SPAIN a motorhome tour of classical sites and national parks
After a successful ferry trip to Scandinavia the previous year, the lure of the sea beckoned again with a certain amount of trepidation, as this trip involved crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay. These fears turned to be well founded as we hit gale force nine winds and the necessity of an extra 12 hours at sea for a nominal 24 hour crossing.
The full account of the crossing and a review of the ferry operator, LD Lines, can be seen in the ‘review’ section of this website.
The rationale for the ferry crossing was to avoid the long haul through France and once you costed the diesel and short sea ferry crossings and the fact that LD Lines offers an economical way of sailing to Santander in Northern Spain; then this provided a reasonably cost effective solution and quicker route.
We had no major predetermined ideas, other than we wanted to see some of classical Spain with the focus on the trio of Granada, Cordoba and Seville, with a trip to the seaside thrown in, but avoiding the built up areas and to satisfy our interest in the wildlife, particularly the birds. So our trip turned out to be a classical and natural tour of Spain but in reality for a country the size of France, you are only experiencing a taster.
Though we had a schedule drawn up, this was literally a last minute affair, being ’finalised’ literally days before departure and always subject to change. Guidebook in hand, map in the other and the plan for the must see places. The only action that we took early was to book the ferry, which we did, in mid February, to reserve the crossing in early May.
There really are not that many. There is always a mild apprehension when you have not toured a country before and our last visit to Spain, not counting a stopover in Madrid, was in pre Franco days on a club 18 - 30 trip when we were students. The trip was memorable for the Dan Air flight, which lived up to its nickname of Dan Dare, as flames belched out of an engine on takeoff,, necessitating a long delay and for the serious bout of food poisoning, as a result of eating in a dodgy establishment, due to finances being severely restricted. So 40 years seemed to be a reasonable period of forgiveness for past events.
These are fairly standard for Europe. The only additional ones that we picked up was the need for two warning triangles and this was easily remedied by taking the additional one from the car and the need for a spare pair of spectacles, if you use them, which I always have in any case.
There was, however, one last requirement which I literally picked up days before departure; somewhere in the old grey matter I had seen Spanish and particularly Portuguese units, with the red and white warning panels on the back of their cycle racks. Searching the internet we found reference to the need for these in Portugal and Italy but not for Spain. Instinct ,however, took over and I sourced these from John Cross Motorhomes, whose service was exceptional and it needed to be, as I had left this to the week before departure. They not only kept you fully appraised throughout the whole order and delivery process, they informed you of the exact hour of delivery.
This proved to be a fortuitous course of action as we met a Belgian motor homer in Caceres, who was hit by a 40 euro fine, for not having aforementioned board.
There are two types, the cheaper version is reasonably flimsy, but having said that, it survived a 4 week trip. The second is made of aluminium and is understandably more robust and more expensive and incidentally this one is a requirement for Italy.
I plan to attach mine to a sheet of hardboard for greater longevity.
For both you need to come up with your own solution to attach to your bike rack, utilising the 4 eyelets provided.
Spain appears to have rebuilt its whole road network, so there are some benefits of EEC membership and they are in excellent condition. You certainly know that you are in a motor home when you return to the UK, how can I say this politely, the drive is not so smooth.
For the vast majority of our trip we used dual carriageways, (autovias) which were of motorway standard. Additionally driving was a joy as you encountered very little traffic, until you reached the major towns, such as Seville or the outskirts of Madrid. The other roads we encountered were also of a good standard.
Spain does have toll motorways (autopistas) but we were able to avoid these on our trip. Allegedly they are expensive but not necessarily too difficult to avoid, as many replicate the old route which you will find devoid of traffic.
The internet is valuable for information but it also tends to exaggerate dangers, particularly if there is an American reference, so prior to our departure one read of stories of aggressive drivers, which in reality was a myth. Ok as in the UK, when you enter the large conurbations, you experience a different type of driver behaviour, but as previously mentioned, in most cases there is so little traffic, that there is hardly any reason to get upset.
The one reference you will get on the internet is in relation to the short run in on the slip roads, as you join motorways/dual carriageways. This is fact but in 99% of our trip, this did not present a problem due to the lightness of the traffic. Only when you come into the really large towns does it present a problem and do not expect drivers to let you in.
DIESEL is cheaper than the UK, typically it was in the region of 1.35 euros (May 2014) and readily available and it seems at reasonably standard prices. Though there was some variation in price, this amounted to only a few cents and when you are paying the equivalent of £1.10 a litre, you do not really care.
What was very pleasurable was that an attendant will serve you, a pleasant throwback to the service of the 60’s and early 70’s in the UK.
You may see reference to the need for additional ID if you pay by credit card but with the advent of Chip and Pin this had been circumvented. Only once was I asked for ID and that was at the Royal Palace of La Granja and after expressing indignation they relented, though in reality I think it was because the guy who served me did not know what he was doing.
All major credit cards are accepted, without any additional charges and though Visa is the more popular, I used my Halifax Clarity Card for the majority of transactions. (See The Best Credit Cards To Use Abroad on this website).
The vast majority of campsites accepted payment by credit card but some were cash only.
There really are not any major issues. As in the UK you will be more likely to experience petty theft and pick pocketing in the larger centres, so you take the normal precautions. Julia saved me from a guy who was checking me out in Segovia, as I was taking photographs, which is always a potential vulnerable time, when you are a tourist.
We also met a Dutch motor homer in Caba le Gata, who had been robbed of mobile phones etc,along with 5 others, whilst at a campsite at La Manga and inevitably the old myths of gassing rear their head. If you want to be reassured that this is a myth then read the following:
We also came across a guy in Cordoba who was researching for a book on Spanish festivals, who had his bike ‘cut off’ from his rear cycle carrier in an aire. So the moral of the story is that it could happen to anyone but in general not to you. We met two motor homers who had to call out recovery on their trips but this does not mean that it will happen to you.
We based our stopovers on the ACSI reduced tariff for offpeak travel, where prices were typically 16 euros a night, £13 in real money. We also stayed at some Camping Cheque Sites, similarly priced and though I do not like the system of paying in advance as much as the ACSI system, I know that in a course of a year I will use the Camping Cheques up.
Offpeak, they do in our opinion offer exceptional value with EHU, toilet and shower facilities and hot water or perhaps lukewarm for washing up and on balance better security.
See this website Review section re Camping Cheques v ACSI
The ACSI handbook only, however, covers those sites which offer the discount, there are numerous other available sites and here we use the Snooper Sat Nav (see product reviews) which comes pre-programmed with stopovers and is a lazy but very efficient way of finding a suitable place to stay, plus the added benefit that it can be pre programmed with the size of your unit. This tends to be more suitable for city stopovers. Site fees on these sites tend to be higher, normally in the region 24 euros, as there is basically no shortage of demand.
The campsites were generally off a good quality and without exception I found all to be very welcoming and very helpful.
It is possible to stay off site and some towns have aires and other offroad parking available.
It was also our intention to head towards the coast at Tarifa, where there appears to be a motorhome town in the dunes near Punta Paloma, but we changed our plans at the last minute to reduce the amount of time spent travelling.
On balance though with a limited time to spend in the country and with so much to see, the advantages of preplanning the day before where you are going to stay and to set the sat nav accordingly offers a lot of benefits over trying to find suitable stopover accommodation. Also our plans for visiting the cities involved an overnight stay with a trip in, either on foot or by bus, rather than taking the motor home into town. This is simply a preference which works for us.
THE ROUTE (approx. 1800 miles round trip) over 4 weeks
Santander Port,Santillana del Mar, Burgos, Salamanca, Monfrague National Park - Extramadura,Caceres,Merida,El Rocio- Donana National Park,Seville,Cordoba,Granada,Los Escullos & Los Negras- Cabo de Gata, Santa Elena, Toledo, Segovia, Castrojeriz,San Vicente Oyambre, Santander Port