|SPAIN-Our visit in 2007|
Days 1 to 9 - outward through France and Spain to Albir
Days 10 to 19 - Benicasim
Days 20 to 28 - homeward bound Benicasim to the French/Spanish border
Days 29 to 33 - to Millau and Annecy
Days 34 to 36 - to Calais and home
Day 1 - Thursday 22nd March
Our Sea France afternoon ferry was half an hour late leaving but we still had plenty of time to drive the 53 miles to the aire at the sailing club in Le Touquet before night fell. There were at least a dozen overnighting motorhomes at this good aire and thanks to members of www.motorhomefacts.com, it is one we will use again.
The sun was shinning as we climbed out of Bilbao and it was not long before we came across the snow. Fortunately it looked like a good thaw had set in and the autoroute was clear and dry. In brilliant sunshine, we pulled into a layby in a wide valley whose slopes were covered in snow through which out crops of bare black rock glistened in the bright sunlight. The air felt warm as I surveyed the scene and took my photos before settling down to lunch. I decided the snow was not going to be a problem but would the cracked windscreen hold out?
A tap on the cab door distracted my thoughts. 'Are you English?' a voice said. It transpired the voice belonged to James, a solo motorhomer and owner of a nice self build on a Merc 411 chassis. He was a little unsure of his direction of travel and was also a first timer in Spain heading for La Manga. Our direction was not too dissimilar so James tagged along behind for the next couple of days.
There was no sign of snow by the time we reached Burgos and now about 28 euros toll charge lighter in pocket we headed down the free Autovia del Norte towards Madrid. We night stopped in the small town of La Cabrera at Camping Pico de la Miel which is about 40 miles north of Madrid. The site was busy and finding a pitch for a large motorhome was difficult due to low iron work over many of the pitches. Still no one seemed particularly bothered how or where you parked and I found a wide portion of track to stop upon. There were not enough electric points to go round and I found no water gushed from the nearby stand pipe after I had unrolled my hose and connected it! A container full from a working source would have do because I wasn't moving from my coveted spot. The peaceful nights stop cost 16.5 Euro without electrics but it was a shock to the system to wake up to find the temperature had dropped to near freezing. The cracked windscreen was no worse and on James's advice I borrowed some super glue from him and ran it into the crack to try and stop it creeping further.
Days 5 to 8
Camping Cap Blanch was pointed out to me by a member of www.motorhomefacts.com as an alternative to Camping Villasol in Benidorm. We needed a night stop before Benicasim and it was only a short drive from my brother's villa so we thought we would pay it and the town of Albir a visit.
It being a Sunday, Albir was bustling. TomTom Version 6 of course took us through the heart of Albir and along the narrow beach front road rather than the easiest route! (I dislike this TomTom version because of this routing failure.) However, in between dodging parked cars and careless pedestrians, we did observe the pavement cafes were doing a good trade in what we thought an interesting and pretty spot.
Camping Cap Blanch is a beach front site and after visiting the service point, we found a pitch which was not too difficult to get onto and level up. The marked pitches like the adjacent beach were pebbled and are set among pine trees. The site seemed popular with the Dutch many of whom had clearly been over wintering there.
I reported my pitch location to reception who had demanded our passports even though I had given them my Camping Carnet. I was a little taken aback at this previously unmet practice but the receptionist insisted it was a police requirement. Even though I only had a short walk back to the pitch, a site attendant had already unlocked the electrity box and was waiting for me to hand him my electricity lead for connection to the 5 amp supply. Not a lot of power available but we needed to fully recharge our batteries after 8 days without mains power and a reliance only on daily engine running to replenish them. We would have to be careful what electrical appliances we used if we were not to trip this source.
We had an afternoon stroll along the beach front promenade but did not go into town. We stopped for a while for a drink in a cafe and then returned to site for our evening meal. We then tripped the electric point after reception had closed for the night! Shrugging this off I switched the fridge to run off gas and we retired early.
Day 10 to 19
An early start and an 140 mile run via the coastal autoroute meant we arrived at Benicasim's Bonterra Park campsite just after lunch. We had advanced booked this site with the Camping and Caravan Club for 10 days for three reasons:a) We wanted a taster of a C&CC winter break.
b) We wanted a guaranteed pitch over the Easter holiday period.
c) The site looked close to facillities and transport links.
On arrival on the outskirts of Benicasim, we ignored TomTom's directions this time and followed the C&CC's directions which would have been excellent had the access road from the south not been closed due to major road works right outside the site's entrance. We 'U' turned and were almost immediately hailed by an English couple coming back with their shopping. They gave us directions on how to avoid the road works by approaching from the north.
I handed over my C&CC voucher at Bonterra's reception and we were handed a site plan and told how to get to our allocated pitch. Bonterra is not large by Spanish standards and we were soon being cheerily welcomed by the rally stewards.
Although the rally opened on the day of our arrival we noted many had clearly arrived much earlier. Further more our allocated pitch was occupied! It took three trips to reception to finally resolve the matter and we were allocated a pitch on the fringe of the rally rather than in amongst the majority. Not the best of positions to get to know your fellow ralliers. In fact, over our stay, we spoke more with our Dutch neighbours than with fellow ralliers. However, we did book in for the welcoming three course dinner that evening which included a bottle of wine all for 15 euros per couple. We enjoyed this and a subsequent dinner dance three nights later for the same price but we skipped the boules competition, the mountain walk and the coach tour, the last two being impractical for us. We noted most rally participants had come from other earlier winter rallies and had already been away some time. We were most definitely the newbies.
The weather was very changeable. It rained most days, mostly at night and the temperature rarely went above 18C. It proved too inclement for a coffee morning and also for a communal BBQ, although a few hardy souls did make an effort. Our forays off site were limited to walks around the area for shopping, coffee and lunches in the more pleasant periods.
There is a Lidls supermarket next to the site and a good Mercadona supermarket with an excellent fresh fish counter opposite the site entrance. The sandy beach and the excellent flat long promenade are about 500 yards away and the town center is about a similar distance. Two bus routes ran close by, one south to Castellon and the other north to Orpesa and Marina d'or. Only the one to Castellon was wheelchair friendly. The train station was a good half hour walk away and we never did do a planned trip to Valencia.
There are three standards of pitch on site, with the top two being fully serviced and the most suitable for larger outfits. All are gravel hard standing and even though an iron framework is erected over most pitches to support summer shade, this is of a sufficient height not to trouble the majority of motorhomes.
Bonterra Park is well run and very popular with the Brits who form the majority of visitors. We found a 10 day stay a little too long, given the limits the weather imposed on us. We were less inclined to travel further afield even though transport availability met our expectations.
Sixty seven units were on the rally while we were there. We hardly saw any of the occupants of these except on organised events we chose to go to. People tended to keep to themselves or to the groups they had formed earlier. To us, it didn't really feel like a rally.
Tomorrow we move on back towards Calais but as free spirits with no commitments other than a date with a ferry.
It is worth noting that while we paid a discounted nightly rate via the C&CC for our Bonterra Park stay, the ASCI card rate was still 2 euros a night cheaper. I gather this relationship is not always the case with every site, but I couldn't help wonder why membership of the CC, the biggest club in Europe, offered so little in the way of discounts?
We didn't go far up the N340 before turning off and stopping just off the sea front of Orpesa. Motorhome and Caravan parking is not allowed on the sea front road itself. It was so gloomy here even the street lights were on at 11a.m. and the place was deserted and hardly anywhere was open along the front. After a short walk without finding an open cafe we made our own coffee and then drove along the sea front to the up market "Vacation City" of Marina d'Or. Not my cup of tea and I couldn't help but think. Were the many high rise flats in this modern location heaven or hell? Someone must buy them and know?
As we headed for Peniscola the weather worsened. Thick mist enveloped the hills and the light drizzle became heavier as we climbed over these. The new junction to Peniscola was not recognised by TomTom and in the confusion we missed the turn off and had to take the next one. We met further road construction and further confusion occurred at yet more road works in Peniscola. These probably did us a favour because we popped out of them onto a beach front road at the end of which we could see motorhomes parked. By luck we had ended up where I wanted to be, just outside the fortress walls of the old town which had been used in the filming of El Cid.
The rain was easing as we parked up next to the harbour and we decided to have lunch to give time for the weather to clear. It had stopped by the time we were ready to explore and we spent a couple of hours following the narrow road up round the fortress town to visit a small museum and admire the splendid views from the ramparts. Our descent via a different route included a bit of shopping. We found this a very worthwhile and enjoyable stop.
We drove out along the picturesque long seafront of Peniscola and on to Vinaros where we night stopped for 19.26 euros, with electricity, at Camping Vinaros.
Walking back from a shower that evening, I could see the stars shinning, perhaps, just perhaps, the weather would be better tomorrow.
Still, James's superglue seems to be working and the windscreen crack is no worse.
The pitter patter of rain drops on the van roof and the gentle noise of the waves is rather therapeutic! I must find some appropiate music to accompany them because I am afraid TV here is a bit hit and miss with my 60cm dish and my blog is up to date.
By late evening, the rain eventually stopped and I managed a walk along the beach and sneak a look at the adjacent campsite of Torre del Sol. Its another large site with good sized pitches but far less suited to the handicapped. The site is on two levels, a beach level where most of the pitches are and an amenities level where the cafe, bar and restaurant can be found. The trees were also less mature than Montroig and also not so well pruned and I doubt if many motorhomes could access the pitches without brushing against the palms.
The rain was easing as we left the Carrefour carpark heading for the A7 autoroute and the Costa Brava. It had stopped altogether by the time we had reached the outskirts of Barcelona. In fact the northern sky was looking much brighter than we had seen for some days. Could this be the end to the bad spell?
We left the A7 autoroute at junction 9 to arrive at Camping El Delfin Verde near L'Estartit in the late afternoon. The toll charges from Tarragona to junction 9 came to about 9 euros. There had clearly been a lot of rain here too but the sun was now shinning as we checked in and selected our pitch from the many vacant ones. This early in the season very few tourers were there although quiet a few seasonal pitches were already occupied. We ate one of our favourite local meals in the site restaurant that evening, paella followed by crème Catalan, all washed down with a bottle of house red.
El Delfin is a very large site with over 2000 pitches. It is mostly flat and is adjacent a sandy beach. Pitches are generous, some are amongst pines but the majority are unshaded. The on site supermarket is excellent and you need never leave this site if you did not want to. The low season rate for two adults with a pensioners discount is 19 euros per night with 5 amp electric. In peak season this can rise to over 40 euros per night.
Day 25 - 28
The weather is set fair for the next few days and we are going to stay a while at El Delfin Verde as it is one of our favourite sites.
We are also getting closer to where I know I can get the windscreen replaced although having come this far I think it will survive until we are back.
We are trying to decide where to go on route to Calais.
We left El Delfin on a bright sunny morning. We stopped briefly at the Carrefour Express in Torella de Montgri for some last minute purchases. It doesn't look like you can park here but there is plenty of room at the back of the store for a motorhome.
After filling up with fuel we headed for the autoroute, joining it at Figueres, junction 3, for the short drive over the Pyrenees into France. The toll charge was 1.80 euros and it avoids the enforced slow drive behind the many trucks using the N11. We then continued on the A9 to Bessan where we joined the toll free A75 to Millau. The toll to Bessen from the Spanish border came to 15.80 euros. We left the A75 at the junction before the bridge and took the N9 into Millau. There is a view point on this road and it is worth stopping here if you can. There is limited space for large vehicles but there is an excellent view of Millau, the bridge, and the surrounding mountains that dominate the area. We night stopped at Camping Les Deux Rivieres for 11.90 euros, without electricity. This was only 6 euros a night more than the aire, but we had a large level pitch on the banks of the Tarn and enjoyed a warm pleasant evening sat by the river watching a lone fly fisherman as the sun sank slowly behind the trees and buildings on the opposite bank. My last can of ice cold Guinness was much appreciated on the warmest evening so far experienced this trip.
Les Deux Rivieres is a small level site amongst tall trees next to a bridge over the Tarn. It is within walking distance of the town and is perfectly adequate for a short stay although there is some road noise.
Our planned route was to return to the A75 without crossing the bridge, then take the N88 to Mende and Pradelles, the N102 to Aubenas, the N104 to Privas and the autoroutes A7, A49 and A41 to complete the last sections of the journey to Annecy.
We took the N9 north out of Millau. This is no longer signed but is still a good road up to the north side of the Millau Bridge where it merges with the A75. After a short trip up the A75 we returned to the old road for its scenic value to try and join the N88 for Mende and Pradelles but at the turn off to the N88 we were stopped by a well built Gendarme who advised the N88 to Mende was "ferme" and we would have to detour via Marvejois and the N108. Not a good start to a long journey.
Once back on the N88 the road winds its way steadily uphill through a wooded and a sometimes rocky landscape reminiscent of some parts of Wales. The route is not overly steep and I was quite amazed to find at one point on our way to Pradelles we were at 1265 metres. However, it is not a route you can rush and it seemed to take for ever to get to Pradelles. Here on the N102 the route levels off and there is a fine view looking back across Lac Naussac. Its a bit of a shock to emerge from the forest of this flat area to find yourself looking across a mountainous area whose peaks are at the same height as the road you are on and a glance down reveals a very high steep sided valley. You then realise just how high you are! Along one side of the valley the N102 twists and turns in a steep descent through some interesting villages following the course of the valley and the River Ardeche to Aubenas. The N104 climbs quickly out of Aubenas to Privas and then descends into the Rhone valley. It’s a great scenic but tiring drive up to this point with the final sections becoming less interesting.
There had been little traffic until we reached the Rhone valley but we encountered heavy traffic on the A7 and at other points on the remainder of the route. We crawled through Annecy to our chosen site, Municipal Le Belvedere, to arrive tired and over an hour later than expected. It had been an arduous journey on another hot sunny day but the next three days proved it was well worth it.
Days 31 and 32
Days 35 and 36
It turned out not to be such a bad trip after all and we have the obligatory tan to show for it.
Some facts and figures
The 34 day round trip from Calais totalled nearly 2700 miles
It required 585 litres of diesel fuel at an average cost of 1.04 euro per litre
The weather was very changeable for the first 25 days with below average temperatures
The last 11days were very warm and sunny with above average temperatures
I claimed on the insurance for the windscreen replacement.
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