kiosk to park in an empty spot designated for lorries. I pull in and turned a full 360 to park facing back out and as I slow down to line up with a spot I drove over a gutter that I could clearly see from my side but suddenly – CRUNCH – and the right hand side of the front of the van crashed down a lot further than expected. I tried reverse; I tried forward but ended up with my rear wheel spinning in either direction. I jumped out and this is what I found:
I stopped the engine and looked around. What an idiot. Just a little more time to check both sides and I wouldn’t have made such a stupid mistake. There were a few lorries coming and going and drivers coming out after their shop had a good oggle! I walked over and stopped a lorry but he tapped his watch. Thankfully another guy on foot in a luminous jacket said he had a ‘grande camion’ and would be back in 10 minutes. I waited.
In the interim a few other of varying description came and went – another lorry managed to snap a rather pathetic looking tow rope trying to pull me out backwards from the tow bar; a couple of stoners came over and tried to persuade me to come back to theirs; and eventually my friend returned – in a cement mixer – and with me spinning the rear wheels again managed to tug me back out onto the flat an with no damage done. Thankfully Flo had sat down on het chassis and done no damage to the suspension. Gah!
So I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked into the cavernous interior of Carrefour – received that I didn’t have to make that call to the Adrian Flux breakdown line, and mush more relieved not to be raining the Mrs and telling her we were sleeping in a listing camper in a super market car park on her first night!!
Fully laden I plunged on up and over the winding hill with Flo pulling sweetly until I clapped eyes on the wonderful Mundaka. Unable to park however I ended up spending the rest of the day parked up on the quayside at Bermeo where I could an early dinner and even got the canoe into the water. I chugged back up the switchback roads at dusk to arrive with an hour to spare before the girls Veiling fight landed at 9.50 without hitch to grab a quick beer and jump on the free wifi. Once safely installed in Flo I drove them back round to our perch and the twinkling lights of Bilbao (for a rough night…)
What we liked:
- the views, the views, the views!
- easy bus journey into town
- security & facilities (free wifi!)
What we didn’t like:
- bus journey into town wasn’t quick (or straight!)
21st June –Autocaravaning Kobetamendi, Monte Kobeta, Bilbao – 373kms
After the inevitable broken night adjusting to the new environment (it was cold actually) I rose in my own time and set off for Bilbao. Thankfully such major towns have an inclination to suck you in via clear signage so I was soon winding up steep inclines and down back curves on the A-8 motorway to the east.
Even though I only had a printed map of the location I was amazed, with only a couple of minor signposts, to take the correct route off at the right junction and up into the hills just on the outskirts of the city. It was here that I’d read about an ‘aire’ that overlooks the city, and boy, it sure did!
€15 euros effectively buys you secure 24hr parking on a firm grassy plot which you pull straight into so you have the most amazing views down off the hill and over the winding river and the whole of the city. The only facilities are wifi and waste disposal facilities, but for those in the know this is exactly all you need in a fully equipped camper.
I decided that I’d head straight into town catching the 58 bus from a stop just a few meters away for the 20 minute journey in. This proved to be infinitely easier that trying to get into town by van or by bike (we bought both on the back of the van). I chatted to another couple of Brits and a French family from the site who were in various states of return from their explorations.
The bus turns you out in the old town – a maze of tall streets and sheltered tapas & pintxcho bars. Before I knew it I was spewed out into an amazingly bustling central square – Plaza Nueve. It was Sunday, and inevitably there was some unknown musical event going on, and those clad in pink seemed determined to constantly break into song! I took refuge and sheltered in a relatively quiet tapas bar for my first 2 nibbles and obligatory Amstel.
I strolled on through the town to see the environs out the Guggenheim, checking it out for Tuesdays visit with the girls. God it was hot – one sign purporting 32 degrees! I picked up a few odds and sods to take back to the van to call dinner, but this being Sunday meant that you weren’t allowed to buy or sell anything fresh or perishable!
One last Fanta and I caught the bus back up the hill from the main drag. How nice was it to get back up to that view and that cool breeze. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
20th June – Aire at Cabaraceno Parc, nr Santander
OK so I really won’t be updating this travelogue daily but as the girls don’t arrive until tomorrow I have time on my hands, plus it’s ball-achingly hot here in Bilbao so I have retreated to the comfort of the ‘campsite’ on the hill. Take a look at this view!
Where did I leave you… ah yes, I was lonely on the boat… well that didn’t last long as I soon found myself talking about science fiction to an ex-pat English teacher from Granada as well as the ORCA girls. We even saw some dolphins… which was nice.
We were soon ejected from the bowels of the Cap Finisterre which is when I suddenly realised that I really didn’t have a clue where I was going or how to get there! I’d decided (as it was already 6) that I’d stay somewhere near to Santander and after some research on board had discovered recommendations for a rare ‘aire’ at a wildlife park called Cabaraceno. However scrotum-navigating Santander’s environs proved to be a bit of a task. I even also managed to shop except every entrance to the hypermarket had height barriers.
I ploughed on eventually stumbling across the road I needed and finally found the place after stopping for Lays (it’s obligatory to always have European crisps). It was a beautiful spot. A little lake near a touristy village by the entrance to the park. A little noisy until dark but then very peaceful. I bedded down for my first night.
What we liked:
- great rural location
- felt secure amongst other friendly vanners
- shops, bars & eating options nearby (and elephants!)
What we didn’t like:
- quite a drive to get here
19th June – crossing Biscay
It must be a sign of all my grey hair that I was drawn to the ORCA presentation on level 8 of the Orbit Bar on the Cap Finisterre as we woke up to Biscay this morning! Having said that it is geologically interesting that the sea floor drops from 200m to 4,000m at some point during our crossing this morning! Any worries about rough seas and uncomfortable bunks faded away as the reality of the depth of the sea bed below us kicked in!
I guess it was a natural optimism that kicked in as I decided I only needed 1 and 3/4 hours to do the drive from Hove to Portsmouth for the 5pm ferry sailing on a Friday afternoon! As, after 15 minutes of driving, reaching only Worthing before I started crawling in traffic, the reality of having to sleep on the docks and squeeze into a later ferry dawned on me, my optimism faded.
I needn’t have worried. The traffic cleared and Flo strode on, puling as well as she always has – my trustee companion. I was however waved straight into the capacious bowels of the Cap Finisterre Brittany Ferries vessel as I arrived at Portsmouth docks.
I won’t bore readers with details of the ship or the crossing, but travelling alone on this stretch (the girls fly out on Monday) was a mix of delight and boredom. It was nice to have the freedom to enjoy the start of the holiday without the worry of motion sickness & others discomfort, but as the inevitable onset of a boozy Brit Friday night set in on board it would have been nice to have had some company.
Here are some van photos to geek out on while I have wifi!
What I liked:
- value for money considering the relaxing time spent on board and the fuel saved
- quality of the boat, cabins and its’ staff
What I didn’t like:
- not enough wildlife spotted
6th June – Journey Planning
So I’ve finally settled on a nice geographical hook for our trip – everywhere we’re going is pretty much in the 43rd parallel North, Western Europe!
We’ve actually been planning this for a while. The Mrs has been at her place of work for 10 years this year so she’s due a sabbatical! Also Lola is 4 and starts school in September and we’d always said that we’d have a trip during term time before that opportunity is lost forever! As it turned out we can only do the first half of the trip ‘on the cheap’ – the second half (covered in another travelogue) will come with the full cost lack of choice of campsites in the south of France in the school holidays. Still – it could be worse – we could be in France in August (we get home on the 1st!)
When we started planning we were looking to leave earlier, and to get to the sun asap we (I) planned to drive straight down from the ferry ports in the north of Spain to stay with friends who live in Granada. This gave me the opportunity to take The Mrs to see Las Alpujarras, my most favourite place in Europe, from where we would then travel due West to the Portguese Atlantic coast and then north as it got warmer. Now, as we’re leaving later, we’re instead staying in the north of Spain, heading to the south of France for Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival for a friends 50th birthday party, and then cruising on through Provence and north for the last 3 weeks of our 6 week break.
Here’s what I have bookmarked using Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Eyewitness Guide and Google. Green pins are stopovers, orange pins potential lunch stops, and red pins additional sight-seeing opportunities. We’ll be camping most nights but using aires on a few (including the first 3 in Bilbao):
I’ll be keeping this page updated as we go so do check back for updates.
I’ve done lot of tinkering on the van to make her as comfortable to live in as poss for 6 weeks. Interior updates include:
Next thing is to check over under the bonnet and for fluids, etc. I leave on the Portsmouth – Bilbao ferry on the 19th, the girls fly out on the 22nd to join me. We return home on the 31st July on a evening ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven 🙂
Check back for progress!