Île De Ré 2

We stayed seven nights at Île De Ré. The weather was mixed but when the sun shone the cycling was wonderful, each of our senses was entertained with lovely views, sounds and especially smells. When it rained the perfume of the wild flowers mixed with the smell of the ocean. It was good to be outside.

We made full use of the evening visits of the pizza van. He lit his wood fire at 5pm and did a roaring trade throughout the evening, taking a ball of dough, quickly rolling it to paper thinness before adding the toppings – starting always with fresh tomato sauce. The result was a crunchy, wood smokey delight, complete with dribble bits, far removed from the stodgy, oily things one usually gets in the UK.

We stopped overnight on our way to Eurotunnel at La Crotoy where we had our last seafood meal and next day we bought fish and little Baie De Somme prawns to bring back to the UK for supper that evening with Kate and family. The crossing was quick and easy and within the hour we were sitting having a cuppa in Folkestone.

It was wonderful to be in UK again, being away for so long made us appreciate how special is this place we call home.

Blog ends

Île De Ré

We set off next morning for the Île de Ré on the west coast of France near La Rochelle. The island was 30K long and 5K wide, connected to the mainland by a toll bridge. The island was famous for its oysters and the production of sea salt (and soap made with donkey milk).

It was a wonderful place for exploring on a bicycle. Its towns and villages were all connected by cycle paths and dotted along these paths were numerous oyster sheds with tables and chairs outside, selling oysters (and often other sea food) either to consume on the premises or to take away. For €10 you got a dozen oysters, the freshest bread ever, with butter, and a glass or two of wine. The landscape was very open with few trees and if it rained . . . . you got very wet.

St Martin was the largest town on Ré and, like everywhere on the island, it was neat and clean with narrow cobbled streets lined with hollyhocks growing in abundance

Hollyhocks In Bloom

Hollyhocks In Bloom

Harbour At St Martins

Harbour At St Martins

Lunch Time - Market Square, Les Portes

Lunch Time – Market Square, Les Portes

out of the old stone walls. The shutters and doors of the traditional white stone houses were all painted the same colour, usually green or blue. The narrow streets led down to the busy harbour area, full of restaurants with their tables and chairs spilling out on to the wide pavements. We marvelled at the number of small shops all selling the same souvenirs and sailing type clothes with the blue Breton stripes.

The Etiquette Of The Shower Block

In Spain it was normal to have separate shower blocks for men and women – but not so in France, everyone used the same facilities so, after showering, for the sake of modesty, it was not possible to come out of your wet shower stall to find a dry area to dress yourself as you would do in the “Ladies”.

Therefore much thought was needed about what to wear when going for a shower. The walk to the shower block took you past other campers sitting outside enjoying the view so I chose not to adopt the Hyacinth Bucket style of pink dressing gown with matching fluffy slippers especially as French campsites often don’t supply loo paper so a toilet roll had to be carried proudly under the arm.

My choice of outfit was practical rather than attractive, track suit bottoms topped with a loose blouse (no underwear) so, when showered, I could dry above waist and put on blouse whilst still in wet shower stall, then wrap towel securely round my waist, skirt style and sashay back to camp holding tightly to the towel.

One morning, when I left the showers wrapped neatly in my towel, I remembered that I had ridden my bike to the shower block. I felt it would be courting disaster to ride back relying on a clutched damp towel to retain my modesty so I had to retrace my steps to the privacy of the shower stall and put on my track suit bottoms (balancing on one leg to avoid wet floor). Only then could I cycle back with confidence, running the gauntlet of other campers sitting outside having their breakfast. My days were filled with such dilemmas.

France

Not every day was spent having long lunches and drinking lovely wines – occasionally we would have a Disaster – and once one little thing goes wrong that often leads to another and another . . . yesterday was such a day. We were driving through the town of Dax looking for a pharmacy and maybe a place to park so we could have some lunch. The town had a river running through the middle and a bizarre one way system which made it difficult to navigate our way around. When we wanted to turn, a “no entry” sign would appear. At one stage we found ourselves entering a one way street the wrong way and we had to reverse out against the traffic. The next turn was into a steep, narrow street that got more and more skinny as we went up and rounded a corner. Our only way out was down a steep alley with high stone walls on either side and a tight corner at the bottom. We gingerly drove down and we had almost made it when our wing mirror smashed against the wall and shattered. We managed to turn the corner at the bottom without further incident. We resumed our journey and stopped at a fuel station; unfortunately Tony picked the petrol pump instead of diesel and had quarter-filled the tank before he realised his mistake.

We were only about 8k from our destination, staying with Charles and Caroline Lamb at Monségur so with fingers crossed we limped to the Lambs. They were having an extension build and the builders (English), on hearing our predicament, helped us drain the fuel tank using their electric pump. We were then able to refill with a can of diesel, enough to get us back to the fuel station to refill. Fortunately, it seemed no permanent damaged had been done.

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Swimming Pool that Charles was building

Swimming Pool that Charles was building

Aranjuez and Haro

Our tour of Anadlusia finished when we arrived in Ronda and we were now heading north towards home. Our first stop was 40k south of Madrid at Aranjuez. We had stayed at the same campsite earlier in the year when I described it as “scruffy”. On this visit it was full of campers and reverberating with the squeals of pleasure from the children in the swimming pool and later in the play park; it seemed a much less dreary place. Unfortunately a thunderstorm hit the area mid afternoon, it rained until the evening and then cleared sufficiently for us to walk into town. Whilst waiting for the weather to clear I read the Emergency Drill on the reverse of our site map:

“Do not open the door from which comes smoke out. Do not loose the calm, don’t scream, don’t run, it can cause collective hysteria and hinder the people evacuation”.

We stopped at Aranda del Douro to pick up some wine, we bought 5 litre boxes of rosé at under €8 a box. We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant, €10 for three courses, including bread, water and wine. The food was home cooked, rustic but very tasty (we had venison casserole). We stayed the night at a campsite in Haro (in the Rioja region) and bought boxes of young red wine, 15 litres for €25. By afternoon the sun was out again and it was a warm 28° encouraging us to have a swim in the pool.

Haro - An Evening Drink In The Square

Haro – An Evening Drink In The Square

Ronda

Our campsite was about three miles from Ronda. We travelled into the city by car and found several underground car parks within walking distance of the city centre. We visited the famous bullring and learned that only one bullfighter had been killed there since it was built in 1785 – although many thousand bulls were not so fortunate.

The city was beautifully clean with many restaurants and cafés. It overlooked a deep, rocky chasm and its narrow streets lead down to the bottom of the chasm where there were some Roman baths. The chasm was spanned by several bridges. The New Bridge was constructed in 1850, the other bridges were several hundred years older.

Ronda Bullring

Ronda Bullring

View From Top Of Ronda

View From Top Of Ronda

Ronda

Ronda

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Sierra Ubrique

We arrived in Ronda the following evening, the campsite was next to a hotel so we spent an enjoyable evening eating tapas, drinking wine and watching England being thrashed by Uruguay in the World Cup. The owner of the hotel seemed very sympathetic and brought us a complimentary liqueur when the match was over. The bar was pretty full, including three Guardia Civil.

During the next two days we did a circular drive into the Sierra Ubrique, stopping at a campsite at Benamahoma in Grazalema National Park. We visited the Pileta Cave, a series of underground caverns and lakes discovered in the early 1900s by a local farmer and found to have been inhabited thousands of years ago. There were prehistoric paintings on the walls, some judged to be 22,000 years old. The caves had not been “modernised”; we were given electric lamps and followed a damp path using the steps cut in the rock by the farmer and holding onto clammy, rusty handrails. Bats lived overhead. We walked slowly through narrow passages from cavern to cavern, admiring the lofty roofs, the clear lake water, the huge stalactites that grow from the roof – 1cm every hundred years. At the end of the tour we had to turn round and retrace our steps back to the narrow entrance. We had been underground almost two hours, it was good to be out in the sunshine again.image

Cave Paintings 22,000 years old

Cave Paintings 22,000 years old


We ate in a restaurant that evening, their speciality was local trout from the nearby trout farm, fed by mountains streams.
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We visited the town of Grazalema which was the centre for leather work and blanket weaving. It was Saturday afternoon and all the cafés were open but the shops were closed. The following morning -Sunday – we visited Zahara when they were celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi. The narrow streets and squares were lined with foliage and flowers, with thick layers of fresh reeds on the ground, creating a fragrant green carpet. The streets were crowded with folk in their Sunday best, mingling with the tourists. There was a service in progress in the church, the interior was hot and humid and packed with worshippers who appeared oblivious to tourists crowding in on them and taking flashy photos of their beautiful altar and chancel.

Corpus Christi Celebrations at Zaharah

Corpus Christi Celebrations at Zaharah

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Corpus Christi at Zahara

Corpus Christi at Zahara

Córdoba

The drive to our next campsite at Santaella, 30k from Córdoba, took us through olive groves and more olives groves – we were quite excited when field of sunflowers appeared on the hills ahead.

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The site was owned by Rik and Mathilde whom we had first met travelling in Morocco.  We had been to their site earlier in the year, then it had been chilly and we had enjoyed a meal sitting by their log burning stove. Now we were more interested in their swimming pool.

We took the bus into Córdoba and visited the Mesquita of Córdoba, a 8th century mosque. It was a magnificent building, originally constructed on the site of a temple to the Roman god, Janus. The Mosque had been built by the Muslims but, with the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 13th century, it had been consecrated as a Catholic cathedral and was still being used today.

The Mosque at Córdoba

The Mosque at Córdoba


Temple, Mosque or Cathedral?

Temple, Mosque or Cathedral?

Iznajar

The weather was getting extremely hot. When we were high up in the mountains we had the benefit of a cooling breeze but the following day we drove to Iznajar, a pueblo blanco (white village) built around the ruins of an 8th century Moorish castle at the top of a rocky outcrop. There was a lake 32k long and 6k wide that surrounded the village on both sides, so it resembled an island in the middle of the lake.

We got a lift to the top of the village. The temperature was already over 30° so we dived into the nearest café for a cooling drink and to take in the magnificent panorama of the lake with a backdrop of hills covered in silvery olive trees.

Iznajar

Iznajar

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We walked down the hill following the labyrinth of narrow lanes lined with typical Andalusian whitewashed houses. By that time we reached the bottom the temperature was over 40°, so we returned to the campsite, collected our bathers and a couple of chairs and spent the remainder of the day at the lakeside, sitting under the pine trees and swimming in the lake.

The temperature stayed high until well after sunset. We had a meal in the local hotel and walked back afterwards in the relative cool of the evening, only having to stop once to have a nightcap in a lakeside café.

 

The Sierra De Torcal Nature Reserve

After stopping for a sumptuous breakfast at La Magdalena, a convent converted into a hotel and golf resort, we on drove into Antequera – a ancient town at the crossroads between Málaga, Granada, Córdoba and Seville. We visited the Dolmen de Menga, ancient burial chambers made of huge stones and then covered in earth. The mounds were rediscovered and excavated in the 19th century. As you stand at the door of the Dolmen you could see a huge rock formation that resembled a sleeping giant. We also visited the bull ring and museum and had a tour of the city in an electric buggy.

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We drove a short distance on to El Torcal Nature Reserve where we camped overnight and met Billy, a little fox, who lived near the car park and would take morsels of food from your hand. She looked in good condition and well fed. We had a guide who took us on a two hour walk that evening, more of a climb really – we reached 4000 feet and the view was stunning. On a clear day you could see Africa. At one point we saw we were being watched by a couple of ibex, silhouetted on rocks high above us.

Watched By Ibex

Watched By Ibex

A Pushover!

A Pushover!

A Fine View From 4000 Feet

A Fine View From 4000 Feet

A Karstik Landscape

A Karstik Landscape

There was an observatory at the Centre and when it began to get dark, Carlos, their astronomer set up his telescopes and we were able to see Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The moon was almost full that evening and very bright which made star spotting more difficult but Carlos showed us the various constellations as they appeared. We now knew how to navigate in the northern hemisphere!

Howls With Wolves

When we left the Lakes we drove north west towards Antequera. The drive was dramatic, following the narrow road as it wound its way through the mountains. We stopped at Garganta El Chorro, a gorge 180 metres deep and 3k long, spanned by an ancient iron bridge. We admired The King’s Way, a narrow catwalk that followed the length of the chasm high up on the sheer rock face. Thankfully, it was closed for renovation.

Clouds Hiding The Peaks

Clouds Hiding The Peaks


The King's Way

The King’s Way


Many Walkers Had Fallen From The Walkway - closed for renovation.

Many Walkers Had Fallen From The Walkway – closed for renovation.

We passed through the town of Álora and stopped to do some shopping and have lunch. When we got back to our camper there was a Toyota RAV4 and two armed Guardia Civil were banging on the van door. They appeared very angry, saying we had parked in the wrong place. We had parked carefully, there were no ‘No Parking’ signs and we were not blocking the traffic. Fortunately they spoke no English so they got more and more frustrated trying to make us understand what we had done. We responded in English, shaking our heads and making it clear we understood nothing. Eventually they gave up and left us alone with a warning us that the next time they caught us we would be fined. We left that town promptly.

We arrived at the Lobo Park later that afternoon, an area of forty hectares where Daniel, the owner, kept several wolf packs, some of them had recently had cubs. Although the wolves were fed by humans and were not afraid of them, they were not tame and lived a natural life in their own family groups. Daniel had spent years studying wolf behaviour and that evening gave us a fascinating tour, explaining about wolves and why their reputation as being dangerous or evil was totally inaccurate. The highlight of the tour was when Daniel did a magnificent wolf howl and the wolves gave answering calls from all parts of the park.

Daniel and a Tundra Wolf

Daniel and a Tundra Wolf

Dances With Wolves

Dances With Wolves

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