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Thursday, July 25, 2019

BEACH HOPPING THROUGH SPAIN & PORTUGAL


From the misty peaks of the Pyrenees we head down into Spain. Imagine our surprise when we stop at the next camp area at Roncevilles to look at the Church and meet cycling friends from home. What a terribly small world. They are cycling to Santiago de Compostela. And so, we continue driving on to Pamplona. We have been here before but decide to park and explore again. The place has grown enormously and is a hive of activity. The Running of The Bulls starts in a few days and the streets are being boarded up. The bulls are penned in the stadium below the old town – we can inspect them if we wish. We don’t. The town is full of locals & tourists alike and there is a buzz in the air. We wander around town, view the cathedral & cloisters, have jamon rolls for lunch, before heading out of town. It is getting hot.

We pass through gorgeous mountain scenery on our way to Bilbao, where we have found a camp spot out of town – perfect for a quiet night. We plan to drive to the city early, but there is a train station here, so the next morning plans changed, we head in on the very modern, very efficient train. Then it is on foot to view the incredible Guggenheim Museum. I drag a reluctant John in – fortunately we can get a Senior’s discount – but sad to say – the art exhibits are really not us. The best thing is the air conditioning as outside is 40 deg. Next stop the funicular car to see the views, then back to the train & GR2. As soon as possible we hit the road. Up in to the mountains and on to continually smaller and windier roads. We are looking for our son-in-law’s village. Eventually we find it (we hope). The tiny town of Pesquero de Ebro. After exploring all the side streets, we can’t resist a photo of GR2 on the old stone bridge before heading down to the river for the night.

Today we move on through more gorgeous scenery: think huge gorges and lots of tiny villages, to Santander. The free camp area in town has a queue of motorhomes, but amazingly we get a spot and head off to see the famous Playa del Sardinero. It is gorgeous so we head back to GR2, park closer and go for a swim. As it is still hot, we decide to continue along the coast. The scenery is lovely with the Pico de Europe mountains looming over us on one side and towering cliffs dropping to golden sand on the other. The road is incredible with 100’s of huge viaducts. We finally head to the waterfront at Cabo Busto where we find a lovely grassy spot beside the lighthouse for the night.

In the morning we walk along the cliff tops for magic views of this stunning coastline. Then back in to GR2 to continue, but after a mere 10km we detour out to the fishing port of Luarca. We explore this magic little place for a few hours – it is incredibly photogenic, oh and hilly. A bit more coast before we turn and head inland to Lugo. There is a camping area/carpark in town, but it is still a solid uphill trudge to the old roman walls that enclose the old city. Naturally it is the hottest part of the day as we trudge around the top of the renovated walls. The town is rather uninspiring, but it does have a stunning cathedral. We decide not to stay. The carpark is hot & near a busy road, so we continue towards Santiago de Compostela – finding a quiet area to stay not too far from the city.  

Sunday morning, we head to the city. Easy to park and walk to town. Everything is a bit quiet until pilgrims start arriving. Naturally we head to the famous cathedral (and this city is popping with Cathedrals). Fortunately, we have seen it before as it is nearly all under wraps for yet another renovation. What a pity for those poor pilgrims who have trudged for miles to arrive and see it or rather not see it.

And so, it is on through heaps of farming villages (as we are avoiding toll roads) with countless little graineres standing up on stone legs. We fill up with fuel (cheaper here than Portugal) and cross the border. A total non-event. We follow the river and then the coast south….and there are so many gorgeous beaches. Naturally we stop to swim. By now siesta is over and beaches are frantically busy. We crawl past countless beaches, finally arriving in Vila do Conte. There is free camping on the water, but there is also a very noisy stadium, and apparently a concert starting at midnight. So, after trying out a local restaurant we head back to the wharf at Povoa de Vazim (only back a few kms) where heaps of motorhomes are camped. A lovely quiet night.

Before we leave the area, we stop in Vila do Conte to look at the viaduct – it has an amazing 999 arches and is still pretty well intact. Then we head on to Porto. It is time to explore this now incredibly busy place. There are no fewer than 6 river cruise boats tied up and countless group of tourists in town. We explore, so much seems to be uphill, trying to dodge tour groups. Love the inside of churches and monasteries in Portugal with their gorgeous blue & white tiled walls. And enjoy our local lunch – their version of a toasted sandwich. Full of meat & ham, smothered in cheese and cooked in a delicious sauce. It looked terrible but tastes great.

We decide to head to the beach for a bit of R&R. Find a gorgeous beach – Praia de Sao Pedro de Maceda- where we have great views over the ocean and great swimming. Perfect at sunset. We stay 2 nights, but all good things come to an end, and it is time to move on. Down past a massive inlet covered in little islands. There are some amazing traditional boats still in use. We catch the ferry across to Avero and continue our drive to Coimbra. It is 36 deg when we trudge uphill on the Quebra Costa (or back breaker) to see the famous old University & numerous churches. We decide not to stay here for the night as it is still hot, so move on to Lousa to a farm spot.

 Dinner out at the local restaurant proves very useful. We meet a local guy who tells us about a schist village only a few kilometres away (and we had been planning to visit Piodia over 100km away) – he assures us Cereira is much prettier. So that is where we head the next morning, winding up narrow tracks to get there. Most of the village is being restored and converted in to accommodation, but it certainly is cute tumbling down the hillside. We decide to forgo visiting Piodia and continue our very windy drive over the mountains, eventually reaching the town of Tomar. There is a free camping ground right in town, and as it is still incredibly hot, we plonk ourselves in our deck chairs under the trees.

It is here that we meet a lovely Dutch couple – Michel & Miranda travelling in their old Peugeot renovated camper – and spend the evening chatting. But we really must continue the touristy thing. In the morning we head uphill (driving) to tour the totally amazing Knights Templar Castelo. Then out of town to view the long aqueduct with over 180 arches – this one we can even walk on. A rather scary walk! For me anyway. Then on towards the beach side city of Nazare. We are heading to the port, but are turned around by” no motorhome” signs and so end up on a beach. And guess who we find here. Yes, our Dutch friends – so another evening chatting.

In the morning the 4 of us head along the beach to look at the old fort. Inside is a display about the amazing surf break here. Some of the waves here are incredible – but not today. Then we share a tuk-tuk up to town, catch the funicular down to Nazare for a wander along the beach, eventually returning to GR2. A fun day had by all. By mid afternoon we pack up and head to Obidios where there is another great spot to camp 5 minutes from town and beside yet another aqueduct. It is a very pretty town totally surrounded by old walls, with the usual castle & numerous churches. All flowers, fresh paint in white, blue & yellow, lots of touristy shops and heaps of local tourists. In the camp area we meet our first overland vehicle this trip. Irma & Guri have just returned from Morocco so we chat for hours in the local bar.

As today is Sunday, we decide it would be the best day to drive in to Lisbon – the big smoke here. And all goes really well until we are about 4km from a spot we can camp at the marina. Our road is closed and the GPS keeps trying to return us to the same road. Eventually we find our spot – perfect with only a 30-minute walk to the centre. We keep seeing those hop on/hop off buses so decide to hop on. There are 3 routes to be covered and we do all 3. Phew! Exhausting sitting on a bus all afternoon. There is a smaller bus to “do” the narrow inner-city streets, and bigger ones for the outskirts. Our last one (on its last trip of the day) returns us to our marina. Awesome. A relatively quiet night despite the planes overhead & roar of traffic from the massive bridge.

We could stay and explore Lisbon more fully, but we are already well behind schedule so decide to actually drive today. Once we leave the motorway we carry on through mile after mile of cork plantations. We are on a scenic back route winding up and down hills. Eventually we reach the Algarve region (famous for its beaches). But first a few vehicle maintenance chores before we exit Portugal – it is cheaper here than in Spain – always a consideration.  After ordering new tyres we head west towards a battery place, stopping overnight beside a huge lake.

The morning is spent getting a new house battery system installed. Later in the day we head to the coast finding a great spot on the cliffs at Cabo de Carrapateira (nearly the same spot we camped in GR1 12 years ago) Before we leave the area we detour down to the southernmost point – Cabo de Sao Vicente. It is chilly & incredibly windy, but the tourists are out in full force. Then on to Fortaleza de Sagres & eventually we head east.  By mid afternoon we are back at the tyre shop getting our tyres rotated. We end the day at another gorgeous beach with a magnificent sunset & sunrise.

The next morning is earmarked for our regular grease & oil change. By midday we are done and dusted. Time to head out of Portugal and cross Spain. First countless oranges and then olives. Our route takes us through Seville, but as we have already been there and it is over 40 there we decide to get past as fast possible and head to the coast at Cadiz. The city beaches are packed, but we find one out of town with a row of motorhomes. In the morning we head to Algeciras to restock with food and get our ferry tickets. Morocco here we come!

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