Surviving the winter in Spain and Portugal was so tough! Since we returned home we have been waiting on our new van so have not got away.
However, seeing our April ( the van) pining on the drive we thought she needed cheering up so a quick two nights away was hastily arranged. Being the school holiday week we thought we should book so rang Uphill Marina at Weston -Super-Mare and were surprised they had spaces available. We were off!
A short drive and we had arrived, nice spot by the lake. There were a few other happy campers but the place was relatively quiet.
Big improvements have taken place at Uphill since our first visit many years ago. The boat yard has been spruced up and the campers loos have been improved. There is even hot water in the washing up sinks.
We tried the new cycle path to Brean Down, an easy 3 miles each way on an off road track. A really nice ride on our posh new bikes. I even managed to stay seated on mine!
The track to Brean. Also a nice easy walk.
A proper sea view.
It was sunny at times and not as cold as it looks. We walked into Weston and caught the bus back, quite busy with holiday makers. We had lunch at the Dolphin two minutes walk down the road and dinner at the Ship. A very relaxing two nights!
We are now getting extra excited as our new van will be ready on 9 July so planning some super new trips. Happy days.
Our last stop on this years Winter Sun Tour. Villa Nova Park on the Costa Dorada about an hour from Barcelona. Having escaped from La Manga we were thrilled with our first view of Villanova Park it looked clean and civilised.
We were met by the very friendly rally stewards and chose a pitch on the top terrace under the trees. We were soon happily settled in. The campsite was huge with loads of statics and lodges from an assortment of companies. The rally area was on terraced pitches and we were invited to take our pick. Pitches were large and under the trees so plenty of room for the sun to shine through. Organised rally events were posted by the rally tent not too much going on but enough to keep people occupied.There was a huge swimming pool complex and bar restaurant on site as well as a well stocked supermarket. The sanitary facilities were very modern and clean with indoor washing up and hot water.
The restaurant and bar.
Just one of the outdoor pools. There was also an indoor pool and gym and another huge outdoor pool complex. You could probably spend a week here without leaving the site.
Not by the sea but the the town of Villanova was about 3 miles away and the bus went from the camp. A book of 10 tickets was 10 euros and the bus went straight into the town and stopped by the beach.
The marina and beach at Villanova.
A huge promenade meant there was loads to watch!
The Rambla. Plenty of shops and bars to while away the hours.
We took advantage of the transport and spent two full days at Villanova town and beach. Very Spanish but not touristy most of the visitors were locals.
There was also a daily coach to Barcelona again from the campsite, it took about an hour and went via Sitges ( possibly another day out) Sadly we only had time for a one day visit. We bought tourist passes online and did Barcelona by The Hop on Hop Off Bus. Hopefully we could do this trip again and the next time we would be primed as the best places to go. Here is a taste of our visit.
Barcelona is massive and we would certainly recommend the bus trip for a good starter.
All too soon our 6 nights were up and it was time to make for the tunnel. We had allowed 3 days which was fine for a pretty uneventful journey back up through France.
Tucked up for the night near Abbeyville. We pretty much did the downwards journey in reverse except we found a new campsite near Abbeyville, Chateau des Tilleuls. Well worth an overnighter. Good clean heated facilities though the restaurant was closed. Good campsite shop though.
A little stop on the way. Time to say goodbye. A serene place to rest.
Our last night we spent back in Cite Europ quiet and uneventful. We had heard that we may be delayed at customs but it was very quick and we were waved through.
Would we over winter again? Yes but probably not book so much and we would not be going back to La Manga!
We arrived in La Manga with the great excitement you feel when arriving at a new place! It was a large site on the edge of the Mar Menor lagoon so seemed a promising venue. We were booked in for 10 days.
We arrived and parked up in the very large car park by reception. We were told to report to the rally stewards who would allocate a pitch. We were shown four pitches all in the same location by one of the roads and picked one by a static hut the rally pitches were all in the same area. Driving to the pitch we passed rows of permanent static and huts crammed next to each other. We thought things have to improve. We finally manoeuvred onto our pitch running the gauntlet of the traffic on the road. We were told that if we wanted sun in a quiet location we were could use the sun spot across the road by the swimming pool.
A large pitch with a bit of shade.
The rally site. Quite spacious but because of the gravel roads and dry conditions it was horribly dusty. The " La Manga Cough" could be heard echoing across the site!
The rally tent. Could the watch word here be "off duty". Only three sets of rally stewards for all those campers. Guess we had been spoilt at Castillo de Banos.
It very quickly became apparent that our pitch was by a very busy exit road. There were other pitches free but we had only been offered road side pitches. As newbies here we didn't realise the implications.
After 24 hours of constant traffic, walkers, cyclists, dogs and noise we had really had enough! To make matters worse the toilet block which was at the other side of the rally area was very poor. Clean but decidedly in need of a revamp. More like bad school changing rooms, water was hot but came and went from hot to cold. To add to the mix there was only barely tepid water in the washing up sinks, which were not too clean, outside and prone to blocking up.
We decided to explore. Very good supermarket on site with reasonable prices. On the first night we tried the beach side restaurant and had an excellent meal at a very good price. It was a pretty beach with lots going on and there were quite a few bike tracks.
We rode out to the light house and into La Manga Menor, a challenging ride for some of us! The edge of the lagoon housed the lighthouse of Cabo de Palos a very touristy area though well worth a look around.
By the end of day three we were ready to move. The noisy pitch was taking it's toll. We contacted the Camping & Caravanning Club and booked another site we had two more nights left to endure at La Manga. The rally stewards did at this stage offer to move us but we really couldn't be bothered.
We decided to take the bus to Cartagena. A good decision. The bus ride through the outlying Spanish villages was worth the journey.
Cartegena was an interesting place to wander in. We saw all the usual attractions The Roman Theatre of Cathago Nova which was easy to view from above.
The port is now a major cruise ship destination so it does get busy.
We walked around the port explored the old town and had a very nice huge tapas lunch before catching the bus back.
Our final day at La Manga and we thought we would go for a farewell bike ride!
I should have known the place was jinxed! I should have known better than to follow Den!
I fell off!!!
A huge bruise and scrapes and a hurt hand. Den did rescue me before he checked the camera and the bikes all of which were fine. I heroically rode the bike ( which was too big for me! ) home. I need a new bike that fits.
I survived to happily leave La Manga and hopefully never return. Although we may consider a night if in the area and if desperate!
Seriously, we enjoyed exploring this part of Spain. We had a lovely evening with friends we had made on the previous campsite who were also at La Manga. A big thank you to Trish and Peter for company, food and to Trish for bravely making pancakes in her van for everyone. She deserves a medal.
Den spent many a happy hour corresponding with the other happy campers on the La Manga Rally Facebook page about the facilities, before he was blocked! We have yet to work out why anyone would wish to go there for weeks on end. I guess each to their own.
Next stop Villa Nova just outside Barcelona. Let's hope it's a good one.
Oh and all my injuries have healed up and Den got me a new small mountain bike. Thanks XXX
After a pretty spectacular drive through the Sierra Nevada, still covered in snow, and down through Granada we arrived at Castillo de Banos. The sun was out and we were greeted by the friendly rally stewards Chris and Gill with a cup of tea. We were given a choice of pitches and opted for one in the interior rather than the beach as it was slightly more sheltered. We were soon settled in. The site is well organised with a new toilet block, restaurant and pool. We ate on the first night in the campsite restaurant and excellent paella with masses of prawns and a bottle of red. We slept well.
View through the campsite down to the beach. We can just about see the sea from ours.
The campsite is on the edge of a small village of Castillo de Banus, 2 minute walk with small but well stocked supermarket and restaurant nearby. A short walk along the beach, around 2 miles,takes you to another village La Mimola, slightly bigger with more shops, restaurants and a bank. Motril is the nearest large town.
It was our first rally so we were not sure what to expect. Our minds were soon put at ease. Rally events are planned and put on a board in the rally area for people to sign up for. There are small costs for various activities. We signed up for the next days trip to the nearby town of Motril. More of a shopping expedition really although we would have a full three hours to look around as we pleased. For a total cost of 10 euros for both of us we though it excellent value.
At 9.30 we were on the coach on our way to Motril. Quite a pleasant town and also a port. Motril is the second largest town in the province of Granada and used to be a major centre for the production of sugar beet. The port is still in use as a commercial and fishing port and regular boats come in from Algeria. We walked into the town and had a look at the church and main square.
The main church in Motril dedicated to The Virgin de Cebeza and built in the 17th Century. The inside of the church I felt was rather cold although very ornate, something was missing. It was much smaller than it appeared.
The park surrounding the church on Virgins Hill was well done. There were some interesting statues.
Motril was worth a visit and there were loads of supermarkets and shops but probably one visit is enough.
The modern centre of Motril. Worth a wander around.
The next morning we were up and ready for our next rally trip. Off to a Bodega in a place called Murtas in the mountains by coach. The bodega was up in the Contraviesa Mountains about an hours drive from the campsite. Well worth the journey. Slightly perilous going up the mountains in the coach. Den was pleased he wasn't driving.
As part of the visit we were taken to see the vine yards and how the wine was produced. There is an extensive museum which was really interesting. Unfortunately our guide could speak no English but there was an English video which was very well done. We rounded off the visit with tasters and then a three course meal in the restaurant. a great day out.
Still snow on the mountains. The people who live here are pretty isolated hardy souls.
A fascinating insight into life on the mountains it was so harsh.
Wine is made here from around 10 different grape varieties.
The next morning a slow stroll along the beach and tacos at Nico's Bar. This made a pleasant change. Later we donned our walking boots for the scuttle along the rocky beach to La Mimola. The weather was beautiful hot and sunny.
Even a few hardy souls on the beach. Not quite warm enough for most! Its a great walk to La Mamola along the shore though tough under foot. You can scoot along the beach or opt to go through the road tunnel if the weather is rough. Wine and tapas further down the beach at yet another Nico's Bar. Such a hard life.
The next trip we did was to the nearby village of Adria.
About an hour in the coach on the scenic coast road and we were there. It was market day. Not that inspiring for us although lots of our fellow campers bought fresh fruit and veggies. We opted for a stroll along the harbour to the end of the town.
The harbour at Adria. Full of boats bet it's even busier in the summer.
Adria is still a working port and the fishermen were busy mending their nets. Shame there is such a reduction in the fishing fleet down these days by 70% since it's heyday in the 70's. The fish shop looked interesting.
We were not impressed with the free/wild camping area which was obviously well used. We would rather have a proper camp site. Lots of Germans Dutch and a few Finns parked up though. The area down by the end of the town would be a popular place in the summer. Peaceful on a cooler Feburary morning.
We made for the town centre and enjoyed coffee and cakes.
Later we made our way to the tourist info office and then explored the fishing museum by the harbour. Very well worth the 1 euro cost we thought, the staff were very friendly.
A view towards the lead tower from the fishing museum. Adria was a prime producer of lead shot.
Inside the fishing museum. A well thought out museum explaining how the port operated and why it was now on the decline as a fishing port.
Adria is not on the tourist circuit but was a good place to look around. Very much a working Spanish port for real every day people. We enjoyed our few hours there.
While we were back on site the next day our neighbours Trish and Peter invited us to "climb a mountain" with them. Slight exaggeration! It was the walking route over the mountain to the next village La Mimola. A challenging climb to start but some tremendous views across the sea. We even managed to spot some wild life although they photographed very badly as they were so well camouflaged, so no pictures we had the wrong lens!. Trust me, a whole herd of Ibix scampering on the hillside.
View from the top of the mountain behind the site. A fabulous walk! Down hill on the other side and we stopped at La Mamola for beer and tapas.
Den did a great job of cleaning the boots, super clean.
The rally was going well with loads of activities to dip in or out off. We signed up for two more trips. A day to see the Alhambra in Granada, followed by another day trip to the tourist town of Neja just East of Malaga.
The taxi had been booked by Gill for our trip to Alhambra and tickets ordered on line. We had been warned it could be cold in the mountains so to dress appropriately! Gill even had a supply of hats and gloves ready in case they were needed! We were so lucky that morning as the weather looked promising. We set off in a taxi this time with some excitement. It took about an hour and a half to get to Granada a lovely drive through the mountains and this time Den could admire the scenery as he wasn't driving.
Granada from Alhambra.
Alhambra is quite well organised and they only allow 7000 people in every day. You are given a time slot for the visit to the main castle ours was at 1 pm so we had plenty of time to explore the fabulous gardens.
We wandered through the grounds taking in the atmosphere. The grounds were pretty stunning and must be even more amazing when the flowers are blooming. The subdued water effects were brilliant and the low winter light created some beautiful effects of light and shade.
The central area of the King Carlos Palace, which now houses the museum. We walked through court yards, towers, gates and gardens.
It was soon time for our date with the main palace. Well worth waiting for. We strolled from one breathe taking area to the next. Through areas of the place and bathing rooms to the Golden Chamber to the Courtyard of Lions.
We took loads of pictures so it was very difficult to choose the ones for the blog.
Here is a few of our favourites.
The Lions of course.
The facade of the Comares Palace. No one really knows why there are two doors. The inscription says.
"My position is that of a crown and my door is a parting of the ways: the West believes that in me is the East. Al Gani bi-liah has entrusted me to open the way to the victory that has been foretold and I await his coming just as the horizon ushers in the dawn. May God adorn his works with the same beauty that resides in his countenance and his nature"
Everywhere we looked was something beautiful. Pictures can't really do it justice.
I think I could have lived here!
The courtyard of the myrtles. We were so lucky to get this picture minus visitors.
A few pictures but lots of lasting memories and so much to see.
Our next outing on a much more basic level was a day trip to Nerja and the sugar cube village of Fruliana. At Nerja we went to see the caves Cuevas de Nerja.
The caves are massive and filled with stalactites and stalagmites and the worlds largest known stalactite at 63m. Pretty impressive though quite commercialised. We enjoyed our visit and it was all pretty well managed with a film and audio guide in English. We went into Nerja for lunch and a wander amongst the shops. A nice but busy seaside place..
We finally made it to the mountains after a longish drive through some interesting Spanish countryside. We had a booking with the camp site in the mountains for the next 7 nights as all the coastal sites were full.
The Despeñaperros Natural Park is a magnificent sheer-walled rocky river gorge that forms the backdrop of the most dramatic gateway into Andalucia. As the only natural break in the 500km-long Sierra Morena, it used to be one of the main routes into Andalucia from the north and Madrid. Today it is occupied by the A4 motorway and the Cadiz-Madrid railway line. Despenaperros literally means "cliff where dogs plunge".
Camping Despenaperros is usually used as an en route stop so we didn't have high expectations! The site was easy to find and in an attractive spot in the Despenaperros mountains north of Jaen, south of Madrid, in a small very Spanish village called Santa Elena.
The entrance to the site was said to be difficult for larger units we are only 6.3 m so sailed in. The site was very quiet with a few permanent caravans and half a dozen cabins. We were given a spot under the trees with our own water tap.
The site is a two minute walk into the village and surrounded by olive groves on one side and the mountains on the other. We have found ourselves on our own most of the day with one or two overnight stoppers at around 5 to 6 pm. The site is very rural with loads of birds and amazingly silent at night.
View out across the olive groves.
Towards the mountains.
The toilet and showers have been really good with very hot water though somewhat chilly in the mornings. Washing up is out side but OK.
We did wonder how we would while away 7 nights here but we have been out walking most days. The paths surrounding the campsite go out into the national park.
A beautiful walk through the trees.
One day we found the local museum which explained so clearly the reasons for the Crusades. A huge and deciding battle was fought here between the Christian and Muslim troops in 1212.The museum explains the history.
We were the only people there and we had a great time looking around. The museum curator was very friendly. The museum had a tower that looked right out across the battlefields. Some of the soldiers were still lying there.
View out across the valley towards Santa Elena.
We have been so surprised at how fast 7 nights have flown. We have done all our shopping locally with fresh bread from the village shop and a few vinos in at a typically Spanish bar. All the locals have been very friendly although not much English spoken here.
Even Den now has a vocabulary of three Spanish words vino tinto & blanco. I actually understood how much the bread was this morning without looking at the till.
Across the road from the site is an hotel. We ate there on our first night and had a lovely meal. Tonight we will sample more food. Anyone for deer burgers??
As an en route stop Despenaperros is well worth it. Not sure if I would want to spend another whole week here but two nights would be perfect, or three if you really needed peace and tranquillity.
Tomorrow another hike to the coast and our third stop Castillo de Banus on the Costa Tropical. We have had some beautiful weather here in the mountains with some days hitting 20 C+ and no rain. Lets hope the coast lives up to expectations. 18 nights for the next stop, so sun ordered please.
We arrived at Rio Formosa not quite sure what to expect. It was a very tidy site all on gravel. As we had booked through the Camping & Caravanning Club we were allocated two pitches which meant we could park sideways and we still had plenty of room.
The entrance to the campsite was very secure you could only leave or enter with a card.
Easy to find and the campsite directions were good.
We were really pleased we had been booked in, as the site was full.
The site was populated by a variety of people in all kinds of units. Some had been there since October and were very tanned. Things were looking up! The toilet block, one of two, was fine with really hot water. There were inside and outside washing up sinks and a good laundry. The swimming pool was well maintained and open every day not that it was quite warm enough to swim in.
The site had a restaurant which was open most days except on the day of our arrival!
Lots of gravel and paving slabs but this was tempered by the greenery, olive and orange trees amongst them.
We settled the van in and went for an explore. The site is on the edge of a small village Cabanas de Tavera which is about a 10 minute walk down the road. By the beach it was beautifully sheltered and usually very warm. We spent a few happy hours in the bars and walking on the boardwalk, pretty well populated with happy Brit holiday retirees.
Fishing boats in the harbour. To get to the beach you had to catch a water taxi. Sadly they don't run in January. We will have to visit again!
Most of the time it was warm enough during the day for shorts and tee shirts although the cold wind at the site did make the evening and early mornings seem chilly. In the village was a well stocked supermarket, a bread shop and a great butchers shop. We were so well set up that after the initial stock up at a local Lidl on the way in, we didn't need to go out shopping . Other campers who didn't want the bother of driving caught the train to Tavira as the station was next door to Lidl, very handy.
The little church of Santa Maria. Mass in Portugese was shall we say, "an experience". Not sure what the sermon was about but it seemed very up lifting.
The nearest big town of Tavira was just about walking distance from the site using a rather wobbly bridge.
An interesting concept in the days of the Elf & Safety Elves. There was a kind of barrier but no safety notices. Most people climbed over and as it was a bike track walked the bikes over. We watched a whole Dutch party of walkers crossing. We made it safely!
Beneath the wonky bridge they were digging in the river. Something tasty for dinner perhaps??
The walk across the salt flats took us just over an hour. It was actually a lovely walk through the open expanse of the salt flats and incredibly quiet.
Not masses to do in Tavira but a nice bridge, restaurants, castle and bars. 2 euros for two glasses of wine.
The high spot of Tavira the town centre.
A little light refreshment here an Irish pub no less, excellent food.
The another attraction in Tavira, the castle and museum complete with rebuilt tower of course.
A shady spot in the castle gardens.
The quickest way to Tavira was by train, two stops down the line at the massive cost of 4 Euros 50, return for two. The train station was a five minute walk from the camp.
We soon got into a routine. Breakfast, coffee and shopping in the village, lunch and a walk or bike ride in the afternoon. We caught the train into Tavira and spent a happy few hours wandering around the town and sampling the local cuisine. We ate at local restaurants a few times and the campsite did an excellent lunch for 7 euros 50 including a drink and coffee.
Our two weeks at Rio Formosa flew by. It seemed we were busy every day. The weather was lovely I think we only really had one wet day. There were loads of easy local walks and we managed a few miles every day so we didn't feel too lazy.
One of our favourite strolls through the back lanes to the beach.
All too soon time to leave we were off to our next stop in the mountains for a week. Let's hope the sun stays shining!
On a cold and miserable winters afternoon in December we had a "light bulb" moment. "Why don't we go somewhere warm!" Interesting thought. A bit of discussion later and we had decided to give "Over Wintering" a try. As we were new to this we decided that booking through the Camping & Caravanning Club, may be the best idea as rocking up to a campsite in January and finding " no room at the inn " was not too appealing.
Soon the deed was done. A phone call later we were booked on 4 sites with ( we hoped) winter sun. One site in Portugal and three in Spain. We had allowed two weeks travelling and booked onto the tunnel both ways.
After a couple of false starts and two tunnel postponements due to flu bugs ( very nasty) and a faulty central heating boiler ( equally as nasty ) we were off. We had plotted a route through France down the West coast and then through Spain to Portugal. After some very helpful forum advice on routes and stops we found ourselves safely parked at Euro Cite, following an uneventful though actually quite pleasant journey around the M25 to Folkestone. Tuesday is a good travelling day.
No signs of migrants or anything nasty at Euro Cite it felt very safe. We had a good meal in the restaurant followed by a good nights sleep. Next morning not too early we were off towards Poitiers our first stop for the night Le Futuriste. We hadn't booked but it was a great overnight stop with a hot heated shower block. Altogether a very pleasant stopping place and one we will use again. OK, I'm sure the Aires are cheaper but we prefer proper sites.
On the site at Poitiers.
Next morning off again, using our toll tag we were soon spinning on towards Spain and our next stop Camping Larroute at Urruge nearly on the Spanish border.
Amongst the spooky trees. Bet it looks completely different when the sun shines.
The drive had been good and the weather mild. We were soon in Spain, here we met a bit of every type of weather. Sun, fog, rain and even a few snow flurries. We ploughed on ( not literally !) We were aiming for Salamanca and Camping Regio.
Camping Regio was kind of a building site, but tidy and clean. The water in the shower block was scalding, the heating was non existing. In the true spirit of adventure we made for the hotel restaurant and a plate of paella with a few red wines to keep out the cold. Salamanca would be worth an explore on another day. Our final day of travelling took us over the border into Portugal and our first proper destination Camping Rio Formosa.
It had taken 4 days from home. Our extra large double pitch for the next two weeks.
We completed our escorted tour and said our goodbyes to our fellow travellers on the ferry heading for Ancona. We had decided not to head back to San Marino which was the official end of the tour but to head instead to just outside Ancona on the coast, a much shorter drive. We spent the night at a campsite on the coast, Camping Belamere at Porto Recanti. A very exciting drive to get there as Madam Satnag was obviously under the weather and took us down a track and across a field. A couple of German bikers helped us out with directions!
As it turned out, it was a very wise decision not to head to San Marinao as it was a blustery cold evening and we experienced our first night of serious rain. We were really rather pleased we had gone for the short drive option and were soon tucked up in a nicely warmed up April.
Our next stop was at Lake Garda, Campeggio del Garda to be precise. Sel and Lyn our tour escorts had suggested the site as a short stay on the way home. We arrived mid afternoon to be greeted at the gate by a bevvy of familiar faces. It transpired that we were not going to be alone at the site as 5 or 6 of our group of travellers soon turned up in convoy. The campsite was quite busy but the weather had improved so we were happy. We were soon settled in. We found a pitch next to the Eurocamp tents, which had finished for the season and could just see the lake and beach if we stood on tip toe. The campsite was quite busy mainly with people on the long trek home.
The campsite was perfectly placed to visit both Verona and Venice, so we booked in for a 4 night stay. The station was a short walk into town.
The next morning found us on the platform waiting to catch the train to Verona. Only 2 stops away, so really handy.
Verona was a beautiful city. Nice and compact so easy to get around. We did the 10 minute stroll into the city from the station.
We were soon in the main square by the Arena di Verona, the huge 1st century amphitheatre in the city centre which is still used.
The City Hall.
Posh shops. Always good to browse around. A great mix of ancient and modern buildings with loads of balconies! Masses of places where Juliet could have stayed! We never did find her balcony, although we saw lots of signs. We wandered along the river bank and crept into some back street churches.
We ate in the town square, a pizza of course, but very nice. Verona is a busy place with lots of tourist groups everywhere.
We finished the day with a trip on the little train for a city tour. Really good value at only 5 euros each!
The next morning we were up early and on the express train to Venice. Super exciting! Venice was a last minute destination so we hadn't really researched the trip. We arrived in the heart of Venice to a mega busy scene.
There were crowds everywhere along with the canals, street hawkers and porters, fortunately no traffic. We were pleased we had decided to catch the train, parking in the suburbs would have been a nightmare. We set off on foot to get our bearings.
We avoided the gondolas at ridiculously expensive prices, though very picturesque.
We opted instead for a quiet stroll amongst the back streets and picturesque courtyards.
It amused us to see the washing, out to dry but I suppose they had to hang it somewhere.
There was no avoiding the Grand Canal. We were soon back amongst the clatter and noise.
Everywhere we went in Venice was a picture waiting to be taken.
Musicians and masks on every street corner. We ventured into the Piazza San Marco and went over the Rialto Bridge. Sadly there were massive queues for St Marks Basilica, maybe another time. We had a lovely meal in a small inexpensive back street restaurant before braving the train back to the campsite. We caught the local train back to Pescheria which took a massive 2 hours, stopping at every station, the cheap price made up for the long journey, only 11 euros! We loved Venice even the noise and the crowds. Another visit called for, perhaps with a bit more planning. At least we would know what to expect another time.
Tomorrow would bring almost the last stage of our journey home. The Austrian Alps, Luxembourg City and then onto Belgium.
With some in trepidation we set out for Austria over the Brenner Pass. The drive was amazing and well worth stepping outside our comfort zone, a first visit to Austria. We got our Vignette for a princely 9 E at the first motorway stop after the Brenner Pass. We were now well into the Tyrolean Alps and we set off across The Fern Pass another spectacular drive. We were heading for Natter see near Innsbruck and another site recommended by Lyn & Sel! We arrived to a picture postcard scene, absolutely beautiful!
The autumn colours were just coming into their own. The site is surrounded by mountains and we were woken up the next morning by the sound of cow bells as they were sent out to the surrounding fields. We were presented with a free bus pass into Innsbruck so we decided to take advantage of it and catch the bus into town.
Innsbruk is another very compact town that is easy to get around in. The bus went straight to the centre. We had a wander about the town it was a Sunday morning so relatively quiet.
The old town was much livelier with more tourists around. We did a bit of shopping.
We went into the Swarovski shop and had a bit of fun browsing the bling.
We restrained ourselves from buying a crystal embellished packet of cereal! Innsbruck is certainly a fabulous place for shopping. We caught the bus back through the mountains and more glorious views.
Everything about Austria was so clean and fresh. Later that evening we whiled away a happy hour or two with Lyn and Sel who had also turned up at Natter See, discussing our various adventures.
The next morning we had to say Auf Widsen Austria, as we were heading ever northwards. Next stop Luxembourg City and Camping Kockelscheuer. Another well placed site on a bus route to Luxembourg City. This site was quite busy with people passing through or coming for cheap fuel. We did manage to fill April up here with the cheapest fuel of the holiday. The campsite was right on the edge of the town next to the Park and Ride.
Luxembourg City has an old and new part with a very steep hill to climb in between. Being really clever they have built a lift between the two with tremendous views on the way up and down. All free of course.
A view through the glass floor "going up".
It was a long way up!
There was just so much to see in Luxembourg City. Some of the shops were entertaining!
This said it all.
Palaces of course.
We spent a long and happy day tripping around the city and will certainly go back.
Our penultimate stop on the way home was Nieuwpoort in Belguim and Kompascamping.
We thought we could try somewhere on the Belgian coast as we hadn't been that way before. This site was a bit too far from the sea but nevertheless proved to be a lovely 2 night stop. Just by the canal it was a massive site but there was a very good restaurant and even better, two nights for the price of one. At 12.50 E a night our cheapest stop!
A short walk into town.
We soon found the King Albert 1 Monument and the fabulously moving museum which told the tale of the Great War through some fabulous art work.
We spent another hour or so browsing in the museum which was very quiet. We climbed right up to the top of the monument for views across the city, all new of course because so much had been destroyed.
All too soon our holiday had come to an end. One more night in France and we would be heading for the tunnel and home. A fabulous few weeks.
We were soon on our way to the next rendezvous Athens. We had been briefed about the journey and it was recommended we make a stop at the impressive Corinth Canal. This narrow 4 mile canal separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland. It's construction saved a ship a journey of 185 nautical miles. The approach was not that spectacular but we knew we were getting warmer as we approached the car park on the edge of the canal and saw the crowds.
The canal is an amazing structure. It was dug at sea level and contains no locks. 6.4 k long and 21.4 m wide at the base, it was inaugurated in 1862 by King George 1 of Greece and completed in 1893. Sadly, the canal was never really big enough for larger vessels. Today it is mainly used by tourist boats but remains a popular attraction and 11 000 small boats use the waterway each year.
Saturated in information about the canal, we continued on our way to Athens and steeled ourselves to enter the city traffic. We were heading for Camping Athens in the suburbs, a few miles from the city centre. As we braved the 4 lane dual carriageway into the city, we spotted the campsite on the other side of the road. A quick bit of thinking and ignoring Madam Satnags entreaties to "turn around when possible", we followed our instincts to the next junction and actually managed to turned around. We breathed a sigh of relief as we spotted the site entrance. A bit more wriggling around and we soon settled April safely under the trees.
Our first foray out was to forage for food at the local supermarket. Athens was manically busy but there were a couple of supermarkets within walking distance and a few local bars. We shopped and then slumped in a bar with a cold beer.
Our first trip out the next day was an extensive tour of Athens with a local guide.
First stop was the National Archaeological Museum which houses the largest collection of ancient Greek sculpture. We saw so much, here are a few highlights.
The bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon.
The Jockey of Artemision. A large Hellinistic bronze of a horse and rider found in a shipwreck off Cape Artemision and dated 140 - 150 BC.
The golden death masks discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century dated 1550 - 1500 BC.
Aphrodite Pan and Eros in playful mood! We learnt a lot about ancient Greek sculptures!
My favourite piece, a pair of ruby encrusted bracelets.
We could have spent hours at the museum but we were soon off to see the highlight of the tour, the Parthenon. Dedicated to the Goddess Athena. Absolutely spectacular and well worth climbing up the marble steps to the top. If you go wear proper footwear!
Completely over awed by the temple, we were soon back to reality as we returned down the hillside and made for the shopping area of Plaka and some refreshment.
Entering Plaka was like going into another world.
We wandered around the back streets, browsing in the myriad of stalls before having the best meal of the holiday in one of the many restaurants. Athens is a very busy place though and care needs to be taken as one of our party found when her handbag was snatched! Nevertheless it was an enjoyable visit and apart from the graffiti which was absolutely everywhere we enjoyed the trip. Not so sure I would be desperate to return to Athens though!
Our next stop on the journey was Delphi. The best place on the mainland. Our campsite was a 100 miles from Athens through some fabulous scenery. Camping Delphi was just outside the town at the top of the hill, with the most amazing views across the valley to the sea and the olive groves. Delphi is on the slopes of Mount Parnassus and was home to the famous oracle. Delphi had to be one of our favourite places and certainly on the "return" list.
The fabulous view from April.
Settled for a few days.
The campsite could not be in a more beautiful setting, complete with an almost infinity pool.
The restaurant also overlooked the valley. Sel our escort took us on an amazing trek from the campsite up the mountain path to the top the village of Delphi, it was a great walk and one we would certainly do again. We even managed to find the way back on our own.
We also had a guided tour of the Delphi site. I loved the fact that most of the artefacts were still in place in the museum or on site and that restoration had been kept to a minimum.
The Charioteer of Delphi. One of the earliest bronze cast sculptures. It was a shame his arms were incomplete but the detail was exquisite.
The Temple of Apollo. Home to The Oracle. Definitely something in the air here.
Soon our short stay at Delphi was over. We were off to Velos and Camping Sikia Fig Tree only 139 miles away. A bit of real culture next. We were off to visit some of the places where "Mamma Mia" had been filmed on the famous Pelion Peninsula.
Our campsite at Velos was right by the sea on a big site with all the facilities. Another interesting place to find. Driving through Velos was exciting especially the bit when I had to get out of the van to aid the navigation between the parked cars. Den coped very well.
We were lucky enough to get our own pitch on a lower level all by ourselves. The site was on a picturesque part of the coast with loads of restaurants and bars near by. We had a great meal in a local restaurant along the coast. The sea was warm too. Lots of Germans on this site soaking up the last of the summer rays.
The campsite restaurant.
We sampled the local food from this bar on the beach.
The plane tree over 1000 years old in the small village of Tsangarada in the mountains. There are lots of these trees well visited by the tourists, not so sure how many locals congregate under them these days.
Some of the shops in the village of Makrinitsa. Very touristy but worth a visit. The Pelion peninsular is absolutely beautiful but we were glad we were in a coach as the driving would have been challenging to say the least! How those coach drivers got around the narrow mountain tracks I have no idea. In one village we were a hairs breath away from buildings.
The next part of our Greek saga was to visit the site of the famous Greek monastries at Meteora. Our campsite was in Kalambaka. Meteora which means in Greek "Suspended in the air" is an amazing place. These monasteries are built on sandstone pinnacles rising up over 400 m above the valley. They are now tourist attractions, sadly lacking in monks or nuns I felt, but still well worth a visit. There are masses of coaches visiting each venue so it is hard to get away from the crowds. However, it is still worth a hike up the mountain to get a look.
I felt the hike down which we did was more impressive although quite a stiff walk. We were glad we wore our boots.
Coming down from the heavens.
I think the "Meteora Experience" was better from the outside. The monasteries did not feel very spiritual inside and I think they had become a parody of themselves, which is a bit sad. More like a Hollywood set than a place of worship. Still well worth a visit for the views if nothing else.
Our final destination in Greece was a 5 day visit to Corfu followed by a return to Igoumenisa before sailing back to Ancona. The trip by sea to Corfu was an education in the Greek management of ferry passengers. The loading and unloading process was somewhat traumatic for some. We were lucky, in our relatively easy to manage 6.3 m panel van. We were so pleased we were not any bigger. The campsite we were heading for in Corfu was Camping Karda Beach near Dassia, a short bus ride into Corfu Town.
April was soon nestled down amongst the trees and our washing!!
Next stop a trip into Corfu Town.
Very very busy! It would depend on the time of day how many people were in the town. The cruise ships docked in the harbour and the town heaved with visitors. There were masses of bars and restaurants. We had a good wander around.
Our trip to Corfu included a day trip around the island with a visit to all the main attractions. We spent a morning at the Achillieon Palace learning about the famous Sisi Elisabeth Empress of Greece and all her woes.
We finally met up with the other "Happy Campers" on our escorted trip at the Most Serene Republic of San Marino (Italian: Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino) A seriously challenging campsite to find!
We followed the directions carefully....honest! Even Madam SatNag had problems. After a calm and stress free drive ( NOT!!) to the top of the town and then back down again, we found it! Den manoeuvred amongst the terraces and we got April happily positioned under the trees. That evening we met our fellow campers and had a meal in the campsite restaurant. Our group consisted of 24 campers in assorted motor homes, campers and 2 caravans. Everyone was very friendly and our escorts Sel and Lyn were very experienced and helpful travel companions.
The next day we hiked, via bus, up the hill to the town. Endless views of the surrounding countryside and very expensive shops and restaurants. We spent a few hours having a look around.
Fortunately the town was very quiet as it was getting late in the season. We had a pleasant meal overlooking the valley. Pizza, salad, wine and ice -cream, very Italian. I thought the ice-cream was great, Den thought the ice-cream extortionate at 7 Euros. Still, a very peaceful day to set ourselves up for the next adventure, the ferry from Ancona to Igoumenitsa.
The next morning we were up and out to the port of Ancona a shortish journey of 75 miles. We were all soon queuing up on the jetty, jostling for positions, ready for the off. Initially, we had been going directly to Patras in Greece on a 24 hour crossing. Minoan Lines at the last minute decided the weather was too rough to reach Patras, so we would have to disembark at Igoumenista and drive the last 70 odd miles to Patras. A bit of a shame really as the next booked campsite was just 14 miles from Patras which would have been perfect. It would have been an easy journey. We were remarkably chilled about the whole thing, as it was an escorted tour we just had to tag along and let someone else do the stressing! Intrepid travellers never moan.
Here we are waiting for the ferry. Where was all this bad weather? The sun was shining and the sea was calm. We were all soon comfortably loaded on the ferry. Our cabins had been upgraded due to the change in route. We got our own porthole.
Our cruise liner!
At Ancona Port. Calm as a mill pond. Ready to go.
After a quiet and uneventful crossing we were soon driving on Greek soil. We had been well fed and watered on the boat and had our first taste of a Greek salad. We unloaded at Igoumenista full of hope. Navigating to Patras was relatively simple we had a great drive and soon found our way to Camping Kato Alissos amongst the olive trees. A basic but pretty campsite. Sel had told us that once we were on the beach here, we would feel we had found Greece.
We parked up and went in search of the beach.
Somebody found the sea. Seriously, the beach had seen better days but the setting was beautiful.
The sea was really warm. We later had a lovely meal under the old olive tree in the camp restaurant. Freshly cooked fish with more Greek salad, washed down with a few glasses of wine of course. I think this is a part of Greece we would return to. There was something quirky but comfortable at this site. Even the dogs were friendly and loved everyone's shoes.
Our next stop was Olimpia and Camping Alphios, an easy drive we would be there for 3 days. The campsite was beautifully sited on the hillside above Olympia, a very steep climb. Facilities were good and there was a lovely pool and restaurant. The campsite staff were very friendly. Here we got to love the coffee frappe.
From the campsite we went on an excursion into Olympia. Taxis were organised to take us down the mountain.
Olympia was a fascinating place and we could have done with more time to explore it further. We did get a great tour with a very knowledgeable guide.
Olympia is a massive site, we only explored a small part of it. Zeus's Temple.
The running track arena. It was a very hot day. We could not imagine what it would have been like to actually run in the heat. We spent some time in the excellent museum looking at the various statues and other exhibits before retiring to the local taverna in the village.
Our next destination was Mystras near the town of Sparti a drive of 107 miles. We were heading for Camping Castle View. This site was in a wonderful location and surprisingly in another olive grove. It was tight manoeuvring all the vans in amongst the trees but we made it without any disasters!
April making friends with yet another olive tree. The campsite was called Castle View because of the amazing location at the foot of the hill.
Mystras, the 'wonder of the Morea', was built as an amphitheatre around the fortress erected in 1249 by the prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. Reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks and the Venetians, the city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only the breathtaking medieval ruins, standing in a beautiful landscape.
We climbed to the top of the hill and spent some time amongst the spirits of the ancient Greeks. It was a beautiful place and surprisingly non commercial.
Mystras Castle a fabulous day out. Definitely one to remember. The views were amazing. We retired after a happy day to have another Greek meal and a few glasses of wine. The campsite was well placed for the village.
The following day we set off for another trip. This time to Monemvassia known as the Greek Gibralta. The village of Monemvassia is approached by a causeway famous for sea food restaurants and the colourful buildings. It is a stunning place.
The views from the top of the rock were sensational.
We made our way through the village.
This was the challenging climb to the upper town.
A few hardy souls made it to the top. Well worth the upwards struggle.
In fact coming down was more perilous as the stones were so shiny and slippy from the many feet that had trodden the path to the top. We retired to yet another taverna for a very cold and refreshing Greek beer. On the homeward trail we stopped at Gythio for a well deserved fish meal by the sea.
Our next venue was Camping Kastraki at Paralia Assini near the small seaside town of Tolo. Another lovely site by the beach. Although the site was virtually empty we were somewhat crammed in.
I think we could have just arrived here without a booking. A few more days by the sea would have been great.
The fact we were a bit squashed in was made up for by the view. We slept with the sound of the sea in the background.
The sea was still incredibly warm and so blue.
There was still some life in the nearby resort. Lots of bars and restaurants but not too busy at this time of the year.
From Assini we went out to Mycenae to see the ancient ruins and the fabulous Epidaurus theatre. We also stopped at the harbour town of Nafplios.
The magnificent theatre at Epidaurus seats up to 14,000 people and is still used. I think Epidarus was one of the most interesting places we visited. Amazing to think that the ancient Greeks knew so much about medicine and even had basic anaesthetics. We would have liked more time to wander around the museum exhibits and learn a bit more.
Mycenae was much busier but still a fascinating place to see.
We passed lots of other sites on our travels which we would love to go and explore at another time. We were at Camping Kastraki for 4 days so plenty of time for a bit of island hopping. We did a day excursion to Hydra and Spetses from Tola. A long but lovely day out with a 2.5 hour cruise out to the islands with plenty of time to browse around the shops and restaurants. Stunning scenery in both places but very busy with many cruise ship visitors.
Loads of very expensive boats and yachts in the harbour. How the other half live!
Spetses, loads of donkeys no cars here.
Hydra harbour. A really bustling harbour a magnet for tourists and day visitors. Bet it's really quiet in the winter.
All too soon the days had flown by. The next morning we would be on our way to Athens. Excitement was rising. Another adventure brewing.