Sunday 20 March 2016

From British Fish 'n' Chips to Moorish White Towns: Gibraltar to Ronda

Spain and Gibraltar, 14th – 18th March 2016

Following Portugal I wasn’t expecting much of Spain and thought we may face a plateau in our trip at this point so travel through quickly. We’d heard lots of stories of problems and of not being able to freepark in southern Spain but so far it’s been great. It confirms to us further that you shouldn’t believe all the stories that go around and instead get there and find out for yourself. We’ve had some great beach locations last week, then this week have visited Gibraltar before heading inland into the mountains to the Pueblos Blancos, the White Towns.

After the very busy Sunday at the beach at Tarifa, Monday morning was very quiet and calm. There was no sign of wind present or on the forecast so we got on our way as we needed a service point. Our next main destination was to be Gibraltar but to get nearer the night before we were heading for Castellar de la Frontera where there is a free aire with services. First though we needed some things at Lidl and trying to find the main one in Algeciras where motorhomes stay before or after going to Morocco, it was the third store we found that was the right one which was actually a couple of junctions outside of Algeciras going east. After getting in the wrong lane at a roundabout and going down a side road to turn around we stumbled across Carlos’ ticket office which everyone seems to use, so we know where it is for future reference at least.

At Castellar de la Frontera (GPS: 36.28335 -5.42104, Free inc serv. pt.) we got filled up on water then had overdue showers that we’d been holding off due to running low on water, then I washed down my windsurf kit in the shower, and we had a tidy up and clean in the van. After our jobs were done we went for a stroll around the town before dinner where there wasn’t a lot to see, just a few bars/restaurants and shops, and a church. We found out later that we didn’t see the main attraction here, it turns out there is an old town that is outside of the main town.


Parking at the football ground, about 15 min walk to Gib 
There’s no suitable parking for large vehicles in Gibraltar itself so the norm is to park in La Linea de la Conception which is on the border and travel in by foot/bike/bus. A couple of people we’ve met recently have mentioned to us about parking for €3 at the football ground as an alternative to the €12+ aires, so after a bit of driving around looking for signs we found it and got parked up there (GPS: 36.15860 -5.33893) with a reasonable number of other vans.  We walked into Gib with a brief passport check at the border, and had to wait at the runway that crosses the road in for an easyjet plane to take off. Walking down Main Street we looked for a couple of things in the shops. One thing I was after was a micro-SD card which I had a price of €6.90 from Carrefour to beat. The first electronics shop I went in the guy offered me exactly the same card for £15, near enough three times the price! With that I walked out and decided not to bother looking elsewhere, it seems the electronics shops are just a rip-off, and most items don’t have prices on so you have to ask. Other shops fare better though, alcohol stores are very cheap.

We looked for Smith’s fish and chip shop, a long established traditional British one, but couldn’t find it, either it had gone or was on a street behind where we were looking. Instead we went through Irish Town to look at The Clipper which Mike who we met last week had recommended for pub food. Deciding that we fancied a chippy we headed to Casemates Square to check out the options there, seeing how meals on people’s plates looked. Roy’s Fish & Chips looked good so we gave it a go, and last time we were in Gib on a holiday a few years ago we had had some from the other main one at the other side of the square which we seem to remember were quite good. Roy’s turned out to be a good choice, our regular Haddock and chips were huge and very good, we only just managed to eat them all. Being used to drinking beer with meals out because it’s cheaper than soft drinks (in Portugal and Spain) I ordered a pint not acknowledging it was British prices here at a steep £3.25 rather than the €1-€2 we’re used to!

The 3 dry dock berths
By the time we’d finished at the restaurant it was getting a bit late to go up to the top of The Rock so we decided to have a walk to the southern point, but it turned out to be further than we expected and having already covered several km we turned back partway. We saw the dockyards where there are three dry docks for ship repairs which were used extensively by the Royal Navy, and the beaches which weren’t up to much, just concrete areas for deckchairs with a pool facing out onto the sea. On our way back to the border we detoured to the place that was our main reason to come into Gibraltar, Morrisons. I was expecting it to be limited, but was surprised to find it was just like a smaller store in England with all the same range of products on the shelves, just with different pricing on some things. We picked up lots of nice treats including the most important bacon, sausages, chocolate fudge cake, and cheddar cheese, plus some chocolate flapjacks that were reduced with yellow labels in the same way as they do at home. Back at the van after unintentionally taking a long way back we were still full from our fish and chips so just had the flapjacks to eat and being our four-year anniversary cracked open our last bottle of Prosecco from Italy.

We decided to have another day in Gib after not getting up The Rock, and besides Morrisons has a café that does full English breakfasts! We took the cable car to the top and had a look at the views from the viewing area before going into the shop to buy our £10 pp tickets for the Nature Reserve area at the top. The helpful girl on the till told us we could walk around for free, the tickets are only required to enter the attractions, something the tourist info desk and cable car ticket office had neglected to mention. Having planned to visit some of the attractions we had a change of mind and decided to leave them for now and have a walk following the paths down. We soon came across monkeys near one of their feed stations and saw lots more along the way. They are Barbary macaque species, the only tailless monkeys, and another unique feature is they have opposable thumbs like humans so are dexterous. This enables them to pick berries, blades of grass and other things to eat in the wild, and when grooming they can pick at lice or flakes of skin. Barbary macaques are classed as endangered but this is not the case in their controlled environment in Gib where the population has increased in recent years. They are thought to have originally been brought over by the Moors as pets, and when their population suffered a significant decline during the Second World War some more were brought over from North Africa. We watched the monkeys playing about, grooming each other, eating, and climbing on a van with two of them fascinating themselves with the roller at the back of the roof rack. It was amusing watching them sat rolling it and hanging from it turning it.

Back in the town we shopped around for some Bacardi to have a go making our own Mojitos, we found a lot of the prices were consistent getting a 1L bottle for only £6.89. Then it was back to Morrisons for a Big Breakfast for lunch. The English lady on the till asked if we wanted any desserts with it, finding there was an offer to add one for only £1 extra I went for apple crumble and custard, and Jo chose hot chocolate fudge cake and ice cream. Before leaving the shop we picked up some more sausages as they were out of stock of Lincolnshire’s the day before and made our way back home for another night in La Linea.

Ronda and the Pueblos Blancos

After seeing how cheap fuel is in Gib (57p per litre for diesel!) without the ridiculous amount of tax that the British Government adds on we drove in on the last morning to fill up. We happened to time it for when the easyjet flight was taking off so had to sit on the road with the engine off for about ten minutes. Conveniently we were on the fuel light so could take advantage of the lowest fuel we’ve ever seen to get a full tank of the premium stuff for only £48!

Back out of Gib our route was going to take us inland next to avoid the built-up Costa del Sol so we stopped to fill up on LPG while we could. Heading into the hills the roads quickly deteriorated with collapsed and bumpy sections but very scenic views as we twisted along them. In this area of the Andalusian countryside there are a number of Peublos Blancos (White Towns) dotted about on the hillsides. The first one we visited was Caceres whose name derives from the Arabic word for fortress, featuring a castle and fortified walls of Moorish origin. Along with Cadiz, Caceres was one of only two places in Spain that Napoleon’s army could not conquer. We picked up a map from the information centre next to the parking area outside the town then walked in which involved a descent down the hill to the valley bottom then a climb up the other side into the town. We walked around the backstreets and up to the remains of the castle on the hilltop. Griffin vultures are a common sight, inhabiting the mountains all year round but we didn’t see any whilst we were here.

After continuous climbing uphill with sights of rugged mountains and other Pueblos Blancos we got to our next one, Benarrabá, at 522m on the slopes of Mount Porón. The aire (GPS: 36.54926 -5.27913, Free inc Serv. pt.) which is described by our aires book as “over designed” has a service point for each of the five parking bays and brilliant views out of the surrounding mountains. We joined our German and Dutch neighbours by getting our chairs out to relax in the last hour or so of sun before having a walk around the village. There’s not a lot here, although there is a bar or two, but was an attractive place to wander.

The next day we planned to visit and maybe stay at Grazalema but after programming the satnav found it would’ve added over 60km of small twisty mountain roads to our journey so changed our plan and went straight to Ronda, stopping at several miradors (viewpoints) en route. Ronda had been recommended to us by several people but we found parking a motorhome here to be terrible and after some driving around stopped on the outskirts in a quiet new housing development to have lunch. We moved to Aldi to park to walk into town where we headed for the main bridge, Puente Nuevo, which crosses the 130m deep El Tajo river gorge and is an impressive sight. The bridge used to contain a prison from which prisoners had been thrown from alive. Jo was stressing about leaving the van where we had so we just made it a brief walk around through some of the old town before returning. Looking online for other options to stay and see more, the only outcome was the campsite at €25 so we left it and carried on. We’ll come back at some point though as we think it would be worth a proper look around. Back on main roads we travelled to Antequera as it was along our route and has a free aire (GPS: 37.02137 -4.57170) which is where we are now and I’ll leave for the next post. From here we’re deciding on whether to go into Granada next.

- Matt


  1. You could pop up the road to Savile, it's 'holy week' this week, culminating in the grand finale on Friday, then East to Cordoba, then Granada, just a suggestion. Did you notice the 'bar' in Morrison's? Kindest... Wayne

    1. Yes I noticed the bar in Morrisons, should've mentioned it on here but forgot about it whilst writing this. Thanks for the suggestion Wayne however we were at Seville a couple of weeks ago, and Cordoba we've had recommended but decided was a bit far off route this time. Hope you're enjoying Holy Week at El Rocio. Feel free to keep any suggestions and recommendations coming, we're always happy to receive them.
      Thanks, Matt

  2. I've been reading your reports for a few months now, but this one and the next have been of particular interest because you've been visiting mainly the same places as we did (albeit in reverse order) in February. Your comment about not finding anywhere satisfactory to park in Ronda made me wonder whether you're using the Park4Night website/app (assuming you've got regular data access at the moment)? We found it really useful for finding places to park during the day, even if we didn't have an interest in staying in those places over night - including in Ronda.

  3. Hi Gayle, Thank you for your comments. We were shown Park4Night by friends a while back and it looked like there's a lot of content but haven't used it ourselves, we keep forgetting about it at the times when we could use it! We have a limited amount of 3G mobile internet data per month so try not to use it too much but can do to look for parking spots. Maybe the offline app would be a worthwhile investment.
    Thanks, Matt