El Caminito del Rey…. .

Ollie, our van, was riding high heading east out of Tarifa on four shiny new tyres.  Tim was equally riding high feeling like a dog with an extra appendage at having the said tyres fitted!  Oh the little things?!  To be fair it had been touch and go as to whether the tyres would be done as, when we duly arrived at the garage at our allotted time of 16.00hrs, the tyres had yet to be delivered.  Several phone calls confirmed they were on their way being couriered from Cordoba.  They finally arrived at 18.00 and we were on our way 90 minutes later.

We stopped for the night at the aire at Castellar de la Frontera where we’d stayed before which is conveniently located just 8km off the main A7 Algeciras to Malaga road.  Whilst there we popped over to the cafe across the road to pick up some wifi and saw on the news that in fact the whole south coast of Spain had been battered by severe gales for 24hours.  Maybe our experience in Tarifa had been on the extreme side then!

Our next destination was to be Garganta del Chorro, a huge canyon in the limestone massif above the Río Gualdalforce, 50km north west of Malaga.  It’s a major centre for rock climbers but we wanted to walk the Caminito del Rey, a walkway traversing halfway up the steep walls of the narrow limestone gorge.  The 3km long narrow path, clinging precipitously to the mountainside by pins driven into the rock, is set some 100 metres above the Guadalhorce river and is just a few feet wide. Just my kind of thing!  If you don’t really have a head for heights then I suggest you look away now!

Now a tourist attraction, the Caminito del Rey was originally built between 1901 and 1905.

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Building the walkway circa 1901.

With the construction of the El Chorro and Gaitanejo hydro electric powerplants, the path gave workers the ability to cross between two nearby waterfalls.  It effectively provided a shortcut so the workers didn’t have to climb down the mountain on one side to then have to climb up the other side.  After all, we all love a shortcut!

It wasn’t until 1921 that the path became known as El Caminito del Rey (the Kings pathway) after King Alfonso XIII crossed it to reach the dam for the inauguration ceremony.

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Inauguration day presided over by King Alfonso XIII in 1921.

Over the last century intrepid climbers used the path, also as a short cut, to reach Makindromo, a famous climbing sector of El Chorro.  Throughout the years the walkway fell into a serious state of disrepair with gaps in the guard rails and pavement areas which were completely missing but still the climbers came and risked life and limb to cross it.

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The condition of the path before the restoration.
However, after four fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000, the path was closed by demolishing the initial section to prevent any further fatalities.

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Yeah, I think I’d give that a miss!
Plans were afoot in the early 2000’s to restore the path but lack of the old wonga prevented the project going ahead.  Fast forward now to February 2014, the Provincial Deputation of Malaga finally had the cash to restore the path.  The new path was constructed one metre above the line of the old one and was reopened to the public in March 2015.

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The old path below the new one.

The actual path is now run by a private company but for €11.55 each for the walk and the return bus I don’t personally think they are ripping us off!

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The start of our journey almost opposite to where we were parked.

The whole route from where we parked the van at the North end to the finish at El Chorro is about 7km on a mixture of woodland path and board walks.

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Rock formations on the path down to the control cabin where we exchanged our tickets for hard hats.

So what did we think? Well, despite definitely feeling like a tourist attraction, we thought it was superb.

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The adventure begins!

You can only walk it in one direction, north to south, and the numbers are limited entering the path at different time slots to prevent overcrowding.

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It wasn’t too busy on the path.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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In parts the gorge is no more than 10m wide.

It felt all very safe but I imagine if you are a tiny bit wobbly about heights then I guess it wouldn’t be your idea of a dream day out!

P1010950.JPGIt’s also probably not advisable, like I did, to keep walking whilst gawping upwards at the vultures soaring across the top of the canyon which at some points is 700m high.  A sure recipe for vertigo and a tumble I think!

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One of Tims ‘art’ photos again!

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The train from Malaga runs through the gorge on the opposite side.
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After the first boardwalk section the path runs through pretty woodland.

The final part of the walk, which traverses the gorge at the southern end by way of a suspended (read MOVING!) bridge, continues on down and around the corner giving far reaching views down the valley from El Chorro.

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You can’t see it but it’s a loooooong drop down!
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The new suspended bridge replaced the old one behind.
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Coming out at the southern end of the gorge.

It was just fantastic.  It’s not until you look back at where you have been that you suddenly realise the sheer height and precariousness of it all.

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So that’s where we were – it looks higher up from this viewpoint than when you are actually on the path.
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Some intrepid soul has even cycled the route!

The whole thing took around four hours and we got back to the van at around 2pm for a rest and a regroup.  Whilst it did seem a shame to wake Tim up from his afternoon kip to go for a further walk I felt it was necessary as I’d hate to feel he was missing out!  It was worth the effort though for the views we had over the three reservoirs.

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Walking the hills around the reservoirs.

We would have ideally liked to have spent another day in the area but, due to the uncanny lack of others vans around, and it being in the natural park, we thought that wild camping here would be a no no and we’d risk a fine.

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Embalse del Guadalforce (one of the three).

We drove to the very good free aire at Altequera, a prosperous looking market town with several fine churches.  What it is most famous for is the three prehistoric dolmen caves dating from around 2500 BC.

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The Menga Dolmen.

Call me a heathen but I found it a little underwhelming but it was free!

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I quite liked the patterns made by people’s shoes in the sand inside the burial chamber!

Today we’re off to the Parque Natural de El Torcal, south of Antequera, to do some walking and look at some rock sculptures.

Hasta luego!

Gibraltar and the Costa de la Luz…. .

Boy we sure are ‘living the dream’.  We are currently hunkered down in between two blocks of flats on the outskirts of Tarifa trying to escape from the relentless wind.  Last night Ollie, our van, was blown hither and thither by a gusting, godawful  wind coming off the hills behind Tarifa beach.  The cover for the bikes, which was already in a sorry state with numerous patches, is now virtually shredded to bits!  The skylights on the roof of the van have just about held their own despite the wind trying its level best to remove them from their moorings.  So, after a restless night, we came to seek some refuge in between some flats in the town.  As I said, we are living the dream folks!

Tarifa is not called the kitesurfing and windsurfing capital of Europe for nothing it seems.  Our guidebook also happens to mention that Tarifa, before it was famous for kitesurfing, was a quiet village known only in Spain due to its unusually high suicide rate!  The reason for which is that unremitting wind, apparently.  After last night I can well believe it!  But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Back to last week.

We left the very pretty hilltop town of Casares (a brilliant place to watch the vultures) after three days of rain to drop back down to the coast to do a proper visit to Gibraltar.

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The hilltop town of Casares.
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It’s a great place to watch the vultures.

What can I say, I expect it’s a right of passage for most Brits who travel around Spain and we are no exception.   We stayed at the aire on the marina at La Linéa de la Concepción, just across the runway from Gib.

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The aire at the marina at La Linea de la Concepcion.

The aire is €12 per night, has a view of the boats in the harbour and is far enough away from the main road to be a quiet and peaceful stop.  It’s also only a five minute walk to the border.

After having nipped over to Gib two weeks ago we knew what to expect at the border.  We’d walked across to the town coming back at about 5.30pm and Tim had likened it to coming out of Devonport Dockyard 30 years ago when 3000+ employees would leave the base at the same time.  Cars, vans, scooters, mopeds, bikes and pedestrians were all rushing headlong for the exit!  I hadn’t realised that so many people work on Gibraltar but live in Spain.  Let’s just say it was an experience!  It did, however, confirm our thoughts that it wasn’t worth taking the van over to take advantage of the 75p per litre diesel to be had on the island.  Nope, too stressful in our opinion!

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the town, marina and Morrisons(!) on the Tuesday afternoon we had arrived.  Apart from Main Street, which is pedestrianised, it’s not a particularly pedestrian friendly place.  It’s so compact that virtually every space has now been built on and we only found one small park area. Usually when we explore a larger town or city we try to go through as many parks and green spaces as we can but Gibraltar town is a bit lacking in them!

Not to be deterred though the next day we had a brilliant day walking up to the top of the rock, over the other side down a steep rocky footpath called ‘Mediterranean steps’ to take in views of the east side of the island down towards Europa Point and then continuing on back around to our starting point.

It was quite a strenuous walk in the end and we were glad we wore our walking boots.

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A coffee break half way up the rock and time for a Morrisons Pork Pie!

When we set out a huge cloud had been hanging over ‘the rock’ but it miraculously cleared by the time we were half way up to the top and the views were superb.

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The view down to the town.

We weren’t disappointed on the ape front either.

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The apes were completely non plussed by us tourists taking photos.

We whiled away some time watching them at the top of the rock and at other points on our walk.

P1010875.JPGWe made sure we had our lunch where none were to be seen mind!

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View from the top of the rock.
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View back to La Linea from the east side of the top of the rock.
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Mediterranean Steps – the path that took us down the east side of the rock and around to the views of Europa Point.
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It was quite an adventure!
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Climbing up the path on the east side.
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The view towards Europa Point with the Morrocan hills peeping above the clouds..
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They look cold but it wasn’t cold!
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It’s not often you see a sign like this.

Our other reason for coming to Gibraltar was to meet up with my friend, Nik, who had lived on the island in the mid 1980’s as her Dad was posted there for three years with the Navy.  She’d come, with her Mum, on a reminiscing tour to see how things have changed.  We met up with them for some lunch and a catch up.  It was great to see them and we spent several happy hours chatting away over lunch whilst supping Sangria……..too much Sangria!  We both suffered for our over indulgence but, well, you live and learn………or not!  So thank you for lunch and a great afternoon Nik but I never want to see you again!!!!!!  Just kidding;)

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I won’t be drinking Sangria again for a while!

So that, then, brings us round to Tarifa, on the Costa de la Luz, which stretches from Tarifa to Cadiz, where we have been for the last few days.  This coastline is a complete contrast to the Costa del Sol.  It’s relatively undeveloped, backed by rolling green hills, with some beautiful beaches……..and plenty of wind!  Saturday and Sunday were glorious, weather wise, with temperatures up to the low twenties and a nice breeze that brought out probably in the region of 300 kite surfers.  It was quite a sight stretching across the 7km of Tarifa’s beach.

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Tarifa beach.

We were able to walk into Tarifa town at low tide along the beach and then returned over a boardwalk and some scrubland when the tide had advanced up the beach filling a lagoon which prevented us from retracing our steps.

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Tarifa old town.

We drove 10km up the coast to visit Bolonia which has a beautiful beach and the remains of a Roman settlement.

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Bolonia beach.

We met another British couple there, John and Sheila, who are doing a similar trip to us and invited us in for coffee where we exchanged stories on our experiences so far.  It’s always nice to chat to other people who are doing a similar thing, renting out their house, getting rid of most of their stuff and seeing where the road takes them,  just to confirm we’re not completely nuts choosing this lifestyle!

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Trust me when I say this thing was the size of a small dog (well maybe a gerbil)!

Coming full circle now, to where I started on this somewhat rambling post, we are sheltering from the wind in Tarifa instead of moving on today as Ollie is going to have four shiny new tyres fitted later.  We had thought we would wait until returning to the UK to get them done but the front ones are now pretty close to the lowest limit and with probably another 1500 or so miles to do before we get back to the UK it’s safest to get them done now.  They are Michelin somethingorothers (Tim has done all the research!) which will comply with the regulations of some European countries when travelling in winter.  Tim does van stuff.  I do cooking!!!

After the tyre fit our plan is to travel east again as we’ll eventually want to visit Granada.  We seem to be doing a backwards and forwards, zig zag, tour at the moment but that’s what you get when you don’t really have a plan!!

Buenas noches!

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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!