Several Spanish Sierras

Serra Calderona
Serra Calderona

 

By now we thought we were getting a little better at travelling in the van. We were driving in little hops, poking into the countryside or along the coast for an hour or two each day, never waiting until after sunset to find somewhere to sleep. Water was easy enough to find from taps in children's play parks, fontes or town centres, fuel was cheaper in Spain and we knew just about Spanish to make our lives a little easier. Slowly but surely our body clocks began to adapt from a slovenly 11am until after midnight norm, to one which made better use of the light. With little to do in the evenings, we were sleeping before the majority of eight-year-olds and I often woke up just before dawn started to scratch through the curtains. We appeared to have escaped the winter.

 

Sierra d'Irta
Sierra d'Irta

 

Passing through Peñíscola, and childishly mocking its name, we explored the cliffs and beaches of the Sierra d'Irta peninsular. Through the tide line was plagued by dead seaweed in places, the sea was a more pleasing shade of turquoise (one you might expect from the Mediterranean) than we had found it further North. Dan went swimming very briefly (it still wasn't very warm) and we stopped for the night beside Platja d'Irta, a beach composed of a million shells instead of sand. Spiky underfoot, I felt mild regret at treading on them and took care to avoid crushing the most elaborate. You shouldn't camp here, but we were getting cocky.

 

Platja d'Irta, Sierra d'Irta
Platja d'Irta
Platja d'Irta, Sierra d'Irta
Platja d'Irta, Sierra d'Irta
Montanejos hot springs
Montanejos

 

After all the skidding and skating around in the UK and Switzerland, it was becoming apparent that we could probably do with a new tire (only one thankfully as Rod, Dan's dad, had kindly bought us a new one to keep as a spare). Que much confusion and the true Spanish meaning of manjana. Passing the time until that mysterious point in the future, we trundled up to Montanejos on the hunt for more hot springs.

 

"Hot" would have been a vast exaggeration, but more or less the temperature of the swimming pool I spent much of my time at university in, it was comfortable enough for a leisurely breast stroke upstream through the steep sided canyon. Had the water not been so clear, we might not have noticed the schools of sardine sized fish following our feet.

 

fish Montanejos

 

Optimistically returning for 1pm "a la manjana", we were told to wait for thirty minutes. After twenty, they were shortly retiring for a two hour lunch break and again we sold our souls to McDonalds in exchange for their wifi.

 

street art Isaac Mahow, Torreblanca
Isaac Mahow, Torreblanca
Serra Calderona
Serra Calderona
Serra Calderona

 

Eventually Burt was re-shod and we made it to sleep in Serra Calderona just before sunset. We trundled on towards the beach in the morning. Past Oliva the road was sporadically dotted with what I can only assume were "ladies of the night", though it was noon, posing on the roadside, herds of Lycra-clad cyclists and inexplicable quantities of white garden ornaments (wafting nymphs and lion gate guarders) for sale. The beach, with its "CODspicuous" fish and chip shop, had a lot more people in the elevated bars around the beach than anywhere near the sea itself which, when I went for a swim, gave me the disconcerting feeling of being on stage while they watched from the boxes. This might not have bothered me so much had I had any conventional form of swimming attire, but grandmother knickers and a bra as old as my boobs did not fill me with confidence. We had a minor argument, sat grumpily on the sand for half an hour and then bolted the way back we had come without stopping to regret the waste of fuel. 

 

At Serra de Mariola we struck gold. Beside Lloma del Cavall, there is free camping, a stream and large barbecue sites for cooking. Being only early March, we were the only people staying there despite the sun and were left in solitude excluding occasional cyclists, groups of elderly hikers and one family who came for a barbecue. Rigging a bungee-rope/shoe-lace washing line, I could wash all our clothes without wasting any gas or drinking water, thus fighting off the inevitable complete descent into hippy squalor for another day. In the evening, we were serenaded by dozens of invisible frogs and eight peaceful hours later woke up to a particularly noisy dawn chorus. 

 

Serra de Mariola
Serra de Mariola
Sierras de Cazorla
Sierras de Cazorla

 

In the sunshine, bad weather seems almost inconceivable and we left our warm utopia in the promising direction of the much larger Sierras de Cazorla.

 

The enormous Emblase del Tranco de Beas was no doubt a very beautiful lake, but shrouded in rain so heavy we may as well have been driving under the outskirts of Niagra and with wind so strong that a tree was blown over ten meters away from our first parking spot, it was a little difficult to appreciate. We stayed one night, mildly worried by echos of thunder around the mountains. 

Sierras de Cazorla
Sierras de Cazorla

 

Foolishly we fled to the Costa del Sol, a seemingly improbably place to be crushed by a tree or struck by lightening. The misty scenic route from Grenada to Olivar held our attention with its shaggy, saw toothed peaks and occasional unfortunate burnt out cars at the bottom of precipices or off the edges of particularly treacherous corners, until our fuel light popped red. We coasted downhill for an increasingly tense forty minutes until we came to a queue of hazard lights and turned the engine off entirely. Not knowing what had caused the hold up, it would have been distinctly wrong to feel inpatient, but after an almost silent twenty minutes of watching other people walk up and down to inspect around the corner, we were pleased to be directed around a broken-down lorry. Four more anxious minutes down the road there was a petrol station.

 

 

We found a relatively quiet headland along the Costa del Sol, though in general the coast was much as we should have expected and we didn't stay for long. Besides, the weather was still a little grim.

 

Costa del Sol
Costa del Sol

 

We charged on North West now, running from the weather which pluagued us with rain, mist and dense cloud through Sierra de las Nieves and up to the lake near Zahara, where we got stuck in mud for a good half an hour in what had at first seemed like a promising place to sleep. Zahara itself is nestled in the crook of two peaks, the smallest of which has a castle on it, but it was still raining and though I now had a crashing headache (probably from too much time in the van), we travelled further into Sierra de Grazalema in search of somewhere less sticky. 

 

 

Just before Villaluenga de Rosario, we found a fairy grotto picnic spot to park beside. There were gnarled ancient olive trees, covered in moss and lichens, a babbling stream and, only once the clouds had cleared in the morning, we could see the huge rocky outcrop above. Swooping birds overhead turned out to be Griffon Vultures, which the area is famous for. 

 

In Villaluenga del Rosario, we accidentally invested in eight euros worth of award winning, semi-cured goat and sheep's cheese. As soon as we entered the minuscule shop, it was inevitable; this was only a quarter of a wheel, so we could have easily spent quadruple and been set of an eternity. I nearly had an uncontrollable giggling fit... Neither of us have ever been fans of goat's cheese and have never spent so much money on any one food item, but it's hard to feel guilty about supporting the local economy (I told myself). Along with the expensive cheese, which turned out to be like a slightly softer version of Parmesan and thankfully quite palatable (though less so after five days out of the fridge), this part of Spain is a very rewarding one to support. There are fresh oranges and lemons (if you have need of them), walnuts, many types of olives and different breads from town to town. All of these are much more affordable and conveniently delicious. 

 

Now enjoying glorious sunshine, I promised myself not to take it for granted as we rambled around the tiny white town of Benaocaz. With remnants of Moorish buildings overlooking the mountains, orange trees growing in every available corner and lazy cats lounging under them as locals strolled about their business, only mildly curious about our scruffy materialisation, Benaocaz seemed to be the most idyllic settlement we'd come across since leaving the tiny hillside villages of Southern France. 

 

Benaocaz, Benaocaz, Benaocaz...

 

Benaocaz

 

We stumbled down the old Roman road towards Ubrique, now only accessible by foot, horse or possibly quad bike. Along with the vultures, there were herds of jangling goats, some cows, sheep and a friendly donkey. 

 

The rain, at least, is good for farmers...

 

Roman road from Benaocaz to Ubrique
Roman road from Benaocaz to Ubrique

The Roman road and remains of their irrigation system.

 

Roman road from Benaocaz to Ubrique
cow, Roman road from Benaocaz to Ubrique

Write a comment

Comments: 14
  • #1

    Natasha von Geldern (Monday, 27 March 2017 11:48)

    I'm sure this delightfully random road trip will supply pub stories for years to come :) Love the look of Benoacaz especially.

  • #2

    Katie Featherstone (Wednesday, 19 April 2017 07:55)

    Thanks Natasha :)

  • #3

    Zascha (Saturday, 29 April 2017 11:17)

    I love your way of traveling around. It makes me wish I had a driver's license (I know, I'm 25 and I still don't have one!), so I could have more freedom. Beautiful photos!

  • #4

    Bilyana | Owl Over The World (Saturday, 29 April 2017 16:42)

    Such a wonderful beaches, amazing landscapes, lovely villages and cool street art. I also want to try the van life one day even for a little.

  • #5

    Katie Featherstone (Saturday, 29 April 2017 16:45)

    I would recommend it to anyone!

  • #6

    anto (Sunday, 30 April 2017 09:50)

    Who knew Spain was this filled with mountains? I got to visit Extremadura region last year and totally loved it, so mountainous and filled with great hiking trails ...

  • #7

    Chrysoula Manika (Sunday, 30 April 2017 11:50)

    Such an amazing road trip you are having. I always wanted to explore Spain by car so I am noting the places you are seeing. I would love to visit Platja d'Irta, I haven't seen a beach with so many shells before.

  • #8

    Rhonda Albom (Sunday, 30 April 2017 11:51)

    I think you have a unique perspective of Spain from your road trip. I hope Burt takes you far.

  • #9

    Indrani (Monday, 01 May 2017 07:51)

    You have gone well in to the interiors of Spain, lovely sights captured. I too did a road trip of Spain but mostly through the highways hopping from city to city. I would love to do a similar relaxed tour some day!

  • #10

    Sid (Monday, 01 May 2017 14:12)

    Such a beautiful post - I think I was travelling with you while reading it! So many interesting experiences, but to me the one about swimming with the sardines in crustal clear water sounds blissful! :)

  • #11

    Megan Jerrard (Tuesday, 02 May 2017 03:05)

    Sounds like quite the adventure - never a dull moment that's for sure! The scenery looks incredible (when it's not raining I'm sure), I haven't touched the interiors of Spain yet tough would love to take a van around the country too :)

  • #12

    Mansoureh (Tuesday, 02 May 2017 18:02)

    This is great. I always wanted to travel by van and randomly choose a road and destination, but haven't done it yet. By the way your photos are amazing :)

  • #13

    Katie Featherstone (Tuesday, 02 May 2017 22:57)

    Thank-you everyone :)

  • #14

    Trisha Velarmino (Wednesday, 03 May 2017 10:42)

    I love Spain! It was my home. I love the fact that it has more than just Barcelona and Milan. These mountains are the side of Spain that people need to see.

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