150 days touring France, Spain and Portugal in a motorhome…
From the moment we set off there were no real plans or rules. There are just places to go, experiences to be had, and plenty of food and liquid refreshments to be consumed along the way.
If we love a place, we’ll stay longer. If we don’t, then we simply move on. That’s the beauty of a having a motorhome, you can find somewhere you like and take root, or, lead an itinerant life, constantly experiencing new places and meeting fellow like-minded travellers.
Day to day life in a motorhome has a rhythm, not a routine, no two days are the same, the place and the people, both local and fellow travellers, make each day interesting and different. The inconveniences, challenges, and difficulties of travelling are far outweighed by the joy of discovery and the sense of freedom.
When preparing and drafting this weeks blog and discovering that today was going to be the milestone 150 days since we set off, I suggested to The Navigator that we update our thoughts on our winter away from Scotland, so here are our individual musings.
THE VIEW FROM THE DRIVER’S SEAT…
AS OF TODAY…
1 day in Scotland.
6 days in England.
48 days in France.
80 days in Spain.
15 days in Portugal.
150 days @ 68 different overnight locations = somewhere new every 2.2 days.
4,381 miles driven so far @ 21mpg.
Living with someone in a confined space, 22ft by 7.5ft, for such a long time, 5 months now, could potentially be a problem, but after 42 years I am now pretty used to The Navigator’s foibles, so it becomes second nature. As long as the van is kept reasonably tidy and we know where everything is when we need it, everyday life is easy to cope with. We have been fairly mobile most of the time, with the exception of the 5 weeks at El Campello over Christmas and New Year, and since arriving in Portugal a couple of weeks ago we have slowed right down, spending 8 nights at Manta Rota and we are currently on a week+ at Fuseta.
This slowdown is for a combination of reasons.
First, the weather has improved considerably and it has been very warm most days, and when sheltered from the ever present breeze, it has been not just warm, but hot, so it has been great to sit out under the blue skies.
We will probably be back home around Easter so the clock is ticking now in earnest, and the planned circuit of Spain and Portugal is no longer feasible in the time we have left, therefore we have decided to relax and take it easy before the long drive home. From where we are just now to our home in wintry Scotland it is 1,963 miles. We have decided, as we love France so much, that we are going to take a month to drive up through Spain and France rather than take the ferry from northern Spain to Portsmouth, so the Atlantic coast of Portugal, Lisbon, Porto, the Duoro valley, Vigo and Santiago di Compostelo in northern Spain will all have to wait for another year.
None of Portugal’s major historic cities are on this south coast so there are no ‘must see’ destinations, so, all in all, this period of relaxation has come at the right time.
FRANCE – is a country that welcomes motorhomes and has facilities in most villages, towns and cities to cater for them and the local businesses reap the financial benefits of the silver £/€. It isn’t as cheap as Spain or Portugal, in fact food is probably more expensive than the UK, however the inexpensive Aires compensate to a degree. Unfortunately in the winter it does not have the weather conditions of southern Spain and Portugal so most Brits either drive straight through or miss it out altogether, with the Portsmouth to Santander / Bilbao ferry a popular choice, whereas we took over 2 months to arrive in Spain. Another reason for enjoying France is we are more comfortable with the language and understand the basics. I am not as good with the lingo as The Navigator, due to Miss Gibbs chucking me out of ‘O Level French’ after a year, with some justification it has to be said. I thought that I was wasting my time learning a foreign language, as what would someone from a small rural village in Central Scotland do with all these new foreign words in the late 60s? In hindsight, this mistake, along with not being able to swim are two of my lifelong regrets! Two of the subjects I loved in high school, history and geography, are still passions to this day and with this type of journey there is something new to be learned every day in one, or both, subject matters.
SPAIN – was a real surprise and I loved it. Because we had never spent any time there on package holidays, and had only been once before in the van 2 years ago, it was mostly a new experience, the scenery, food, culture, language were all a revelation in a positive way and I hope that came across in the weekly blogs and the 123 Seconds In… videos. For a country perceived largely as sun, sand and sea, Spain has a surprisingly rich and well-preserved heritage left behind by Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs and others and it is no surprise that thirteen of its cities are listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Cities. With great beaches, mountains, campsites, superb weather, many cultural regions and historic cities, it is no wonder that Spain is the most popular tourist destination in Europe for any kind of trip. A country of large geographic and cultural diversity, Spain came as a surprise and it is so much more than Costas, great beach holidays and almost endless sunshine. Walking through the narrow lanes of the old towns and cities, you can’t help but visualise the years of history they so beautifully preserve, Roman in particular. Spanish was difficult to pick up as they tend to speak as quickly as the Italians, but we got by using the fantastic Google Translate App and by adding an ‘o’ to the end of words, so perfect became perfecto, etc!
Unfortunately we did not spend as much time in Portugal as was intended because the delights of both France and Spain kept us longer there than planned. I had never set foot in this country before, but kind of always had an admiration for it, as in my formative years in the 60s, both playing and watching football, one of my all time heroes was Eusébio of Benfica and Portugal. That said, there is no getting away from the fact that as a nation it is struggling and is nowhere near as prosperous as other European countries. A lot of buildings and infrastructures are looking tired and a bit run down, as there isn’t a lot of money available to spend on maintenance. The train we took from Fuseta to Faro this week would not look out of place in a travel documentary filmed in 1960s India, filthy and covered in graffiti, but at least cheap and on time! In its favour, the cost of living is very reasonable with food and everyday items good value, the sun shines more often than not and it is inexpensive to park the van, even free in many places, although this seems to be at the discretion of the local police. My grasp of the Portuguese language is nonexistent, improved while here only to the extent of attaining some fluency with when to say “olá” and “obrigado”. The language is more of a problem than I expected and it is difficult to pick out words that sound familiar to our ears, in fact it sounds a bit Polish, Balkan, or eastern European. I recognise that at least some of my yawning gap in knowledge could have been corrected had I taken time beforehand to study up, but I resisted that temptation. This was, after all, to be a holiday for the primary purpose of R & R, so I decided not to plunge headlong into information-gathering, but rather to experiment with letting things come to me and discovering what landed, and what fell away (a fair bit of it to be honest). I would like to come back and do it justice one day in the not too distant future and see some of the larger cities and the north of the country, which is said to be lovely, hilly, green, even mountainous in places.
So there you have it. Loved every minute of the 150 days and would not have changed a thing.
Finally – 5 favourite things in no particular order…
Discovering new and interesting places…
Oranges – ate loads…
This fantastic van and the places it has taken us…
And finally – the amazing weather we have been lucky to have enjoyed…
But what of The Navigator? What has she made of it all?
THE VIEW FROM THE NAVIGATOR’S SEAT…
It is 20 degrees and we have just arrived on a camp site at Fuseta, Portugal on Wednesday 21st February and The Driver tells me it will be 150 Days on the road on Sunday the 25th of February.
In the time since leaving home we have had a mix of weather, mostly dry, some but not a lot of rain, with cold nights and frosty mornings in the Pyrenees. Some days, although mostly sunny, there has been a cold wind, but worst of all was the gales when we were camped just outside Gibraltar. Nothing though compared to what it has been like back home and I think that has been a dominant factor of this trip, we have escaped the winter in Scotland, coupled with all the amazing sites, cities, beaches and lovely scenery.
France we know and love, Spain we visited briefly three years ago and it has been a revelation for me. Thinking of words to some it up loads come to mind but two stand out – mountains and oranges. For some strange reason I never expected it to be so mountainous. In the north dry with barren mountains and in the south lush green hillsides that sweep down to the sea shore We certainly won’t get scurvy as we are eating oranges by the kilo, so good and so cheap – a 5 kilo bag is about €3. Apart from Benidorm we have not stayed in what would be deemed typical tourist spots and there have been some stunning locations. It has opened our eyes to what Spain has to offer and the people have been so kind and friendly. Now we are in Portugal and it seems ridiculous to say but we have run out of time to explore it as much as we would have liked but thus far we have liked what we have seen, although it will take something to top Spain. We are not going to try and rush and see it all but enjoy what we can before we head north. The one thing that has surprised me is how many people are here on holiday from Holland, Germany, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries, with Brits being in the minority. In the first campsite we stayed in here we got the last place and arriving at Fuseta today the second last place. We have wild camped as well and there seems more places to do so than in the previous two counties but it’s when we need to be on sites to get water, toilet facilities and laundries that there are issues, many motorhomes come to the campsites for all of the winter. We stayed 5 weeks in the one place over Christmas and New year but some are here for 6-8-10 months. I can see the appeal, it’s warm and inexpensive but it’s nice to see other places too.
We have seen all sorts of vehicles with all sorts of people in them. Various animals, although we didn’t see the man with 4 chickens so he could get fresh eggs – we heard about him second hand. Full blown washing machines in the back of a big German motor home, and full size fridge freezers in the awnings of some of the people here for months. I must admit I have missed a washing machine and it takes a bit of planning to find a laundry and then wait until it has washed and dried. France was no problem as the large supermarkets have them in their car parks and the last site we were on a lady collected from the van washed, dried and ironed clothes and brought them back the next day all for 7 euros a load which is wonderful, and so cheap. I can be more than that to wash and dry without the ironing! Housework is obviously minimal, or non existent if there is something more worthwhile to do, but the van does need to be kept reasonably tidy and clean.
We have also met some lovely people along the way, especially when we were based on the one site over Christmas and New Year. Mostly British, but other nationalities as well. They have all been very helpful in giving us ‘newbies’ tips and good places to go to and sites to park in. We got very fond of a little four year old girl Astrid, whose parents had taken a year out to tour Europe and spend some quality time with her before she would start school. We had a lovely Christmas Eve with them and are still keeping in touch, they are now in Sicily.
At Hogmanay we were with Alan and Ann from Wales and then we had a super week with our own family when they joined us in early January.
Flying from different parts of the UK on different airlines and everything went like clockwork, truly amazing all flights on time given the weather condition as they left, and great praise for a very efficient Alicante airport from them.
Since my last ‘5 favourite places’ in our New Year message, I am now adding Cartagena,
and El Rocío.
all for different reasons and all with memories to last for ever.
So, 150 days in and only 30ish to go till we are back in the UK. This has been an amazing experience and if it were to be another few months before we were coming home I would be fine with that, but I think in my mind because it was a 6 month trip I am also fine with it coming to an end. Had we had really bad weather and been stuck inside the van it may have been a different journey, but we had always something to see and do, and somewhere else to go. Time has certainly not dragged, if anything it flew by. I am looking forward to being back for various reasons, probably most of all seeing family, including the imminent new arrival.
Would I do this again? Definitely.
Would I do anything different? Probably not, except maybe go to different locations, but there are certain places I would go back to as well. All this would only be possible though because The Driver is willing to ‘drive’ every inch of the way and some of these inches have been a bit hairy, but we always got there safely, so well done and thanks to him.
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