24 hours in Cáceres

Cáceres might not be a town you have heard of but it should be on your bucket list because it has one of the best preserved Medieval old towns in Europe. Three hours drive from Madrid and in the beautiful Extramadura region of central Spain Cáceres is one of several Roman and Mediaeval towns in this area.

Cáceres old town with snow capped mountains in the distance

Driving north on the A66 from Merida brought us to this magnificent example of Medieval history. The A66 is known as the Ruta de la Plata or Silver Route and it was the Romans that first built a road along this route from Seville to the north of Spain. Nowadays, the A66 is a motorway that runs for several hundred kilometres in the west of Spain.

Our motorhome stop at Cáceres 

We rarely book our next motorhome stop, preferring to decide a few days before where we might stay and then we turn up to see if pitches are available for our motorhome. This system hasn’t failed us so far and today was no exception as we arrived at Camping Cáceres and were told there were pitches available. We were given pitch 115 but when we drove up to the pitch we couldn’t fit our motorhome on due to trees so we asked if we could have pitch 117 which reception said was no problem.

Camping Cáceres  turned out to be a good choice because every pitch has its own shower and toilet facilities. I have never seen this before on a campsite. It was like having our own en suite bathroom, and high quality too!

Buses run every half an hour to the historic centre of Cáceres  and the fare is 1.10 Euro per person.

What to see in Cáceres 

Cáceres was founded by the Romans and its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will find a mixture of Roman, Islamic, Gothic and Renaissance styles. There are more than 30 towers from the Islamic period. Torre del Bujaco is the most famous.

Looking through an arch into Plaza Mayor from Caceres old town

We headed for Plaza Mayor, a large sloping square with several restaurants and cafes as well as the entrance to the old walled town. We didn’t have a plan, so we just wondered through  the narrow cobbled streets admiring the several churches, huge palaces and towers. I can imagine that walking through these streets at night with no people would make you feel like you really were in Medieval times.

What to eat in Cáceres 

I had done my homework about  Cáceres  and read that a dish called Migas was the traditional food of the area as well as Iberican Pork and Torta del Casar (local cheese) so I was determined to find a restaurant that served Migas and Pork so that I could try it. I didn’t really know what Migas was but I had read that it was spicy breadcrumbs with ham. It sounded good to me! Luckily the first restaurant we found in Plaza Mayor had Migas on the menu and there were tables available, in the sun too.

Tradition Migas Spanish dish

Whilst in Spain, we have had a few so called ‘Menu del Dia’ but the one we were about to have, for only 12 Euros per person, turned out to be the best so far on our motorhome journey. The quality and presentation of the food was of a very high standard. Menu del Dia is always excellent value we have found. For 12 Euros we had a Migas starter, followed by Iberican Pork and a dessert. A large glass of wine with a free tapas was also included.

Cáceres makes an excellent nights stop. Every country has its highlights but Spain is turning out to have far more than I ever realised!

Here are more photos I took in Cáceres

Ouesta de la Compania
Inside the church of Ouesta de la Compania, Cáceres
One of the many towers in Cáceres
View over the roof tops of Cáceres
Map of old town Cáceres
The shower room at Camping Caceres
Traditional Iberican pork dish that we had for lunch in Caceres, Spain

Merida – the Roman town – a hidden gem

If you think that the best and most extensive Roman ruins are in Rome then think again. We have stopped for the night on our drive north from Seville at the motorhome stop in Merida, Spain and I think we have seen some of the best Roman buildings and ruins in this small town which is in the Extramadura region of Spain. This is a remote area of mountains, forests and lakes which borders Portugal, with Merida as the regional town.

Temple Diana Merida

The history of Merida starts in 25BC when Emperor Augusta wanted his veteran legions to be garrisoned on the Guadiana River. From then on Merida became an important legal, economic and cultural centre.

Roman theatre Merida

Roman buildings such as a theatre, an amphitheatre where gladiators fought to the death, bridges, roads, aqueducts, arches and reservoirs have all survived the centuries and make Merida a unique place to visit.

After parking our motorhome at Areas Autocaravanas in the centre of Merida we walked to the nearby Roman Theatre and Amphitheatre. An entry ticket costs 12 Euros but it is well worth the entry fee because you will see incredible Roman ruins. As I walked through the ancient tunnel leading to the gladiatorial amphitheatre I tried to imagine what it would have been like walking through this same archway 2,000 years ago. A baying crowd of 14,000 people occupied the seats hoping for a blood thirsty day of entertainment.

Gladiator amphitheatre Merida

Various Roman buildings are scattered around the town. One of the highlights for us was Temple Diana, which is just off the main shopping street. The Roman aqueduct and bridge are also fully intact.

Merida itself is full of pavement cafes and restaurants and it also has a vibrant shopping area.

Merida makes a good stop over when driving from or to the ferry ports of Santander or Bilbao. It’s on the A66 motorway and the motorhome stop in Merida is about 10 minute’s drive from the motorway. The motorhome stop is basically a car park with a separate section for motorhomes and it has a drive over waste and toilet emptying point as well as fresh water and free WIFI. One night costs 12 Euros and if you need an electricity connection it’s an extra 3 Euro. The site is hard standing but slightly sloping. The car park is shared with the bus station and there is noise from about 6am but don’t let this put you off visiting the Roman town of Merida.

Merida Roman theatre

 

Merida Roman buildings
Statue of Emperor Augusto
Roman arch in Merida
Merida town hall and square
Merida Palace Hotel

Visiting beautiful Seville in a motorhome

Famed for its flamenco dancing and tapas, Seville is the capital city of Spain’s Andalusia region. It’s our first visit to this wonderful city and we are very impressed. Seville is now well and truly on my list of best European cities.

We travelled from southern Portugal along the A49 motorway and arrived at the motorhome stop at Puerto Gelves, which is about 20 minutes on the bus (M140 or M143) from the city centre. We are parked up on the marina in a secure area with views across the river. The facilities are basic but there is a clean shower and toilet and the bus stop is only about 100 metres away. This is our 2nd attempt at finding somewhere to park our motorhome in Seville. We tried about 3 weeks ago and our satnav took us to the wrong place and we had to abandon our Seville city visit. Not to be beaten by the incredibly busy roads and confusing traffic system we chose a different motorhome parking place a little out of the city centre which turned out to be a good plan.

Our visit to Seville was a week before Easter and the city was preparing for the extensive Easter festivities. The weather was a warm and sunny 18C and perfect for walking and exploring Seville on our first day, although it was grey with drizzle on our second day.

Two full days in Seville was for us just the right number of days to see the major tourist attractions and these are the places I recommend that you visit.

Plaza de Espana

The Plaza de Espana is a semi-circular building with two impressive towers at each end. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition the following year. The architecture is stunning and a large fountain adds to the impression of opulence on a grand scale. Coloured ceramics can be seen on bridges, walls and balustrades. The building was used in one of the Star Wars movies and is a photographer’s paradise!

Plaza de Espana Seville

The Plaza de Espana is also a good place to watch free flamenco. Seville is home to a flamenco school and the performers can be seen in many places around the city.

Flamenco at Plaza de Espana Seville

Real Alcazar Sevilla

The Alcazar of Seville is a Moorish palace that dates back over 1,000 years. There was a long queue for tickets and I have never seen as many school and college groups visiting a tourist attraction, many of the students looking bored and not appreciating the incredible history and architecture surrounding them. It costs 11.50 Euros per person and there are concessions for pensioners and students. The Alcazar is also famous for its gardens which started in the Renaissance period.

Real Alcazar Seville

The Alcazar in Seville was quite busy when we were there and I would recommend , in high season, visiting early in the day rather than when we visited at midday.

Seville Cathedral

We have visited quite a few cathedrals and churches on our motorhome journey through France, Spain and Portugal but Seville Cathedral calls itself the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe and it certainly is a magnificent building. Started in 1184 it houses the tomb of the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who died in Spain in 1506. The cathedral is home to several important paintings including La Vision de San Antonio de Padua painted by Murillo in 1656. You can see the photograph I took of the painting below.

La Vision de San Antonio de Padua painted by Murillo in 1656

Metropol Parasol nicknamed Las Setas (the mushrooms)

Built in 2011, you can find this interesting creation in La Encarnacion Square. It’s claimed to be the largest wooden structure in the world at 26 metres tall. It costs 3 Euros to have access to the walkway at the top and you have excellent views over the city of Seville. The building, some would say, is a blot on the landscape because it was built close to the old town and is completely out of character with the magnificent buildings a stone’s throw away.

Metropol Parasol nicknamed Las Setas (the mushrooms)

Where to eat in Seville

You won’t go hungry in Seville. Classy cafes and restaurants are numerous as are reasonably priced cafes. Whilst in Seville you must eat tapas and we visited the small and friendly laCava Bar on Calle Hernando Colon that we came across whilst walking in the old town. We ordered the partridge pate, goats cheese and ham croquettes, all of which were delicious. On our second day we had lunch at Cafeteria Pasteleria La Canasta on Ave. de la Constiticion for a very reasonable 10 Euros per person.

I wished we could have visited the oldest bar in Seville, opened in 1670, it looked very inviting, but we ran out of time.

El Rinconcillo, Seville. The oldest bar in the city.

How to get around in Seville

Buses are numerous and cheap but we walked between all the main tourist attractions in Seville. There is a hop on and hop off tourist bus or you can take a ride on one of the many horse and carriage rides available. As a city Seville puts most UK cities to shame as far as transport infrastructure is concerned. There is an underground system, a tram network, bus lanes, cycle lanes everywhere, bikes to rent on most street corners in the city centre and many pedestrian areas. It’s a joy to be in Seville!

Seville Tram
Tomb of Christopher Columbus
Bridge in Plaza de Espana
Partridge pate
One of the mainy beautiful buildings in Seville, Spain

The cliffs at the end of the world – Sagres, Portugal

The  cliff top walk at Sagres in Portugal is known as the ‘walk at the end of the world’. Sagres is the southern most point of Portugal and it does have an ‘end of the world’ feel about it. Dramatic cliffs rise 200ft above the sea and it’s not hard to imagine that in days gone by many ships were lost on the rocks in this area.

The cliffs at Sagres, Portugal

Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese prince, regarded as the founding father of the so called Age of Discovery, and the Atlantic slave trade in the 15th century, sailed  from these shores.This was when this small country explored the globe and established colonies stretching from Brazil to China. This part of The Algarve was prone to attacks by pirates and invasions so the Portuguese established a natural fortress at Sagres.

The Sagres area was also affected by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. This earthquake measured 9 on the Richter Scale and is thought to be the strongest earthquake ever on planet Earth. The subsequent tsunami affected much of northern Europe and it is said that the waves from the tsunami reached the top of the 200ft cliffs at Sagres.

Cape Sagres is the place tourists visit to see the fortress at Sagres. There is a large free car park and a good area for motorhome parking. The fortress at Cape Sagres is not a normal fortress. It’s basically a wall with a gate. The fortress is the 200ft cliffs on three sides. It costs 3 euros to access Cape Sagres and it’s possible to walk around this cliff top peninsula which has amazing views. There really is an end of the world feeling about Cape Sagres. The views out to sea are outstanding and the next land westwards is the USA, over 3,000 miles away. It’s easy to see why early explorers thought the earth was flat and they would sail off the end of the earth.

200ft high cliffs at Sagres, Portugal

I don’t have a problem with heights but I draw the line somewhere. The reason I say this is because the cliffs at Sagres are used by local fishermen. It is not unusual to see fisherman at the coast but I have never seen fishermen perched on a cliff top 200ft above the sea. Falling off the cliff would mean almost certain death and several of these fishermen are killed by cliff falls every year. Despite the risk there are dozens of these fishermen standing inches from the sheer drop with seemingly not a care in the world. I’m surprised that the authorities don’t stop these fishermen but that’s probably because I’m from a health and safety obsessed UK where this activity would definitely have been stopped years ago!

Fisherman on the cliffs at Sagres, Portugal

How to get to Sagres

Sagres is located at the far western end of The Algarve in Portugal. The A22 toll motorway goes as far as Lagos and then you take the N125. Keep going straight through the town and you can’t miss Sagres fortress. To avoid toll motorways just follow the N125 which runs parallel to the motorway, all along The Algarve.

Where to stay in Sagres 

There are several hotels in Sagres. We visited the very stylish and elegant Pousadas de Portugal hotel at Sagres and had lunch sitting by the swimming pool with amazing views over the cliffs.

On the 200ft high cliffs at Sagres
The cliffs at Sagres
Sagres fisherman

 

 

Visiting Granada and Cordoba in a motorhome.

Visiting Granada and Cordoba in a motorhome is not a daunting experience. There are limited places to park a motorhome in Granada itself but if you intend to visit the amazing Alhambra I would not recommend parking in the Alhambra car park because it costs about 28 Euros. Instead, we spent 3 nights at the campsite at Reina Isabel, which is a 15 minute bus ride to the centre of Granada and costs 1.50 Euro per person one way.

We had driven up the spectacular A44 motorway from Motril and the sat nav, for once, took us straight to Reina Isabel camping for our 3 night stay. I recommend that you buy tickets for The Alhambra in advance because it gets very busy. Booking tickets for the Alhambra is an easy online task, once I had found the official website, and I managed to book two tickets for a 10am start the next day. Tickets were about 14 Euros each and included visits to the Alcazaba and the Palacios Nazaries. The Alhambra, a stunning Moorish palace and fortification is Spain’s most visited monument but I was surprised just how busy it was considering it was February when we visited.

The Alhambra had a wonderful backdrop of the snow topped Sierra Nevada mountains. The views over the city of Granada are excellent. Anne also persuaded me to part with another 19 Euros for the tourist train which turned out to be a bone rattling ride over most of the narrow cobbled streets of the city.

David Brice at The Alhambra, Granada

So far on this trip we have spent very little on tourist attractions but Anne was keen on the tapas and flamenco tour that the campsite was offering us. At €55 each it was not the best value for money but at least there was a mini bus to transport us there and back, and the entertainment was actually very good.

Flamenco and tapas show in Granada

After 3 nights in Granada we headed west following the A92 towards Antequera and then north on the A45, a non toll dual carriageway. There is a new motorhome aire in the centre of Cordoba. It’s on sloping ground and it has a French style borne and a drive over grey waste but the main benefit is that it’s only a 10 minute walk to Cordoba old town. Cordoba has plenty of historical buildings to keep visitors occupied. The main attraction for us was the mosque cathedral of Cordoba. It’s not often that I walk into a building and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end but that’s exactly what happened when I walked into this incredible building that was once a mosque but became a cathedral in 1146. This building is a testimony to the ancient alliance of art and faith. Its Islamic architecture, with Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine touches, comes together with Christian architecture to create one of the most beautiful examples of its kind. This building has been etched by men of different religions and cultures throughout history and truly is a remarkable creation. It costs €10 to visit the Mezquita Catedral De Cordoba and it is open every day of the year.

The Alhambra, Granada
The Alhambra, Granada
Mezquita De Cordoba
Beautiful door at The Alhambra

 

 

Seville 1 – Motorhome 0

A few days ago we were defeated! Our attempt to navigate to an overnight motorhome parking area in the centre of the glorious city of Seville had to be abandoned after our sat nav took us to a narrow cobbled street with a  few shops that looked nothing like a car park. I had carefully put the coordinates of the car park into our sat nav, but probably should have checked the address before confirming. I didn’t!

Now, when faced with such a situation in the past I would pull over to consult maps and books etc and find an alternative route. Seville, however is one of the busiest cities I have ever driven into. Add in hundreds of bad drivers, no parking or pulling in places to consult a map and it becomes almost impossible to get to where you want to be. After driving around the almost gridlocked city centre for an hour we eventually found ourselves on the main road out of Seville and decided that our Seville visit would have to wait for another time.

So, with some disappointment, we headed west along the A49 motorway towards Portugal. With a stop for groceries at Lidl we found ourselves at Isla Cristina, a coastal  town on the Spanish/Portuguese border. By this time the weather had changed and after 3 months of virtually no rain the heaven’s had opened. The first campsite we pulled into was partly underwater so we gave that one a miss and eventually ended up spending 3 nights at Camping Giraldi and endured more torrential rain and thunderstorms. It’s very relaxing in a motorhome when you can hear rain on the roof but when the large hailstones started I was convinced one of our motorhome skylights was going to shatter. The thunder and sheet lightning was amazing to watch although I did wonder what would happen if our motorhome got struck by lightning. Would I end up with a perm (unlikely) or would a lightning strike kill our motorhome electrics? I hoped I wouldn’t find out!

After 3 nights at Isla Cristina and being confined to our motorhome due to the terrible weather caused by Storm Emma we decided we should move on to a drier campsite, as this one had turned into a mud bath. I suggested we move to Camping Tourismo in Lagos, Portugal so we left the muddy campsite at Isla Cristina behind and set off on the next stage of our European motorhome adventure.

Welcome to The Algarve sign.

The main motorway that runs from the Spanish border along the Algarve coast is the A22 toll motorway. I had been online to read about motorway tolls in Portugal and it’s very confusing, mainly because there are several types of toll road, several ways to pay and rules that apply to foreign drivers. I like to do as much online as possible so I opted to buy a tollcard from the tollcard website. You can buy tollcards for various amounts but I decided to test the system first by only buying a €10 tollcard. I had calculated, from the website, that it would cost about €9 to drive from the Spanish border to Lagos on the motorway toll road but failed to realise that our motorhome would be a class 2 vehicle rather than a class 1 because of its size. To buy a tollcard for Portugal I had to create an online account with our registration number and I also clicked the button for class 1 rather than class 2. I couldn’t find a way to change it so I decided to see what happens! As you drive along toll roads in Portugal most use number plate technology from overhead cameras. Just before a camera there is a big sign that tells you how much you will be charged. I had a big smile on my face when I noticed that a class 2 vehicle was about 50% more than class 1. I just hope that the cameras don’t measure the size of vehicles!

The Portugal tolls website said that the toll card needed to be activated but I could not work out how to do that. Eventually I called the Portugal tollcard helpline and spoke to someone who told me, in very good English, that toll cards bought online are activated automatically. Why didn’t the website say that! 48 hours after using the Portugal motorway tolls they still haven’t appeared on my account so I don’t know what’s happened!

Camping Tourismo, Lagos is a very good campsite. It’s got the best shower block I have seen, a huge swimming pool, supermarket, bar/restaurant and a spa. I had to complain though because we didn’t like the pitch they gave us but the reception changed it without a problem.

The shower facilities at Camping Tourismo Lagos.

We are staying near to Praia de Luz and walked into the town today. There is a small beach and a few shops and restaurants but it was not looking at its best because it was grey with gale force winds. It was warm enough for shorts though and there were a few people braving the rough sea and paddling!

Praia de Luz church
Very quiet motorway in Portugal
The motorway bridge into Portugal.

 

 

 

Worn out shoes in Cadiz

I had to throw away a pair of walking shoes today. They were bought 6 months ago in the UK and I had worn them out! According to my steps counter on my phone I have walked about 700 miles since I bought them. We walk about 125 miles per month.

Expecting that walking shoes would last more than 6 months I have had to invest in an upgraded pair and I spotted some in a good shoe shop whilst in the Spanish city of Cadiz.

The beautiful city of Cadiz, Spain

Cadiz is an interesting city. It’s where the Spanish and French navies  were ordered by Napoleon  to leave from in order to confront the British navy commanded  by Admiral Lord Nelson. The resulting battle took place in 1805 just south of Cadiz at what is now known as Cape Trafalgar with the British anayalating  a superior force.  27 British ships of the line defeated 33 enemy ships. The brilliant naval strategist Lord Nelson was shot and killed by a French sniper whilst on his ship HMS Victory but the battle prevented the planned invasion of Britain by Napoleon.

Motorhomers  talk to each other a lot and several people had mentioned to us that there is a good campsite at Peurto de Santa Maria called Las Dunas. We arrived on spec and it was nice to spend 3 nights on a proper campsite as we had been staying “off grid” in the mountains and cities for a few weeks.

Las Dunas camping is a 20 minute walk from the catamaran ferry that takes you across the bay to the port of Cadiz. The ferry costs €2.75 each way. Cadiz itself is situated on a spit of land and surrounded by sea on 3 sides. The old town is a maze of narrow streets with historic buildings and fortifacations including an impressive cathedral (€6 entry fee). Cadiz has been lived in for 3100 years and is one of the oldest cities in western Europe.

After a late lunch of seafood paella, and adding significantly to our daily step count, we headed back with me eager to start wearing my new walking shoes. Hopefully these shoes will be able to take me at least another 700 miles! Next stop Seville and the weather is changing as we head west. It’s looking like we will be seeing our first rain for 3 months!

Cadiz Spain
Cadiz old fort
An old building in Cadiz!

 

Visiting Gibraltar with a motorhome

When I mentioned to Anne that I wanted to visit Gibraltar, in our motorhome, she wasn’t enthusiastic about visiting it. She thought that I only wanted to visit Gibraltar so I could stock up on my favourite English food from Morrison’s, which was partly true, but not the main reason! Gibraltar is steeped in colonial and military history and that’s the main reason I wanted to go.

I did eventually persuade Anne that we should go and guess what, she loved it, especially when she realised that her great uncle had been Colonial Secretary on Gibraltar in the early 1960’s and that she could do some family history research.

Driving towards the Gibraltar/Spain border we did the obligatory twice around a roundabout trick before finding our parking place at La Linea on the marina. This is a fabulous overnight parking place for motorhomes and costs 12 Euros per night. There are no electric hookups but we have solar power anyway so that was not a problem.

La Linea motorhome parking with great views of The Rock of Gibraltar.

It’s only a 10 minute walk from the motorhome parking area to the Gibraltar border. You need your passports because you are passing over the Spanish border into British territory although I nearly could not get in because the automatic passport machine I picked would not work for me for some reason. Once through the border you actually have to walk across Gibraltar airport runway, which is an exciting experience.

Walking across the runway at Gibraltar airport.

So, with a map of Gibraltar in hand we set off walking and explored the Ocean Village marina area and found ourselves in the car park of Morrison’s car park. This was a chance to stock up on a few of our favourite English food’s so we picked up some English bacon and British milk and a few other bits and the bill came to £63! As a Yorkshireman I have never spent so much money in a Morrison’s supermarket in my life and it took quite a while to recover from the shock. After several months shopping in Spanish supermarkets it was strange to suddenly find ourselves looking at British packaging again.

Next we headed over to Main Street. Walking along Main Street in Gibraltar was like walking through a real life museum with smaller versions of British shops such as Debenhams, Next and of course Marks and Spencer where I took the opportunity to re-stock my underwear and t-shirts collection!

At the far end of Main Street we found the cable car station to the Rock and duly bought tickets at £14.90 per person. Whilst queing for the cable car, however, we were told that the cable car had stopped running due to high winds and we could get a refund. Not wanting to walk up we jumped in a taxi and were taken on a terrifying drive up very narrow mountain roads with hair pin bends at high speed.

The Rock of Gibraltar with Morocco in the distance.

The view from the upper Rock is spectacular and we could easily see Morocco 14 miles away across the Straits of Gibraltar. The Rock, of course, is home to troops of wild monkeys and we were told not to feed them as they can be vicious.

After surviving the drive down the mountain we happened to be walking past the Gibraltar government building and we decided to try to see if we could find any information about Anne’s great uncle who was Colonial Secretary on Gibraltar in the early 1960’s. After getting through security checks we spoke to someone in the archives department who has promised to do some research and  email us information about him.

Next we are heading for Tarifa, the kite surfing area, and then onto Cadiz.

Welcome to Gibraltar
Gibraltar Spain border control.
Gibraltar runway
View of Gibraltar from The Rock.