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Aussies on Tour in France, Spain and Iberia 2014 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

Aussies on Tour in France, Spain and Portugal 2014 

Pam & Martin Williams' 2014 Motorhome Holiday in Europe

For a very full gallery and slide show of splendid photographs, each linked to a map of the journey, click:

https://picasaweb.google.com/108520371100176229503/MartinandPamHoliday2014?noredirect=1 

Introduction In 2014 we revisited our delayed 2013 holiday plans and toured France, Spain and Portugal by motorhome. The idea was to visit a new country, Portugal, and to see some of the out-of-the-way places that are off most travellers' itineraries. Leaving on 6th May we were away from our home in Australia for 4-months during which we covered 10, 950 km, just over 6, 800 miles. At the end of the holiday we sold the van and after five-summers travelling through Europe it was for us the end of an era. The following covers some of the key features of another great trip. It's written from Martin's perspective and focuses on the European mainland part of our trip.

Some Overall Aims There were several aims for the trip including:

Visiting one new country - Portugal this time.

Revisiting a few key places in France & Spain.

Visiting some places that have been on our wish-lists for years, including Cuenca, Cordoba, Avila, Segovia and the Picos de Europa.

Meeting up with old friends and relations that we've not seen for a while - and in one case for over 60 years!!

Visiting my sister-in-law and her daughter in southern Spain. My brother died last year.

Do some dancing at Le Grand Bal de l'Europe.

Catch some of the Tour de France if possible.

Overall we met most of our targets but we also did quite a bit of re-planning during the holiday. And we did find that we'd overplanned somewhat, so some things just went overboard. Sounds like most plans in life, doesn't it?

Problems With the van being 4. years old we had more problems this year than with past holidays. Things such as a flat engine battery, charging problems with the leisure battery, a leaking water tank, loose fuses, a shredded fan-belt, a PC that would not boot up, a blown inverter and spillages. Maybe it was just Lady Luck but it did get a bit wearing at times!

General Comments and Observations

In spite of travelling in the busy months of May through to the beginning of August we found that most places were uncrowded and we hit no tourist queues and very few traffic queues. As with all of our motorhome holidays we spent most of our nights at free 'aires' and we had no problems finding nice places to stay and many nights we had the places to ourselves. Finding overnight stops is much easier than it used to be as there are several great websites.

The main one for us was the French site http://www.campingcar-infos.com/index1.htm s that we'd done a lot of homework on before leaving home. There were a few minor glitches but generally it was brilliant. For each site it gives latitude & longitude, an overview (price, facilities, capacity etc) and generally really useful comments and photographs from people who have stayed there. When we got back to the UK we added our own comments and photos to the site to help others.

For years France has had a fantastic network of 'aires de service', one that seems to get better each year. What was striking to us in 2014 is how Spain has improved in terms of aires and motor homing facilities – we were last there 4-years ago when they were basic and few and far between. Spanish minor roads have improved too – we used many minor roads which generally had good surfaces, very few potholes, good edges, good signage, were well maintained and well engineered. Good drivers too on the whole. Much better than Perth drivers!

Portugese minor roads were OK but the N-125 road across the Algarve was very busy and in poor shape. One thing that did strike us was how few Japanese and Korean cars there are on European roads - mostly Europeans are loyal and buy local makes.

Security and Safety We'd had so many warnings about being broken into or gassed in the night in the south of France or in Spain that we were quite paranoid before we left home. We did try to get an extra lock fitted to our rear door but it was another one of those 'we're too busy, come back next month' responses from the dealers, so it just did not happen. We actually felt very safe and secure throughout the whole holiday, although in Cordoba we did park the van very close to a tree when we left it so that the back door could not be opened, as we'd heard about break-ins at the aire there.

Culture We did see some singing and dancing at an evening concert in Agreda in Spain, we ate tapas in cafes in Andalucia and we saw some bull running in the streets of Olite, south of Pamplona We also attended an open-air concert or two, but most of our culture in terms of dance and music was at the 'Grand Bal de L'Europe' in Gennetines.

Gennetines is an annual dance festival held just north of Moulins in central France. It's an 8-day extravaganza involving hundreds of dance workshops and 'bals' that run from breakfast time to well into the early hours. Obviously there's a lot of focus on French dance but there were also teachers and workshops for Turkish, Israeli, Romanian, Portugese, Greek (my favourite) and from lots of regions of the UK. It was a really tiring week but it was great fun!

People Overall we were impressed and happy with all of the people we met, locals, other tourists, tourist offfice staff and officials and police. The locals in all of the countries that we visited were friendly, helpful and polite. Our French and our 'tourist' Spanish came in handy but we were struggling in Portugal - luckily many locals spoke good English.

The Holiday as Planned The key stages were UK, France, Spain (including Andalucia), Portugal and back to the UK via Spain and France. The aim for May was to settle in, sort out the van, renew links with friends and a few relatives, and to drive quickly through France and down Spain, avoiding the coast and large cities, to meet family in the south before it got too hot. June was scheduled to be Andalucia, the border region of Portugal and back through Spain to the Picos de Europa and the Pyrenees. July was to be France with a balance of the old, places and people that we knew, with the new, which included a number of the places listed in the 'Prettiest Villages in France' and meeting up with a cousin whom I had not seen for over 60 years!! Early August we planned to be back in the UK.

Weather Our fixed-date appointment in southern Spain meant that our trip south had to be faster than we would have liked, particularly through France. This was probably opportune as until we reached the Spanish border it was cold and we had overcast skies and heavy rain. The weather did improve when we reached Spain but it was still really cold in the evenings in towns at altitudes over 1000 metres such as Jaca and Cuenca. When we got back to France we were met with thick fog as we negotiated the narrow road down the Col de la Pierre St Martin in the Pyrenees. The Col is at 1766m and we only dropped out of the cloud below 1000m. Lots of sheep and cows to avoid on the way down too. We navigated by following the avalanche sticks that mark the edge of the road. Scary! For much of France we had storms and lots of rain.

Iconic Images The places described below are generally listed in the order that we visited them.

The rain - not in Spain on the plain but in France - it never seemed to stop. It still hadn't in early December - lots of floods in the south with many deaths.

Cuenca Wonderful old city balanced on a rocky spur high above two rivers.

Windmills - We visited two great towns with ridges full of old-style windmills - Campo de Criptana and Consugera; deep in Don Quixote country.

Spain's unspoiled villages and towns: There were so many - the following places readily spring to mind: Ainsa, La Alberca, Almagro, Priego de Cordoba, Miranda del Castanar, Calatanazor, Pedraza, Sepulveda and Ujue. Check them out! Towns such as El Burgo de Osma and Tarazona were pretty special too.

Calatrava la Nueva: Fabulous castle cum convent on a top of a hill - where else? The road up was steep and billed as an original medieval road. It felt like it, it nearly shook the van to pieces!! Photo below!

Cordoba and the Mezquita: In spite of the heat this was a really magic place. A true icon that I've always wanted to visit. The mosque was opened in the year 987. It was as wonderful as the 13th century cathedral imposed into it was awful. The mihrab was amazingly beautiful.

Portugal's hilltop towns Most people's Portugese holidays involve Lisbon, Sintra and Porto but we chose to tour the border area with Spain, an area that has been contested for centuries. It's full of castles, frequently ruined, and unspoilt hilltop towns with ageing populations. Many of the places that we visited had confusingly similar names - we liked Murao, Moura, Marvao, Macao, Monsaraz and Monsanto. The latter was amazing - it was a hilltop full of boulders with houses squeezed in wherever possible. Photo of me below outside a house in Monsanto - the front door is between the boulders!

Avila We headed back into Spain to Avila, via La Alberca and Miranda de Castanar. Avila is the archetypal walled city with 88 towers; inside the walls it's a wonderful place full of plazas, classic buildings and storks. In the evening we decided to walk around the city - literally - outside the floodlit walls. It went well until about . of the way around when the floodlights went off!! We limped our way back in the dark. Huge storm that night - not sure where the storks sheltered!?

Segovia: Another brilliant Spanish city, evening music concert happening when we were there; wonderful citadel, great cathedral, stunning aqueduct and so full of life - mucho paseo.

Bastides around Condom: The cathedral in Comdom was impressive. We stayed two nights in Fources, hit the tourist trail in Montreal and Larressingle before hitting the road in heavy rain for:

Monpazier: a gem of a small town - a bit noisy when we were there as France were playing Germany in the world cup - oh and it rained. Great place though! Lascaux Cave: Heading for the Dordogne we did the small town of Montignac before visiting the prehistoric cave of Lascaux II - absolutely amazing!

Rocamadour: We've been there a couple of times before and we did not intend to go there again, but it just happened. It's a fabulous small town. This time we kept walking out of town and found a superb collection of outdoor art in someone's garden!!.

France's 'Prettiest Villages' : What can one say other than we visited lots of the 160 designated prettiest villages of France.

Les Chapieux: Hidden away north of Bourg St Maurice, Les Chapieux was another place that we'd been to a couple of times before. It was Pam's big request to return again. It's a base for walkers and climbers who want to cicumnavigate Mt Blanc. We went on a walk but it drizzled for much of the day that we were there. The next day dawned clear blue sky!

Also Impressed with The Lavender fields were absolutely stunning across parts of southern France.

TDF: Four years ago we followed some of the final stages of the Tour de France, when Cadel Evans won. This year the race was tracking clockwise while we were travelling anti-clockwise so it was quite hard to fit it in. We did manage to see the 188 km Stage 16 finish at Oyonnax on a hot day - the name doesn't sound very French does it?

Mountain climbs: We always like to include a few mountain roads in our trips. Not too many this year but we did enjoy the climb to La Alberca; over 1000 m with about ten Z-bends in the final climb. The approach to the Col du Roselend from Beaufort in the Alps is a 20 km climb much favoured by cyclists. It involves a climb of 1225 metres, an average gradient of 6% and up to 10% in places. Great drive with stupendous views.

Bull Running: Not something that we'd normally watch but we were at the castle in Olite, south of Pamplona, when there was a huge bang. The entrance desk said "that means they've just released the bulls into the street". So we just had to go and see. We were behind big barriers so it was interesting to watch. The ambulance crews standing by were not needed!

Recycling: Lots of recycling in evidence in most of the places that we visited. In Tarazona the bins were huge and underground, so the visual impact was very low. Great town - the picture below includes the old bull ring - now converted to flats.

Shopping: The ease of shopping that is; I hate shopping. Our favourite for food shopping was LIDL which seemed to have shops everywhere. They'd improved this year as most of them took Visa and in Portugal they were open on Sundays - not so in Spain.

'Architecture' at Roundabouts: I'm not sure if there's a competition but many places seem to vie for 'most interesting and picturesque' roundabout. My favourite was this one at Alcala la Real - in Spain.

Not Impressed with

The Algarve: It gets rave reviews but to us the towns seemed overdeveloped and lacked character, the beaches were not easy to reach and the roads were bad and very busy.

The preacher in Murao: When we arrived all we could hear was a preacher with a megaphone - from the Guiness Book of Records. The only words that we could understand were 'amen' and 'halleluiah'; they occured about ten times a minute. It went on for a couple of hours. Nice sunset though after a day in the 40's.

The sudden heat wave that hit when we arrived in Portugal - even the locals were complaining vociferously. One key image in the stiffling evening heat was of an older lady sitting outside her front door knitting while watching and listening to opera on the television that was inside the house.

Public Loos: - few and far between generally and frequently not worth finding - some were quite obscene, like this one in a National Park in Spain!!

Noisy Spaniards: The celebrations marking the reconquest of Moorish Spain were loud and unexpected. Noise and sudden explosions all day. We were in a restaurant in Mojaca when it started but apparently it's the same across the whole of Spain. Really annoying and unnecessarily noisy. So Spanish.

Hiccups

At Chilluevar, in Andalucia, we could not find the 'aire' and we spent the night on a petrol station forecourt. Mind you that was better than an aire a few days later which seemed to be inside a council tip. We found a magic place down the road by a river with herons, horses and hibiscus.

As I said earlier we had a few other problems along the way: The problems started on day 2 in France when the van wouldn't start. A local guy helped us with jumper leads, putting his battery in the van and eventually driving us to a hypermarket to buy a new battery! Not sure why the battery was flat - we'd driven 415 km the day before, but we were so pleased that it did not happen on the way to the ferry!

The start of the trip was plagued by a loose fuse which caused the SatNav to start and then turn off after 5 minutes. It kept that up all day.

An important part of any motorhome is the leisure battery, which keeps lights and appliances going. Ours wasn't charging properly from the engine. So we had a few evenings with no lights or power and we had to change our route a few times to find an aire with power so that we could plug in and charge the battery.

The water tank has a drain tap, used to empty the water to store the van for the winter but not very useful when it decides to open and drain all the water away. It resulted in us carrying more bottles of water than usual.

We use a small laptop PC to store our plans, tourist information, information on places to stay, LPG garages and a load of other things. It's an essential part of our trip. So it was a big deal when failed to boot up on the day that we left Andalusia. We went through many scenarios before visiting a library as we entered Portugal, Googling the error and getting a fix.

Just past Castelo Branco the fan belt shredded itself, so we backtracked to town and had a delay of a day and a half while it was fixed.

Failed inverter: We rely on an inverter to give us mains power as we drive along. This charges the camera batteries, tooth brushes, PC etc. We bought a new one before we left home but it failed one day and it wasn't easy finding a new one.

The SatNav a tale of Love and Hate! We did use Michelin maps of France and Iberia but the mainstay of navigation was our Garmin SatNav. We've used it for years so we do know its quirks and foibles. It was no different this year as it tried its usual tricks of taking us down back alleys and narrow lanes to save a few hundred metres, guiding us the wrong way up one-way streets and other times it thought pedestrian malls were fair game for us. We did end up mixing it with pedestrians in Segovia by the aqueduct. Lots of upset locals!! So we did curse it sometimes, but a couple of times it just froze and spat the dummy and then we were distraught. One classic time was about half an hour before the town of Criptana in Spain. We were there to see the windmills above the town. The signs were few and far between and we must have traversed every road in town at least once. We could see them but never quite get to them. Eventually we did get to the very steep approach road. It was worth persevering though! Some of our misdirections were of our own making. We spent ages on a wet and windy day getting to Banos de la Encina only to find that the place we wanted was Banos de la Ercina some 7 hrs drive away

The Call of the Wild

We visited many wild places but the favourites were probably Cazorla National Park and the Canyon of the Rio Lobos both in Spain and Les Chapieux near Mt Blanc in the French Alps. In 3-months on the European mainland we saw really very little wild-life. 6 or 7 deer, a few eagles and vultures, some storks, lots of squirrels and a tethered goose!! The latter was really wild!! We were surprised to see abandoned villages in Spain - empty since the Spanish Civil War which finished 75 years ago!!

Other Reflections

Olive Trees Spain and Portugal seemed to be full of them - millions of them, up and down the hillsides - didn't see too many fire breaks.

Siestas These were a mixed blessing - it meant that the roads were less busy in the middle of the day and in France that the parking was free, but it also meant that the shops were shut. In Ujue the locals, knowing that we wanted to buy some bread, hammered on the bakery door until the owner came out in dressing gown and slippers rubbing her eyes and looking really unhappy!!

A big thank you to MacDonalds across all 3 countries - they kept us in touch with home and the world news via their free wifi. Spanish towns in general were very clean, they were also very empty and not just at siesta time. Perhaps everyone was away on holiday! Many places were depopulated or full of old people.

The flights with Qatar Airlines were very good. This was a departure from our use of Emirates in recent years.

Motorhoming and the End of an Era: Motorhomes are getting bigger and to my mind some are just ridiculously big. No wonder there are so many larger vans for sale with really low mileages on the clock – I think people just find them too big to handle. Our van was 5.65 m long, very manoeuvrable and after 50,700 km I can say that it was easy to drive. We've always been very happy with our 2.2 litre Peugeot boxer Elddis Autoquest 115 as a touring van. We may get back into motorhoming later but shortterm we want to sort out some health problems, so for us this is the end of an era. We sold the van privately in the face of lots of pressure and propaganda from dealers who wanted to make about 25% profit on our van. We sold it in less than 4 days on Gumtree. .

Some of our holiday pictures here [use slideshow or click on individual photos and tab through – note the map option

The following is a Diary of our European Trip

FRANCE

Mon 19 May Derby – Bournemouth 344 km A good drive, one that got us back into swing, but a day where the SatNav turned off every 5 minutes. Luckily we knew the way to go!! It turned out to be a loose fuse identified after frustrating visits to local dealers. The usual story 'sorry can't look at it for a few weeks'. Luckily one of them knew a mobile electrician and he fixed it.

Wed 21 May Bournemouth – Montreuil 393 km Good drive to the ferry in quite heavy traffic and a good ferry crossing with My Ferry Link. We intended driving further but the weather was atrocious, so we pulled in to the free aire at Montreuil-sur-Mer.

Thu 22 May Montreuil-sur-Mer – Amiens 90 km After a nice walk around the town, during which the low grey cloud decided that it really did want to rain, we headed back to the van only to find that the battery was flat. With the help of my stale, but rapidly improving, French, we found a local mechanic who was brilliant. He arrived in a 'fourgonette' and having failed with ancient jumper leads he put his battery in our van – and it started. He then took me to the local LeClerc's hypermarket to buy a new battery! Great service for which initially he declined payment!! I knew I liked the French! The subsequent drive to Amiens was uneventful. We checked out the centre of town and the superb cathedral!

Fri 23 May Amiens - Nogent-le-Roi 235 km With our usual penchant for over-planning we had to cross Beauvais and Les Andelys off the list and we headed for Chartres. The weather was still awful and we ended up skipping Chartres and stopping early at Nogent le Roi. Us and 3 others – which meant that we all had free electricity! Nice town too!!

Sat 24 May Nogent - Bessines 343 km Another windy and wet day! We headed south, calling in at Argenton but it was just as noisy as last time we were there! We did like the reflections in the river though. We ended up at Bessines with about 11 other vans.

Sun 25 May – Bessines – Lannemezan 468 km Another long day's drive – France really is a big country! Also another day of low, dark and threatening clouds. We had hoped to reach Arreau but with the dark skies and the pouring rain we plumbed for Lannemezan.

SPAIN

Mon 26 May Lannemezan – Jaca 209 km On into Spain through the Bielsa Tunnel. We left France in cloud and swirling sleet and entered Spain to clear air! At last we see and feel the sun!! Finally we're able to slow down and be tourists – Ainsa was nice - photo below. We'd started the day with the heater on and we ended it at a very cold Jaca for the night.

Tue 27 May Jaca – Andorra 311 km Drove to the Monastery of San Juan de la Pena and then down to see the superb rock formations at Los Mallos. Bit of a dearth of aires in the area, so we headed SE to Andorra – we should have gone west. The aire was in a noisy industrial area so we toured around town before stopping opposite the bus station. [N 40° 58′ 42′′ W 0° 26′ 38′′ ]

28 May Andorra - Cuenca Cuidad Encantada 266 km The highlight of the day was the fabulous town of Albarracin – spoiled a little with light rain late in the afternoon. Great drive on good roads with great scenery through the hills towards Cuenca. Detoured to the Cuidad Encantada with its crazy rock formations. After eating and walking to the Mirador de Una we stayed there for the night. [N 40° 12′ 24” W 2° 0′ 19′”]

29 May Cuenca Cuidad Encantada – Alcazar de San Juan 232 km Spent the morning exploring the city of Cuenca before driving through a patchwork of wheat fields and red earth to the Roman site at Valeria. The ruins were surrounded with poppies. Checked out the castle at Belmonte before heading to look at the windmills north of Campo de Criptana. The satnav stopped working and we had great fun finding the narrow and steep roads up to the windmills. They looked great in the setting sun!

30 May Alcazar de San Juan - Calatrava La Nueva Castillo 177 km Drove to Consuegra for the next set of fabulous windmills, this time with a bonus castle. Windy on the ridge so we had lunch at the covered picnic area near the town. - first meal outside the van! Spent the afternoon exploring the fascinating town of Almagro before heading off to the superb Convent Castle at Calatrava la Nueva. The steep pave on the way up to the castle was apparently laid in medieval times – it felt like it too. Great views though! [N 38°40'11.9" W 3°50'46.9"]

31 May Calatrava La Nueva - Chilluevar 227 km Spent most of the day exploring the superb castle. In cool and windy conditions we then headed for Banos de la Encina and later looked for the aire at Chilluevar – it wasn't there – we spent the night on a garage forecourt on the A-1309 (Jct with JV-7102).

1 June Chilluevar - Puebla de Don Fadrique 179k A great day exploring the roads and tracks in and around the Parque Natural Sierras de Cazorla, billed as Spain's largest protected area. It lived up to that claim by showing us squirrels, lots of deer and several eagles. Wonderful climb up from Cazorla to Puerto de las Palomas. Nice views of the blue waters of the dam and wonderful gorges and climbs south of Hornos. We got used to the regular pattern of the olive groves – with very few fire breaks! We stopped in the forest BBQ areas east of Puebla de Don Fadrique.

2 June Puebla de Don Fadrique – Canjayar 229 k The map designated much of the day's routes as scenic, but it was really a day of very varied scenery – from very bleak and wild-west-like to verdant green, where it was watered. Areas in the south reminded us of parts of Anatolia in Turkey. Seron and the climb out of town are lingering memories and Canjayar was an interesting small town to wander around.

3 June Canjayar -Almeria 56 km Drove into Huercal to fill up with LPG to keep the fridge going for a few days. Lucky to get away with only a warning when I did a U-turn across a solid white line in front of the Guardia Civil! And so on to our family appointment for a few days and a rest from driving.

8 June Almeria - Tijola 248 km Drove up to Mojacar for lunch; really nice lunch but we were disappointed with the town and that was before the guns and explosions started – they were reenacting battles between the Moors and the Christians as part of the reconquista. The whole town was getting ready to celebrate and to party – so we left. After being breathalised we headed for the aire at Tijola – with the air-conditioning on.

9 June Tijola - Priego de Cordoba 222 km Headed west past Seron, again, and joined the A92N and then the A92 from Guadix to Granada. The scenery was fabulous at times, so green and clear too. The drop down into Guadix was amazing. Toured Alcala la Real looking for a lunch spot – we failed but we did find our favourite roundabout of the holiday. See photo earlier. Drove on to the aire at Priego de Cordoba and walked into the fabulous hill-top town. Great atmosphere – lots of fountains and water features and lots of happy people – young people and children too – most of these towns are full of older people. Great views from the old town – featuring about a million olive trees!!

10 June Priego de Cordoba - Cabra 68 km Checked out the aire at Dona Mencia and stayed there for lunch before heading off to a very hot Zuheros. Shared ideas, in French, with a Belgian couple. Cooked at the pinic tables near the lower car park. Stopped overnight at Cabra – we didn't feel comfortable at Dona Mencia as there were a few noisy drinkers there.

11 June Cabra - Villanueva del Rio y Minas 196 k Headed off to Cordoba on another stiffling day. Parked in the aire in the Avenida del Corregidor and headed for the Mezquita. Absolutely wonderful place – the Mihrab was superb. There was no shade whatsoever on our walk back to the van in 40 degree heat. We headed off to Medina Azahara to the west of town. The air conditioned museum was really welcome!! Nice displays and interpretation boards. Headed off west in rain and a threat of storms – the aire we'd chosen was down really narrow roads and looked like a council tip! We stayed down the valley by the river.

PORTUGAL

12 June Villanueva del Rio - Alcarias 235 km Had breakfast outside while mine trucks rolled past. Really depressed when our PC failed to boot up. We headed off to a library in Castro Marim in Portugal and Googled the error; carefully changed some registry settings and got the PC working again! Great relief! Drove north to Alcarias as Castro Marim's aire was in the full sun. Great communal oven in the village.

13 June Alcarias Albufeira 135 km Spent the morning cleaning and sorting out the van before heading down for lunch near the beach at Monte Gordo. Headed west somewhat concerned about how road tolls work in Portugal. We were on busy and lousy 'main' roads. We tried, but failed, to find a way south to the beaches and ended up setting the satnav for one of the Albufeira aires. Parked on the cliff-top with a few other vans. The road was narrow, steep and sandy with rocks – we'll need to plan our escape carefully. Walked on the beach and across the cliff-tops in the light of the full moon. Magic.

14 June Albufeira A lazy day at the beach - eating, swimming, relaxing and talking to our French neighbours. Went for a long walk in the evening looking for a road that led to the next beach - we failed. The temperature was about 5 degrees hotter even 150 m inland from the van. Sunday

15 June Albufeira - Murao 264 km Another blazingly hot day. We drove out early to the main car-park and had breakfast there - to avoid getting hemmed in. Called in at the shops - we were surprised to find out that the Portugese shops are open on Sundays - not like Spain. Also surprised to discover that Spanish and Portugese time are one hour different! We were still on Spanish time! Headed north via Serpa and Luz, a village relocated after flooding their valley to build a dam. Parked in Murao right by the castle at the top of town. The key image of the day was the lady sitting in the road by her front door, knitting and listening to opera on the television. The other image was of a preacher who droned on and on - the only words that we could hear were 'amen' and 'alleluja' which we must have heard about one-hundred times!

16 June Murao Elvas 95 km Drove down to the tourist office and toured the town. The free wifi and the childrens' models in the town hall garden were good. On to Monsaraz which was fabulous - we met an Aussie couple there who'd just walked part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella. Checked out some local standing stones and then headed for Elvas and the aqueduct.

17 June Elvas – Marvao 69 km Drove north via Portalegre spotting the cork oaks as we drove. Had lunch at Portagem surrounded by police cadets checking the traffic - we drove away very carefully! Flogged up the hill to the aire and to another wonderful hill-top town, although it was spoiled somewhat by the two-way traffic in the very narrow streets. The castle and the garden in the upper town were worth it. Walked back around the walls.

18 June Marvao - Macao 114 km We awoke to mist and cloud blowing over the crest of the hill behind the aire before driving down to Castel de Vide and parking in the shade at the aire. A very stylish town that we spend ages walking around. The tourist trail and the castle were great. Wonderful views from the castle. The Tourist Office was open all day - no siesta! We'd been without power in our leisure battery for several days so we searched the camping cars web site for an aire that had free electricity. We found a few and headed for the nearest one at Macao. We plugged in and sat in the full sun until it set - not that we were complaining! It was good to have lights again!

19 June Macao - Castelo Branca 126 km With the battery now reading over 13-volts we headed down the scenic route via Belver - nice castle by the River Tejo - aiming for Monsanto. Just past Castelo Branco the fan-belt shredded itself so we drove to the nearest Peugeot garage - big thanks to the satnav! The friendly crew checked the VIN number and ordered a new one - they also suggested a place that we could stay for the night!

20 June Castelo Branca - Monsanto 58 km Bad news when we got back to the Peugeot garage - our new fan-belt had been sent to the wrong dealer! Eventually it was couriered and arrived at 5pm. The mechanics then worked until 7:20 to fix the van. They had promised we'd be away by late morning! Good service in the end. Finally we drove on to Monsanto. Parked in Revla at the bottom of the hill and talked to a French couple who advised us that there would be a market in the square next morning. We headed up the hill and stopped just past the police station less than a kilometre from town. Later walked around the village.

21 June Monsanto Really nice place to be for the summer solstice - we spent the day touring the town and being amazed by the houses surrounded by granite and built with boulders seemingly growing out of their roofs. Walked up to the castle - great place and great views.

SPAIN

22 June Monsanto - La Alberca 179 km Drove up to Penmancor and turned right for Spain! Thanks Portugal – we really enjoyed the stay. Checked out Torre de San Miguel but were not impressed. We were however very impressed with the climb up to La Alberca and with the town itself – really different and unspoiled – several people riding horses through the cobbled streets – and the family playing flutes and drums gave the place a great feel. Lots of bars and restaurants too Our inverter failed today – we use it for charging camera batteries, mobile phones and tooth-brushes..

23 June La Alberca – Avila 182 km Had another short tour of town after breakfast; Talked for ages to a UK couple in a Portugese registered van. Picked lots of cherries before driving to the Mirador El Portillo and on to Miranda del Castena. Fascinating place of narrow laneways with the roofs almost touching – check it out on Google with the satellite view! We also checked out Beja and Candelario before driving on to Avila to take in the classic view of the city from the rotunda on the Calle Cuatro Postes. We stopped at the aire by the police complex, although we also wasted time checking out other places to stay. We had a great evening tour of the town and the walls – great that was until they turned off the floodlights at 11pm. We persevered and literally walked 'around the town' – all 88 towers!

24 June Avila - Segovia 97 km Huge electrical storm just after 4am – not sure where the storks sheltered! Had another walk around the city before filling up with LPG. It was cold so we headed for MacDonalds and used their wifi for ages. Drove into Segovia where a bike race was happening. Parked near a coach car-park and walked into a town that was heaving – live band playing to a big crowd in the square, sound and light show in the Plaza Mayor and so many people eating, drinking and strolling. The aqueduct was really impressive especially so being floodlit under heavy, dark skies. [N 40.947112, W 4.124672]

25 June Segovia - El Burgo de Osma150 km Left about 8:15 as the carpark was filling quickly – had breakfast out of town. The next stop was Pedraza which we really liked after we'd realised that we couldn't drive through the low and narrow main gate! Spent ages there before reparking for lunch at the Eagle Interpretation Centre. We were less impressed with Sepulveda but we did spend a couple of hours exploring the town – looked better from a distance. Drove into El Burgo de Osma, the episcopal centre of Soria province, and parked near the convent with a couple of other vans. The town was mainly pedestrianised and we took full advantage of that. We also used the PC's and the wifi at the library and we charged our camera battery as we had no imverter..

26 June El Burgo de Osma - Hontario del Pinar 93 Spent most of the day trecking around the Canyon of the Rio Lobos to the north of town. Great lookout, cliffs and wildlife – loads of vultures around. The ponds, frog noises and water lillies were impressive. Headed back to the library at El Burgo before ending the day at the aire in Hontario del Pinar.

27 June Hontario del Pinar – Agreda 153 km Checked out the 'Bridge with 7 arches', at San Leonardo and had a short walk down the other end of the Rio Lobos gorge before driving to Calatanazor – another intriguing small hilltop town. The sign at the castle saying 'please do not steal the stones' was different! Had lunch at a ruined church just out of town. Followed the main road into Soria where we bought a new inverter at a LeClerc's hypermarket. Checked the PC for aires and headed for Agreda. Good choice!

28 Jun Agreda Walked down the paseo with a few locals before moving the van and using the local showers. Had lunch followed by pancakes cooked outside the van. Spent the afternoon reading and walking – the town was deserted. Had a very cold evening walk and watched a local concert – singing and dancing; jota style; and we met the mayor!

29 June Agreda - Tafalla 116 km Enjoyed a walk around Tarazona. The aire at Cascante seemed to be full of Brits excaping the heat of the south. Olite was nice – we explored the castle for a long time before asking what the loud bangs were. The last one, we were told, meant that 'the bulls have just been released!'. So we spent ages, behind the barracades watching the Olite version of 'running the bulls' – we hadn't planned for that! Quite interesting though.

30 June Tafalla – Isaba 172 km The key images of the day were of Ujue another remote hill-top town – nice church, nice plazas and nice people; oh and a huge pelota court. Ended up retracing our steps to the LIDL at Tafalla. Lerga, Eslava and Aibar looked nice as we passed them. On past Lumbier and up the Roncal valley before ending at Isaba and its very different architecture.

1 Jul Isaba -Oleron-Ste-Marie 69 km After another tour of the town we headed up the valley to the Col de la Pierre St Martin – very bleak at 1800 m but clear, As soon as we started the descent into France we were in thick fog – we followed the snow poles at the side of the road at less than 10kph looking for sheep and cattle! The fog didn't clear until 1000m. Very steep road – 15% gradient in places. On the way to Oleron we passed Feas where we'd stopped in 2010. An electrical storm and heavy rain awaited us at the aire – welcome back to France!

FRANCE

2 Jul Oleron-Ste-Marie - Fourcès 121km Still raining at breakfast time – lots of water dripping off the trees all night. In low and dark cloud we set the satnav but got the east and west wrong!! We were crossing the Greenwich meridian. It took another 45 mins to eventually navigate to Montreal – the aire there was stark and had no shade so we headed up the road to Fources. Really nice place, the town and the aire; the neighbour was playing an accordion. Short walk around the village before cooking and eating outside – a few mozzies about! More exploring in the village before turning in for the night.

3 Jul Fourcès - Condom - Fourcès 24 km Drove back to Montreal and did the square, church and the tourist office (TO). Quite a few walkers a la Santiago de Compostela. On to Larressingle which was a bit of a disappointment. Lunch in the car park before driving into Condom; parked by the river. Really nice cathedral which was quite empty. Back to Montreal to use the wifi at the TO. Stormy and raining at 11 pm.

4 Jul Fourcès - Monpazier 86 km Back to Montreal for the wifi - to download new aires info. for the Dordogne. Headed for Monpazier and criss-crossed the map in worsening weather; pouring rain for the last 40 mins. Nerac looked nice; so did Port Sainte Marie. Had lunch in Lavardec. Got one of the last 2 spots at the aire in the rain. Several attempts to walk into town without getting wet. Really nice place - few people on the streets as France were playing Germany in the World Cup! We had to shelter in the square for some time from the very heavy rain.

5-Jul Monpazier - Belves 12 km Walked back into town and bought a few souvenirs. We would have bought more if the shop hadn't been closed! After lunch we set the satnav for Beynac but we only got as far as Belves the 1st village! Loads of vans in an aire with a great view over the countryside. Had a couple of tours of the town - did the tourist trail. Nice place.

6-Jul Belves - Montignac 46 km Heavy rain overnight with thunder & lightning; grey, low cloud all day. It didn't seem to put off the crowds buying rubbish at the 'brocante' in the main square. Drove to Beynac and walked to the castle. After a rushed outdoor lunch we checked out Castelnaud across the valley. Set off for Montignac, buying LPG at Sarlat on the way. Walked to the tourist office and bought a ticket for Lascaux for the next day. We paid our €3 for electricity - very necessary.

7-Jul Montignac - Lascaux II - Rocamadour 57 km Drove through town, being staggered by the very long queues for tickets for Lascaux. Really impressed with the cave and the artwork; brilliant. Drove up to Terrasson and renewed our acquaintance with the town. For once it did not rain!! After lunch we headed off south-east - we passed Martel and then for oldtimes sake we stoped at Rocamadour. Parked behind the citadel with about 20 other vans. Considering this it was really quiet. Went for a long walk along to The Hospitalet and down the long road into town, then through town and down Roquefraiche where we found a superb outdoor art extravaganza - an extraordinary collection of art and sculpture. 'Atelier Kersting'. Back past the stations of the cross.

8-Jul Rocamadour - St Geniez d'Olt 111 km A day of occasional very heay rain. Drove down to the Belvedere for that classic view of the town. We decided to follow the Lot valley - the D42 for a long way - Viellevie and its chateau were nice. The roads were narrow and a challenge at times, but the scenery was great. We found the aire in St Geniez very dark so we stopped in an alternative location - a car park just out of town.

9-Jul St Geniez d'Olt - Banne 120 km Some blue sky but lots of rain from very fast moving clouds. Drove back to Ste Eulalie D'Olt - another one of France's most beautiful villages. Very nice but we spent too long sheltering under brollies. Headed north to the D45 - a better and more direct road. The tiny village of Marnhac looked nice but very hard to get to. Had lunch in Sainte Sulpice, although we never did find the 'area de piquenique' - lots of signs for it! Much of the scenery reminded us of Scotland - Chateau Champ looked really nice. Great day but spoiled by selecting an aire to stay for the night - the choices were Les Vans (Intermarche car park), Berrias-et-Casteljau (bad feel) and Banne - 3rd time lucky - lots of narrow and tortuous roads.

10-Jul Banne - Privas 81 km Great view from the aire and a really interesting village but those church bells were awful - kept it up all night. Very tight getting out of the village - builders' trucks etc. We'd intended going down the Gorges of the Ardeche and headed up the D111 and onto the D579 towards Vallon Pont-d'Arc. The closer we got, the heavier the traffic was - so we gave up and headed for Vogue which was nice. We tried to get to Baluzac but the road was closed which was annoying. Drove over the pass to Privas after hitting the wifi at Aubenas.

11-Jul Privas A cold day - but no rain for a change. Spent an interesting day with an eccentic cousin whom I'd not seen for over sixty years!

12-Jul Privas - Remuzat 79 km The aire cleared out by 10am - we headed off to MacD's for wifi and then to LIDL to stock up. On down the D2 - Rochemaure looked nice - but we headed through Montellimar. Images of the day included the tourist train in Montellimar, the superb lavender fields, the Gorges of St May and the really nice town of La Poet-Laval.

13-Jul Remuzat - Les Chapieux 177 km On through Verclause and down to Serre and up the Col de la Croix Haute. The weather deteriorated on the other side but the scenery on the run down to Grenoble was superb. Lots of places looked as we remembered them - Albertville - nice; Beaufort - kitch and touristy, the climb up to the Lac du Roseland - challenging; and the climb up to the Cormet du Roseland and down to Les Chapieux - brilliant. There were the usual signs when we got there - 'no camping' and 'no motorhomes'. We checked out the tourist office and then settled in. Later we had a walk up the road in the dark - and in the drizzle. All quiet at Les Chapieux - it was great to be back.

14-Jul Les Chapieux Awoke to the sound of rain! We checked out the options and took the navette shuttle-bus to La Ville des Glaciers to walk up the Col de la Seigne - the day was cold with drizzle and low cloud and with no sign of Mt Blanc. We turned around before 3pm at 2400m to make sure of catching the last navette and because we'd got fed up with the mountain bikers. Lots of hikers heading for refuges - will they all fit inside!? Even on a bad day the place has a great atmosphere.

15-Jul Les Chapieux - Bellegarde 98 km We awoke to a clear blue sky - we felt a bit cheated and went for a walk over the meadows - watching the the crowds getting on the navette. Good views of Mt Blanc too. We had to leave; we had a date with a dance festival in Gennetines near Moulins. It was a great drive up to Roseland and down the Beaufort road - had lunch in a picnic area. We wrongly ignored the satnav and took the road to Les Saises, the Col des Aravis and, eventually, Annecy. Then we headed for Bellegard and took one of the two spots, but only after a trip to MacD's to get data on aires.

16-Jul Bellegarde - Bourg-en-Bresse 59 km Bought some pain de campagne in Chatillon en Michaille. Passing through the nice town of Nantua we realised that that day's stage of the Tour de France finished at Oyonnax just to our north. We detoured and parked on the course about 2. km from the finish. Had a quick lunch and walked to the finish. Interesting watching the razamataz of le carvanne and collecting the fruit and other handouts. The riders were really spread out after a long breakaway. It was amazing the speed with which the 'flamme rouge' - one km to go - was dropped after the last rider came in. Drove down to Bourg-en-Bress - the start of tomorrow's stage.

17-Jul Bourg-en-Bresse - Gennetines 141 km After a noisy night we left early before the road closures took effect. Filled with LPG. Drove to St Genoux de Scisse - to charge our batteries - they had free electricity at the aire. Drove into Moulins with the air-con on and stocked up at LIDL for the long dance festival. Picked up three hitch hickers going to Gennetines.

18-25 Jul Gennetines 20 km Thoroughly enjoyable €240's worth. Usual local weather ranging from clear blue sky and very hot, through grey clouds and rain to storms with thunder and lightning. Generally it was very himid. Roads churned to mud as last time we came. We retired to the van to rest and to eat. Met Marie-Rose whom we'd liked last time. Had a trip to MacD's in Moulin on 25th and picked loads of blackberries. Checked out the aire in town then dumped our loo on return. On return we reparked in a different spot.

26-Jul Gennetines - Semur-en-Auxois 113 km After a late start and a slow clear up we headed off to Autun. A few nice places on the way but not very motorhome friendly. Used wifi at MacD's and checked out the very busy and noisy aire. Drove off in heavy rain to Semur - nice double rainbow. Had stirfry and Guiness before walking to town - nice place.

27-Jul Semur-en-Auxois - Amblons et Velotte 145k Now heading for Strasbourg. Moved the van nearer to town and spent an enjoyable time touring the town - we avoided the crowds and the market happening in the centre. Really nice place.  Stopped for lunch just after Montbard (with its camel), through Langres and had cuppa at Fayl-Billot with its weaving exhibits.

28-Jul Amblons et Velotte - Kilstett 140 km Passed some nice places, Luren springs to mind, and got LPG in Colmar. Ran into a huge storm north of town, the worst rain I've ever driven in - it cleared but the clouds were full of menace. Arrived at the Sittler's house just as Guy was returning from his walk; Marie-France was gardening. Nice welcome with beer and nibbles - had a 'Ramadan' meal later. In bed quite late, to be serenaded by the church bells!!

29-Jul Kilstett - Kilstett 0 km Settled in, shared tales and photos. Walked to Wanzenau with Guy - part of his exercise regime - post stent. Out in the evening to a local Plan de l'Eau for a 'community' meal. I didn't quite get what I wanted! Then went into Strasbourg - fast - up to 140 kph at times. Great light show at the cathedral and another at Pont Vauban.

30-Jul Kilstett - Kilstett 5 km Marie-France gave us a huge list of likely museums to visit. We suggested shopping and using the internet! Heavy rain intervened and M-F went off to baby-sit. Nice long lazy lunch with Guy and then went to LIDL in Germany to get Favorinis; paid cash they took Visa but not MasterCard. Connected to the neighbour's wifi. Watched our Harmony Day performance and played dance tunes in the evening. Guy was very interested but also very tired. We gave him lots of the music.

Thursday 31-Jul Kilstett - Kilstett Guy off to see his cardiologist, but it was really a party day. Members of their syndicate started arriving at noon. Elizabeth, the Swiss lady arrived at 12:00:00; must have a Swiss watch! Others included Helen, Cristian, Pierre, Julia and Francois. The setting was great, the weather behaved and food was good - partic. the 'gateau des imbeciles'. Ended about 5 and Guy took me on a 60 min, very fast walk - he was wearing a heart monitor. Sat talking by the lake for ages, had a small meal and then went in to avoid the mozzies. We were persuaded to stay 'til Saturday.

Friday 1-Aug Kilstett - Kilstett 210 km
Pauline came to lunch with Arthur which changed he planned trip for a walk. Went to open-ar concert in the evening - somewhere in the south of the city. 5 women a capella. Had a picnic with Colin's fois gras.

2-Aug Kilstett - Bouillon We farewelled M-F early as she was off to baby-sit. We left about 10:20 but had to return to pic up a map left in the kitchen! Had lunch at Saar Louis and picked loads of blackberries. Slowly on to Bouillon and stopped where we stayed with Betsy - the place is now an official aire - it was quite full - actually over full - there were 20 vans there. We stewed apples and added blackberries; ate Cordon Bleu, pots and beans before going on a walk to town.

3-Aug Bouillon - Tournai 131 km
Some discussion re where to go; considered a number of places including Kortrijk (Courtai) as suggested by Guy, but ended at Tournai as the distance was right. Heavy rain at one stage of the journey. Settled in to the aire with 19 others. Went for a walk later - the town was quite nice but seedy with lots of bars, dark back streets, lone men hanging around and loads of graffiti.

4-Aug Tournai - Calais 92 km
Day 90, our last day on the Continent. Left about 11 and went via LIDL. Had a good run to the ferry, watching the fuel gauge carefully. Refilled at Marck. The image of the day for me was of illegal immigrants and loads of police - similar image when we arrived. We stopped between Dunkerque and Calais to kill a bit of time and arrived at the ferry on time but had to do a loop as there was no room for us on the wharf!!