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Published: August 14th 2014
Motorhome News from Spain II Los Escullos - Almeria - Spain
22nd January - 2nd March 2014 Escape to the Country
Mid way through our winter stay in southern Spain we had sensed a touch of boredom in the offing. It’s rather unlike us to stay in one place for more than a few days. We had been in and around Almeria for several weeks, enjoying our regular hikes and absorbed in our endless hobbies on long sunny winter days. It struck us that we were in danger of becoming creatures of habit, so we took off to the north in our motorhome for a few days to explore new territory further up the coast road and inland into the mountains.
Over the years we have walked many a long mile along the shore and high up on the cliffs along this easterly facing Mediterranean coast, but a number of small towns have eluded us, including the tiny resort of Agua Amarga just a short distance north from Las Negras. We were expecting much, having been told of an excellent overnight motorhome halt there by the beach. It
had rained overnight.
About fifty motorhomes were parked at various angles, higgledy-piggledy amongst the puddles, ‘free camping’ in their expensive motorhomes on an acre of muddy beach car park, campers sitting in their loungers checking their smart phones or reading in the late afternoon sun. Are they just too mean to support the local economy by using the very adequate local campsites for a few €uros? It's a game I guess. Why pay when you can park up in your expensive motorhome almost anywhere for free, even if it is rather unsavoury? There’s nowt so queer as folk.
It’s not our style. And it's not our style to sit around in the sun all day, reading, knitting, doing cross-stitch, nodding off or just taking the car down into town for coffee at the same cafe we went to yesterday or the one we go for tapas every Thursday, the flea market on Sunday, pétanque at four with the Brits, the Germans at six, and shower at 7.30am before the rest of the campers are out of bed. There's more to life than that. There are few walks on this particular piece of coast and little else of interest
other than to get a sun tan to be the envy of all our friends sitting out the damp, dark winter back home.
So we headed for Carboneras, a bit further north, and that was a different matter altogether. It surprised us with its swish promenade and vibrant Thursday market in full swing, merry throngs of bag-toting shoppers, mostly locals, a few resident Brits overheard at the vegetable and fresh fruit stalls, the smiling faces of a community seemingly content with itself. A huge cement works provides much local employment here, evidenced by the tanker moored at the jetty a little way to the south, but the town embraces this commercial paradox with just a faint hint of tourism, its unspoiled golden beaches and friendly ambience. Carboneras is perhaps the exception to the Costa rule; it has a sense of permanence of small market town proportions, perhaps because it is not solely reliant on tourism for its welfare. The sort of place to put your roots down for the winter, be comfortable, be content.
A touch of rustic Spain before the Costas awaits visitors to Garrucha further to the north. Whilst there has been
considerable investment in tourism here, it remains a fishing port of some consequence with a grand esplanade and anchorage in the harbour for a number of small cruisers for those who like to take to the water. It’s one of those fascinating older towns of long straight narrow streets to bring welcome mid-day shade during the hot summer months, built for the locals in that other time before the invasion of tourism, with small two-storey shops and cafes dotted among long strings of terraced homes.
A special culinary treat awaited us during our brief stay in Mojacar Pueblo, one of those rather attractive hill towns of little white boxes perched on a steep-sided hill a mile or so inland, a dazzling sight against a deep blue backdrop on a bright sunlit winters day. Mojaca Playa, the beachy bit with swish shops, hotels and restaurants on the front where the snowbirds gather for coffee shortly after sun-up, is a brisk forty-minute walk from the campsite. We were about to join them.
There are dozens of cafes to choose from on Mojacar Playa. We chose the one with most customers. They can’t all be wrong, can they?
lady approached, note-pad in hand. 'Dos cafe con leche, per favour,' we said. We presumed she understood our pigeon Spanish – or is it ‘la paloma’ Spanish?
A waiter, neatly attired in black and white, appeared a short while later carrying a tray with two coffees, four donuts, two orange juices and two glasses of water. We looked down at the tray and then into his Hispanic brown eyes. ‘That’s not ours,’ we said apologetically. ‘We ordered just two coffees.’ The waiter hesitated for a moment, his Spanish brain slowly gathering momentum. They must be new on the block.
‘It’s all included,’ he said, tilting his head to one side like Basil Fawlty’s Manuel as if to get a better look at us. ‘¿Que? Shall I take it away?’ he replied.
We shook our heads again, unable to contain an embarrassed smile. The bill, the cuenta, arrived in due course – showing a grand total of €3! Rediculous. This is 2014 isn’t it? We could be tempted to come back at those prices. We left a generous tip and did indeed return, for tapas at mid-day. The same good value, the same Spanish service with a
on the terraces
Inland we trawled the winding roads, rising once again through rolling hills of delicate almond orchards casting their neat black lines across russet fields, way, way into the distance, to the horizon and beyond. There is no such beauty as this on the Costas where the masses gather, but it has to be said we were a week or two too early for the great spectacle of pink and white almond blossom that heralds spring at this altitude. Late February would be our choice should we venture this way again. Meanwhile we must carry the dream, the picture in the mind of what might have been. Perhaps another year.
Further out west we reached our goal for the day, the Sierra Maria - Los Velez Natural Park, a holm oak and pine forested wilderness with numerous marked hiking trails, a host of birds previously unseen along the coast; crossbills, woodpeckers, crested tits, mistle thrushes and red squirrels too. But the downside of Los Velez was the plummeting temperatures we should have anticipated having been in the area before. A sharp wind cut into our faces on our brief walk through the forest at over 4000ft
(1300m) bringing tears to the eyes. We didn't stay long at the extremely well appointed campsite there, it was so bitterly cold, choosing instead to move on eastwards into the Sierra Espuna, another Natural Park with a highly recommended campsite at El Berro, at the slightly lower altitude of 2000ft (622m) with numerous mountain walks from the gate. Hopefully it would be a little warmer - or less cold!
Our chosen road from Sierra Maria to Sierra Espuna was little more than 100 miles, but they were long miles indeed; out across the never ending high altitude agricultural plains on narrow pot-holed roads offering vast vistas of hedge-less, multi-coloured tilled fields stretching into the distance, beige and sage, the greens of new spring growth, terra cotta, salmon pink, coffee and cream and chalky white; abandoned farmsteads now derelict at the coming of the tractor and combine-harvester, remote farms with sandy pan-tiled roofs, and a grey bushy-tailed fox scampered away as we came over the rise. Somewhere out there we came across a tiny deserted village with a post-box on the wall of a rustic house where we posted cards to family and friends. They may, or may not, arrive
back in England sometime in the future.
There's something strange about the postal service here. We popped into the Correos, the yellow signed Post Office, to buy the stamps for those postcards from nowhere in particular. ‘We don't sell stamps,’ the buxom lady insisted, waving her hands in the air. ‘You must go to the Tabac.’ At least there's not likely to be a queue there.
But the long flat plains always give way to high-rise sierras eventually here in Spain, setting our trusty motorhome into second gear on snaking roads up into the grey hills cut with a scalpel against the deep blue sky, forever tempting us out there on the horizon. Camping Sierra de Espuna at El Berro offered all that was promised; exceptional hikes high into the hills and the most fabulous views on well-marked trails through almond and olive terraces and pine studded woodland. We came for a few days and stayed a week, in modest mountain temperatures, with stunning blue skies and eleven wonderful winter hours of bright sunshine each day. Who could possibly ask for more? There were lots of Brits there with their motorhomes, a rather more mature lot
with a purpose in life, mostly searching for the sun and hikes on offer on the doorstep and, without exception, all with happy faces, revelling in their escape from grey old England.
Tempted by a warmer climate at lower altitude we turned east once again towards the coast. Birding on the salinas at Mar Menor provided us with some excitement with good views from the road of flamingos, avocets, and black-necked grebes galore. Straggling the coast, the suburban streets and high-rise apartments beyond the salinas attract the masses in huge numbers; it’s more English than Blackpool and the language is the same. It’s all a bit like being at home but with winter sunshine; not quite what we come to Spain for. To our amazement its popularity was reflected in outrageous prices for camping for just a few days and even more surprisingly, the campsites were all full! That’s a first for us. It’s personal choice of course, but that’s also three very good reasons for us to pass on all the Costas at this time of the year – or any time for that matter. We are fortunate to live our lives in the relative tranquillity
of our forest home in Norfolk and ask for little more than open space and the peace it offers whilst we’re away.
With the clock ticking and no campsite in sight, we set off back inland, seeking out the Marjal Eco Camping Resort outside of Elche (Elx). Following the instructions in our camping guide, we discovered a mammoth site of some 1400 pitches; motorhomes small, large and seriously large, fifth-wheelers, campervans and luxury caravans, all parked side-by-side on acre after acre of manicured parkland and a linear grid of streets. Three highly trained receptionists greeted us at the hectic booking-in desk.
We were instantly reminded of some of the wonderful wintering sites we visited in southern USA with their own golf courses, churches, cinemas and theatres (theaters). But this one was missing the golf buggies, the luxury motorhome villas and the fantastic National Parks we fell in love with out there. Wintering beside the busy A7 Spanish motorway a million miles from nowhere except Alicante is not our idea of a winter in Spain. Whatever could possess people to spend their winter months here every year? Well, for starters, this one has a cinema, a clubhouse, a walking
Oro del Desierto
The finest Olive Oil
club, a well-equipped gym, a host of hobby groups, tennis, table tennis, bowls, the whole works. It was Elvis Night and the sign said they were sold out, and the restaurant was fully booked too. They're all happy enough though, living their other lives in their other homes in the sun. And it is probably a lot more fun than being at home in the cold and damp, hoping the sun might shine today, tomorrow, next week perhaps. They're meeting old chums from previous years and making new friends; six months here, six months there, a change of routine, another life, another family, and the facilities are all second to none. It’s their villa in Spain without strings. When they’ve had enough of the good life at ‘Butlins’, they just up-sticks and take the lot home.
We did just that after breakfast the following morning; on the road by 08.30 and on the golf course back at Retamar, 150 miles south, before mid-day. Home is where the hand-brake is where motorhomers are concerned. Ours was back in Los Escullos.
Nijar - Spain Culinary delights
and numerous surprises
It's tough remembering the day let alone the date whilst travelling for weeks on end as we do, but there's trouble brewing if either of us forgets Valentine's Day! As a special February 14th
treat we invited our new friends, Jan and Kerry, to join us on an outing up into the hills near Tabernas where Janice had secured, via the internet, an intimate tour of a small privately owned olive oil factory.
‘Oro del Desierto’ remains a family business and thirty year old Rafael Aguilera, a grandson of the founder, is passionate about his family's olive oil, the product of three generations of Aguilera's, their pampered olive trees passed down through seven generations. ‘Rafa’ waved his arms excitedly as he talked in fluent English, taking the four of us through the spotless factory to experience the production process and a most interesting museum, his enthusiasm bubbling over, his eyes sparkling in excitement as he answered all our searching questions. This is clearly no ordinary olive oil. It is carefully produced from only the finest olives, to tempt the palette with a little bread before a meal or as a salad
dressing on special occasions. Nearly half of all the World’s olive oil comes from Spain, Rafa informed us, but it represents only 3%!o(MISSING)f all fat consumed. You won't find Oro del Desierto Organic Extra Virgin olive oil in your local supermarket that's for sure, but it is available from specialist outlets throughout Europe.
A dip into Trip Advisor seeking somewhere for lunch took us to the pretty white village of Lucianena de los Torres on the somewhat torturous winding road back to camp. Things are a bit quiet at this time of the year up in the hills and we had the five star Venta el Museo
restaurant all to ourselves at lunchtime. The €10 menu del media-dia came highly recommended by our delightful young hostess, Nadine. It really couldn’t be that good, could it?
We have come to expect some interesting Spanish concoctions over the years, a single course at mid-day, always tasty, and always good value. Within minutes bread and olives and a huge communal tuna salad arrived along with a large carafe of extremely pleasant local red wine. That was rather unexpected. But then, they don’t do half measures at Venta el Museo. This
was shortly followed by three courses, each one befitting the wonderful ambiance of this somewhat exceptional Hotel and Restaurant; sufficient to set us all giggling with disbelief. The food just kept coming – and finally, replete, so did the bill; €40, that’s precisely €10 each, as advertised on the menu!
We took the bill to the reception desk where Nadine joined us. ‘You have forgotten the wine,' said Kerry, his eyebrows raised in anticipation of additions to the bill.
‘No. It’s all included,’ Nadine replied, clearly surprised we should think otherwise.
But be sure to be there on a Thursday or Friday – and mention the 'Grey haired nomads', or just say the magic words, 'Zipper Club', and Nadine will be sure to look after you. If you want to really spoil yourself there are hotel rooms on offer at this swish Swiss owned retreat that will surely astound you! This sort of hospitality must surely be hard to beat. A happy Valentine's Day indeed. I’m delighted we both remembered and had the good sense to share the day with new friends.
__________________________________________________ One last day in Paradise San Jose & Cabo de Gata, Almeria, Spain
We needed that last day; a lazy day to soak up the memories of one of our many spectacular walks and our favourite beach before we departed for home. A last chance to say, ‘adios'. It’s goodbye to the sun and glorious long winter days as we look down at the wide sandy bay of Geneveses from the old windmill at San Jose, out across the grey-tilled corn fields, yucca and prickly pear cactus, where a rich perfume swells from swathes of purple thyme, and lavender sways in the light morning breeze. One last chance to set our kite on the off-shore breeze, up and away into the sapphire blue cloudless sky above the rugged volcanic hills; a black wheatear standing guard over us on a trackside rock. This sad parting was a sentiment echoed by our Dutch lady neighbour. 'In Holland we would call it Bounty Bay', she told me one evening. Captain Cook must have felt the same when he dropped anchor off the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand. A lone magpie cut across the road in front of us as we
finally departed for a leisurely sixteen-day drive home through Spain and France back to England, early the following morning.
____________________________________________________________ Homeward bound!
Our route north skirted inland from the Costa Blanca coast, leaving the motorway at Alcoy, turning east along the ‘Almond Route’ on winding narrow roads over steep limestone ridges traced with almond blossom, tailing tightly-knit groups of professional cyclists; amongst them, Team Fix-it, complete with support vehicle, training for the tour season; the Tour de France (which we hope to see when it starts in England this summer) and the Vuelta a España at the end of August. Our campsite at Campell came into sight late that afternoon. Camping La Vall de Laguar
sits secluded on the edge of the village, surrounded on all sides by great limestone hills cloaked in the green of pine and evergreen oak, and stone-walled terraces harbouring almond and olive orchards, built with loving care and aching backs over centuries past, many now neglected and barren.
There are dozens of great walks from the front gate of the campsite here in Campell. If you're a walk-aholic,
there's a fabulous six-mile scramble high up to the limestone Penyo Ridge, way up there on the horizon, you might want to try. We could see the route if we craned our necks; a bit steep but manageable? This turned out to be one of our most exhilarating hikes and one of our most hairy ridge walks; second only perhaps for that one in Arches National Park, Utah
; but there it was the 40 mph wind that threatened to sweep us over the edge! On reaching the top at 789m we discovered a narrow ridge, often no more than a single rock wide, sweeping precipitously down around 500m on both sides, down, down, down to the valley below; the only sounds, the ubiquitous crowing cockerel, the braying donkey and the resonant toll of a far away church bell on the hour. This one demands a lot of nerve, the agility of a mountain goat, strong boots with a mighty tread - and it might help if you're totally insane and a little under 80. I guess I qualify on a number of counts. If this one sounds a touch on the tame side you might wish to try the seven-hour, 5000 steps,
of the Baranco D'Inferno nearby, but as the name suggests, it shouldn't be attempted in the summer months!
Our wonderful neighbours back home keep an eye on the house for us while we’re away. Geoff was kind enough to scare us with this opening sentence of an email.
Your alarm went off this morning, so I went to investigate.
On entering your house I found an intruder in the dining room.
Undeterred and with no thought for my own safety, I chased him round until finally I managed to grab him.
I must admit he put up a good fight and I was a bit worried about him causing damage to the crystal glasses and ornaments.
I finally got him to the front door and let him go with a warning - "don't come down the chimney again", I said, as the stock dove flew away!
Thanks, Geoff. You’re so brave! It’s happened before. I really must stop procrastinating and get a mesh cover for the chimney.
we’ll head off northwards once more, towards beautiful Valencia and Zaragoza. We’ll tell you more about that when the chimney’s fixed, so log in from time-to-time, even if it’s just to check out the pictures!
David and Janice
The Grey haired nomads
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Camping Vall de Laguar - Campell. www.campinglaguar.com
Venta el Museo Hotel and Restaurant
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