Off to Sunny Spain: Our Trip Report
Here, I’m going to tell you all about our recent road trip to Spain. I love visiting Spain. We used to drive down when I was a child and it has great memories. It’s so much more than just the costas with their huge hotel complexes and English pubs. Get out and about and see the real Spain and I’m sure you’ll agree. I hope this trip report will give you some inspiration to plan your own road trip to Spain.
Road Trip to Spain Index
- Portsmouth to Santander
- Arriving in Spain
- Out and about in Northern Spain
- South to Caceres
- Further South to El Rocio
- East of Malaga
- Near Cadiz
- Sierra Nevada
- The Alhambra
- Heading North
- We arrive in France
- Back to England
- Home again
Portsmouth to Santander
Our adventure started on Thursday afternoon when we packed the car ready for an early morning departure on Friday. Getting all our camping gear into the BMW requires a military operation. I use every little space to ensure that everything gets in. It all seemed to go surprisingly well and everything seemed to be in and Paul could still see out of the back window despite the large pile of quilts, sleeping bags, and blankets on the back seat.
We woke up at 6 am on Friday morning without too much trouble. Boiled the kettle to fill the flask, grabbed the pillows, overnight bags (for the ferry) and cool bag. Then we realised that we didn’t really have any space left in the car to put them. Still, its surprising what you can cram into an already overflowing car when you need to. In the end, I put 2 bags in the front with me which was very cosy!
We depart from Portsmouth Harbour
So, off to Portsmouth to start our road trip to Spain. The M1 was a joy as usual. Is it ever quiet I wonder? Probably not. No real holdups though and we swept into the docks around 8.50am just in time for boarding. We both spent several years in Portsmouth but this is not an area of the city we know very well and we were looking forward to a view of the Naval Dockyard as we sailed out. The ferry port is remarkably small and everyone lined up at the dock was waiting for our ferry, the Brittany Ferries Port Avon. Headed for Santander in Spain.
Onboard the ferry
We were among the first called forward. In reality, we moved around the corner to wait in another queue. Then we watched a few lorries being loaded before us. However, it wasn’t long before we were driving onboard. We were parked on the upper deck (deck 4 as it turns out). The attendant gave us a little card with our parking spot on it which was very useful for finding the car again later.
Now, they ask you to turn your car alarm off onboard. Our alarm comes on automatically when you lock the car. So, I did some research. Evidently, all you need to do is disable the internal and tilt sensors. You can do this with some fancy button pressing when locking the car. It took me a few goes but I did eventually manage it. You can tell it’s worked because the light pauses before flashing again. You need to be quick to catch it though. Next, we proceeded upstairs to the passenger deck. Hopefully, our car alarm would behave and not spend the next 24 hours draining the battery.
Settling into our cabin
Our cabin was on deck 5 – a 2-berth inside cabin. It was fairly basic with 2 bunk beds, a small bathroom and a little desk with a chair. However, we found it actually quite comfortable and a lot nicer than expected.
So, we left our bags in the cabin and wandered out for a look around the ship. There was a promenade deck which wrapped right around the ship on deck7 (I think) so we took a stroll around. Rather reminiscent of an evening on a P&O cruise (although fewer fellow passengers seemed in evidence). In fact, the ferry did not seem to have very many passengers on board at all. I’d say it was less than half full. There was certainly no problem getting a seat in the bar or lounge and nowhere seemed very crowded.
Watching the activity on the docks
We stood at the back (stern) and watched the motorhomes being loaded inside. There did seem to be an awful lot of them so clearly, Spain is a popular destination for them. Not so many caravans although we did see a classy Airstream and a cute little teardrop being loaded in. We decided we didn’t like the motorhomes very much. Rather unattractive vehicles. Except for one which looked so much more streamlined and sophisticated. As it drew closer we saw that it was a Bentley! Who knew that Bentley made motorhomes and goodness knows how much it might be!!
Our on the rear deck is a big area for dog walking. Consequently, there were several of our furry friends on board. They seemed to be restricted to a small part of the ship though as we didn’t see them anywhere else.
Sailing for Spain
We sailed on time and were able to watch from the rear deck as we pulled out of Portsmouth Harbour. Then we sailed past the Naval Dockyard and into the Channel. Firstly, we sailed along the Southsea coast. An area of Portsmouth we know much better. Then past the Isle of Wight before sailing out of sight of land.
This was a good opportunity for some lunch. So we headed back to the cabin to raid the cool box. We already knew that a buffet lunch on board was likely to cost us around £20 each. We had no intention of paying that much for ferry food. So I prepared some cheese rolls and a flask of coffee.
Since it was getting on by now. At least 3 pm. We headed up a couple of decks to find a bar. Since it was St Patrick’s Day the Guinness was half price. So we settled in. We did initially have a nice view of the sea but unfortunately, they put the most uncomfortable chairs by the windows. Instead, we traded the view for more comfortable seats. Just in case we stayed a while.
Relaxing on the ferry
The bar on a ferry is an interesting place to hang out. Not long after we settled into the very quiet bar a very loud man appeared. He then decided to make friends with some unsuspecting people at the bar. I’ve no idea if they were encouraging him or not as we could only hear his booming voice throughout the bar. Eventually, he decided to head off somewhere else and annoy people there instead. Shortly afterwards a couple arrived complaining about a noisy man in the other bar!
We got talking to a man who was on a mini cruise. Yes, that does indeed mean, sailing overnight on the ferry to Spain, spending 2 hours ashore and then sailing back. Not much time to see Spain. But anyway, he seemed happy with the idea. Some interesting people on ferries.
A smooth overnight crossing
The overnight crossing was very smooth. Calm seas across the Bay of Biscay is always a bonus. Consequently, we arrived in Santander on Saturday morning around 12 pm as scheduled. We missed the call to vacate the cabins and head down to the car deck as we were up on deck. It was too windy to hear the tannoy. However, we noticed that there seemed to be even fewer people about than usual.
So we headed down to grab our bags from the cabin. We found our car. Happily still in one piece and with the alarm intact. We didn’t have to wait long before we were driving ashore. The overnight ferry is a great way to start a road trip to Spain. Just sit back and relax and get straight to Spain with minimal driving. Immigration and Passport control was reasonably quick and we were soon heading towards the motorway (and the sun!)
Arriving in Spain
So, our road trip to Spain really begins. Santander seems quite nice but we passed out of the town quite quickly. There were snow-capped mountains in the Picos de Europas in the distance. However, the sun was shining and as we headed south towards Aguilar de Campos, the temperature was picking up nicely. We did plan on making a few stops en route but Aguilar wasn’t actually very interesting and time was ticking along. Paul wanted to watch the rugby at 5.30pm and we needed to be at the campsite for that. So we decided that rather than drive all the way to Salamanca today as planned, we’d head for Tordesillas instead.
El Astra, Tordesillas
El Astral campsite is very pleasant. It is just by the river with the town overlooking it on the opposite bank. It looks lovely lit up at night. The site is pretty empty and we browsed around for a suitable pitch. Well, I wandered around and Paul followed me in the car!
Getting the tent up was, as always, pretty easy. Getting the tent pegs in was another matter. The ground is rock hard and our usual grey pegs kept breaking. Fortunately, we had some metal ones. We managed to get enough of them in to keep things stable. We did nearly buy some rock pegs before we came but decided not to bother. Bad decision. We will need to look for some now. We have a nice little spot though and it is very quiet. The paid-for wifi managed to stream the rugby live. So Paul was happy!
There is a nice little bar on site with very reasonably priced wine. We had a packet of wine gums, a box of Cadburys chocolate fingers and some crisps for dinner. But the wine washed it down pretty well. I think the road trip to Spain has got off to a good start.
Out and About in Northern Spain
An uneventful first night in the tent. It got pretty cold at one point but never cold enough for me to need my backup sleeping bag. I think we are used to it anyway as we have all the windows open at night at home. It was already starting to get warm by 8 am though as the sun came up so we were up and about pretty early.
The campsite sells some jumbo croissants for 1Euro each so we had a good breakfast of croissants and coffee before heading off into Salamanca for a look round.
It says in my guide books that you need to be prepared to drive through unappealing suburbs in order to find the more attractive older parts of Spanish cities. Salamanca is no exception. Just when you’ve almost given up of finding anything worth looking at, a huge castle or cathedral comes into view and the whole vista changes. We found an odd little underground car park right next to the historic centre. It was so tight inside that an attendant had to take each car to its parking space and help you manoeuvre in. Once we were in we had no idea if we’d get the car out again. Never mind, we headed off into town anyway. The historic centre of Salamanca is lovely – full of cathedrals and pretty little shops, bars and restaurants. We spent quite a while wandering around.
After that, we headed north again to Zamora. Another historic town albeit a bit smaller. One thing we’ve noticed is that the roads around here are empty. It is Sunday, so maybe traffic will pick up a bit tomorrow. However, for now, we are virtually the only car on the road.
Zamora is a nice little place, The roads in the historic centre are very narrow though. At times we wondered whether we were even supposed to be driving on them. At one point, Paul nearly went down a 1-way the wrong way but we managed to reverse back on track. We ended up finding a little car park just off the main market square. Someone was just vacating their space so we got free parking overlooking the river.
Some of the buildings had huge nests on them and this one had this monster bird sitting by it.
A quiet evening in Tordesillas
Afterwards, we returned to El Astral. We spent the evening strolling around the nearby town. It is a small and very picturesque looking place when you are viewing it from the other side of the river. But it’s a bit tartier when you see it up close. Anyway, we were much too early for any chance of eating dinner in Spain so we just looked around. Then we grabbed a couple of beers and sat in the main square for a while. It was pretty busy and quite a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by. Thanks to me, we purchased two Amstel beers which Paul thought were just lemonade. They tasted quite nice though. Just to note. They were beer. I found some more in the Carrefour at Caceres and purchased some more. Paul, on the other hand, has reverted to normal beer.
We ended up eating at the campsite restaurant which was very nice. Although when they first gave us the menu it was just meat. Lots and lots of meat. This wasn’t ideal but the waiter agreed they could make a vegetarian pizza so we settled in. We also had a very nice bottle of Rioja wine. El Astral has turned out to be a nice little campsite but it is time to move on.
Our Road Trip to Spain Continues South to Cacares
This morning we had some compulsory coffee and croissants before packing the tent and stuff back into the car. Somehow our stuff has expanded since we arrived despite the fact we’ve not bought anything and we have eaten some food. Not sure how that happens but we managed to squeeze everything back in eventually. Now we’re all ready to go. Our 2 night stay at El Astral cost the princely sum of 32 Euros. Quite a bargain. Probably why Paul is warming to camping!! Obviously, a road trip to Spain and camping go very well together but you could just as easily stay in hotels.
Our road trip to Spain took us swiftly past Salamanca as we followed the Ruta de Plata south towards Bejar. We turned off the Autovia at a couple of points to explore some small towns and villages. However, we still made pretty good time to Caceres. Firstly, we pulled into a Carrefour supermarket on our approach to the town. Happily, we got some rock pegs to make pitching the tent a bit easier.
Somehow checking into a campsite is always so much quicker and easier than checking into small hotels and B&Bs. We were soon on our pitch. Unfortunately, this was even harder soil than yesterday. It soon became clear that the only pegs we were going to get in the ground were the new ones. Oh dear, we only have 6 of those. Anyway, we managed to get the tent up and enough things pegged down to keep it stable.
Our pitch has its own little bathroom right next to it. We have our own toilet and shower. So we don’t have to wander the campsite in the middle of the night. Once we’d got everything set up, we whizzed back to Carrefour again. For more tent pegs (we have plenty now) and some beer (and ice). So we are now settled outside our little tent again drinking beer and feasting on crisps and pot noodle. Paul has his sweater on but it is around 20 degrees so I don’t know what’s the matter with him.
A rather cold night and the temperature seems to have dropped a bit today. The private bathroom facilities are very handy. It means we can leave all our shower stuff in there rather than having to carry it across the campsite. Everyone seems to go to bed really early and it was very quiet again last night.
Caceres Old Town
This morning we got up quite late as it wasn’t very warm. Breakfast was coffee and croissants again and then we headed into the old town of Cáceres. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. It was one of the highlights of this road trip to Spain. Much of it is Roman (or earlier) once you are inside the city walls. We started off by wandering aimlessly around and happened upon the town museum which was free so we went in. The building itself is very old and there were some interesting pre-historic artefacts as well as lots of Roman ones. They have discovered some ancient caves just south of the city and there was an exhibition about it downstairs. The highlight for me was the underground reservoir which dates back to Moorish times.
Having spent some time in the museum, we wandered around the walled city and looked at some of the buildings. We were looking for an information place which we finally found near where we had started. So we must have walked straight past it early on. A very helpful young man gave us maps and told us which buildings were free and what time everything was open. This was helpful as most places were shutting for lunch at 2 pm.
I also got an information leaflet on local birds. In fact, the big birds we keep seeing everywhere in their big nests are White Storks.
Still Heading South
UNESCO World Heritage Merida
Time to move on so we head south again as our road trip to Spain continues. Our main stop en route today was Merida. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, it really is a lovely old town and is full of Roman remains.
The star attraction is the Roman Amphitheatre. Our time spent learning Spanish came in handy buying tickets today. The site has been well excavated and quite a bit of the original amphitheatre remains. The seating was built to take advantage of a natural slope in the ground.
Merida Roman Theatre
In addition, there is a theatre area where plays were put on. Usually, Greek apparently, even though most of the audience wouldn’t have understood it. This is remarkably well preserved and the columns in the stage area are very impressive.
After we left the theatre, we managed to pick up some cheap bread at a nearby supermarket for lunch and then set off south again. Spain has been very easy to drive around so far – very little traffic outside of the cities – although parking, even in small towns, can be tricky. We were lucky today to find a large car park about 10 minutes walk from the Roman Theatre – it was pretty empty too – probably because everyone else was parked on the sides of the roads!!
Our destination today is El Rocio which is situated on the edge of the Donana National Park. First, however, we made our daily visit to Carrefour. Not for food this time but for warm trousers for Paul who is still feeling the cold. One thing you’ll have noticed is that our road trip to Spain seems to include a lot of hypermarkets!
La Aldea campsite in El Rocio has a separate section for tents and since we are the only tent on site we have plenty of space. It is a nice looking site with lots of grass on the tent pitches and the soil is sandy so much easier to get the tent pegs in. We got the tent up and we were all settled in before the rain started. It was quite windy for a bit but it only seems to be showers and has stopped for now. We are staying here for 3 nights so should have plenty of time to look around the place.
Our road trip to Spain gets wet
Last night it rained quite a bit. Thankfully the tent is pretty much waterproof although we did get some condensation (but fortunately only on Paul’s side of the tent!) Camping is really not as much fun when it is raining though so I was pleased to wake up this morning to some brighter weather. The forecast wasn’t too great though.
As the campsite is quite sandy it does dry out quickly and I don’t think it rained much overnight as it is all quite nicely dried out. Somehow, despite a trip to Carrefour, we had forgotten to get any breakfast so we went off in search of the campsite supermarket – which we found eventually but which didn’t offer up much in the way of breakfast. We settled for cereal bars and coffee and then headed off in the car in search of the Dunes National Park.
Dunes National Park
You’d think finding an area of land the size of a National Park would be fairly straightforward, but no! We headed south out of the village – in the direction indicated by the map – only to find that the road was closed. So we headed north instead thinking we might make our way round – no again – this time we found ourselves on a rather potholed dirt track which the BMW was not overly happy about.
Eventually, we decided we would aim for the visitor centre on the other side of the park by heading up the main road for a bit. As we pulled off the roundabout by the campsite we found a sign indicating the correct way to the place we were heading in the first place so we were finally on track. The park is quite strange in that you can’t drive through much of it so you’re always on the outskirts. Apparently, it is the biggest area of land with no roads in Europe. Ideal as part of a road trip to Spain then!
We drove down to the coastal town of Matalascanas. This is quite a nice little place and we were able to climb up a boardwalk overlooking the park and walk down to the sea. I did offer to wait while Paul went for a quick swim but he didn’t seem keen.
From there we drove along the coast and through the main bit of the park which is accessible by car. There are very few tourists about although we did see a few other cars and some cyclists. We like sightseeing by car. I guess it’s an integral part of a road trip to Spain. We do get out from time to time though, honest!
Having driven around the area all morning we found a different Carrefour to visit in Huelva. On the edge of the National Park, Huelva is something of a surprise. We had seen a number of cargo ships off the coast as we drove along and what we found in Huelva explained it. As you come out of the National park you drive through an enormous oil refinery. It seems to stretch for miles and is quite a bizarre change of scenery. It’s one of the interesting aspects of a road trip in Spain though. You wouldn’t see these strange things without driving around.
As you enter the town itself, there is a large statue. Which I later found out is of Christopher Columbus.
We spent the afternoon reading in the tent until we were rudely interrupted by a thunderstorm which we waited out in the car – apparently, a tent is not a safe place to be in a thunderstorm, especially when under trees. Thankfully, it didn’t really amount to much and the skies cleared. The temperature has dropped though so it looks like it will be a cold night.
Exploring El Rocio
This morning the sun was shining although it is still not that warm. We spent this morning walking around the little town of El Rocio which is just next to the campsite.
It is a strange little place. Firstly, it has no proper roads – only sand ones. There is still some traffic moving about but not very much. Walking down from the campsite we walked past row after row of what appeared to be houses shut up for the winter. It really looked as though nobody lived there at all.
Horse drawn carriages
Venturing further into the village we did find a bit more life but things here are really geared around the various religious pilgrimages and festivals which take place throughout the year. We saw a couple of horse-drawn buggies but these seemed to be to attract tourists rather than in normal use.
The village is set on the outskirts of the Donana National Park and there is a lovely lake on the south side of the village. We walked along the promenade and onto the boardwalk – it is very peaceful here with mainly birds for company.
The whole area is very peaceful and we are thinking we might stay here a bit longer.
East of Malaga
Ok, so the benefit of a road trip to Spain is that you can change your plans if the weather turns against you. As I write this, we are sitting in the tent on a campsite east of Malaga. Although we loved the little site at El Rocio the weather there was just not being kind to us. Last night we had yet more rain and another thunderstorm around midnight which meant we had to move into the car for a bit. It was a strange storm. No rain while the thunderstorm was in progress although plenty at other times. Huge streaks of lightning and only occasional claps of thunder.
It was still pouring with rain this morning so we checked the weather forecast and discovered that almost all of Southern Spain is having this awful weather. However, I discovered that the region of Almeria – from around Nerja right across the southern Mediterranean coast – is the driest place in Europe. It has its own microclimate which makes it the perfect location for those, like us, looking to escape the rain
So we packed up our soggy tent and set off this morning across Spain. We had originally intended to stop at a little site somewhere about 50km west of here but when we eventually found it (one battered signpost facing the wrong way) we didn’t much like the look of the surroundings so we kept going.
Roquetas de Mar
We are now near the little town of Balerma which is just west of Roquetas de Mar. The campsite is quite new and everything looks neat and tidy. It is quite busy although there were plenty of spaces and we got to drive around and pick the one we wanted. We have a nice little spot just opposite the shower/toilet block.
It is much warmer here – and most importantly, dryer. So the road trip in Spain can continue. We can see the mountains of the Sierra Nevada from our pitch – some of them even have snow on them. We have no real idea of what we’ll do now we’re here as I don’t know this area at all so I will need to dig out the tourist information and make some plans.
The sun is shining and all is well on the road trip to Spain
Woke up this morning to the sun and realised it had been a relatively warm night. Such a change from the last few days. Feeling rather cheerful I wandered over to the shop to get some croissants only to discover that I was too late and they were all gone. Ah well, the clocks did go forward an hour this morning so I suppose I was running late. We managed with coffee, bananas and chocolate biscuits and decided to pick something up from the supermarket later.
We headed east to the nearest town looking for a Carrefour – which we found but despite assurances on their website, it was closed. So was everything out. The chances of getting food suddenly seemed rather remote as shop after shop was closed. Finally, we found a little supermarket near the harbour where we were able to stock up on essentials – bread, chocolate, biscuits and wine!! It would appear that this Sunday is a festival day and the big shops are closed. Back to Carrefour tomorrow then.
Just enjoying the sun
Back at the campsite, we spent some time chilling in the sun, reading books and debating on where to go next. After lunch, we took a walk down to the nearby beach which wasn’t very interesting so we drove along the coast to the next small town which has a nice promenade along the beach. We walked along that for a bit and then wandered around the harbour area. This, it turns out, is where everybody was today – it was packed. Loads of yachts, big and small moored in the harbour and lots of families out to lunch.
Back at the campsite once more, Paul managed to break his chair which left him rather flummoxed for a while but he persuaded the campsite bar to lend him one of their white plastic ones until we can purchase a new one. The campsite wifi is good which is handy as Paul is now able to watch the football on his laptop. I have been busy downloading some kindle books and putting audiobooks on my iPod and learning a bit of Spanish. We started learning Spanish before we came and are making progress – slowly, but still progress.
A drive into the mountains
Having driven all the way over here to escape the rain we were just getting used to some nice sun again but last night we were woken up by the tent swaying back and fore in the wind. It seemed to be pegged down ok and mainly it seemed to be the inner tent moving so we decided to just ignore it and hope for the best. Since I am still writing, you can assume we survived.
The campsite cat came visiting, looking for somewhere to shelter from the wind. He/she kept finding his way into our tent and although Paul put him out twice he kept coming back in. In the end, we left him asleep under a chair and he was gone in the morning. He did mysteriously turn up again though, the minute Paul opened a tin of salmon for dinner!
We spent the morning driving inland and up into the hills. There are some great views as you drive into the mountains. The coast around here is quite quiet and mainly dominated by agriculture. They seem to grow everything in huge polytunnel type things which are a bit unattractive so it is nice to drive up to clearer views. Apparently, Almeria is known as Europe’s greenhouse and they grow vegetables all year round by using these plastic coverings and they utilise new growing techniques so that crops are grown without soil (something I’ve only previously seen at EPCOT). However, they are not without controversy – as well as blighting the landscape there are also environmental issues as well as the widespread use of underpaid (and possibly illegal) labour. Quite interesting really but that’s about the limit of what I know about it.
We popped into Carrefour today to stock up on supplies and to look for a new folding chair for Paul – they didn’t have any. Having returned to the campsite, I managed to find an outdoor sports shop back up the A7 the same way we’d just come so we set off out again and managed to buy a chair there.
We have decided that we’ve seen as much of the Almeria area (and its greenhouses) as we want to so will head west again to the Cadiz area for a few days before going to Granada. Our timetable needs to work around my Alhambra tickets for Saturday but that should give us enough time to visit Cadiz and Gibraltar and possibly Jerez as well.
In search of a change, we took the tent down again and drove west. We’re now at a campsite just south of Cadiz. It was motorway most of the way and it was fairly uneventful part of the road trip to Spain. Apart from the motorcyclist who decided to stop in the inside lane so his pillion passenger could take a photo of the rock of Gibraltar as we passed. Indeed, it is pretty impressive but not worth the risk as several motorists screech around you. Some very near misses to which he seems somewhat oblivious. Fortunately for him, the motorways are very quiet over here.
As I have already mentioned, we saw Gibraltar on the way. One of the reasons for coming back this way was so that we could go there for the day. Our campsite is about 1 1/2 hours north. In a much nicer area but fairly accessible.
New camping equipment
On the way we purchased Paul’s new prize possession – an electric pump to inflate his air bed. Instead of half an hour of his moaning, the bed was up in about 2 minutes and minimal effort. So I was able to put him to work doing other chores instead. It does make life a lot easier though. It’s funny that the bed takes a lot more effort to blow up than the tent does!
We had a bit of a problem finding the campsite – which is in a little village called Zahora. We thought we could see it just off the road so turned down towards it but it turned out to be another campsite which was closed anyway.
Unfortunately, we were then in a bit of a one-way road system round some very narrow little roads. Not sure how caravans and big motorhomes manage as it was very tight in places but we managed to manoeuvre through and back to the main road. As soon as we pulled up to the junction with the main road we could see the campsite we wanted just opposite so if we hadn’t pulled over we’d have been right there.
Settling in to a new campsite
It is a very rural small site but is nice enough. We moved from our allocated space as the motorhome on the next pitch was encroaching a bit but we have a nice spacious pitch a bit further on in a quieter bit of the campsite. Our neighbours down here are a small German camper van with a couple of surfers who are very nice and a bit further down another camper van but otherwise empty on this section. There is a huge bus-sized motorhome at the very end which is enormous. The site also has some really nice little bungalows a bit further up. The shower block is ok – a bit older than the previous few sites but clean enough. I think we’ve been quite lucky with the facilities on the sites we’ve stayed at so far.
We went for a drive into the village last night looking for some restaurants but nothing seemed to be open so back to the tent for dinner. It is a very picturesque area. We are right on the edge of the National Park. You can walk into it from the rear of the campsite and the coast is really pretty.
Sightseeing in Cadiz
So, we started the tour of this area with a trip into Cadiz. It is a really nice old place. We were able to drive right into the town and parked in a little underground car park right on the seafront. Then we walked along the promenade area to a small gate leading on to a causeway.
Walk across the causeway and you come to the Castillo de San Sebastian. It is not that impressive in itself but it does have some great views.
Afterwards, we walked into the old town which is full of small, windy passages and very narrow roads. We found a little pizza restaurant on one of the small plazas and had lunch there. It is very hot today and I am beginning to get used to the sun being around.
After we left Cadiz, we drove a bit further north to have a look at Jerez. We did drive around it (in fact we drove right into the centre of the old town and along the cobbled streets) but we didn’t stop so there are no photos. It is not as nice as Cadiz and is mainly a good place for sherry tasting as there were loads of bodegas advertising visits.
Back to the campsite and we had a very windy night last night. The tent was flapping quite a bit but it seems to be up to it as it was all still intact in the morning. We are pegged down as firmly as we can but it is very sandy soil here so some of the pegs do move a bit under pressure – but so far we seem to be ok.
We were supposed to make an early start this morning as we were driving down to Gibraltar but we ended up getting up about our usual time. It is about 1 1/2 hours drive to Gibraltar from the campsite and we drove there without any issues. I had looked online to see whether it was advisable to drive across the border or whether to park up and walk and most people seemed to think it was better to park in La Linea on the Spanish side. However, there seemed to be available parking at the cable car so we decided to chance it and drove straight in. There was a bit of a queue to go through passport control but it only took 5 or 10 minutes and we were in.
We had a bit of a drive around. Drove up towards the rock and had to turn round again because there is no parking up there. Then drove back and grabbed the last space in the car park right by the cable car. We took the cable car up to the top. There were some great views coming up. There were two Brits next to us. One of whom said he was a bit claustrophobic and afraid of heights. None of which were made any better by being crammed into the cable car with loads of other tourists. When we picked up the car later though, the queues were massive so we were quite lucky as we walked straight on.
We visit the famous apes on our road trip to Spain
At the top, I was very keen to see some of the famous apes. Paul told me not to worry as there would be loads of them about. We saw this one as we started walking down towards the caves. Paul was right – there were loads of them – and they keep jumping out and scaring the pips out of you – so I was soon fed up of seeing the little beasties. Apparently, they bite – and they like plastic bags as the tourists keep feeding them!!
The caves are really impressive – if a bit wet. They can be set up for concerts and stuff but all the chairs were piled up today. They light the caves with coloured lighting to highlight the different stalactites and stalagmites and it is really worth seeing.
Outside again and we walked around a bit, took a shortcut to the pillars of Hercules and got a bit lost! Anyway, we got back on track eventually and decided to walk back down from the rock rather than taking the cable car again.
We got a good view of the port on the way down. There were two P&O ships in the port today – Oceana is the closest and Ventura behind it.
Lunch in Gibraltar
Back at the bottom again, we wandered into town in search of lunch. Gibraltar looks quite British in some ways – all the signs are in English and you keep seeing English shops – Next, M&S etc. However, it doesn’t really feel very British – they drive on the right for a start – and although everyone speaks English it is with quite an accent – not unlike Spain to be honest. There is plenty of British food on offer though and we had Fish & Chips for lunch.
It is an interesting place and well worth the trip. Fairly unique, I would say. It was a shame we couldn’t get a clear look at Africa today though – it was too misty. When we drove up to the coast earlier in the week it was very clear and we had hoped for some better views of it from the top of the rock. You could still see it though – it seems so much closer than you realise when you see it from the mainland. We sailed between Africa and Gibraltar on the Disney Magic at the end of our first round the world trip but that was in the middle of the night so all you could see were lights.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
We left the Cadiz area early this morning. Now our road trip to Spain has brought us to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Currently, are sitting in the campsite bar in 23-degree heat overlooking snow-topped mountains. We have quite spectacular views across a reservoir and the mountains, just outside Granada.
Paul tells me that we took the tent down in a record 33 minutes this morning so we are getting the hang of it. I think Paul is warming to this camping lark. As I write this, we are sat in the campsite bar, overlooking the mountains, drinking beer and eating pizza -which I think is helping Paul to acclimatise to camping.
The drive here was relatively uneventful. We passed a high-speed train station in the middle of nowhere. We actually stopped in a nearby petrol station for lunch as it had a huge car park and lots of coaches (empty) waiting for something! Not really sure what that was about.
We only saw the ring road around Granada – not an altogether pleasant experience. Mixing Spanish driving with rush hour condition – lots of entry and exit roads – not a great combination but we survived. I looked it up – it is the Santa Ana train station which was built in 2007. They are still finishing the part of the line that goes to Granada (we saw the partially constructed line) but apparently, it is a very important part of the infrastructure which will link Seville and Granada directly – so now we know!
This morning we drove up into the Sierra Nevada mountains to the ski resort. We can see the snow-topped mountains from our campsite but today we drove up to over 2000 yards above sea level to the resort – and people were skiing. There is a little village right at the end of a very long mountain road and there was still plenty of snow on the slopes that stretched up from it – the cable car was still running and there were a surprising number of people still skiing.
From the chilly mountains, we drove back down into Granada. We thought we would just pop into a Carrefour (as we do) to get something for lunch before heading to the Alhambra. We found it ok but the car park was jammed. At first, we thought this was because it was a Saturday but there seems to have been some kind of event taking place nearby. Lots of young people were wandering around dressed up in strange costumes. They were using the Carrefour car park as convenient free parking. Fortunately, we spotted someone coming out of a space and slid straight in.
Stocked up with Carrefour goodies we headed up to the Alhambra, which is just outside Granada. Just as we were approaching it a person who looked like a parking attendant signalled for us to go into a car park on the right. We didn’t think this was the right car park and were very cynical when he approached us and told us we could park there all day for 20 Euros and it was 15 Euros per hour to park at the top car park.
Paul was even more suspicious when, as we hesitated, he suggested we give him 10 Euros for the day instead. Anyway, the situation resolved itself fairly nicely when a police car appeared and two policemen got out and took the man away. The policeman said we should find plenty of parking at the top (as it happens we did – and it cost us 7 Euros for the afternoon!) As we left, the man was being handcuffed and put in a police car – guess he won’t be fleecing any more tourists today.
There was indeed plenty of space in the top car park and it was much nearer to the entrance as well. We had lunch (sushi and apple turnovers, in case you’re interested) and walked down to the entrance to collect our tickets. There were an awful lot of people around but nobody seemed to be using the collect your tickets from the machine option so that only took a few seconds.
Waiting for the Nazrid Palace
I’d been told we wouldn’t be allowed in until after 2 pm and it was only 1.30pm but we were allowed straight in. The site is huge but mainly divided into 3 main sites – the Alcazaba (Citadel) is the oldest part, the gardens and outer palace (Generalife) and the Nazrid Palace (Royal Palace). The admission ticket allows you to go into everything but the Nazrid Palace whenever you like but they give you a time for the Nazrid and ours was 3.30pm. As we had so much time, we decided to look around the Generalife area first. I actually thought this was just the palace gardens but there is a very ornate little palace at the end of them and the gardens are lovely.
From there we wandered through the main area and visited the Citadel – this is quite big and consists of many towers which give viewpoints across the city.
Carlos V Palace
After that, we had about an hour to wait so we rested in the main plaza and had a wander around. Looking at one of the signs, I realised there was another palace – Carlos V – which we hadn’t seen yet so we headed in there. It is really just a circular structure with ornate walls but it also houses the Alhambra Museum so we had a look round there as well. There were some interesting ceramics on display and my Spanish must be getting better as I could read quite a bit of the display.
Finally, it was nearly 3 pm so we headed over to get in the queue for the Nazrid. This is very popular and they restrict how many people are allowed in at once to protect it (and also because it gets pretty crowded inside). People are let in every half hour and they are very strict about the time.
We were let in dead on 3.30pm but that only got us to another waiting area and because we were behind a huge group of French schoolchildren it still took us a while to get in. Inside you find room after room – all ornately decorated. It is very impressive – and much bigger than I anticipated. We managed to get ahead of a few groups who were clogging up the first rooms and then it wasn’t too crowded. Well worth seeing.
We left the mountains of the Sierra Nevada behind this morning and started our journey towards home. As it is a Sunday, not much was open although we did manage to find a garage open so we could get some petrol.
We drove through some pretty impressive scenery although we didn’t stop anywhere. The weather was nice all day and the roads fairly empty – although a lot of lorries on the roads for a Sunday.
We planned to stay just west of Valencia but decided to drive on for a bit longer and settled on a site just north of the city instead. At first, we were in two minds as the pitches were all gravel but the man on reception was very nice and offered us a pitch with a carpet (fake grass) on it. We told him we would have to put our rock pegs in to hold the tent down but he said that was ok so we decided to go ahead and stay.
A very quiet place
It is a nice little site. A lot of seasonal vans and chalets with some touring vans/motorhomes (and one tent!!) The area around it is nice enough but there is not much open – not sure if that is because it is a Sunday or because it looks like quite a new development. We are only a few metres from the beach which is a mix of sand and stones. I always remember the beaches in Spain as much nicer than this but not sure if that is my memory or whether the beaches are nicer further north.
We could see some islands off the coast which we think must be either Ibiza or Majorca. I know Ibiza is closer to the mainland but I think we are a bit further north than that – can’t be sure though. Very tempted to hop on a ferry and extend the holiday but perhaps next time!
We arrive in France
Not a great deal to report today. We set off early from Valencia and headed north – mainly motorway all the way. We passed by Barcelona on the AP7 – a very expensive bit of Spanish toll motorway which cost us about 30 Euros altogether but which saved us a lot of time. They don’t seem to have put any service stations in yet but we did manage to find a McDonalds for lunch. We did find a Burger King (which I prefer) but they did not have any veggie or fish options so fortunately, the McDs was just along the road. Paul had 2 fish options – the McFish or the usual Filet of Fish!!
At the border, there was a lot of activity. All vehicles had to go through a police checkpoint as we exited the Spanish toll area and then there were lots of French police checking cars at the French toll station. We were stopped at the first one but when he saw we were English he just waved us on – Paul says he saw all the stuff crammed in our car and thought no way do I want to go through all that! At the French side, they weren’t checking our lane so we just drove straight through. No clue as to what they were looking for.
Floride et Embochure
Our site is near Montpellier – just north of Perpignan. It is called Floride et Embochure (which means mouth and is because we are by the mouth of the river). This is an all singing, all dancing site. We are on the quiet side near the beach and you need to cross the road to the other half but it is not too busy. The site has a water park with indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzis and water slides. It also has a very nice looking pizza restaurant. We have a huge pitch which is nice and sunny. The only downside is the gravel is a bit rough underfoot but it’s ok.
We had a walk around and put a toe in the pools – the indoor one is bath temperature and the others are quite warm too which is quite a surprise and we might actually go in tomorrow. We are booked in for 2 nights but may well stay a bit longer if the weather forecast stays good. It is only 15 Euros a night which is pretty cheap for the facilities.
On the ferry back to England
Yesterday we spent the morning by the pool and then went for a walk along the seafront. It was a pretty lazy day and it was nice to have some warm weather and a nice site to relax on. We had beer and pizza for dinner at the campsite restaurant and were very tempted to stay on a few more days but decided against it in the end.
So, this morning we packed everything up and headed north. We were still undecided about whether to look for a campsite in France or whether to stay in a hotel en route. The weather decided for us in the end – it was really windy all the way and not really suitable for putting up a tent.
A night in a hotel
We made really good progress and did consider heading straight to Calais to get the Eurotunnel back tonight but it was just a bit too far. Although we stopped a couple of times at the motorway services we failed to get any wifi to work so had no idea which hotels might be a good idea. We decided Reims was far enough for one day and then luckily found a service station with working wifi and were able to locate an Ibis Budget just off the motorway. We had a bit of trouble finding it as our sat nav seemed to be very confused but we found it in the end. Basic but cheap and clean so it will do.
English food in France
Oddly enough, we have been on the lookout for a Pizza Hut the entire holiday but they are few and far between in Spain. Tonight we spotted one opposite the hotel so we headed out for more pizza (and red beer). Last time we were in this area I had a red beer. Not sure what it is all about but it was ok.
Paul has been savaged by mosquitoes so I have kindly given him some of my antihistamine tablets but he says they are not working. I have a couple of bites but they are not too bad.
We are booked on the P&O Ferry tomorrow from Calais to Dover. It was half the price of the tunnel so we thought we’d give it a go. I’m sure it’s nothing like a P&O cruise but it is only 75 minutes. If you’re wondering whether it’s best to take the ferry or use the tunnel, take a look at this article.
The road trip to Spain comes to an end
After staying in the Ibis in Reims we were only 2 1/2 hours from Calais and after a quick breakfast, we made our way to the port. We were booked on the 1.35pm ferry but arrived at 11.30 and were bumped forward to the 12.35pm one instead. Therefore, we were one of the first cars in the queue but we soon had plenty of company.
We were a bit delayed getting on board but it wasn’t full and everyone was soon loaded. This was a much smaller ferry than the one we went down to Spain on but it was fine for the short crossing. We found the outside deck – only a small area at the back was accessible – and watched as we turned around and then headed out to sea. It was warm and sunny and as it was such a clear day we could see the white cliffs of Dover quite easily from Calais. It also meant the crossing was very smooth.
Having had a look around we went to the buffet for lunch. Hardly anyone seemed to be in this part of the ship. They had quite a good selection and we both settled on Fish & Chips with mushy peas and coffee and found ourselves a table by the window. It was not unlike being in the buffet restaurant on a P&O cruise (except there were a lot fewer people on the ferry). Anyway, it was very pleasant sitting there watching the sea – and the masses of other ferries crossing the channel. Indeed, it is a very busy area.
Dover is a very congested little place and it took us a few minutes to wind our way out of the port area. The layout doesn’t seem to work very well when multiple ferries dock at once and I wonder why they haven’t given some thought to making it more user-friendly. Other than that our experience of using the ferries was fine. We saved around £50 by taking the ferry back instead of the Eurotunnel.
So, we are now home again – and thinking of where to go next!
Enjoyed reading about our road trip to Spain?
Read all about our other travel experiences. Click on the photos below to read our other trip reports.