Sunday 8 May 2016

Costa Brava

Spain and France, 24th – 27th April 2016

Views from the St Feliu de Guíxols coastal walk
Next for us was the Costa Blanca, which we didn’t want to miss after reading about it on OurTour’s blog from when they visited this area in November. We did it quite briefly though passing from place to place as it was time we made our way back into France after two months in Spain, which we’d planned to have taken a month to six weeks for. It’s a large country though with lots of great places to see which we’ve enjoyed, we’ve still only seen some of what’s to offer though, leaving lots more to return to one day. We had a couple of reasons for getting back up to France, the first one being the van was due its full 2-year mechanical service in the first week of May which I wanted to be in France so I was able to communicate sufficiently with the garage. The other was so that we have enough time to visit Switzerland and Austria, the remaining key counties we’d like to cover during this trip.

There was some noise and activity going on outside in the morning at Blanes, cars were filling the car park and there were lot of bikes about. We got on our way before the last space around us was taken so we had room to manoeuvre out. A cycle event appeared to be going on, with some of the roads closed around the town. Taking a detour we travelled along to St Feliu de Guíxols where there is an aire (GPS: 41.78005 3.02270) that’s surprisingly free including the service point. It was busy but we got a space and went for a wander around. There was a fitness event going on here too with lots of exercise bikes outside the sports centre with somebody leading the group in rhythm to music that was pumping out of large speakers, and then when we passed later there were springy shoes in use instead. We looked past the old cathedral and walked through the streets to find a market going on. We picked up a 2kg crate of strawberries for €2 from one of the many fruit and veg stalls before looking at the sea front area. Following a route on a town map from the tourist office we took a coastal walk around to the next bay at Sant Pol which involved a lot of going up and down steps to various stages of the path.

St Feliu is a pleasant coastal town, but with wanting to try to keep moving a bit quicker we just had the one night on the aire. With our tanks all emptied and filled we got on the road to Llafranc, which is another nice seaside town, smaller this time though. There was work going on on the beach with heavy machinery digging up sand from the shallow waters at one end of the bay and transporting it to and dumping it at the other end. We took the short coastal walk along an easy-going footpath to the neighbouring village of Castella de Palafrugell. There were quite a few people on the beach here taking advantage of the sun. After walking back through the town to where we’d parked we were deciding whether to stay or move on a bit further, but we found the freezer had started defrosting due to being parked on a bit of a slant. This was the decider so we got on our way to a parking spot on top of the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Roses at Punta Mongo near l’Escala. Here there were a few cars parked taking up the flatter part of the small parking area leaving just ground that was too sloping. The views were great though, we had a walk to a tower at the end of the headland before having a look on Park4Night to figure out where to go next.


Castella de Palafrugell

Punta Mongo

With a few alternatives noted down we called past a couple of potential spots before getting to a parking area for some Roman ruins close to a beach with a sea view between trees and buildings from some of it (GPS: 42.13042 3.12116). Signs at the entrance said €10 for parking 10am-8pm or a charge for a shorter duration by the minute but the barriers were open and it wasn’t clear whether they were actually charging. Three other campers were parked up so we joined them. While manoeuvring amongst the wooded area I managed to reverse straight back into a tree in front of people stood out by two of the vans which was embarrassing! Luckily no damage was done, I was only moving very slowly and the large tree that couldn’t be seen in the mirrors just made contact with Jo’s bike on the rack before I felt the resistance and pulled forward, then seeing the tree on the rear view camera screen. With being on the road for over a year’s continuous period now, Jo finished writing up and uploaded the blog post on our costs which you can see here.

We got away from our freeparking spot early and went into l’Escala to do a big shop to stock up on Spanish Lidl products in anticipation for leaving the country in the next couple of days. With chorizo, sangria, cava, Argus beer (67c/L!), 69c wine briks, campesina crisps and cheddar cheese on board we travelled to Empuriabrava to a waterside parking spot (GPS: 42.25606 3.10510). This mid-20th century new town is an unusual place built around a main canal with side canals branching off from it. It’s the largest residential marina in the world with 24km of canals.  Many of the houses in the main area face out onto the canals and have boat moorings at the end of their garden. There are some nice houses here and some unusual ones, many of them have a round corner tower as part of their structure. We walked around the area where unfortunately you can only see the canals from certain areas as the majority of the land immediately next to them is taken by the grounds of properties. I noted most of the cars parked at the houses were French-registered along with a fair few German ones too; presumably they were their holiday homes. It’s a nice place around the canals but beyond is just a typical urban sprawl complete with main street full of touristy restaurants, boat/bike/car hire shops and estate agents. Near the beach is a conventional seaside development with high-rise hotels and flats near the expansive sandy beach.

From our parking spot we had a prime unobstructed view over part of the waterways and had a quiet night with just one other Spanish motorhome there. The next day we went into Figueras, parked up at an Esclat supermarket with a line of other vans and had a walk into the centre. It’s most well-known for the Salvador Dalí museum here which we were undecided about visiting but thought probably would give it a go. We did a circuit around the streets finding it to be quite a nice place. We came across the Dalí museum but the long queue to get in changed our mind about visiting. I took some photos of the unusual features around the outside of the building then we continued looking around the nearby streets checking out the restaurants. In one, La Churraskita, I saw what looked like a relatively good paella on someone’s table so we gave it a go. We went for their €10.90 Menu del dia with 3 courses and wine, plus a €2 supplement for paella, but found it was a bit runny without the drier bottom and tasted like it was made with stock. It was nice enough but now I think we’ve been spoilt having a proper Valencian paella!  It turned out to be probably the most touristy meal we’ve had on our tour, the ice-cream we ordered for desert was a supermarket brand Cornetto! I also noticed the bar man pouring glasses and jugs of sangria from a Don Simon bottle rather than making it.

The back of the Dalí Museum
The front of the Dalí Museum
An unusual Dalí piece outside the museum

Le Boulou aire when much quieter in the morning
Back at the van we weren’t sure where to head next, ultimately deciding to get a move on over the border into France where there are plenty of free aires. Before leaving town we filled up with cheap diesel (€0.929/L) and LPG (€0.604/L). A quick fuel consumption update: This refuel gave us the chance to check our actual economy for the past few weeks and 700-odd miles. We’d averaged 28mpg, not bad going, and slightly above our overall trip average. Cutting through the mountains we soon got into France where the towns and villages instantly were noticeably tighter to drive through. We stopped for the night at an aire by the cemetery in Le Boulou (GPS: 42.52728 2.83804, Free, Serv. pt., Water €2) which was busy but with a few of the 20 spaces left. At the leveller end of the row we slotted tightly into one of the narrow bays with vans each side, with just enough room to open our habitation door, the tightest we’ve been parked so far, and settled here for the night.

Next it was onwards up through France to make progress covering ground and try to get the van booked in to a Fiat garage for its service that was due the following week.

- Matt

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