We know the way to San José …

All of a sudden we seem to have hit red in the agricultural sense. The northern part of our journey was in the green foothills of the Pyrenees, followed by the amber glow of the orange groves that fill the lands from Barcelona to Valencia. Now, in the desert like climate and topography around Almeria the hinterland is filled with acres of tomatoes growing under vast synthetic greenhouses. Presumably this helps with moisture retention from the irrigation systems and protection from the sun and dust.  Further up this coast, salad and brassica crops are grown on industrial scale under polythene tunnels. From a distance, the sun shimmering on the plastic gives the impression of an enormous inland lake.

Gavin above San José & our journey so far

We are now on the Costa Calida, which translate as the ‘Hot Coast’ and it is not hard to see why, it was 27 degrees yesterday. It must be unbearable in the summer. Despite the balmy temperatures, and school holidays there are relatively few tourists here. This whole area is a Natural Park, which suggests that development is strictly controlled, resulting in unspoilt traditional fishing villages which put one in mind of Beer and Branscombe, only with more sunshine.

Yesterday we had a splendid ride out from our Campsite at the pretty seaside town of San José to the fishing and diving village of Las Negras, nestling under the surrounding hills in a secluded, shimmering, blue cove. On route, we explored the remnants of an abandoned gold mine, which although quite eerie, was been used as a film set. The old excavations revealed beautiful rock strata resplendent in ochre hues.

Smooth roads – Parque Natural Cabo de Gata-Nijar

It was quite a hilly ride, climbing over capes between the various little seaside villages. Some were perfect ‘dipper hills’ where, a bit of welly on the downhill section then peddle like fury until the gradient saps the momentum, sees you at the top before you can say Bob – so exhilarating.

In between leaving, Cartagena and arriving at San José, we spent Easter weekend inland in the village of EL Berro, set way up in the pine clad hills of the Parque Natural de Sierre Espuna.  There are fantastic remote walking trails, one of which proved that Gavin’s ankle is on the mend but still needs a bit more time/practice before hitting the South West Coast Path again. The scenery is stunning, and cycling up roads continually switching back on hairpin bends gives the chance for spectacular 360 degree views.

Moving On and Avoiding the Crowds

Route to Isla Plana
Hugging The Coast …

Finally some sunshine, following huge downpours over a twenty four hour period. We shouldn’t grumble though as this was the first significant rain for TWO YEARS in the orange groves clinging to the plains between the coast and inland hills. The oranges are magnificent, huge and so juicy. We paid just €3.00 (£2.25) for an enormous net full from an honesty stall on the roadside.

Some of the old hilltop towns are very picturesque, with narrow cobbled streets that have not changed for hundreds of years and, by their nature are pedestrian only, even bikes have to be pushed and sometimes carried.

Cobbled Street – Peniscola

We spent a couple of nights in a really quite campsite up in the hills, the scenery was magnificent, with towering mountains giving way to hundreds of acres of orange trees, either resplendent with a bounteous crop waiting to be picked or already pungent with delicate white blossoms for the next harvest. All of this leading down to the azure blue of the twinkling Mediterranean sea.

Given this tranquillity we bypassed the heaving mass of high rise apartments and urban sprawl that is Benidorm to another very quiet area just west of the strategic and much fought over naval port town at Cartagena. Our bike ride into this ancient old town from our campsite was one that Gavin terms ‘world class’ climbing over the pass between the hills along sweeping hairpin bends. The long slog uphill was well worth the resultant views and freewheeling down the other side. Cartagena has been fought over and changed hands since Phoenician times which makes it a fascinating place to visit. In the 1980’s the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre and Town Forum, including baths were discovered, with restoration works and further excavations continuing .

2,000 year old wall decoration – Roman Forum, Cartagena

Romans and Oranges …

The wonders of the internet mean that I was able to complete my self-employed job sitting in the camper-van, albeit late into a couple of nights and a very early start one morning. Good to keep some pennies coming in. Our trip into Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city was fascinating. Undertaken on foot and via an open-top bus tour with commentary in English; it is so much more interesting when you know what you are looking at!

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The legacies of the architect Antoni Gaudi dominate the city, with quirky houses and the, still unfinished, cathedral, La Salgrada Familia, which defies description with eighteen spires of 100 metres or more and the capacity to seat 13,000 people. Started over one hundred years ago, work continues; with funding reliant on the 2.8 million visitors annually and other donations. The heavens opened as dusk fell, rain of underwear-soaking proportions didn’t seem to dampen the (misplaced) optimism of the Arsenal fans in the city for the return leg of their Champion’s League match against the mighty home team.

Further south, the change in scenery was dramatic as we explored the Erbe river delta where irrigation channels criss-cross completely flat fields, freshly cultivated for the planting of rice, for which the region is renowned. The marshy wetlands and lagoons are home to a unique combination of plants and birds including very many flamingos.

As with much of Europe, the Romans have left their mark in many regions of Spain. In Torragona some of the city walls, chariot racing stadium, amphitheatre and other buildings are still standing some 2,300 years after they were built by these remarkable craftsmen.  It’s humbling to walk in the footsteps of circa seventy generations of humankind.

Roman Amphitheatre – Tarragona

Gavin has declared València, Spain’s third largest and our destination today, in the top five cities he has visited (and that’s a lot). With miles of bike paths, and flanked by long sandy beaches, the jewel in the crown is the green space and development along the former bed of the River Turia which was diverted to the outskirts to alleviate flooding.

For me one of the highlights of this region is the citrus groves. From a distance, yet to be harvested, oranges glow in the sunlight like baubles on a well decked Christmas tree.  They are so juicy and taste divine.

A Couple of Happy Campervaners!

Cannons and Pizza …

All good so far; we are managing to drive on the right side of the road (literally) and go around the roundabouts anti-clockwise. We are heading south down the spectacular Costa Brava coast towards Barcelona, which we intend to visit tomorrow, taking advantage of a free shuttlebus from our campsite, circa twenty miles north at Mataró.

Map to Barcelona.png

Leaving the van in a layby this morning, we had a world-class ride to the resort of Tossa de Mar. It was a classic with long swooping descents following twisting climbs as the road hugged the tortuous coast. The views were jaw-dropping but we were out-classed by the very many professional cycle teams who left us standing in their wake. (Well we are old enough to be their parents). Apparently many of the pro-teams have their headquarters and winter training camps in Girona, a few miles inland. Out of season, as it is, the resorts are really quiet and a delight to look around. The remains of the mediaeval castle and town at Tossa de Mar still has cannons pointing over the ramparts and quaint, twisty, streets cobbled with pebbles. The lovely, sandy beaches are empty. No doubt they will be wall to wall with bodies come the summer, just now long sleeves and coats are requisite.

Yesterday we cycled into Girona and mooched about the old town set on a hill above the River Ter. The Cathedral boasts the widest nave in the world bar St Peters in the Vatican and is well worth a visit to see the towering architecture and beautiful stained glass windows.

Cooking our evening meal with two gas rings, and a small oven with minimal kitchen equipment is proving interesting, but with necessity being the mother of invention, we have turned out some quite respectable repasts. Gavin is on cooking duty tonight, but a couple of pizzas and bag of salad from the supermarket should not test his skills too greatly.


And We’re Off to Sunny Spain …

A bumpy crossing from Plymouth to St. Malo was not conducive to a good night’s sleep in our bunk beds. So it was two weary travellers who negotiated 500, rain sodden, miles to Toulouse, mainly on the motorways, which are both smoother and less congested than in dear old England. Something to do with the toll system perhaps?

A restorative Wednesday night, in a camp site on the edge of Toulouse, saw us refreshed and able to take advantage of a dry day with a thirty mile bike ride along a section of the plane tree lined, Canal du Midi; which joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The return journey along the other side of the valley through rolling farmland and sleepy hamlets was all together more scenic though.

Thus exercised, we continued south east, past the magnificent ancient town at Carcassonne to the Mediterranean coast between Perpignan and Narbonne. Turning south, we then hugged the coast up into the tortuous Pyrenees mountains and over the border into Spain. The road had more bends than a snake on speed, and so took much longer to drive than anticipated, but the views!!

With some relief we pulled into a camp-site at the, delightful small town of Garriguella just as the light faded. So far we have managed to remain on good terms in our mobile chicken coop but are having to be very organised.

This morning we rode about ten miles into Figueres to visit the museum of the surrealist artist Savador Dali, for whom the town was both home and final resting place.  Not too sure we ‘got’ many of the pictures or sculptures, bit too surreal for our simple tastes. The ride there and back was mainly flat in the lee of the snow clad Pyrenean peaks in the distance but was challenging due to the howling wind which raged all the previous night and continues still.

Our billet for tonight is a utilitarian camp-site very close to the beach on the Costa Brava coast in the atmospheric town of Roses where grand houses cling to the hillsides seemingly defying gravity. There are lovely sandy beaches next to the sparkling waters of the Med. and a marina that currently houses a jaw-dropping array of luxury yachts.