We stayed in the town of Benicàssim for a few days. This was a seaside resort on the east coast, about forty miles north of Valencia, protected by a mountain range to the north. The Berbers from North Africa had settled in the area during the 8th century and the town had a Moorish feel.
The area relied on tourists and had wide sandy beaches and a long promenade with many high rise blocks of apartments. There were also some beautiful old villas set in mature gardens along one end of the promenade, some of them were quite dilapidated but, looking at them one could imagine a wealthy Spanish family, long before the days of the package holiday, coming out of the hot city to spend time at their villa on the coast. Perhaps these old buildings would be renovated but, more likely, they would be demolished and replaced with more high rise.
We cycled along the coast to Oropesa six kilometres to the north. We followed a disused railway line that had been converted into a cycle path. The railway route had been cut into the rock and we had to cycle through a 500 metre section of tunnel where the temperature dropped 5° and it was quite dark and eerie.
Oropesa too was spoilt by high rise buildings but had a beautiful beach and there were even a few brave bathers (it was a cloudy day in early May, temperature 25°). We stopped for lunch and, for the fixed menu price of €15 each, we enjoyed a better than average salad with smoked salmon, accompanied by potatoes with garlic sauce. Then we had a delicious stewed pork dish followed by a seafood paella. Dessert was a whole baked eating apple, stuffed with nuts and served with a bitter cherry sauce. Everything was freshly cooked and the portions were small enough so we had enough room to enjoy the dessert.
The meal provided a welcome change from waterloged iceberg lettuce salad served with tinned tuna (why?), quartered very hard boiled eggs and sweetcorn kernels followed by something and chips – this had been our regular fare over the past few days and we were suffering from the lack of fresh vegetables. Unless you ordered a salad starter, restaurants seemed not to offer leafy vegetables at all, not even a tomato garnish. Buying fresh fruit and vegetables in the little town shops also proved difficult, there was little choice and the produce did not look particularly fresh. We decided that perhaps most folk who lived in the countryside grew their own vegetables so there was little demand. Fortunately there was a Lidl’s just up the road from our campsite and there we found a lovely variety of fresh vegetables.
People Watching is best done at the end of the day when the sun is less fierce and the evening shadows lengthen and you can sit outside with a cup of tea, a beer or a glass of wine, depending on how the day had been. Yesterday we were relaxing with a perfectly chilled bottle of rosé wine and all was tranquil in Camp Morgan. I was watching an English couple preparing their evening meal a few pitches away, they were a precise looking middle aged couple wearing matching shorts and T shirts. They had a tiny caravan towed by a 4×4, with a couple of bicycles. As they prepared their meal she was drinking white wine and he was on the red and every five minutes or so one our other of them would go into their caravan and reappear with their glass refilled. This happened twice, then three times and when the husband got up for a fourth refill (and they were huge glasses), Tony commented on how much they were drinking and we continued to watch in awe as they downed glass after glass and still managed to get their food on the table. By the time we had finished watching this scene of domestic bliss our own bottle of rosé had miraculously emptied and it was time to open another. The Pot and Kettle phrase comes to mind.
We left the Lakes the following morning and headed east towards Valencia on the coast. The road was long and straight and you could see for miles, fields neatly planted with vines just showing their first leaves.
We stayed at Camping Los Batanes, a family site where Spanish families were noisily enjoying their weekend. Everyone seemed to be shouting, dogs barking and children screaming. We were were happy to sit back and enjoy the sounds of folk having fun and found it far less intrusive to our British ears than English speaking campers guffawing over too many bottles of Spanish wine late into the evening.
There were sixteen lakes spread over an area stretching 25k, each lake was at a different level and a series of rivers, waterfalls and underwater channels connected them. We explored on our bikes the following day. Although the weather was extremely warm, over 30°, it was cool enough cycling along slowly, picking up the breeze as we travelled.
Then it was time for lunch. We chose a restaurant beside a swimming area fed by the lake. It was very crowded until about 2.30 pm when everyone suddenly disappeared. Disappointing for Tony as he was enjoying bottom watching while he was eating his,lunch!
We stopped at a series of lakes south west of Ossa de Montiel, 20k west of Albercete on the N430. We had been driving since lunch time and passing very little but olive groves and wheat fields until we turned down a narrow lane and the lakes came into view. As we turned the corner we saw the place was heaving with people. There were restaurants and bars, people were swimming in the lake, having picnics, music was blaring. The campsite itself was very busy, mainly families with young children. We realised it was Friday, 1st May and a national holiday.
We went out on our bikes later that evening.
We we’re sorry to leave Rik and Matilde. We had stayed four nights at La Camping Campiña and had eaten in their little restaurant each evening – a beer, a couple of glasses of wine, three courses for £10 each. We bought some boxes of their excellent red wine (fruity, with spicy top notes, best served on the cool side) at €2 a litre. We also bought extra virgin olive oil at €5 a litre.
Matilde – The Queen In Her Counting House
We set off for our next destination near Albacete following the road past Córdoba, Andújar and then the N322 heading north east. We had put our destination into the satnav and the wretched thing kept telling us to turn around, trying to put us on the motorway when we wanted to take the more scenic route. However, as the day progressed we realised that where we stopped for lunch was closer to our destination than where we were wo hours’ later! No worries, we had a lovely drive and arrived at our destination just an hour later than planned.
We arrived at Rik and Matilde’s and, as luck would have it, a large group of camper vans and caravans had arrived earlier that day on a Caravan Club tour of Andalucia. They were from from all over the UK and were due to stay on the site for five nights, going out each day on sightseeing coach tours. The site was beautifully quiet during the day, but the evenings were pretty noisy.
We managed to gatecrash their tour to Castillo De Almodóvar when we were invited to go with Matilde’s father who drove the 30k from the campsite to the picturesque 8th century castle so he could transport some of the more infirm Caravan Club members from the coach park up the steep road to the castle doors. We walked up to the castle and had a quick tour before we returned to the camp site with Papa. The view from the castle was magnificent.
Camping La Campiña, Santaella
Castle of Almodóvar
View From The Castle
One day we cycled into Santaella four miles away along a road that swept down into the valley and then rose up the other side into the town, the downhill runs were exhilarating; the uphill stretches were – slow.
Downhill All The Way
We drove west along the coast from Almería to Málaga and then turned North heading towards Santaella, Rik and Matilde’s site set in olive groves just south of Córdoba.
The coast road, although spoiled by acres and acres of polythene, was sandwiched between the sierras and the coast and followed a route of tunnels and viaducts offering spectacular views of the ocean. But when we turned inland the scenery was softer, the land more fertile and we were heading into familiar country that we had visited on our tour of Andalucia. We drove past the sleeping giant rock formation that had prompted prehistoric man to build the Dolman Cave at Antequera, on the opposite side of the valley.
We stopped for lunch at a traditional roadside hotel restaurant.
Behind the restaurant we found a lovely courtyard, complete with fountain and orange trees.