Eating pasta with the vultures – El Torcal

We have just spent the night in our motorhome in the car park at a place called El Torcal. It might not sound interesting to say we have spent a night in a car park but this was no ordinary car park! This car park was at the top of a 1200 metre high mountain called El Torcal Natural Park and it has the most amazing scenery that I have seen anywhere. I have visited the incredible Grand Canyon in the USA and The Blue Mountains in Australia and El Torcal is just as good. What makes El Torcal so good is the pre-historic landscape. This area has unique limestone formations that were formed 150 million years ago and there is even evidence of human habitation here dating back to 5500BC.

El Torcal Natural Park is located about 45 km north of Malaga and 13 km south of Antequera. There is a car park on the main A7075 road but I would recommend driving through the barrier up a 3.5km mountain road to the visitor centre at the top. There are spectacular views as you drive up this road and the road is wide enough to take a motorhome. There is a large car park at the top with plenty of spaces for motorhomes, but it can get busy at weekends and the top car park can get full.

From the car park you can see the coast at Malaga on a clear day but the highlight for me was the 45 minute walk we did along a well marked path that took us through the most remarkable landscape I have ever seen.  There are many walks in the area and you must do one to fully appreciate this place. My photographs don’t do the landscape justice but it was like walking through a prehistoric landscape. Vultures were circling above us, perhaps hoping for some lunch!

Despite a sign in the visitor centre saying “no overnight parking” we spoke to a German couple with a motorhome parked next to us and agreed between us to stay overnight in the car park. After all the visitors and staff had left it was eerily quiet, apart from  the occasional bells of mountain goats wandering by, and we set about making some pasta for our evening meal. Sleeping and eating in such a remote place at 1200 metres above sea level felt exciting with the added bonus that it was a free nights motorhome stop!

After eating we stood outside in the cold and watched an incredible night sky under millions of stars with no light pollution and slept well with no worries about safety. After all, who would want to drive up a mountain road with sheer drops in the pitch black in the hope of finding some motorhome owners asleep in a car park at the top of a mountain.

Here are some photos that I took at El Torcal but I don’t think they do the place justice. You have to be there to witness the beauty for your self.

Our motorhome parked at El Torcal car park
El Torcal Natural Park
El Torcal Natural Park, Spain
El Torcal, Spain
The limestone landscape of El Torcal Natural Park

Visiting incredible Ronda in a motorhome

After visiting the unique landscape of El Torcal National Park we drove back along the mountain road to Antequera where we missed the turn off for the ring road and ended up having to drive our motorhome through the narrow streets of Antequera, the thing I didn’t want to do!   Also as we entered the white washed hill top town we got confused over the road directions to Ronda and ended up driving 3 times around the same roundabout and still ended up taking the wrong road!

Eventually, finding the correct road, we headed towards Ronda, a town famous for the bridge over a deep gorge. The A367 road to Ronda winds through the very scenic Serrania de Ronda mountains and empty reservoirs, but we didn’t see any places to stop to take photos, which is a shame because the scenery is amazing.

Our sat nav, surprisingly, took us without further problems straight to the motorhome aire we wanted in Ronda. This motorhome stop costs 10 Euros per night without electricity and has good free WiFi. I was impressed with the motorhome aire in Ronda. The aire is well lit and secure. It’s fairly flat and an easy 30 minute walk to the famous bridge.

I have wanted to visit Ronda for several years. It’s one of the oldest cities in Spain and has Roman and Moorish influences but it’s the bridge that connects the old and new parts of Ronda, that’s built over a deep gorge, which draws the tourists. Walking over the bridge and looking into the 120 metre chasm below is worth the visit to Ronda itself but I would also recommend that you walk down the rough path at the side of the bridge which gives you incredible views from below the bridge. The previous bridge to this one collapsed and killed 50 people who were working on it at the time! The new bridge, Puente Nuevo, took 42 years to build and was finally ready in 1793.

The amazing bridge at Ronda, Spain

A walk around the old town is a must and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants including ones that charge extra for a view! There are museums and many places of interest to keep you going at least 2 days.

Recognised as the first purpose-built bullring in the world, the Ronda bullring is considered the most picturesque. The first bullfight took place in 1785 and whatever your views on bull fighting it’s worth paying the 7 Euros entrance fee because of its architecture and history. I found it fascinating to stand in the middle of the bullring and trying to imagine what it must have been like to be a matador.

Ronda bullring

Whether you own a motorhome or not I would highly recommend a visit to Ronda. In my opinion it’s one of the wonders of the world!

The 120 metre deep gorge at Ronda
Magnificent views at Ronda
Puente Nuevo, Ronda
The town of Antequera, Andalucia, Spain

 

 

 

 

The big guns of Mazarron

It’s early February and the UK is in the grip of “the coldest week of the year” yet here in Spain we have been sitting outside and the sun is very warm. Just like back in the UK, Spain is actually having a cold snap! Parts of inland Spain have seen a lot of snow and many roads have been gridlocked with vehicles struggling to cope with the winter weather. The only snow we have seen though is on the peaks of the nearby Sierra Nevada and in fact we can see, from where we are staying, mainland Spain’s highest peak, Mulhacen, standing at 3478 metres above sea level.

So far, our journey through France and Spain is proving to be as good as we had hoped. Missing the British winter is certainly a bonus, but we are on this trip to see the best of what Europe has to offer in terms of scenery and culture and also to enjoy the pleasure of not having to get up for work every day. Having worked for over 40 years it’s nice to be able to wake up when it gets light in the morning and enjoy amazing views. As I write this blog our motorhome is parked up at the marina at a small place called Almerimar. On one side there is the marina and on the other side there is a huge beach and the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance. It’s an amazing view and we feel lucky that we can wake up to this and also witness some incredible sunsets.

We have continued our journey south along the Spanish coast and visited some very interesting places as well as some places I have never heard of. Touring, especially in a motorhome, enables you to stop pretty much anywhere you want when you see somewhere interesting but we also do quite a bit of research to find places that look like they are worth a visit.

The next stop on our journey took us to the port city and naval base of Cartagena in the Murcia region of south eastern Spain. Cartagena was founded around 220 BC and the city has many Roman ruins including two Roman amphitheatres and Roman Forum. We parked up our motorhome at the Los Dolores campsite about 4 miles from the city centre and close to the number 7 bus that runs frequently to and from the city centre. The campsite showers and toilets were a bit basic but the owner was friendly and spoke good English. One other negative point about the campsite is that you have to walk along a narrow busy road to get to the bus stop. As we were walking to the bus stop we were walking past a large house and an aggressive dog ran out and gave Anne a small bite on the leg. We should have reported it but the thought of trying to explain what happened when we don’t speak Spanish was not an appealing prospect so we decided to leave it. The risk of rabies from a domestic dog is minimal. However, for the next few days I kept watch over Anne to see if I could see any more frothing than normal at the mouth but all was well!

Roman amphitheatre at Cartegena

Apart from Roman ruins Cartagena has one of the deepest natural harbours in the world and the harbour area is worth a visit, with several bars and restaurants to visit if you feel the need. For us though the best place we visited was actually just down the coast from Cartegena. The Guns of Mazarron are a hidden gem. Built in the late 1920’s as part of a huge defence network to protect the naval base at Cartegena the huge guns are built on a rocky cliff top 218 metres above the sea. The guns were made by Vickers in the UK and had a 35km firing range. You can drive to the big guns up a narrow mountain road. Anne was very nervous about taking our 7m motorhome up this mountain road but I said it wouldn’t be a problem, even though I had no real idea what the road would be like! Luckily, we didn’t meet any oncoming traffic but if we had it would have been shall we say interesting, especially if the vehicle was any bigger than a Fiat 500 because there were very few passing places. The road was 7km long, very steep, narrow, windy and with sheer drops at the sides. Anne found it a bit of a white-knuckle ride. Worth it, though!!

the Guns of Mazarron, Spain

After we managed to navigate down the mountain road from the Mazarron guns we found a busy motorhome parking area at a pretty fishing village on the Costa Calida called La Azohia. I’m not sure if this parking was authorised but it is featured on my Camper Contact app and the parking was free so we parked up, on sloping ground, and had amazing views of the beach and sea only feet away from us. We heard rumours the next day that the village mayor had decided to stop motorhomes parking here and that everyone would be moved on but we were only staying one night so we don’t know whether that happened.

So called “wild camping” is not something we are experts on. I prefer to call it free camping because quite often it’s not “wild” as I would describe it. Motorhomes can often be found parked on streets close to camp sites or camper stops. Is it because the official campsite is full?  People have different views on whether this acceptable or not. I’m not sure how the local residents feel about motorhomes parking overnight outside their homes. I’m not sure I’d like it. On the other hand, we spent a free night alongside many others in a car park near a harbour, not disturbing anyone and that felt OK. I suppose you have to decide if your intended overnight spot feels acceptable or not, taking into account consideration of others.

We are continuing our motorhome journey south and heading for Mojacar and the natural park at Cabo de Gata.

Guns of Mazarron

Motorhome insurance and party girl on a baggage carousel.

Motorhome Insurance

One subject that appears regularly on motorhome forums is whether it is possible to obtain motorhome insurance when you want to leave your motorhome in Spain and fly back to the UK. When we wanted to fly back to the UK from Alicante in Spain for a few days we rang several car parking companies at Alicante airport to ask about security so that we could satisfy ourselves that our motorhome would be safe and secure.

Once we found somewhere that we were comfortable with we called our motorhome insurance company, Comfort Insurance, to ask whether they would continue to insure the vehicle whilst it was parked up for 6 nights. They came back with the answer that, because we had to leave the vehicle keys with the car park, they would insure the motorhome provided that the vehicle keys were kept in a safe. When I asked the car park about a safe they said that all keys were kept in an office that was occupied 24 hours a day. I called Comfort Insurance again to explain this, and was expecting a negative response, but to my surprise, and after referring the matter to underwriters, they agreed to insure the motorhome for an additional premium.

The car park, Royal Parking, at Alicante airport has 24 hours CCTV, a secure fence and gate as well as staff members on the premises 24 hours a day. As a paranoid motorhome owner I was reasonably happy that our motorhome would be safe as I also have a GPS tracker, additional locks on the rear garage and habitation door a Cat 1 alarm and additional window alarms and good motorhome insurance. There is only so much you can do to secure any home and  determined thieves will always find a way in if they really want to. All you can hope for is to reduce the risk. Our motorhome was safe and sound when we returned!

New Ryanair baggage policy

We flew back to the UK on 15 January, the same day Ryanair introduced their new cabin baggage policy. Unless you buy priority boarding you cannot take a small suitcase on board, only a very small handbag or laptop. Your suitcase will be tagged at the gate and put in the hold with the checked in bags. When I heard about the new Ryanair baggage policy I was sceptical that it would work but I must say that I think it’s a good move. Everyone got off the plane much quicker and the luggage arrived on the baggage carousel within 10 minutes.

Benidorm party girl on  a baggage carousel.

Talking of airport baggage carousels, how does a woman end up on one? The answer is because Alicante is the airport all the hen night groups fly into for Benidorm. You can spot them and hear them a mile away. They wear silly hats, sashes and slogans on their t-shirts as well as sing out of tune. The group on our Alicante flight were fairly well behaved but the non stop drinking eventually took its toll at Alicante airport baggage carousel when one of the women threw herself at her suitcase and somehow ended up on it!

The next part of our motorhome journey

After arriving back at Alicante airport we drove an hour south on the motorway to Los Alcazares and spent two nights on a campsite very close to the runway of Murcia airport. The Spanish equivalent of The Red Arrows are based here and everyday they took off over our heads. Luckily this only happened during the day.

Los Alcazares is a coastal spa town on the Mar Menor lagoon, famous for its mud bath treatments. The highlight of our visit was lunch at La Encarnacion, a beach front spa hotel built in 1904 and still maintaining many of its Art Deco features.

Our plan is to follow the Spanish coast south, with deviations inland to Granada, Ronda and Seville, until we reach Portugal. Life in our Motor home is very comfortable and Spain is cheap. Last night we had fillet steak in the campsite restaurant for only 14.95 Euros and it was as good as or better than many English restaurants where the same meal would be twice the price.

Our motorhome parked at Los Alcazares
Two old men on a bike – Cycling in Los Alcazares
La Encarnacion hotel

Cold showers and mobility scooters!

Christmas has come and gone and we are now into 2018 as our motorhome adventure continues. We left the UK at the end of September and it’s roughly 160 nights in our motorhome, apart from a brief trip back to the UK. We spent Christmas and New Year parked at 652 metres above sea level in the mountains of southern Spain. Most days it blew a gale and the temperature was a lot lower than the coast although the temperature did reach 20c one day. Highlights of this stay included a braying donkey in the next door farmers field, the noise drowned out though by the howling wind and Anne worried about the motorhome being blown over. I had to remind her that a 3700kg vehicle was unlikly to suffer such a fate.

Our Christmas campsite

The campsite owner informed us after we had arrived that there was a problem with the hot water in the showers but we decided to stay and see how things went. Sure enough, the next morning, there was no heating in the shower block and we had to put up with luke warm showers. Venturing out in the morning for a shower in 4c is bad but when there is no heating or hot water it’s far worse! The British campsite owners did not handle the tense situation very well as everybody was complaining.  Despite the hot water problems we met some lovely people who we will meet up with again in the future. A special thanks to Fran, Krissie, John and Jan for providing unlimited laughs to make up for the limited hot water!

The coastal resort of Calpe was our next stop for 3 nights. Famous for its huge rock we enjoyed walks along the impressive sea front promenade and were there to see The Three Kings parade. This is a special day in Spain aimed especially at children.

Calpe’s famous rock
El Castell de Guadalest

El Castell de Guadalest lies in the mountains about 13 miles inland from Benidorm. A world away though from the bright lights, Guadalest is one of Spain’s most visited mountain villages, and for good reason. With magnificent views over the mountains to the coast and overlooking a resevoir in the valley below Guadalest has an ancient fortress, church and village perched on top of jagged mountain peaks. Motorhomes are allowed to stay overnight in the village car park for only 4 Euros and we were vrtually the only people there after everything had closed up. The next morning we braved the cold clean mountain air for a last walk around the village before heading to our next stop on the coast at Villajoyosa.

Lying between Benidorm and Alicante Villajoyosa does not have the high rise hotels like its close neighbour Benidorm. It’s a steep walk down to the pleasant beach front the highlight of which are the coloured houses complete with cast iron balconies and flowers. Villajoyosa is also well known for the Valor chocolate factory and shop but we were stopped from entering because we did not have our passports with us. We thought this very strange but instead went to the Perez chocolate museum and shop and spent our money there.

Bright colours in Villajoyosa

I have never visited Benidorm but I was keen to visit to see if it lived up to its brash reputation. We took the 20 minute tram ride from Villajoyosa to Benidorm on a warm sunny day. The type of visitor changes depending on the seasons and the vast majority lived up to my stereotyped image of OAP’s, British fry ups and mobility scooters. We did see something we had never seen before – a tandem mobilty scooter. Very impressive!

A January day in Benidorm

Over the last few days we have been making plans for our motorhome adventure for 2018. We are planning to return to the UK for a month so we have booked the Bilbao to Portsmouth ferry for early April. After a flying visit to Oxford we will be heading to north west England before spending a week in Yorkshire. After that we have booked a cottage in the Peak District so we can have a family get together.

We have just booked the Hull to Rotterdam ferry for the end of April and we will be driving through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and then Sweden and Norway. Our aim is to drive over the Arctic Circle and then south along the Norwegian coast, eventually reaching Oslo.

I’ll finish this blog with a quote I saw on the rear of a very large motorhome – Travel not to escape life, but so travel does not escape you.

 

Expensive toilet stops and Spanish language problems.

Using a motorhome to explore cities is not the easiest thing to do in my opinion, but maybe that’s because we are novices. Also, we have been settled into the same campsite for a month now and moving the motorhome to use it as transport is a bit of a pain so we decided to hire a car for a week, and we have certainly made the most of it.

We are just back from a visit to the city of Murcia where we explored the old town and had lunch sitting outside in a charming restaurant. It’s the middle of December and the temperature reached 21C – Perfect! The Spanish were dressed in their winter clothes of thick jackets and scarves and it was like a good English summer day. The weather is one of the reasons we decided to spend the winter in Spain and when we hear that it’s bad snow in England it makes me feel a little smug!

Other places we have visited this week on our whistle stop tour of the Alicante region include the quaint town of Orihuela, famous for its cathedral, built between the 14th and 16th centuries and the poet Miguel Hernandez. We have also visited the seaside town of Torrevieja, which is instantly forgettable, although to be fair it does have a nice seafront promenade. We drove north past Benidorm and onto the delightful town of Altea, a must visit old town and sea front.

Santa Pola, La Marina and a drive up into the mountains to see Pinoso as well as numerous other small villages have all been visited this week with our little Kia, which incidentally cost the same for a week as 3 days car hire costs in the UK.

We have learnt some lessons this week! The first lesson learnt is that there are not many public toilets in Spain so you have to use them when you see them. Whilst walking back along the long promenade in Torrevieja to our car, Anne was desperate for the loo. All the public conveniences on the beach front were closed for the winter despite there being hordes of people wandering about. The only option was to call into a cafe for what turned out to be a very expensive pee, 12 Euros –  ( with a free ice cream sundae!).

The second lesson we have learnt is to learn more Spanish phrases. At the restaurant we visited in Murcia the waiters did not speak English and we ended up misunderstanding what he said. What was meant to be a cheap snack for lunch ending up costing us 50 Euros. We ended up with eight  starters and a huge Paella between us. A little embarrassing! I have now re-installed, the learn a language app, Duolingo and will try and learn one phrase a day from now on.

Our journey goes on and as Christmas approaches we have put Christmas lights on the outside of our motorhome and we have a small Christmas tree. It’s all looking festive and we have even put our food requests in for the restaurant on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Tapas and a turkey dinner, now that is what you call the best of both worlds.

As an ex- travel and tourism lecturer and travel agent I’m learning more than ever about Spain and witnessing Spain’s travel and tourism industry at first hand. Who knows – I might get offered a job!

We move on again on Wednesday and I read a phrase on another motorhome blog about life on the road – it’s a small living room but a very large back garden. Perfectly true.

One of the attractive buildings in Murcia.
Altea old town
Santa Pola fishing boats
Oriheula old town

Motorhome adventure – Missing Bonfire night but it was 27C

As I write this blog article about our motorhome adventure the weather here in Spain is sunny but windy, and I’m told that the rain we have had overnight is the first since August.  Since my last blog we have flown back to the UK to see our new first grandchild. I stayed two days and Anne stayed 10 nights, so that Anne could offer her services as a post natal midwife. I could only stay 2 days because our motorhome insurer would not insure the vehicle if it was left unattended for more than 48 hours.

Parked up on our pitch at Marjal Costa Blanca

Because we knew that we would be flying home for the new baby, but we weren’t  sure when, we had chosen to stay a month at Marjal Costa Blanca  where we knew that there was good security.

The campsite has a security barrier and regular security patrols and we also informed our campsite neighbours that we would be away for 2 days and they said that they would keep an eye on our motorhome for us.

Marjal Costa Blanca is a big campsite with fantastic facilities such as a restaurant, cafe/bar area, entertainment, spa facilities with an indoor pool, two huge outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a supermarket and many other facilities that I have not discovered yet! The pitches are 90 sq. metres which is a decent size although they do have bigger pitches for bigger outfits.

Since my last blog we have stayed at Bonterra Park in the lovely coastal resort of Benicassim. This relatively unheard of Spanish resort has one of the most charming promenades that I have ever seen and is famous for the The Ruta de Las Villas, a row of spectacular 19th century villas that were once occupied by the rich and famous of Valencia. The area is also good for cycling and we cycled along an old disused train line that has been turned into a very popular cycle way called The Via Verde  Green Route. We have also visited the beautiful city of Valencia, one of my favourite cities.

The weather since we arrived in Spain has been mostly warm and sunny. Last week the temperature reached 27C but in the last few days it has cooled to around 17C during the day and chilly at night, but compared to 5C in the UK we can’t complain.

We have been on the beach at several Spanish resorts and Anne has been swimming in the calm water of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s too cold for me to go swimming!

It’s the 2nd of December so we missed the fireworks of Bonfire Night. It’s probably the only time in my life that I haven’t heard fireworks on Bonfire Night. I haven’t really missed the fireworks but I did miss the traditional Yorkshire pie and peas with mint sauce that we always had!

So, after over 3 months living in our motorhome what is like living in a confined space? I think that we have adapted very quickly and easily. Our living room is the outside space around us and most days we are outside exploring or sitting in the sunshine. It’s amazing how many people are doing something similar to us by spending the winter in a warmer climate. There are people here who live on the same campsite for several months or in some cases live here all year. It’s easy to see the attraction. In England it’s usually cold, damp and grey, whereas here there is very little rain and the humidity is very low.

There is huge diversity with many Dutch, German, French, Spanish and British people all getting along well. There some incredible motorhomes/RV’s, Caravan set up’s and we feel a little inadequate with our meagre set up of just a motorhome with no add on, no cooking tent, no outside lights and so on. The other day a delivery lorry turned up at our neighbours to offload a full sized fridge that they put in their awning and some people have a full sized washing machine in its own tent! It really can be a home from home.

There is a lot more exploring to do in this area before we move on and we feel that we have barely touched the surface as far as seeing the best of what the Costa Blanca has to offer.

Benicassim promenade
Marjal Costa blanca
Marjal Costa Blanca
Marjal Costa Blanca security barrier
Marjal Costa Blanca
Marjal Costa Blanca
Large RV at Marjal Costa Blanca
Sunbathing by the pool at Marjal Costa Blanca
Meeting the local ladies in Benicassim
Cycle track along the cliffs at Benicassim

 

Avoiding Spanish bandits, and into Spain.

Well, we made it into Spain from France in our motorhome and even managed to avoid been robbed by Spanish bandits on the infamous AP7 motorway around Barcelona.

In my last blog about our motorhome adventure in Europe I wrote about our time in The Loire Valley and since then we have driven south down the A20 motorway stopping at various places including the very moving village of Oradour-sur-Glane, which was the place where 642 people including women and children were massacred and the village destroyed by a German Waffen-SS company on 10th June 1944. The village remains as it was after the massacre including the church where women and children of the village were killed. The place serves as a chilling reminder of the horrors of war. You can read more about Oradour-sur-Glane here.

Aradour-sur-Glane, France

Pressing on further south we stopped at a free aire for the night at Saint-Géry in the Lot, Midi- Pyrenees region of south west France, before heading past Toulouse and to our next stop at the Medieval city of Carcassonne. We parked up for the night at the municipal aire costing 12.40 euros, which did not include any electrical hookup or water. We loved the hilltop town of Carcassonne, famous for its citadel, medieval watchtowers and double-walled fortifications as well as all the small shops, cafes and restaurants inside the fortress walls.

Carcassone, France

Continuing on into Spain the motorway skims the Pyrenees as you cross the border. There were very strong cross winds on the descent into Spain and our 2.8 metre high motorhome was a little tricky at times to keep in lane. Our plan was to have an overnight stay at the motorhome aire in Palomas on the Costa Brava, north of Barcelona, but it was full when we arrived so we had to drive straight out again. Consulting our ACSI campsite guide we found a campsite further south at Calonge. This was a lovely campsite, apart from poor WiFi, and turned out to be a better choice than the overcrowded aire in Palomas that we had intended to stay in. There is a lovely beach only about 300 metres from the campsite, although the nearest supermarket is a good 20 minute walk away.

Beach near to our campsite at Calonge

The motorway that runs past Barcelona is the AP7 and I had heard that some motorhome owners had been robbed by scammers posing as police officers. The motorhome forums on Facebook have stories about drivers being given slow punctures at motorway rest areas and then being robbed when they had to stop. So, with some trepidation, we set off on the AP7 around Barcelona and it was one of the quietest and least eventful motorway journeys I have ever done! We stopped at several motorway rest areas without incident. Compared to the M62, M1 or M25 the AP7 was a doddle!

The brain can conjure up all sorts of fears of the unknown but as long as you are aware of the scams then it’s less likely you will be taken in by them. Anyway, a stubborn Yorkshire man like me is not easily taken in by such things.

Our next stop was the town of Cambrils, just south of Barcelona and we turned up at La Llosa campsite. Sure enough, they had places and we found ourselves a sunny pitch. It was a short pleasant walk to the sea front and like many Spanish tourist resorts the sea front promenade is well designed and clean. The promenade is lined with restaurants and on the way back we stopped and ate tapas for lunch.

Cambrils marina

This was day 77 of our motorhome adventure and so far it’s going really well. The weather has been warm and sunny. Our motorhome is very comfortable for both sleeping and living. We are outdoors all day, walking cycling or sitting outside in the sunshine. It’s a healthy lifestyle. We have also met some very nice and interesting people, and they can be a source of useful information about the local area.

Cambrils sea front promenade

Motorhome touring in the Loire Valley

It was on a visit to The Yorkshire Motorhome Show on 25th March 2017 that it all began and we took the plunge and bought ourselves a motorhome. The one we chose was a Hobby T65 GE Optima Deluxe as it suited the motorhome layout that we required. After picking up our new motorhome in mid-August we set off for a trip to Scotland to test out the features and learn how everything worked. It was a steep learning curve (a really steep one) and we were also able to fix a couple of minor problems with our motorhome before our planned trip to France. So, as I sit here on Day 69 of our motorhome adventure typing this, it seems a long time ago. We are currently staying on the Amboise motorhome Aire on the River Loire, within 10 minutes walk of the beautiful town and Chateau. The Amboise Sunday morning market here is great and runs from 8am until 2pm every Sunday. It’s advertised as the largest in the area and it’s like a huge outdoors supermarket selling fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese and every other imaginable kind of food as well as clothing, leather goods, beds and furniture. Everything you could possibly need and a lot you don’t!

Our stop in Amboise is part of a short tour of the Loire area famous, of course, for historical and charming chateaux, and wine. The chateau at Amboise is well worth a visit. It was the 15th century residence of king Charles VIII and Amboise town is full of charming restaurants, cafes and shops.

Until today, 22nd October 2017, I have worn shorts every day since we arrived in France on 25th September. The weather has been mostly sunny and warm but now it’s Autumn it looks like the weather is changing so I’m looking forward to heading further south into Spain.

We started our tour of The Loire Valley in the town of Saumur and we stayed for the night at the motorhome Aire at a cost of 12.80 Euros per night, which is only a short walk from the town centre. The leaves were falling from the trees and we awoke the next morning with a roof piled high with dead leaves and the problem of how to get the leaves off the roof. The answer? Drive as fast as the speed limit allows so that all the leaves blow off your motorhome roof!

Our next stop was the campsite at the fortress town of Chinon costing 15 Euros per night and only a short walk across the bridge to the town centre. Chinon has a very impressive fortress that you access via a free lift from the town centre. We spent a couple of hours at Chinon Fortress which we really enjoyed. Standing on the fortress walls, as did Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century, I tried to imagine what it would be like being under siege for a year, which is what happened several times in Medieval times. We decided to spend 2 nights at Chinon so that we could take advantage of the washing machines at the campsite.

Chinon Fortress

After leaving Chinon we stopped to visit the chateau at Usse, famous for being the inspiration for the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.

Our next stop for the night was at the pretty village of Azay-le-Rideau where we stayed at the village camping cars Aire costing 9.80 Euros. The beauty of French Aires is that they are usually situated at the edge of a small town or village so that you can walk in to do you food shopping and to sightsee. The more parking that is provided near towns and villages, the better in my view. After all good parking encourages more people to visit and to spend their money!

One of the things we have noticed about the French villages we have seen so far in the Loire region is how nicely they are landscaped and also how they put the pedestrian first. Many villages have traffic calming with a maximum speed of 20km/h, although the locals seem to ignore this.

The chateau at Villandry, our next stop, proved to be one of our favourites due to its beautiful colourful gardens. Again, we stayed at the Aire about 300 metres from the village and this is where we encountered our first vegetable vending machine. Put your money in and out pops a cauliflower. Ingenious!

David and Anne at Villandry Chateau

Motorhoming is a fantastic way to see many places. Wake up with a different view everyday. What could be better but what happens when you have a problem and you are in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. We had discovered a minor water leak from our shower so we located the nearest Hobby dealer and turned up just as they were closing for their 2 hour lunchbreak. No need to worry when you are in a motorhome because we opened the fridge, made lunch and waited 2 hours until they opened. Google Translate came in very useful in trying to explain to the very nice reception lady that we had water leaking from our shower and could they fix it under warranty! Two hours later we drove off after they had re-sealed the shower tray around its edges and they had said that will solve the problem but don’t use it for 24 hours.

It was time to check in to a campsite so we could wash our bedding so a quick look online and we had found one 8km away in the suburbs of the city of Tours. We caught the bus into the city and had a nice lunch and a look around the old town before heading back to use the campsite washing machine.

The final stop on our motorhome tour of The Loire was Blois but this is where we had planned to meet up with our good friends Lynne and Mark and stay in a hotel for 2 nights. Parking up at the Logis Auberge de la Caillere it felt strange that we would be staying in a building rather than a motorhome. Real food rather than camp cooking was appreciated before we headed south through France on our way to Spain. This motorhome life is a good one and we are excited about the next stage of our motorhome adventure!

Meeting good friends Lynne and Mark at Chaumont sur Loire

 

 

Chaumont sur Loire chateau

5 Motorhome Life Hacks

Motorhome life hacks! A “Lifehack”, according to Wikipedia, refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency.  So what motorhome life hacks have we learnt in the last 2 months of touring in our motorhome? Here are my top 5 motorhome life hacks!

  1. Fuel efficiency whilst driving our motorhome and French tolls.

Touring in a motorhome is best done slowly. In France, where we are now, diesel has been costing us between 1.22 Euros and 1.35 per litre, so whilst stating the obvious, the more miles you do the more is costs. There are times though where you might have to use motorways and we used the French motorways to get quickly to the Royan area. I have already mentioned in a previous blog about how good the Sanef-t-Tag is driving through France on toll roads. You can access your online Sanef-t account anytime to see how much the tolls have cost you and a copy of my account is pictured below.

Sanef-t Tag account summary for French tolls

Back to fuel efficiency, whilst driving a motorhome  I found that using cruise control made a big difference to the miles per gallon but only when driving on the flat. On some stretches of flat motorway I saw the average mpg go up to over 60 as opposed to our normal average of 30.5 mpg so it’s well worth getting to know how your cruise control works if you have one of course! On average with cruise control on we were getting about 15% more miles to the gallon than without cruise control.

2. Fresh water and waste

Before buying our first motorhome we read all sorts of horror stories about emptying a motorhome toilet cassette, but it’s really not that bad. The job of emptying it falls to me though and Anne refuses to do it. With her nursing and midwifery background I’m surprised at that!

I empty the toilet cassette daily and only put enough fresh water in to the fresh water tank to keep us going daily, although if we are wild camping I will put more fresh water in to keep us going a few days more. For those times that you can’t get near to a tap I suggest getting a 10 litre watering can. We have found this the easiest way to get water into the tank. Our toilet cassette is fitted with a SOG system and this avoids the need to use chemicals.

Our toilet cassette with SOG system on our Hobby motorhome

3. Buy steps to access your motorhome

Our motorhome step

Our motorhome came with an electric step but we decided to buy some stand alone steps, after we had a problem with the electric step. Stand alone steps are more robust than our electric step but they are also multi-purpose. For example we use our steps to clean the windscreen and to make it easier to to take our bikes off and back on our bike carrier. They are mini step ladders!

4. Refillable gas bottles – The Gaslow system.

What a wonderful system the Gaslow re-fillable system is in my opinion. It’s not cheap to fit but because we will be spending a lot of time touring in our motorhome we can re-fill our 2 x 11 kg gas cylinders from many fuel stations in Europe. I have the FillLPG app on my mobile phone so that I can easily find nearby fuel stations that sell LPG. So far it has worked out much cheaper to buy LPG because we only put in what we need.

Our Gaslow system with external filler point

5. Cadac Safari 2 Gas BBQ

Cadac Safari Chef 2 BBQ

We love this gas BBQ. I’ve always been an advocate of charcoal but we have never had as many BBQ’s as we are having now. I can set up the Cadac BBQ in 2 minutes and be ready to cook 2 minutes later. The hotplate heats up very quickly and it is very easy to clean afterwards. Cleaning charcoal BBQ’s was always a pain! I can highly recommend the Cadac Safari Chef 2. It’s easily big enough for 2 people and I have used it to cook for 4 people with no problems. The Cadac comes with several cooking accessories such as a grill, smooth cooking plate suitable for pizza and frying eggs and a pan/kettle stand.

Experienced motor homers will have heard all this advice before but as newbies to motor homes it’s a steep learning curve for us and I wanted to share this information for other newbies!