Ending on a high …

The scenery in the foothills of the Pyres as we left Spain, turning North at Pamplona was just lovely, very green and pastoral, with views of higher peaks in the distance. We arrived in St Jean de Luz, a lovely seaside resort in a protected cove on the Bay of Biscay, between San Sebastian and Biarritz, in heavy rain with some thunder for good measure.  Fortunately, the skies cleared enough for an enjoyable early evening ride along the promenade and through the narrow streets.  Our pitch at the camp-site looked right out over the sea; the breaking waves proved not to be the most soothing lullaby though!

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Back into France at St Jean-de-Luz

On Sunday we managed our longest bike ride of the trip, at just over 50 miles. The route took us up the coast and through the large, well to do, resort of Biarritz then along the banks of the river Adour to the pleasant town of Bayonne.  Turning inland, things got quite hilly through the most stunning countryside, filled with buttercup strewn meadows and wooded hills resplendent in every shade of green in the palette. New life abounded with gambolling lambs and goat kids, sturdy little calves, several foals and even a tiny baby donkey, all knock-kneed and wobbly aiming for its first feed from Mum. The scenery was very reminiscent of the Lake District fells – just lovely.

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Bay of Biscay at Biarritz

With just the length of France to drive, a little under 600 miles, a two stage strategy was employed. Leaving early this morning, we arrived a few miles east of Nantes, to spend our last night of the trip a stone’s throw from the Loire River on a campsite next to a lake in the heart of yet another region famous for its wine.  Unlike the in the Rioja region of Spain, the vines here are definitely sprouting leaves. We arrived in time for an early evening 26 mile ride to the river, along its North bank and then back through lanes and a series of pretty little villages. We are well placed to complete the circa 200 miles to Roscoff in time to catch the 3pm sailing to Plymouth tomorrow.

So all in, once back in Kingskerswell on Tuesday evening we will have driven 3,200 miles, with the van a joy to drive and well up to the job; and after spending 41 nights in her confines we are still speaking to one another! In addition we will have cycled over 930 miles so have had an opportunity to explore as we went.  All in all it has been a thoroughly successful and enjoyable trip, with so much of Spain as yet unseen, we will definitely be back.

A Cross-country run and Adios Spain …

The historical city of Cádiz, launch point for Columbus’s search for the new world, like Gibraltar, sits on an isthmus jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.  With some 4,000 years of evidence, it is reported to be the longest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe.  The narrow cobbled streets, city walls and strategically placed forts are a living history book. We visited the city on foot via a 30 minute catamaran ride from the town of El Puerto de Sante Maria, a little further to the north on the mainland coast.

Map to Logrono

Our route back to France, as we head home, has taken us effectively North East through central Spain, giving the chance to observe ever changing scenery and agriculture. To the south, flatter lands grow very clean and healthy looking swathes of barley, in ear and just beginning to change from green to gold.  Potatoes and small sunflower plants also abound, and are clearly assisted by large scale irrigation systems. Further into the region of Extremadura, acres of trees (cherry and/or almond)? are a picture in full blossom. Much of the area we travelled between Merida and Segovia is mountainous moorland, sparsely grazed by small suckler herds with young calves at foot and liberally strewn with granite; very reminiscent of both Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. The mountains around Segovia are very pretty, with the sun glistening off their snow covered peaks. It was about here we had to dig the long sleeves and socks out again!

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894 metre long Roman Aqueduct – Segovia. 20,000 granite blocks – no mortar! 163 arches rising 28 metres at the highest point

Tonight will be our last night in Spain, in La Rioja region, home to the world famous wine. The vineyards cover the broad valley of the Ebre River, which we took much pleasure in cycling around today.  The vines, pruned and tied back to their training wires, currently look gnarled and dead. Closer inspection shows the promise of leaf buds, but it is hard to imagine that in a few short months they will be verdant with leaves and dripping with bunches of red grapes.

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Gnarled vines in La Rioja

 

Aping about and Trafalgar …

The A7 Autopista (motorway) allowed us to give wide birth to Malagá, Marbella, Torremolinos, and Fuengirola, the go-to destinations for package holidays: not really our kind of thing, although the coast is lovely and the sunshine plentiful. We settled for the much more sedate and less developed town at Manilva, just a few miles down the coast, but a million miles away in terms of ambiance.

Route to Barbate
Left the Mediterranean Coast, heading North

A day ride into the hinterland was a joy, the terrain is much greener here and there are herds of splendid russet coloured cows (all with horns that would make great handlebars) and their calves grazing in flower strewn meadows; very pastoral. After several miles uphill we happened on Casares, another of the whitewashed, hilltop villages, for which the region is known. The views of the surrounding countryside and over the coast are superb, but the 1 in 3 cobbled streets did make us spare a thought for elderly and pram-pushing residents.  Supper in a small restaurant right on the undeveloped and deserted golden beach right next to the camp-site rounded off the day rather splendidly.

Yesterday we returned to Britain, well its Gibraltar outpost. It was fortuitous we parked Gloria, the camper van (ask Gavin) and cycled across the border. It is reported as the 5th most densely populated area on earth and clearly everyone has a car or moped, it was mayhem. Interestingly, the only road on and off the rock goes straight across the runway of Gibraltar Airport. Super-large railway crossing style barriers and flashing lights are employed when a plane is due to land or depart. We happened back just as the barriers had been lifted, it was pandemonium!

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Barbary Macaques looking towards Spain from Gibraltar

It was quite odd to push our bikes down the main street past Marks and Spencer’s, Next, British Home Stores, English pubs, many referencing Lord Nelson or Trafalgar and old fashioned red telephone and post boxes. We followed the hordes and took the cable car to the top of the isthmus, to be greeted by the famous Barbary apes. Fortunately they were just as happy to look at us as we were them, so tales of bag snatching and bites were unfounded in our case. The long and steep walk down resulted in some very sore leg muscles the following morning.  The 7 mile circumnavigation of the rock, yes it is that small, just 2.6 square miles, allowed us to stop off at the southernmost tip, Europa Point where the towering hills of Morocco loom, just eight miles across the sea.  It is not hard to see why Gibraltar has been of such strategic importance over the years, being the gatekeeper to the Mediterranean.

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The White Village of Casares

Our final few days on the coast before heading north are along Spain’s, relatively short, Atlantic coast, where surfers and kite borders delight in the rolling waves which crash on the beaches, in complete contrast to the gentle lapping on Mediterranean shores. The terrain is much greener and gentle here with more herds of red and black cattle, beautiful horses and farmed lands. Just along the coast from our wonderfully rural and well-appointed camp-site is the Trafalgar Lighthouse which stands close to the site of Admiral Nelson’s naval victory in 1805.

Batten Down the Hatches and Going Round the Bends …

 

A day for catching up with the correspondence, sitting here high above a valley full of splendid views, if only we could see them! Not only is the vista obscured by clouds and lashing rain, the windows of the van are all steamed up as we have had to bring the roof down for fear of being blown away. Still it’s good to be close to nature.

We managed to cycle into the town of Nerja this morning, arriving just as the rain began. Good job we had our rain proof jackets, though there were a couple of soggy bottoms by the time we got back to the van.

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Castle at Almunécar

Such a contrast to the previous two days, the first of which was spent exploring the coast eastwards to the town of Almuňécar; a classic ride with well graded climbs followed by free-wheeling descents over a series of capes. With the sparking azure sea on one side and towering hills on the other, all was well with the world.  Yesterday’s ride has to rate as one of the best either of us has ever done. The forty seven mile circuit started easily enough, taking in sedate the promenades along the beach fronts of Nerja and Torrox. Then it got interesting with increasingly jaw-dropping panoramas as we climbed higher and higher up steep-sided valleys to the whitewashed town of Competá. The valley sides are dotted with grand villas and more humble dwellings, with seemingly impossible access, but the most spectacular aspects towards the sea.  Impressions of the Wild West are hard to ignore with striking, giant, Aloe Vera plants and prickly pears, resplendent with bright red fruits in such abundance. Competá clings to the hillside, with the sun reflecting off the heat repelling, uniformly white, façades. Negotiating the steep and winding streets is perhaps better suited to the nimble, cute mountain deer we have seen, than a middle aged couple pushing their bikes in search of sustenance.  The route back through a different, converging valley almost defies description. Slalom on bikes – constantly transferring weight to negotiate zig-zagging hairpins in the balmy breeze. We could get hooked on this cycling lark!

On the way to Competá

A proposed detour inland to Granada to visit the world renowned Alhambra (13-14th century Moorish palace-fortress) has been postponed to a future visit due to lack of preparation.  With bookable tickets being sold out four months in advance, it did not seem prudent to make the circa 200 mile round trip in the vague hope that we might get two of the daily allocations.

Our current camp-site and the one at Maro near to Nerja are in complete contrast to our expectations of the Costa Del Sol and its hinterland, being so quiet and with such unspoilt views – clearly not all sun-loungers and sangria.