Tag Archives: coast

France – Sausset-les-Pins and the calanques of Marseille

We left Remoulins late morning, and after an hour and a half of easy dual carriageway we arrived in Sausset-les-Pins, the location of our first organised 10km (well, 11.2km) race of this trip.  Here we got our first true glimpse of the Mediterranean.  We wanted to arrive early to ensure a space in the free aire (43.338412, 5.108487) , but found only two others in a spacious car-park that easily could accommodate twenty.  We settled in, ate lunch then cycled the two kilometres down to the beach and picked out a space to flop into.  We had occasional dips in the shallow bay, clambering over rocks carpeted with soft algae to reach the clear, cool water.  But mostly we lay still, slowly roasting under the heat of the afternoon sun.  We turned ourselves like burgers on a grill to ensure an even cooking, dripping hot sweat like fat on the white stones.

Sausset-les-pins - (beach front cycle)

Sausset-les-pins - (beach spot)

We had to rest up – we had plans for the next morning.  A 7am alarm, a quick breakfast and an easy cycle back to the seafront.  Before we left home we had signed up for an 11.2 km local run, and today was that day.  We locked up the bikes and warmed up, readying ourselves for the off. Over 1000 runners were taking part, a larger event than we anticipated, but there was a welcome, friendly buzz.  The morning was hot muggy grey, with flashes of distant lightning and growls of thunder and we had two short downpours to dodge.  Each left the air cooler, but thicker and sticky; difficult running conditions.  We set off exactly at 9am, following the coastline before cutting inland up a few dusty hills.  Our tops were instantly soaked through with sweat, the humidity making a sodden mess of us. Fifty-eight hot minutes of crowded countryside trails later we arrived back at the start, drained and gasping in the heavy air.

Sausset-les-pins - (a on race day)

Sausset-les-pins - (raceday selfie)

We helped ourselves to drinks, fruit and cake, picked up our finishing gift (a neat rucksack rather than a T-shirt) and our free beer and retired to the beach for a cooling-off swim.  There are few pleasures better than the joyful relaxing after a hard run, and we revelled in the restful simplicity of our sweat-removing dips.  Revitalised and fresh, we left the beachfront in Sausset-les-Pins and, after navigating our way through the markets, returned to Benny to eat lunch and pack up.  We were moving on, down through the centre of Marseille to reach Marly Parc, a paid aire south of the city and, from an overnighting perspective, the only game in town. Our drive took us through the central streets of the city and the thriving heart of the Old Port, and even from within our van we could feel the historic grandeur.

Sausset-les-pins - (passing the marina)

Sausset-les-pins - (nicky with rose)

We arrived in Marly Parc (43.338412, 5.108487), via a series of long straight avenues, and slotted into our designated corner plot which looked very tight but was surprisingly spacious once we were in.  This was to be our base to explore the rugged coastlines within the Parc National des Calanques. A quiet night of gentle planning led to preparing our bikes and we packing enough snacks and water to see us through a lazy afternoon.  We set off, under hot, clear skies, thinking the 6km ride to the beach would be a simple, casual affair, an easy jaunt.  But we had vastly underestimated the terrain we had to cross over to reach it, and joined others heading our way in pushing our bikes up most of the extremely steep 4km long hill.  Once over the top we swooped down the last 2km on the opposite side to the sea, all the time aware that we would have to repeat the effort back up.  We rolled into the Calanque de Sormiou, locked our bikes to a tree and walked to the water, joining hundreds of others who shared our plans today.

Calanque cycle - initial view

calanque cycle - (at the calanque)

The popularity of the main beach fuelled our decision to skirt around the back of the bay and explore wider.  A dusty path led to a couple of small beautiful-looking beaches in hidden coves.  Descending to the first and removing our shoes meant we could paddle and scramble over a rocky outcrop to reach the less accessible second beach.  At this time of day it was in partial shade, so had only attracted a few others.  Reclining on our towels we marvelled at the beautiful clear blue waters lapping a few short steps from us.  We had refreshing dips in the calm waters as small boats and larger yachts edged into the calanque, providing us with a murmur of friendly noise and pleasant people-watching opportunities.  An afternoon of intermittent swimming, sunscreen application, lunch nibbling, book reading, careful hydration and general relaxing kept us fully occupied for several slow and pleasant hours.

calanque cycle - (costal path)

calanque cycle - (main beach view)

Marly Parc - relaxing with beers

The return journey saw us slowly grinding the gears and pedalling away from the coast.  In contrast to our fast downhill approach, our speed on the return was slow enough to truly take in the beautifully craggy limestone valley that had been our host for the day.  With a few brief breathers on picturesque corners  and one bout of pushing our bikes, their handlebars higher than our heads, we soon made the summit of the pass.  From there, a quick provision stop at a nearby supermarket and a couple of simple kilometres led us back to Benny.  We remained at Marly Parc that night, quietly enjoying a couple of chilled beers tucked away in the shady warmth of our private little corner.

A&N x

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Spain – Torroella de Montri, Sa Riera, Begur & Pals

We rolled away from Banyoles, heading east towards the coast. We stopped at Torroella de Montgri to have a short walk around the town, having read comments praising its centre.  It was pleasant enough, with a few nice squares and a stone-built cathedral, but we found it no more special than many other Spanish towns. We continued to the coast, following a convoluted way around the narrow roads into the coastal town of Sa Riera.

Our sat nav kept demanding we turn down roads that didn’t exist, or were clearly private driveways, so we improvised (read: guessed) at several turns.  At least our route offered a wonderful look over the bay and a glimpse of the fabulously located homes that line the rugged steep cliffs, but it made for some tentative and nervous driving.  We finally arrived at a car-park ( 41.971170n, 3.208628e ) near the Platja de Sa Riera, listed as an aire for the price of €3 per day.  Whilst we were there, still out of season, no one appeared to collect any payment, and we saw only one other car parked there, so it was clearly not worth their time this early in the season.

Sa Riera - (coastal walk)

We walked to the beach and a short way around a stone built coastal path, taking in the rugged orange rocks of the cliff face and the wild churning sea below.  Two young girls played alone on the sand, building castles, and one older man lay dosing in a separate bay.  The air was warm, but the sky was back to a dull grey, thick with cloud, with occasional gusts of chilling wind.  We had hoped for sunnier days and calmer seas, and the desire to swim here was not within us.  We collected a few choice bits of smoothed white driftwood with the intention of fashioning something useful from them once home, and then returned to Benny to relax for the remainder of the afternoon.  The wind died down later and we utilised the expanse of the empty car-park for a tiring, competitive game of frisbee.

The morning brought more cloud cover, so our hopes of a relaxing sunny beach holiday were in danger.  Without the weather, sitting around was not ideal, so we accelerated our plans and decided to move on to explore nearby villages instead.  Only a few miles south, Begur centre had a large sandy car-park that had been wildly pitted and cratered from heavy rain or flooding.  We appeared to be the only vehicle brave (or stupid) enough to use it, but it was ideally placed for visiting the town.  We watched several cars desperately circling other obviously full but tarmacked car-parks looking for spaces rather than join us.  From here we walked through the  beautifully kept streets of the town  to reach a castellated wall that was once a castle and enjoy panoramic views over the rolling hills and out to sea.  We could see the beach at Sa Riera clearly from here.

Begur - coastline view

It was market day in Begur, so there were lots of visitors, giving the town the feel of a thriving, vibrant community.  We enjoyed our bracing morning walk, before descending back down the hill and moving on to the next village.   We arrived next in Pals.  Not knowing where best to park we picked out a parking area noted on Google maps which turned out to be the local cemetery, but proved ideal for us, and was very convenient to the centre.  A short, steep walk and we arrived in the heart of the beautiful village.

It was almost too perfect, too neat.  After a few minutes of wandering, it began to feel artificial, like a film set created only for visitors to photograph and fawn over.  We popped in and out of lovely cool shops, immaculately finished and with neat shelves stocked with decorative, well- presented goods.  All staff members spoke at least three languages, ready to accommodate anyone wishing to purchase goods.  So much tourist money, and guided tourist groups, flowed through the streets.  We were equally impressed and appalled.   The main focus was on art galleries and pottery, local traditional skills.  We  joined the hordes and treated ourselves to a fiery red serving bowl, a splash of colour for our kitchen.

Pals -church

As on the church bell tower in Pals, there are yellow ribbons tied, spray-painted, chalked or inscribed everywhere around the Costa Brava. We initially thought they might be connected to Easter, but soon learned they are a (rather contentious) symbol in support of Catalan independence.  The leaders of the recent independence movement, now jailed and awaiting trial, have become a focus of activists who see them as political prisoners and self-determination as a right, not a crime.  Other pro-Spanish union groups have been removing public ribbons and this has led to heated exchanges.  The villages we visited around the Costa Brava coast all appeared to be in support of the independence movement, but it’s a complicated issue that has divided families.  Many runners in our 10km race back in Olot were wearing shirts with slogans in support of the jailed politicians.

A&N x

Denmark –  Tisvildeleje beach, Nyborg & Fyns Hoved

Where we visit Tisvildeleje beach, cycle the rural roads and lanes around Nyborg & a bracing walk around the interesting headland of Fyns Hoved.

From our quaint farm aire by the raspberry bushes, we drove up to Tisvildeleje beach on the north-west coast of this area of Sjælland.  It was mentioned in our ‘Wild Guide to Scandinavia’ book, but following the GPS coordinates in the book almost ended in disaster.  The road led through tiny residential streets, made narrower by huge mounds of recent tree and hedge cuttings that had been left uncollected on the verges, before arriving at the ‘car-park’ which was a single space on the narrow roadside.  It looked much more like a passing place than a usable lay-by, and the road ahead was a dead-end.  We had to reverse back 50m to the last junction, being watched by bemused locals, who then helpfully informed us where suitable beach parking was.  We sheepishly made our way there to find a massive beach-front car-park that could easily accommodate 400+ cars; there were five on site, so we had a little more space to fit into than on our previous stop.

Tisvildeleje - a on beach

We parked up and walked barefoot along the beach away from town, dipping our toes in the lapping water as we went.  The sun was bright and strong, feeling very warm on our skin when not concealed by cloud. There were a few other walkers with their dogs doing the same paddling, along with a couple of nude swimmers calmly braving the Baltic waters.  We walked slowly down the sands for a few kilometres, paddling in the shallows, before crossing into the raised dunes behind for a different perspective.  The beach was long and clean, and with the sun joining us on occasion our walk was a lazy delight.  We returned back along the sand, soaking up rays and thoroughly chilled.

Tisvildeleje - n on beach

On our return we were approached to undertake a survey by a guy representing VisitDenmark, so we chatted a while as we completed his many questions.  We made him a tea and had a long chat about our impressions of Denmark, and learned of his unfortunate dismissal from journalism at the hands of new ruthless American owners, leaving him currently stuck doing jobs well below his qualifications and experience.  We overnighted in another aire in a large family home garden, offered to passing travellers by the owners who themselves are keen motorhomers.  They asked for a small contribution from those who consume any services, either electricity, water or bin bags, which is more than fair, but simply stopping overnight is entirely free.  We were joined late, after sunset, by one other motorhome, who was gone again before we opened our blinds.

Bridge to Ordense island

Kongshoj - forest trails

We moved on again, this time to Kongshøj camping, where we planned a few static days.  We seemed to be stuck in Groundhog Day with the weather, constant high winds and stormy days keeping us safely hunkered down inside.  Our booze supply had been depleted, so we made plans to pick up more.  We noted there was a craft brewery at a farmhouse about 12km away, so we decided to brave the weather and cycle there.  We followed an off-road portion through a forest park, parallel to the sea coast heading north.  The weather brightened considerably, becoming sunny and dry.  Decent compacted gravel paths led through beautiful fir-heavy parkland to reach Holckenhavn Slot, a private manor house built in red brick in a late Renaissance style.  The castle, otherwise private, can be rented out for private functions and events, but the 12 hectares of parkland gardens surrounding it are open to the public.

Holckenhavn Slot - n cycles by

Holckenhavn Slot - a at castle

The surrounding countryside was very familiar to us, so similar to the rural midlands of England where we have so often cycled.  We passed over rolling hills with planted corn, blonde stubble fields and long stacks of gathered hay. Lumbering tractors turned over soil in preparation for the next crop, while nearby fields were full of neat rows of sun-bathing onions, left to dry. Small islands of trees stood tall in the centre of wide seas of short grass or muddy turned soil.  Other than the busy main arteries we were forced to cross occasionally, the country side-roads were traffic-free and constructed from clean, smooth tarmac; just perfect for sight-seeing and leisure cycling.

Refsvindinge - brewery shop

Refsvindinge - a at brewery

We reached the brewery, Refsvindinge Bryggeriet, and abandoned our bikes outside to explore their extensive range of, by Scandinavia standards, very cheap craft beers.  Some low-strength lagers were only 3DKK per bottle, Pilsners and IPAs under 5DKK, stouts and porters at 8DKK.  With around 9DKK to the pound, we could happily sort ourselves out with a few decent beers.  We were kindly offered tastings of whichever we wanted, so we sampled a wide range before buying as many as we could safely carry, with assurances we’d return in Benny the following day to stock up with more.  We completed our 32km loop, mostly sheltered from the blustering winds, but we got hit by a huge gust or faced a strong head-wind occasionally.  The bright sun appeared from behind the grey clouds in short patches, and on a few happy occasions this coincided with a pause in the wind; in those rare moments cycling these rolling roads was simply glorious.

Kongshoj - onions in field

Kongshoj - yummy beers

After our return, we spent the afternoon relaxing around the campsite. Nicky undertook a bit of experimental photography, testing out various techniques and settings down on the beach in high winds, as I drank tea and finished another book, Graham Swift’s Waterland, a poignant reflection on the importance of history in terms of our understanding of the present, set stark against the flowing waters of the flatland Fens – well recommended.  We then spent our evening ensuring all of today’s purchased beers were fully up to scratch, in anticipated advance of the larger beer purchase we would make the following morning.  They were indeed, every last one of them.

Kongshoj - beach pier

After checking out and returning to Refsvindinge Bryggeriet to pick up a crate full of select beers, we drove north under wet, grey skies.  We first headed through Nyborg and then onwards, to visit Fyns Hoved.  This was the most northern point of the Hindsholm peninsula, a rather distinctive feature of moving sand spits, strong currents and sheltered beaches comparable to Skagen in north Jutland.  Geographically speaking, it is considered a bight rather than a bay or sound.  We parked up where the tarmacked road ended, rather than in a car-park further on at the end of the gravel track.  From here we walked along the stony beach between the marina and the headland, where we followed a circular route around the point on well-worn pathways.

Fyns Hoved-benny at beach

Fyns Hoved- n at sandy cliffs

We climbed first to the area’s highest point, marked by a bronze disk cast in the ground.  We could see out over the Baltic sea in all directions, the west all rough and frothing, the east a flat protected bay. There were many fishermen standing still and silent in the shallow waters, with the occasional cast into the sea their only movement.  Others sat on rocks on the beach shore, rods supported on stands rather than hand-held.  We walked across the rounded hills to reach the tall sandy cliffs on the western face, then the most northern point of the land, before returning along the calmer eastern side.  It was an interesting place to see and enjoy a low level 5km walk, a worthy distraction.

Fyns Hoved- hilltop view

Fyns Hoved-beachfront view

SE Sweden – Kalmar & Almö

Sweden’s South East coast – Kalmar & Almö

Crossing the long bridge from Öland, we returned to revisit the town of Kalmar, the inescapable point where the island’s only bridge meets the mainland.  We parked near to the 13th century fairy-tale Kalmar Castle, proclaimed as the best preserved Renaissance castle in Sweden.  A large anchor marked the beginnings of the castle’s defences, set on the banks of its deep protective moat.  We entered the extensive grounds, a purpose-built island complex, via a flag-lined wooden bridge over the moat, taking in the views in all directions.

Kalmar - (approaching the castle)

Kalmar - (on the bridge)

The original tower was constructed in the 12th century, with the ring wall fortress following in the 13th century, making the tower one of Sweden’s most impenetrable fortifications.  Due to its status as a key strategic site over the straits leading to the Baltic Sea, the castle faced many wars over the centuries.  The defences were strengthened again in the 16th century with four cannon towers added.  The 18th century saw the castle utilised as a prison, distillery and supply depot.  It is now managed by the Swedish National Property Board, as a site of important cultural heritage.

Kalmar - (n and the castle)

Kalmar - (defensive cannons)

Kalmar - (castle and moat)

We circled the castle grounds at both low and high level, enjoying the first hints of blue skies we’d experienced in a long week dominated by little but muddy grey rainclouds.  We passed cannons on the ramparts, had views out to sea over strategically important islands where other formidable forts had once sat, and learned of the important, formative history of the site’s defenses.  It truly was an impressive place, balancing the precarious need of strong barricades with a wish for elegant beauty.

Kalmar - (internal courtyard)

Kalmar - (castle and moat view)

Leaving Kalmar and its fairy-tale castle behind, we drove on south to the celebrated, historical naval town of Karlskrona, on the south coast of this region of Sweden.  We first visited services on the edge of town, where we filled and emptied, and took time to wash the worst of the filthy sprayed mud off Benny, the wet roads having turned his pristine white coat a muddy grey-brown.  We then turned our attention to the town, it looking very industrial and initially unappealing from our outsider’s perspective across the grey water.  We arrived in the town centre at 4pm, just when the town’s parking restrictions end, so we had our free choice of places to park.  We found the nearby tourist office and were helpfully gifted a town walking route map and proceeded to follow this route, to gain a feel for this nautical town.

Karlskrona - (Main square)

Karlskrona - (church in square)

Karlskrona - (statue and church)

There was certainly a more interesting architectural and cultural dimension in the heart of the town than the rough, industrial feel our first impressions had offered.  Created from scratch on uninhabited islands, the stone fortress was built in the 17th century as a necessary Naval Port on the Baltic Sea, to act as an efficient centre of excellence for the then dominant Swedish navy.  It built and maintained ships, it trained, fed and housed sailors and organised the navy crews.  Karlskrona was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1998, as the most complete example of a European Naval base planned in accordance with the ideals of 17th century maritime knowledge.  It remains the sole active naval base in Sweden, still producing modern submarines and renowned surface vessels on site, the island neatly divided into a civil north and a military south.

Karlskrona - (street with flags)

Karlskrona - (maritime musuem front)

Karlskrona - (diving boards)

We began in the main square, Stororget, before moving along flag-strewn streets of pretty timber buildings all housing boutique shops or cafés that reminded us both Bergen and Stavanger.  Our route crossed to another small island, Stumholmen, where the new Maritime Museum, completed in 2014, was situated.  It had closed for the day, but we looped around its stainless steel clad walls and passed by the moored ships outside, then through to the adjacent grassy picnic park with its public swimming spot, complete with high diving boards.  We saw Sweden’s last remaining wooden aircraft hangers, in use for storing and maintaining military seaplanes from 1914 until 1949 and now simply preserved for future generations.

Karlskrona - (maritime museum gardens)

Karlskrona - (timber aircraft hangars)

Karlskrona - (clock tower)

We followed the coast-hugging path past small lighthouses, impressive municipal buildings and statues of notable local dignitaries to reach the Admiralty Church and the pyramidal clock tower in the nearby park. We returned to the Great Square, Stortorget, and revisited the facades of the impressive Trefaldighetskyrkn and Rådhuset.  The vast, elegant square was originally conceived as a monumental public space to rival the grandest of those in France or Italy, set out to classical architectural ideals.  Unfortunately, the twin requirements of modern convenience and tourism have turned it mostly into a very grand car-park.  We examined the centrally positioned statue of Karl XI, watching possessively over the busy square, before tailing off our walking tour and returning to Benny.

Karlskrona - (Admiralty church)

Karlskrona - (n with preacher)

Karlskrona - (main square carpark)

There were a lot of other places of interest to see, but time was pressing on and we wanted to arrive at our next aire before nightfall.  After months of midnight sun and long, bright evenings, we were struggling a little with the sudden arrival of dark, gloomy nights.  Sweden in sunshine has been the perfect outdoor playground for us, our favourite country for swimming, hiking and canoeing, but in dreary, persistent rain under dull, grey skies, it holds only the sadness of potential unfulfilled.  We drove out of the town on the main road to Malmö and turned west, before cutting south on a small road to reach the island of Almö.  A large portion of this thin island was designated as a protected nature reserve and we had hopes the weather would lighten up and allow us to explore it, at least a little.

Almo island - (rocky headland)

We found a grassy aire with its own beach and direct access to walking paths to the south, and decided to sit here a few days as we awaited some drier weather.  We undertook a short walk on the first night, to take in our local surroundings.  The moss-covered rocks and tall, twisted trees tangled with pistachio-coloured lichen had the feel of an ancient landscape, something from the age of dinosaurs.  We followed the well-worn footpaths that led to areas fully set up with fire-pits and makeshift benching; clearly a popular summer hang-out on the shores of the lake, but there was no one here but us on this damp, grey September day.

Almo island - (a on walk)

Almo island - (rocky moss)

We had a longer walk the next day, following the rocky, moss-covered coastal path past several fenced off military zones and through more dark trees heavy with hanging lichen.  We saw and picked blackberries, a reminder we were at the beginning of autumn.  Some trees were beginning to turn, a hint of golden yellow on their leaves.  We reached a long causeway at the end of the Nature Reserve that led to the next island, but there was no obvious way to walk further other than on the road, so instead we turned and retraced our steps along the rugged coast.  We considered a swim in the chilled, choppy lake, but on this occasion our lazy sides prevailed and we opened a bottle instead.

Almo island - (lakeside wander)

After a slow morning under more rain clouds, we slowly packed up and left the grassy aire, heading on westwards, in search of a quiet campsite to sit out the weather in relative comfort.  After some deliberation, we headed in the direction of Långasjönös, a nearby ACSI campsite, with our committed intention of relaxing there for a little while.

The Costa Brava

Day 1 – To Sant Feliu De Guíxols

We spent one night in the quiet aire at Quart, near Girona, then decided to drive back to the coast, primarily in search of warmth.  We arrived in Sant Feliu De Guíxols and into what turned out to be a very popular central aire, busy with winter sun-seekers.  Knowing very little about the area, we visited the Tourist Office and then, on their recommendation, went for two short coastal walks, one on each side of the central town beach.

sant-feliu-town-building

Firstly we walked to the south of town, rising quickly along a well-worn path with expansive views over the town beach, harbour and bay.  We passed expensive looking stone-built houses, with neat pools and gardens, clustered into the natural rocky outcrops.  Near here we found a flat rock to lie on and had our picnic lunch overlooking the sea, with the rugged sun-bleached coast disappearing beyond the horizon.  We lingered a while, the sleep inducing sun-trap proving difficult to escape.

sant-feliu-coastline

sant-feliu-restful-lunchspot

Back through town, we passed the marina boats and climbed a second path, this time following the coast north.  A longer route, we passed several narrow, hidden coves with tiny sandy beaches, and through covered forest trails.  This wilder, rugged coast further from the town was simply beautiful, and peacefully free of other walkers.

sant-feliu-cliff-diving-cove

We originally thought this town would be a one day stopover, but it quickly intrigued us with its quiet charm and many exploratory options, so we decided to stay a few more nights.  We had always intended to be in France for New Year but had found the Costa Brava to be quite compelling.  The weather window was clear, dry and bright and the small towns snuggled into the steep green gullies captivated us so much we decided to linger for longer.

sant-feliu-view-of-bay

sant-feliu-harbour-view

Day 2 – Around Sant Feliu De Guíxols

We cycled a portion of the Garden Route, following the coast from Sant Feliu to Tossa de Mar.  We had a tough hill climb out of the aire to the high coast road, then fell into a great undulating and winding ride following the coastline.  We passed through areas of tall, bright green trees with grey undersides, the entire hillside slope looking blurred due to the shimmering contrast between the colours.  The coast road snaked out before us like a dropped ribbon, rising and falling with each gorge, but never too steep to be anything but pleasurable.

sant-feliu-tree-clinging-to-rocks

sant-feliu-enjoying-the-downhill

sant-feliu-the-coast-road

We passed several private inlet beaches, over-developed with pools, sports pitches and restaurants, then locked off from use at this time of year as the hotels they serviced were empty. We also saw many other cyclists and motorcyclists; it looked a wonderfully engaging road for touring bikers to enjoy.  We ate lunch above a high-sided sandy bay, the sea water a light turquoise so clear we could see the bottom from our high vantage point.

sant-feliu-coast-road-tunnel

sant-feliu-a-resting-at-mirador

sant-feliu-a-cycles-past

“I am a part of all that I have met…”, Tennyson wrote, and the reverse is equally as true – all that we see and experience becomes a tiny but indelible part of who we, as individuals, are.  The joy of this coast and of our cycle along it is something we will always carry with us.

sant-feliu-n-on-the-road

Day 3 – Around Sant Feliu De Guíxols

After our recent walks and cycle, we felt up for nothing more than lazy day and a quiet, gentle walk about the town.  We discovered a few more squares and an inside market building we had previously missed, then sat a while at the beach, enjoying the stillness.  This being New Year’s Eve, we wanted to be rested in case we found a party to attend, but the town was silent and still.  We had dinner back in Benny, then a few drinks later, around 11pm, we wandered back into town to look for activity.  There was none to be found, so we stood, embraced together, on the empty beach for the end of year bells.  It was a thoughtful and quiet end to an explosive, full and life-changing year for us.

Day 4 – To Tamariu and Bellecaire d’Emporda

On New Year’s Day we rose early and drove north, the roads empty and the towns we passed through closed and silent.  We took the main road up to Palafrugell and turned east to the coast, parking up on a long wide street in Tamariu. The town’s whitewashed beachfront and circular cove were beautiful in the morning light, so we lingered for a while, thinking of a possible swim in the cool, clear waters.  Reluctantly, we moved on to walk the coastal path to Llafranc as originally planned.

tamariu-n-on-beach

tamariu-a-on-board-over-bay

We followed the neatly established and well-signed path, passing through small hidden coves and scented pine forests, with trees bent over like question marks, either by wind or in search of sun.  We climbed steep rocky cliffs, avoiding exposed, twisted tree roots with every step.  The entire path was a stunning, quiet 6km walk, either in beautiful sunshine or deep shade, until we reached the equally pretty bay and town of Llafranc.  We dropped down into the town and had our lunch on the seafront, watching many families play on the beach.  There were large crowds of people in the fancy seafront restaurants so we concluded that New Year’s Day must be a very popular day to have a lunchtime meal out with family.

tamariu-forest-trail

tamariu-coast-path

tamariu-coastal-walk-view

We returned to Tamariu by a slightly varied route through the backstreets of Llafranc, before following the original coastal path back to our starting beach.  The water in the cove was now a little choppy from growing winds so our desire to jump in was abated and we instead retuned to Benny.  From here we drove further north to stay in Bellecaire d’Emporda, at a rural commercial camping aire near the coast that was to be our last overnight stay in Spain.  We arrived to a locked site and staff all away on siesta, but were let in by another motorhomer who had the gate code.  We parked up and enjoyed the remainder of the day’s sunshine on our comfortable grassy plot.

llfranc-town-overview

llfranc-harbour

llfranc-lunch-spot-on-beach

Day 5 – To Cadaqués and Saint Andre, France

From Bellecaire d’Emporda, we passed through Natural Parks and snaked over mountain passes to visit the celebrated coastal town of Cadaqués.  This was a difficult and narrow stretch of road to drive, but very beautiful in the morning sun.  A low mist hovered in the valley and made the grey towns we passed look like apparitions.

cadaques-view-across-bay

We wandered along the sea front and harbour enjoying the views back over the white town, although the beach was not as pretty as those in Tamariu or Llafranc, as it was mud grey pebbles rather than golden sand. Some of the smaller alleys and streets were very steep and formed from either bare rock or built with large slate pebbles on edge, making for a grippy but slightly awkward surface to walk on.  We saw a very large group, easily over fifty members, being given a tour of the town, with earpieces on to hear the guide.  They trailed slowly after each other, heads down, like a solemn funeral march, and it looked the worst possible way to experience this bright and interesting town.  We explored for an hour or so, but were getting impatient to move on, back into France.

cadaques-town-view

We returned some of the way on the same road, before turning right and following the coast road in the direction of Portbou and France.  We bypassed the opportunity to visit the notable monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes in favour of making good time arriving in our chosen aire.  You always have to leave something to return to the region for.

We paused for a short while at the top of the pass, just as we entered into France.  We noted the interesting coincidence that, with our regime of driving on alternate days, Nicky had been the designated driver for each day we had crossed a notional national border, this being our fifth so far.  Once across the border back in France, the towns immediately took on a different demeanour, highlighted by choice of building materials, the change of road markings and the language and font used on signs and shop displays.  The road, though, remained as crooked and winding as ever, as it meandered its twisted route between the tree-covered mountains and the rugged coastline.

sant-feliu-rocky-bays

We finally arrived in the small town of Saint André, on the outskirts of the large tourist town of Argelès-sur-Mer.  We stopped in a small aire in a shared car-park and happily relaxed.  With Spain now behind us, our journey through the south of France was primed to begin.