Week 11 – Day 5 – Friday 15 March 2019
El Campello to Los Manos – 182 miles – 24.8 mpg – 43 mph
After 60 wonderful days at Camping El Jardin it was time to leave and head north to colder climes. Bessie had been washed on Tuesday to take 2 months worth of dust off and had everything stowed away for the journey. The van was serviced, and after a few last minute farewells, it was time to head off just after 11am.
The first task was to head to the Repsol garage at the north end of El Campello to top up with LPG and diesel. We had been amazed that our two Gaslow tanks had lasted the 60 days we had been on the site, but we had hardly used the heating so it was really only used for the cooker/barbecue and the fridge.
From there we headed south onto the Alicante bypass then onto the A7 Autovia which would take us on the dual carriageway up through the mountains northeast towards Valencia.
There was a minor scare when a police motorcyclist zoomed past us on the dual carriageway indicating I should pull over and I could see his colleague on my left. I was going uphill so I knew I wasn’t speeding. Bessie is loaded to the gunnels with wine and other Spanish goodies but I didn’t think I would be over my 3,850kg weight limit but the last thing I needed was to be stopped after yesterday’s drinks and nibbles with Helen and Alan! The first policeman was now in the inside lane and initially I thought he was looking for a safe place to make me stop and then the euro dropped. I should have moved across into the crawler lane even though there was nothing behind me being held up. Once I did they accelerated out of sight and we passed them a few minutes later on the side of the road having stopped two cars.
Once we skirted around Valencia we took the A23/N234, a road we had never been on before and very pleasant it was too with the road winding its way between green hills with lovely looking villages on either side. We stopped at Segorbe at the Aire (39.847779, -0.482158) there which had been recommended by a few people and we stopped for lunch. This site is on a road beside a railway line but is very quiet and the views are lovely, but after lunch I decided to keep going as it was only 2.30pm, time enough to put some more miles on the clock, plus there was a sign in English stating you could not sleep here even though it was a designated motorhome parking area with facilities. So, not wanting to upset the local mayor, we moved on.
Our eventual destination was less than an hour away, a huge free truck/motorhome parking area at a hotel/restaurant in a little village just off the dual carriageway. The outside temperature gauge was reading 78 degrees and it was very hot and there was very little shade. The hotel was busy all afternoon and evening but the final tally was only 3 motorhomes staying the night at a place where maybe 50 could be parked up quite easily.
The Aire (40.114080,-0.739294) was a good enough distance from El Campello to make it the first stop on the journey home.
Week 11 – Day 6 – Saturday 16 March 2019
Los Manos to Pamplona – 220 miles – 27.4 mpg – 48 mph
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Camping El Jardin and it was not easy to leave on Friday, however there have been two immediate benefits to leaving, now that we are on the road again.
1. The condition of our livers is improving and getting back to normal.
2. The Navigator has regained about three hours of her day as she does not spend an hour blethering each time she goes to do the dishes!
Today’s destination was Pamplona, famous for the running of the bulls each July. We were in no real rush to get there as we were just stopping over and not going in to visit the city as we had done that early in our 2015 tour. The first ninety odd miles were on a dual carriageway so the cruise control was set, and as this route north was not that busy it was an easy relaxing drive. Even when the satnav took us off the dual carriageway to avoid the toll sections it was still easy driving.
The scenery changed quite a bit along the way from wide open plains with flat unfenced fields, to a fruit growing area where rows and rows of trees were still in bloom. We had no real idea which fruit the white and pink blossoms related to, or the trees that were green with no blossom, but all the fields were well tended.
We drove through one town by mistake as my Navigator (human) and I did not pick up what the Google Navigator had said. It was an interesting little diversion as the town was full of wine bodegas, a sure sign we were now in the wine growing area of La Rioja where there are 16,413 vineyards according to Wikipedia and there were vines in neat rows as far as the eye could see. Rioja is best known for red wine and red accounts for 91% of the region’s production with the Tempranillo grape accounting for 87% of that total.
We stopped to fill with diesel and have a late lunch and for some reason my Google Navigator refused to speak to me when we got going again, a role the human Navigator had to step into to read out the direction of the blue line on the map, especially when we got to Pamplona as we were taken through the city instead of going round the bypass.
The Aire was eventually found after a quick pit stop at our last Mercadona of this trip. It was hot with hardly a breath of wind and we had a chilled lager with our Saturday night staple meal – a curry. We could have made it to San Sebastian tonight as it is only just over an hour away but I thought the popular Aire there would be busy with people there for the weekend to enjoy this superb weather so we settled for a free night in Pamplona.
Week 11 – Day 7 – Sunday 17th March 2019
Pamplona to San Sebastian – 52 miles – 32.7 mpg – 43 mph
I’ve got to start today by owning up to a school boy error last night. There was a superb sunset made better by loads of aeroplane vapour trails with 5 planes going in different directions at the same time, but as you know, Saturday night is curry night and The Navigator was dishing up so I couldn’t go out and record the scene for posterity (and this blog post).
It will be another beautiful warm morning with blue skies and I’ll make a point of getting up to capture the sunrise with Bessie bathed in a warm orange glow I thought to myself. The following pictures tell the story. Cold, grey and windy!
My normal attire of the past 3 months of shorts and t shirt may have to be updated to long trews, a duffle coat and scarf if it gets any colder heading towards Scotland – and we’re not even out of Spain yet! The Aire is easily found (42.840368, -1.665426) on the outskirts of Pamplona and a bus takes you into the centre.
Anyway, onwards to San Sebastian
Oh dear! The drive was not long but it was horrible, heavy rain and thick fog most of the way which was a shame as the drive was spectacular. Pamplona is high up and the road climbed slightly before plunging down through a series of tunnels and viaducts towards San Sebastian at sea level. The rain was the first we had encountered since France in the first week of January and it was also the first time the heater had been on since then too.
Week 12 – Day 1 – Monday 18th March 2019
San Sebastian to San Sebastian – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
The overnight rain was torrential especially at 2.30am and 4.30am, made worse by the fact we were under a lamp post and large drops were falling from it and making even more noise. There was some free entertainment early on in the morning as as a policeman turned up to turf off about 8 vans that were parked on bays reserved for buses on weekdays. He banged on one van so hard its alarm went off, but still the sleepy Spaniard took another 10 minutes to emerge!
We have been to San Sebastian a few times in the last couple of years and thought about having a day on the Aire but the rain relented and we took the bus into town around 11am for a walk about and arrived in the city centre just in time for the heavens to open again.
What a contrast from previous visits as the sun shone then, unlike today. One new highlight was finding the Saint Vicente Church, the oldest building in San Sebastian, built in the 16th century. The Navigator likes nothing better than a contemplation in a foreign cathedral and this one lasted longer than usual as we listened to a woman giving a 20 minute description of the building and its wonderful contents to a bus load of visitors. The fact it was all in Spanish and we did not understand a word of what she said took nothing away from her enthusiasm and undoubted knowledge!
Santa Claus gave The Navigator a voucher for a slap up meal on this tour and she was determined to use it today in what must be the tapas capital of Spain. We had a walk about the old town trying to select a bar with the best looking selection of tapas, an almost impossible mission as you can see from the following pictures.
In the end we decided to have a lunch rather than tapas, and it was a great decision as it was delicious. I had Carrillera de cerdo Iberico (Iberian pigs cheek in a marsala sauce with mash) and The Navigator had Bacalao frito (a white cod like fish). Both meals were excellent, and probably the best meal out of the whole trip.
As we were waiting on the food to be served Cath and Dave, a couple from Inverness we had met on the Aire yesterday came into the restaurant and kindly offered us their City Bus Tour tickets as they were valid for 24 hours, so that was our afternoon sorted! The tour didn’t take us anywhere new to us but it was good to get the view from the top deck of the bus and have a commentary with some background on what we were seeing.
La Concha beach at San Sebastian was voted the best beach in Europe in 2018 for the second year in a row and the sixth best beach in the world by Trip Advisor’s Traveller’s choice beach awards, and one of these visits we might find some time to actually sit on it!
By the time the bus returned to the place we had boarded, it started to rain so the timing was perfect as it would not have been much fun on an open-top bus in the lashing rain. We called it a day after that and headed back to the Aire. If you are new to this blog here is the video I took the last time we were here, in much better weather!
San Sebastian is a lively, vibrant city and should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit. If you are visiting in a motorhome the GPS coordinates are 43.307924,-2.014459 and is shown by the red pin on the following map. It is only €3.30 a night and not surprisingly there is no hook up although there is water and dumping. A bus takes you into the city centre for €1.75 or it is easy to cycle.
Week 12 – Day 2 – Tuesday 19th March 2019
San Sebastian to Libourne – 209 miles – 25.4 mpg – 36 mph
Another night of heavy rain with what sounded like someone tap dancing on the roof provided little sleep. After breakfast we had a quick chat and exchange of paperbacks with Cath and Dave we set off on the journey to Libourne, one that we had done before. The trip should have taken just over four hours and but fate conspired against us.
From San Sebastian you head for the French border but before crossing we made our usual stop at the Easy petrol station to top up the tank with diesel at €1.18 a litre and I recommend anyone driving along the non motorway road stops here, especially if you are heading into France where the first two petrol stations were selling diesel at €1.44 and €1.54 respectively! No wonder the Gilet Jaunes are unhappy…
Time was against us so we had to bypass Biarritz this time, again another lovely city in this part of the world. Once you get through the joined cities of Biarritz and Bayonne you head north for Bordeaux and our satnav took us on and off the motorway to avoid the toll sections. We were making good time on one motorway section when the satnav advised us to take the next exit as there was a holdup ahead and this started a cross journey that was very pleasant but probably added an hour as it was on fairly narrow roads.
As Google seems to know everything about you nowadays, it probably knew that I spent 10 years working in the wine trade in a previous life, so after passing through the ‘Parc Naturel Regional des Landes de Gascogne,’ a massive area of forest, we then took some hairy narrow roads through the wine areas of Graves and Pomerol before going straight through the centre of Libourne to arrive at the Aire (44.947528,-0.244072) at the man made watersports Lac des Dagueys.
With Bordeaux very close by you are in the heart of one of the best wine growing regions in the world here.
The following image was taken from the dashcam and shows us going over the wide Garonne river on a single track bridge that had no traffic lights. Thankfully nothing came in the other direction while we were on it!
Week 12 – Day 3 – Wednesday 20th March 2019
Libourne to Chambord Chateau – 254 miles – 26.2 mpg – 45 mph
Here are two questions to start the day…
1. After 6 miles driving today we saw two cows and a goat in a field. What was so special about that sighting?
2. How far do you think you could drive in any Western European country without passing a Lidl or an Aldi?
Answers at the end of this post!
When we mentioned to Kurt and Renee, our first neighbours at El Campello that we had visited Versailles on the way down they suggested that if we had time on our journey home we should try and visit the Château de Chambord, said to be one of the most recognisable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures according to Wikipedia.
Much like Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Chambord has a motorhome Aire in the grounds within easy walking distance of the castle which showed great foresight by King Francis I back in the early 1500s! I suppose we can forgive the King for the lack of electric hook-up points given he had no idea what electricity was back then.
With no overnight rain for a change and clear blue skies, we set off for a long 5 hour drive to get to Chambord. As much as you can enjoy such a long drive in a motorhome, I did. There were two long stretches of dual carriageway/motorway and the other roads were a delight to drive as the French roads tend to be so well surfaced. No vineyards to see today but lots of agriculture and forests interspersed with little old villages and towns to break up the journey.
We arrived about 5pm having driven through the grounds for ages before our first glimpse of the Chateau, and to to say it ismpressive is an understatement. After tea we had a wander to see the building before we explore the chateau and grounds tomorrow.
ANSWERS TO THE TWO QUESTIONS…
1 Believe it or not these were the first cows we had seen since leaving El Campello, some six hundred odd miles away!
2 Believe it or not we have just driven 254 miles today and did not pass a single branch of either a Lidl, Aldi, or a Super U come to think of it, so we will have to wait another couple of days for some of our favourite French products!
Week 12 – Day 4 – Thursday 21st March 2019
Chambord – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
I will post a few pictures of Chambord to whet your appetite for the ‘You will travel in a land of marvels’ blog coming soon, as will a 123 Seconds in video. Stay tuned…
Week 12 – Day 5 – Friday 22nd March 2019
Chambord to La Mailleraye sur Seine – 167 miles – 26.2 mpg – 39 mph
On the last 30 miles or so drive to Chambord on Wednesday we did not past a petol station so we were running on fumes by the time we arrived. Today’s challenge was to drive the 7 miles to the Super U in Mers to fill up with diesel before continuing the journey to La Mailleraye sur Sienne.
The trip recorder shows how many miles range there is given the fuel on board and as we set off it was registering 0 miles! Somehow we made it and filled up at Super U with €106 of fuel, by far the most the van has ever taken.
The route was almost due north and skirted the cities of Chartres, Dreux and Evreux and took us through flat uninteresting farmland but with the usual quota of charming old French villages and small towns. With about an hour to go we pulled onto a rest area on the N154 dual carriageway and parked beside another British couple heading home.
Now if you have read the last blog post describing our 2 month stay at Camping el Jardin at El Campello you would have read all about the questions you tend to use when meeting someone new for the first time. These questions should be adapted slightly when meeting someone on the road and it was obvious that this couple had not read my blog or learned how to think on their feet as their first question to me was, ‘Are you coming or going?’ This would have been a reasonable question if we had met on a campsite, but not when we are both parked on the north bound dual carriageway!
After lunch we drove onwards to La Mailleraye sur Seine via a Lidl to stock upon our first French delicacies to see us over the weekend, and a few to take home. We reached the Aire after a four hour drive and spent an hour or so sitting out in the sunshine.
Week 12 – Day 6 – Saturday 23rd March 2019
La Mailleraye sur Seine – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
The Navigator did not stir until after 8.30 so by the time we showered and had breakfast it was elevenish. We had missed the Friday morning market but helped out the local economy by buying two tarte de pommes at the village Boulangerie when we had had a walk into the village and along the riverside. Unfortunately it was not a day for sitting out as there were grey skies and it was a tad chilly, a big contrast from yesterday so we contented ourselves by staying in the van, drinking tea and reading and writing.
Quite a lot of Brits use this Aire, not just because it is inexpensive (€6.80) and its great situation but the vet in the village is meant to be one of the best and cheapest to get your pet checked before crossing back to the UK,
€15.50 per animal I believe.
A curry, a lager and a Netflix film rounded off Saturday evening as usual.
Living the life eh?
Week 12 – Day 7 – Sunday 24th March 2019
La Mailleraye sur Seine to Fort Mahon Plage – 106 miles – 23.4 mpg – 42 mph
The journey today was just over two hours through the rolling Normandy countryside to Fort Mahon Plage for another stopover. When we set out the weather was a bit grey and dull but the further north towards the coast we drove the sunnier and warmer it got.
Most of the driving was on dual carriageway and it was a fairly easy drive. Regular readers of this blog will know we have been here twice before, either at the start or towards the end of our forays into France and beyond. Fort Mahon Plage is a typical little seaside resort and the Aire (50.338638, 1.555606) is only a couple of hundred yards from a fantastic beach. The facilities are not up to much and there is no electricity for your €10 overnight, but as Kirsty and Phil keep telling us – it’s all about the Location, Location, Location!
Can you spot Bessie in this picture? Black cab is the clue…
We had lunch when we arrived and watched a lot of the weekending French vans leave throughout the afternoon. A walk down the main street to the beach was bracing, but as you can see from the above pictures the stretch of sand is amazing. It’s a great first / last stop in France as it’s only 60 miles down the coast from Calais.
If you are new to this blog you may have missed the video of Fort Mahon Plage from last year…
Next blog post – Fort Mahon Plage to Ardrishaig…