Rural Spain and into Portugal… .

Walking has dominated our calendar since we left Zafra on Wednesday 12th October 2016.  We drove along the picturesque EX101 south west from Zafra to stop at the little town of Cumbres Mayores.  The aire there, perched on the top of a hill, gave us fantastic views towards the town and its fortifications, and over the surrounding countryside.  It’s quite an isolated spot which I should imagine would be a bit grim if the weather closed in.

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The little one is a white dog masquerading as a calf!
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Morning rush hour in Cumbres Mayores!

We had a couple of iffy days of weather with clouds overhead but it stayed dry so we had a lovely walk on the GR48 Sierra Morena path (a long distance path of 590km) across 6km of farmland to the tiny, very well kept village of Cumbres de Enmedio which only has about 65 inhabitants.  I think it was one of the cleanest little villages we have been to with an orange tree lined main street.

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Black Iberian Pigs.
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Porklet kindergarten!
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The main street of Cumbres de Enmedio.
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Section of the GR48.

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Along the way we passed hundreds of Black Iberian Pigs which are indigenous to the Mediterranean area.

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They seem to have a very nice life thank you very much roaming around grazing on the acorns from the holm oak, gall oak and cork oak trees.  Unfortunately though, troughing all those acorns is their eventual downfall as they are destined for the jamón ibérico cured meat factory at nearby Jabugo.  The hams are covered in either rock or sea salt to ‘sweat’ before being moved to cool cellars to mature for up to two years.   At Jabugo the very best hams are graded from one to five ‘jotas’, (the letter ‘J’ for Jabugo), depending on the quality.  A whole leg of ‘cinco jotas jamón’ can set you back €250-€350 and a few slices at a restaurant may cost as much as a main meal.  Needless to say we haven’t tasted it!  We just enjoyed watching the pigs doing what pigs do in a natural environment.

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Pigs like a siesta too!

 

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A pile of pigs.

We moved further south east to Arecena, the highest town in the Sierra Morena, famous for the Grutas de las Maravilla, the largest cave in Spain.  Apparently it is astonishingly beautiful, but at €8.50 each Tim said I’d have to be satisfied with looking at it on YouTube as, if it’s anything like Cheddar gorge, we’d have wasted our money!

Another walk took us out into the countryside beyond Aracena where we added bambino donkeys to our list of animals seen in the past few days.  Oh, and also a black snake that slithered across the path right in front of our feet before disappearing into the undergrowth.  It took a while to talk Tim down from that one as he is not a fan of snakes!

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Bambino donkeys:)
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Countryside around Arecena.

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Arecena.

Our loose plan, after visiting the Arecena region, was to take a look at the Barragem d’Alqueva, the biggest manmade reservoir in Europe.  The waters cover 250 square kilometres, 69 of them in Spain and the rest in Portugal.  We had a bit of a detour getting to Luz, our destination, as the EX112 was closed for repairs and only open to residents which seemed a bit over the top as it is the main route into Portugal from Zafra.  What we thought was going to turn into a nightmare drive was a drive across a really good minor road where the surrounding countryside could have been the plains of Kenya.  I’ve never been to Kenya but it’s what I imagine it might look like!

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Random new building in the middle of nowhere with the tree growing through it!
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Portugal sticker is now on ‘the map’!

The Alqueva reservoir is just huge and not without some controversy.  We stopped for a few days at the aire at Luz, the village that moved.  Sadly, the old village of Luz was a casualty of the planned development of the new reservoir as it sat below the proposed water-line.  The government consulted with the villagers to re-locate them a few kilometres away onto higher ground by building a new village.

In 2002 the 300 villagers moved into the new Luz before the old village was razed to the ground. The Alqueva dam was then closed flooding the land behind it and submerging what remained of the old Luz.

We went to the little museum there which showed an excellent documentary filmed during the consultation and relocation process.  The authorities proposed that anyone who had a house would be provided with another new one of the same size and that neighbours were relocated as close as possible to each other.

The film didn’t shy away from telling the story from the villager’s point of view clearly showing their emotions at losing their homes and land which had been in their families for hundreds of years.  Even the cemetery was relocated which was clearly a traumatic process for such a tiny community.  We came away from the museum feeling quite humbled and looking at the reservoir in a new light imagining how things were before it.

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View across the reservoir from the new Luz.

We’ve cycled some of the area with roads ending abruptly at the edge of the reservoir and disappearing underwater.  We parked the van up at the end of one such road and spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun and watching the birds.

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Parked up for the afternoon at the ‘end of the road’.
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With launderettes few and far between there’s nothing else for it but to hand wash everything!
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Washing the roof of the van at the aire at Luz.

Having spent three nights at Luz we continued a dozen or so miles on to the aire at Monsaraz which has probably the best view of any aire we have ever been to.

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Room with a view at the aire at Monsaraz!

Monsaraz is one of the oldest settlements in Southern Portugal with hundreds of megalithic monuments in the area.

P1000398.JPGIt’s a beautiful little village, with castle remains and fantastic views of the reservoir.

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Views to the reservoir from Monsaraz.
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Monsaraz’ main street.
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Health and safety would have been all over the castle if it was in the UK.
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View back over the village.
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Tim made a guest appearance with the local male voice choir!

We did a lovely walk from there dropping down to the reservoirs edge and then up to a viewpoint for some lunch.

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Excellent lunch stop apart from the flying earwigs!

The aire was quite lively with a mix of mainly French, Dutch, German and English vans.  We spent three nights there and gleaned some useful information on places to go from some of the people we met on the aire.

We’ve now come back to the aire at Luz as it has services for water and waste and I’ve done another load of washing (in a bucket by hand)!  Our loose plans have changed again as we were going to go on to Evora but now, armed with some new information, we are thinking of following the Guadiana river south to the sea to then amble along the coast for a while.  Watch this space though as we may well end up somewhere completely different!

Hasta la próxima!

 

 

 

 

Into Extremadura… .

Unfortunately, Seville will have to wait until later this year or maybe next year as we’ve now moved north west into the Extramedura region.  Doing two cities back to back was a stretch too far for us as we felt we wanted to get back into the countryside away from people!  We spent two nights wild camping at Embalse del Retortillo, a reservoir, in the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Hornachuelos, west of Córdoba.

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Embalse del Retortillo.

The landscape, made up of oak, cork and olive trees, wasn’t as dramatic as the Segura National Park but was pleasant with plenty of birdlife to see.  We cycled an out and back route along the western side of the reservoir as there isn’t a circular route around.  We stopped to take a photo, startling three deer across the valley, which darted off over the hill out of sight.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any footpaths in the area so had to make do with a short walk along the edge of the reservoir on a camber in the sandy soil.  It’s one of the things I take for granted in the UK that we are never far from a public right of way with the myriad network of footpaths, bridleways and permitted paths available to us.

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Our wild camp for the night.
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Early evening with the sun going down behind us.
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Apart from a few fishermen around the reservoir we had the place to ourselves.

After two nights at different locations on the reservoir we continued on towards Zafra on a minor road for about 35km which wasn’t wide enough for two cars to pass but thankfully very quiet.  Passing only two cars and a cyclist, we were relieved to get back onto a major road again after nearly an hour!  One of the hazards, apart from meeting other vehicles, when taking the smaller roads in a van our size, or any van come to that, is being taken through narrow villages not knowing if there will be enough room to get through, especially if cars are parked.  Fortunately, Tim is less stressed than I am about it which is just as well seeing as he is doing the driving!  We’ve had a couple of close calls where I needed to get out of the van to run to the end of the road to scope out what was around the corner to make sure there was enough room to get through.  We had this problem trying to get to the aire at Alanis, which was going to be our next stopover, but with cars parked along the entry road to the aire it was too narrow to get through.  Even if we had got through there was no guarantee we would get out again the next morning, especially as it was market day!  We, therefore, continued on to the next town of Guadalcanal to park up for the night in an aire on the edge of the town.

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Grubby sheep at Guadalcanal.
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Little hillside town but not enough room to park and explore.

The next morning we made our way to Llerena, with it’s pretty plaza and 13th Century church, stopping for some lunch and a stroll around.

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Inglesia Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de la Granada.
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Typical parking in Spain – it’s not worth having a decent car, nearly every car has scrapes and dents.
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Plaza in Llerena.
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View of the bell tower in Llerena.

Continuing on we’ve now been at the free aire at Zafra for the last two nights.  It’s on a noisy junction but we’ve been able to pick up some free wifi from somewhere.

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Plaza Grande, Zafra.

Zafra old town is very welcoming with some lovely Plazas, a fifteenth century fortress, a convent, several churches and many interesting buildings.

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Zafra fortress.

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We were able to find a footpath out into the hills south west of the town for a descent walk.  We were hoping to see some vultures but they are proving to be a bit illusive.

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Countryside around Zafra.
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Looking back towards Zafra.

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We got back to the aire to see a huge bird soaring high up above us – a vulture!  Doh!

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Zafra fortress at night.

 

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Casa del Ajimez, Mudejar style, Zafra

We woke up this morning to the sound of heavy rain hammering down on the van roof.  I opened up the blind to have a gander and we may as well have been in England.  The cloud was down over the hills in the distance covering up what was a pretty good view yesterday.  It’s the first real rain (other than overnight or the odd shower) we have had since arriving in Spain four weeks ago.

We’ve been taking the time to do various admin jobs until it clears and we’ll be moving off later this afternoon to the Sierra de Arecena area to find some walking routes.  The loose plan then is to cross over into Portugal to visit the Barragem d’Alqueva, the largest reservoir in Portugal.

Loose plans do change though!

Chau!

 

Culture in Córdoba…. .

We arrived, without incident, at an aire just outside Córdoba late afternoon on Monday 5th October 2016.  Our friends, Di and Chris, were meeting us there which we were really looking forward to as we had not seen them for six months.  The aire was just a carpark really but it was on the edge of a very nice park and had some much needed shade.  At €11 per night and a five minute stroll into the historic part of Córdoba we thought it was excellent.  We left our exploring until the next day and spent the Monday evening catching up with our friends over a beer or two.  They had brought with them our new camera, a wifi boost and some more 3 data cards which we’d ordered and had sent to their address in the UK.  It felt a bit like Christmas!  The camera couldn’t have come at a better time as the other one has become very tedious with smudges and black dots coming out on most of the pictures (I vet them for them blog!).  Muchas gracias to them for coming all this way to pass them on. On Tuesday we all had a stroll into the old town to start our explorations.

Córdoba was once the largest city of Roman Spain and for three centuries it formed the heart of the western Islamic empire, the great medieval caliphate of the Moors.

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Bell tower of the Mezquita-Catedral.

Córdoba’s main monument, and a must see, is the Mezquita, the grandest and most beautiful mosque ever built by the Moors in Spain.  Oh boy, was it grand!  I don’t think if you visited everyday for a year you would have the time to appreciate every detail. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Inside the Mezquita.

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It is huge and absolutely stunning.  Originally intended to be a church it came under the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III in the 10th Century and was used as a mosque and extended to become the second largest mosque in the world.  However, once the Spanish reclaimed the site from the Muslims it was converted from a mosque to a church.

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The whole monumental site of the mosque was first consecrated as the cathedral of Santa Maria in the year of 1146 and definitively in 1236.  Since then a Holy Mass for the Christian community has been held every day.

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Main Altarpiece.

 

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Choir stalls.

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We had a wander around the narrow, tight, winding lanes of the Jewish quarter before walking over the bridge for a view back towards the Mesquita and the watermills which were once used to grind flour and olives.

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Jewish quarter.
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Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones.
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View back to the old town from the other side of the Peunte Romano bridge.
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Waterwheel on the Rio Guadalquivir.

We had a stroll round in the evening when it was extremely quiet and wandered further away from the more popular areas.

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Mezquita at night.

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Lanes away from the more touristy area.

We rounded our evening off with a few beers at a bar soaking up the atmosphere at the Plaza de la Corredera, once used for horse races, bullfights and Inquisition burnings!

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Beers at the Plaza de la Corredera.

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We said goodbye to Di and Chris and left the aire on Wednesday 7th October 2016 to do some shopping and then went to have a look at the rambling ruins of Medina Azahara, a palace complex built on a grand scale by Caliph Abd ar-Rahaman III, 7km outside Córdoba.

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The site was almost 2km long by 900m wide and took 10,000 workers and 1500 mules and camels to build over the Caliphs reign from 936 until his death in 961.  Unfortunately, Medina Azahara lasted less than a century before a popular revolt broke out and the caliphate disintegrated into civil war.

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Medina Azahara was looted and in 1010 plundered and burned by retreating Berber mercenaries.  Oh dear!  In 1944 excavations unearthed remains of the palace and the site has been painstakingly reconstructed since then.

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We loved Córdoba and would definitely recommend a visit there but we can only cope with culture for a couple of days so it was time again to move on.  We stopped for the night at Almodóvar before moving further towards Seville.

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Almodovar.

We’ve spent the last 24 hours at a free aire at Plama del Rio.  I’ve been catching up on the blog and Tim has been spending time downloading some more free maps and aires for Spain and Portugal.  We are using our Wifi boost to pick up the wifi from the cafe a short distance away and it’s working really well.  Tomorrow we may do Seville or we may get waylayed along the way.  Tomorrow is another day!

Adiós!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across country to Córdoba…. .

We had a deadline to meet this last week as we had planned to meet our friends Di and Chris in Córdoba on Monday 5th October 2016.  A direct drive of 600km or so would have got us there in maybe 8 or 9 hours in the van but, as we have the luxury of time on our side, we made the journey across country over a few days to take in some of the scenery bordering  the Segura National Park west of Murcia.

After a two night stop at the free aire at Louqui near Murcia, where we were able to wash and wax the van, we headed across country in the vague direction of Córdoba.

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‘Ollie’ looking sharp again after a wash and a wax.
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Velez Blanco.

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16th Century Castillo-Palacial at VelezBlanco.

Whitewashed hillside villages nestling between the mountains gave way to vast open plains where we didn’t pass another vehicle for an hour.  What first appeared to be an abandoned village was in fact a little hamlet built into the shallow hills presumably to be protected from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter.  The temperature was well into the mid thirties so I can imagine how hot it must be in July and August.

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A hamlet in the middle of the plains.

We stopped to have a look around feeling a little unsettled at the silence not really having experienced silence quite like it before.

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You’d hardly know it was there.

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Coming out of the plains we were back into the mountains with reservoirs, dams and gorge’s marking out our route.

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Orce.
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A326 Huesca to Pozo Alcon.  You can just see the bridge we came across over the Rio Guardal in the middle of the picture.

We stopped for the night at Embalse de San Clemente (reservoir) at a parking area having the whole place to ourselves watching the changing colours of the water as the sun set.

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Embalse de San Clemente (reservoir)

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We continued on the following day through quiet winding roads stopping at the Embalse del Portillo at Castril.

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View from the dam of Embalse del Portillo back towards Castril vilage.
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Embalse del Portillo.
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Castril from the other side.  You can just see the dam in the middle(ish) of the picture above the houses.

Another whitewashed hillside town, Castril was in the middle of a week long fiesta.  Preparations were being made for the bull run that evening through the town.

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Preparations for the evenings bull run.

We watched a religious festival parade through the town before we dropped down to the river to discover a boardwalk built into the side of the gorge which took us down the river, across a suspended bridge and through a tunnel to the bottom end of the town.

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Getting ready for the religious festival.

 

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Gorge walk at the bottom of Castril town.

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Back in the van three hours later we continued on through a patchwork quilt of thousands and thousands of acres of olive trees as far as the eye could see.  I felt like I’d had spectacular scenery overload by this point so it was just as well, after two days, we were back on the dual carriageway near Ubeda (should have stopped there, need to go back!).

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Olives, olives, olives.

We were bowled over by the scenery and we are planning on returning to the area next year on our way back through Spain to explore some more but we needed to press on to Córdoba.

Hasta Mañana!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the coast to Dènia and Xàbia… .

 

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View from the bedroom window on our last morning outside Valencia.

On Sunday 25th September 2016 we arrived at Dènia, on the coast halfway between Valencia and Alicante.  We felt a little uninspired by what we’d seen along the coast to get there though.  Having been spoilt all through France with small, pretty medieval towns and villages, making driving a pleasure between our overnight stays, Spain is a different kettle of fish!   Admittedly we didn’t explore the Mediterranean Coast of France this time which will undoubtedly be busier than we would like maybe.  We’re trying to pick out areas along the coast which aren’t too built up and offer some cycling and walking opportunities for us.  I looked on Google Earth at the area around Dènia and Xàbia, further around the coast, which seemed to fit the bill.

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Denia.

Both are small (for the Spanish coast!) towns bordering the Montgò National Park. We found some free parking right behind the beach at Dènia where we spoke to a British couple to see if it was possible to stay the night.  They’d stayed the previous night with no problems so we thought we’d give it a go.

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Denia in the evening.

We had a very pleasant stroll along the coast and marina areas before having a swim in the beautiful clear waters on the beach a few steps away behind the van.  Although busy we quite liked the town with it’s narrow, colourful streets and café atmosphere.  After sitting on the beach to watch the sunset we did as the Spanish do and headed out at 10pm for something to eat.

P1080420.JPGAfter a big pizza each we had a very quiet night tucked away behind a big tree in the beach carpark alongside another French van.

Monday was shopping day at the local Lidl followed by a diesel fill up at €1 a litre before taking the coast road up and over the hill to Xàbia.

Although it wasn’t that far it was more stressful for Tim than the drive through the Pyrénées as the road was narrower and busier with nowhere to pull over to let the big tailback of cars we had acquired go past us. The scenery was beautiful though.

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Xabia.

We arrived in Xàbia after a steep, winding descent into the town with a grinding noise coming from the brakes.  We’d had the same noise after the long descents in the Pyrénées so we thought it best to pull into a tyre and exhaust garage to get them looked at hoping they spoke a little English!  The van was booked in at 9am the following day to have a free check so we decided to stay at a nearby campsite for three nights to have a base to do some walking and cycling.

The campsite was excellent with a 24 metre long pool which I made full use of to have my first proper pool swims for ages.  Xàbia is a bustling resort but not too built up and has given us the opportunity to do some coastal walking.  We had excellent service from the garage who did a free brake check for us. They were fine so that’s put Tim’s mind at rest!

We took a walk along the coast from the marina into the Montgò National Park which was superb.

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A walk in the Montgo National Park.

Sooo nice to get away from traffic and noise.  With the temperatures in the top twenties it’s hot but not oppressive and lovely to be in shorts and tee-shirts all day, everyday!

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View back across Xabia from the top.

We had thunderstorms overnight on Tuesday giving iffy weather on Wednesday morning so we opted for a lazy day reading and the like with an hours stroll along the seafront.  It was a different place than the day before with surf rolling in and twenty mile an hour winds but the temperatures were still up there for shorts and T-shirts!

Tim has had the glue out again sticking anything from sandals to sunglasses to binoculars to cupboard doors.  Anything that needed sticking got stuck! Inevitably living in the van for nearly six months and using our small amount of stuff nearly every day some running repairs need to be done.  Tim has a few tools on board that seem to come out every other day for some job or other.  I just let him get on with it as it keeps him quiet and seems to keep him happy! Funny, nothing ever got fixed at home though!

We left the campsite on Thursday morning and parked up on the beach road the other side of Xàbia from Montgò National Park to do a walk along the coast.  The weather was superb again with temperatures in the top twenties.  Can’t complain!

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A coastal walk along the other side of Xabia.

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View back towards Xabia.

I’m behind with the blog after the ‘blip’ I had uploading pictures (these have loaded up in minutes today!) and another week has gone by since leaving Xabia but I’ll try to get up to date in the next few days! Oh, the pressure!

Hasta pronto!

Valencia, in pictures…. .

Argh!  I’ve been suffering from Blog stress this last week.  I’ve been trying to upload this blog post for the past six days when we have managed to pick up some free wifi but the photos just wouldn’t load up.  I’ve faffed and fiddled and faffed some more to no avail so thought I’d leave it for a few days and hope the glitch sorted itself out.  Today I have had some success and have managed to get some of the pictures uploaded.  Yay!  I haven’t been able to load up the ones taken in portrait so lot’s are missing but hey ho.

On Saturday 24th September 2016 we took the cheap as chips bus into the centre of Valencia direct from just over the road from the aire.  At €3.00 each return it was a bargain.  We found the Tourist Information office just around the corner from the bus stop to pick up a map of the city.  The very helpful chap behind the desk suggested a walking tour of the city which takes in most of the ‘must see’ monuments.

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Valencia Cathedral.

 

 

 

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Palicio de Benicarlo.
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Torres de Sarranos.
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Torres de Serranos from the back.

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Mercado Central.

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Mercado Central.

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Ayunt Amiento.
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Plaza de Toros.

 

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Mercado de Colon.

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The gentle stroll, including a picnic in one of the parks, took us nearly four hours and was a good way to get our bearings around the old town.  We’ve hugely enjoyed our little sojourn in Valencia but two days of city life is enough for us so, after waking up to a beautiful sunrise through the bedroom window on Sunday, we set off a further fifty or so kilometres south to Dènia, a seaside resort on the coast.

My battery is now flat so I’ll upload this whilst i can!

Adios!