In the indefinite future (used to indicate procrastination)
A condition endemic in southern Europe, particularly on the Spanish mainland, where it can become highly contagious after a few weeks holiday.
I really should apologise to regular readers of this blog, all 3 of you, for my lack of updates over the last few months.
I appear to have been struck down by a chronic case of Mañanaitis after foolishly spending several weeks lolling in the Spanish sun earlier this year. The blog was to have been regularly updated on an almost daily basis………………………but always tomorrow.
My last post was on our return from Spain in December after a very pleasant trip to try and ward off some of the UK winter.
Our motorhome, Celine, was fast approaching two years old and would soon require her first mechanical service on the engine and chassis. She was booked in to Simpsons of Great Yarmouth who are motorhome dealers but also a Fiat Professional garage, who, to my surprise, were able to carry out the work within a few days. A couple of days before Christmas I took a pleasant drive to Yarmouth where I drank coffee and read the paper while they carried out the work. We had purchased our previous motorhome from Simpsons and their service has always been first class.
At the end of January we fancied a short break so went to Devizes for a few nights at the C&CC site beside the Kennet and Avon Canal. The plan was to walk along the canal for pub lunches and to try the pub next door to the site in the evening. The weather had other ideas though.
The long drive down was through rain and drizzle which made the M25 and M4 particularly dreary. Not much fun to be had that day.
The weather forecast got even worse though. Storm force winds and heavy rain were on their way in the next couple of days so after just two nights away we returned home before the storm broke.
There was just no point in spending several days closeted in the van with wind howling round and rain lashing down.
Two weeks later Celine had to be returned to the dealer in Staffordshire for her habitation service and annual damp check. As there were also a few final warranty jobs to be completed they wanted her for a couple of days so loaned us a very smart van to get home in. After a couple of days all was complete so off we went again, up the M6 to collect her and spend a night at the C&CC Kingsbury Water Park site.
With all servicing up to date and the small bugs in Celine’s systems squashed it was again time to escape the winter weather and head for the sun. Our plan, if you could call it a plan, was to head for Spain and Portugal for six weeks.
South towards the sun.
In the late afternoon of 22nd February we went through the Channel Tunnel yet again and back to Cite Europe (GPS 50.93282º 1.81111º) for our first night in France. Storm Doris was making her voice heard as we left home and drove down the A12, which caused Celine to sway a fair bit as the gusts hit her off side. Once we turned east on the M20 the wind was on our tail so things calmed down and it did wonders for our fuel consumption. At Cite Europe the wind howled all night and even with our hydraulic jacks the van swayed a little.
Next morning it was over the road to Carrefour to stock up on a few essentials, beer, wine and even a little food, before topping up the fuel tank and heading south. Just over three hours drive and we arrived at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine (GPS 49.48334º 0.77386º) for two nights at one of our favourite French aires.
The tail end of Storm Doris gave us a bit of a sideways bashing on our drive but at La Mailleraye, tucked down behind the shelter of the high wall and trees, all was peace and calm.
After two pleasant days by the river we continued south and crossed the River Loire at Saumur and on to our night stop at Montreuil-Bellay. Another aire (GPS 47.13255º -0.15815º) we have been to before and one with a lovely historic feel about it. Towering above is the chateau with its pinnacles and towers while beside the aire are old walls and buildings that were part of a monastery.
More information on the history of the chateau can be found at:- https://travelfranceonline.com/chateau-de-montreuil-bellay-walled-city/
We went for a walk beside the river and up onto the road bridge where, looking down at the water, we watched otters hunting for their supper. In the morning a brisk walk up the very steep hill into the town for breakfast croissants got the circulation moving before our days drive.
In a change of plan (actually we don’t really have any fixed plan) we decided to head south east and make for Limoges and the nearby Park Verger site. The forecast was not looking particularly good so a couple of days with the luxury of mains hookup and proper site facilities appealed. Owned by a very pleasant British couple, Park Verger (GPS 45.71627º 0.91828º) is one of the few sites open all year round and with its hard standings is a safe bet in bad weather. As it was wet and windy we stayed for three nights rather than a joyless drive in wind and rain.
Our next stop was a small aire beside the Garonne Canal, south of Marmande, at the small village of Caumont-sur-Garonne. A lovely spot under trees (GPS 44.44189º 0.17939º) with pleasant walks along the tow path on both sides of the canal and a pleasant peaceful village to wander round. There are no shops in the village although there is a vending machine for bread.
We had been away a week and still hadn’t reached Spain, just as well there was no rush.
A long flat drive over the Landes area took us towards the Atlantic coast for our next stop.
We arrived at my first choice of aire at Labenne-Ocean to find that it had been closed and hefty wooden posts surrounded the parking area. Just up the road was Capbreton, where we had stopped before, so we made for there instead. The aire (GPS 43.63560º -1.44683º) was also closed as we expected but there is a large empty carpark next to it that has been used in the winter for years. For some reason that was also closed by height barriers but there was just room for us to squeeze in between some other vans in the small area outside. We stretched our legs with a walk over the low cliff and down onto the huge sandy beach.
Spain at last.
Next morning I bit the bullet and paid for the toll charges to cross into Spain. The alternative is a heavily built up area with lots of stops and starts and we needed to make headway to get to our planned overnight stop. Crossing the border at Irun we took the A15 motorway towards Pamplona and then south to Marcilla where there was an aire close to the motorway. The Spanish tolls are much cheaper than the French and the roads are usually very well surfaced and engineered. One thing to watch though is that the speed limit on motorways is only 90kph if you are over 3.5 tonnes. Motorhomes over that weight are classed the same as trucks in Spain.
Our aire (GPS 42.32071º -1.73158º) was tucked away beside tennis courts at a sports centre and the €3 charge was paid at the small bar, wi-fi was included although the signal strength away from the bar was very poor.
We didn’t get to see anything of the small town as it thundered and lightened and the rain hammered down for ages. Our car park was almost under water. It all cleared by bed time and we had a very quiet night.
The next day, Saturday, it was back on to the AP15 towards Zaragoza, then south east to the coast and our next stop at Valencia Camperstop (GPS 39.57963º -0.44475º),just outside of Betera.
We stopped there the previous year and rather liked it. It is a bit of a hybrid site, part aire and part campsite. There is a cafe/bar that does very good but simple food. You can order a paella in advance and their ham, eggs and chips are just perfect. If you want to explore Valencia they will sell you tickets for the metro station which is just around the corner.
Huston, we have a problem.
We stayed at Valencia Camperstop for two nights but on Monday morning, just as I was coming round from my usual sleepy haze, I was jolted awake by a loud bang and the sound of the water pump running. I guessed immediately what was wrong as the same thing had happened over a year previously.
I leapt out of bed and turned the pump off then removed the panel under the fridge to peer at the Alde heating unit. Sure enough the hot water pipe, where it exits the boiler, had burst and water had been pumped out and into the battery compartment below. The offending pipe, which had a fair sized hole in it, is almost impossible to reach and means that we had no water supply at all.
Fortunately there is a Carthago dealer just outside Valencia and not too far from where we were. After sorting ourselves out, we made our way there.
Autocaravanas Osito was jam packed with caravans and motorhomes so we were directed to park in the street outside while I went to find the reception and see if they would help us. Although Carthago have a European wide warranty the previous time we tried to obtain help at Caen it was refused as they were far too busy. I didn’t hold out much hope here either but the chap in reception spoke good English and seemed sympathetic. If only he could persuade the boss, a young but rather stressed, cold and unsympathetic looking woman. It appeared that they were fully booked for weeks in advance and couldn’t possibly spare a technician to try and help. With much persuasion and a little pleading on my part she finally relented and said that if it could be dealt with quickly they would try. On the side of the street their technician got stuck in and with some difficulty managed to shorten the hose and reconnect it with a modification to hopefully prevent it happening again.
As you can imagine we were extremely grateful and the boss, previously rather dour, was quite pleasant and smiley as I paid the bill. The charge for well over an hours labour and a bit of hose was about €26, somewhat less than UK dealers would charge.
As we now seemed to have a fully functioning motorhome, complete with water supply, we headed south from Valencia on the A7, then the A35, A31 and back on the A7 towards Mercia. A few km south west of Mercia we turned off the motorway and on to the RM502, past Totana, and on to Camperstop Sierra Espuña.
Set in the hills above Totana the camperstop (GPS 37.79397º -1.51099º) is run by Paula and her husband Angel on a piece of land next to their house. Paula is a junior school teacher and Angel an electrician who looks after the technical equipment in the local hospital. When the land overlooking their house came up for sale they were concerned about what might be built there so bought the plot themselves. A British couple who rent a house from them and are keen motorhomers suggested a camperstop and so it came to be. Martin and Judith are members of Motorhome Fun forum and have frequently written about the area, so it has become a favourite with other forum members and is how we knew about it.
It is just a flat parking area, on two levels, with space for about 30 vans. 6amp hookup is available if required plus the usual water and dump facilities plus free wi-fi. There is a small building with showers, paid by a slot meter, plus local info and books to borrow. It is all very simple but is in pleasant countryside with views over the hills and mountains.
It must be the friendliest place we have ever stopped. There was lots of chat and banter and in a very short time we made friends with a number of people.
We intended to stop for a couple of days but ended up staying for two weeks, it is just that sort of place.
After two very pleasant weeks of doing very little we tore ourselves away from Totana and headed down to the sea.
We had been recommended a wild camping spot by the sea at La Azohia, not far from Cartagena, but when we arrived there we quickly decided it wasn’t our ‘cup of tea’, so after a bit of lunch we moved on.
At Calnegre there is a large aire, Taray Camperstop (GPS 37.51512º -1.39853º), right by the sea and in the middle of countryside. It has to be said that the countryside is mostly covered in poly tunnels as this is prize fruit and veg growing land but it is a peaceful spot for a couple of days. Like Totana, you just drive in and park where you want in the marked out bays and the owner collects the money, €6 per night, in the evening.
As we had been away for four weeks it was time to start slowly heading north again so we retraced our steps back to Valencia and the camper park for a nights stop.
From Valencia it was north again to Amposta and the Delta de L’Ebre.
A flat wild place of rice paddies, canals, wildlife and birds of all kinds. A large free aire (GPS 40.65877º 0.67486º) is situated next to a restaurant and tourist centre with bird hides and plenty of walks and cycle trails.
Hitting the road again we were now heading back to France. To keep well away from built up areas, particularly Barcelona, we took the AP7 motorway all the way to Perpignan. Leaving the motorway just north of Perpignan airport we carried on north on the D900 to Narbonne where we turned towards the sea and Gruissan.
Back in France.
Gruissan marina (GPS 43.10417º 3.09964º) is another of our favourite stops when the weather is good, but it can be extremely windy at times. This time it was glorious, almost cloudless sky and just enough breeze to keep it comfortable, perfect. It was so pleasant that we stayed for three nights.
Leaving Gruissan, we planned to stop at the aire at Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, famous for its cheese.
When we arrived at this small village, high in the hills and almost in the middle of nowhere, the car park and aire (GPS 43.98296º 2.98108º) was jam packed with cars. There wasn’t room to park a bike let alone 25ft of motorhome. It must have been a free cheese day or something but we couldn’t understand why it would be so busy in the middle of the week.
A quick recalculation and, after gingerly reversing out and turning round, we carried on through the hills to the Lac de Pareloup.
We found the aire at the Lac (GPS 44.20027º 2.77601º) last summer and loved it and when we arrived this time the barriers were wide open which meant free parking. Whoopee! It’s such a lovely spot that I have absolutely no objection to paying but a freebie is always a bonus.
We would have liked to stay for an extra day but next morning it had clouded up so we headed for the hills once more and a long drive, passing Rodez, Figeac, Souillac and on to the A20 north. The miles were gobbled up on the motorway as we passed Limoges and on to Vierzon where we took the D2020 and eventually arrived at Lamotte-Beuvron (GPS 47.59816º 2.02415º) for our overnight stop.
On April Fools Day we continued north and another fairly long drive to return to La Mailleraye.
After two or three long runs we were now well ahead of schedule as our return tunnel crossing was still four days away so we could catch our breath and just chill for a few days on the riverbank. The weather was still lovely so the chairs were out and we made the best of the sun to top up our tans before heading back home and reality once more.