Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Granada to La Manga (end of March 2009)

On Friday we caught the bus into the city centre and then another bus up to the Alhambra. The Alhambra issues a limited number of 8000 tickets each day in morning and afternoon sessions. Unfortunately when we arrived at 11am only afternoon tickets were available starting from 2pm. The Alhambra sits high up above Granada and there isn’t much up there except a few bars, tourist shops and the Alhambra itself, so we had a bit of a walk around, a picnic and a coffee and finally joined the queue to get in. The Alhambra was very similar to the Alkazar in Seville. The views from the Alhambra were very impressive, right across Granada and the Sierra Nevada.

On Saturday we took the bus into the centre of Granada and had a good look around, taking in a couple of viewpoints up on the hill looking towards the Alhambra. We weren’t overly impressed with Granada, I think we’d been spoilt by Seville! However Granada is definitely better where long reaching views are concerned.

Sunday was quite overcast, we drove up to Pradollano (2100m high) in the Sierra Nevada, Europe’s most southerly ski resort and only about a 30/40 minute drive from Granada. There were loads of motorhomes parked up in the special motorhome area high up above the village. We caught the bus down to the village, as walking would have been 2 miles around very twisty roads. We had a walk around the resort and then took the cable car up to Borreguiles (2645m) and were amazed by the number of people ski-ing and snow boarding. There were hundreds, probably thousands of them! The sun was shining very brightly higher up in the mountains, it was a little cooler lower down in Pradollano. Later on in the afternoon we returned to Granada as we wanted to fill up with gas before moving on. We were nowhere near out of gas, but as we’re in Spain we fill up when we know that gas is available as there’s only about 20 places in mainland Spain that we can get LPG from, Granada being one of them.

The next morning we filled up with gas and then headed east to Guadix through more mountains, this time the Sierra de Huetor-Santillan. At Guadix we visited the tourist office to get a map and then walked up to Las Cueves (cave area) where there are around 2000 caves built into the sandstone rocks that are still lived in. We then had a walk around the old town, did a bit of food shopping then headed south easterly towards Almeria province deciding to park up in Tabernas before continuing to the coast tomorrow. En route we drove by Mini Hollywood (which was closed until April), which is where parts of over 100 Western films including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven were filmed. Almeria is very dry with large expanses of rocky semi desert, just the right landscape for Westerns! Almeria is also a major fruit and veg growing area and has huge expanses of plastic greenhouses.

On Tuesday we headed south into the Cabo de Gata natural park and went to the visitor centre. The natural park covers a large area of coast land in Almeria province. We then drove on to the town of Cabo de Gata and decided to stop as we saw a couple of motorhomes parked up on the edge of town by the beach. Later on we went for a walk along the sea front, we weren’t impressed with the town at all. It was really grim. Even the sand was grim - grey not sand coloured! The next day we moved on to San Jose which was an improvement on Cabo de Gata.

We stayed in San Jose until Friday managing to catch up on plenty of washing as there was a self-service launderette in town which is quite unusual. We then drove along the coast stopping in Las Negras and Agua Amarga along the way (still in the Natural Park). The scenery was really lovely, the hills were covered in various unusual tall grasses and wild flowers. We then drove through Carboneras stopping to fill up with water and then drove around some very steep, windy, quite scary bends onto Mojacar. Mojacar is in two different parts, firstly we drove along Mojacar Playa and then went slightly inland to Mojacar Pueblo. The Pueblo part of Mojacar is high up on a hill with views stretching for miles and miles in all directions. We went for a walk up to El Castillo which is right at the top of the Pueblo to look at the views. We then went back to the Mojacar Playa which is the beach part of the town, it stretches for several miles along the coast but is only a few blocks wide with only low rise buildings, so it doesn’t feel too built up. We stayed at Mojacar Playa until Monday, on Sunday evening and through the night the weather changed and it rained torrentially until mid Monday morning. Given that this part of Spain can get half its yearly rainfall in one day we think it just did!

On Monday we drove inland a few miles to the hill top village of Bedar, we had a walk around and took it the views back to the sea. There were lots of lovely new villas dotted around the hills taking in the same sort of views. The weather up in Bedar was pretty cold and blustery, about 10 degrees C! It was time to ditch the shorts for a while in favour of jeans and coats. We then drove back to the coast and followed the coastal road and inland windy country roads until we reached Puntas de Calnegre, a tiny little village where we were able to park up on the beach next to a few other motorhomes. Ever since we arrived in Spain about a month ago we’ve been in the huge region of Andalucia, we’ve now moved into Murcia which is a small region between Andalucia and Valencia. On Tuesday we continued to drive around the coast, this area also has a lot of greenhouses over huge areas. We decided to stop at Puerto de Mazarron, a tourist town in a lovely location, but a bit run down. The next day we drove slightly inland following a route we’d got from the tourist office, the road started to get very rough so we parked up and went for a walk around. It was a lovely spot just behind the hills that were next to the coast, but unfortunately you couldn’t see the sea. We then drove back to the coast and into the little village of La Azohia which had lovely views across the bay to Mazarron. There was a lovely spot right next to the beach where some motorhomes were parked up and we were tempted to stay the night here but we’d decided we were going to try and move on significantly today so carried on our way.

We carried on driving east, through the middle of Cartagena and eventually to the Mar Menor, a 170km saltwater lagoon which is divided from the sea by a 22km of land called La Manga. This whole area was very touristy and we didn’t really like it, however we decided to drive up La Manga in the hope that it would get a little more rustic the further away we got. It did a bit, but not very. After going up and down La Manga we pulled over to cook a quick meal and set off again, heading to Los Alcazares which was on the coast with views over to La Manga. This area was much less touristy and we were able to park up on the sea front along with another motorhome. On Thursday morning we went for a walk into Los Alcazares, it was pretty quiet apart from a few joggers, walkers and cyclists. It was quite a misty day which was a shame as it would have been good to have had a better view of the Mar Menor and La Manga.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Granada to Barcelona - coming soon!!!

Due to lack of decent Internet access the blog update has been delayed for a while!!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

El Bosque to Granada

On Friday both the tourist office and the natural park visitor office were open so we visited both. After arming ourselves with plenty of leaflets we set off on a walk up the river to the next door town of Benamahoma which was 5 km away having a picnic lunch along the way. It was another very hot day but luckily the route along the river was quite shady. Once in Benamahoma we walked up to the top of the village and sat and enjoyed the views, then began the walk back. Although the walk was along the river it was quite rocky for quite a lot of the way as the river runs along a narrow valley.

On Saturday morning there were about a dozen motorhomes parked up, a lot of them Spanish who had maybe come to the mountains for the weekend. We left El Bosque and headed east on into the natural park and on up into the mountains enjoying fantastic views along the way. Being the weekend there were lots of walkers, cyclists and motor bikers out. We stopped for an early lunch at a viewpoint near the top of one of the mountains. After lunch we carried on our way enjoying more mountain views until we reached the very picturesque village of Grazalema, we parked up and went for a walk around the village which was bustling with locals and tourists. Grazalema has the highest rainfall in the Iberian Peninsula, shops were selling postcards of the town in the winter showing pretty snow scenes, something we’ve not seen before.

We then carried on our way to Ronda arriving mid afternoon. Ronda is a very scenic town which attracts lots of tourists. It is built across a gorge which is 100 metres deep. The views over the surrounding area are stunning. We stayed in Ronda until Tuesday, then drove north eastwards to Fuente de Piedra which is the main breeding ground for flamingos in Spain, we had a walk around the visitor centre area and saw some flamingos, but they were too far away to take any decent photos. We then drove on up into the hills along lots of winding narrow roads to Cuevas San Marcos, for miles around all we could see is thousands and thousands of olive trees and occassionally an olive oil factory! On Wednesday we drove on to Priego de Cordoba and then on Thursday on to Granada. As we drove closer to Granada we could see the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. The photo to the right below shows the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. We hope to go up into the mountains in the next few days.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Seville to El Bosque

Wednesday was a sunshine and showers sort of day. We walked through the Parque de Maria Luisa which is a large park in front of the Plaza de Espana and then to the Museo Artes y Costumbres Populares (Museum of Art and Costume) and then Museo Arqueologico (Archiological museum) which were both at the far end of the park. Between the two museums was the Plaza de America, another nice plaza which had hundreds of doves flying around. In the afternoon we went in search of a supermarket, we were getting low on fresh food but only bought the essentials as the prices were extortionate! Later on we went to get some water, taking 8 x 5 litre empty bottles with us. Luckily we’d found a tap about 5 minutes walk away earlier in the day so we didn’t even need to move the motorhome. So were able to fill up the tank with enough water to keep us going and will probably keep topping up each day now that we’ve found water so close by.

Thursday and Friday were both lovely sunny but breezy days and we did lots more touristy stuff, the main visit was to the Alkazar and gardens. It originated in 913 as a fort but later became a palace. The palace was similar to the Casa de Palatos that we’d visited a few days previously, but on a larger scale. The Alkazar is surrounded by lovely gardens. From what we’ve seen over the last few days, Seville is a really nice city with lots of lovely buildings, plazas and gardens/parks. It’s also appears to be completely flat, we haven’t seen a hill in days!

Saturday was a lovely sunny day and hot, probably the warmest day since we’ve been in Spain. We decided to leave Seville and head South to Jerez de la Frontera which is famous for being the home of sherry making and also Andalucia’s horse capital. During our time in Jerez we visited the flamenco museum and the Gonzalez Byass Bodega (sherry makers). The Bodega visit was really good and included a tour around several of the Bodega’s in Jerez via a mini tourist train. Gonzalez Byass are famous for Tio Pepe sherry (plus lots of other brands including Croft Original).

On Thursday we drove through some lovely countryside to Arcos de la Frontera and had a walk around. It’s billed as one of the prettiest villages in Andalucia, we thought it was ok but not fantastic although it had some lovely views over the countryside. We then drove onto El Bosque which is a pretty village in the hills with some nice walks. We tried to get some route information from the tourist office but it was closed, so we had a walk around the village and then stopped for a well needed drink in the shade. The last few days have been extremely hot, over 30 degrees in the motorhome. Amazingly the locals are still wearing lots of warm layers!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

VRSA to Seville (Spain at last!)

We left VRSA on Tuesday and drove a few miles north through a nature reserve consisting mainly of saltpans and onto Castro Marim. Although only a small town, it had a lovely castle and fort with great views across Portugal and Spain. We managed to catch up on plenty of washing as there was a very popular public laundry area which had dozens of motorhomes using it each day. It also had a very clean shower block so we both enjoyed a nice long shower! Before leaving Castro Marim on Saturday afternoon, we watched the start of one of the legs of the Algarve Cycle race which was held from 18 - 22 Feb at various locations across the Algarve. We then returned to VRSA as the Carnaval (Carnival) was being held on Sunday.

On Sunday morning we caught the ferry over to Ayamonte in Spain for a few hours before the Carnaval at 3pm. Ayamonte was a really nice town with some nice squares and lots of pavement cafes. It was very busy and a lot of people were in Fancy Dress ready for their own Carnaval. Before leaving Ayamonte we stopped for a coffee in one of the squares and watched the world go by. We returned to VRSA for a late lunch then into town for the Carnaval. By 3pm the main street was very crowded, the procession was large and very colourful with an Olympic theme. The procession carried on circling the main square for about 3 hours.

On Monday we stocked up on food and then drove back to Castro Marim, we were only going to stay there until Tuesday, but the library was closed both days (due to public holiday) so we stayed until Wednesday. We needed the library so we could get on the Internet to check out where we could hopefully obtain a spare part for our water pump. It’s been playing up for a while, Mark seems to have temporarily fixed it, but he’s not certain that it will hold out for long. On Wednesday afternoon we finally drove to Spain! We were sad to leave Portugal, but were excited about going somewhere new.

We crossed the bridge over to Spain, it was only a 5 minute drive from Castro Marim. The first thing we noticed is that the roads are definitely less bumpy, as soon as were were over the bridge the road improved! We decided to head to Isla Cristina which was not far from Ayamonte (which we’d visited on Sunday) but on the coast rather than the river. On the way we saw loads of pink flamingos on the salt pans, we hadn‘t seen flamingos at all in Portugal. We were a little nervous about finding somewhere suitable to park up (after speaking to others who had told us it was more difficult that Portugal), but we quickly found an area just outside the town with some other motorhomes in a clearing of pine trees and behind the sand-dunes. We went for a walk along the beach towards the town and then returned along the path through the pine wood We’ve lost an hour as we’re now in Spain, so instead of going dark at 6.30pm it went dark at 7.30pm which suits us fine! The next day we cycled into and around the town, stopping at the tourist office for some maps of the local area and Andalucia in general. Isla Cristina was in Carnaval mode too, their Carnaval ran for 3 weeks ending this coming weekend! We weren’t very impressed with the town, it was a bit grotty, but where we were parked up was nice so we stayed another night. We tried to find some chamelions as they can apparently be found in the pine woods in this area, but we didn’t have any luck.

On Friday we moved on and drove further than we had in weeks, eventually ending up in Moguer after driving eastwards along the coast through Islantilla and La Antilla, then slightly north to Lepe and Cartaya, then to Huelva and eventually to Moguer. None of the places en route grabbed our attention, so we kept going! The weather over the last few days has cooled down and the blue skies have gone. It’s refreshing to have it cooler for a while as it was getting quite hot in the motorhome at times! On Saturday morning we went for a walk around Moguer which was quite a pretty town and then in the afternoon decided to drive on to Seville. We drove round the centre of Seville for a couple of hours trying to find a suitable place to park, eventually by late afternoon we found an idea place behind the Plaza de Espana which was only a 10 to 15 minute walk from the centre of the city.

Sunday was quite overcast with sunny spells in the afternoon, we headed into the centre and after wandering around for a while went on a tour around the bullring and its museum. As the weather had brightened up we decided to have a tour round the city on an open top bus tour which was a great way to see a lot of the sights easily. Monday was incredibly wet, it didn’t stop raining all day long! We popped to the library for an hour in the morning and went on another open top bus ride late afternoon (a slightly different route) in the drizzle. We decided to move the motorhome to the front of the Plaza de Espana so we’re slightly closer to the centre in case it continues to rain over the next few days.

By the next morning the motorhome was well and truly surrounded by cars in all directions! Parking in Seville seems to be a free-for-all in the free parking areas. We managed to squeeze out of the drivers door, but only just. It appears that a lot of drivers leave their cars parked with the handbrake off and then pay unofficial parking attendents to keep an eye on their car and push it out of the way if another car needs to get out or in! Thankfully it was a dry day, so we made the most of it and walked miles and miles around the city. We visited the Casa de Pilatos which is a 16th Century palace which is covered in brightly coloured tiles. We also visited the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Art museum) which was in a lovely old building which was previously a convent. In the evening we attempted to drive to a tap that we'd seen a couple of days ago (we'd saved it on the sat nav so we could find it again easily) - however it was a complete nightmare, the sat nav kept getting confused about where we were (due to the tall buildings) and was directing us around in circles eventually ending up down very narrow old streets where I had to jump out and watch Mark through. We were dreading having to reverse back on ourselves as we had a lot of traffic behind us. As soon as were were able, Mark parked up and walked ahead to check the route back to a main road. We then gave up the stressful water search and returned as quickly as we could to our parking spot!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Tavira to Vila Real de Santo Antonio

We left Tavira on Saturday after having two lovely sunny days where we cycled around the town and out to the salt pans in the Ria Formosa It was so nice on Friday that we had take-away BBQ chicken and chips for lunch sat outside watching the world go by. We decided on Saturday afternoon to head inland for a day or two and return to Tavira if we didn’t find water en route. We drove out to the Pego do Inferno (pool of hell) which was a small waterfall and had a walk around the area. We then drove onto Santa Catarina and parked alongside a stream by a local washing area. Mark was very keen and did a load of washing and hung it out while I cooked tea. The next morning we walked alongside the stream up into the countryside and up to the top of a hill where there were just a couple of houses on the top. The views around were lovely with hills behind and in front with the sea in the distance. We could see a hill in the foreground with windmills on it, so after lunch we walked up to the windmills. The views were even better from here as we were slightly closer to the sea and slightly higher too. We now have a very good supply of oranges, lemons and tangerines as we found some abandoned orchards on our morning walk. Later on Sunday afternoon we left Santa Catarina and drove back to Tavira via Moncarapacho, we had a brief walk around Moncarapacho but didn’t really like it so continued back to Tavira. Sunday was a lovely sunny day with no rain at all, so we hope this will continue.

After filling up with water we left Tavira on Monday morning and drove a few miles along the coast to the pretty tiny hamlet of Cacela Velha. We parked up and had a wander round, this appeared to be the last part of the Ria Formosa and we can, at last, see the sea easily. We then drove on a couple of miles further to Manta Rota which is a small town. The beach at Manta Rota is huge with lovely white sand and clean clear waters There was plenty of parking behind the sand dunes, hence there were loads of motorhomes parked up! From the carpark to the beach and along the top part of the beach are plenty of boarded walkways so we got the bikes off and went for a cycle round. Having spotted an English second hand bookshop while driving into the town we go and have a look, after a good long browse I left with a couple of books. I also bought a couple from the market in Tavira a couple of days earlier so have a good supply to keep me going for a while. It was another lovely warm sunny day and shorts and t-shirt are at last becoming the norm.

We stayed in Mana Rota until Wednesday lunchtime after enjoying glorious sunny weather and lots of walks and cycle rides. We even had a bit of a jog along the beach! On Wednesday morning we walked along the beach as far as Cacela Velha and hoped to get from the beach to the hamlet across the Ria Formosa but couldn’t as there was too much water to cross. After returning to the motorhome we then drove on down the coast to Monte Gordo which is the main tourist town on the Eastern Algarve and parked up with quite a few other motorhomes behind the sand dunes. We stayed at Monte Gordon until Friday and then moved on a couple of miles to Vila Real de Santo Antonio (VRSA).

VRSA is the most south easterly town in Portugal. From our parking spot next to the port, we can see Spain across the Rio (River) Guardiana and boats in the marina close by. A small ferry runs between the port and Spain. The weather for the last few days has continued to be beautifully sunny all day long. On Saturday we went to the monthly flea market which was held in a large square in the town, I bought a couple more books. We then went out for lunch and enjoyed a large jug of Sangria. On Sunday we cycled to the point where the river meets the sea and enjoyed views right up the coast to the west and to the north we could see the bridge that crosses over to Spain.