Pueblo blancos and bike rides…. .

Our plans for an overnight stay in Arcos de la Frontera were scuppered as the circus was in town.  Our Maps.Me app showed a free parking area on the outskirts of the town but nearly the whole car park was taken over by the circus.  We had no option but to continue on to the bottom of the steep hill.  We pulled into a layby for a regroup and to have another look at the maps and guide books. Handbrake on, we got out of the van, turned around and gawped at the view of the town perched on the edge of the cliff above us.

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Arcos de la Frontera.

If we’d managed to get into the carpark further up the hill we probably wouldn’t have seen the town from that angle so a disappointment turned into a bonus.  We finally managed to park at the bottom end of the old town after a stressful fifteen minutes of driving down narrow streets not knowing what would be coming next.  As it turned out the town at the bottom was ok to drive through but it’s the not knowing and thoughts of a potential mega reverse that stress me out!

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This reminded me of the main street going up through Totnes in the UK!

Getting up to the top of the old town was a really steep climb but it was so worth it for the views, the buildings, the patios, the narrow cobbled streets and the labyrinth of white washed houses.

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The Rio Guadalete curves round the limestone crag in a U shape.

A moped seems to be the best mode of transport, and there were lots of them, as many of the streets are so narrow with wing mirror scrapes on most walls!

P1010283.JPGThe viewpoint at the Plaza de España, at the top of the town, is right on the edge of the cliff with a sheer drop down to the river below.

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The view from the Plaza del Cabildo.

I like a bit of drama!

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Gothic-Mudejar church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion

Yes, we liked Arcos even if we weren’t able to stay the night.

We’d had a recommendation from our English neighbours, Ken and Mo, at the aire in Rota, about a 36km cycleway from Olvera to Puerto Serrano on a disused railway line, the Via Verde de la Sierra.  Thumbs up from Tim – disused railway line = flat!

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Our parking spot at the disused railway station at Puerto Serrano.

We decided to park at the Puerto Serrano end, to do the ride from west to east and back, as the leaflet showed there was a slight uphill gradient practically all the way to Olvera.  Not all flat then!   We were able to stay the night in the car park at the station which we shared with two German vans.

The ride was quite simply.  Totes. Spec. Tac!

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10%??  I thought it was a disused railway line!

It rates as the best disused railway line ride we have ever done.

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The line itself, although almost complete, was never put into service. It was originally planned, among other things, to provide a market for the wine trade from Jerez in the Cadiz province to Almargen in the Malaga province.  By 1934 the tracks had been laid all the way to Olvera but with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war everything ground to a standstill and the work was never reconvened.  It wasn’t until 1995 that work commenced to reclaim the old Sierra Railway and turn it into a greenway. Four viaducts and thirty tunnels took us through the most glorious scenery.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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The longest tunnel at 1km.
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The restored station at Coripe.
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It took a while to see the goats (this picture is zoomed in).  We heard their bells and then spotted them like ants crawling over the hillside on the opposite side of the valley.
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View from one of the viaducts.

16km from Olvera is a rocky outcrop, known as Peñón de Zaframagón, which is home to the largest colony of griffon vultures in Andalusia, and one of the largest in Spain.  Over 200 pairs have nests on the ledges but we left it for another day to cycle back with the binoculars to take a closer look at them.

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Penon de Zaframgon.

Peñón de Zaframagón – there’s vultures in them there hills!

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Towards Olvera the landscape opened up into Olive groves.
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36km done – 36km to go!

After several hours we arrived back at Puerto Serrano tired but exhilarated having had a fabulous day out.  We celebrated by eating nearly half the tapas menu at the station cafe next to our parking spot!

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An rare picture of both of us taken by our very friendly and patient waiter who translated all the menu for us!

We were so lucky with the weather as the day after our ride it turned quite bleak with some rain and a cold wind.  We drove to Olvera, at the other end of the cycleway, to stay at the aire there so that we could cycle back to revisit the vultures.  As it’s a protected area you can only view the vultures from the cycleway so it was a bit too far away to get any decent pictures but we whiled away an hour or so having coffee and lunch just watching from afar.

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Some of the 200 pairs of griffon vultures that nest here.

At just €2 per person, the interpretation centre at Olvera station is worth a look guiding you through the history of the railway and surrounding area with a 3D sound only film.  The receptionist gave me a guided tour in English as I was the only one in there!

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The church of Nuestra senora de la Encarnacion in Olvera.
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A view of the roof terraces in Olvera taken from the church.

After a couple of nights at Olvera we made our way to Ronda.  Our guide book describes Ronda thus:

‘The full natural drama of Ronda, rising amid a ring of dark, angular mountains, is best appreciated as you enter the town.’

We entered Ronda from the north trying to find a free parking spot indicated on our Maps.Me app.  We pulled off the main road into a housing estate where the car thirty yards in front of us came to an abrupt halt.  A man shot out of one of the houses and dragged the driver out of the car and started beating him up.  By the time I realised what was happening Tim was already reversing muttering ‘we’re out of here’!

Not the best introduction to one of Spain’s spectacularly located cities!  Obviously we weren’t going to spend the night at that end of the town so had to seek an alternative.  We found a campsite on the southern edge of the town within walking distance of the town which worked out really well even at €19.50 per night.  (Tim recovered soon enough!).

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Camping El Sur, Ronda.

We managed to do three weeks of washing which was a load off!  I was out at 7.20am pegging it onto the line in the laundry area lest anyone get there before me!  Tim predictably made the Germans and towels comment!

Ronda, being described as spectacularly located, didn’t disappoint.  It was one of the last towns to be wrestled from the Moors by the Christians in 1485.  The old town on the south side is a classic Moorish Pueblo Blanco and very well kept.   We entered the town via an old donkey track to get a view, from below, of the Puente Nuevo, the eighteenth century ‘New Bridge’ over the 100m deep Tajo gorge, which joins the old town with the new.

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Puente Nuevo, Ronda.

It really is quite a sight especially seeing it firstly from one side, then climbing up to the bridge to see it from the other side.

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The view from the other side of the Puente Nuevo.

Choughs nest on the crags around the new bridge and we spent a while watching their aerial display.  They are only seen in certain areas of the UK so that was an unexpected treat.

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Looking down to the Rio Guadalvin from the old town.

Across the Puente Nuevo near the bull ring is a fantastic clifftop paseo (walkway) with amazing views of the surrounding countryside.

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Views from the ‘paseo’.
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Looking the other way.
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A very symetrical field in the valley below – must have taken some planning.  Touch of OCD maybe!

We’d recommend Ronda but come in from the south end!

Our tour of the Pueblo Blancos is being curtailed today as we are in need of some more LPG and the only places to get it are all on the coast.  Also it’s turned pretty cold up here and we are used to being warmer now!  It has been colder here than at home by a couple of degrees over the last two days! Tim even wore trousers instead of shorts yesterday which is a sure sign that we need to get back to warmer climes.

Adiós!

 

Continuing on to Cadiz…. .

Since arriving in Spain nearly ten days ago we’ve had some rain………..boy have we had some rain!  Whilst parked up at the aire in Sanlúcar de Barrameda the rain came and went in waves for nearly forty eight hours.

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The aire at Sanlucar de Barrameda.

In the one extended break in the weather that we did have we had a mooch around the town, but, alas, we didn’t manage much of anything else!  Sanlúcar was the departure point for Columbus’ third voyage in 1498 but it’s probably better known for its light, dry manzanilla sherry made by, amongst others, Bodegas Barbadillo.

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Entrance to the Barbadillo bodega in Sanlucar.

Sherry producers are in evidence all around the town.  Nik, one of my oldest friends, will be disgusted with me for not doing a tour of one of the Bodegas as sherry was one of our drinks of choice on our nights out in our younger days!  (No, we weren’t normal!)  Ah well, maybe we’ll do a tour if we go to Jerez de la Frontera which is the capital of sherry production and not far away!

What we’d really come to this area for, though, was to see Càdiz so after two nights in Sanlúcar we made our way further south to an aire at El Puerto de Santa Maria which is across the bay from Càdiz.

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The aire (carpark) across the river from El Puerto de Santa Maria

We didn’t fancy driving into Càdiz as it’s very compact and options for overnight stays were limited.  The aire at El Puerto, another 24hr manned carpark similar to the aire we stayed at in Seville, is convenient for the ferry which shuttles regularly to and from Càdiz and takes about thirty minutes.

We had only intended staying two nights at the aire but another thirty six hours or so of rain had us confined to the van.  Normally we don’t let the weather dictate to us but it really wasn’t worth venturing out as the rain was torrential and would have been no fun at all to be out in.  We were super lucky though to be able to pick up some free wifi whilst at the aire and managed to watch the England v Wales rugby match on the laptop.

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Yay, RBS Six Nations chez ‘Ollie’!

That was a bonus as I’m not sure Tim could have coped with the disappointment as he’d set his heart on seeing it!  It was easy in Portugal the previous weekend as we just went to an English bar in Lagos to see it but no English bars were to be had in El Puerto.

We finally made it into Càdiz on Monday 13th February, albeit by bus as the ferry wasn’t running due to the weather.  I’m not sure why that was as it was sunny and calm and looked alright to me.  We got there though and it wasn’t raining which was a huge plus as we’d been beginning to get cabin fever in the van!

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Cadiz.

Càdiz, purported to be Europe’s oldest city, is set on a peninsular, and is almost completely surrounded by water.

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Looking back at the old town in Cadiz.

We started our exploration by walking the waterfront and then, after some lunch, walked the myriad of narrow streets and alleys in the old town.

P1010211.JPGIt really is very compact, with a slightly run down look about some of it, but all the more interesting for it.

 

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Narrow streets of Cadiz.

P1010238.JPGIt wasn’t as clean and well kept as Seville but had some pretty Plazas and green spaces.

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Plaza de Espana and Monumento a las Cortes.

A day in Càdiz was enough to see what we wanted to see and, with the sea now looking like a millpond, we were hoping to return to El Puerto by ferry but, nope, it wasn’t to be and back by bus we went.

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Cadiz Cathedral.

After three nights at the aire at El Puerto, which doesn’t have any facilities, we needed to find somewhere to empty and replenish so to speak.  The aire at Rota, half and hour’s drive away, fitted the bill.  It’s free and a short walk from a sandy beach so was a good stop for a couple of nights.

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Rota.

We got out on the bikes and, whilst not exactly all picturesque, had an interesting cycle along some of the local cycle tracks around Rota and Chipiona.

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The nice part of the cycleway we followed from Rota to Chipiona!

It’s completely flat, which cheered Tim up no end, and a bizarre mix of farms and smallholdings haphazardly sprawling inland with holiday homes and apartments equally sprawling along the coast.

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I don’t suppose the vans envisaged sharing the field with free range sheep and goats when they parked up!

It was good to get out on the bikes though and get some oil on them after all that rain.  We need to replace the bike cover we have as it has several rips in it now as the fabric is completely rotten.

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Coming back towards Rota from Chipiona on the coast this time.

Whilst at the aire at Rota we did a much needed clean of the inside of the van and a revamp of everything we have stored in the outside lockers.  In the planning stages of our big trip we had discussed whether we should maybe change our van, ‘Ollie’, for a slightly bigger van with more outside locker storage.  At the time, we felt that if we were living in it full time we’d need to carry more stuff than we did when on holiday.  However, having been on the road for ten months now, we are feeling we are much happier when living with less!

A couple of weeks ago we sorted through our clothes and shoes and dropped a bin liner of stuff into one of those charity clothes bins.  Whilst tidying the van yesterday we managed to fill another bin liner full of clothes to donate.  If we haven’t worn it in ten months we just don’t need it right?  There will be more to go – I’m looking at you flippers – before we get back to the UK I’m sure.  So, we’re glad we stuck with ‘Ollie’ and saved our cash instead of changing him for a more alluring model!

Anyway, I’ve gone off piste and this is getting rambling.  We moved on today to do a tour of the ‘Pueblo Blancos’, white towns, which dot the hills inland from the coast.  We’re starting off our tour at Arcos de la Frontera and we’ll make our way round several towns probably finishing in Ronda.

Nos vemos!

Helpx number 5…. .

Having spent just over a week in Lagos it was finally time to move on.

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Street art in Lagos – having had enough of lounging in Lagos sitting out the poor weather we needed to get back on the road.

The  weather  improved on Monday 5th December 2016 so we moved 30km up the south west coast to stop in Aljezur for a couple of nights before starting our fifth Helpx assignment. More on our current Helpx later on in this post.

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Aljezur.

We were first introduced to Aljezur by our friends Chris and Di who have come here over the Christmas period on several occasions in their van.  In 2013 we gate crashed their holiday by flying out to Portugal to meet them and we were really looking forward to coming back here in the van this time.  It has been a really refreshing change leaving the hustle and bustle of the Algarve as this area is less touristy and much quieter.  The area around Aljezur is mainly cork oak, eucalyptus and pine.  There are also plenty of orange and lemon groves.

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Harvested cork.

The weather since being here has been fabulous with warm sunny days so we took the opportunity to break out the bikes for a cycle up to the small town of Monchique.  The market town sits below the mountain peak of Foia which is the highest peak in the Algarve at 902 metres above sea level.

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Cycling from Aljezur to Monchique.

We knew it was going to be mostly uphill all the way but I had miscalculated how far it was going to be.  I thought it was about 20 kilometres but it is actually 20 miles to Monchique from Aljezur.

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Orange groves.

It took us over two hours but the views of the surrounding countryside were worth it!

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Beautiful views on the way up to Monchique.

By the time we got there we only really had enough time for a coffee and a quick sandwich before heading back down again.

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We bought 3kg of oranges on the way back at 0.50c a kilo!  We gave half of them away to a dutch chap in the van next to us in Aljezur as there were too many for us.

So after a couple of nights in Aljezur we were welcomed at our current Helpx assignment.  This one is turning out to be our dream Helpx!  We are staying with a German family – Raban and Nelly (both 81!) and their daughter, Sophia.  They have just over 50 hectares of land and Sophia runs a donkey trekking business 🙂  We are in donkey heaven here!

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Romano helping us unpack the van to settle in to our accomodation.

Sophia currently has thirteen donkeys, ten of which are here and three that are on their holidays with another farm.  She also has another three arriving tomorrow.

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‘Ollie’ parked up next to the donkey fields.

They are sooo well looked after and we’ve spent the last five days, amongst other things, learning all aspects of donkey care!  It’s just lush!

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Olivia, Emilio and Chiquito.

Donkey feeding, donkey pooh picking, donkey grooming, donkey medication giving, donkey walking, donkey rounding up, donkey tug o war, donkey coffee morning, donkey, donkey, donkey!

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Another Monday morning at the office!

We know all their names now and we are getting to know their different characters.

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Margarida, always first in the queue at feeding time!
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Mooching about the pasture.

How anyone cannot just love a donkey I do not know!

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Romano, the oldest at 30 years gets special privileges and joins us on the sun terrace for coffee in the morning!

Suffice to say we have been doing other things as well as donkey stuff but I’ll write about them in the next post.  This one is all about the donkeys!

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Emil and Chico.

Did I mention the donkeys?!

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Playtime!

Boa Noite!

 

Heading west along the Algarve…. .

So my quick flit back to the UK, courtesy of a cheap Ryanair flight, has come and gone and I’m back under what I would like to say are the sunny skies of the Algarve in Portugal.  Unfortunately, though, the weather has been a bit of a mixed bag since I got back!  However, leaving Leeds Bradford airport after a one hour delay because of ‘adverse weather conditions’ (aka SNOW!) I really can’t complain.  Tim, of course, had wall to wall sunshine whilst I was away!

It was great to go home though and see my parents and be spoilt with Mum’s cooking and pub grub!  And lest we forget bingeing on the internet to my hearts content!

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Bertie and Rosie (not my parents obviously…….just saying;)

I was able to purchase a list of items that I couldn’t get whilst in Portugal. Tim is now happily clicking away with his very own new camera. The photo memories of our trip should be a bit less one sided with both of us now featuring in the pictures.

We’ve been on the Algarve, Portugal for four weeks now and we’ve explored the coast east of Faro which encompasses the Rio Formosa Natural Park.

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Path down to the beach at Cacela Velha

The park stretches along the coast for around 60km from Manta Rota right round to the southern end of Faro.  We’ve been to the Algarve before on previous holidays but this area was new territory for us.  We were surprised and very pleased at how little it has been developed compared to the central Algarve coast.

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Rio Formosa Natural Park.

The Natural Park is a unique coastal lagoon area, constantly changing with the movement of the wind, currents and tides, and a haven for migrating birds.  It also has a thriving shellfish industry with the area providing 80% of the Portuguese clam exports.  Five barrier islands protect the area from the sea and it is possible to take a boat and be dropped onto an island for the day.  We stayed a couple of nights at Santa Luzia where a boardwalk links the Ilha do Tavira with the mainland.

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The boardwalk looking back from Ilha da Tavira.

The access to the beach brought us out to the Cemitério das Âncoras (anchor graveyard).  Hundreds of rusting anchors memorialise the areas long lost tuna industry, the fishermen and their families.  Livelihoods were lost when the over fished tuna stocks crashed and never recovered.

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The Anchor Graveyard on the Ilha de Tavira.

We walked the length of the beach to the western end and back where we saw several fishermen presumably fishing for clams.  They were using what looked to be a very simple contraption to work the shellfish out of the sand in the shallow waters and into a net.  It looked really hard work especially if they had to walk the length of the beach to get there.  I suspect a boat drops them off though.

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Collecting shellfish.

We were able to find a cycle route running from Altura to Tavira to avoid the dreaded N125.  It was probably more suited to mountain bikes in several places but it did the job none the less.  It took us through the very pretty village of Cacela Velha where we were amused by hundreds of fiddler crabs disappearing into their holes in the sand.

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We watched this Kingfisher fish for a while.

The route continued on to Tavira via Cabanas passing a few salt mountains.  The salt has been traditionally harvested here for the last 2000 years.

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Salt mountain outside Tavira.
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Fishermen’s paraphernalia in Cabanes.

The old town of Tavira itself was worth a look and we had the cheapest two cups of coffee so far at €1.20 for both of them!

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Looking out over Tavira.

We stayed on an excellent aire behind the beach at Falesia where we were able to watch several pairs of Hoopoes foraging for food whilst we were sitting in bed with our morning cuppa.

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Hoopoe.

On a recommendation from our French neighbours at an aire in Quarteira (I think they’re stalking us as we keep seeing them at different places) we ventured inland again to the little village of Alte known for its springs (fontes).

It’s a pretty little town and we were able to walk part of a sign posted route which took us through traditional farms of orange and lemon groves until we were drenched by a downpour which had us scuttling back to the van.  An hour later we arrived back like drowned rats!

P1000712.JPGOur next stop was at another reservoir, Barragem do Arade.

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Barragem do Arade

This is a great area for walking and cycling with numerous trails heading off in all directions.

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We cycled to the other side of the Barragem.

We love the landscape here with Cork Oak and Eucalyptus trees intermingled with Medronho trees.

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Fruit of the Medronho tree.

We saw a couple of chaps clinging to the hillside picking the fruit from the Medronho trees which can be fermented and distilled to make Arguardente de Medronho, a very potent traditional fruit brandy.  It was also nice to see beehives in abundance.

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Beehives.

From the Baragem we dropped down into the town of Silves which used to be an important hub for trade because of its river location.

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Silves.

The castle is the most prominent monument in the town followed by the cathedral.

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Inside Silves cathedral.
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Storks were everywhere in Silves.
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Street Art, Silves.

One night was enough to ‘do’ Silves and we were in need of some LPG.  There are quite a few LPG garages on the N125 so we had a ‘doing’ day yesterday topping up with LPG, refuelling, shopping and washing.  The Intermarche near Porches had washing machines outside so we were able to get two weeks of washing done whilst leisurely perusing the aisles of the supermarket. Genius!

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Washing machines outside the Intermarche – that’s my dressing gown going round in Number 2!

Our original plan was to stop for the night at Praia da Marinha, a beautiful beach, but in the end we just spent the afternoon there drying our washing in the two hour window of sun and wind we had before it rained.

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Praia da Marinha.

We opted to move to the huge aire at Portimao as the lack of other vans at Praia de Marinha seemed to suggest that wild camping there is now a no no.  The aire at Portimao is too big for our liking really but it’s cheap and has a good wifi signal so at last I’ve managed to update the blog.  Well that’s a load off!

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Portimao marina.

Two weeks ago we took the van in to Camperserv to have a look at our leaking boiler and we are now awaiting some parts for it. Truma, who make the boiler, aren’t able to get one of the parts until at least the end of next week so we are, once again, in limbo tootling about until we get a call from the garage to say they have the parts.  Whilst we wait we don’t have any heating or hot water but, fret not, we are managing with a kettle!

We’ll head west tomorrow towards Lagos maybe stopping off on the way for a look at Alvor.

Boa Noite!

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…. .

We left the aire at Peñiscola yesterday before getting too comfortable, having spent three nights there.  With a loose plan to visit Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, we programmed in the co-ordinates of an aire outside the city to the satnav.  When we arrived at said co-ordinates, after a two hour drive, there was no aire to be seen.  Oh joy. We pulled in to a garage to look at the guide and sort out Plan B.  Oh, there was no Plan B was there.  Whilst Tim perused the aires guide I went into the garage to buy some bread and a big bag of bacon crisps.  Tim’s priority being to find us somewhere safe to sleep for the night and mine being  food.  I don’t seem to be able to make decisions if I’m hungry and the situation could have turned ugly quite rapidly!

After not finding a suitable aire in the book we decided to get out our ACSI Campsite book to see what was around Valencia. I found one 9km south of Valencia which would cost us a reasonable €17 per night.  Tim’s nervous ‘tic’ returned at the thought of spending that kind of money for one night but needs must when the devil drives.  The ACSI book uses a different format for the co-ordinates that we have been using with our other two books and after much faffing and fiddling the destination flag put us in the sea, just off the beach, south of Valencia.  Excellento, let’s go.

After a stressful drive, having taken the wrong exit off roundabouts twice, dealing with multiple lane changes, lorries, tailgaters and roadworks we arrived an hour later, at around about the spot we were looking for.  We pulled over to decide what to do when we saw directly ahead of us ‘La Marina’ aire at €11 per night.  Hallelujah, perfect.  It’s a large car-park but that’s fine and the chap on reception was soooo friendly he turned our day around.  Tim, also, was saved with parting with €17 so all’s good.

The bus into Valencia was free that day for some sort of mobility festival so we went in for a reccy late afternoon.  We got off the bus at the ‘Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias’ or the ‘City of Arts and Sciences’.

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IMAX Cinema, Valencia.

Designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela the ‘city’ stretches for over 2km and houses an IMAX cinema, science museum, aquarium, opera house, concert space and landscaped area.

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Arts and Science park.

It is mightily impressive but I dread to think how much it all cost, especially with Spain’s economy as it is.

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Landscaped walkways at the Arts and Science park.

Colossal spend or not we thoroughly enjoyed our stroll around the whole area in lovely 25 degree sunshine.

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We returned to the aire on the free bus with a plan the next day to cycle to Valencia to explore the Jardin del Turia, an urban park, adjacent to the City of Arts and Sciences.

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View to the Arts and Science Park from Turia Riverbed Park.

A purpose built cyclepath, direct from outside the entrance to the aire, took us into Valencia today in thirty minutes.  In October 1957 Valencia was flooded when the Rio Turia (river Turia) burst its banks damaging much of the city.

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River Turia, Valencia, 1957 flood.
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The aftermath of the flood, 1957.

A decision was made to divert the entire river around the south and west of the city therefore averting any further disaster.  What Valencia has now created is the Turia Riverbed Park.

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Stone bridge spanning Valencia’s Turia Riverbed Park.

The Park covers around 9km of the former river bed and is Spain’s largest urban park.

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Another of the stone bridges.

Over twenty bridges span its width with many of them original. It’s all beautifully landscaped with cyclepaths, footpaths, trim trails, picnic areas, skate parks, sports facilities and the like.

P1080297.JPGWe cycled the entire length of it and back, which took a good hour, before heading towards the marina and beaches.

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Swanky apartments behind the promenade on the beach.

Valencia is really very cycle friendly as there are dedicated cycle paths all the way down to the seafront and cycling isn’t banned along the promenade either.  The beach is very nice as the hotels have been built quite a distance from the main promenade so weren’t imposing at all.

We enjoyed a drink at one of the beach bars, people watching, before cycling back to the aire.

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Looking a bit windswept!

All in all, an excellent day covering 38 miles, all of which was on dedicated cyclepaths.  From our very shaky start yesterday Valencia has more than redeemed itself.  Tomorrow the plan is to take the bus into the old town for a look see.

Nos vemos!

Our first full week in Spain…. .

The past week has, again, been one of contrasts.  We arrived on the Mediterranean coast on Wednesday 14th September 2016 ready for a restful few days.  The first job was to get ‘Spain’ stuck on our map of Europe.  It’s taken us nearly four months to reach a new country!

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Finally we can colour in another country.

We kicked back and relaxed at one of the aires on The Parc Naturel del Delta de l’Ebre for three nights enjoying some flat cycling every day, a spot of birdwatching and free wifi.  The area was designated as a Natural Parc in 1983 and is one of the largest wetland areas in the Western Mediterranean.  It is home to around 95 species of breeding birds and also serves as a stopover point for a huge number of migratory birds.  Not unlike ourselves really!  It’s the first time I think we’ve seen wild flamingos at close quarters.  Being a wetland area it attracts its fair share of mosquitos but also hundreds of dragonflies in every different colour imaginable.

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Coffee break at the marina at St. Carles de la Rapita.

We spent three nights there before taking a foray inland to the medieval fortified town of Morella.  We didn’t know if it was worth the ninety minute detour inland after having finally reached the coast but it turned out to be a real hightlight for us.

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Approach to Morella.

We stayed at the free aire 1km outside the town giving us a marvellous view of the town, especially when lit up at night.

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View from the aire of Morella lit up at night.

It reminded me a bit of a pavlova or of this egg sandwich we made at our first Helpx!

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‘Moregga’!

The castle above the town is over 1000m above sea level with a ring of ancient walls defending the lower reaches.

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Fortified walls of Morella.

 

P1080176.JPGWe did one of the signed walks around the outskirts of the town which gave us fantastic views over the surrounding plains and a view of the castle and walls from a different perspective.

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Another lovely walk.
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Morella seen from a different perspective.

We also paid a very reasonable €3.50 each to visit the castle.  The views from the top down over the town and across the surrounding countryside were exceptional and well worth the climb up.

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Looking down from the castle.

What we really also enjoyed about this area was the landscape.

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View from the castle walls.

It’s a mixture of isolated farms amongst rugged terrain, rocky hilltops, woods and ravines.  Hundreds of dry stone terraces and walls adorn the hillsides giving an insight into the hard graft and labour it took to farm successfully in this area in days gone by.

Having spent two nights at Morella we drove eastwards to Valderrobres, another medieval town with a fortified castle and 14th Century Gothic church.

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Valderrobres.
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Gothic church of Santa Maria la Mayor.

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We spent a couple of hours wandering around the old town before deciding to head back down to Peñiscola on the coast.  Peñiscola is a fortified promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean made famous by the filming here of El Cid in 1960.

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Peniscola – ‘city in the sea’.

P1080247.JPGIt’s also been used recently for the sixth series of Game of Thrones.

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Game of Thrones series six filmed on Peniscola.

It was built by the Knights Templar on the remains of an old Moorish citadel in the 13th Century. Within the walls lie many narrow, windy, cobble stoned streets lined with restaurants and tourist shops.

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Peniscola’s narrow strrets.

It is buzzing with mainly Spanish tourists.  We stayed on an aire a couple of miles away and enjoyed a leisurely cycle in along a purpose built cyclepath taking us to the ‘city in the sea’ as Peñiscola is known.

P1080248.JPGIt’s very touristy but has a very lively, family friendly, air about it and we enjoyed whiling away a couple of hours exploring.  We continued our cycle west along the coast for several miles which revealed much quieter coves with significantly less people!

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Looking back west of Peniscola. 

Today we headed east along the coast on the bikes taking a pitstop for an hour to have a look round the market in Benicarlò.

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Benicarlo market.
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Market at Benicarlo

 

I went for my first swim in the ‘Med’ this evening but shot out of the water when my legs suddenly started stinging.  I think I’ve been stung by a jellyfish although I didn’t see any but, looking at the rash I have, I can’t think of anything else it might be.  That’s put me right off a second swim now!

Tomorrow we’re moving on again but, to where, I’m not sure.  Best get the maps out and have a look!

Hasta luego!