So, my dear readers, here we are, finally back in cold, grey, pot-holey Blighty after our 6 months of full time Motorhome travel. It’s been a blast. We are still on speaking terms and haven’t maimed each other. Result! Such a lot of world to see out there, far more than I ever realised. We’ve travelled the majority of France several times over but the Country is just so vast, it always throws up another unseen delight to surprise you. As for Portugal, I was totally uninterested, as far as I was concerned we were only going there for the climate. How wrong can a person be? It’s a fabulous little Country, you just need to know where to look. The people are warm and friendly and the food and wine are still relatively cheap and excellent quality. There’s so much more to it than Albufeira and golf!! And then there’s Spain. Package holiday hell you may think but certainly not if you get off the tourist trail and do a bit of homework A passionate, vibrant land, full of music, noise and colour, particularly Andalusia. I can’t wait to see more and learn about the history and culture. The amazing horses, music, flamenco, sherry, it blew me away. Did I really think I’d be bored when I gave up work? Not on your nelly!! I won’t lie, I miss having my own salary, I am a serial shopper after all. I miss my workmates and the general office banter and actually using my brain but not the stress. As for my mates back home, my gorgeous team of girlfriends will be waiting when I get back and next big trip, I will certainly try and arrange for them to fly out to meet me for a weekend somewhere. They’re always game for a bit of girls on tour. Mark will be glad of a break from my infernal hoovering and market trawling and I will get to stay in a nice hotel with a bath. I’ve missed that too!
The start of our journey took us from Derbyshire to Devon. We had a week with our boy before we fled the Country. He’s in Exmouth so we always stay at Ladram Bay. It’s a great site and does ACSI discount out of season. Plenty of entertainment and a great indoor pool with sauna and steam room. It has a brilliant laundry too so we can prepare ourselves properly. Exmouth Town has got a Marks and Spencers Food Hall as well as a big Tesco. Brilliant for stocking up on the things you can’t get before going over the water. Tea bags, Nan breads, decent gravy granules etc etc. If you’re a cook like me,you need your familiar staples to hand.
We say our tearful goodbyes to Matt and From Devon we trundle along to Folkestone and the Eurotunnel. Neither of us are good sailors so we always take the train. It’s so easy and great for the dog as he stays with us all the time. We booked our return tickets very cheaply via the Camping and Motorhome Club. If anyone has worries about using the tunnel, you needn’t have. It’s brilliant. All you do is drive in, number plate recognition picks you up, prints out your boarding card and you wait to be called forward via the screens in the Carpark. There is an exercise area for dogs. Have a look on UTube if you have doubts, lots of videos on there. You’re in France before you have time to read your paper! At the other end, I suggest you decide on your first destination before you travel and have your sat nav programmed ready. There’s no hanging around when you drive off the shuttle. Make sure you have your headlamp deflectors on and your hi-viz jackets on the backs of your seats. Halfords do a great little European travel kit with just about everything in that you legally need. You can also get them on Amazon. I’ll put a link on my next post. If it’s your first time, leave nothing to chance, it alleviates the stress if you plan. Honestly it’s all much simpler than you think it’s going to be. If you’re going to be using toll roads, I would recommend that you use a credit card. Much less faff than searching for coins every time. Just a word of warning, if you set your sat nav to no tolls, you will struggle to reach some places and end up going round in circles. A good example is Honfleur. You have to go over the Pont du Normandy to get over the Seine (unless you are a good swimmer) and that has a toll on it.
First stop for us in French France is always Honfleur. See my post on this place. It’s around 175 miles from Calais. We usually have a couple of days there to acclimatise. From there, this trip, we drove to Vendome. A slight sat nav error delivered us promptly to the bottom of the Cathedral steps just as Mass was exiting. A bit of an EEK moment to keep us on our toes! All good fun, not. Next was Amboise. Both handsome towns had great little Aires, both are in the book. Mark wanted to see Oradour sur Glane next. Everyone should. It makes you consider what might have become of England if our grandparents hadn’t fought for our freedom. It’s very poignant and thought provoking. The photographs in the museum portray the horror and fear. A terrible happening. Such unnecessary cruelty. The Aire there is free and only a short walk from the old village. It has water and loos.
Moving swiftly on and next stop, Talmont Sur Gironde and nearby Meschers. We saved this one from earlier in the year. Our good friends Hayley and Jamie-T recommended it. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The church rises out of the river estuary. It’s a cute white village full of flowers. Not to be missed. NB. Parking is all on grass at Talmont. Don’t attempt it if wet!! Head instead to the Marina Aire at Meschers, a short cycle ride away. An alternative Aire a bit further along the river is Mortagne. That’s on a pretty Marina too. It has all services including electricity. There are various cabanas selling food and drink and some interesting antique shops opposite the boats. A great place. We had a week there last year. Blaye is our next destination, just outside Bordeaux. We like this spot. It has a neat little Aire right on the Gironde river. The quaint medieval town is tucked inside the walls of the Citadel. A good place to see. If you don’t fancy the Bordeaux ring road afterwards, you can hop on the ferry across the Gironde from Blaye to Lamarque and drive down the restful Medoc region instead. The boat is quite cheap. The west coast of France is marvellous. Better suited to a Summer trip though. We did it last year so won’t be stopping this time. The sunsets from the Dune du Pyla are simply the best. The campsite there is fab too. It’s getting towards the end of October now though and we are very mindful of the fact that snow can hit this end of the Pyrenees quite early. We don’t want any travel issues. We forge ahead towards the border after a night on the very pleasant Aire at Soustans Plage. It has beach and lake, another good stop. The campsite at Urrugne, La Rouletta, is very popular with travellers heading off for some winter sun. We dropped in there for a night to charge up and clean and fill the van. You can already feel a bit of a crisp bite in the air once the sun goes down. The purple mountains are looming in the background. There is a bus into St. Jean de Luz from outside the site. What a super town, don’t miss it if you’re in these parts. We’re in Basque Country now so the language and food are very different. We loved this place. A perfect cross between French and Spanish. Great shopping too ladies!! Loved the styles.
I must apologise for the jumbled order of pics, I’m flitting between devices as I keep running out of battery. Hopefully you can make out which place is which from my description!
Time to swap our maps and guide books from France to Spain! I expected more when we crossed the border! No passport control, no fanfare announcing our arrival in Espagne, just an overhead sign! The tolls are different here. For starters they won’t accept my Post Office travel money card which I’ve been using throughout France. Thankfully my other credit card works just fine. The roads are a bit uppy downy but nice and wide and very well signposted. It’s easy driving. The scenery is breathtaking. We are off to see San Sebastián next. I’m a bit excited. I’ve never been to Northern Spain before. I’m expecting great things! This was top of my to see list. San Seb certainly didn’t disappoint. It was one of our absolute favourites. It’s still in the Basque region so instead of Tapas it’s Pinxtos!! Masses of them, piled high in every bar! They are fantastic! The Aire is small with services. A bit of a squeeze for a big un but adequate. There is a beautiful sweeping turquoise Bay leading round to a charming little harbour. The old part of town leading up from the boaty end is a special place. Can’t wait to go back and spend more time in San Seb. We managed an afternoon of wine and pinxtos sat on upturned barrels in an atmospheric bar. Heaven!
And so we continue our journey, hugging the coast towards Santander. Our next overnighter is the Aire at Cabarceno Nature Park. It’s free to stay. There are Elephants wandering around, it’s a bit unusual. You can pay to enter the Park itself and ride on the cable cars. It’s expensive but pretty spectacular. Here we meet Geoff and Janet from Barnsley and Emily, a young girl in a yellow, ‘Tonka’ van travelling with her little sausage dog and a tortoise. We would meet again further down the road. Next morning we set off to put some miles in. The road takes you past the amazing Picos de Europa mountain range. It is stunning. We want to be by the sea today. We pull up at Ortiguera. Beautiful little spot with amazing views. Yet another freebie. In the book. The coast of northern Spain is wild and rugged, very like Cornwall.
We decide to drive to A-Coruna next. It’s on our route so makes sense. It looks to have an interesting historic centre. The Aire is located by the port. It doesn’t feel right somehow when we get there. There are no other vans parked up and a few dodgy looking blokes are hovering around. No way would I feel comfortable leaving the van unattended here. We decide to foxtrot oscar and as we drive out, bump into a nice British couple in a very posh T5. Liz and Henry and their Greyhound, Amber. We stop to chat and exchange details. Turns out they know Janet and Geoff who we met at Cabarceno. We go our separate ways and we move on to our next must see destination, Santiago de Compostella.Mark has wanted to go there ever since he watched the film, ‘The Way’. If you haven’t seen it, it’s really good. Santiago is at the end of the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James. It’s all about the Pilgrims here. The Cathedral is just fabulous. Sadly the Aire is not. It’s a grotty tarmacced bus park in the middle of a busy commercial area. It’s expensive too. We spend a day looking around the rather splendid historic town, have a bite to eat then set about looking for somewhere else to spend the night. We found a little seaside Aire at Boiro. It’s in the book. Just be aware there’s a 3.5 ton weight limit. It was dark when we arrived so we missed the sign. Luckily we didn’t get copped!!
We drive on next morning, up into the mountains, and before we can blink, we are over the Border and into Portugal! Make sure you register your credit card at the toll gate as you cross the border. You won’t get another chance, I’ve detailed the system in earlier posts. Ignore anyone who tells you DVLA do not share their info with Portugal. They do! Geoff and Janet recently received a fine from last year. We are aiming for a campsite this time. We need to do laundry etc. We opt for one out of the ACSI book called Campesque do Vila Cha. It’s a narrow cobbled route in! They show us to our pitch and guess what, our neighbours are Liz and Henry! we also meet Jo and Karina and Maria and Bruce here. We have a couple of great nights in the bar drinking port with this lot, they are good fun. There is a smashing beach here and the metro takes you to Porto. It’s an easy trip, just make sure you buy your tickets from the machine on the platform before you hop on or you won’t be able to get out of the station at the other end. If only someone had told us that, doh! Porto is spectacular. It has everything going for it. Beautiful Architecture, shops, restaurants and the Douro River lined with Port Distilleries. Do take a river cruise if you have time. There are San Francisco style street cars zipping up and down. We adored Porto.
Next port of call is the candy striped town of Costa Nova. What a quirky little place! We seem to be unintentionally stalking Liz and Henry now as they are here when we arrive. We also meet their friend from Cornwall, Maggie Hookings. She travels solo with her dog Kezi in a little red van called Gerda! Great beach here and next door is Aveiro with its pretty canals and art nouveau buildings. It even has gondolas!!
Forging on then and veering slightly inland to visit the historic hillside walled town of Obidos. The Aire costs 6€. It’s very quaint and quite beautiful. The town is built around a well preserved castle. It’s white houses with terracotta rooftops tumble down the hillside, their fronts covered in flowering bougainvillea. Such a lovely place. We lunch on flaming sausages in a hole in the wall charismatic bar. I’ve written a separate piece about this town.
Our Son, who is a keen Surfer, is insisting that we drive to Nazare next. It’s famous for its huge, record breaking waves. There is some World surf event being held there now and he wants us to check it out. The Guidebook says it is one of Portugals most picturesque resorts. Unfortunately we are told it would be too difficult to manoeuvre Dollys Tour Bus down there so we must be sensible and give it a miss. Disappointed 🙁We go instead to Peniche just a little way down the coast. This place also has a surf scene. It has a couple of Aires. Our friends are at the paid one with all the services. We opted for a free one by the river, just outside the walls of the town. It’s not the best looking place we’ve visited. It’s largely a fishing town but it does have its charm if you look closely. We nearly end up with another dog. A big brown teddy bear pinches Mark’s cake at the beach bar then follows us home. He’s such a kindly soul but he’s huge! Not ideal for a Motorhome. I felt compelled to feed him. He ambles off but next morning somebody had tied him up outside our van. Broke my heart to leave him.
Moving on and chasing the Sun, we desperately wanted to see the fairytale town of Sintra. We needed somewhere with services so chose a Motorhome Park at Odrinhas in the hills which we found on Camper Contact. I’ve written a full post about Sintra. It’s a marvellous place, straight out of a Disney film. Don’t go to Portugal without at least 2 days there. Read the full story, it’s just fabulous.
We were overdue some beach time after the bustle of Sintra. My good friend Hayley and also the lovely Spencers had suggested Caiscais. We found beach parking on CamperContact at Praia do Guincho. There were no services but we were clean and full of water and the sun was shining into the solar panels so we needed nothing. This was a very special location, parked on the edge of a series of white sandy surf beaches. Sunsets were something else. We were joined by Liz and Henry, Jo and Karina and Maria and Bruce for a raucous night out at the local hotel. Good fun and bad heads the next day. The bus outside the Carpark took us into Caiscais, about ten minutes away. It’s a very handsome, classy resort. The grand mansions and fishermans houses are wrapped around a lovely sandy bay. There’s a gorgeous little cove with an old fashioned lighthouse and a posh Marina. It has a really nice feel to it.
And so we continue our journey, onwards to Setubal. The birthplace of Jose Mourinho if you’re bothered! Famed for chocos fritos, fried cuttlefish. We ate it at La Casa de Santiago as advised by the Rough Guide. It’s not a very touristy spot this. It sits on the river estuary just outside Lisbon. It’s worthy of a visit just for the seafood and the daily market. We stayed at Eco Parque do Outao. It’s on CamperContact. We are saving Lisbon as it’s not ideal for the van.
Ninety miles down the coast is Porto Covo. On arrival we are unimpressed. The Aire out of the book is closed. The town is pretty enough but a bit twee and purpose built. However, we park up and jump on our bikes to go and explore. So glad we did. There is a tiny harbour with a handful of fishing boats. Around the headland there are numerous coves, it’s very scenic, again like a much less populated Cornwall. We find lots of Motorhomes parked in a cluster in a designated spot. The views are fab so we joined them. We had a really lovely time here. We met Per our Swedish friend for the first time and Nev who played his violin beautifully on the cliff tops each morning. Also Sylvia and Mike who gave us lots of invaluable advice on places to wild camp. We ate at a great little family run fish restaurant down on the beach. Wonderful place to stay.
We were reluctant to leave after 4 days but we were in need of a site. I found one in the ACSI book near Aljezur called Camping Serrao. It’s a nice enough place but you do need a taxi into town, it isn’t safe to cycle. We had the mother of all thunderstorms on the first night. Wow, I’ve never heard thunder that loud. It shook the ground! Aljezur is a very typical little town with a hill fort. It has a daily indoor market. It’s quite nice, I enjoyed it. It does have a little Aire behind the market. We drove on next to the surf beach at Arrifana. Lizzie’s favourite. The Carpark is at the top of a very steep road down to the perfect white beach. It’s a surfers heaven. Beautiful place. The parking wasn’t suitable for our van overnight though which was a shame. Smaller vans were fine. Carrapateira was next on our map, only a short distance away. The Wild camping spot was tucked away in the giant sand dunes separated from the stunning, wild, windswept Praia da Bordeira beach by a lagoon. It’s just us and nature. There’s no light pollution at night, the stars put on an amazing show. We get to see the Sea Eagles, it’s an incredible place to lay our heads. We met Justine and Simon here. They are a great couple, they have a business called Cloudhouse Yurts and Squrts, making and supplying glamping units for festivals etc. Nice people, very interesting and alternative, good for a laugh. We fished in the lagoon every day and caught nada. The town is very low key but has a brilliant burger restaurant.
We saw our first Christmas tree and had our first night frost. It was turning colder. Time to head further south! This time we are going around the most westerly tip of the country at Sagres and following the sea towards Lagos. We arrive at Figueira Motorcaravan Park. It’s a super little site, very friendly and well run. All nationalities here but predominantly……….Welsh would you believe! The beaches are lovely. It’s very clean and unspoilt. The air smells of pine and wild rosemary. You can cycle to nearby Salema or hop on a bus to Lagos. This was another firm favourite and I’m sure we’ll return.
We managed to catch up with our mates Sue and Chris Cook from our old village in Derbyshire. They retired and now live out here. That was fun, it was great to catch up with some familiar faces. We would have stayed at Figueira for the whole of Christmas had we not had word from Matthew that he would be flying out to us for New Year. We needed to find him somewhere to stay where we could be close, that had a bit of life going on for him and Lucy. We plumped for Albufeira. We had planned to avoid the more built up resorts but it was close to the Airport and the site had bungalows to rent so was ideal. Camping Albufeira is a huge site. Not our usual choice but actually very nice and has excellent facilities. We arrived on the 15th of December and ended up staying until the 5th of January! We met lovely folk there and ended up with quite a little party community. Kev and Annie were our neighbours on one side and Liz and Henry on the other. Kev made us laugh with his daft humour, cheesy jokes and endless supply of funny masks. Both he and Annie had hearts of pure gold. Arlette, the little dancing Queen and Naim from Jersey joined the gang as did Prad and Cat. We met a dear little french chap called Philipe who had recently lost his Wife, Gee and Alan from Derbyshire, Lorna a lady travelling alone and Faye and Ben. They were a fantastic bunch and really made our Christmas and New Year.
We had an absolutely fabulous time. Our new friends made the kids so welcome when they arrived. The old town of Albufeira was great out of season. We found some nice restaurants to eat at, good value for money too. The town put on the most amazing live concert and fireworks on the beach on New Years Eve, all free of charge. It was such a great success, so much so that we might just plump for a repeat performance this year. If anybody has family wanting to join them, the bungalows are ideal and only €40 per night to sleep 4.
On the 4th of January we waved the kids off and started packing up Camp Wadsworth. We were heading backwards to Sagres so we could visit all the bits we missed. The rest is history. I started my Blog at Sagres and have written detailed reports on our antics ever since.
We travelled the whole coast of Portugal, from end to end then up southern Spain, over the Border into southern France and back up the middle to Calais.
It’s been a wonderful experience, we’ve absolutely loved it. I won’t say EVERY minute as there have been one or two very minor setbacks but nothing much. We’ve been blessed with the weather and even managed to bring a mini heatwave back with us!! Now back where we started at Ladram Bay, some 5500 miles later. I’m on my fourth load of laundry today!
Life is sweet. Bakewell bound today to see our family and friends.
Hope we’ve inspired you all to get out there folks. If anyone needs any information on any of the places we’ve stayed, do get in touch. Always happy to help. Now I shall say cheerio for today, this cream tea won’t eat itself!! ❤️