NAZARÉ-the town that once feared the huge waves.

For centuries, Nazaré was a traditional seaside town, where locals taught their children to avoid the huge waves that crashed against the nearby cliffs, and where many a fisherman have lost their lives to these turbulent swells.                                                                                                

traditional boats
fish drying racks
poor lady was a little tired
the mornings catch out drying

That was until about 8 years ago when the ‘big wave’ surfers discovered Nazaré.

the ‘bomb’

Tall as a 10-storey building, the 30 metre high waves are caused by an underwater canyon nearly 5 km deep and 200 km long that ends just at the town’s shoreline.                                                                                    

The biggest waves are so tall the surfers need to be towed out by Jet Ski’s, it’s amazing to watch the tow ski climb over the waves, whip their charge onto the wave, then ‘get the hell out of there’.

The surfers wear airbag life vests and specially padded wetsuits to survive these dangerous surfing conditions.

surfer getting ready to go out, you can see the padded wetsuit

Surfing has bought new life to this small village of around 10,000 people, with tens of thousands visiting every year, most in the winter to see the big waves.                                                              

The mayor has even turned the old fort, once used for storing fishing net into a viewing post and shrine to the riders who have tamed Nazaré.

The upper town, on the cliff tops, is called Sitio, there are always women in traditional costume referred to as the “seven skirts of Nazaré” normally three or four layers of skirts, keeping the extra few layers until ‘special days’.  They sell locally made items, souvenirs such as hand-carved fishing boats, food, and the woolen capes like ones they wear from their stalls.                                  

man in traditional clothing
the ladies wear six layers of frilly skirts and another embroidered one on top, long socks and clogs
cute little girl in local dress
there was a dance going on one day in the square

I love the funicular that descends down the cliff face to the lower town, where the neat cobbled streets take you past cafes, bars, souvenir shops and usually a local or two sitting on crates chatting while peeling potatoes, with their clean washing hanging to dry suspended over the alleyways.

the funicular
Brian checking out the boats
cute couple on their motorbike

Feeling to need for fresh fish we dragged ourselves from the top of the cliff and the surfers to a restaurant down in the town for delicious grilled seabass, new potatoes, salad with a glass of wine, all for €10.

 NAZARÉ WAVE TOW CHALLENGE

the competitors

We timed our second visit to Nazaré perfectly to see first-hand the Inaugural Nazaré Tow Challenge, a surfing competition unlike any other.

The old fort and its stone walls give you the perfect vantage point, and apparently is the only place in the world where it’s possible to watch from up close.  You are so close you get wet from the spray, and you can feel the vibration through the ground as the waves break right below you.

crowd watching the comp
looking towards town
the side of the fort

Because of the size of the waves and the speed at which the surfer must take off they are towed onto the wave by a Jet Ski which launches the surfer onto these massive moving walls of water.

it’s started
being towed onto a wave

For six hours straight ten teams of two surfers, eighteen men and two women, the elite of the Big Wave surfers each took turns towing and surfing the wild waves. There was even team Australia, Mick Corbett from Perth and Axi Muniain from the Basque area of Spain

waiting to pick up his team mate

During the day there were many near-perfect rides, but unlike most surfing contests this event isn’t scored in real-time.  Instead, the day is filmed from multiple locations and angles, then at the end of the day, the surfers themselves get together to watch and choose the winners of the four categories. 

these shook the ground where we stood
a couple of US surfers doing a TV commentary
not sure who he is, but someone important in the surfing world
cute dog
the Basque surfer on the Aussie team

Men’s and Women’s wave of the day was won by the young Kai Lenny from Hawaii and Justine Dupont from France won the women’s best wave.  Team Champions went to Kai and his teammate from Brazil Lucas Chianca, and the Commitment Award deservedly went to the Water Safety Team. Being chosen by your peers, there couldn’t be a better way to win any contest.

Competitions like this wouldn’t be possible without the water safety teams on Jetskis, who seem to know just where to be to pluck the surfer out of the dangerous white-water and ferry them back out to do it all again.

I can’t imagine what mental and physical fortification must be required to ride a 50-foot wave that can weigh as much as 1,000 tons, and then have to outrun the mountains of white water that follows. 

One of the surfers in the event, Alex Botelho from Team Portugal could have very easily lost his life after the Jetski that had just picked him up, went flying 3m into the air after being clobbered by a huge wave, then hit Alex on landing back in the water.  He floated unconscious for a couple of minutes until he was rescued by the safety team and rushed to the hospital.  He is now in a stable condition thankfully.

We were one of only four motorhomes that were allowed to remain on the top of the cliff while the competition was on, why we don’t know, but we are certainly thankful that the organizers didn’t move us off that perfect place to be for the competition, and the view these past four days.

the merch van. Chris Halliday may or may not have a little something from this van on our return
that’s us the second from the left, we look tiny compared to the 7m German mh next to us. The mh on far right left the morning of the competition, and the small van behind the merch truck was where the competitors came to register . We were so close to it all

It was hard to leave Nazare, but we are so thankful we had to opportunity to be there for the contest.

Sorry, my pics aren’t any better, I don’t have a big professional camera, and those surfers literally flew along those waves.

PORTUGAL-The Algarve

We cross the River Guadiana and move from Spain into Portugal’s eastern Algarve Region.

Enclosed by ranges of mountains to the north, and the warm air and sea currents from North Africa to it’s south, the Algarve has a climate, culture, and scenery that is very different from the rest of Portugal.

Centuries of early Arab rule have left a very Moorish look to the architecture, also the plantings of almond trees and orange groves, and even the place names starting with ‘AL’ all denote its Moorish origin.

Arriving from the east and along the Atlantic coast we drive through quiet whitewashed fishing villages, this is the undeveloped part of the Algarve.  White sand beaches stretch as far as the eye can see, in fact, it looks remarkably similar to our east coast of Australia in places.

The Algarve thrived on tuna fishing for centuries but like in many of our seas and oceans numbers of fish have declined with overfishing.                   

We stayed near the dunes of Praia do Barril Beach, where there are the remains of a small village from the late 1870’s.  Eighty tuna fishermen and their families lived here from April to September in small huts, with no running water or electricity.   

the fishing village now restored to holiday cottages

Every day they ventured into the unpredictable waters of the Atlantic to try and catch the massive Bluefin Tuna as they moved through these waters.  It was a difficult and dangerous profession.    By the 1980’s there were no tuna left, and the industry here died.

Now as a tribute to those fishermen there is a Cemetery of Anchors, hundreds of large rusting anchors lined up in rows along the sand dunes. 

The anchors were not used to secure boats, but to hold the huge fishing nets in place that was formed into a maze by the many small boats that funneled the tuna into the capture nets.  In the museum, there were old pictures of bluefin tuna weighing as much as 370kg, and looking at least twice the size of the small Portuguese fishermen.

RIO FORMOSA

they do look pretty at night

The Algarve is well known to tourists for its beaches, however, this region in the Eastern Algarve also has an area, built in 1978 to help preserve the local flora and fauna, as well as the migratory birds that pass through on their way from Europe to Africa.

The Rio Formosa is really a system of barrier islands that run for 60kms along the coast. Inside these islands are tidal flats, sandbanks, canals and salt marshes.  Shellfish, mainly clams are farmed here and, in many places, boardwalks have made this area accessible to all.

elevated walkways
you can catch this cute little train, but being the exercise fanatics we are (LOL) we walked, and saved 3 euro each.

As much as we realize the importance of the marshlands and salt flats for the ecology and economic importance of this part of Portugal, it is nice to get back to seeing the beautiful beaches and the rugged cliffs and coves of the Algarve coastline.

CHIMNEYS’ of the ALGARVE

You can’t help but notice the beautiful chimneys here.

Homes, as well as many commercial buildings, are topped with the most beautiful and ornate chimneys.  Many resemble minarets, turrets or mini mosques, a reflection of the Moorish history of this area.

Some are very old, darkened by the soot from thousands of fires, some look like they are right out of the factory, some are topped with weathervanes, not all are used but generally I would say most are.

Typical Portuguese home

I love just driving around seeking out the most ornate chimneys, or to see which homeowners have spent the most time matching their chimney to the paint job and overall design of their homes.

these beautiful chimneys are on Kym and Falko’s house
this chimney is the oldest in the Algarve

It’s another one of those joys of travel.  The small distinctions that the locals take for granted, but that we travelers see as unique, distinct, playful and possibly quirky.

a quirky name for a town, lucky we’re leaving LOL

Here’s to the joy of quirky, something that the Algarveans do so well with their Moorish chimneys.

I wonder can I talk Brian into putting a chimney on our house, just so I can top it with one of these beautiful toppers.

then maybe we can have a family of storks

PORCHES …… new friends and beautiful tiles

Porches is a small town located between Lagoa and Albufeira and is known for being the home of some of the most beautiful pottery in the Algarve.

But believe it or not, it’s not the beautiful blue and white pottery that brings us here, it’s Kym and Falko.

Kym and Falko have been living in Portugal for the past few years. Kym was born in England, Falko in Germany and have both lived in Australia for many years. They are friends of my friend Debra, you may have seen her lovely comments on some of my posts. Anyway, Deb suggested we connect with Kym and Falko and voila, new friends.

Kym is a fantastic chef, Falko a great storyteller, and if that isn’t enough they have the cutest Schnauzer, Millie.

Millie

PRAIA de LUZ

We have once again found ourselves at another fantastic housesit.                                                        This time in Praia de Luz, which is situated in the western Algarve region of Portugal.  Our homeowners are off to Morocco for a short visit to see family.

Rocha Negra, the massive black basalt headland that’s been layered over the years with sandstone that is so common in the area is the first thing you see.  It is eye-catchingly unique and, also does a fantastic job of sheltering the beach at Luz from those ferocious Atlantic storms, especially in winter.

Luz, like most of the neighboring villages were once just small fishing villages.                    

Now because of the calm sandy beaches and endless sunshine, it’s busy here during the summertime, though in late January it is and quiet and peaceful, with many of the restaurants and accommodation places closed for some sprucing up before it starts to get busy again in April.

Camping at the END of the WORLD

The windblown Cabo de São Vicente is the most extreme south-western point of Europe and our first overnight stop after leaving Luz,

The Romans called this place the ‘Sacred Promontory’, and today with its 70m cliffs that front the Atlantic Ocean, it’s still an awe-inspiring place to visit, and an even better one to spend the night camped on those cliffs.

that’s a fisherman standing on the cliff, fishing into the water a terrifying distance below

If you stand here at sunset, it can be easy to see why – the sun appears unusually large as it descends over the seemingly endless sea. 

Cape Saint Vincent has been an important reference point for navigation since the 15th century and the present lighthouse that stands on the point is said to be the most powerful in Europe.  We watched the hypnotizing sweep of its 95km range light through our skylight while lying in bed.

We leave the lovely Algarve, an area we had skirted previously as we thought it was all high rises and holiday homes, but we were so wrong.  The Algarve is really a beautiful and diverse region, with clean white sand beaches, history, and pretty whitewashed hillside villages where the rural way of life continues virtually uninterrupted. 

CÁDIZ

Brian has been looking forward to visiting Cádiz for a long time.                                                               

This is where in the Age of Discovery, Christopher Columbus sailed from on his voyage to discover America. It was home of the Spanish Armada, and from where the ruthless Cortés and his conquistadors sailed from to conquer the Aztecs.

Jutting out into the Bay of Cádiz and almost surrounded by water with only one land exit, Cadiz claims to be the oldest city in Europe. 

                                                                                                                It has seen turbulent times as well, the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors were all here, then attacked, blockaded and looted by the English, and burnt to the ground by the Dutch.  Cádiz has been continually inhabited for more than 3000 years.

storks

We stayed on the opposite side of the harbour at El Puerto de Santa Maria, a quiet little town and caught the ferry over to Cádiz.

One of the things I noticed about the old town is that it feels lived in, not at all touristy. Paint peels of the brightly coloured buildings, and in those built from the local stone you can still see traces of shells.   Grand terrace houses three and four stories high flank the cobbled streets, but it’s not dirty and dark, it feels friendly.

We always look for the market, and Cádiz has a great Mercado.  The array of fresh seafood including the largest tuna I have ever seen was astonishing. 

opening fresh oysters

We tried the most amazing snack, tortilla de camarones, which is wheat and chickpea flour, onion, parsley, prawns and a little salt deep fired until it’s crispy around the edges and soft and juicy in the centre, my mouth is watering now as I write about them.   They make a similar tortilla using sea anemone, tomorrow I’ll give that a try.

We hug the coastline between Rota and Chipione staying in small beachside parking areas of the seasonal chiringuito’s, which are basically beach bars, usually only open during the summer.                                  

Some spots are quiet with only a couple of MH’s around, and some like the one we are at now are like a fiesta.

                                                                                                                           Most of the population here live in apartments, so come Friday afternoon the Spanish start heading away from their city apartments to weekend places like the coast with motorhomes, caravans, dogs and lots of kids.  

It never seems to get out of hand though, nobody gets drunk and obnoxious, the kids wander around together, it’s just like a huge family weekend party.

I enjoy the local sherry from Jerez, and Brian a glass of vino tinto as we watch the beautiful sunsets from our spot right at the beach.

Park National de Doñana and El Rocio-one of Spain’s strangest towns.

The National park is one of Europe’s largest and most important wetland reserves for bird species.  It is a major site for migrating birds, with flamingos staying here at present.  It is also home to a rare eagle, fallow deer and is the last refuge for the Iberian Lynx, one of Europe’s rarest mammals, with 60 pairs living in the park.

Entry to the Park is strictly controlled to ensure minimal impact on the animals, and you must use an official guided tour.  If we were assured that we would see a lynx it would have been worth the price, but these shy animals are nocturnal, living in the scrub and hunting ducks and rabbits.  So instead we find the closest town that borders the park and stay there, hoping to catch a glimpse of….well anything wild really.

EL ROCIO

Staying here the idea was to see flamingos or possibly some other wild animal that escaped from Doñana National Park next door, what we didn’t expect to find was a town right out of a Wild West movie.

Horse-drawn carriages are popular with the locals, and you’ll see them trotting about the streets going about their business throughout the day, even the local hearse is horse-drawn.     

There are wooden hitching posts in front of most houses and buildings so people can tie up their horses, it’s easier than parking a car.

The roads are all sand or dirt, and the road rules seem a bit more flexible here. There are no road markings, street signs or traffic lights, and you’re more likely to come face to face with a carriage or a rider on a horse than another car.  It appears the 21st century hasn’t arrived here yet.

cowboy Brian

But come in May-June and this place is a whole lot different,  over 1 million, yes that’s not a typo, 1 million people arrive here on horseback, oxen-drawn carriages or on foot for the annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the Virgin del Rocio.

It’s a huge fiesta then with food, fireworks, music, flamenco dancing, (I wondered why there were beautiful flamenco dresses for sale).

So, if you’re looking for a little of the ‘wild west’ or need a new flamenco dress or beautiful riding boots, make sure you visit El Rocio.

COSTA de la LUZ or THE COAST of LIGHT

The two hundred kilometres of Atlantic coastline that start at the Straits of Gibraltar and ends at the Portuguese border feels more like Australia to us than anywhere else we have found in Europe.

Deserted white sand beaches, surfers, sand dunes, surf shops, and cafés, this is how I remember the south coast of NSW as a teen.

The difference here is not too far behind those lovely beaches are the pueblos blancos, or whitewashed hill towns so typical of Andalusia.

TARIFA

Tarifa is located on the Costa de la Luz on the southernmost point of mainland Europe, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.                                                                                               

The old town is still very much a fishing village and was the first point of the European invasion by the Moors in 711 AD.  The town has been conquered and re-conquered many times since, but the Moorish influence remains in the architecture, with the whitewashed houses surrounded by castellated city walls and labyrinthine layout of the old town.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Fishing was once the main industry of Tarifa, but now it’s the ‘wind sport’ of kitesurfing and windsurfing that has given the town a huge economic boost.  With an average of 300 windy days per year, you can understand why it has taken off.

Everywhere there are kite surf schools and shops selling all the gear, boutique hotels for the rich and so many places along the sandy coastline where you can just pull in and park, as we did.

The last time we were in Tarifa was in 2009 when we were here for only a few days, waiting to catch the ferry to Morocco.

We have great memories of the couple of months we spent in Morocco, of meeting our wonderful German friends the Wendl’s, the food, camel rides in the Sahara, visits to the Hammam for a good wash, and the souks for the bargains and food.   So rather than tarnish those memories by going back again, we will continue further west along Spain’s lovely wild southern coastline, and just look at Morocco and the northern coast of Africa from afar.

Morocco is in the background

THREE KINGS PARADE or the CABALGATA de REYES MAGO – January 5th

The tradition says that the three kings, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, followed a star that showed them the way to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.  They offered three gifts, gold, incense, and myrrh.

The Three Kings Parade is an essential part of Spain’s Christmas, and one of the most magical nights of the year for the children.

After watching the parade, the children go home and place their shoes in a handy spot for the Kings to see them, if they have been good all year they will receive gifts next to their shoes, if not it may only be a lump of coal.

this cream-filled cake is eaten at night after the parade

The arrival of the Three King’s Day, January 6th, marks the end of the Christmas holidays in Spain.

CAPE TRAFALGAR

Who knew that the Battle of Trafalgar took place off the coast of Spain?

Cape Trafalgar lighthouse

It’s another of those locations like Waterloo that we learned about at school or have since read about but possibly never knew the exact location.

Well, today we visited the place where this famous battle took place on the South Western coast of Spain, just south of Cadiz.

off Cape Trafalgar

Now comes the history so if you’re bored already, I’m sorry and just skip this next bit, but I think that history is interesting.

On the 21st October 1805, as Napoleon and his armies were trying to conquer Europe, Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, commanding the British Fleet devised an ambitious plan of attack, which involved ambushing the Franco-Spanish fleet off the Cape of Trafalgar in southwest Spain.

Although the British were vastly outnumbered, Nelson’s ingenious plan of sailing towards the Franco-Spanish fleet in two long columns, plowing through the formations splitting the divisions into thirds worked. After many hours of fighting and huge casualties on both sides, including Lord Nelson receiving mortal musket shots to the shoulder and chest.                                                                  

Nelson’s last words are said to have been, “Now I am satisfied.  Thank God I have done my duty”.  His body was then placed for preservation into a cask of brandy, for transportation back to England.

The battle was a decisive victory for the British and ended France’s reign as a naval superpower.

HMS Victory

You can visit the HMS Victory at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard in England. It is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

GUERNSEY FRIENDS

We catch up with Sharon and Steve who are from Guernsey, and like us have bought a motorhome and are traveling full time.                                                                                                                                              It was our lucky day after one of the Tour de France races in 2018 when Steve and Sharon, Marsha and Dave, and Brian and I all decided to stay the night in a small aire in the Pyrenees, now we are friends for life.    As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not only the fantastic countries you visit and exciting things you see, it’s the great people you meet along the way that really make traveling such a wonderful experience.

Steve and Sharon have parked up on a “piece of wasteland” in Steve’s words, we called it a “gypsy camp” but it is cheap and quiet, has a restaurant/bar and it’s only a short walk to the town of Fuengirola.

And where else can you go where a rider on a horse can just ride through and get served a beer?

I had been hanging out for fish and chips for ages, so when thinking of a place for dinner, and Sharon mentioned the local ‘chippy’ called the Crispy Cod, dinner was quickly decided, and it was delicious!

All too soon it was time to leave our Guernsey friends, but the road continues West towards Portugal, and now we have started the countdown until we leave for Canada in March, and then home late April.

GIBRALTAR

Widely known as “The Rock” or “Gib” as the locals call it, Gibraltar is a small peninsula on the southern coast of what looks like should be Spain, and at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.

Basically, the country that you see looming over you as you drive into the country, is the country, all  6.5sq km of it, with about 30,000 residents who live at the base of its 426m high monolith.

Gibraltar is a unique place with loads of history, in fact about 100,000 years of history, from the Neanderthals that fished the shoreline and lived in the limestone caves, to Phoenicians and Romans, the long inhabiting Moors, and then the fighting between the French, Spanish and British, all claiming possession at one time or another.                                                                                                                 

Now Gibraltar is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom after being signed over to Britain ‘in perpetuity’ in 1713.

All those wars for possession and sieges have left “The Rock” with an amazing legacy of 50kms of bombproof tunnels that are still used to this day to monitor shipping movements in the busy Straits of Gibraltar, a military training area for underground warfare, and also as a secure store for online data management.                                                                                                                                            

And home to a colony of 160 Barbary Macaque apes, the only wild monkey population on the European continent.

There is an old superstition that if the Apes leave the Rock, the British will go as well.

NEW YEAR’S EVE

It’s hard to believe that this night has come around so soon, as it seems no time since we were in cold and snowy Strasbourg this time last year.

This year instead of the French Bonne année it will be the Spanish Feliz año nuevo!                                   

We started New Year’s Day camping on the beach at Balengra surround by a few German motorhomes, then as the breeze picked up mid-afternoon, we decided a move to a smaller sheltered cove near Castell de Ferro would be better, and that is where we met Catriona, Sol, and their two lovely children Morgan and Alwyn, all the way from Ireland.                                                                                     

They were great company for New Year’s Eve, lots of laughs and a  great deal of Cava and Vouvray was consumed, but I have to admit that Brian and I only made it to about 11pm before we called it a night and headed back to Hermione.

New Year’s Day was sunny and beautiful and time for us to move a little further West along what is known as Spain’s Costa Tropical, towards Malaga.

We watched a couple of guys on Jestsurf boards that looked pretty interesting.  We haven’t seen anything like these in Australia, but I’m sure they’re available.                                                                                                   

The Andalusian coastline here has high cliffs that run right down to small secluded sandy coves, with only a small strip of land for the road, housing and a little agriculture before the spectacular Sierra mountain range looms high behind.

Those mountains are always a real draw for us, but we also know that once we climb away from the coast it will be cold at night, 0c or less, so we keep to the coast enjoying the warm 18c – 24c winter days, and 10c or so at night, much like our winter weather at home.

GRIFFON VULTURES of CASARES

We leave the Costa de Sol at Manilva for the day and head up into the hills of the Sierra Bermeja to try and find the colony of Griffon Vultures we have heard about.

With their dark brown bodies, hairy looking cape around their necks and bald looking white heads Griffon Vultures are not the best-looking specimens of the bird kingdom.                                                

But in the air with their necks pulled in, their huge wingspan of up to 2.8 metres across, and with their wing feathers splayed they soar the thermals and look almost graceful as they circle above the rugged landscape of dry shrubbery and craggy rocks.

It was mesmerizing to watch them take off from the rocks behind the lookout, some floating only what seemed like metres above our heads. 

We watched a group of around 25 gathers just down the hillside to bathe in an old bathtub, afterwards, they stood with their magnificent wings outstretched to dry.

CHRISTMAS with GOOD FRIENDS in TORREVIEJA

The long stretches of sandy beaches and the warmer temperatures have been bringing people to this area for a long time.

The reason we decide to spend Christmas in Torrevieja is because of our good friends, David and Marshy Moo will be there.

                                                                                                                                           We met last year at The Tour de France and have been fortunate to have caught up again a couple of times since.

Christmas Eve was busy.  First up was the line dance lesson that Marsha talked me into, it was quite a hoot as most of the ladies in the class have been line-dancing for years, so just trying to keep up was a workout for me.  After an hour of trying to follow the steps I just gave up and had my own little free dance.                                                                                                                                             In the evening there was a pre-Christmas party with a group of lovely people from the campsite that Marsha and Dave have met since they arrived.

Christmas Day was warm and sunny and at La Zenia beach in Torrevieja there is a huge party, and I mean huge!  Our conservative estimate was about 4000 people there. There was entertainment all day from two different stages, and many dressed as Santa, or in other Christmas attire from reindeer antlers to skimpy shiny red vinyl hotpants with matching knee-length boots and sparkly tops with plunging necklines, it was all there.

The organized people bought bbq’s, tables, folding chairs, and Esky’s full of cold refreshments.  Food-wise we saw everything from hamburgers and sausages being cooked on the bbq’s to a full leg of delicious Iberian ham on its own rack being finely sliced and served with fresh salads.

Dave had suggested that we cycle down to the beach as we would never find a parking place big enough for either of our motorhomes.                                                                                                             Now I did know we had driven for about ten minutes out through town to reach the campsite that sits on a hill overlooking the coast, what I didn’t know was that by the end of Christmas Day I would have cycled a total of 21.5kms, that includes one section that Dave and Marsha fondly call, heart attack hill!                                                               

Both Marsha and Dave a very good cyclists and promised me that we would all take it nice and slow, and I was very grateful that Dave set his spare bike up for me at the ‘granny gearing’ level that would make my ride a little easier, too bad I forgot to attach a pillow to that razor blade he calls a seat.

Anyway, all went well, and we did have some stops along the way as promised. After our ride down, and a walk along the very crowded beach to check out all the revelers we headed up to beach bar for a little sit down (for me) and some well-earned refreshments.

Thankfully our ride back home was split into two sections, first stop the Sunny Corner Bar to meet up with Jan and Joss for a refreshing cider for me, and beers all around for the others, then a short ride to our chosen location for our non-traditional but very delicious Christmas lunch at the local Chinese restaurant.                                                                                               

So definitely a different Christmas for us this year, but also a very enjoyable one spent with great friends on the Costa Blanca in Spain.

Five days after we arrived in Torrevieja Brian was getting itchy feet, so after a few tears, we leave Marshy Moo and Dave and move further south towards Almeria.                                                                       Almeria is not our favourite area in Spain, the coastline here is infamous for its ‘Sea of Plastic,’ the massive fruit and vegetable production area that supplies most of Northern Europe and the UK.                                                                                                         

To escape the plastic we try one night in the hills of the lower Sierra’s, but waking to a 1c frosty morning drives us back towards the warmer coastline, so we try to not to focus too much at the plastic hothouses, find a great local restaurant that offers and three-course meal and unlimited wine for €10 each, and in another day or so will be in the lovely old city of Malaga.  

COSTA BLANCA

Most of the towns along this coast were founded by the Phoenicians, became prosperous under the Moors, and some like Xativa destroyed in Spanish War.  To this day a full-length portrait of King Felipe V (who set fire to the village) hangs upside-down in their town hall as their mark of revenge.

Again, this is an area we have previously driven straight past, but good friends Rose and Arthur from Scotland, are in Benidorm for the winter so for them we will make an exception.

Some of the smaller coastal villages are really quite nice, we stay the first night on the Costa Blanca in Javea which thankfully still has the feel of the fishing port it was in the ’50s, due to councils decision many years ago to not allow high rises along the beachfront.

Benidorm’s sandy playa (beach) has a long promenade with restaurants and bars and the town boasts more accommodation than any other resort on the Mediterranean coast.  Apparently, there is even a British TV show about Brits abroad that features Benidorm.                                                                 

During the winter it fills with who we Aussie’s would call Grey Nomads, retirees from the North, mainly Brits, Germans, Swedes, and the Dutch, seeking the sun and warmer climes.

We spent a couple of days in Benidorm, with our expert tour guides Rose and Arthur who have been spending the winter here for many years.  We’re looking forward to repaying their hospitality when they next visit Australia.

VALENCIA-the CITY of ARTS and SCIENCES

Valencia is another of those large cities we have always avoided, but Caroline at our housesit in Castres had mentioned a complex of architecturally stunning buildings in the centre of the city.          Most cities are difficult to drive around in a motorhome, but Valencia has lovely wide avenues and we lucked out with free parking a five-minute walk from the park.

Situated in a former riverbed the City of Arts and Sciences is made up of four buildings, a science museum that resembles a whale’s skeleton. A planetarium/IMAX theatre that looks like a giant eye and water lily-shaped open-air aquarium that claims to be the largest in Europe.                                      

The last building is the Opera House, a soaring glass structure that is reminiscent of our Sydney Opera House with its wings and shape.  

All of these buildings are surrounded by shallow pools of water, so they seem to float across a giant blue lake.                                                                                                                      

An elevated walkway that is like a botanical garden on steroids, complete with sculptures by Yoko Ono and several contemporary Spanish artists cleverly disguise the covered parking.                                                                

It was such a well-designed area that even on a Monday morning had loads of people running, cycling or just walking through it, enjoying the sun and the sights just like us.

MORELLA

The weather God has remembered that it’s sunny Spain, and not cold and dreary Spain and we are finally starting to feel like our old selves again, so it’s time to explore the ancient walled town of Morella.

Built on a high isolated outcrop and crowned by a ruined castle, my first look at Morella from the distant valley reminded me a little of Mont St Michel in Brittany, although Morella is surrounded by terraced hillsides and oak forests rather than water.

The commanding height of Morella at over 1000m was chosen as a frontier fortress many centuries ago by the crusading warlords of the Templar Knights, and the Knights of the Order of Montesa. Two thousand five hundred metres of walled battlements were erected around the town to serve as its defense, with entrance through only six heavily armed gates. Inside those walls are a labyrinth of streets and steep tapering allies with Gothic arcades and porticoed shops that still serve the 3000 inhabitants of the town.                                                                                                                                                            

The Gothic Church of Santa Maria sits protected just under the castle’s fortification and is spectacular.  The golden altarpiece complete with hundreds of cherubs has been rebuilt as it was burned in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s and it has the most exquisite Baroque organ that we were fortunate to hear being played.

The mountainous area of El Maestrat is a world away from the busy coastal strip and has always been an important part of Spain as it straddles the border between Valencia and Aragón, with evidence of human life here for over 600,000 years.

We are here over the long weekend Dec 6th holiday of Constitution Day, which marks the anniversary of the referendum that in 1978 passed the countries current constitution and important step in moving from under the dictatorship of Franco (he died 1975) to a democracy with Spanish Royal Family as its head.                                                                                                                                      

Most Spaniards will take a ‘bridge holiday’ (extra day off) as Dec 8th is another holiday, Immaculate Conception Day so there are many families out and about in cars and campers.  This is also the official start of the Christmas Festivities in Spain with markets and other Christmas activities.                                                 

We have not heard another English accent for quite some time, they all must be further south down on the coast enjoying the warmer weather but give me these fantastic mountains and hilltop villages any time.