Winter Tour 2018/19 Part 1

Setting off on the RN from home. Yellow Jackets in window “just in case”

I am taking a new approach to documenting our travels for this trip. Trying to write things up in full just makes me get behind and uploading all of the photos gets me in a pickle with our bandwidth. So here’s what I plan to do this winter:

As and when we have a power hookup and I can fit the time in, I will bring us up to speed quickly on the journey so far. There will be a Featured Image representative of the journey, perhaps a couple more images if that seems appropriate and when I am using site WiFi. When we get home, I will upload one or more Gallery posts and do my best to caption with any remaining memories at that stage.

There may, or may not, be an Instagram connection to keep things topical whilst mainly offline but I have to work on that aspect since discovering that my plugin does not play nicely and only shows the most recent of uploads. Research on a better plugin continues.

The Journey from  home until Spain

We departed on Wednesday 21st November 2018.

The plan was to mosey on down to Arcachon, stay there for three nights and then move on down to Spain, making the border crossing on Sunday when the French roads are quiet. News of the Gilets Jaunes and their behaviour in Bordeaux led us to change our plans at the last minute. We decided to take the D roads, avoiding Bordeaux.

We tucked our legally-required high-vis jackets in the window, hoping that any protestors at  road blocks would think that we are sympathetic to their cause and therefore treat us kindly…

Day 1: to Brantôme, 133 Km.

Brantôme

We left at 1pm, packing Nell the dog, Chloé the cat and Dusty the kitten into the van along with our goods and chattels. Good roads and fair weather most of the way, clouding over just as we reached Brantôme. We did have to stop after ten minutes, when Chloé escaped her carrier.

Brantôme offers a large riverside Motorhome Aire (100 pitches), with payment barrier. 6€ plus tax. Parking on grass and sand. Pretty level. Adjacent to a park area and a short walk into town Motorhome servicing point is outside the barrier. Waste free, water 2€ for 10 minutes. We found ourselves with just one other van for company.

A very attractive and interesting town, though mostly closed on a winter Wednesday. Would like to return when things are open. There are 4 Michelin listed restaurants, two of them have a star. An excellent store encompasses general grocery (SPAR) plus high class epicerie, boucherie, traiteur, cave, fromagerie and bread.

Day 2: to Monbazillac, 90 Km (223 Km total)

Possibly one of the very best France Passion stops

Good roads again, weather a little grey and damp, improving as we reached our destination.

We stayed at the France Passion Site at Domaine de Lande (Les Avinturiers) in Monbazillac, where the lovely Camus family have set up a nice Aire with services (no EHU).

This is a stop that we used last year and will use again. Tastings at 6pm. Now with bread delivery at 08:30. Free waste and water, chemical disposal, drive-over point.

There are waymarked walks around this lovely peaceful and tidy village, with views across Bergerac. A restaurant and a hairdresser are available, and a Sunday Market in season. The Maison de Tourisme sells wines from the local domaines. The local Chateau is open for tours and tastings.

The “Heritage” Monbazillac is highly recommended, as are the Red and the White Passarillé wines. We came away with ten bottles, and an eleventh complimentary bottle.

Day 3: to Zarautz, 346 Km (569 Km total)

Labastide d’Armagnac. We ate at the Bistro at the right of the image

We were going to stop at another France Passion stop, near Labastide d’Armagnac but concerns about Saturday’s protest led us to make the long leg direct to Spain and we headed straight to familiar ground at Gran Camping Zarautz, where we stayed last winter when travelling in both directions.

We parked temporarily in the Motorhome Aire at Labastide  long enough to know that we would not care to stay overnight. It is a place that is very sadly unkept and neglected. The village is however, charming and there we had a good lunch of Galette before moving on.

Only one slight hiccup with the SatNav, followed by a Motorway U-turn and we were in Zarautz by tea time, staying three nights (Fri/Sat/Sun)

Zarautz

Gran Camping Zarautz is situated conveniently close to the motorway, is open all year, and offers ACSI rates. The staff are all very friendly and speak sufficient English to make life easy. The on-site Sidereria/restaurant offers good simple Basque fare with a midweek Menu del Dia for 11€ (including wine or cider), the weekend Menu is 19€. They have a wood-fired grill and their own (bottled) beer available (very good it is too!)

A well-stocked shop and good laundry facilities supplement the excellent toilet/shower block to make this an all-round good site. Beware though, the 450 step descent to the beach and town, and the return climb.

Les Gilets Jaunes

Taking the back roads did not avoid the protests entirely and we met groups of protesters on each day as we travelled south. Mainly they were gathered at roundabouts serving the major routes, Largely they were inactive, just maintaining a presence. We were stopped only twice, for a couple of minutes each time. The second stop resulted in a nice chat with one of the protestors who apparently also has a motorhome. 

All of the protests that we met were conducted in a peaceful and civil manner. Where traffic was being stopped it was done in an intelligent manner, with traffic control in place and delays kept to a minimum. The protestors and the Gendarmerie appeared to accommodate each other in civil fashion. At almost every protest point, we were given cheerful waves and smiles.

We were lucky. Not all travellers were so.

Happy to be in Spain, though, and away from potential flare ups.

Spit spot

After a night of heavy rain we woke to bright sunshine and a light but sharp breeze. I groaned inwardly at returning to the morning spit wash and sighed with relief to know that we were aiming at a shower this evening.
Gibraleón was quiet. We were soon on our way and zipping along the all but empty holiday roads.

Our destination was not far, this side of Seville. I had been promised an upmarket camp site in a forest and with an on-site restaurant. Sounded fab.
Light cloud, blue sky and sun made our drive very pleasant. The omni-present graffiti of Spain made things less so.

We crossed the Rio Tinto, though I saw no colour just the glare of the sun. On the drivers side it was noticeably red, apparently. My disappointment was made up for however when I spotted an ass and cart crossing the flyover ahead of us shortly thereafter.

The scenery was largely unexciting, though very much green. Some orange and olive groves, an enormous cactus patch, pine trees, graffiti…
I am definitely becoming blasé about orange trees. The streets in Gibraleón were lined with them but I didn’t try to pick any and wasn’t even moved to take a photo. I do keep thinking about how close I am to Seville, it being Seville orange season and me loving marmalade so much. It has been months since I tasted marmalade!

Joining the N road for Hinojos we passed brought the Dead centre of Almonte… Cemetery to the right of us, Crematorium to the left… Ho, ho, ho.
We were soon deep in the olive groves, with olives as far as the eye could see and interspersed with the odd palm tree.. then bang! straight into a pine forest and a sign that translated to “Slow, Bobcats crossing”. How exciting.

And then we were there.”There” being the Doñarrayan Park campsite in the Doñana National Park. A delightful spot. We have booked to stay for a month. The showers are fabulous… and there is a cycle path that begins outside the camp that will make Nell’s daily walk a doddle.

I got to thinking about the “bobcats” and checked y translation, Google still insisted that Linces = Bobcats. I think it really means Iberian Lynx. I do hope that we manage to bump into one.

Other good stuff: there is a Heritage Railway not far from here and it runs in the winter months. Also there is a couple here that we met back in Zarautz. Small traveller’s world, isn’t it?

Zamora Photo Gallery

We stayed on the motorhome aire by the park just outside the old town walls.  the park was extensive and wooded, providing Nell with some wonderful walking.

Zamora was a wonderful town in which to wander the narrow and characterful streets. Many eateries, several fine wine shops and delicatessens selling Jamon and other good stuff. 

A very Catholic and very religious town known especially for its Holy Week celebrations.

Notable for its 2 Cathedrals, 24 Romanesque churches,  the many storks nesting in the town and for public art… formal and informal. Sadly much willful desecration of beautiful old buildings with indiscriminate graffiti “tagging”.

Click the images for a larger view.

Well worth the visit.

Image navigation doesn’t seem to be working well: here’s the Slideshow version

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Related post

Related post

Further info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zamora,_Spain

Catching Up: Castets to Zamora

There is a reason why this post has not been posted previously and that is because the scale of the thing is really daunting. It has simply got out of hand. In a perfect world I would have knuckled down and done this before the year’s end. I think that you can tell that we have been trying. The spreadsheet is fully up to date and I now have my “from the road” reports up, even if misplaced in time. (I arrived at the conclusion that they are best left dated as posted not as witten, for the time being. That way those readers who are keeping up will spot them as they arrive. Later on I’ll edit the posting date so that later readers get things in a sensible sequence, even if this particular post is going to be all over the place.

Today is: 3rd January 2018

The last catch up post that I wrote was posted on the 27th November and covered Arcachon to Castets, the night before we moved into Spain. So this post has a great deal of literal ground to cover and may end up being split into more than one post in the end. I have my work cut out here but a being brave and diving in!

We left Castets on the 28th November, which appears to have had a grey start judging by the photos that I took of our first toll road motorway,  The trip and our arrival at Zauratz appear to have been documented. 

We had arrived with the intention of staying for three nights but the weather took a hand in that by throwing some snow down and so discretion took the better part and we ended up staying for a full week, at the end of which we grounded on the motorhome service point and tore our water pipe apart…

The stay at Zauratz was enjoyable and I particularly liked eating out at the restaurant on-site. The daily menu provided really good value for money so we made the most of the opportunity. I caught up on laundry and apparently on my blogging whilst we had good facilities.

When we left Zauratz we had a nightmare experience in the town when we attempted a supermarket run and then we failed to gain assistance at the so-called Motorhome repair specialist.  We took off for Bilbao and an independent commercial aire on the hill overlooking the city. The aire was nicely sited adjacent to a park and open country and with a beer hall/restaurant on hand. We made use of all facilities. We also attempted a repair on the water problem but it failed. We were at least able to gather our wits and realise that as Vincent has two water tanks with valves between them we could a t least operate on one tank, though the smaller of the two. It did mean that we could stop stressing and just wait until we happened across a solution rather than tearing around Spain looking for one.

Photos from Bilbao

A somewhat fraught excursion into Bilbao on the morning that we left did supply a new joint for the water pipe and also supplies from Carrefour. Some added interest was supplied by Mrs SatNav Lady before we fully escaped the city. She has an odd sense of humour, that one. 

We set off for the mountains and a campsite in the Picos de Europa. We had great hopes of our stay here and planned to stop for a while but once again the weather intervened, te mud deepened around us and we were soon off in search of the shelter afforded by the mountains’ rain shadow. Really there is little to say other than “pleasant campsite” “nice bar” “Tapas” and “too wet for photos”. No photos to record our passing through at all.

The drive to Zamora on the 9th December was a lengthy one but it was the drive off a lifetime. It was astounding and also very varied. It was during this drive that I taught myself the rudiments of blogging on the run – clearly something which I am in need of refining.

Zamora was good – very photogenic and full of history. The way that the new architecture has been married with the old is very clever. There were plenty of places to eat, though being a holiday many were closed. The amount of graffiti was shocking. As in other parts of Spain that we have passed through, every conceivable surface has been tagged. Zamora at least has some quite attractive murals in addition tot he scrawl. It was sad to see historic properties being treated thus.

The single most striking thing in Zamora was the huge number of Storks overhead. There seemed to be a nest on every church tower and the town has two cathedrals and 24 Romanesque churches alone…

Double decker stork nests in Zamora

I have many photos fro this part of the trip and think a separate posting of a Zamora Gallery would be the best way to show these.

To be continued.

Any port in a storm

Although Zamora had not endeared herself on our arrival, we were sorry in several ways to be leaving today and hope to return sometime.

Storm Anna, when she arrived, was sharp and shrewish but quickly gone. She was a reminder of home for a while as we were buffeted about but when I woke at 01:30 the wind had passed. Anna brought with her lashings of rain however and we found in the morning that the dry bed in the park was now a turbulent stream.

The weather, though much improved, remained dull and damp but was good enough for us to stroll out for lunch in the town.

The restaurant that we had carefully selected was closed so we set about finding another. Zamora offers many choices but none seemed to be speaking to us. We plumped for an upmarket establishment, listed at no 2 on TripAdvisor. It was just 2pm but they turned us away “service completed”. What? In Spain?

We ended up in a wee bar that served from 13:00 to 16:00 and had a rather good lunch for €12 each, though I was somewhat fazed by the whole bottle of wine to myself included in the price. A very nice organic Toro it was too.
Last night the temperature dropped below freezing, seeing the internal temperature in the van down to 5°C by morning. Jack Frost had visited and decorated the skylights with icy feathers but the sun was shining under a cloudless sky.

I had entirely forgotten that we were still at 700 metres but it certainly shows in the quality of the light as we are on our way to Bragança. Quite astounding. Also astounding is the scenery and I am amazed by how much grows up here. Tundra, it is not.

We reached Portugal at midday, local time and are now back on GMT. We are also back almost at 700 metres, though it feels higher here. We can see snow-capped mountains and there is a real chill in the air despite bright sunshine.
The Aire is quite nice and is sited above the town, just below a castle. There are water and waste facilities here so I can have more than a cat lick in the morning. No electricity though.

Repair attempts on the water system continue… and so far it appears to be holding.

A short stroll into town this afternoon yielded a Portuguese SIM card and a nice bottle of Tawny.

We are settling in.

What do you mean, SNOW?

I can confirm that the Cava was indeed good, which is more than may be said about the weather. The rain it did rain, and oh, how it rained, all night, and the wind it did actually blow a little… Wild enough to keep us awake for hours. 

Mr L and Nell went out at 08:00 and then came back to bed to warm up. When we woke up again later, I remarked on the snow – which I could see piled up on the skylights.  The response I had was not the one that I had expected: “what do you mean, snow?” Yes, the accumulation had occurred in the time that we had been snoozing warming up. There had been no snow earlier in the day,

Anyway, we had slept through what must have been a really heavy snowstorm as there were inches of the stuff lying on the ground despite its being so wet. 

I gather that snow is not a common occurrence in these parts:

 

No photos of the snowy landscape from me I am afraid but there is this

and see  here and here. Why they are the same image, I don’t know as I took two and thought I’d shared one to one place and the other elsewhere. Clearly not functioning well today.

We were due to leave Zauratz today but decided that it was best and safest to just hang out here until the weather improves. It’s not much of a hardship… although I have now rotated through all four desserts offered on the daily menus and will need to start again.

The plan now is to wait for the weather and then to move on further than we would have done today and in fact to make  a long trip to another campsite rather than find an Aire. Let us hope that the coming showers are as good as the ones here… and I don’t mean the snowy ones.