14 November to 3rd December 2018
Entering Spain via Catalonia we were greeted with hundreds, maybe thousands, of yellow ribbons. These are signs of support for the freedom of the imprisoned pro-independence leaders.
My preconceptions of the Costa Brava, held mostly from a teenage coach holiday to beach resort Santa Susana, were not too good in terms of memorable natural scenery. In fact my memories conjured up black boards advertising English breakfasts and beach fronts filled with 2 for 1 bars and nightclubs. When I was seventeen this was the ‘wildlife’ I was searching for and a few smiles did return as I replayed the weeks holiday back through my mind, but now at the grand age of 42 maybe we were looking for something different, more authentic maybe. Therefore this time we spent our Costa Brava visit slightly further north on the Park Natural del Cap de Creus which is a small nub that sticks out directly east of Figueres. Selecting fishing village El Port de la Selva as our over night destination meant that we experienced both the inland and coastal sections of the national park. The coastal road was especially impressive, high rocky cliffs dotted with green pine trees made for a dramatic and picturesque backdrop. Funnily enough it was not unlike the North Spanish coast that we had forfeited earlier on in the trip. This lesser visited part of the Costa Brava really is an area of natural beauty and definitely deserves it’s 7th position in the league table of Spanish highlights in our newly purchased Marco Polo Spain and Portugal road atlas.
The bay at El Port de la Selva, Costa Brava. The region made an excellent substitute for the north west Spanish coast.
The local fisherman’s association bar had a viewing window of the fish auction hall. We were there when the shrimp trawlers arrived back to shore. We could not work out how the system worked but it was interesting to see the local restaurateurs haggling over the prices. El Port de la Selva.
Keen to get past and to avoid the Barcelona road network, on the next day we swerved slightly inland and stayed at El Catllar, 70 km west of the Catalan capital. The highlights from this fortified town were the amazing Co-Operative shop which sold almost everything from Cava to tractor engine oil. I mention the Cava as we purchased some as this of course is Cava county and we actually intend to keep the bottle until Xmas day (editors note: well we will see how that goes!) The other memory was keeping tabs on the local marijuana seller’s movements and activities which seemed to be focused in the area surrounding the free motorhome aire.
El Catllar was an historic town…….
…….even if the area where the aire was situated was a little rough and ready with some unusual, but nonthreatening, night time activities.
With Barcelona now out of the way we wandered back towards the coast staying at El Grau de Castellon, in the Valencian region, which is essentially the port area for Castellon de la Plana. We were really pleased with this choice as it was completely different to the other coastal towns in this region that we have visited/travelled through before. First of all, in El Grau itself, tourism certainly seems on the low side and instead the large commercial port supplies the heart beat of the town. On a discovery town walk we found out we had just missed the weekly market, what we did see however were local people sifting through the fruit and vegetables that had been discarded by the traders on the kerb side. We wondered if this action of discarding was on purpose, the traders knowing that perhaps the poorer ends of the local society will benefit from product that was not quite good enough to sell, who knows hey? Another thing worth mentioning is the free aire at El Grau is absolutely fantastic, lying beach side, and even sports washing up sinks and an immaculately clean toilet. The beach even has it’s own designated dog area, complete with doggy shower, where Rita was allowed to run completely free from her lead. On our second day here we ventured further afield and walked the 4.5 Km to neighbouring Castellon de la Plana. The walk was really easy as it entailed walking along the main road, which is dead straight, that links the two towns. At Castellon we were greeted with lots of activity as it seemed the whole town was out drinking Cruzcampos in the street and on the terraces of the many small bars. Obviously we joined them taking a few drinks plus some seafood tapas. Again we had got our timing right which was fortunate and we later learned it was a local holiday which made sense as we thought that this could not be a normal Saturday lunch time.
El Grau has some intriguing architecture
The main square in ‘de la Plana’ was bustling.
Now that we had managed to join all the coastal dots that we missed off back in 2016, meaning that we have pretty much travelled all of the Spanish coast from Ayamonte (Andalucia/Portuguese border) up to top of the Costa Brava bordering France, it was time to venture inland again. Previously we had combined a meeting point with our motorhome friends Rick and Mary at Sanlucar de Barremeda, Andulucia and therefore it seemed to make sense to drive an inland curve over to Sanlucar. This part of the journey we covered over three nights staying at Uteil (Valencian Community), Don Quixote town Argamasilla de Alba in the La Mancha and Andulucian Pedro Abad.
We stopped at a lake castle near Argamasilla. Fictional Don Quixote and his side kick roved these terrains.
By 21 November we had reached Sanlucar revisiting La Jara Motorhome Park and more importantly rendezvousing with Rick and Mary. La Jara was chosen as there is plenty of space, BBQs are allowed, as is camping behaviour such as sitting outside. In total we spent 9 nights there, 5 with Rick and Mary, where we chilled out, enjoyed food and drinks out and in, bike riding to Chipiona and further afield to Rota. We had a really good time and therefore when it was time for Rick and Mary to drive on, Morocco bound, sad farewells were voiced all round.
Manzanilla is the local tipple in Sanlucar. This bottle we sampled in a beach bar, hence the shell table top, that stands between La Jara and Chipiona.
The slightly extended stay at La Jara was due to a loose solar panel, something that has been dogging this trip, as my temporary fixes administered in Normans Bay and several times enroute so far had not managed to sustain. Therefore on Friday 30th November we headed for business Caravanas Sevilla for an appointment with their fitter that was made earlier in the week by phone in Spanish(!) Therefore I was quite surprised once we arrived there that they were expecting us. The receptionist introduced me to the workshop team where we proceeded together to agree, using a combination of hand signals and my improvised Portunhol, on a simple solution involving some special made metal brackets securing firmly the solar panel back onto the roof. 55 Euros for the 1.5 hours labour later we were back on the road heading towards hill top town Jerez de los Caballeros in the Extremadura.
The team from ‘Caravanas Sevilla’ start to attack the Suntor
Jerez de la Caballeros was a great find as not only did it have a aire with free electricity but also an interesting historical town which had spectacular views from the south east side of town across the vast Extremadura countryside. It was on this edge of town where we choose to have lunch outside a popular restaurant situated in a small park on top of the town’s walls. The views were stunning as was the food. It was not the plan to have lunch but the enthusiastic owner/waiting kept coming over to us and describing the house specialities for the day and we finally settled on a cod, egg and potato dish and a plate of pork fillet and serrano ham served with bread, fried potato slices topped off with fried eggs: after all this is pig county and on the drive over to here we passed many free grazing black pigs and of course the accompanying abattoirs and meat factories. During our extended lunch, the activity in the restaurant was steadily increasing, as it turned out the local foraging group had met up for one of it’s social events and they were cooking a massive communal risotto made from foraged mushrooms. It was a shame then that we were completely stuffed as they came round to every table and deposited a plate of the risotto for the customers to try, needles to say we rammed it down aided by a bottle of local red wine.
Sharon and Rita wandering the old town, Jerez de la Caballeros
The pork medallions on top of the bread were the best tasting we have had. Cafe Florida, Jerez de la Caballeros. The views were ‘on top of the world’ too.
Dessert was foraged mushroom risotto.
In all we stayed three nights in Jerez de la Caballeros stalling our inevitable entry into Portugal until the 3rd of December. The ongoing theme of our most recent spell in Spain has been the tapas. In the past we have not really had good experiences with tapas and that has arisen by not really knowing what to order and ending up with safe ‘albondigas’ or on the other hand been given a free tapa of something that we would not normally enjoy eating (pigs ear in Palencia, cold blood and fat soft sausage in Jerez and room temperature sea snails in the Basque). This time we just ordered some things hoping that we had translated correctly and with this our confidence grew stumbling on tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritter), chocos (fried cuttlefish) and bacalao pil pil (baked cod with chilli) meaning that on several occasions we lunched out inexpensively on a couple of tapas and associated drinks, an experience that hopefully we will continue next time we visit.
We persevered more with tapas, with some success. The white dish that looks like a dessert was actually cod, cream and balsamic dressing.
We did’nt always know what we eating though. We guessed this was a ‘seaweed mixed with some other unknown ocean quantity’ deep fried ball.
Whilst we were experimenting with tapas, Rita became curious about cats. In La Jara, these three rubbed along together quite well.