Monthly Archives: Nov 2016

Ronda, Benarraba and Casares


We left Olvera early (for us) and followed the winding mountain road a little way south, to Ronda.  The drive was spectacular, the snaking road clinging precariously to the mountainside, with views out over the rolling hills and valleys below.  The neat undulating hills, set like moguls in the snow, were still lush and green, with only a hint of autumnal colours beginning to show.  The sky was clear and bright, with a light misty cloud sitting low in the valley below us, but this was soon to burn off.  The day was still but sharp and cold, the air yet to warm, but the luminous sunny glow outside looked much more inviting than the 6 degrees showing on our dashboard.

After dropping into the valley and slowly climbing back out, we arrived at Ronda.  A short way into town we parked up, as previously advised, in the train station car-park, around a mile away from the old walled city; this left us a nice brisk walk to help warm us.  Still in shorts, having worn long trousers on only three occasions so far in the trip, but with thick sweaters on, we marched along in the direction of the Puente Neuvo.  Trying to avoid shade and catch as much direct sun as possible to stay warm, the opposite of most previous walks, we shortly reached first the bullring and then the bridge to the old town.



We spent some moments admiring the setting and the bridge, but having arrived early, the sun was directly in our faces as we looked on into the old town.  We walked around the side of the Tourist office and enjoyed views across the chasm to the opposite side where buildings had been placed precariously on the clifftop edge.  The impressively tall Puente Neuvo led us over the deep gorge to the historic areas of the original walled city.  We turned left, passing several museums and palaces, before descending to leave the walled city again, in search of other interesting vistas, via the Puento Viejo.  We climbed up through nicely terraced gardens to look back on the Puente Neuvo, now really able to appreciate its quite impressive construction and the depths of the gorge below.


We wandered around the narrow streets of the historic quarter for a few hours, taking in all the sights, including the Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor and the Iglesia del Espirítu Santo.  We then, from the corner of the Palacio de Mondragón, found a path leading down the side of the mountain to another mirador, allowing a wonderful perspective on the elevated setting of the town.



Leaving Ronda, we travelled further south into the quiet, rural mountains.  We arrived in our chosen aire for the night, just outside the village of Benarraba, after a hair-raising and quite spectacular drive through the wooded mountains, twisting and turning over multiple hairpins with sheer drops on the outside.  We were thankful the roads were empty, with us passing only a few other vehicles on the way, as the quality of the road surface was so poor we had to drive a lot on the left, weaving and bobbing, to avoid the gaping tears and deep potholes in the broken tarmac.  But the views more than made it all worthwhile.


It turned out to be a very nicely positioned but rather overdesigned aire with personal services, water supply and grey-water drain, at each individual parking spot. There was only one other motorhome in place, so we happily set up camp on the spacious end road side plot and enjoyed long views down the mountainside and beyond.

We relaxed a while and had a bite to eat, overlooking the lush valley below.  We sat here in the mountain quiet with the sun on our faces, where we had another spontaneously giddy and joyous moment, with the realisation that arriving in such beautiful places and enjoying such mesmerising views is now what we do, the norm rather than the exception.  Our thoughts turned again to those days back in full time work, and the inevitable comparison of what we would ordinarily be doing on a cold, damp Thursday in November in England; not this, we were still enjoying sunshine rather than enduring cold and rain.


We walked the short distance into the local town of Benarraba, down a steep hill, open on one side to the valley below.  Another sprawling Pueblo Blanco town, the narrow streets maze-like, steep sloped or stepped and often cobbled or surfaced with flat rounded stones on edge. We explored the town on labyrinthine paths reminiscent of our visit to Cudillero in northern Spain. We found a pretty local church hidden away at the centre of the village.



The aire was unfortunately located adjacent to a noisy recycling centre, where a small diesel run front-loading dump truck made constant rounds, collecting bins from the village and depositing their contents in large skips for collection.  No larger vehicles, and certainly not our motorhome, would make it around the tiny streets of Benarraba, making the man with the mini-dumper, who masterfully squeezed around every tight corner with ease, the key mover and noise-maker in the village.  But despite the late bin-collections we still enjoyed a beautiful, mellow sunset from our single-use home with a view.


Casares – Day 1

The next morning we moved on again, another short distance south.  We arrived on the outskirts of the village of Casares, where we could park up for a few nights at the local tourist office centre, a brisk fifteen minutes walk from the town set in the valley below.

Casares was another sprawling Pueblo Blanco, clinging to the contours of the hillside, set in the shadow of some impressive peaks we later hoped to climb.  After a brief look in the tourist office to ascertain a few walking routes, we decided to walk into the town. We were delighted to discover there was free wifi that we could pick up from the comfort of our motorhome, so were definitely content to linger here a few nights.


We walked through the steep, narrow streets to the Plaza de Espana, the main heart of the village, where locals sat in dark corners and watched us pass.  A market was underway in an adjacent plaza, selling mostly fruit and vegetables.  We continued further up to the walled historic area, where the ruins of a Moorish castle and a recently built church dominated the view.



Doing a full loop around and through the town allowed us to enjoy many varied and different viewpoints of the town, each with something else to offer.  From certain perspectives the tight-knit simplistic square buildings began to look like a cubist painting, all light and shadow and limited palette.  It was a fascinating setting, and constantly threw up remarkable vistas, memory-tweaking discoveries and thoughtful moments .

We passed a very inviting municipal swimming pool that was meant to be open according to the posted signs, but was firmly closed.  We enquired later in the tourist office and were looked at as if we were mad for even considering swimming at this time of year.



We enjoyed a lovely local sunset over both the town behind and the coast in front, from a viewing platform only a few minute’s walk from our parking spot.  We watched the local griffon vultures circling above us, riding on rising thermals with only a rare beat of their metre-long wings.  We could see the Rock of Gibraltar standing tall above low cloud in the distance, behind a row of wind turbines on a nearby hilltop.


Casares – Day 2

This morning was a clear, bright sunny day, although the air temperature was very cold in the shade; a perfect November day for some proper hill walking.  We had scoped out a decent local walk, taking in the main peak we could see framing the town.  We booted up and headed off, firstly in the direction of the town, along the main entrance road.

We sought out the sunny side of each street and path, in an attempt to keep warm, as the walk along the flat road was still not active enough to lift our temperatures.  We soon turned left onto a narrow concreted path leading up the hillside, and this soon became gravel and dust underfoot.



On this approach path I had to replace my ambitious sun hat with a winter woolly hat, brought along only for the summit, as we were now stuck continually in deep shade and the morning air was still biting cold. The path began to steadily rise, and this new effort helped to warm our cores, but we still felt the nip of the coming winter on our ears, fingers and toes.  To be fair, we were still wearing shorts, so couldn’t complain too much.

We continued upwards, reaching a junction in the lower wooded slopes where the path continued around at a lower contour.  This was our route back home, but first we had another goal; the steep walk up to the summit of Cerro de las Chapas.  The route led along a path littered with pine needles and offcuts of branches, like the whole forest had recently been cut back to aid our passage.  Then we passed through an area of low, thorny scrubs and prickly plants that cut our legs from the sides of the tightly constricted, overgrown path.



With griffon vultures still circling overhead, we continued ever upwards, the path becoming more of a bouldered scree slope as we approached the top.  In the midst of the climb, Nicky suddenly stopped dead, with a look of shock and surprise – behind one of the rocks only a few metres to our right, was a resting griffon vulture.  We were so close and could really take in the impressive and intimidating size of the bird, only previously seen in the sky far above us.  The bird showed no fear of us, standing proud on a rock like an oversized plump, prized turkey.  After a long moment of us both staring at it in bewildered awe, the bird slowly unfolded its enormous wings and, despite its huge size, took gracefully to flight to join the others above.


We continued up to the summit of the climb, at 943m.  We enjoyed the expansive views across the local mountain, the plains below and out to the Mediterranean Sea beyond.  We explored the tall, rocky outcrops on the summit for a while, enjoying the now warm sun on us.  As we enjoyed our summit, another landing griffon vulture settled heavily into a space on the rocks right adjacent to us, its actions both simultaneously surprised and scared us. Again, it sat in peace, unfazed by our presence, as we gaped in wonder.  For several minutes we sat and watched, only two metres away from the impressive vulture, before it took off again to join the crowds circling overhead.



We retraced our steps downwards, to rejoin the original path and this time turned right, leading around a high contour of the Serra Crestallina at a height of around 700m.  This easy path led back in the direction of Casares, with great views of the internal valley, but first with a stop at a mirador point to see a further perspective on the Pueblo Blanco below.



We passed a refugio on the way down that looked like a great stopover point for the long multi-day walks that passed through this valley.  Many rocky steps and a steep drop near the end of this path led us on to a gravelled farm track, past some orange trees heavily laden with fruit and back onto the main road, to close our circular route. The distance was only 13km in total, but with a decent, sharp climb, incredible summit views and the wonderful close encounters with the griffon vultures, this definitely became a memorable walk in the Spanish mountains.


Puerto Serrano and Olvera

Puerto Serrano – Day 1

We sadly left Seville to head further south.  The weather turned, overcast and grey, to reflect our leaving mood, but the traffic-free roads were kind to us this Sunday morning. We headed back into the rural hills, as we planned to cycle a part of the Vía Verde de la Sierra route, an old abandoned, or more accurately never completed, railway line.  This particular stretch ran the 36.5km from Puerto Serrano to Olvera.

We arrived at the Estación at the Puerto Serrano end of the Via Verde, to find a car-park overflowing with cyclists and visitors; clearly a very popular route on a Sunday.  Unable to park in any of the available marked spaces, we abandoned Benny on a nearby dirt track, just off the side of the entry road.  We knew the car-park would clear out later, as the sun set, and we would have our pick of spaces to overnight in.



We had a look around the Estación and the nearby Fundación Vía Verde de la Sierra before retrieving our bikes from Benny and beginning the cycle.  The day was still a little dull and cloudy, normally ideal for cycling but not conducive for enjoying great views. The track was easygoing on smooth gravel, yet rather more winding and hilly than it should have been as a prospective train line, although we found out later that the extensive costs for the required infill to level the route was what ultimately caused it to fail as a viable route.

We passed over tall stone built viaducts and through long tunnels cut into the hills. The tunnels varied from short runs of around fifteen metres to the longest, El Castillo, at 990 metres long.  Automatic lighting on sensors lit our way through.  It was cold in the shade of the tunnels, no doubt a welcome relief in the heat of summer, but proved quite chilling for us on this overcast November morning.

We went only as far as Coripe on this jaunt, as we had to return and our legs were still feeling all the miles of walking around Seville.  We stopped a short while at the trail’s half way point of Estación de Coripe before turning back, to happily find the track mostly downhill in this direction.  We returned to our starting point much quicker than going out, completing a nice 35km cycle.



The car-park was still full on our return, so we cycled into the town of Puerto Serrano to pick up some fresh bread and other provisions, before returning to chill for the afternoon.

Once the crowds had dissipated we manoeuvered Benny into a prime corner spot in the car-park, with our door facing west, and this became our settled home for two nights.  From here we loved the peaceful solitude of being the only people staying in this free aire, with a great view over the olive groves behind and a wonderful sunset each night.



Puerto Serrano – Day 2

As we were enjoying the solitude and views from our carpark aire, we decided to remain in the same place for a further day.  This gave us the chance to complete another local cycle, away from the Via Verde, and see a different aspect of the local countryside.

The morning was cloudless but very cold, so we wrapped up warm to begin our cycle, until the sun joined us and warmed the air.  We followed a remaining portion of the original railway line, not incorporated into the official Via Verde, but still accessible by bike, in the opposite direction.  Early on the route we encountered a tall tunnel of cactus plants, over three metres high, forming quite the formidable hedges to protect the boundaries of the properties adjacent to the route.


Soon after the cactus ended, the gravelled but bumpy route passed through a large solar panel array and some local farms, before turning us out onto beautifully smooth local roads with fantastic views back over the town of Puerto Serrano.

From here we approached Villamartin, a Pueblo Blanco village near a large lake.  To reach the town we forded a low-flowing river, with slippery rocks under tyre and a smell of rotting vegetables in the air.  Rubbish was strewn around, giving the crossing the unfortunate appearance of a dumpsite.  The unpaved road then led into the cobbled backstreets of the town, before they opened out unto larger, smooth roads and continued upwards to the pretty main square.


Just outside the town we followed an old road, closed to cars, into what was signed as a parque natural, adjacent to the large lake.  We passed a heavily reeded marshland, where the road became a deep sand path, lined with peeling eucalyptus trees.  We continued along here a while, before deciding it was not prudent to continue deep into what could be private farmland and, more likely than not, a dead end.  So we doubled back and found a different, and easier, route back into the hills.

We experienced a multitude of different surfaces and rural landscapes throughout the day, a truly varied array of vistas and textures, all so close to each other, like coloured squares on a sewn quilt. We passed olive farms with neatly planted rows of trees.  We enjoyed views of Pueblo Blancos from the top of the rolling hills, their uniform square,  white buildings contrasting with the yellow-whites and dusty sand coloured hillsides.



We rode a rugged concrete road that has long ago collapsed into huge craters and needed careful route-finding to navigate.  We passed further large walls of spiky cactus plants, ripe with prickly pears that created green gorges to be passed through with sides many metres tall.  We were unsure whether they were growing wild or planted for harvesting or simply as a definitive ‘keep out‘.

Suddenly the stony path we were following became a long street of thick knee-high grass, difficult to ride through.  We persevered and after a few hundred metres of effort, popped out the other side back on gravel, as if nothing had happened. We could only think that either we were the first to use this path for many years, or that we missed a turn and crossed through an area where we shouldn’t have been, but luckily rejoined the route a little later.



On the hills, different soils ploughed together created the look like they were painted with a wide brush in a lazy sweep, striped and blended, using simple muted colours.  Tractors perched awkwardly on the steep dusty hillsides, looking like discarded toys on a sand dune. Tiny tufts of bright green grass broke up the sandy hillsides.  Fine gravel paths leading to small white storage buildings branched off from our route.

Smooth new tarmac farm tracks provided the easiest cycling of the day, but were all too brief before the next bumpy off road stretch. The roads were peaceful though, with very little traffic.  There was a sign advising us that the area was a ‘zona de galgas‘, with an accompanying picture of a dog.  We were unsure what this meant but remained wary in case it was a warning of wild dogs, although we later found out it means greyhounds.  We’re still not quite sure why it was necessary to mention it.



We saw occasional white fincas, each surrounded with wooden fencing and tall pine trees, neat and ordered like an oasis in a desert.  We stopped for lunch overlooking a small, white building, looking like a lonely tent in a desert.  Single trees stood lonely on sandy ridges, in the centre of large fields, providing the only shade for miles around.

On our return we saw olives being harvested with two men laying out netting to catch the fruit whilst a third used a petrol powered vibrating rod to shake the trees and drop the fruit.  From here we descended back into Puerto Serrano on the main road, enjoying the smooth downhill into town, to complete a very varied and interesting ride of 56km.


Olvera – Day 3

From our lovely, empty aire at Puerto Serrano, we left for the short journey east to the opposite end of this stretch of this Via Verde – the town of Olvera.  On the way we had a short detour into the village of Algodonales to pick up some provisions, just squeezing through their very narrow streets, before arriving late morning in Olvera.  We gladly found the aire had space available, with only two other motorhomes currently in residence.  The denoted spaces were over-generous, not that we were complaining, and the area could have easily accommodated several more motorhomes if marked differently.  We reversed into the prime corner spot, leaving lots of space around us to spread out into and relax.

We had a wonderful sun trap, with our door facing south east and our new patio area outside catching direct sun for the majority of the day.  We visited the restaurant to pay the €7 for our stay, then rather than get the bikes out immediately, we walked into Olveda to see the dominant church and Moorish castle at the top of the hill.




It was a short but very steep hill into the town from the aire, leaving us breathy and sweaty by our arrival.  We made our way up through the town, passing the Christmas decorations, the town hall and from there following steps up to the church.  From the plaza in front of the church we were rewarded with incredible views over the town, nearby dusty rolling hills blanketed with olive groves and other pueblo blancos in the distant hills.  The castle was unfortunately closed on Mondays but we made plans to visit it another time.



We enjoyed a few hours exploring the town before heading back to the Estación de Olvera to relax and plan our next move.  We decided not to cycle, but to leave the remaining portion of the Via Verde until the following morning.  Instead, we played a while on the outside exercise equipment before resorting to sunbathing in our camping chairs with a cold beer.


Olvera – Day 4

Today we cycled the Via Verde route again, this time in the opposite direction, from Olvera back to Coripe.  We had a very cold start, and the air definitely didn’t feel like any heat was going to be injected soon; it was more like what we’d expect from an early morning cycle in the UK than in southern Spain.  From this direction there were lots more tunnels, 20 in total from this end to Coripe.

Entering each tunnel the temperature suddenly dropped a few more degrees, from the already chilled morning air.  This made our bare arms break out in goosebumps and involuntarily shivers run along our flesh.  When back outside, we would slow down to linger in the short patches of sun, where the direct heat was very welcome, but speed up to work harder when stuck in long portions of shade.



The route dropped steadily downhill all the way to our turn-around point at Coripe, the point we had reached a few day’s previously cycling from Puerto Serrano.  We lost around 260m height in total over 22km, meaning the return leg was going to be more of an effort; at least we’d keep warm.  After a short break at Coripe, we headed back again, content we’d seen the full extent of this Via Verde.  The original stretch from Puerto Serrano was definitely prettier, with more open views across the countryside, and less tunnels.



After returning from the cycle, we packed away the bikes and walked back up the hill into town, this time armed with sketchbooks and intent.  First we paid the €2 to gain entry to the castle, allowing us to explore the full complex and extensive museum.  We climbed to the highest ramparts and enjoyed panoramic views over all the town and for miles around, before enjoying the detailed models and information boards on display.



Later we sat at the front of the church and attempted to sketch the Castillo on the hill opposite, with dubious results.  It was a lovely time of day, the soft late afternoon light making the whole town glow with an inner warmth.  The air was rather colder than the view suggested, but for a pleasant half hour we sat and sketched, as curious locals came to inspect our drawings, with polite nods and mutters of ‘muy buen’.  A fine end to our day.



80 days around the W…est of Europe

So, we thought it might be interesting to post a quick synopsis of our first 80 days on the road, to capture how we’re getting on to date.  As I’m sure was the same for Mr Fogg, some days it feels like we’ve been on the move for a lot longer than we have, other days it’s like we’ve barely started and have only scratched the surface of our visiting potential.  Our days are still jam-packed with interests and activities, but time is still marching by much faster than we’d like.

Here’s a rough approximation of our route so far;  beginning in Lincolnshire, then heading first down the west coast of France, across northern Spain, into Portugal and zigzagging south until we reached the Algarve, then east back into southern Spain.  We’re currently in Granada as we post this update, on day 80 of our trip.


We’re tracking every penny spent whilst away on the road, because we want to see if it’s a fully sustainable way of life for us.  We can then compare what we spend our money on and track if our outgoings in specific areas need to be tweaked.  Also, because I’m a bit of a statistics geek and like to play with our growing spreadsheets to see what conclusions can be formed from the information gathered, all manner of comparisons of costs across months and countries can be made.

So far we have spent less than our initial projected budget; Portugal has been the cheapest country to date, with 31 days of travelling there with an average spend of just over €25 per day.  This was over 35% below our original budget projections, so we are proving to be more frugal on the road than our starting expectations.  This is definitely a good thing as it allows us a surplus for unseen surprises and unexpected costs if and when they occur.

Unsurprisingly, food and provisions brought from supermarkets is our highest cost item, run close with diesel for Benny.  The percentage spend on diesel will no doubt diminish over the coming months as we covered a lot of miles in France in a hurry, and our pace of moving on since then has dropped significantly.

So, in these first 80 days on the road, we will have:

– Driven in excess of 3700 miles, in three countries (not including England), for an average of 46 miles driven per day.  We’ve split the driving fairly equally ( A-1889, N-1831 to date)

– Had our fuel costs and driving efficiency (27.6 mpg) average out to around €0.17 per mile

– Parked Benny in 51 different overnight stops (39 nights in free aires, 28 nights in paid aires, 6 nights in campsites, 5 nights outside a friend’s apartment, 2 nights at friend’s houses) and many more for local day parking stops

– Cycled over 650 kilometres, mostly off-road, with 18 outings on our bikes (including 7 rides of at least 50km)

– Walked over 340 kilometres (GPS tracked) and probably a lot more kilometres that weren’t specifically recorded

– Swam a lot less than we wanted to / should have, but the Atlantic seas have been wild and pools mostly closed for winter

– Had our sketchbooks out on only four occasions (a figure that definitely needs to change going forward)

– Realised that Portuguese, whilst looking similar to Spanish, in no way sounds like it is written when spoken.  But also, we’ve found that a lot of Portuguese people speak decent French (but not Spanish), so that’s been helpful.


Shopping for food is much the same as at home, with the exception of cheeses, which are sometimes silly expensive and often awful.  We’ve recently found that Lidl stores are the more dependable in terms of cheese supply, and do often stock cheddar, salad cheeses and feta for sensible prices, so we stock up there where we can.

Some other items are much cheaper than at home; for example:

We recently bought a litre of red wine for €0.69, another litre for €0.89 and a third, this one a premium label, for €1.10.  We thought it best to try each of the available levels, to see which is better, or at least our favourite.  That’s three litres of red wine for €2.68, or as that volume equates to four standard 750ml bottles, a cost of €0.67 each.  That is, at the time of writing, a whopping average bottle cost of 57p.  This immediately makes us wonder at both the quality of this product, but also the level of mark-up included on a standard bottle of wine available at home.

The first litre was rather poor; it was 10%, but looked and tasted less, more like a red that had been cut with water to dilute it for volume, with no expectation of taste.  To be fair, we weren’t expecting much, and got exactly what we paid for.  The second was actually a lot better, a 12% deep, fruity red that was reasonably tasty and went down very nicely.  The third, the premium label, was quite different, sharp and bitter, and neither of us were left impressed.  So, we found our ‘everyday’ wine – a €0.89 per litre red from Don Simon (or occasionally Peñasol).  This certainly keeps our costs down, as now our favourite (cheap) biscuits cost more than a bottle of red.  It’s also become a joking marker for any other expenses we have; a €3.50 parking charge now gets equated to 4 litres of wine – is it worth it?  Doing €8 worth of laundry – are you mad, that’s 9 litres of wine, or 12 bottles!  We do occasionally treat ourselves to a posh bottle costing around €3, because, hey, life’s too short.

We separated our running expenses into various categories, described below in words that we shamelessly stole from other long timer motorhome bloggers we’ve previously followed on the Internet.  (Many thanks, Adam and Sophie.)

FOOD – Food bought from a supermarket / shop. This includes wine and beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & parking when not overnighting
EATING OUT – Eating and drinking out in restaurants and bars (also includes snacks & ice creams)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
ENTERTAINMENT – Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals, attractions and other events etc..   Note: This also includes personal items such as clothes, laundry & other misc. items

The current ratio of our spending is as per the image below:

EXPENDITURE - Benny Travels.xlsx

This changes a little on a daily basis, but the general theme that feeding ourselves is the biggest expense, followed by fuel for travel, with every other expense lagging behind, is reasonably constant.  As we’re spending a fairly low amount (around €250 / month) on food, this really puts the cost of this lifestyle into perspective.  Other than eating out more, and we love to cook so this is not too much of a hardship, we don’t deny ourselves much at all.

In short, all is going well and looking sustainable going forward.  We’re comfortable with our pace, our spending and our level of activity.  We really need to be running under budget for this portion of our trip, as we will be splashing out for a few weeks of skiing in the French Alps come February, and that doesn’t come cheap.

We do sometimes feel that, even though we have all this time to ourselves and few other external commitments, we don’t quite seem to be achieving all that we’d hoped for in the free time we have.  We’re visiting places and learning their history, reading books, enjoying beaches, cycling routes and trekking mountains, but these are all the expected activities of our trip.  The mundane, everyday things; shopping, cooking, laundry, servicing for Benny (e.g. Emptying waste tanks, filling up with drinking water etc..) all take up a greater portion of our time than we thought they would, and we don’t seem to be able to fit in enough of the luxury extras – playing guitar, writing for pleasure, sketching, learning languages.  Or, it could be that we are falling into the lazy ways of the recently unemployed and time-rich and making the typical excuse of “we’ll have time for all that tomorrow”.  We hope it’s not the latter and that we make the effort and recommit to achieving the goals we aimed for at the outset of our journey.  It’s only 105 days now until our first return to the UK, six months into our trip.

Sevilla (Seville)

Sevilla – day 1

Early the next morning we moved off for Seville.  It was less than a ninety minute drive on the A22 motorway, over the bridge into Spain and beyond.  Forgetting that Portugal is an hour behind, we lost an hour simply crossing the border so arrived in Seville later than we’d hoped.  We had a futile search for LPG at a few service stations on the way, but the local Repsol agents seem to have stopped stocking propane, which was a little worrying.

As usual, there was very little traffic on the road, right up until within a few miles of Seville, where the road suddenly got much busier, to about the level of the M1 at around 4.30am on a Sunday.  We negotiated the approach into Seville with only one minor navigational hiccup, and duly arrived at our target aire. For €10 per night we were able to park all day and night at a spacious plot on the quiet bank of Río Guadalquivir, adjacent to the Puente de Los Remedios, less than a mile’s walk from the city centre and around a five minute walk to the Plaza de España – perfect.


We stopped off in a tourist office, set in a decorative building that was once the Queen’s sewing house, and picked up a few helpful maps to assist our navigation. The sky was a clear, deep blue, and entirely cloudless.  The air still not fully up to temperature, and we felt a little chilly in the shade.  It was still pleasant enough that we were dressed in shorts and short-sleeved tops, in contrast to the locals in their jeans, heavy coats and occasional scarves.


After circling the square, studiously avoiding the horses and decorative carriages, we entered the cathedral and climbed the tower.  The Cathedral, Puerta de San Cristobal, was constructed in the 15th century, on the site of the Almohade mosque.  It sits adjacent to the 12th century alminar of the mosque; La Giralda tower. The cathedral is reportedly the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, and the third largest of any architectural style. (after St Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London).  The views over the city were spectacular in all directions.



On our return to ground level, the small central streets were overflowing with people drinking wine and eating tapas, sat at tiny tables in narrow streets that left barely any room for others to pass.  We squeezed through the crowds, looking jealously at some of the treats lining the tables, and our thoughts turned to our own lunch.  We sat on the steps leading up to a decorative fountain not far from La Giralda and devoured our prepared filled rolls and fruit whilst enjoying people-watching and planning our afternoon.


Trees laden with oranges and limes lined the winding city streets.   A cloudless deep blue sky framed the light stonework of the buildings beautifully, drawing out the colour of the contrasting stone.  We passed the Iglesia del Salvador church, with its impressive Baroque façade and decorative gold interior lining three sides.  Inside, we sat quietly and watched the incoming light through the high level stained glass windows play on the gold, lighting the carved figures in a dancing multi-coloured spectrum.


We walked back homewards, but with the aim of again passing through Parque de Maria Luisa on the way.  Here, the Plaza de España building was simply incredible.  It appeared all the more dramatic during our visit for the blank blue canvas screen provided by the clear sky and the still water in the fountains and canal surrounding it.  Built as the venue for the 1929 Latin American Exhibition, the semi-elliptical plan apparently denotes a symbolic embrace between Spain and its former American Colonies.



It’s a Regionalist style square, with the curved canal flowing parallel to the façade being crossed by four decorative bridges, all converging on the focal point fountain to the centre.  The buildings behind now house various government departments, but mostly it has been left as a tourist-attracting monument.  As it was so close, we returned again and again at various times of day to enjoy the Plaza de España and the different light upon it.

Each bay within the Palladian-style colonnade represents a region of Spain, arranged alphabetically left to right.  The bays have murals and imagery unique to each region, tiled and coloured brightly.  Each is flanked by tiled benching that allows visitors to sit and admire the motifs.  The detailing of the blue and white tiling to the bridge balustrading added a huge visual lift, contrasting with the stone and reflecting the movements of the water.  Yellow wheeled horse-drawn carriages ferried tourists in loops around the plaza, as they do all across the city; quite a magical space.



Sevilla – day 2

This morning we passed through the Plaza de España again, to enjoy the morning light on the tiled facade, before making our way back to the central square to visit the Alcázar.  There was a short queue to get in, so we waited in the sun enjoying views back across the side of the cathedral and La Giralda.  We passed through x-ray machines like at an airport.



The Alcázar of Seville has a history spanning more than a thousand years, and is one of the most complex and architecturally compelling buildings in the world.  Its many faces each reflect a specific time in Spanish history, from the arrival of the Taifa kings, the Almohad Caliphate through the Castilian reformation and transformations.  Each additional building or spacial amendment tells a tale of the dominant ideology of the time, and mirrors much of what also happened both locally in Seville and in Spain generally.

Most of the original Islamic buildings remain, with only their use or plan layout having been changed to suit the needs of the Christian kings that followed.  Major changes occurred under King Peter I in 1356, but the palaces still retain their original splendour.



The gardens surrounding the Alcázar were a large part of the design, and give both a soft diversity and harmony to the design.  We wandered freely through the spaces, each area with a different feel and smell, depending on how it was enclosed, the planting chosen or the colour of the stone or tiling on the adjacent walls.  This late in November we probably didn’t experience the gardens in full bloom, but they were still beautiful and expansive.




From the Alcázar we walked back to the river side and along, to pass by the large Bull Ring and see the statues of local Bullfighting legends.  We could have had a tour inside the ring, but decided our interest in hearing heroic stories of the bloody and systematic massacre of bulls for sport was not as strong as seeing other parts of the city.



When we walked further around the small labyrinthine streets, we found a small theatre and booked tickets for a show later that evening.  It was a night of Flamenco music and dancing, something that Seville is famous for.  It would have been wrong to leave without experiencing at least some small performance of this art.  We returned to Benny for a simple siesta and to rest our feet, before heading out again a few hours later to see the show.

The sun was down now, and the tree-lined streets beginning to liven up, with students filling all the cafes near the university.  Bougainvillea lined many of the routes along busy pavements close to cycle paths denoted by neat circular discs in the ground, each with a cyclist motif stamped on it.  The demarcations were not best followed or respected, like they are in Copenhagen or Amsterdam;  it was more of a free-for-all mix with pedestrians, scooters, cyclists and the occasional group of Segway riders competing.

We walked back through the crowds to find our chosen theatre, and chose our seats on the back row, so we could stand during the performance, if preferred.  We drank tall glasses of tinto de verano as we enjoyed the spectacle, with the star performer being the flamenco guitarista who played beautifully throughout.


Afterwards, we found a small, busy bar on a quieter street and ordered some tapas and wine. We sat outside at a small table on the uneven cobbled streets and watched the world pass by; a great end to a fantastic evening of entertainment.

We passed the Torre del Oro on our walk home, one of the oldest existing buildings in Seville.  It was a watchtower, built by the Almohad Caliphate in the 13th century, sited on the original city walls that once protected the Alcázar. It also previously served as a prison.


Sevilla – day 3

We had a rather slow start today, with us indecisive and distracted as we considered moving on.  The travel bug is infectious and can lead you to craving the open road and the next big thing, but sanity eventually prevailed and we decided to stay another day in beautiful Seville.  A central aspect of choosing this sort of mobile life is that, when we find a place we really enjoy being, we can simply stop and stay as long as we wish. Seville was a place we certainly enjoyed being, and there was still so many things to see; why go?

This time we walked further north, passing all the now familiar sights, to see the Metropol Parasol project, reportedly the largest timber structure in the world, and known locally as ‘the giant mushrooms’. The project was plagued with structural design issues and finished in 2011 with a final cost of over €100 million, more than double the original budget.  The covered plaza is an impressive space, and the complex structure intriging, but it seemed they were still unsure as to what it should contain, as it only has a few small play areas for kids underneath the canopy, looking like temporary infills until a more permanent use could be ascertained.


We walked to the northern city walls, near the new hospital, before turning left and following the road back to the river, to admire a few modern bridges.

There are certainly many fantastic and ornate buildings in Seville, and beautiful, lively streets leading to them.  But Seville is more than the sum of its buildings and squares.  It’s more than its river and parks and wonderful climate. Everything in unison adds up to something much greater that is difficult to define, but impossible to miss. The people are friendly and passionate, busy and productive.  The neat, paved streets are lined with orange trees, branches hung heavy with fruit even late in the year.  At night, the same areas smell strongly of jasmine, unless a chestnut seller is nearby.  Hints of tapas abound; aromas of paella and fried fish tweak curious nostrils from dark, interest-grabbing restaurants.  Red wine flows more freely than water, and from this follows lively conversation and, sometimes, exuberant singing.  Joggers enjoy the cooler night air, running along the riverside dodging pedestrians and photographing tourists.  The city’s connection to Flamenco runs deep and street performers dance, play and sing the music on many corners, and it can be heard emanating from many windows high above the street.


In our short time in the city we saw a rowing and canoeing regatta, uniformed marching cornet bands playing in competition and hot air balloons flying over the Plaza de España.  Every square we passed was filled with people embracing life through food, drink, activity and lively socialising.  We passed several weddings with flamboyantly dressed guests and venues, flamenco guitaristas with their passionate dancers.  This is a city that loves and celebrates life, and we loved it all right beside them.

Other than initial notions in San Sebastián, this is the first place on our travels to date that we could really, seriously, see ourselves living at some future time.  We always harboured dreams of spending six months to a year in many locales in various countries around the world, to grow small roots and gain a deeper understanding of each place’s culture, language and cuisine.  For us, Seville is a definite contender for being one of those chosen places, once we’re ready for a more sedentary life; such a special place.

Lagos, Albufeira and Vila Real


Leaving our clifftop vantage in Porto Covo, we drove on, ever southward.  We arrived on the Algarve south coast after a very decent and direct drive, on an arrow-straight and very smooth road running southwards, parallel to the west coast.  We were heading for the resort town of Lagos, where we had a treat in store; Nicky has a friend who has an apartment here, and he very kindly suggested it would be available to us to use as we passed through it was available.  At this point in our trip we had quite fancied a short holiday away from Benny, allowing us to stretch our legs and spread out a little, so this was an ideal opportunity to do so, at least for a little while.

(A big thank you for the lend of the apartment, kind sir, very much appreciated – you know who you are!)


We arrived at the complex and located the apartment and keys without any issues.  It was such a welcome change to be in a spacious apartment; all that space to fully relax into, to watch TV for the first time since we left, to complete some laundry; a luxury mini-break from our regular, very tiny home in Benny.  We decanted most of our clothes and possessions into the spacious apartment and, looking around, we wondered how we’d ever get it all back in.  Considering how ruthless we were when leaving, we are still a little amazed at how much we actually have with us, and how efficient the storage in Benny is.


We first explored the apartment complex, but it seemed that the inviting looking communal pool was closed for the end of season, or at least blocked off at the time of our visit, which was a shame.  We walked to the local Praia don Ana, only a few minutes from the apartment door down some stone-built steps, passing a restaurant with a timber walkway leading across the sand.  But a change in the weather caused us to dash back indoors, as rain temporarily stopped play.


Later, when the sun returned, we wandered down into the centre.  Lagos old town is a pretty whitewashed village, all of uniform appearance and neatly maintained.  It was a bustling town, busy even this late out of season.  There were many restaurants open and all alive with customers.  Walking around we heard lots of British accents, so would assume there are many expats owning apartments in town, and either holidaying, over-wintering or living here permanently; quite a popular resort.


With the weather still unsure of itself, we visited a museum in Lagos that was attached to the side of the Igreja de Santo António, and housed a very varied collection of artifacts related to the local area.  There were Bronze Age arrow heads, models of fishermen boats, coin collections, life-size models of local peasants, a real patchwork quilt of items and curiosities that combined to create an impression of life through the ages in the Algarve.  But the interior of the church itself was the most striking element; fully gilded on all faces, intricate carvings of saints and cherubs formed the backdrop to the intoxicating gold envelope.  The friezes and statues told the stories of St. Anthony’s life and his reported miracles in an impressively garish fashion.



Being on the more protected south coast rather than the wild west, the sea water was warmer and noticeably flatter allowing, we hoped, greater opportunities for swimming in the calm blue. But swimming and beach time would be on hold until the weather behaved.

Instead, we undertook a very damp coastal walk, following the cliff edge with views of eroded stacks and archways, thinking it would be very interesting to kayak around this coastline.  We got caught in several heavy showers, with the intervals of bright sun between drying us off just before the next deluge struck.  It was never cold, and in many ways quite refreshing, but did distract a little from the coves and rock formations below.


There was a slightly scruffy feel to the clifftop scrubland, and an aged 1970’s feel to many of the nearby buildings.  Whilst it was out of season, a lack of maintenance around the town was evident, and many unfinished construction projects looked either on hold or abandoned, potential casualties of the 2007 crash.  The outskirts of the town were littered with crumbling concrete skeletons, awaiting further works or deserving only demolition.

The rain stopped as we walked back, and we were treated to a surprising window of sunny weather, the brightness and temperature immediately lifting.  We were intending to head back to the apartment, but instead detoured back onto our local beach and had a refreshing 400m swim around a lonely orange stack set out beyond the surf.  Having a notional goal to aim for definitely makes a swim more focused and motivated, in this instance a loop around a fixed marker, rather than swimming short lengths parallel to shore.

Drying off, we noticed a scruffy young beachcomber with wild hair and a deep tan passing us, then spotted him later climbing up the cliff face into a shallow cave where clothes and provisions were visible.  It looked like he was living in the cave, camping on the rock face, and this made us curious as to his story and reasons, but we never did find out.



One day we cycled, in a roundabout way, to the village of Luz, a nearby beach resort, for a day out and a change of beach scene.  We found some nice off-road tracks that led through a half-finished but beautifully neat golf resort, offering a little insight into where the real money in tourism is focused for this region of Portugal.  We locked up the bikes and sat on the beach for a while, but despite the sunny day there was a sharp crosswind that was quite chilling, so disappointingly we never made it into the water for our expected swim.



We passed some beautiful, bespoke houses built in a small cluster that had no surfaced road leading to them, with high-end cars having to carefully drive over roughly stoned sand, pitted and potholed, to get to their immaculately finished long driveways.  This smacked of an unresolved dispute with the original builders or developers, as the short road between each driveway was finished, but not the final 800m or so connection to the main road.  The one downside of the day was that we continued to be aggressively barked at and chased by slavering dogs when cycling in rural areas; not a pleasant experience.



The following morning, we decided to go for a long walk along the Lagos promenade and Praia Meia, the largest beach in the Lagos area.  The dander took us from the apartment through the old town, to the marina bridge and along the wide, golden beach.  The sea lapped gently on the sands, with small waves breaking neatly on the deposited lines of shells. We walked on the sand to the large stone walls protecting the shallow inlet bay behind, a distance just over 8km one way. Here we approached the small red and white striped lighthouse on the end, where fishermen were quietly plying their trade on the rocks.  We found a small ledge on a rock sheltered from the wind but in full sun, and sat here to enjoy the sea view, our packed lunch and the sun’s heat warming our faces.



On our return we watched the pedestrian bridge at the marina open to allow a tall sailboat through, before making our way back, again through the lively old town centre.



After leaving the luxury of a spacious apartment, we moved a little distance along the coast road to visit the next renowned resort on the Algarve – Albufeira.  Our resting place this night was a large commercial aire on a roundabout on the outskirts of town.  It was a practical stopover place, with wide bays and all necessary services, so suited just fine as a base to visit the resort town, albeit a reasonable half hour’s walk to the main centre.

We had a walk around the town and along the beach front, remembering all the reasons why we don’t really do beach holidays, at least not package tours to resort towns.  It’s a pleasant enough place, but restaurant touts and club promoters everywhere made it feel much too focused on taking our money rather than allowing us to enjoy the visit.



We walked along the beach a while, which looked nice from a distance but wasn’t actually very clean; there were discarded plastic bags and takeaway wrappers alongside whatever other debris the sea had deposited.  After a short distance we decided to cut back up some graffiti-covered steps to the high level promenade and back into the town, then made good use of some external escalators to bring us back down to the town level behind.

Vila Real de Santo Antonio

Moving on from Albufeira, we decided to move faster east and so we skipped the remainder of the Algarve, heading close to the Spanish border, stopping near to the town of Monte Gordo.  We spent our last night in Portugal in a rather forlorn aire in Vila Real de Santo Antonio.  An interesting town in some regards, rebuilt on a grid design after being destroyed by an 18th century earthquake and the ensuing tsunami, but the aire near the harbour was not located in the most salubrious part of town.

The aire was busy with many who were staying long term, and we couldn’t think of a more unsuitable place to pay to live – after all the wonderful free aires we’d passed, and other beautiful cheap campsites we’d visited, we couldn’t fathom why others would wish to remain long term in such an obvious ‘stop-over only’ place, all gritty, dirty and noisy.



We had a short cycle, perhaps 12km or so in total, into the local large town of Monte Gordo.  Besides from a long, impressive stretch of beach, we saw little of real interest, and it had the feel of a summer resort town that had closed up shop for the winter.  There was little life around, and few people, so we returned to Vila Real and awaited the dawn.

Thus endeth our travel adventures in Portugal – next stop, España.

Fonte da Telha and Porto Covo

Fonte da Telha

After leaving Lisbon, we headed south in search of solace and tranquillity.  We found it at the end of a long, dusty, unpaved road.  With a rough, bumpy and difficult approach leading along the sea front, this quirky, run-down but vibrant village was once a beach resort-of-sorts.  The surroundings consisted of small beach-fronted restaurants that spilled down onto the sand, punctuated with palm trees.  Many were closed up at this time of year, but a few remained open to mop up the small dribble of visitors still managing to find themselves in this out of the way place.



We parked up with a sea view out the front window, our nose less than a metre from the edge of the beach, facing due west.  From here we enjoyed the repeated pleasure of incredible sunsets, perfectly visible from inside Benny, or from just sitting quietly outside overlooking the water.  Occasionally we would walk down to the water’s edge to watch the reddened waves roll in up close, and listen to their gentle lapping.  We luxuriated in long, slow days on the sand, only metres from both our motorhome and the sea, and the weather remained at a constant 28 degs C during the days of our stay. It was a great, quiet spot to unwind fully.



One morning we decided to exercise our restless legs and we walked along the incredible extent of beach, over five miles long.  We discovered that, a mile or so from where we were parked up, a specific stretch of the sand was designated as a nudist beach. We passed quite a few walnut-skinned sun-worshippers taking full advantage of this designation, as they had for many years according to the evenness of their tans.  Beyond here, very few people had made the effort to reach this end of the beach, so we enjoyed a long stretch of beautiful golden sand all to ourselves.  The high cliffs set behind the beach were yellow ironstone, similar in colour to Northamptonshire stone.

It was in Fonte da Telha, finally, that we enjoyed our very first meal out, some 55 days into our trip.  This premier event took place in the ‘Cabana Bar’ on the seafront.  This was a great, quirky little bar with friendly staff and a real laid-back vibe. We had a burger and fries with a large beer each for €20. Then we had an additional beer each to celebrate the rarity of the occasion; quite the luxury for us.



The next day we walked to a local shop, on Sunday, to buy bread and wine, like a humanist communion.  It was 28deg C, the day before Halloween, and much too hot for sunbathing.  The waves were also too large for swimming.  On our return, we watched surfers in the water, and one sole stand-up paddleboarder riding a few waves, showing great control on such a large board.  We overcame our reticence and joined them in the water sans board, splashing and jumping in the large waves, our joviality punctuated occasionally with a longer swim out beyond the break.  The only downside of this was the loss of my favourite goggles after momentarily letting down my guard and falling foul to a sneak attack by a rogue large wave, just as I was leaving the water; a slightly disappointing end to a day’s play in the surf, and a search of frothing waves turned up no sign of them.



Although we spent only three days and nights here in total, time slowed down and we became the quintessential beach bums.  With us fully recharged and relaxed, our wanderlust grabbed us again and we decided sadly we needed to move on, further down the coast to another beach resort.  It would be all too easy to linger, but there’s always some place else to see.

Porto Covo

After a long drive south, racking up bills on the toll roads with abandon (€14.50 over two separate charges for this stretch) we found ourselves back in civilisation, of sorts.  The aire just outside the town of Porto Covo was quite full, with around twenty motorhomes parked up on the clifftop, enjoying the wonderful views to the sea. We joined them, finding a spot near the edge, before having a quick walk to the edge to look over our new local beach.



After settling in, we walked into town to have a quick look around.  It was silly hot, around 25degs but sticky, humid and draining, so we walked slow, exploring the tidy streets and neat squares.  Porto Covo was an absurdly picturesque village, with most buildings painted in a uniform white with blue trims to windows and doors.

We relaxed on our new local beach to read a while; my third book in six days now underway.  Again we watched the huge waves crashing wildly against the sand, enjoying the power of the ocean, and let ourselves be battered by them.



The next morning we decided to cycle south along the coast, exploring other coves and quiet beaches, with the hope of locating an idyllic one to claim for ourselves. From the centre of town we descended and forded a small sea inlet at a point where it was a miniscule river, then had to endure a steep, rocky climb back up to the neighbouring cliff top.  Dusty gravel tracks kept us close to the coast from where we could see all the nearby coves and sandy bays, enabling us to keep an eye out for which might become our beach spot for an hour or two.


We were initially attracted to a nice sandy cove and cycled to the edge of the beach, before having a walk about to explore the area.  It was entirely deserted, all but a few footprints from an earlier dog walk. Swathes of sandy beach were interspersed by jutting rock formations segmenting the beach into what would be several separate areas with the tide higher.  Our idyllic spot was shaping up nicely and we quickly changed from bike to beach clothes, yet when we returned to the bikes a noisy campervan had driven down to the edge of the grassy bank directly behind the spot we’d chosen, ruining our tranquillity and privacy.  With this beach no longer to ourselves, and with a sudden weather change and the sky clouding over like a dark grey sheet, we decided to continue our cycle.



As we got back onto the coastal path, we were greeted by more ominous dark rain clouds overhead, both in front and behind us.  It was not to be a chilling beach day after all, so we called short our cycling explore and returned to Porto Covo to relax for the afternoon.  Later had a brief spell on our own local beach, having fun getting battered by the powerful Atlantic waves as we played in the surf, before sitting on the rugged clifftop overlooking the bay and reflecting on a lovely couple of days in the company of beautiful Porto Covo.