Two Ports, one lemon

You know when you turn up somewhere and it’s a bit scuzzy and you think ‘Oh well, it’ll do for the night’? That’s how we feel when we arrive in El Puerto de Santa Maria, and yet…

There’s a lot of shabby ribbon development along the approach road, loads of graffiti, the campsite is arranged in closely packed rows that look like battery hen cages for camper vans. But the point is that the more we get to know it the more we like it and end up staying eight days instead of two. It’s not gorgeous and alluring like its neighbour just thirty minutes across the Bay of Cadiz, but it’s interesting and easy and a place where people live and work, not just spend their holidays.

We visit the Osborne Bodega, the headquarters of the famous brandy and sherry company (if you’ve ever been to Spain you’ll know their big black bulls which dominate the skyline up and down the country.) We buy fabulously fresh shellfish from the counter at Romerijo then go to their restaurant next door with our paper cones of langoustine and crab and tip it out to eat at a freshly laid table with china, glassware, bread. We wander the narrow streets of the old town and begin to get to know it. We find a favourite bar with a great waiter. We cycle to the ferry and spend a lovely day in Cadiz. We make friends with the slightly odd Spanish couple camped next door. We are sad when we leave and know we’ll come back one day.

After leaving Puerto we head for Almuñecar, tricked by reviews on our Camper Contact app that a ‘quirky, easy-going campsite you’ll love’ awaits. It isn’t. We don’t. We move on. The nearest alternative we can find is eight kilometres away at Motril, in our minds an unlovely place at the junction of the busy A44 to Granada and the A7 to Almeria.

We arrive at Puerto de Motril to find a palm tree lined oasis of peace and tranquillity. The campsite is friendly and relaxed and we find a spot with views through the palms to the sea. There’s a buzzing beach bar a short walk away with a Spanish version of Fat Boy Slim where we enjoy spectacular sunsets and giant gin and tonics. It’s lovely. Who knew? The only downside is that the sand is dark grey, not golden, but it acts like sand, feels like sand so…

Notes for campers: At El Puerto de Santa Maria we stayed at Playa las Dunas, an ACSI site. It’s touted as being close to the ferry to Cadiz but people with mobility issues should know that it is in fact a thirty minute walk away. There’s a really nice, friendly restaurant on site.

At Motril we stayed at Playa de Poniente, another ACSI site. The entry says the swimming pool is closed from 30th September but actually it was open, but without a lifeguard. The water was freezing in November!

The site at Almuñecar which we rejected was Camping Tropical. It’s right on a busy dual carriageway, tatty, full of discarded junk and has very small pitches with hardly any room to manoeuvre. Gertie is seven metres long and it was pretty challenging getting in and out. Inexplicably, it gets rave reviews from Camper Contact users.

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Chicken pie in El Puerto

The gas feed to our fridge stopped working a couple of weeks ago and we got it fixed in Anglet, near Bayonne (details below of the highly recommended Dometic engineer). The unexpected bonus is that the ignition for the gas oven and grill now works (we used to have to light it with a match and it took ages to catch) and it seems to be more efficient, so I decide to bake a chicken pie.

We camp near the wide, sandy beach of Playa Puntilla on the west side of El Puerto de Santa Maria. It’s 23 degrees with a cloudless blue sky. We do all the things that people on holiday do… have lunch at a beach side bar, sunbathe, swim in the still-warm sea. It’s lovely for a while, but what we’ve found we really really like is the feeling that we’re not so much on holiday as moving our home (Gertie) from place to place with a different view each time we open the door. Eating home-cooked food definitely reinforces this feeling and we cook at least four days out of seven. Gertie is equipped with a gas grill and oven and a three-ring gas hob. We also have a slow cooker and a Cadac barbecue, with griddle, hotplate, wok and pizza stone. In Burgos we bought a good, heavy paella pan for six Euros which fits the Cadac perfectly (Cadac’s own brand paella pan costs £45.75. Ha ha! Smug or what?)

El Puerto de Santa Maria is more interesting than it looks at first sight, by the way. The quirky Museo Municipal has some interesting archaeological exhibits and there are two sherry bodegas which offer guided tours. Plaza de Espana is in the heart of the old town and is dominated by the Iglesia Mayor Prioral. It’s a pleasant place to while away an hour or so, people watching.

So, back to the chicken pie. What with a potentially erratic oven, the use of an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin and the consumption of two large glasses of delicious Tinto de Verano (summer wine, recipe below) it’s something of a miracle that it’s edible. Luckily, we’re both ravenous by the time I get it to the table and although the pastry is a bit burned in places, it’s tasty.  I think the trick is to rotate whatever’s being baked a quarter turn every few minutes, so cakes are off limits.  Should do a good roast though.

Notes for campers:  The fridge was repaired by Save’Me, 4 Rue de L’Industrie, Anglet. We found them on the Dometic website.

We stayed at the Camping Playa las Dunas campsite at Playa Puntilla. They’re in the ASCI guide. We paid €18 per night including electric hook up. It’s a very large, popular site but this is probably because there’s no competition. It suited us for a few days but we wouldn’t have wanted to stay any longer. The restaurant and snack bar are good. Warning: The site is touted as being very convenient for the ferry to Cadiz but you should be aware that it’s a good twenty-five to thirty minute walk to the terminal.  Possibly a problem for those with mobility issues.

Tinto de Verano (Summer wine): One third cheap red wine, two thirds gaseosa or lemonade, a slice of lemon and lots of ice.

A tale of three cities (sort of)

Burgos: Arch of Santa Maria

On leaving St Jean-de-Luz we decide to travel across the interior of Spain to get to Cadiz on the southern coast.  We’re flexible about the route but about 350 kilometres a day is the maximum we want to travel. Using the tried and tested approach of putting your index finger on one bit of the map and your thumb on another, we decide to head for Burgos in Castilla y León for our first stop.  That’s the only reason really.  It’s about  ‘that far.’

Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos.

OH/MY/GOD, as irritating people say in US sitcoms. What an incredibly beautiful city.  At 2,818 feet above sea level, it’s 4°C and there’s a clear blue sky.  The banks of the river which run through the centre of the city are a masterpiece of town planning, with plenty of room for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.  The planting and landscaping is stunning, and beautifully cared for.  There’s a real sense of civic pride about the place.  We visit the Museum of Human Evolution and Burgos Cathedral. We roam and stare and eat and stare some more.  We love it and decide to stay a couple of days before moving on to our next finger/thumb destination, Plasencia.

Yes.  Hmm.  Well, it’s a bit different.  There’s a rumour that Plascencia has a Roman aqueduct and a medieval  walled centre but they keep them well hidden.  Try as we might we can’t find anything to gawp at.  The Tourist Office is so well concealed that an hour of Google mapping produces nothing. Nada.  Finally we find a ‘You are here’ map but it’s so covered with graffiti that it’s unreadable.  We do find a souvenir shop though, decked out with bras, plastic flower pots, sacks of potatoes, brooms.  Then we strike lucky and stumble onto the Plaza Espana, a teeming, lovely example of Spanish nightlife.  Children playing, families eating, lovers strolling, tapas, wine…after a couple of the last, Plasencia doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Teatro Romano Merida

Next morning we head for Mérida, the capital of Extremadura, completely unaware that it’s home to the most impressive and extensive  Roman ruins in Spain.  They are sprinkled around the town in unexpected places, like the Temple of Diana, which sits in an unremarkable side street.  The Roman bridge which spans the Guadiana river is the longest surviving structure of its kind, both in length and antiquity, in the world.  The jewel in the crown though is the Roman Theatre, part of the archaeological site of Mérida, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Every summer the theatre is the venue for the performances of the Mérida Classical Theatre Festival.

So, in just three hops we’ve crossed Spain and arrived in Cadiz, but we’ve fallen in love with the beauty and variety of the interior of this huge country.  The exploration will continue…

Notes for campers:  In Burgos we stayed at the Fuentes Blancas campsite a short distance from the city centre along a dedicated cycle path.  It’s an ACSI campsite with good facilities and an excellent restaurant.

In Plasencia we stayed at La Chopera campsite. It’s a quiet place with shaded pitches under trees.  Very pleasant with good facilities. Bike path into Plasencia.

In Mérida we stayed at Parking Teatro Romano, a dedicated motorhome aire in a public car park in the centre of the town.  24 hour security, very helpful attendant.  Electric hook up, grey waste, chemical disposal and fresh water available.