We were chuffed to have escaped the worst of the very cold weather in France, having made the effort to get away from higher altitudes. We had a relaxing couple of days at Camping Beach Ferrat near Bézier and now it was time to continue south towards warmer weather. I was regularly eyeballing weather forecasts for Valencia which were promising to be 19 degrees and sunny. We crossed into Spain via a low pass on the edge of the Pyrenees and drove several hours to our stopover in an unremarkable place called Malgrat de Mar. The main things in its favour were that our parking spot faced straight onto the sea and it was free. The next day we invested in some toll roads, it is a lot more affordable than in France and we got a fair way in four hours.
We stopped next at Peñiscola – a great place with an upmarket, resort feel and best of all a rocky promontory with an big castle on top. I love castles. However on our way, we (well I suppose it was my fault as I was navigating…) foolishly followed Google’s proposed route and the road became a narrow lane, where as another van squeezed past us on the narrow lane, our wing mirrors smashed together and the mirrors fell out of ours. The other guy stopped and got out, somewhat irate about it, but as we were the ones with the damage, it all dissipated. Luckily the mirror was still attached by a cord and Tim managed to click it back in. We parked on the beautiful seafront but I felt a little curious as to why no other motorhomes were parked there. I even said to Tim, we are SO going to be moved on by the police here… He seemed confident however, and it was true there were no signs up saying we couldn’t. I wasn’t going to argue too hard and we settled in and enjoyed the stunning view of the golden sandy beach, crowned by the castle and old town in the distance.
We took an amble to the old town with it’s palm trees, picturesque little alleys, whitewashed houses and inviting restaurants. It was incredibly windy but glorious. I was still on my diet so going out for a drink or to eat were out of the question, but it was just as well because post-Xmas, our finances needed a break too. From the castle ramparts we looked out over the sea, drinking in the bright blue sky and deep blue sea, and it was just glorious. I briefly spotted some dolphins not too far away swimming along and coming up for air. We only saw them fleetingly a couple more times but still – it made my day! The castle towered above the old town, ancient looking and impressive. It featured in Game of Thrones and there is a scene set at the great entrance of Mereen (for GoT fans that is the city of pyramids from where Daenrys governed).
When we got back to the van, we made a cup of tea and resumed our positions gazing out at the view. After a bit, a police car pulled up in front of us and it transpired that it wasn’t OK to be parked there after all, though the policeman was friendly. He said it was OK one street back from the sea front and so we drove that way, past a campsite which is maybe what he was hinting at – but all we needed was an overnight stopover and no services. We found a well-kept parking area by a nature reserve and settled in there. Later on, Tim noticed a sign saying long, heavy vehicles were not allowed there (clearly meaning motorhomes) but by then we couldn’t face moving again so with a little unease on my part that’s where we stayed for the night (half expecting another police car to turn up any moment). The only disturbance was an altercation between some dog walkers. The next morning I went for my first run of the year, in an effort to shift some calories and get that feel-good feeling.
It was sunny but not yet warm enough for our liking so we continued our southwards journey. Our next stop was a short hop to Alcossebre, after a recommendation I got from a motorhome forum. We were aiming for the paid aire (or Area Autocaravanas as they are known in Spain), but although we could see it, we couldn’t get to it, with a maze of one way streets. I hastily looked at the other local options on our app Park4Night and and that’s when I spotted a campsite with rave reviews. It was 2kms away so off we went. It was a very bumpy 2km stretch of unmade road but the extra effort was worth it. Camping Ribamar turned out to be set in a national park and was an oasis of tranquility. The sun was beating down and it was turning out to be a beautiful, hot day. For the first time in the year we got into our shorts and T-shirts and sat out in the sun. There was a footpath leading a short distance down to the coastline. We took the dogs down there. It was beautiful but we could find nowhere for Bodger to have a swim as the surf was too heavy. In addition, the stony path made tortuous progress for his arthritic paws. Next time we put his boots on him and we made more progress. These helped in the short term, but these had started giving him a blister on the top of each front paw so we’d have to give him a break from wearing them. No matter which direction we walked from the site, it was stony paths, no good for Bodger. Tim had also booked a ticket for a football match in Valencia the next day so in the end we only stayed one night.
Driving into Valencia the next day revealed a really attractive town. Groves of tall palm trees stood alongside futuristic architecture. The sun was out and I really wanted to explore this place more. Camping spots near the centre were non-existent it seemed, so we stayed south of the city which was an hour’s cycle ride or 20 mins drive. The paid camping area was really just a strip of gravel with rows of motorhomes, half of whom got the sunny side and the other half – us latecomers included – got the shade. Looking into the surrounding attractions, there was a beach several miles long and with good running opportunities along the promenade. It seemed that we were also near the home of Paella, with the adjoining village restaurants reputed to make the best in Spain. We were also next to a huge wetland which sounded like a birdwatchers paradise. But I was still on my diet and so eating out was not an option and the lack of charm of the camping spot made us keen to move on, Valencia would have to wait for another time.
The next day did not start auspiciously, as we immediately got lost after setting off when my location services on my phone ceased to work. We were looking for a particular petrol station that sold cheap diesel. We found it eventually after going round a few spaghetti junctions in circles. It was worth the trouble at €1.05 per litre (92p with the current exchange rate of €1.13 euros to the pound) We didn’t know it but the day was only going to get worse from there. We were headed to a place called Altea, a coastal town north of Benidorm. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of the day, but we ended up driving for 6 hours and trying no less than 6 campsites – all were full. We had to reverse out of more tight spots than ever before in a single day. Including reversing back onto a dual-carriageway when the junction we’d got off at proved impassable. Also out of a hard-to-access campsite where there was no turning space. Then another time reversing onto a busy road from a dirt track. How our 29ft beautiful Elf survived unscathed after that day is a small miracle. It’s fair to say we were completely exhausted and frazzled by the time we found an overnight spot, which was the car park of a sports centre somewhere inland in a place called La Nucia. It was the only place we could find. The last bottle of wine in the van was located and more or less inhaled – a bottle of Prosecco we were given for Christmas (thank you Sally and Dave :D). Never have I been so grateful for alcohol!
We had a quiet, though windy night and the sun came up. Today was a new day thankfully. It was a quick half hour hop to Alicante, and had we known how close it was, we could have cut our losses the previous day and headed there sooner. We were wondering if we’d hit a critical latitude and if the rest of Southern Spain was going to be full up of snowbird motorhomes with nowhere for us to stay. The snowbird phenomenon is when retired northern Europeans escape the winter by driving down in their motorhomes and spending a few months camped out in Spain, some even go as far as Morocco. There must be thousands of them, I would estimate and I guess we are part of the club at the moment! However we found a paid camping car area in the Sant Joan d’Alacant area, just north of Alicante. We booked in, parked up, and breathed a huge sigh of relief that we’d found a place and our fears were unfounded, it was good to see Spain was not totally full up. After the trials the previous day, I had a feeling we’d stay put for a while!