Our 60 night stay stay at Camping el Jardin at El Campello in January, February and March 2019 is the longest we have ever stayed in one location in either of our motorhomes. Technically we are in Muchavista, which is not exactly in El Campello, but is a joined on suburb of El Campello and if you are not sure where that is, it’s near Alicante and not a million miles from Benidorm.
So, what’s it like being in Spain for an extended period in the winter months? Well for a start the weather has been exceptional which has helped greatly.
SPOILER ALERT – readers of a jealous disposition should maybe skip this paragraph as I’m about to describe the weather we’ve had since we arrived here on the 15th of January.
For a start there has been no Beast from the East, no Storm Eric, no Storm Freya, no Storm Gareth, no rain, hail, snow, gales, yellow weather warnings or MAKI police warnings here!
Believe it or not, we have not had a single drop of rain in the time we’ve been in El Campello! It has been wall to wall sunshine all the time, and as the weeks progressed it has gone from lovely and mild to very hot. Most days there is a breeze which originates in the surrounding mountains and it can be a bit airy, but fortunately our pitch is sheltered and I can think of only one day we have not been able to sit outside.
People who have been coming to spend the winter months here for years have told us that the weather has been exceptional this year, February in particular was superb. Every day as the temperature nudged upwards to 70 degrees (or even higher) we were in shorts and t-shirts, in contrast to the locals who are dressed for a Scottish winter with coats, anoraks, scarves, hats and long trousers the norm. The only concession they make to the conditions is to wear sunglasses all the time!
So, the weather has been great, what have we been doing with ourselves to pass the time of day?
Although no two days are exactly the same, there is a sort of routine that you fall into and the following paragraphs will try and show what we, and others, do to pass the time. Hopefully these observations and suggestions may be helpful if you are planning to head south in a motorhome for an extended stay in Spain or Portugal in the winter months.
Relaxing seems a fairly obvious thing to start off with, but that’s why you are here, to relax and enjoy the weather and the slower pace of life.
A high proportion of the people on this site are here for an extended period from a few weeks, to many months, and for Brits, the maximum is usually six months because of insurance restrictions, although you can get ‘backpackers’ insurance for much longer periods.
You soon get to know people of all nationalities and greet them everyday with the appropriate Hola, Bonjour, Guten Tag, Goede dag, God dag, etc, or, if you are not sure of their language, a smile and a cheery wave will suffice!
Out of the 125 pitches on this site there are probably no more than 15 Brits at any one time and as our pitch is near the site entrance people stop and chat as they pass, including the English speaking of other nationalities. This is a good way of finding out where to eat, or whats on locally or further afield that may be worth visiting. There is a bit of a formula to these chats, especially if it’s a first time conversation with someone and it goes like this,
Where are you from?
How long are you here for?
When do you go back?
Will you be moving on or heading home?
Which route did you take to get here?
Which route are you taking to go home?
Did you/will you sail to/from Santander, Bilbao or Calais?
Isn’t the weather amazing for the time of year?
What pitch are you on?
Are you in a motorhome or caravan?
Once one or all of these questions has been asked or replied to, the trick is to remember what you said and to whom, so as not to repeat the conversation the next time they pass.
This year Brexit is probably the No. 1 talking point and a lot of people are heading home in the last week of March because of the uncertainty, especially those who are here with pets, but, like politics and religion, it usually is wise to avoid talking about Brexit until you know them better as everyone has a strong opinion, one way or the other!
I came with a huge pile of motorhome magazines which I never have time to read at home and they have now all been read. The Navigator reads constantly and has read Kindle books, *Libby books and paperbacks. Once the paperbacks are read they are swapped around so there are always books to be read.
*Now not a lot of people know this, but did you know your local library has thousands of ebooks and audiobooks available through the Libby App. You can borrow them, instantly, for free, using your tablet. You have to register at your local library before you can use it, so do this before you leave on your trip.
The Navigator has also been busy knitting for granddaughter Eilidh and if you look at the above picture and imagine the book isn’t there and she is knitting you will get the idea…
Some vans have thousands of pounds worth of satellite dishes and tuners to get their fix of British TV but we have no interest in this at all. We listen to podcasts, keep up to date with developments back home through a variety of Apps, communicate with the girls every day via Viber and chat and see them via Hangouts twice a week. In the evening we watch YouTube videos and films and documentaries on Netflix. Because we have tons of data the catchup Apps like BBC IPlayer, More4 etc think we are in the UK so The Navigator can watch Masterchef, me MOTD and the rugby internationals, and both of us, the new series of Shetland etc.
GETTING OUT AND ABOUT LOCALLY
We have used our bikes quite a bit and ventured further than last year although we almost came a cropper when we were stopped cycling on the esplanade coming back from El Campello one day by the Guardia Civil.
“I know nothing, I am from Scotland,” in a Manuel from Fawlty Towers accent got us off thankfully…
I prefer to cycle but we have walked, mostly down to the beach or to get the tram into El Campello, Alicante or Benidorm.
GETTING ABOUT FURTHER AFIELD
This year we hired a car for a week to see places not accessible on the tram and booked it online. We took the tram to Alicante and a bus to the airport to pick it up. Although it feels like summer, it is of course the winter season for general tourism, so the hoards who fly into Alicante Airport to visit Benidorm and the other resorts around here are in shorter supply than normal so car hire is incredibly cheap and if you shop around you can get a car for LESS THAN A EURO A DAY! There is obviously insurance on top of this but it is still an amazing bargain.
We visited –
Elche is a large town not far from Alicante Airport and its main claim to fame is the The Palm Grove of Elche, an orchard of over 200,000 palm trees from all over the world that was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2000.
There will be a 123 Seconds In… video at some point in the future.
LA VILA JOIOSA
La Vila Joiosa, literally meaning Joyful Town, although the inhabitants often abbreviate it to La Vila. It has over three kilometers of beaches, including La Platja Centre (Central Beach), close to the city centre. The area is also famous for its chocolate industry. It is a beautiful little resort just south of Benidorm and is worth a visit if you are in this area. We had a picnic on the beach and then a walk round in the afternoon where we saw this girl practising her tightwalking skills.
ALCOI / ALCOY
Alcoi is not the prettiest town in the region but we went there as much for the drive to get to it over the mountains that surround El Campello/Alicante and the journey did not disappoint with some spectacular viewpoints and hair-pin bends.
Once there, we found out it was International Women’s Day and a lot of the roads in the centre were blocked for the procession.
Lunch was a Burger King, well, it was hard to resist the 2 meals for €5 deal especially when one of the burgers on offer was €7 on its own! When we got back to the car we found that the cars behind and in front of us were different and had boxed us in.
It took a million cuts for me to get out, aided by a nervy Navigator, but I managed it without touching them.
There will be a 123 Seconds In… video at some point in the future.
We found Cala Lanuza on the way up to La Vila Joiosa and we returned on the Sunday as it was a fabulous little beach with clean sand and water you could walk into for a good distance.
Alas, no bikini shots I’m afraid as I was threatened with unmentionable consequences if I posted any…
There is quite a big market in El Campello on a Wednesday morning and we went along to have a walk about a couple of times. The fruit and veg part of the market is in what is probably an underground car park and the cheap clothing stalls line both sides of a blocked off street. Granddaughter Eilidh will hopefully thank me in later life for dragging her granny away from the flamenco dress stall!
We were in Alicante quite a bit as it is only 20 minutes away in the tram and we wandered about exploring this lovely city.
One of the features of Bessie that has been used more than others is the outside gas point which allows the Cadac barbecue to be connected to the van’s gas system in seconds and fired up right away.
Mercadona sells thinly sliced chicken, turkey, pork and steak and these can be cooked in a few minutes and we usually have that with a salad sitting outside. Here are some of my greatest hits…
The above picture on the left shows what became our favourite Sunday meal, boned chicken thighs from Mercadona. A taste sensation if I say so myself…
The following time lapse video shows a fairly typical afternoon of cooking and eating a barbecue and relaxing afterwards…
Our neighbour Pierre had just arrived and was setting up. He and his wife are French Canadians and were entertaining company.
As at home, Saturday night is curry night and The Navigator is in charge of cooking that from scratch. My favourite by far is one made with a creamy cheese like Philadelphia (Aldi & Lidl versions are equally as good) made with mango chutney.
Ingredients for Curry or Chinese dishes should be brought with you as you can find them here but they are pretty expensive. Similarly, anything you can’t do without like Heinz beans or tomato soup etc etc should be brought out. That said, the supermarkets here are excellent and cheap, and I am going to miss not having a Mercadona in Mid Argyll, but every nook and cranny in the van is stuffed full of Spanish treats to keep us going for the weeks, if not months, ahead.
“Honest officer, all this wine is for personal consumption!”
We have indulged ourselves from time to time at lunchtime if we are out somewhere with 100 Montaditos our favourite by far. They have a menu of 100 varieties of fillings in finger rolls for €1 then some specials and sharing platters from €2 upwards so a tasty and filling lunch for us is usually €8 with drinks.
Another favourite place to eat is the inexpensive D’Tablas bar in Alicante where the tapas are only 99 cents each and the canas 60 cents.
We have been known to have the odd glass of wine to accompany our food and my preference is for L’Antigon, a Valencian white from Mercadona at €1.49 a bottle and The Navigator prefers red and has two favourites. Her everyday quaffing wine is a Spanish Suave at €1.65 and for a special treat she lashes out €2.65 a bottle on a 2010 Pata Negra Gran Reserva. The only time we have anything other than wine is with the Saturday night curry when a lager is preferred. The Sidra in the picture is the sweet Spanish cider used to cook the chorizo sausages as per The Benidorm Cooking Experience blog post.
We only ventured out one night for a meal and that was in the first week when we went for an Indian meal with a few friends but we did go out every Friday night for a few, okay, maybe more than a few drinks, but more of that later…
I cleaned the outside of the van when we got here as after almost three weeks on the road it was filthy and it has been washed again before we set off as the combination of early morning dew and dust blowing about meant it was dirty again!
But apart from cycling round to Mercadona for the shopping with the Navigator, it has been herself who has done the laundry, dishes and kept the van tidy and clean, as well as cooking all the non-barbecue meals.
Oh, and another new skill The Navigator has mastered is cutting my hair and here are before and after pictures to prove it…
As the days and weeks went on I noticed that I had subconsciously fallen into a daily morning routine that comprised of using the same toilet cubicle, shaving mirror and shower compartment, but after that, the rest of the days varied quite a bit. Apart from Friday night drinks, the only other fixed event in our weekly calendar was walking round to the little market next to the campsite every Sunday morning. Spot the Navigator!
IT’S NOT ALL BEER AND SKITTLES…
We have missed our neighbours, friends and family and we look forward to catching up with everyone again on our return. Apart from this, the other negatives pale into insignificance, but it would be wrong to say there are no downsides to being away from home for this length of time. Fortunately we are in good health and although we both take a daily tablet, they are for nothing too serious, so for us, health is not an issue so far. Probably the biggest glass half full / half empty issue is the driving to get here. Half empty is the time it took to get here but the half full way to to look at it is to think back on all the new places we saw and enjoyed en route including Versailles and Carcassonne.
A slight niggle is the Spanish attitude to dogs. At nearly all times of the day and night you can hear barking, not from on the site, but properties in the area. You get used to it and can block it out, but I don’t understand how the dog owners, or their neighbours, put up with it. There also seems to be a reluctance to pick up their poop too, and you have to be careful where you step, especially when you’re taking a shortcut through the waste ground in the pitch darkness ‘stoating’ back from Friday night drinks!
The site is surrounded by waste ground and there are a number of feral cats that come into the site and normally they are no problem, but we had one spell of about 10 days when one or more of them were on heat and they made some racket too!
By the time you read this we will have left El Campello (15th March) and are heading back to Scotland, where hopefully Spring will have sprung. We are going up through Spain on a route we have never been on before which heads from Valencia via Zaragoza to San Sebastian , where we will spend a couple of days.
From there we will mostly be be on a familiar route up through France to Calais and we sail at 01.30am on the 26th of March then it is straight up to Lowdhams at Nottingham where Bessie will be getting its first habitation check on the 27th. On the way here we visited Versailles and Carcassonne for the first time and I have another two attractions planned on the way home, so look out for the reports on them.
Once we are home The Navigator only has a couple of weeks to get the house spick and span for our family arriving for the week before Easter.
WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN…
I definitely could not do six months in one place for fear of going stir crazy but would certainly repeat what we have done this year.
STOP PRESS NEWS – We have booked the same pitch for an extra 30 days next year so it will be 90 days in El Campello, from the 5th of January to the 5th of April, and if we get such good weather and such good companions, it will be well worth the effort to get here.
I mentioned earlier that we have socialised with a few (select) fellow Brits here on a Friday night and we would like to thank Ann & Alan, Helen & Alan, Carol & Garry and Annie & John for being such great company and hopefully we will all be reunited next year…
Two days before we left 14 of us from the site went for lunch to Asia Li for a joint birthday celebration. It was 7.30 when we made it back to the van and I blame the usual suspects from Stoke on Trent for leading us astray…
Other couples we have met here, and enjoyed talking to, have been Linda & Tony, Rene & Kurt, Linda & Roy, Elsbeth & Stewart, Marianne & Gerry, Regeanne & Pierre, Susan & Chris, Melanie & Derrick, Michelle & Rob, not forgetting Alex and Sophie.
(excuse me if I’ve spelt any names incorrectly)
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