17th February – 23rd February
Our journey today took us on the Autovia (three lane highway but toll free) to Montserrat. For most of the journey we could see a mountain range in the distance and as we got closer, we realised it was where we were heading. Once we left the Autovia the scenery was just stunning with huge rounded rock pillars shaped be the wind, rain and frost on one side, a sheer drop to the valley below on the other and the Pyrenees in the distance. Once we reached Montserrat we packed up our bag in readiness for our hike. We hiked 7.5kms up mainly steps to a height of 1235m to Montserrat’s highest peak, Sant Jeroni, from where there’s an awesome sheer drop on the north face. The walk took us across the upper part of the mountain, with a close-up view of some of the weird rock pillars. The sight at the top again was just amazing, with a 360° view across the rock pillars and valleys to the towns and rivers below and mountains in the distance. We took a longer and different path down past more of the rock pillars with more stunning scenery and came out at the back of the funicular railway station. The monastery – Spain’s second most important pilgrimage centre after Santiago was founded in 1025. It commemorates a vision of the Virgin on the mountain, seen by shepherds. The Black Virgin icon is a 12th-century Romanesque dark wooden sculpture of a regal-looking Mary with an elongated nose, holding the infant Jesus and a globe which pilgrims come to touch, housed in an ornate silver and bronze crypt. A community of a few dozen monks still live there. We next visited the Basilica which was beautiful with painted walls, gold leaf statues, stained glass windows and a very large altar. We left the monastery area and are parked a couple of kilometres down the road with views across to the Pyrenees in the back and the rock pillars above us. It’s a tough life but someone has to do it!
We drove down the Montserrat mountain to our next destination of Sitges. Vineyards as far as the eye could see was our scenery today as we got back onto the Autovia. Sitges is a pretty seaside town about half way to Tarragona. We walked a couple of kilometres into town and along the boardwalk to the marina. Lots of holiday accommodation here, however most of it was all locked up for the winter. We headed back in the other direction to town where we bought a loaf of bread, some salami and cheese for our lunch and headed down to the beach. It wasn’t very sunny today but quiet pleasant sitting there listening to the waves break on the shore and the parrots squawking above our heads in the palm trees. We walked around the shopping precinct for awhile, surprised at the number of people out and about. Lots of English people here which was obvious by the flags hanging on some of the balconies. Back to Tilly early afternoon for some quiet time after yesterday’s big hike.
Back on the Autovia in the glorious sunshine. We stopped at Macca’s for a wifi fix to check our emails before continuing onto Tarragona, situated right on the Balearic sea. There are no Aires here, but we did find a spot to park just outside of town with views to the ocean. After lunch we had a walk/hike for a couple of kilometres to the “Devils bridge”, the Acqüeducte de les Ferreres, an engineering marvel left by the Romans which was built in the 2nd century BC. It is the remnants of a two-tiered aqueduct (217m long and 27m high); in its glory days, it delivered water to over 200,000 people 35 kms away. Quite an impressive site. We walked along the top where the water used to flow. Back to Matilda for a rest and to sit and watch the ocean as tomorrow will be a big walking day. Lots of Roman ruins here to explore!
Another beautiful sunny day sees us walking into Tarragona, an Italian sounding name and full of old roman sites. We started off by walking through the charming narrow alleys of the historic quarter. Our first stop was the cathedral. Tarragona’s cathedral has both Romanesque and Gothic features, as typified by the main facade. The cloister has Gothic vaulting and Romanesque carved capitals, one of which shows rats conducting a cats funeral, until the cat comes back to life! It’s a lesson about passions seemingly lying dormant until they reveal themselves. There was also a statue of the black Madonna, however the one at Montserrat is the true statue, this is a copy. The cloister was one of the best ones we have seen to date and we also had a look at the Tresor (the treasury). Continuing on through the old town, we visited the amfiteatre Romà, the forum local Romà and the Circ Romà. We walked along the beachfront and visited Mercat central (the indoor market selling local produce). A wander down Rambla Nova, the main pedestrian mall and then home again, another pleasant day!
More glorious sunshine and we are back on the Autovia, this time to another bird sanctuary in Deltebre. The drive was ok, we did have ocean views for a lot of the way, however left that road to come through to the wetlands through a farming area. We passed three horse drawn carts with farmers on board, and lots of land being prepared for sowing, some is for rice. We visited the tourist office to get maps of the area however they were going to charge for them, so we had the lady in the office advise of the best walks. We drove down to Peninsular de Fangar, 11kms away and walked along the beach to the lighthouse and around by one of the bird sanctuaries where we saw big flocks of pink flamingoes in the distance. A round trip of about 10kms that was being enjoyed by lots of people. We drove to the second Aire we had listed after filling and emptying at the first Aire, and are now sitting by the river where we will stay for 2 nights.
We drove 12kms further up the river to start our walk today. We walked along the Riu Ebra, the same river that we parked at yesterday where we stayed the night. A 10km round trip saw us visiting another bird sanctuary where we saw some more pink flamingoes, coots, herons, marsh harriers (similar to Eagles) just to name a few. Apart from the delta and the river, the land here is extremely dry which begs the question as to how they grow their rice? We walked into the town of Riumar which had some lovely houses (a lot were locked up) with swimming pools and lots of holiday accommodation for all the bird watchers that flock here in October when the majority of the bird life are present. We drove back to our spot by the river where we had a relaxing afternoon reading.
Another day in sunny Spain and our journey took us to Peñiscola, 50 kms away. A pleasant enough journey through what looked like the main garden nursery area with some amazing shaped trees not too dissimilar to Bonsai but a lot bigger. Once parked up, we rode along the beachfront into town. This place is another of the many tourist mecca’s along the coast and again is quiet at this time of year. We walked around the old town, all cobbled streets and whitewashed houses to the castle which was built by the Knights Templar in the 14th century and gave us lovely views across the water. We had lunch at a nice place called Barra Alta and had our first paella which was lovely. We hopped on our bikes and rode around the marina area before riding back along the beach and home.
24th February – 1st March
It was such a lovely morning that after breakfast we went for a nice walk along the beach, almost back into town. We noticed along the way that there were quite a few apartments for sale along the beachfront. It would be a nice place to spend a couple of months a year and obviously that’s what a lot of people do. After our walk we hit the road again on what was to be a big drive to Valencia. We arrived at Valencia Camperpark which is about 10kms out of Valencia. There are three parking options, two outside the secure area for €8 and €10 depending on where you park, or inside for €12 with electricity, water, wifi, hot showers, toilet and washing area and a welcome Sangria! It’s like being in heaven. Only other Motorhomers would understand, but to have a hot shower without having to turn the water off while you lather, as well as the luxury of having more than one light on at a time is bliss! The staff are really friendly and there is also a restaurant/bar area where you can enjoy tapas with a beer or order a paella to eat in the restaurant or to take back to your Motorhome.
We caught the train into Valencia chatting all the way to our Dutch next door neighbours who have travelled extensively. Once in Valencia we wandered the streets, passing the old gate, the Torres de Quart where pockmarks caused by French cannonballs during the 19th-century Napoleonic invasion can be seen. We visited the huge indoor market, passing the cathedral and visiting the Iglesia Y Torre de Santa Catalina (church) where what’s claimed to be the Holy Grail, the chalice from which Christ sipped during the Last Supper is housed. We were fortunate to witness the Tribunal de las Aguas (Water Court) which meets every Thursday exactly at noon outside the cathedral. Here, Europe’s oldest legal institution settles local farmers’ irrigation disputes in Valenciano, the regional language and has been occurring for over a thousand years. We stopped at a tapas bar for a snack, our first time and have decided that its a great lunch for when we are out and about so I’m sure we will have a lot more. Some of the buildings here are just beautiful, some reminding us of Paris with all the wrought iron balustrades. It was a great walking day and we have come home to have our complimentary sangria! Salud
Sadly we had to leave the hot showers and free wifi behind when we headed to Xátiva, about 60 kms away to do a hike up to the castle which sits on the summit of a double peaked hill overlooking the old town. Along the way we passed a round building which in olden days was used to make ice by shovelling snow down into a pit that had a grass matting on the floor with the weight of the snow compressing, quite ingenious! The walk up to the castle was a long one but the views were sensational. The castle itself suffered a lot of damage in an earthquake in 1748 and it never really recovered, however it was an interesting place. We were able to get into the prison area which was an awfully dark place that even today didn’t smell too good. Glad we were only visiting! We spent about an hour wandering around before heading down and back to Matilda. We only had a short distance to go to our next Aire in the town of I’Olleria, however as maps.me will do sometimes (not me) the road we were supposed to turn into didn’t exist and the alternate route took us through those horrible little streets that small towns tend to have. We did finally get to the Aire which is 3 car bays on the roadside with a dump/fill station. Three old Spanish ladies popped their heads in to say they liked our home (in Spanish but we got the gist of it) and were surprised when we told them we were from Australia! We did end up moving although only into the next side street which was a dead end and we figured would be much quieter.
The word WOW was said so many times on our drive today. We took the A7 for part of the way before reaching the CV70 road which took us through some of the most spectacular scenery we have come across in Spain to date, apart from Montserrat. The road hugged the mountainside twisting and winding its way around the rugged mountain ranges through little villages, olive groves and rocky outcrops. The weather is cold, very windy and wet and some of the mountains were covered with clouds. At one point we thought it was snowing, but we think it was flowers blowing in the wind from the fruit trees! As we neared Guadalest, we could see the creamy aquamarine colour of Embalse de Guadalest, a huge dammed lake that feeds into the Riu Guadalest and eventually into the Baeleric Sea near Altea. We are spending the afternoon reading and trying to keep warm. Hopefully tomorrow will be better weather for exploring.
Our overnight spot was in the carpark at the base of the castle with mountains in front of us. We had a very wild night weather wise, with extremely strong winds and rain. When we woke and opened the blinds, the mountains in front were covered with snow so I guess they weren’t flower petals we saw yesterday. Fancy that, we have been travelling for 11 months and we see snow falling in Spain of all places. The weather has calmed down considerably today so we packed our wet weather gear and headed up to the castle. More WOWs as we got higher, mountains in front of us, ocean behind us. What a view! We drove on the CV70 road again and weren’t disappointed with the scenery and would highly recommend it to anyone heading this way. We arrived in Calpe and once settled, we headed off to the beach. Calpe has a lovely feel about it, could quite easily live here. There are lots of apartments and restaurants along the beachfront with the striking Gibraltaresque Peñon de Ifach, a giant limestone mountain protruding from the sea to the right hand side of the town. We had a walk along the boardwalk before enjoying a nice cold beer watching the locals and the ocean. Tomorrow we climb!
After breakfast we headed off for our hike. Just over half way up is a man made tunnel that takes you through to the other side of the mountain and the rest of the climb. That is as far as we got! There had been a rockfall and the path was closed, however we got some stunning views from where we were so our trip up wasn’t wasted. We headed back down and walked along the boardwalk in the opposite direction to yesterday and the backdrop to this area were the mountain ranges that we travelled through to get to Calpe. It wouldn’t matter which side of the big rock you lived on, the views would be amazing. We walked past the lake behind the main road where dozens of pink flamingoes were wading. We had lunch at the same place we had a beer yesterday and again just sat and watched the world go by. Bliss!
2nd March – 6th March
Sadly it was time to leave Calpe and continue our journey. Our plan was to drive to Benidorm, park and take a wander into town. We found a car park, and a cuppa and left! Neither of us thought much of it although we didn’t get into the heart of the place but decided to give it a miss anyway. We continued on in the direction of Alicante along the way seeing two prostitues selling their wares by the side of the road! We stopped at a small bay called Cala Piteres about 10kms from Alicante. We packed up our lunch and walked along the coast for a couple of kilometres admiring the beautiful houses and stopping in at some of the bays for a look. We had our lunch sitting on a rock at one of them before turning around and coming back. It is another lovely day so we sat outside in the sunshine overlooking the small beach and read until the wind drove us inside.
We fell asleep and woke to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore which is always a nice way to end and start a day. After breakfast we caught the tram which ran along the beachfront to Alicante. The coastline here is just beautiful with small bays scattered along the coast and wide sandy beaches. Our first stop was the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, a large 16th century castle which gives sweeping views over the city and houses a museum recounting the history of the city. We caught the lift that rises through the bowels of the mountain to the summit. We spent about an hour walking around and admiring the view of the long waterfront before heading back down and a wander through the old quarter. We treated ourselves to another lunch out where the lunch special was an entree, main, drink and coffee for €8.80 each! After our nice lunch we had a walk around the marina area past some market stalls before catching the tram home.
The sound of the waves and the sunrise greeted us again this morning. We decided to move on, leaving the beaches behind and travelling inland to Elche, a tidy town with extensive palm groves, Europe’s largest, originally planted by the Phoenicians. Around 200,000 palm trees, each with a lifespan of some 250 years, make the heart of this town an oasis which we spent about an hour walking through. We continued on the Autovia with the mountains on our right to Orihuela where we will stay the night.
More sunshine and we headed up to the San Miguel Seminary on the side of the mountain that towers over the town which afforded us views over the vineyards, vegetable gardens and the mountain range to the north. We headed into the old town and visited the old university (now a high school) which houses a lovely cloister and a beautiful church within. We wandered through the streets and popped our heads into the cathedral, however a service was going on, so we didn’t get a really good look at it. Back to Tilly for lunch before we hit the road again, our destination being Murcia, a small drive of 20kms. Miles and miles of lemon groves kept us company along the way. The weather in this region is very similar to Perth’s and this was obvious by the arid parched land that wasn’t reticulated for the vegetable and fruit gardens and the palms and jacaranda trees growing. Along with another Motorhome, we are staying in the carpark of the congress building and it is full of jacaranda’s, would be a lovely sight in the spring. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon reading and will head into town tomorrow.
We walked along the river into Murcia on what was another sunny day. We visited the cathedral and what a beautiful building it is with a very ornate facade. The altar is one of the biggest and loveliest we have seen to date and is said to hold the shrivelled heart of Alfonso X who reconquered the town from the Muslims in 1248. We couldn’t take a photo of the altar, firstly because it wouldn’t fit in one picture but also there was a service going on at the time. We walked around the old town and heard some drums so we went to investigate. There were a group of people dressed in robes and pointy hats of different colours and marching through the streets. We watched them for a little while and went to the tourist office to find out what it was all about. It was a parade for Easter and only happens on the first Saturday of the month that Easter falls in so we were lucky to see it. Home along the river and to Tilly for lunch before we got back on the road, this time our destination of Cartagena. The journey was pleasant enough and we are spoiling ourselves with a paid Aire for a couple of nights. Long hot showers, electricity and wifi, hooray!