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Henry Love's Spain PDF Printable Version E-mail

Henry Love's Spain

December 2012

Chef Henry Love gives an insider's view of Spain as a traveller and a motorhomer. Here is the good news - and the bad.

Who is Henry Love? Have a look at: The Henry Love Page on this website, and not least for his recipes!

Henry writes:

I came back to Nailsea (near Bristol) on Thursday, after a crash bang wallop journey across Biscay Bay in Force 9. I am never sea sick but that doesn't mean that I could get any sleep. The ship couldn't decide if it was flying or sailing, or if the walls should have been designed as floors, so most of Wednesday from the north west of France and the long crawl in the Channel was given over to getting some sleep, before the delight of arriving in Plymouth during rush hour for the traffic - and slow hour for Immigration. Not my finest hours of travelling.

Your collection of Greek incidents is a salutary reminder of the need to be prudent when travelling. For those travellers who feel the reports and collection is 'neurotic' I can only say that ignorance is indeed bliss. I just hope they never have to eat the word 'neurotic' because it is very indigestible. Of course, if you stay in or with the vehicle a lot then the risks are reduced, but not everyone wants to do that and that is probably one of the reasons perspective is different. That is understandable, but a break-in is more than just the sum of the missing and repairable. It has a very harsh effect on your trust and view of the people and surroundings where you are. It takes a long time, if ever, to get back to that lovely feeling that everyone else is 'neurotic' while you enjoy the bliss of ignorance. Unfortunately it is always a case of experience being different to theory!

From the perspective of prudence in Spain, I can only report my own experience and views. I found the North (Green Spain) to be a very comfortable environment for wild camping. The locals were very helpful to suggest, or even recommend, locations that are attractive, safe and within reach of most services. The Basque area, Rioja and the Picos de Europa are cycle-friendly, tapas-friendly and fair to visitors of all nationalities, but the Basques in particular seem to be super kind to the Brits. I found camping wild spots close to or even on the beaches, in well managed car parks, esplanades and village squares.

Remember to check market days, of course, for the latter.

The police, local and national, were helpful in making suggestions too.

Fuel is easy to find and slightly cheaper than UK.

Food prices are a bit higher than UK in supermarkets but fresh food from the covered or open-air markets is better value than in UK and France.

I never felt concerned about security even when travelling alone, and remember I am deaf so I wouldn't hear the early signs of a break in. I didn't come across gangs of wandering youths or threatening mobs, but then I make a point of keeping away from large groups of people anyway, remembering a Bantu saying: 'Many people, many problems'.

I found the Middle of Spain, EXCLUDING MADRID, to be similar to the north in respect of security and friendliness except when taken for Germans. For some reason, there is an undertow of exploitation levelled toward the Germans that is not applied to the Brits or, it seems, the Dutch. I could not work out whether this was due to a hangover of the feelings of exploitation of the Gastarbeiter in Deutschland that occurred in the factories of middle Germany in the 1960s, or if it is a recent reaction to Frau Merkel. The main thing is to be obviously Not German!

As to Madrid, I had been to the centre in the early spring of this year, mainly to look at the Galleries and get a boost of spring warmth. The city is charming, as cities go, but the aggression is close to Naples level. Self-centred exploitation of every weakness and sheer opportunism is widespread at every level. This can be from the taxi drivers, who elevate the clock reading to 'night time, weekend, out of town tariff' for a local run, to the waiter who charges for a 'premium, bottled, imported beer, at the terrace ' price when a local draught beer is served at the bar.

False police, with all the apparent uniform and gear, try pulling you over to hustle fines or create a chance for robbery and shakedown on most of the approach arterial roads and motorways. There beggars and pickpocket teams working most of the tourist sites, as well as artificial 'Bellotta Ham and Saffron' sales in more shops than there should be. The Tourist Police are polite and concerned, but ineffective. The Tourist Information staff are perfunctory and disinterested in anything that doesn't earn them a commission from some back street 'authentic Flamenco' joint or a bent doorman in a posh restaurant. I would avoid Madrid, but if you do want to visit I suggest using the trains from a nearby town. The train and local bus services are good.

The coasts are really the most awful parts of Spain. There are all the Europeans who escape the winters of the north and the local Spanish have long been subsumed into this polyglot. It is an unpleasant, false world of dashed hopes or fuzzy existence, maintained by cheap booze or smuggled drugs. The false 'happiness' is so akin to the fantasy world of Disney that it could have been designed as such. But what do I know? After all, there are thousands of people who choose to live like that and they enjoy it. Maybe I am the one out of step! However, for those reasons I avoided the Mediterranean Coast and had a look at the Atlantic coast from Algeciras to Sanlucar de Barrameda. Here are the best beaches in Spain, but also the windiest. There is nothing to stop the winds coming in from the Atlantic and the windsurfer and kite surfers really enjoy it.

The towns are mainly Moorish and have been trading towns since their rise, so there are lots of interesting buildings and parts of buildings from these early days and through a few hundred years of history. For an artist they are a paradise of inspiration.

Places like Cadiz, Jerez (origin of the word 'Sherry') and Sanlucar de Barrameda are of course linked to the sherry manufacture and fascinating for the likes of me because of their gustatory interest, but they are also lovely towns. Cadiz is a transport and parking nightmare but there are good bus connections from the 'official' dedicated 'wild camp' on the outskirts.

There are a number of blogs from more computer-aware and interested travellers than I, who have added their own 'finds' for wild camping that may be useful but I suggest CAUTION! For every good intention has the well known, but usually forgotten, 'unintended effect'.

If you can download the precise location that is a nice quiet isolated place for a few motorhomes to pitch up, close to a beach for sun worshiping in the dunes or a good coastal walk, SO CAN ANY ENTERPRISING CAR THIEF, BURGLAR OR HUSTLER! There can be safety in numbers, but remember the Bantu saying: 'Many people, many problems'.

I see you are in Pamplona. I haven't spent any time there, but passed it en route to a couple of nice places to be for Christmas time:

La Guardia is a hilltop wine-making town with a lovely interior, many tapas places, a delightful big church and a smaller intimate one. Good butcher's, baker's and vegetable shops. Some nice wine shops, although a bit expensive. The supermarket is not good, beware old stock!

Nearby is El Ciego, a smaller town, with fewer shops but intimate ones, as well as some little hidey-holes of tapas bars and essentials such as the butcher, baker etc. There is a new car park on the NE corner.

Haro is the key town for Rioja Alto and has many bodegas which encourage visits. Good for stocking up at four decent supermarkets and many old shops of artisanal interest. Brilliant fish market at the top of the town and a superb selection of fresh vegetables and bread, as well as some nice restaurants. The campsite is very well managed, lots of hot water and good services. Find a pitch close to the services to save a longish walk and uneven ground. Beware poor drainage from some pitches.

Logrono is at the centre of Rioja and has everything that a town should have, with excellent pedestrian streets, squares and shops, ancient and modern. A good place for getting 'bits' that break while travelling, as well as odd things that wear out or fall off - anything from vehicle widgets to brassiere hooks. Ask at the campsite for the map and indication of the street of tapas bars, especially the place that specialises in the mushrooms. Enjoy Mushrooms a la Plancha with a glass of Tinto for 1.10. There are many similar special places, well known for their own special tapas. The campsite is just outside the town next to the river. Pitches are quite small but the services are good in the new toilet/shower building. It is about 20 minutes' walk through a sloping park to the town, bicycle is about 10 minutes but the slope needs a few gear changes! There may be fairground noise, especially around New Year.