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

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

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