632 nights: 24,148 miles travelled : countries visited: 25
” A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving” Lao Tzu
Here we go again…snail trails part trois!
We left the UK under grey skies and drizzle and drove the first few hundred miles south under the same. The difference was that we’re now on quiet D roads carving straight lines through long villages oozing French rustic charm. There’s more wooden shutters, twisted ironwork and faded paint on gable ends (advertising Dubonnet or Michelin), than you can shake a baguette at. The mood inside our snail lifted. The winter months at home saw us become happily enmeshed in the life of family and friends and the temptation to hibernate next to a log burner was almost overwhelming. But the return to familiar routines enforced by motorhome life is comforting, and constantly changing scenery distracts us from any home sickness.
Fog and rain deterred us from lingering too long among all the Gallic gorgeousness but we did enjoy revisiting old haunts and some wonderful free stopovers on France’s network of aires.
Many villages have at least an overnight parking place for motorhomes or a service point for fresh water and disposing of waste. They are often provided free in the hope that local businesses will benefit and we always enjoy visiting local cafés or the boulangerie.
The internet allows us to benefit from other traveller’s experience and we found a leisurely but direct route , largely avoiding toll roads, down to the Spanish border. We were still being chased by wet weather so we sat out a stormy weekend and did the laundry at a friendly campsite ,which hosted campers from all over Europe, on their way to or from sunnier skies.
Our first miles in Spain were masked by a net of mist so we didn’t see much of the Basque region on either side of the border but the light was more promising by the time we reached our first overnight stop in Olite. This modest town was once home to the royal families of Navarra and the castle is thought to have housed giraffes and lions as well as Kings. The turrets, church spires and narrow streets were an atmospheric introduction to Spanish old towns.
Fixing dried thistles to doors is believed to keep bad spirits away. As some only operate at night, these flowers would lead the devils to assume that the sun is shining on this dwelling. As if the doors weren’t characterful enough.
We parked in the Area Municipal behind the beautiful Church of San Pedro, with the bell tower topped by ‘Torre de Aguja’ (needle spire) and another early morning call!
Heavy cloud caught up with us again and we headed hopefully towards a region of semi-desert; surely it won’t rain there? The Parque National de las Bárdenas Reales covers the south-east of Navarre and was initially created by deforestation and shaped by wind and water erosion.We wondered what all the fuss was about as we drove into the park area, with vegetation getting a little more scarce but no sand visible.
It was only as we set off on foot that we felt that we were walking onto the set of a spaghetti western and realised that the landscape was becoming more and more bizarre.
The lack of rain made Mr Kips a bit giddy!
There was another wonderful Area Autocaravanas nearby in Arguedas. We were next to some troglodyte homes, some of which appeared to have been inhabited until relatively recently. An excellent footpath led up to explore them and gave a good view of the town below.
Our third day of driving in Spain was the most eventful. For one thing, we were travelling through what looked like the Wild West with steep sided, flat topped rocky plateaus marking the horizons on either side of us. Then we had to get our sunglasses out….for the first time in months! We sat back and smiled from the inside out. This is the best of snailing, when the journey is as much fun as arriving.
Just before lunchtime, we were pulled over by the Civil Guard as we cruised along a dual carriageway and after anxious minutes waiting, while mentally checking that we were complying with all the Spanish road regulations, we were waved through the road block. Being a pair of grey headed wrinklies has some benefits. We had decided to push a long way south and towards the end of our long drive, we were confronted by a man in the middle of the road with a red lollipop board. Having looked at our number plates, he approached the van and did what any sensible person (read we) would do when confronted with someone who isn’t fluent in your language. He spoke his own, very fast and very loud! Having just reached episode 2 of our free conversational Spanish course (given away in the Independent in 2007!), we only knew how to count to 10 and ask which boarding gate our aircraft leaves from!! Luckily this meant that I heard the Spanish word for eight in the midst of the diatribe. So I pointed to my watch, ocho? ‘Si si, ocho’. He then enthusiastically repeated everything again, faster and louder so this time the only word we could make out was dynamita! Tempted as we were to see what he was going to do with explosives, eight o’clock was another four hours away, so we turned around and found an alternative route to Morella.
The sky was still clear when we arrived at the motorhome stop just out of town, which meant we got to enjoy the magnificent view of the Castell de Morella.
However it also meant that we experienced a really cold night…Kipper had to be tucked back into his sleeping bag twice! The sun on the town next morning made this all worthwhile and we had wonderful time exploring the steep streets and the castle ruins.
The Church of Santa Maria la Major has not one but two beautiful doorways, the door of the Disciples and the door of the Virgins, and a blue tiled dome.
As we climbed higher we could see snow capped hills in the distance and the town, with it’s mile long wall, sixteen towers and bullring below us.
Morella celebrates several fiestas, the most famous being Sexenni, held every six years to thank the Virgin of Vallivani for saving those who survived a plague in the 17th century. The giants are paraded at all the festivals and represent the two cultures of Christianity and Islam and their coexistence which characterised the town for much of it’s history.
The boys also made friends with the smaller representation of a civic leader, who did much to promote the town’s textile production and wore his stripey blanket with pride (he was still cold to the touch though!)
Local products include sausage and ham and oodles of truffles but we were most tempted to try the flaon, a pastry stuffed with almonds and cottage cheese. And how could we resist the meringues? They reminded us of the castle we had just climbed so surely we had earned one….each! And with them being advertised on wood and what with them blending so naturally into their surroundings surely they’re actually good for us?!
We were only a couple of hours inland from the unfortunately named Peniscola, a coastal town with another magnificent castle.
However there are also tower blocks and no entry to the beach signs for Kipper, (torture!) so after a few days of housekeeping on a quiet but busy site, we are ready to explore more of what Spain has to offer.
M & G xx
Treat of the week: In true snail trail style, it has been less of a dash for the sun than a shuffle for the shadows, but then you don’t get those without the sun!