Sunday, 31 May 2015

2014 bits and bobs

Well I'm writing this in Stockholm (1502 miles from home), but I realised I never finished off our last trip to Spain. I'm unable to see where I got up to, but we had a great time at Pantin and then a campsite at Benquerencia where we watched some of the World Cup matches and cycled to Cathedral Beach .... Here we saw more tourists than we had the whole trip!
We drive up to Taramundi to see the blacksmiths and finished off back at the Elephant Park where we had a meal out in the small village and watched more football!

Statistics for the trip

52 Free Aires
16 Pay Aires €61 Average €3.81
27 campsites €304 Average €14.09 used the ACSI card for most nights
95 nights total €441.30 approx £353.04

Also, because everyone always asks about the van and the mpg .... More maths geek stuff

2635 miles. 389.27 litres €502.42 £400

30.79 miles per gallon
9.18L per 100km
10.9 km per Litre

Food and other stuff can vary, we don't eat out too much, but meals out vary from €8 - €25 and beer €1 a pint at the cheapest bar. We bought lots of Port at €5 a bottle and wine for around €3-€5.

Once home - Tim hurt his back and so our trip to Scotland was postponed and we headed for Anglesey instead. We had a month away in superb weather, saw friends and family. Visited Malham Cove and used a few Brit Stops.

So Summer in the UK was one of the hottest on record, apart from the week we went to Bedruthan Steps when we caught the tail end of a hurricane.

For some reason I can't put any photos in here ... Which is going to lead to a boring blog post and not much hope for the Sweden/Finland/Norway trip.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A Guada to Muxia, Spain

We arrived in Spain on May 22nd and unfortunately rain showers were forecast for the next 10 days :o(
Fortunately the sun came out between the showers and the temperature was like a good Cornish summer! We had lunch at A Guarda and followed the coast as much as we could to an ACSI campsite at Cagnas. The site was on very steep terraces and there wasn't much room, especially as we arrived at the same time as a Belgian motorhome, nice location above a beach and it would be a great spot to canoe out to the Islas Cies in calmer weather.
The first peninsular above Vigo was more urbanised than we'd expected, but as we traveled further north the coastline became more rugged and remote. This coastline is composed of 4 large Rias or inlets, with pine covered mountains between each, much as we imagine Norway to be (next year???)
We stopped off at Combarro for a few hours as it was very picturesque, with very old tiny houses and Hórreo, grain stores, raised on stilts to prevent rats.

We then drove out to O Grove and across the bridge to the luxury resort island of La Toja or A Toxa. Here is a beautiful church covered in scallop shells. We had eyed up a campsite on the way past at Portonovo, and finding nowhere better we went back to it.

The views from the site were magnificent .....

...... And so was the company! 4 of us managed to make this mess .... Though now being an hour forward from UK time, but still being at 9.25 degrees West, the sun is not setting until about 22.15 and it is light until way after 11 ... That's my excuse as to why we sat up chatting 'till 2ish.

The Spring flowers along the coast are amazing, I particularly liked the structure of this yellow Giant Fennel. We stayed 2 nights at the Aire at Boiro, €6 per night, and met some fellow VW campers with a few "dits" to tell. Unfortunately we were unaware of the football and party on on the Friday night, but the location right across from a beach was worth it .... Though it certainly wasn't beach weather while we were there!

We had been recommended an ACSI campsite, A Vouga, at Muros / Louro and we weren't disappointed. The view out to sea was stunning, even in the mist, rain and sun! Ideally located so that you can walk or cycle either way into the towns or the beach at San Francisco. We cycled out around the headland to the lighthouse and the sun shone while we had our lunch, sat on a rock, looking out over an amazing beach.
Unfortunately drizzle set in for the next day and so we cycled to Muros for some tapas or 'pinchos', as recommended by our neighbours...who Tim says to say, had a lovely camper van! Don't listen Libby, we love you!

After 4 days on the campsite we moved on to a lovely wild camping spot at Finisterre. It was such a lovely view and protected from the wind that we stayed 2 nights. This is a great place for people watching as it is the end of one of the trails that pilgrims follow to Santiago De Compostela. Though I can understand people who have walked hundreds of miles to this place, burning their boots and clothes, I find it a bit unsightly. Probably doesn't fit in with the pilgrim image either, that they are defacing this beauty spot. Though the final straw was when we saw a coach load of tourists walk 100 yards and then burn their socks and pay €3 for a scallop shell.

The sunset was worth the wait.....

....and the walk the following morning was superb. This is the start of a coastal walk from Finisterre to Malpica, along the Costa da Morte, the "Coast of the Dead", due to the numerous ship wrecks on this rugged coast, not the number of walkers who have died trying. It would be a lovely walk around the majestic headlands, but we will be driving most of it. After a quick diversion to Cee to empty the loo in an Aire at a Repsol garage....which incidentally had the most fabulous petrol station toilet EVER!!!!!!!

The way of St James or Saint Jacque, depending on where you are from is marked with the shell and routes converge from all over Europe on Santiago.... Too far for us to walk and too far from the coast as well, so we are not visiting this time. This part of the pilgrimage trail is at Muxia, a lovely little village on a peninsular, set out into the sea, reminding us a little of St Ives. Tim discovered Empanadas here, as a fresh baked one was set out on the counter just as we were buying our bread. Tim is suffering a pasty deficiency and so these are now a good substitute!

We drove around the bay and out to the lighthouse at Cabo Vilán where we escaped the wind to look in their art gallery and spent the night on the marina at Cmariñas. This small village is renowned for lace making and wind turbines!

The Ria de Camariñas is a beautiful, enclosed bay, with sandy beaches, so we have found a lovely campsite at Leis (€10 bargain) and spent a few days relaxing on the beach, where we have been the only ones there......Tim even went in the sea, but I was convinced it wasn't warm enough! We will move on tomorrow, but only 10 miles, back around to the marina for the night, before continuing along the coast.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Santa Susana to Caminha, Portugal

If we were ever going to see the interior of Portugal, then we had to leave the coast at some point. Lots of people that "don't like the Algarve" spend several months traveling around the Baragems ( reservoirs), most have wild camping spots and obviously lots of water available!
We were loured to this one with the promise of hot showers available for free, but it was a lovely spot and had great views. Though the neighbours gave a good impression of Blackpool Tower Ballroom by practicing playing his electronic keyboard organ outside for 4 hours....we went a walk, much more peaceful. Otherwise it was a delightful spot and the start of a 5 day heat wave, next time we would stay here for longer, but not for 2 or 3 months like some of the 'long termers' that inhabited the shore line here.

We drove North on the N114, a much better road than the N10 that we followed last year. We passed through moorland not dissimilar to Dartmoor and eventually crossed over the River Tejo.

We had lunch at the Aire in Vila Nova da Barquinha. It would have been fine for an overnight stop, but not to sit at all day. So we followed the Tejo upstream to the Aire at Constancia via this fantastic castle on an island at Almourol. Unfortunately it was undergoing some restoration and so we couldn't go over to it, but still an impressive sight.
We spent half the night on the Aire North of the river at Abrantes....but we didn't realise we had parked outside a disco, we thought it was a cafe! So when the music started at 11pm, we crawled out of bed and drove a couple of miles to the large car park on the south bank. We could still hear the music across the river, but at least we were able to sleep!

Then North again to Serta and up over some mountainous terrain to Lousa. The Serra da Lousa mountains were very picturesque with a new view around each twist and turn of the road. Some of this area had suffered in the fires a couple of years ago. We could see where some of the fires had reached right upto the isolated houses, but thankfully they looked to have escaped ok.
We stayed the night at a campsite at Penalva de Alva on the edge of the Serra Da Estrela. It is possible to drive, walk or cycle up the highest mountain in Portugal from here, but we chose just to chill out with a drink by the river!

We then followed the scenic N17 towards Guarda and realised we were nearly at Almeida, the fort that we had stayed at on the way south the previous month. So we turned NW and headed for Peso da Régua in the heart of the Douro Valley. Having seen hardly any cars and people for a few days, we discovered that they were all here. The river trips and Port museum, plus a mini marathon made it impossible to park. We drove downstream to a beautiful old building at Miradouro da Boa Vista, the old Ferraira Quinta. It was such a shame to see these balconies and stone carved grapes, decorated ceilings and ornate windows all in ruins with just the pigeons enjoying the elaborate surroundings.
As soon as we entered the Douro demarcated region for growing grapes that are allowed to be made into Port, the landscape changed dramatically. Every part of the steep hillsides have been terraced and planted with vines.

After buying a kilogram of cherries for €4 we continued up the valley to San João da Pesqueira for a night on a lovely cafe car park. Unfortunately the cafe was closed, but looked lovely and newly renovated. The following morning two lovely ladies helped me pick a bag full of cherries from the trees by the cafe. I've never picked cherries before and these ones were delicious.

We had been following a driving route in our guide book, so we set off around the tiny, twisting roads on the North bank, down to a station in Tua. The railway is still used to transport the barrels down river to then mature in Villa Nova de Gaia.

Portugal's landscape has changed over the years with the construction of many dams, flooding the river valleys and providing storage for water to use during the dry summer months.

We visited the palace and gardens at Mateus. The famous rosé wine used to be made in the village and permission was given to use the image of this house on the label. The family that still own the house and vineyards produce their own wine and port.... Nothing to do with Mateus Rosé, and lots more expensive, as the grapes are still carefully crushed by foot, to avoid the bitterness of the pips being crushed.

Eventually we made it back to the coast in the very top NW corner of Portugal. The sun was still hot and so we headed for a beach at Montedor and then on up to a campsite at Caminha, where we had a view across the river to Spain.

For our last meal out in Portugal, I felt I had to try the traditional Bacalhau, dried, salted fish that is then soaked and cooked. The previous ones I'd seen has looked a bit like a fish pie, but this one turned out to be fried, with chips! It was appropriate as we sat outside the restaurant, under a large umbrella as the rain had finally materialised.

Unfortunately we saw more dilapidated houses, that had obviously been luxurious in their day. Most of them occupy prime locations, but are now beyond repair.

We left Portugal with Libby's cellar full of port and wine as we are not sure when we will be back again!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lagos to Praia de Santo André

So where have we been for the past two weeks....
We went to an Aire in Lagos and paid €2 each for a shower, but it was worth it. So feeling a bit cleaner and having bumped into friends from earlier, Paul & Anita, we went and explored Lagos on our bikes and found a nice bar. The beach in Lagos was sheltered from the wind and so we went back then next day and then we decided to drive to Ingrina. Thankfully we had been forewarned that all the sand had been washed away in the storms. Now it was just a rocky cove, but at least the restaurant was still there for a birthday celebration, joined by Ian and Sue.

This is a view of Ingrina in 2013!!! The story was the same at Zavial, just over the hill where Tim had hoped to go surfing. Though it was still lovely to lay in the sun and enjoy the peace and quiet, and an ice cream.

Then it was on to Sagres, where the storms had also removed the sand and destroyed a cafe, along with the surf beach. We battled against the wind to cycle out to Cape St Vincent and then found a place out of the wind. Though the weather has been lovely and sunny for the past month, the wind has been constant.

This might not appear much....but now we can have toast in the van, thanks to our newly purchased Portuguese toaster.

The view from the overnight parking area at Sagres is stunning. The cliffs are several hundred feet high and believe it or not people fish from the tops! They must be mad. Right below our parking area is a lovely sheltered sandy beach a sanctuary out of the wind.

After being constantly battered by the wind, we decided to take a "holiday" and went to the luxury Tourismo Campsite at Espiche, just inland from Praia de Luz. Here was a lovely sandy beach and a cool pool on the site so we had the best of both worlds. The only draw back was that we had to cycle back to the campsite past a magnetic ice cream shop that kept pulling us in, how we struggled to resist it!

Then off we went in search of surf, to a beach 3 miles down a bumpy, dusty track. Thankfully the surf was good and Tim made it into the water for a good afternoon's surfing. We were also surprised to find a pig living in the white camper parked next to us, along with 3 dogs and a cat!

A quick stop back at Sagres, before moving off North. We headed to a surf beach at Arrifana for lunch, but noticed the engine management light was flashing and we'd no idea why. We took a leisurely drive to Odeceixe to use the Internet and stay the night. Unfortunately there was no wifi and the parking area was being reconstructed, so we traveled on up the coast to Porto Covo. Here we discovered our brake lights were stuck on, even with the key removed. A phone call to Riverside Garage at home came to the rescue and informed us it was a faulty break switch. To prevent the battery draining overnight they told us to remove the fuse, number 9, if you are interested!
We found a garage in Santiago do Cacém, who fixed it for us. We had to speak to the boss's daughter over the phone for her to translate, but even though the garage was closed as it was Saturday, they found the right part, €15, and fitted it for no charge. What lovely, generous people.

To chill out afterward, we headed back to the beach at Praia de St André and spent 2 days doing nothing but reading our Kindles and when that got too much for us, we made a windmill from bits found on the beach, much to our surprise, it actually worked!

Cold beers, from the fridge and off to the bar to find some wifi.......

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Altura to Alvor

Two weeks after setting out from Santander we made it to the Algarve coast. Our first stop was at Altura, where we had stayed last year. The beach here is fantastic and Tim had a go at fishing one afternoon....though he didn't catch anything, just weed.
The weather became showery, but warm for a week and so we continued West to an official Aire at Manta Rota. It's €4.5 to stay, including water and Wifi, but €2.50 extra for electric, which we don't use. Again, lovely beach and a few shops and restaurants.

At Pedras D'el Rei there is a fantastic train, which runs out to an island with an anchor graveyard. 100's of anchors from the old fishing boats, left in the sand dunes, it looks like a modern art installation. Here we coincidentally met up with friends from last year and also new friends who we had first seen 2 weeks ago!

From Pedras D'el Rei we cycled back into Tavira for the day to look around the beautiful old buildings with fantastic doors and meal out, just to sit and watch the world go by.

Once the weather cleared up we went to the campsite at Olhão for 3 nights, €7.60 per night. We had the luxury of a shower before looking around the Moorish architecture of the town. Tim enjoyed acting as tour guide for David and Jean, we had a great day out at the Saturday market, bought fish for tea and then to the 7 Stars bar for tapas and refreshment. Here they sell superb wine in 5 litre containers for either €6.50 or €9 depending on quality and strength!
On the Sunday we all caught the ferry to Culatra, an island made from a sand bar, with a small village and some restaurants. The weather was perfect and so were the shells on the beach. It's part of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa and there was plenty of photo opportunities.

With all the washing cleaned and dried, we moved off the campsite to Praia de Marinha. Here we had a couple of beach days and a cliff walk to a cafe nestled in a small cove.

Praia da Rocha has a lovely Aire for €2.50, located between a marina complex and this lovely beach. It is a bit more touristy here, but it was nice for a change, we even joined in a stag night with some lads from Manchester. On the Sunday it was even more people around as a large Thompson's cruise ship came in. Lots of the passengers were wandering the streets of Portimão, but we think they would have been better walking a bit further down the river to the beach at Praia da Rocha. We cycled to Portimão to buy some lovely Piri-Piri chicken..yummy!

We then drove about 5 miles along the coast to the pretty fishing village of Altura, because of the Easter weekend and the fantastic weather, we have stayed here for a week on the Aire, €4.
You will be pleased to know that we've had thunder storms today, but we still managed a BBQ at lunch time :o)

Location:Alvor Portugal

Friday, 28 March 2014

Santander To Alcoutim

We are on our travels again. Departing from Plymouth for Santander on the 16th March and the crossing was thankfully flat calm after all the storms we have had this Winter. Our first night was at the "Elephant Park", an official Aire at Parque de Cabarceno. A couple in another van had just spent 6 hours going around the safari park here and it was a lovely sunny day too.
After the long treck over the mountains to Braganca last year, we decided to take the easier route via Salamanca. We found a great place to stop, bought some delicious slices of Iberian ham, 5kg sack of oranges and wandered around the beautiful city in hot sun!

We pushed on to Portugal and stayed within the protective walls of the Vauban star fort at Almeida. We love the Aire here as you can imagine what it would have been like during the wars and there is a small museum. Horses still roam around the grass banks on the walls and it was worth the detour North to stay here.
Not wanting to follow exactly the same route as last year we headed for the Aire at Marvao, but we never made it as we found this amazing spot in the middle of a Barragem (reservoir). Libby didn't get her tires wet, though we parked as close to the water's edge as possible!
It was lovely and hot during the day, but one night the temperature fell to 1 degree c, so it was a little chilly!

We eventually made it to Mavão a few days later. The Aire is around 2800 feet up and has spectacular views out over the border to Spain.

Last year we went to stay at Monsaraz and we loved it, so we went back again for a couple of nights. If you stay here then be aware that the church bells ring very loudly, all night! But the views are superb as is the little fortified town. There are some lovely craft shops and small cafés here and it is just a delightful place to stay.

We continued south .... and as Tim could smell the sea we just called in at the Mina de São Domingos for a quick lunch stop and then a look at Pomarão on the Guadiana River, before stopping at a lovely Aire in Alcoutim. We are now on Page 90 on the map...the one where the sea is not far away, but it is so nice here that we are staying a few days and had a treat for lunch in the Riverside Bar. The white buildings are across the Guardiana in Spain. Thankfully there has been a lot less rain this year and the river is about 10ft lower than it was when we were here last year.

Now to go back to the bar for a few beers, just so I can use the wifi.....haha!