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!

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!

Up and over the Pyrénées into Spain…. .

Since my last blog update we have had a week of contrasts in terms of both landscapes and weather.  We left the aire at Aulus-les-Bains on Sunday 11th September to have a drive up to the Ski resort, a few miles away, at Guzet.  After 6km of steep climbing we arrived at the ski station with a stupendous view across the Pyrénées all to ourselves.  It’s only a small place which seems to just cater for the ski season so everything was deserted bar two or three cars.  All it lacked was a bit of tumbleweed blowing through!  It all felt a bit surreal really and it would be interesting to see the difference in the ski season.

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Views from the ski resort at Guzet.

We lingered admiring the views for half an hour or so and we could have probably stayed the night up there without any bother.  However, we’d planned an early start on Monday morning to get the washing done so drove the 12km back down to the aire at Seix ready to hit the ‘laverie’ at 7am.

I arrived at the ‘laverie’ at 7am to find it does not open until 8am. Meh.  I arrived at the ‘laverie’ at 8am to find all three machines in use having just started their 45minute program.  Double meh!  So much for our early start.  Washing eventually done we headed back down the valley to St Girons for a quick pitstop at Aldi to restock before traversing the lower Pyrénées westwards towards Bagnères-de-Luchon, 10km from the Spanish border.

The drive wasn’t too torturous, but then, I wasn’t driving!  We followed the D618 over Col de Portet d’Aspet (1069m) and Col des Ares (797m)passing through rugged little towns and forested hillside along the way.  We arrived at the aire at Bagnères-de-Luchon, twinned with Harrogate (nod to my parents who live just outside Harrogate), in the early afternoon.

Luchon is a mixture of ski resort, thermal spa resort and Tour de France destination.  We were disappointed that the cable car only runs at the weekend from September as it was long, steep and looked fun and we could have done some walking from the top.  Tim dragged me round the whole town trying to find somewhere that would sell a half decent camera but to no avail.  Unfortunately, until we find somewhere big enough to sell that sort of thing you’ll all have to put up with the black dot and other blemishes on the photos.

As we were now only 10km to the border of Spain, and with the cable car not running until the weekend, we decided to press on into new territory.  We took the road out of Luchon towards Vielha climbing and climbing and switchbacking to meet the Guardia Civil at the summit on the border.

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Climbing up out of Luchon.

We weren’t stopped so continued down the other side stopping at a viewpoint to see the little town of Bossòst below.

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Satnav view of the route ahead!

Yay, new country!

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Bossost across the Spanish border.
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Port on sale in the local supermarket.

After a wander around Bossòst we continued on to Vielha, another ski resort, which was a contrast to all the ancient medieval towns we’d seen in France.

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Vielha.

Taking the C28 out of town in a south easterly direction we embarked on a spectacular drive up and over Port de la Bonaigua at 2072m and down the other side through the Vall d’Aneu. Epic!

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Route up out of Vielha to another ski station.
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Yay, reached the pass.

Tim did a fantastic job of driving.  He did ask if I wanted to drive, but with me having more interest in the view than the road ahead (read: short attention span), he felt it safest that he continue on as he doesn’t make a particularly good passenger, especially on these types of roads.   D.I.V.O.R.C.E. may have ensued had I taken to the wheel!

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Back down we go!
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They’ve got all that land and still they choose the road:)

Further on down the valley the mountains gave way to reservoirs of iridescent blue, flanked by rugged hillsides, in between more ski resorts until we came through La Pobla de Segur which was the first traditional looking town since arriving in Spain.  We carried on down (we’d been going downhill for hours by now!) and swung into a free aire at Tremp.  108 miles covered with an average speed of about 25mph!

Tremp is a contrast of old, new, derelict and half built but it had a vibrant friendly air about it as we strolled around in the early evening.  Lots of people were out with their children enjoying the tree lined streets and cafes.  We joined them for a couple of cheeky beers to soak up the ambience!  Four 50cl San Miguels and two complimentary bowls of nuts came to €6.40.  Oooh we’re liking Spain, that would have cost us €19, without the nuts, in France!  Big tick for Spain on that one!

We got back to the van before a huge thunderstorm which continued into the night.  On looking out the next morning to see the clouds down over the mountains we discussed our plans on where to go next. We both felt that, with the weather forecast to be unsettled for the next few days, we would head out of the hills towards the coast.  We are going to be meeting our friends, Di and Chris, in a few weeks time somewhere on the south coast of Spain so felt we might as well start to move in that direction.

Decision made, we programmed sattynav to take us to an aire in the Parc del Delta de l’Ebre on the coast just south of Tarragona.  Great, 3.5 hrs and we’d be there by lunchtime.  That was until we drove through the Mont-Rebel canyon.  The drive from Tremp was stunning through the gorge and as we rounded a bend we saw a parking area coming up so pulled in just intending to take a quick photo before resuming our journey.  We got out of the van marvelling at the view down the valley but then turned around to see the immense sight of the gorge behind us.

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Mont-Rebel canyon.

We’d have missed it if we had continued on without stopping.  It was just stunning, glowing orange in the sunshine, with the river in full flow after the rain the night before.

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You can see the tunnel where the railway line is above the river.

The Noguera Ribagorçana river divides the Monsec area into two with Ares on the Catalan side and Estall on the other in Aragon.

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The water level dropped by about a meter over the three hours we were there.

We gaped for about half an hour before deciding to get the boots out and take a footpath leading across the hillside on the other side of the river.

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‘Ollie’ dwarfed by the gorge.

The footpath took us up and over the railway line to a viewpoint where we could see right through the canyon to a hilltop village about 3 miles away.

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Path up to the viewpoint.
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All in all a beautiful walk.
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The hilltop village just beyond the middle of the gorge.

When we got back down to river level we sat for another half an hour watching four climbers halfway up the sheer rockface.  Awesome!

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You can’t see them as the picture quality isn’t good enough but there are four climbers at various points on the rockface just past halfway up at a guess.

Waylayed by three hours now we continued on further down the gorge stopping at several places along the way.

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Tiny village that looked almost deserted.

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Looking back down from the tower.
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Further down the valley.

The finale to this phenomenal drive was a steep descent to a dam across the river leading into a tunnel about half a mile long to emerge on the other side to the tailend of the gorge.  What a day, views wise it rated as our best day of the trip so far!

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Look at that concentration!

By now it was 4.30pm and we were still 3 hours away from our destination!  The drive to the coast was a comedown after the day we had had with the roads busy with lorries and sprawl after sprawl of factories and industry.    We got caught in a thunderstorm, which brought lightening and high winds, so we were mightily relieved to arrive at the aire at El Pouble Nou Del Delta at 7.30pm just in time to see the sea before it got dark.  With the weather as it was it looked more like the North Sea than the Mediterranean though!

The Parc Naturel del Delta de l’Ebre is a rice growing wetland area that is a haven for birdlife away from the busy coast road.  We are going to stay here for a couple of nights at least to enjoy the birds and a bit of flat cycling before trundling down the coast a bit towards Valencia.

Hasta la Próxima!