Week 18 – Sardinia


We spent this week in Sardinia travelling down the west coast and round to Cagliari and found ourselves following an intriguing trail of abandoned mines and Mussolini’s Facist New Towns…not quite what we were expecting from a destination we had associated more with emerald seas and white sand beaches…

…though we saw a fair few of those too.

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Our week here started in Porto Torres on the north west  tip of the island. We arrived about lunchtime after a four-hour ferry crossing from Propriano in Corsica.

We’d spent the previous three nights wild camping between Propriano’s marina car park and a lay-by outside Ajaccio so were feeling pretty grubby. But unlike Corsica where we were lucky to find one open campsite, we couldn’t find any sites open over the winter in Sardinia. And so our first stop was a hotel in Alghero….funny how we still feel a little guilty when checking into a hotel. But a hot shower and a comfy bed soon knocks that on the head.

The first task in Alghero was to buy a detailed map of Sardinia. We found one in this excellent bookshop with stacks of interesting looking books that made us wish again we could speak some, any, Italian,. And they were serving wine so you could sip as you browsed the shelves…what’s not to love.

Is there a vacancy for ‘Irish person to run bookshop, must enjoy wine.’ There might even be a sitcom in it.



Then it was time for food and our first encounter with the friendly people of Sardinia…here’s Fabiola Ibba from the cafe restaurant Lu Barril on via Mazzini.



Fabiola  helpfully marked up our map to highlight the places we should try to visit on our travels round the island.  And the food was pretty excellent too. Here’s our favourite one – risotto with clams, artichokes and chilli…..


…which Stuart washed down with Sardinia’s best known beer Ichnusa.

And that’s as good a cue as any for the latest addition to the blog –  Stuart’s Beer Gallery where Stuart is faithfully recording the different beers he samples on our trip with admirable dedication to firsthand research.


Colourful Bosa:

The pretty port of Bosa was one of the places Fabiola suggested we visit. On the coast road on the way there, we found a public pump where we could fill up our water tank. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so difficult to wild camp on Sardinia after all.



We arrived at Bosa’s riverside…


…and then using the Campercontact  app found a place where overnight parking was permitted, though no services were provided.

Once again we were the smallest in the playground.


We parked up and headed off to explore the colourful old town which is perched up the side of a hill.



It was a good stomp up to the castle which was closed but it was worth the trip anyway to see the views over the town and to the sea beyond.

DSC_4749But other than a few sun worshipping cats and an elderly Austrian who has been coming to Bosa for 15 years “though it has it’s flaws’ he told us cryptically, we didn’t see another living soul.


Though we could hear throughout the streets the rhythmic sound of many builders hammering away renovating the old houses ready for the summer tourist season to come.



And there were quite a few properties up for sale. How about this one – it’s going for 75k euro for a four-storey house. Bargain investment or money pit?


Life on the farm – or not

After Bosa, we decided to head inland. Our plan was to stay on a farm – one of the ones in the Fattore Amico scheme we’d joined when first planning this trip.

Our original itinerary before we changed our plans to do the Corsica-Sardinia-Sicily island hop would have given us much more time in Italy. This farm scheme (which you join by buying the guide book which includes the membership card) allows campervanners to stay for free on farm land, without any other camping services provided. In return the farmer gets the opportunity to showcase and hopefully sell whatever the farm produces.

As the 2016 membership expired on 10 February 2017, we hoped we’d get in under the wire and experience at least one of the farms in the scheme. We telephoned one promising sounding place, inland from Bosa, and in a tricky conversation where  the farmer had to enlist the aid of a friend/son with some English, he agreed we could stay there ‘domani’.

And so domani dawned and off we set to find the farm.


Tis better to travel hopefully they say. We pictured the evening ahead – warm and well fed in front of a blazing fire, exchanging smiles and nods with a twinkly-eyed weather-beaten Sardinian farmer while his equally twinkly-eyed wife fed us with hearty Sardinian fare while we checked Google translate for ‘no I couldn’t possibly eat anymore’.

The idea that they would just leave us in a chilly van (our gas heater is unfortunately not working) after making us buy more kilos of smelly cheese than we could possible eat simply didn’t figure in our rustic daydream.

The farm was difficult to find. Even Serena (as the manual names our silky-toned GPS navigator) was stumped.


Then when we were sure we’d finally found the right place, there was another obstacle.


Even if we could get our farmer to unlock the gate, the heavy rain had made the mud track  impassable for our non-four wheel drive van.

We gave up and headed back to the nearest village to  find somewhere to park overnight, driving all the while directly towards forked lightning and black storm clouds. But every cloud ….

The nearest overnight parking stop was in the village of Fordongianus, once an old Roman spa town.


The parking area for motorhomes was right beside this natural hot spring…


…where the water coming out of the ground is so hot….


…even the locals were coming up to boil their greens…


And even better, just up from the hot springs, there was a mini-spa where for 4 euro you could have a 30-minute soak in the hot sulphur-smelling waters.

Private bath in hot water from thermal springs – 4 euros for wild camping bliss

Who needs a hotel when nature offers it all on tap?


The thunder and lightning storm continued for most of the night, but next morning the sun was shining and a hot bath and hot porridge beckoned. All was right with the world.


And now for some Facist architecture…

It was seeing Arborea on the map which first set us on the trail of the Facist New Towns in Sardinia.

At first we weren’t sure that this place to the west of Fordigianus was even a town. It was marked as a series of horizontal and vertical lines in a symmetrical grid pattern. And as for the name? It sounded like some rural Utopia.


We weren’t that far off as it turned out. Arborea, or as it was originally called Mussolinia, was the first Facist New Town built in Sardinia back in 1928. It was part of Mussolini’s dream for self-sufficiency and here the project was designed to turn malarial marshland swamps  into fertile agricultural land.

The new town created was initially populated by people from the Veneto region on the mainland which is why the architecture of the main square looks vaguely in the style of  buildings from home for these new ‘colonials’.


But further away from the main square, the architecture was much more severe…no frills here on the Casa del Fascio, the building which was the former facist headquarters and is today a municipal cafe/bar serving damn fine coffee.


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And next door, this is the Casa del Balilla – originally the facist youth centre.


And this was the former sports centre, now looking very dilapidated.


It was all strangely fascinating and we wanted to see more. Our next stop was Cortoghiana where the housing was constructed in the 1930’s for the coal workers employed in the nearby mines.





Then we went to Carbonia which was also constructed as a model town for the coal mining community.


Sardinia’s mining industry which enjoyed a boom time back in 1870’s is now dead and the towns are quiet…all very different from how they look on this footage of the day il Duce came to visit.


Mines and murals:

Our travels around the now closed mines took us here to Nebida …..


where there is a wonderful walk around a cliffside path…


…and we stayed overnight on the harbour front of the village of Buggerru, famous for being the site of Sardinia’s first miner’s strike back in 1904.





And the rest of our time in Sardinia included a stop in the small town of Suni which first seemed unremarkable but streets and streets of murals made us stop…




….though we missed out on getting to the mountain village of Orgosolo which is apparently the place to go in Sardinia if murals are your thing.

Another one of our overnight stops was here at the white beach of Mari Ermi…



..where the sand looks like arborio rice…


…which is why everyone wants to steal it…


As for the driving in Sardinia, it did prove challenging because of the steep climbs and hairpin turns on the descents. Before going into the small village of Arbus, we had just caught up on the blog written by Gill and Chris – fellow travellers we met in Morocco – where they talked about their experienced getting stuck and almost wedged in the narrow streets. We read what happened to them, said we must make absolutely sure that doesn’t happen to us and promptly drove straight into the same position. We found ourselves hopelessly stuck in a one-way system through narrow winding, steep alleyways. And but for the kindness of a local who led us out onto the main road, we might still be there.

Our last night wild camping was on the island of Sant’Antioco where we were able to stock up on wine dispensed by petrol pump.


Well, who wouldn’t at these prices?


Then after four nights wild camping, we treated ourselves yet again. This time we opted for a self-catering apartment in the historic Castello district of Cagliari after picking up a good deal on the internet.


And as for Cagliari, there’s a city which is definitely on the list of places to return to…but we had to keep moving. Next stop is Sicily.

Week 17 – Corsica


We spent this week in Corsica. Getting here was easy – but trying to get off the island to travel to Sardinia proved a lot more challenging.

And the scarcity of campsites continued. We could only find one that stayed open over the winter. The bad news was it was for naturists. But surely no-one wants to be that close to nature in winter?

An awkward telephone call to Riva Bella campsite in Aleria followed to say that ‘nous ne sommes pas naturists but could we stay anyway but maybe keep our clothes on?

Fortunately, the answer was ‘oui’ . In winter the site is for “textiles” as their website describes those of us who prefer not to bare all.


We had the site to ourselves – just us and a herd of llamas. No that’s not a misprint. We thought it an unusual choice of campsite wildlife too.

We parked up on the beach on the east coast, near the small town of  Aleria.  We met a couple of other travellers who dismissed the scenery on this side of the island. They said it was nothing compared to the fabulous mountain landscape of north west Corsica. But then they have a big white motor home complete with ensuite, big water tank and probably diesel heating  and so are totally set up to wild camp.

We were quite happy hooked up to power right beside the sea.

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We signed in…

….and enjoyed the sun…


and the moon


We had a couple of days of great weather when we could walk the beach which had a truly astonishing amount of driftwood….



…and among the piles of wood, masses of the naturally formed tennis ball shaped ‘olives of the sea’…


…and some unnatural waste…ah your croc Monsieur….


Some looked like artwork…


….or intentionally placed to look so…

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But then the weather turned and the view from the van window in the morning turned from this….


..to this…


For the first time in our trip, we had to stay in the van for the afternoon. So we did as anyone would do on a rainy weekend afternoon….open the wine and put on a black and white film. (Dix points to anyone who can guess which one).


The storms continued and with unrelenting  40 mph winds and an angry sea,  the noise and movement around the van all night made the van feel like a sleeper carriage.  It was time to leave Riva Bella but for where? We couldn’t find any other campsite open nor was there anywhere on the app we’d been using for permitted overnight parking stops. It looked like the only option was a hotel. We found a cheap one in Propriano on the west of the island and set off to find it.

We’d also decided that a hotel might be a good idea anyway as we had another pressing problem – the bag of laundry was starting to take up all available space in the van.  With the continual rain, there was no way to wash or dry the clothes by hand.

But we got lost trying to find the hotel in the narrow streets of Propriano. By mistake we drove into the carpark at the marina…and guess what we found?


….other motorhomes parked up clearly settled in for the night and a laundrette! The gods were surely smiling on us that day.


A fellow campervanner confirmed that one night stays were allowed.  I settled in for an evening in the laundry and sorting food (pink task) while Stuart chopped wood or something (blue task).


But while luck was on our side that evening, sometimes advance planning is the more sensible course of action. We had arrived in Corsica without booking our ferry to Sardinia. We didn’t think we needed to as, from what we could see, there appeared to be regular ferries from the south of the island.

Except when it actually came to booking one, they’d all mysteriously disappeared off the ferry websites. The only one we could find was in six days time. Six days??! So Corsica is beautiful without question but in stormy weather with heavy snows predicted and no open campsites….we had started to get island fever and were now really really keen to find a way out.DSC_4707

We left Propriano and drove to Ajaccio, thinking there were bound to be regular ferry services from the island’s biggest city. We called to the tourist office there for information but that was quite bizarre…the adviser assured us there were no ferries to Sardinia from Corsica just now but then added that the tourist office found it difficult to get any information anyway.

The nearby travel agency proved more helpful. Thankfully they were able to find us a ferry which was leaving in two days time from Propriano. Yes, that is the place we’d just  come from.

So that night we stayed on the side of the airport road in Ajaccio, sheltered from the fierce wind that blows in from the wide harbour….

We called to see this man’s house before leaving Ajaccio…would have been rude to leave Corsica without visiting the home of its most famous son..


…and we had lunch at the ‘Roi de Rome’ restaurant. Stuart decided a dish of braised veal, olives and bay leaves served on penne was the best meal he’s eaten on the trip so far.

In our week on Corsica, we’d seen only a part of the island…

….including the hilltop town of Corte..


..with its narrow winding streets …


….and some tiny houses …


We tried some of the local specialities like the doughnut balls called beignets which were delicious…


We had breakfast in a cafe we quickly realised was actually a bookie’s shop cum bar.

And from the graffiti daubed on walls on country roads where the word ‘assassin’ features heavily we got a sense of the hard undercurrents in life on Corsica.

But in the cold stormy weather with uncertainty over where to stay, and while knowing we didn’t see the island at its best, we were mighty relieved to be heading south to Sardinia.

Boarding the morning ferry from Propriano to Porto Torres in Sardinia

Week 16 – Puivert, the Camargue and getting to Corsica


This week our van was off the road while we spent a few days in the small French town of Puivert catching up with old friends of Stuart and having the van serviced.
Then it was time to get on the move again. Our destination was Toulon, just past Marseilles, where we were travelling on the overnight ferry to Corsica. Our route took us through the wetlands of the Camargue Natural Park, very much like the Ebro Delta in its flat, expansive scenery but with the added extra of fields of white horses.
Once we left Puivert, the biggest challenge was trying to find somewhere to stay overnight. In this part of France, it looked like all the campsites were closed for the winter. But following up on a tip from a fellow traveller, we downloaded an app called Park4Night which lists places either where wild camping is accepted or where there is an official Aire with some services like a water tap. It proved to be extremely useful.

And the highlights:

Relaxing in Puivert:

We had a very enjoyable few days as guests of Julia and Steve …..


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…..in their home in an idyllic setting  at the foothills of the Pyrenees.



They have been living here for many years and are part of a small number of ex-pats who have settled in the town permanently. It sounds like the blow-ins are helping keep this rural community and other smaller towns nearby alive.

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While the area had an influx of newcomers from Spain back in the 1930’s as they escaped from the civil war, the population has declined steadily and now numbers around 500 people.
Among the Brits making their living there are Jayne and Paul Bayliss of Brasserie Du Quercorb. Their bar/brewery in a converted bus depot has become the social hub for ex-pats in the area…


…and they make excellent craft beer….




And we ate very well at one of the only places open in the town on a cold January night. Here’s the cuisse de lapin en civet served up at Le Refuge Gourmand…


..but the best meal of all was Julia’s home cooked cassoulet which she makes by simmering toulouse sausage, haricot beans and a chunk of chorizo in loads of red wine for ages and ages.

This isn’t it…..

When we were back on the road, I was inspired to do a campervan cassoulet which unfortunately photographs like a bowl of Chum but tasted magnifique si je say so moi-meme.

As we left Puivert, the rain started — a very welcome arrival to the town where during our stay the local Mairie had to distribute bottled water to all residents because one of the main reservoirs had dried up after an unprecedented dry spell.

Servicing the van:

By the time we got to Puivert, we’d clocked up more than 6,000 miles on our trip so far. It was time for an oil change and – thanks to the potholes in Morocco – we also needed two new pneus.

Sadly we didn’t get the chance to ask for (phonetically speaking) too noo noos as it seems the ‘p’ in pneumatic is no longer silent once it crosses the Channel depriving us of an opportunity which I’m sure would have been comedy gold.


With the benefit of a scripted shopping list of service requests for Dominique le Mechanique – helpfully prepared for us by fluent French speaker Steve – we were back on the road and heading to the Camargue.

We saw the famous white horses…

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….including this one with an egret perched ready to pick off some parasites in the mane…


..and these resting flamingoes, though a faulty and failing camera zoom lens which is causing much angst to the photographer has made the image a tad fuzzy.


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But sadly the only Camargue cowboys we saw were framed on the wall  and looking marvellously Brokeback here.



Our journey from Puivert to Toulon where we were catching the ferry to Corsica involved two nights staying in places we’d found on Park4night – one in a car park beside a vineyard in Monz and the other in a car park facing the sea in the Camargue village of St Marie.

So we were very excited about getting on the Corsica-Sardinia ferry to Bastia because our cabin for the overnight crossing had a shower which was going to be most welcome after two nights of no washing facilities. There’s only so much that can be achieved with a handful of wet wipes.


And 10 hours later, after a stormy crossing, we were in Bastia and being pulled over for a search.’Where have you come from and do you have anything to declare to French customs’, asked the officer in rapid French.

‘Eh Spain, Portugal, Morocco and no’, I said just catching up with what she’d asked.

‘Any drugs?’, she asked hopefully. ‘No’, I confirmed, suppressing a laugh at the bluntness of the question. How does anyone answer that? But satisfied we weren’t part of the French Connection, we were let continue our journey.

We’d arrived in Corsica – the first of our three-stop island hop, freshly showered and smelling fresh with hints of magnolia and honeysuckle.

Week 15 – Back in Spain – Almeria, the Ebro Delta and up to the French border

This week we celebrated the start of the new year in the historic hilltop town of Ronda before travelling up the east coast of Spain to the French border.


We went in search of “the best paella in Spain” and fittingly followed up with a visit to the rice fields of the Ebro delta.



And this was also the week we enjoyed a taste of the Wild West Hollywood-style and separately had our most challenging driving experience so far.

And the highlights this week were:

New year in Ronda:

We had intended to ring in 2017 with hordes of carousing Spaniards whilst joining them in the tradition of eating a green grape with every one of the 12 strokes of the bells  to midnight.

We chose Ronda as our base thinking we’d see amazing scenery by day and then it would be midnight at the bodega.

We were right about the scenery. Ronda is spectacular. Here it is from a distance.

dsc_4321 But some of those white houses are clinging to the top of  the staggeringly high gorge which divides the town in two, like so:


Stuart overcame waves of vertigo to poke his camera over the bridge…


Meanwhile, when he was taking photos like this…


…I amused myself by visiting a couple of the town’s small museums. One told the story of some of the infamous 19th century bandits who plyed their illegal trade from the nearby mountains, preying on travellers journeying along the trade routes from Cadiz and Gibraltar.

The other, located in the former private home of a collector with most eclectic tastes, comprised a weird mish mash of objects ranging from Hollywood memorabilia, to antique typewriters to instruments of torture used in the Spanish inquisition.

I left feeling nauseous, but probably still a little less queasy than if I’d spent the time looking into Ronda gorge.  I mean look at how high this is…where is the ground for goodness sake?



And as for our happy hogmanay spectacular? It turned out to be a very quiet affair – just the two of us in the van, a remoska stew and a bottle of red. Apparently we’d left all the party and grape action behind on the coast and the annual tradition for the local folk of Ronda is to stay home and ring in the new year with family.

‘Ah noooo….but there is no ambience in Ronda”, the French-owner of the campsite exclaimed when we first checked in and optimistically asked which bar she’d recommend for our big night out. “You must make sure you get to the supermarket before it closes to make sure you have food for your own party”, she advised us, heartwarmingly anxious on our behalf.


From the sign on the campsite entrance warning that ‘silencio total’ was required after 23.00, it looked like the chances of conga-ing round the site with fellow campers belting out choruses of ‘auld lang syne’ weren’t looking too promising either.

And so we took her advice and our 2017 came in with a whimper and not a bang, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Almeria’s desert landscape:

On New Year’s Day,  with the sun shining in a clear blue sky, we drove past the gardens of lemon trees in Ronda…


…pointed in the direction of snow capped mountains and set off on the next leg of our trip.


You know the Alhambra? That’s the Moorish palace in Granada renowned throughout the world for it’s beauty and grace…well, we drove right past it and came here..



It’s a Wild West-style theme park set in the desert landscape of Almeria where back in the 1960’s so many Spaghetti Western films were made like, eh,  Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ to name but… the only one I can actually name. Anyway, quite a few I believe.

Here’s a shot of the landscape where the climate is the hottest and driest in Spain…


And here are some of the visitors from the Spaghetti Western era…


And more recently…


Walking around Fort Bravo is like stepping back into a little town from the Wild West…


…or a Mexican pueblo…


It was fun to stroll around for a bit but really the cheesey cowboy shows staged there are the only reason to go. Stuart wasn’t that keen on going but when he had a gun to his head, he agreed.

Yes, I do mean an actual gun….



Isn’t this guy straight from central casting as the baddie who tries to steal the gold from the goodie?


…but he always gets caught by the good guy…


..and here they all are, ready to slug it out…




The two shows we watched (I’m still playing the ‘you got a whole day’s fishing card you understand Week 6 – Extremadura to La Mancha  )    were all the more entertaining for being totally in Spanish. We hadn’t a scooby what they were talking about – nada.

But I gather from the way the cowboys kept smirking beneath their stetsons, we’re not talking Beckett here.


I was elsewhere when this group of Spanish tourists, complete with their packed lunches from the same hotel, were leaving after the last baddie had been gunned down and just as the loudspeaker started blaring out ‘Achy breaky heart’ .

I understand that to a señor and a señora they broke into a perfectly synchronised line dance like so…



The photo doesn’t quite capture the magic of the moment, according to Stuart. He reckoned it was the best bit of the day.

I really, really don’t agree…

…this was the best bit….


…buzz off kid. These are my nuevo, mucho besto compadres…

…Alhambra schmambra.

On the trail of the best paella in Spain:

We couldn’t leave Spain without having a good paella and according to the Rough Guide to Spain, the place to go is El Palmar, a small seaside resort on the outskirts of Valencia.

We left Almeria and headed up the motorway driving past signs for Med resorts which have been holiday package destinations since the term was invented – Fuengirola, Torremolinos, Roquetas de Mar, Benidorm..


For miles and miles, we drove alongside what’s been called the sea of plastic. That’s the term given to the vast expanse of polytunnels used for growing vegetables in this region. It was a bit like that scene in The Martian where (spoiler alert ) Matt Damon works out how to grow potatoes.

This article though shed a more sinister light on what lies beneath the greenhouses – the clue is in the headline.http://www.ecowatch.com/europes-dirty-little-secret-moroccan-slaves-and-a-sea-of-plastic-1882131257.html



And on the way, we passed another sight which has attracted, I confess, our prurient interest as we’ve travelled through Spain.

That club beside the garage in the photo above – so that’s a brothel. (snicker snicker if you’re English; bless yourself if you’re Irish)

It’s one of many we passed on our travels through a country where prostitution is legal.  Some have been in the middle of the countryside, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We’d see them usually recognisable by a giant neon flashing light of a reclining female with cartoon proportions on the roof and wonder where on earth do the customers come from?

Giles Tremlett’s book ‘Ghosts of Spain’ has a good chapter on this particular club scene and he has an interesting perspective on how the Spanish themselves view legalised prostitution…apparently it’s all to do with an expression of individual freedom post-Franco. The backlash is so strong against this repressive era such that any criticism or suggestion that there’s anything untoward about these clubs is given short shrift.

I had my own experience with this Spanish matter of fact attitude when I asked Mariella about them in the course of our long night socialising. Week 8 – Cadiz to Gibraltar

She shrugged at my questions and looked at me, so seemingly baffled at my ‘oo er missus’ curiosity that I very quickly shut up. Clearly it was a non-subject.

As we leave Spain after a total of 6 weeks here, that was a side to the country we hadn’t expected.

…palms before paella..





So where was I…on our journey to El Palmar for the mythical ‘best paella in Spain’, we stopped for a break at Eche. It’s known for it’s extensive palmerie, planted in the days of the Moors.


But we discovered it is also in the Guinness Book of Records for the record breaking graffiti project along the river bank.


And finally we were at El Palmar…..like any seaside resort in early January, it was pretty bleak. The only colour came from the banners hanging from houses marking the big Christmas celebration for many Spanish – not 25 December but the 6 January when the wise men eventually get there.




The place is likely heaving in Summer..but in Winter we didn’t have much choice so opted for the restaurant called ‘El Palmar’ where the waiters having a pre-service fag enticed us in as we passed by.


Close by, there was a good bakery so we stocked up on squash pudding before going in…


…to finally taste the paella billed as the “best in Spain’?


Hmmm, the mussels were delicious, you could taste the sea, the rice was beautifully cooked but the shrimps disintegrated like dust….still what did we expect as just two of four customers on a cold, rainy January night in the off season.

Visiting the Ebro Delta – eventually

We got horribly lost on the way to the Ebro Delta.

That’s the flat expanse of land in the Spanish province of Catalonia where rice is the main crop. Book early to avoid disappointment – this whole region is so flat that they reckon more than half of it will be under the sea in 50 years.



The landscape is mesmerising but finding it proved a challenge.

Stuart had keyed in the coordinates to the campsite in the GPS…except turns out they were wrong. Very wrong.

I was busy knitting. This VW bedspread is at a tricky stage just now you understand but every now, to show interest in the navigational aspects of this trip, I’d look up, see the Aragon mountains getting nearer and nearer and higher and higher and comment ‘this is a strange route’.

And it was certainly pretty landscape..


But I think it was the ski station sign that was the giveaway we weren’t going anywhere near the coastal flatlands of the Ebro Delta.


We turned back, having driven four hours in the wrong direction to nowhere. So it was my turn to find somewhere to stay for the night. I keyed in the coordinates of a different campsite.

We finally got there when it was dark and circled round and round it. It seemed strange none of the gates were open…



..but not so strange when by torchlight I checked the guide book and spotted the not-quite-so small print. It doesn’t open till March.

I reckoned we were quits now on the screw up front so nowt was said…we keyed in the coordinates for an aire, one of those car parks with services where vans are allowed to park overnight. We followed the smooth tones of the GPS navigator (the manual calls her Serena) ” turn left, turn right, turn left…. We kept going for 20 km across the delta’s narrow bumpy roads in the pitch dark…till the final instruction: ‘Now take the ferry…”.What??

There was nothing left in the metaphorical tank. We stopped exactly where we were, by the riverbank and settled in for an unplanned night of wild camping.

Our rule that we always get to the campsite or aire before nightfall had been broken but sometimes there are benefits..


..like it’s a surprise when you wake and find at sunrise you were right beside a bridge all the time.




Road challenge:

This was the week when the driving has been the most challenging….we were back on never ending steep slopes….


…but they were chickenfeed compared to the strong winds coming in from land which gusted at the van for large parts of the motorway up the Costa Brava. The wind socks along the highway were blowing horizontal and at the worst point, our van was pushed by the wind into the other lane just as another motorhome was coming up behind us.

If Fort Bravo was a theme park, the motorway up the motorway towards France was a white knuckle ride. We were very relieved to get off when we finally arrived at Playa D’Oro, near Girona,  for our last overnight stop before leaving Spain…


And then it was time to cross into France, the fourth country we’ve visited since starting our big trip.



This week was also the first time we’ve seen another UK registered T25 ….it was at Cabo de Gata, a campsite at Almeria where we stopped overnight and had a great welcome from the resident ex-pat community there. (Thanks Lisa and Mark!)

Here she is….It’s older than ours but significantly faster thanks to a new Subaru engine.



We indulged in some geeky van sharing with owners Matt and Anna and were especially impressed that in their travels, they are accompanied by Gus. He’s an Italian something or other, can’t quite recall the breed but he’s huge and a very cheerful placid companion for their trips.



Week 14 – El Jadida to Ceuta – leaving Morocco

The cisterns at El Jadida

This week – our last week in Morocco – we drove the 500 mile journey from Essaouira to the Spanish border at Ceuta.

In the coming weeks, we have a couple of deadlines looming – a van service and tyre change appointment near Carcassonne and a ferry booking to Sicily – so we didn’t have time to get too diverted from pretty much a straight route up the coast and then eastwards to the border.

There was time though to stop off at El Jadida and see the cisterns where Orson Welles filmed ‘Othello’. We also spent a day and night at the fishing village of Moulay Bousselham, one place we’ve definitely decided is on the list for a return visit some day.

We finally crossed back into Ceuta on 30 December. It was a bit crazy at the border when we got there but nothing like it would be a couple of days later when hundreds of migrants made a mass attempt to scale the fence into Spain.

And the highlights of this week were:



Yes, just the experience of driving in Morocco is a highlight. Stuart who is doing all the driving Pink Tasks or Blue Tasks – division of labour VW-style is really going to miss Moroccan roads.


He has loved the feeling of being in constant jeopardy and the 100% total concentration required at all times.


It’s not that the roads are particularly dangerous, at least in our experience. In the six weeks we’ve travelled in Morocco, we saw just two crashes.  But the near misses, well that’s a different number.


Like this one, for example. We were stuck behind the truck pictured above and couldn’t find a safe place to overtake. So we bided our time and stayed behind him, checking out the Che Guevara illustration on the back and wondering who the one in the stetson was. But then the car behind us decided he was going for it and would take us both at once.


That’s right – he picked his moment just as the truck was coming to a blind bend. We held our breath and watched him, hoping that we wouldn’t see carnage when rounded the corner. We should have had more faith. He was long gone by the time we got there, still holding our cautious position behind Che.


And while Stuart’s focus was fully on the roads, dodging the massive pot holes and the road works that led to diversions with little warning, there’s been plenty to see from the passenger seat..


…cattle herding along the road side


..with the occasional stray


…sheep crossing


…or grazing on the roundabout.


That’s not to say being a passenger was always completely relaxing. Sitting on the left in a right hand drive van facing oncoming traffic driving straight at me – a motorhomer we met called it the ‘suicide seat’ – I’ve felt discomfitingly close to the action.

My adopted strategy when seeing  another Mercedes van with a herd of cattle, sheep or goats on the roof rack hurtling directly towards me was to close my eyes and engage those muscles first discovered at ante-natal classes. After six weeks in Morocco, my core is in excellent shape which is nice.

If there have been any disputes between passenger and driver (other than the daily navigational spats of course), they occurred on the single track tarmac desert roads which were about a car and a half’s width, so only room for one vehicle at a time.

At the edge of the tarmac, there would usually be a six inch drop to rough gravel. “He can move over in his great big 4×4. I’m not putting my van into that”, Stuart would moan while engaging in a game of chicken with every oncoming vehicle.

‘I’m not moving, I’m not moving…’ Stuart in full ‘playing chicken’ mode

Notwithstanding the reference to ‘my’ van, my response as I watched the oncoming truck loom ever closer was: MOVE THE HELL OVER – WE’RE THE FOREIGNERS HERE”  Believe me it had to be said in capital letters to get Stuart off road despite the possible consequences to the suspension of our van.

Overall though, the best time driving in Morocco was when we were going through small towns and villages. They were always so busy with people, selling and buying, eating, drinking coffee, gossiping….all so alive with activity and so completely different from the quiet Spanish and Portuguese towns we’d driven through where it was rush hour if we saw two people on the street at the same time.



And the selling continued outside the towns. On country roadsides we would pass women selling dates or argan oil or mussels. Sometimes we’d stop out of curiosity to see what was on offer today.


And here, we stopped to have a look at this olive pressing operation.


We pulled up, dropped in for a quick look…


…and bought a couple of bottles for the van stocks.


Finally, it was truly striking the number of  times we came across a police checkpoint – usually outside every town but sometimes in the most remote of locations (as when we were fined for speeding in the Atlas Mountains Week 9 – Morocco – Ceuta to Midelt in the Middle Atlas

The second time we were pulled over for apparently speeding, the police officer led Stuart to the squad car with the polite words ‘Sir, come with me please. You have to pay for your mistake’.

Stuart, now battle hardened, immediately asked to see the speed camera and for a receipt. The police officer reflected on the request and decided there would be no fine today.


El Jadida –

The Atlantic coast town of El Jadida is on the tourist trail for these cisterns…


They were used as the atmospheric backdrop for Orson Welles ‘Othello’  and are incredibly photogenic. So that wasn’t the day to visit with no memory card in the camera…still my phone did OK on the happy snap front.



The fishing village of Moulay Bousselham:

We got to the village of Moulay Bousselham at sunset and watched as flocks of black birds and white birds gathered together on the sand bank before roosting for the night.


I expect if Paul McCartney turned up, he’d have been inspired to knock out a tuneful little number before teatime.

Next day as we watched the fishing boats unload their catches.


…we met Hassan who is the local expert on the bird life of the area.


He told us proudly he is mentioned in the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide to Morocco and so gets calls directly from the UK from tourists who want to go out in his boat for a bird watching tour.

Hassan told us the sunset scene was a nightly occurrence and, unusually for two different species, the jackdaws and egrets were friends and would meet every evening on the sandbanks to chat, then when the sun went down would fly off to the nearby forest where they roost together.

Great isn’t it? Plenty there to get Paul’s creative juices flowing. Would have been much better than piano keys.


Like the scenes at Essaouira port, the fishing business here is serious stuff.

Hassan told us the boats go out in pairs so, in the absence of life jackets, they can help each other if one boat gets into difficulty. He told us a couple of months back one boat had been damaged by the waves. The fisherman was rescued but the boat sank. Without equipment to salvage it and no insurance, the fisherman had now left the village. “He’s gone I don’t know where – Portugal I think”.

‘Yeah Hassan, all very interesting, but let me tell you about my salmon..it was this big.”

If we had more time we would have taken a boat trip with Hassan – he is definitely the reason to return to Moulay Bousselham. (If you get there before us, his telephone number is 00 21 2668434110 )

Stuart is also sorry we didn’t have longer in Moulay Bousselham or he would have bought and cooked up some of the wriggling eels poured out in a heap at his feet by the young lad who called to the van selling them. I’m very, very glad I missed his visit.  That’s a bit too much local colour for my blood.

Leaving Morocco –

The final leg of our journey out of Morocco took past Casablanca…evocative in name but not so enticing we wanted to stop…


..and over the King Mohammed VI bridge by-passing Rabat.


We stayed the night in Martil, back in the same campsite we’d stayed in on our first night, and in preparation for our journey across the border from Morocco to Spain the next day, Stuart took all the stuff sacks stored on the van roof and emptied them to check we knew everything inside them.

We didn’t want any surprises when it came to a van search at the Spanish border into Ceuta. When it came to our turn, the search was carried out by a very cuddly, inoffensive looking cocker spaniel who was led into the back of the van by a Guardia Civil officer, padded over our bedding and bags carrying out a brisk sniff test.


Six weeks ago when we were coming through the border into Morocco, we gratefully took assistance from a tout who helped us with the paperwork.

Inching towards the border, we had a different guy make increasingly insistent offers to help us with the forms – telling us in part English/part Spanish/part French that it was very, very important we pay him 10 euro so he  could get us though the border ‘vite’.

We declined. We were in no hurry to leave Morocco. Why would we be? It’s been great.