We’ve been back in the UK for 7 weeks now so a summary of our first foreign adventure is probably long overdue.
To recap – we set sail from Dover on February 11th 2018 and we returned to Dover on May 10th 2018. In the intervening 88 days we raced south through France just as the Beast From The East was hitting the UK (and France & Spain), spent several weeks in a very soggy Spain and scratched the van down both sides getting into and out of our Provence housesit.
We drove 3166 miles, stayed in some fantastic locations, ate some fantastic food, drank some great wine and discovered loads and loads of interesting places that we’d never heard of before and didn’t expect to find. We had no detailed plan and no pre-thought out itinerary – we wandered vaguely south through Spain, rushed to Provence for our housesit, then wandered vaguely north towards home. (Not strictly towards home as the van feels very much like home now)
This map shows our route. The red line is outward bound and the blue line is homeward bound.
One thing that jumps out at me when I look at the map is that we’ve barely scratched the surface of France and Spain; never mind seeing other countries. So lots more to see next time.
Highlights and Lowlights
When we started writing this blog post we thought we’d come up with a Top 5 places we’ve visited, a Top 5 food we’ve eaten etc etc. but the more we thought about it the more we realised that that’s not how it’s worked out for us. In reality we have a Top 1 and a load of other highlights.
Our Top 1 is the lifestyle overall and the freedom that comes with it. We started off not knowing whether the motorhoming life was for us or not and we’ve ended up absolutely loving it. We haven’t needed to book a single campsite in France or Spain and this means we can wander at our own pace wherever we fancy. We can make it up as we go along: if we like a place we can stay a few days more, or a week more; whatever we feel like. Rocking up somewhere and discovering a whole new area is another aspect of this freedom. We must have gypsy blood!
Our other general highlights are:-
- Wildlife – Hoopoes, Spoonbills, Parrots, Flamingoes, Eagles and Egrets. Lizards, bees and noisy frogs (so many noisy frogs). Tiny orchids and huge rubber trees. Loads and loads of things that we don’t get, or rarely see, in the UK.
- Open Spaces – We couldn’t believe how most of France and Spain were so uncrowded compared to where we live in the UK. You could really appreciate the sky, the trees, the birds, mountains, lakes. Winding country roads with no traffic. Main roads with minimal traffic. Quiet and peace.
- Eating – especially tasty and cheap in Spain. Tapas is great! Fresh locally baked daily bread, tapenade, cheese of many kinds, olives…… The fact that nearly every village we visited still has a clutch of basic shops. Markets brimming with local farmers selling their vegetables or hand cured meats and cheeses.
- Towns and cities with vibrant centres, full of locals going about their daily business and using their lovely shops. Sleepy siestas and late night opening. Bars buzzing with chatter and laughter, families mixing together. Excellent cycle routes and the courtesy of drivers toward cyclists….
A few specific things were memorable:-
- Carrières de Lumières – the subterranean art installation in Baux-de-Provence.
- Helping repair a WWII tank in Cartagena.
When we were dreaming of this adventure, I couldn’t help but think I’d be bathed in the golden light of everlasting summer. The reality of travelling in February is that it is Winter, even in Spain! So it soon became necessary to manage expectations and learn to cope with cool (but not freezing) temperatures, rain and strong wind.
Occasionally we were (marooned?) in our van restricted by the vagarities of the weather. Poor things I hear you cry! At the time it was frustrating, but that was all it was – frustrating. Taking the whole trip into account we had a fabulous time which really wasn’t hampered in any serious way by the weather.
Having spent quite some time trying to learn Spanish, it was humbling to find it almost impossible to understand locals or make ourselves understood! Attempting to speak French was equally mystifying for us and those trying to understand us. Must try harder.
Internet Access, perhaps the most frustrating thing of all. Even campsites with ‘good’ access i.e. a full signal, were in reality hopeless. Not so bad if you’re on holiday – a Godsend even – but for writing Blogs and downloading photos it was a big pain in the you-know-what. For example it often took over 10 minutes to upload one edited photo, and that’s only if we didn’t get timed-out and have to start all over again – grrrr!!
And a few things we’ve learned
- The number of people who spend the winter in southern Spain is staggering – they’re everywhere. The bulk of them come from the Netherlands, Germany and the UK (in fact I’m surprised there’s anyone left in the Netherlands in the winter). But they come from all over; we saw Danes, Norwegians and even a Finn.
- Don’t let the sat-nav decide your route. We spent far too long on tiny French backroads before realising that the sat-nav just chooses the shortest route available. We soon got into the habit of checking the sat-nav’s suggested route and adding a few waypoints to keep him on the main roads.
Can’t wait to get back on the road again.