Week 9 of the Grand European Tour
Week 9 – Day 60 – Monday 27th November 2017
Cambrils to Peniscola – 105 miles
It seemed to take as long extracting Louis from Camping Joan as the 2 hour drive that lay ahead. There were trees and low branches everywhere and what it must be like in the height of summer when all the pitches are taken, I can only imagine.
On checking out I asked the receptionist about this and she said they had bigger pitches with no, or fewer trees – but they cost half as much again to get on! That said, it was a good well cared for site and and hopefully of the standard we will find in the weeks ahead.
The sun shone all the way south and as the journey went on it got markedly warmer, whether this was because the sun was getting higher in the sky just after lunchtime, or we were heading another 105 miles further south – take your pick, but probably a combination of both. The drive was easy enough with some dual carriageway, but mostly single carriageway with crawl lanes on the hills. The scenery consisted of a range of mountains and hills on our right and glimpses of the sparkling Med on our left. As I have mentioned in previous weeks on some drives the crops or architecture change quite noticeably and on this journey we saw some more changes, as, all of a sudden, there were field upon field of orange trees on either side with the fruit glinting, er, orange in the sunshine just waiting to be picked. Also on show were loads of olive trees, fields of artichokes and rows and rows of a small tree we could not identify, but probably the most unusual vision were old looking trees, like giant bonsai trees all trimmed the same way in containers being grown beside the road and displayed in garden centers along the route and you can see one in the following picture taken at our campsite at Peniscola.
Week 9 – Day 61 – Tuesday 28th November 2017
Peniscola – 0 miles
Before leaving home I had some possible stopovers noted but just last week on one of the motorhome groups on Facebook someone posted a good review about a family run site at Peniscola which I had never heard of but it was on our route and about 2 hours south, just about enough driving for a day, so thats how we came to be at Camping Los Pinos, €12 a night with the ACSI discount card, and this included electricity and free wi-fi.
Wikipedia decribes Peniscola as…
“Peniscola, often called the “Gibraltar of Valencia,” and locally as “The City in the Sea”, is a fortified seaport, with a lighthouse, built on a rocky headland about 220 feet high, and joined to the mainland by only a narrow strip of land (Peníscola is a local evolution of Latin peninsula). The history of the place goes back to the Iberians, later the town became Phoenician then Greek.
The present castle was built by the Knights Templar between 1294 and 1307. In the fourteenth century it was garrisoned by the Knights of Montesa, and in 1420 it reverted to the Crown of Aragon. From 1415 to 1423 it was the home of the schismatic Avignon pope Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna), whose name is commemorated in the Castell del Papa Luna, the name of the medieval castle, and Bufador del Papa Luna, a curious cavern with a landward entrance through which the seawater escapes in clouds of spray.”
Today it was ‘up and at em’, which translated means we managed to leave the van around 11ish to cycle into the town. We passed orange groves and olive trees being harvested, sights not readily seen back in Argyll. The esplanade at Peniscola is dead flat, as are most to be fair, and has a dedicated cycle lane, not that we needed it as there were hardly any pedestrians about. The sun shining, beach and sea on our left and flats and hotels, nearly all closed, on our right with the impressive hilltop castle ahead of us all combined to make an enjoyable cycle.
We chained up the bikes on the deserted esplanade and headed for the castle and the warren of narrow alleyways containing old houses combined with many closed restaurants and shops. Although deserted today in late November, you could tell it would be a magnet for tourists in the summer.
On our meanders around the old town there were numerous tourist boards with information about the many feature films and TV programs filmed here, mostly Spanish, but also one scene from the 6th season of Game of Thrones. I’m not sure if the following statement makes me a philistine or an intellectual, but I have never watched a single minute of Game of Thrones, never seen a Star Wars film nor have I read a single page of a Harry Potter book! But talking of Hollywood blockbuster films, there was one very famous film which had a key segment filmed on the beach at Peniscola with the castle as an impressive background, pretending to be Valencia. A big clue for you is that the lead character was played by Charlton Heston and the glamour supplied by Sophia Loren. Any ideas? Answer at the bottom of the page.
After almost 2 hours of wandering about in the mild sunny conditions, and with a cycle ride behind us, we decided to have lunch before returning to the van for a siesta. There is one restaurant which is strategically placed as you enter the old town and when we had arrived a waiter had pounced on us brandishing his multinational menus, but to no avail as we wanted our walk around first to see what other options there were. Two hours later, and having seen nowhere better, we returned to be willingly pounced on again, but this time he was successful in enticing us in. This waiter was a lovely bloke, maybe in his 60s, but full of energy and good humour in many different languages and when pounced upon, not many visitors were successful in getting passed him.
There was an extensive meal of the day on offer for €9.80 so we chose from that and I had a superb lasagna to start followed by little pork fillets and chips with a lager, then rounded off by an ice cream on top of which there had been olives ( I never got a sniff of those ) bread, and an apple non alcoholic liqueur to finish off. The Navigator, being a pesciterian had Dublin Bay prawns, her first paella and a mousse for desert, all washed down with a Sangria. The bill for all of this was €26, one of the bargains of the Grand European Tour so far.
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Week 9 – Day 62 – Wednesday 29th November 2017
Peniscola to Valencia – 95 miles
Some days we have been confronted with overcast cloudy skies which usually clear by lunchtime leaving a warm mild afternoon, but not today. After filling up with water we paid and left the site, heading for Valencia, and hour and three quarters further south. We filled up with diesel at €1.16 a litre (£1.04) before setting off on what would be a fairly uneventful drive. The cashier found it highly amusing to be paid by a Scotsman in shorts and a short sleeved t-shirt on what she obviously thought was the depth of her winter. As we progressed one of my navigators let me down on this leg of the journey, the Google one by the way, by taking us on a short section of toll road when explicitly instructed not to, so our tolls tally now stands at €8.25 in over 3,000 miles which is still pretty good going. Another mountain chain appeared on our right and there were fields of orange trees everywhere, Castellon de la Plana, a large sprawling city, home of Villarreal CF was passed through / around and Valencia was arrived at in a fairly heavy rain shower, and quite chilly it was too, which renders Mondays theory of getting warmer as we headed south null and void!
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, and from what we saw of it in the drive through, it looks very impressive, but we will find out tomorrow.
Week 9 – Day 63 – Thursday 30th November 2017
Valencia – 0 miles
After yesterdays washout it was business as usual today with clear blue skies and warm sunshine when you were in it, but a bit airy in the shadows. We had 2 options for today, have a look around Valencia city center or visit Oceanogràfic, Europes largest aquarium with more than 45,000 animals and 500 species. The tourist leaflets for it looked fantastic and the building is very futuristic and set alongside other buildings that take the breath away in an area known as Ciuat de les Arts I les Ciències. The Aquarium would have been yesterdays destination, but not todays with the sun shining.
The No. 25 bus stops opposite our Aire and for €1.50 each deposited us in the city center and our first port of call was the market hall. Now if you have been following this blog from the beginning and the 123 Seconds In… videos you will know we like a market in the morning. There is something gratifying in seeing people with a passion selling their particular specialty, be it fruit & veg, fish, meat and other fresh produce, and as visitors it sort of roots you in the particular country, region and town you are visiting to see varieties that you don’t find back in the UK. As I say, we have been to our fair share of markets but this was probably the best, in terms of the building it was housed in, the neatness and tidiness of the stalls, the popularity with the locals and the sheer variety of produce on sale.
After this cathedral of all things culinary we found an ornately decorated church, not the main cathedral, but one nearest the market, and as ever the decoration was superb. Following a walk about the main shopping area it was lunchtime and by way of a change we ate at a very inexpensive Taco Bell. After lunch we continued our walkabout and found the main Cathedral area which was busy with both tourists and local children on what looked like a school outing, and, what seemed like the population of a medium sized African town selling knock off goods like handbags, trainers, football shirts and jewellery all laid out on white blankets so that if the police arrive they can grab the 4 corners and leg it!
A couple of hundred yards on from the Cathedral we arrived at the main green area of Valencia known as the Turia Gardens. The city was once a river island but one leg of the river was diverted in the 1960s and is now the major recreational area with joggers, cyclists, walkers everywhere, tennis courts and many childrens playgrounds.
I’m not sure how long it is but by late in the afternoon we were flagging, having walked for miles but we were on a mission to reach the end of the gardens as it is the site of the incredible Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències complex, (City of Arts and Sciences) and it includes among other breathtaking buildings, the L’Oceanogràfic.
There are more pictures of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències complex on the Blog’s front page in a new Gallery.
About 5pm we managed to get on a bus heading back to the Aire and I have to confess to making a bit of a miscalculation as, looking out the front window and seeing a campsite approaching, rang the bell and jumped out only to find we were about a mile short of OUR campsite and our truly aching feet only just got us back.
Those who know me well are aware it takes a lot to rile me, an awful lot, but the Belgian couple parked next to us managed this, and I don’t quite know how I restrained myself from starting a diplomatic incident between our nations. The site we were on did not have electricity to plug into but nearly all vans nowadays can cope without mains for a few days, longer if you have a solar panel like us. This pair, driving a massive MAN, effectively a motorhome built on a lorry chassis with a hydraulic platform on the back holding a Smart car, ran a noisy generator without regard to his neighbours all around him, almost, but not quite, constantly. This couple confirmed my belief that the only good to come out of Belgium are Tintin and Moules Frites! After such a lovely warm day it was a bitterly cold night.
Week 9 – Day 64 – Friday 31st November 2017
Valencia to Denia – 73 miles
Today was another good drive with a fair proportion of it on dual carriageway. There is a toll motorway running parallel to the road we were on but it seemed that most lorries preferred not to pay the tolls and you would see long lines of them, almost always white as The Navigator noticed.
When we arrived in Denia we found the parking spot I had seen on Park4Night and we had something to eat. After lunch we planned to walk or cycle into the town of Denia but out of nowhere the wind started to gust and it got stronger and stronger until there were tumbleweeds rolling down the beach and a sandstorm effect took place in front of us.
Week 9 – Day 65 – Saturday 25th November 2017
Denia to Calp via Moraira – 23 miles
Back in the late 70s we bought a second hand Sprite Musketeer caravan, about a basic a van as you could get and our very first night was a the first Bank Holiday weekend of the year at Ayr Race Course where ice formed on the INSIDE of the windows and the gas froze! That weekend could have put us off the outdoors lifestyle for ever but we persevered and this Blog is a testament to that, almost 40 years on. The reason for telling you about this early foray into caravanning is to let you know that a few years later, returning from another Spring Bank Holiday weekend away at Aberfoyle we were on the M9 motorway heading home to Polmont and not far from where the Kelpies are situated today, a sudden and severe gust of wind toppled the caravan onto its side and lifted the rear of the car up and spun us round to face the oncoming traffic, which was luckily able to stop in time.
Now the outcome of this episode all these years later is that The Navigator is not fond of windy days. In fact this is a bit of an understatement to say the least and last night it blew a proper gale! By sheer good fortune another British van had come onto the beach car park to join us and they lessened the impact of the side-on gusts. I slept like a log through the van rolling about, but I am reliably informed that I was the only one that slept last night. Morning came with another clear blue sky, but if anything, the wind was even stronger. When our neighbours pulled away about 11 that made up our mind to head down the coast as the van was moving about quite a bit now. We never did get out into Denia but from what we saw of it on the way in yesterday, and the way out today, it would certainly be worth another visit if this area was on a future route.
To get to Moraira and Calp you go over a steep hill with hair pin bends and some sheer drops which we never encountered on the route over the Pyrenees, and the road wasn’t as wide. That said, it was not too long before the descent on the other side with some spectacular views and it got me thinking that what this route needed was a big parking space with a van doing teas, coffees and rolls on square sausage as per the top of the Rest and Be Thankful. If I can get a quiet moment I may knock up a business plan and see if it has wings!
We arrived at Moraira just before lunch and parked in a huge car park that forbade motorhomes and caravans from parking in it, but, as there were about half a dozen motorhomes parked up away in a corner, all British as it turned out, I parked beside them and we headed into town for a walkabout. And what a lovely little town it is too and I will let the following pictures tell the story.
We had lunch in a very good and inexpensive cafe in the town and were entertained by two tables with British people at them. One table had a couple, probably in their late 60s who we upset right away by asking the woman to move her bags off one of the chairs we wanted to sit on. If you can picture a ginger headed Pat Butcher from Eastenders talking all apples and pears, that was her! If ever I felt sorry for anyone it was this poor downtrodden man who never uttered a single word in all the time we were there, not even when they were joined by what we assumed were their daughter and husband. The other table we ear-wigged was a British man, maybe in his 50s going through the books of his hairdressing / tanning business and trying to sell it to a Spanish couple who seemed bemused at the explanation of why he had such high staff costs, but given this guy had his extended family drawing a salary that maybe explained it. All in all an entertaining lunch.
The final part of todays journey to Calp did not take too long and we ended up in an Aire we were not aiming for but found by accident. Only opened 3 weeks ago, it has 5 star facilities for €17 a night including electricity and wi-fi. Its still blowing a gale tonight, but a bit more intermittent than previously.
Week 9 – Day 66 – Sunday 26th November 2017
Calp to Benidorm – 17 miles
We were making use of the electricity and wi-fi when there was a knock on our door late last night from our Dutch neighbour asking if we had electricity as his has just gone off – as had ours. It took until after 10 this morning for it to be repaired and it turned out the site had no water either so although it has great facilities, they are having teething problems.
Calp is yet another place I had never heard of before, and a town trying to pull off an imitation of Gibraltar. Why the Spanish constantly kick off about wanting Gib back when they have this place is a mystery! All they need are a large Morrisons, a chair lift and some monkeys, surely not beyond their capabilities.
Near to the Aire is a little lake with a flock of pink flamingos milling about, another exotic species to join the parakeets of Cambrils for The Navigator to add to her growing list of birds not seen in Argyll, mind you with no magpies in Argyll for some reason, that is not too difficult. The pink flamingos were in the middle of the lake and out of camera range but a couple of grey ones were nearer the edge.
I’m sure we didn’t do Calp much justice in the time we were there but it wasn’t a patch on some of the other resorts along this stretch of coast. That said, there were a lot of motorhomes from all the usual suspects, British, Dutch, German, French and Belgians here in the fairly large sites with many looking as though they are here for an extended period, and with 4 supermarkets within walking distance, that must be an attraction in its own right for them.
And so on to Benidorm. What can I say about it that hasn’t already been said about this resort so favoured by the Brits. Not our cup of tea springs to mind but we are here with an open mind so stay tuned for next weeks blog when the verdict will be reached.
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The classic film referred to above was the 1961 epic El Cid, billed as the greatest romance and adventure in 1,000 years!
To put this week into context here is a map of our route…
As we visit new towns and villages I am filming a series of short videos entitled “123 SECONDS IN…”, primarily to help us remember where we have been, but also to give viewers a flavour of the places, and hopefully inspire you to travel to them as well.
The videos from previous weeks now reside on this PAGE in the 2017/2018 Tour menu above.
After spending a few days in Benidorm to catch up with our next door neighbours from back home, we will continue down the coast to arrive at our festive stopover at El Campello near Alicante.
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