Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Across Spain and into France

11th May

Today we entered Spain, heading for the Costas in search of better weather, the last 5 days has seen me in jeans for the first time since Jan, not good!!our plan is to get over to the Valencia region in a few days, so today we decided to make a hole in the mileage and drove 400km thru the province of Extremadura skirting the old city of Toledo in Castilla-la Mancha  and onto Alcazar de San Juan 39.389721 -3.219440. 

We were once again on the wine route this one being the Ruta dos Vinhos, we drove for miles and miles not seeing anything but vineyards and the odd distillery, we also drove on the Don Quixote route renowned for its windmills.

 Spain seems to be littered with hilltop castles

The weather was not much better here than in Portugal although a tad warmer but still damp with the odd shower,

 The Aire is situated outside a bullring and opposite a beautiful park

12th May

Another good day at the wheel and we arrived in a small town called Chinchilla de Monte-Aragon 38.920792 -1.722170,

Again a free Aire with services opened in April 2016, we are quite high in the mountains at 825m and it is a bit cooler than yesterday and again it’s still raining off and on, I’ve heard that Southern Europe is having its wettest spring since the day dot, hopefully when we get to the coast the weather will be better.

 Only a short hop up them steps to the nearest bar


We prefer this part of Spain it has more charm and authenticity with it's winding cobbled streets, it also has cave houses built into the mountain.

A smashing small town with plenty of character

The town is over looked by an old castle, this part of Spain is littered with old hill top castles.  A walk around the town was followed by a few drinks in a bar, “a bit of a pattern developing here” and it was back to the van, a not so early night followed after hitting the wine!

13th May

Today we are in a town called Jalance in the Valencia region 39.187599 -1.076100, again a free Aire on the outskirts of town, I think from here in you can assume all our stops being free unless stated, we don’t like paying for stopovers at Aires, unless we need to do the washing or there is something we particularly want to see.

On-route to Jalance we stopped at an Aire in Castello Almansa, we stopped there for some lunch and at the same time I got the van weighed on the local weighbridge, lets say we are a tad over, although I'm not surprised with the alcohol we are carrying!

 In Jalance the Mayor mets out the punishment
Walking into town this thing flew past my ear, scared the shit outa me, it was about 3" long and sounded like a. Chinook helicopter.

Plenty to see in such a small town, four fountains a church and castle and also some ceramic panel?
 Fuenta del Medico
Panel Ceramico
Church of San Miguel

The strange thing is that travelling friends of ours Dave and Sue who we have mentioned in the blog a few times stopped here this year on their way back north and even drunk in this same bar, I found this out after posting some photos on Facebook, small world!

Another nice Spanish town albeit a bit more modern than yesterdays

One thing that has changed is the weather, it is very warm today and it’s back into the shorts for me, hopefully for the rest of this year!


14th May

Today’s stop is Benageber 39.709930 -1.102110, this is a nice stop in a small village, again we are high in the mountains, and it's quite popular with Spanish motorhomers,

After settling in we took a walk up to a view point a few km away up a mountain overlooking the Sierras and particularly Peak Franco and also lake Benageber.

Somewhere amongst that lot is Peco de Franco

It was very hot probably not the best idea traipsing up a mountain, afterwards we went in search of the only bar in town, only to find they were having a fete, with all the other surrounding villages invited, they all had their local produce on display along with their wines, it was a bit too busy for our liking with Max so we decided to have a night in listening with our windows open to the live music from the town.

15th May

When we left this morning we had to drive over the Benageber Dam
I was very impressed with the structure completed in 1947,
Today we finally hit the Costas, after a hairy 30mins driving from Benageber up and down the mountain with many hairpin bends on a road barely wide enough for two cars, to the town of Tuejar, from there the road opened up and we were soon on motorways skirting Valencia onto today’s stop in the province of Catalonia to a place near Castello De La Plana called Grao on the Costa Del Azahar 39.97996 0.02239.

Surprisingly free considering its on the Costas?
This is also a new Aire recently opened, it was full of Spanish vans plus one German and ourselves, it’s situated 25m from the beach Playa el Palmeral and a short walk to a lovely park, and opposite a planetarium, the weather today was hot, full on sunshine, after settling in we went in search of a bar, the only one we found was in the park which was too busy with lots of kids running around screaming, so we returned to the van and had a few tins.


It was still balmy hot at 9pm at night, this is more like it.


16th May

A drive up the coast and we stopped on a peninsula called Delta de Ebra at a place called Casa de Fusta 40.658550 0.674680, the Delta is a nature reserve and a bird sanctuary with many species, we are hoping to see the flamingos, again it’s a hot day this aire is huge with space for at least 50+ vans it is quite full with mostly Spanish vans we found out it is a bank holiday weekend,

These are the native species to here.
It’s a nice spot and we went in search of the flamingos, after an hour or so traipsing the delta and no flamingos to be seen we settled in and cracked into the wine, we could hear gunshots which we thought strange on a bird sanctuary? It turned out to be hunters shooting ducks and geese which is allowed, not much of a sanctuary for these?

Well no pics of flamingos, although we did see a Marsh Harrior but my reflexes were to slow to capture it.

Another strange thing is the delta is 75% covered in paddy fields I never thought of Spain being a rice producer then again their national dish is paella.

17th May

Today’s spot would be a few km away in the town of Deltebre 40.71425 0.71628 this is the main town on the peninsula, again it was a hot day, we stopped at Lidls for mosquito repellent and cream, a few days ago while in Grao we got eaten alive at night by three of them in the van, the species over here are called Tiger Mosquitos, more like sabre toothed!! Sam and myself were covered in bites and normally they don’t bite me, but these Tiger jobbies take no prisoners!

The Aire is on the riverside with great walks along the bank and a nearby restaurant which is always a bonus, we sat outside in the heat with chilled Estrellas, when we arrived we were the sole van there, later on we were joined by French, German and Andorran vans,

The river is teaming with fish
We bought a 5l plastic bottle of wine from a co-operative earlier today so we sampled that later on, bloody good stuff and although expensive for us at €7.20 it’s 14% we will get some more before leaving tomorrow.


18th May

We left the delta today but first off we stopped at the co-operative to pick up some more of their local hooch, I picked up another red a white and a rose 15l for €20 the white and rose being even cheaper but all at 14% something to look forward to, they sell it even cheaper at €1.05 a litre from huge stainless casks, we saw plenty of locals bringing their own containers or you could purchase a container from the store at 40cents.

We drove 90km up the coast just past Tarragona to today’s spot in a small village called  El Catllar 41.176689 1.326830 a castle overlooked the village dating back to the 11th century, it was a small village with not much to do or see but we managed to find what appeared to be the only bar and enjoyed a few cold Estrella's while using their internet, it was another hot day.

Although the village was small, the Aire was in a park with some nice walks ideal for Max


19th May

We stopped at a great place today with plenty to see, the town of Vilafranca del Penedes 41.339662 1.69053, in the province of Barcelona. The Aire is situated in the town centre with plenty of bars to occupy us, the weather was scorching today, much better since we hit the coast, the weather is also favourable on the south of France at the moment, that is where we intend to hang about for a while after leaving Spain.

 I would have liked to have spent some time in the wine museum, looking through the windows they seemed to have hundreds of bottles and casks.
The gothis church of Santa Maria,
Castellers de Vilafranca
Vilafranca is famous for it's human tower fiestas
Photo courtesy of the above link.

A walk around the town we managed to find a few bars with shade, very much welcome in the heat of day

20th May

Our drive today was a bit stressful at first, were heading towards Girona and have to skirt Barcelona, it’s a busy stretch of road with vehicles merging from both sides, also you need to be very vigilante at being in the right lane as they branch off suddenly, with the Barcelona bit over with we carried on, nothing much to note and then just past a small town called Macanet de la Selva we hit a "pretty" stretch of road whilst driving through the local countryside,  as we then began to pass quite a few ladies of the night sat on plastic garden chairs at the side laybys, we passed several dressed in no more than sexy underwear and fishnet stockings, well I did tell you the weather was hot!!

With my eyes back in their sockets we finally arrived at today’s stop at a place called Caldes de Malavella 41.839291 2.811700, this was a great stop the Aire has all the services including free EHU and situated a stones throw away from the centre in a small park, we didn't arrive till late afternoon so we decided to stay another day and have a good scout around tomorrow.
The following day we headed into the town, it was again hot, we found there are three bottling plants each bottling the local mineral water.

These fonts are at several places within the town.
The town is famous for three things one being it's natural mineral water the other being it's Roman bath ruins dating back to the 1st century, and the other the amount of shit it's pigeons can dump, we are parked under a pine tree and the van is pebble dashed with pigeon crap!!

 The old Roman baths
An artists impression

There is an 11th century church in town, the one thing of note is its Roman façade doorway
This is the famous spa, the water is reputed to have healing/medicinal qualities
We like waking aimlessly thro small side streets, you never know what hidden gem of a bar awaits.
This contraption was outside the tourist office, its an old bottle capping machine and was made in London of all places.

Well after a good look around the town it was Estrella time, we found a quiet small bar,  we were given a complementary tapas of a bowl of snails in tomato and garlic sauce, I had the lot to myself as Sam was to squeamish, yummy, also that evening we treated ourselves to a takeaway from a Turkish kebab shop again yummy.
22nd May
This morning we left for our final day in Spain, the van is in a sorry state with a layer of guano, we managed to remove it from the front windows to be able to see, the rest we will have to remove at an opportune time. We headed to the Roses area, there were no official Aires in Roses so I mentioned on the WC forum for any ideas, I got a message back within 15mins from two of the members, Pat who along with his wife Philomena travel extensively in their motorhome and also keep a blog called withnoparticularplacetogo and Mike and Marguerite our friends who were in Morocco with us this year, although the stops they gave me were not in Roses itself they weren't a million miles from there, well the first place we got to had plenty of parking however the bays were to small for our van Mike's van is a camper type and a lot smaller than ours, so we headed to the co-ords Pat gave me, again we found it but it was quite desolate and at the time cross country and quad motorbikes were roaring around a makeshift course and Max hates motorbikes so that was shelved, we then headed to another place Mike had given us at a place called Port de la Selva 42.33454 3.201747 
Well the one thing Mike failed to tell me was the road from Roses to the Port was over the Pyrenees Orientals, that 20km of journey was something else, although we have been on higher climes this was very twisty and I can only tell you I was glad when we arrived.
 That is Roses in the background a third of our way up

It was a nice spot tho, with a nice marina and beach,
And Max was able to have a good run around, although we later saw No dogs allowed signs displayed along the promenade.
23rd May

Leaving Spain and entering France over the Pyrenees Orientals and onto Barcares 42.8095 3.03086.  This town boasts four free aires plus a newly opened private one at €9, we checked out a few of them and went back to one we visited earlier on the marina, for the life of me I could not see the attraction of the private one, it was directly opposite us over the river, same views but packed in like sardines, we were the only van on our one and it could hold 5?

Saw this rig across from us, not sure if you'd get on many aires with that or even campsites?

24th May

A short drive along the coast, thru Narbonne and skirting Beziers, we stopped at Carrefour in Serignan to do a shop 43.26989 3.28012, as we were about to leave I noticed several vans at the top end of the car park so decided to give it a once over, quite a lot of the large supermarkets have areas for overnight parking and also have toilet empting and water facilities, on close inspection it appears some of these had settled in and had been here for some time, we got chatting to an English couple with a young baby who had been there three months, it would do us for the night.

25th May

We had been given an aire by a friend on Facebook unfortunately with no co-ords, it was apparently close by so we went in search, after driving around for a good while down dirt track roads and alongside a canal we gave up and decided to stop at a private site that had wifi.
I needed a day or two off driving and also needed to update a lot of photo’s to the blog which scoffs our data, so we killed two birds so to say and stopped at Vias 43.310051 3.362560 a tad pricey for us at €10.00 a night but we hadn’t spent a great deal on sites to date and it was ideal for us and we spent two days there.

The second day we spent washing the van and cleaning all the pigeon crap off the van from the time we spent at Caldes de Malavella


27th May
After two relaxing days at Vias we shot across to Sommiers but first it was laundry time, most large supermarket have washing machines and dryers at the front and quite reasonable at €8 for a 18kg wash and €2 to dry and the mashines are pretty quick we were back on the road within an hour, along the coast to Sete then skirting Montpellier it was inland to Sommieres, we won’t see the sea now till Northern France!
Sommieres is a municipal aire 43.786839 4.087110 and it was quite busy, it also has another aire, but most of the vans appeared to be selfbuilds and they looked like they were full timing there?  We chose the one by the bullring close to the centre; it’s a great place, with a lovely old town accessed through archways, with very narrow walkways through the old streets.

We decided to stay another day,  a  market takes place every Saturday, a bit like a flea market with plenty of junk on offer, well junk in my eyes, I took a walk up to what was left of the old chateau overlooking the town, it was in the process of restoration, the weather was very hot and the climb up took its toll, an early beer O’clock would be required.

 I never realised how popular bullfighting was in France, It seems most towns have a bullring
28th May
This morning we headed past the city of Nimes, had a spot of lunch overlooking Chateau de Tarascon then onto  Vallabregues 43.8571681 4.626420 a small village and a very nice aire set aside a nice park next to the Rhone river, another beautiful place, we would stop there two days.
 Chateau de Tarascon
Built in the 14th century

Opposite Chateau de Tarascon on the otherside of the Rhone there was another equally nice chateau  
Although we are on the east side of the Rhone we are still in the province of Langeudoc Roussilon, the Rhone splits the provinces of Langeudoc and the Cote D’Azur, strangely the town of Vallabregues is the only town on the east side not on the Cote?
 You can tell the weather has been poor normally this area would be full of people playing Petanque.
Yet another bullring
There was a bullfight the previous day, not that I would have gone, not my idea of sport or entertainment to be honest
31st May
After two relaxing days it was on again through one of a favourite provinces Provence Alps Cote D’Azur, it’s stunning with its ever-changing landscapes they grow pretty much everything here especially cherries, lavender and yes of course grapes, we first stopped at an aire in St Paul les Durance but after giving it a quick once over it did not appeal to us, it was on a caravan site, a graveyard for towing caravans, many with built on wooden lean to made out of old pallets at a guess, some with pitched wooden roofs with tarps! It was a mishmash of DIY and my first thoughts was the film Deliverance as the tune from duelling banjo’s rung in my head, this commune was best left to themselves we thought, so we reset the satnav to get us out of there sharpish.

 I couldn't take too many photos, I had a feeling we were being watched
I made out I was snapping Sam
Our next port of call was at the town of Ste-Tulle but on arrival there was a notice up and it seems from April of this year the Mayor has decided to charge €5 to park up?  so we reset again and drove a few km north to the town of Villenueve 43.896130 5.861610, this was perfect, a small aire and although there were a few vans there we managed to get a spot, it is aside a cemetery and in one of our camper stop reference  books it's described as dead quiet at night, boom boom, yeah don’t give up your day job whoever wrote that!
 These signs and rules are common on all Aires,
When we arrived a few of the French had their tables and chairs out dining, I'm not sure how strictly the rules are enforced?

 The low Alps in the distance.

I thought this was novel, a place to exchange or just sit and read books overlooking Provence

 There's something about wandering around narrow streets. you never know what's in store.

 The town of Villeneuve.

We decided this was worth a two day stopover the weather had turned for the better.
2nd June
Last night we plotted our way back and decided to travel through the Rhone Alps and upwards, a lot of this will be very mountainous but I have a feeling it will be worthwhile, although hard on the poor brakes!
We headed further inland not too far to the town of Dignes les Baines 44.07972  6.26139, noted for its thermal baths, the aire was a few km out of town quite rural on a carpark, we decided to stay and take Max for a good walk in the countryside.

 This was another lovely lake we stopped at for lunch on-route to Dignes
3rd June
An early start and another short drive we arrived at today’s destination Selonnet 4436849 6.31549, this was again a small town aside a river, on arrival there was only one van there, but shortly after a lot of cyclists arrived with their support vehicles and the aire was packed, it was a nice aire with good walks.
A photo of the old village
This was a new one on us, besides the relais point was a machine to wash your bicycle
4th June
Today we headed to another pretty village La Breole 44.457420 6.291680, the roads are getting more hilly as we climb onto a plateau at about 1000m we are in the high Alps now, and although your forever changing gears going up and down with quite a few switchbacks, it's a pleasant and scenic drive.

 Church of St-Pierre
The Fountaine de la Place
This was built in 1775, and was the centre of village life.
It has three basins, one was reserved for the peoples drinking water, one for a watering hole for the cattle, and the other for a communal washing space.
5th June
More climbing today driving to Pont du Fosse 44.66731 6.23556

Reminiscent of Switzerland  

The High Alps in the background
This was another beautiful place, there was a lovely park beside us, and we were overlooking a fast flowing river that was fed from the high mountain snow, there appeared to be a few people that have took root, one van had an array of flower pots outside, and everyone had their furniture out, we stopped two days the weather was sunny.
7th June
More climbing again today as we drove past Grenoble, we are now in the Rhone Alps at Lac Detrier 45.451908 6.101070 it's been very hot and the stopover is again next to a park, you have to hand it to the French, these free aires are stunning,  
I could easily stay here a few days
8th June
A nice drive to Faverges 45.74944 6.28611, today we have encountered all weathers, sunny, overcast, rain and monsoons, a nice stop near an Intermache supermarket on the edge of a pretty town, I did a bit of shopping but we did not venture into the town as by that time it was lashing down.
9th June


 Those specs are not birds but hang gliders,
Jumping of a ridge at 1800m

A short drive to todays spot at Lake Annecy, there is only one free aire 45.89062 6.13902 when we get there two French vans pulled in just before us and take the last two spots, we drove around the lake stopping for a break then checked through our reference books and apps and decided to stop at Lathuile 45.794861 6.207140 one of many small towns on the lake, it was warm sunny a nice day for walking around.
10th June
A bit of a drive today as we left the Rhone Alps and entered the province of Franche Comte heading to a place called Les Grangettes, on route we passed the CERN project then drove along side the Switz border for a short while, then climbing a mountain road we were overlooking Geneva,

Hazy pic with the Switz Alps in the background
and Lake Geneva

It was shortly after this we took a wrong turn and ended up in no-mans land, we realised when we drove thru an unmanned check point, realising our mistake and the satnav recalculating the route we did a left turn then re-entered France!  then onto Morez, where we saw the viaducts designed by the famous French architect Paul Sejourne and to our stop at Les Grangettes, a nice place but after parking up we noticed a sign No Overnight Parking it appears they have stopped the parking there now? So we drove a few km back down the road to Labergement-Ste-Marie 46.771351 6.275390, we parked up by a Swiss couple and they had their chairs tables a generator and an electric Remoska on the go? a Frenchy came over from one of the vans and told him in no uncertain terms that camping behaviour was not permitted, there was a campsite a few hundred metres away and more than likely the owners would have been irate had they seen them, the French chap was in his right, it's behaviour like that that get aires closed down probably like Les Grangettes !

The two above photos were taken at Les Grangettes

11th June
We arrived at Belfort in the province of Franche Comte on another rainy day, it has a large fortified Citadel over looking the city with a lion statue by the French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi who incidentally was the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty  47.641949 6.865710.   
La Porte de Brisach
 The Lion of Belfort
The Euros have started and Wales got off to a good start winning 2-1 lets hope we can eek out a result with England, Belfort is a city with plenty to see, the aire also has free ehu, we stayed two days
13th June
After two days at Belfort we headed north to Chatenois 48.274940 7.397960 in the province of Alsace, while driving we were indicated by a policeman to follow him, we followed down a slip road to a cordoned off area at a motorway service station, all the vehicles mostly lorries were foreign, we were met by about 20 custom/policemen and the van was scanned, I was told they were looking for weapons and contraband?   

Once scanned an officer came over with an xray photo with circles over black spots where to search, our photo had quite a few circles and they entered the van and began searching, the police could not believe the amount of alcohol we had on board but I assured them it was for personal consumption, with the all clear and no explosives found we headed to Chatenois 48.274940 7.397960 in the province of Alsace.

 Chatenois was a pretty medieval town but again the rain was intermittent

14th June

Bitche is another town with a citadel, we are now in the province of Lorraine

There are many different types of service points and we have seen most but this was a new one on us made from marble

15th June


We entered Germany today on-route my exhaust broke and the van sounded like a tank, I pulled into the next service atation and did my best with a roll of gaffer tape and headed to Saarburg, we have come here as it has good wifi around the site 49.601719 6.554540 €9 plus ehu on a meter,

 It is situated between the Saar and the Mosel rivers
and famous for it's wines.

This has to be the prettiest city we have visited, we loved our tour of Germany last year and although we are heading into Luxembourg then Belgium next we will have to tour Germany more extensively,

This is called  Little Venice

I made inquiries and found a Fiat dealers not far away, we went there the following day and by chance they had a front section to hand, they quickly got about replacing it and €210 lighter and an hour later we were done.  I was panicking because the football match between England and Wales was today, I watched it later and although we were ahead at half time we parked the bus in the second half and England won 2-1, which leaves a tough final game against Russia if we are to progress!
A short video of the city of Saarburg
17th June

 A long drive today, 5 plus hrs behind the wheel, Saarburg is close to the Luxembourg border and we drove there to fill up with cheap diesel and smokes, then into Belgium and back in France to a snail farm in Comines, we found out we couldn't get any internet on our 3 data cards so decided to go back into Belgium to Ypres as we had an appointment with the vets there at 9.15am the next day for Max to get his tablet to allow him back into the UK,

When we got to our usual stop at Ypres there is now a sign saying no motorhomes so we drove a few km to Zonnebeke 50.854061 2.978930 to a small pub called de Dreve 50.854061 2.978930, on route we passed several war cemeteries and this pub is like a shrine to WWI with lots of memorabilia and old pics, the owner of the pub aided Tony Robinson and his crew unearth the many miles of tunnels mostly German that are in the area, he was very interesting to chat to and very knowledgeable.


18th June
First stop was Ypres and a trip to the vets, Max sorted we headed back into France to the town of Richebourg 50.580379 2.746500, the weather was still intermittent mostly rain, again we passed many war cemeteries and monuments on route, the highlight of the day was getting a large portion of chips from the frites van in the town, we don't eat much chips on the road so the chip butties went down a treat.
19th June
Today was laundry day so stopped at Intermache at La Gorgue, an hour and half later we carried on to Arques just outside St Omer,  this place is next to a lake, nice spot, a few British vans there  making their way back like us, 3.50 per night, again it was raining so not a lot to do or see.
20th June
Looks like everyone had an early start, we were the only van there this morning
Well this is our last day of this trip and we have done over 9000 miles stopped at 76 places in Europe, we have visited countless other places and many aires which we will probably stop at another time, once we got on the road after a late start we shot into St Omer to fill up with diesel and LPG, then drove to Oye Plague but didn't fancy it so then onto City Europe in Calais to get some final bits before our crossing tomorrow at 9.20, there was a 4hr wait at this end due to a fault, and some incident? hopefully tomorrow it will be fine.
I wasn't able to watch Wales play their final group game against Russia due to poor internet although I did manage to get minute by minute updates on my phone, Wales had a fantastic result beating Russia 3-0 and England could only eek out a draw with Slovakia which left us top of the pile, happy days lets hope we can continue with that form in the sudden death rounds.
City Europe

Our Route thru Europe 2015/2016