Discovering Spain and More Road Trip 2019
When you live in Benidorm a question you often get asked is where do you go on holiday? After the success of last years Road Trip where we discovered some of Southern Spain, this year the plan was to head North......... Discovering Spain again
The idea of these road trips is to discover the real Spain, therefore, we always set the Sat Nav to avoid ALL Motorways and Toll Roads, so the distance covered will be a lot more but by doing this you never quite know what you are going to come across.
Only our first 3 nights were booked before hand after that decisions are made on where the next stop will be, decided by price of accommodation and driving distance, one of the joys of this type of holiday is you are never sure where you will end up, which makes ever day the start of a new holiday.
Day One and Two - Benidorm to Xativa, driving time 2 hours 58 mins, 128km situated in the province of Valencia
Our first stop was in the town of Xativa, if you take the normal route this beautiful traditional Spanish town can be reached from Benidorm in just over an hour and a half, but thats no fun.... We drove across the Puig Campana and Aitana mountains enjoying the stunning scenery, from there onto the town of Ontinyent, which has wonderful waterfalls, similar to Algar Falls.
Xátiva is the capital of the La Costera region, the town is famous for being the birthplace of the Spanish painter El Espanoleto and two popes from the Borgia dynasty.
One of its most visited sites is the wonderful castle with its 30 towers and four fortified gateways, for a small fee (2.40€) you can wander round to your hearts content, as we were here in August and this town is renowned for having the highest temperatures in the region, it was a bit of a struggle in 36ºc heat (in the shade), but well worth it.
As with most Spanish towns this time of year it does not start to come to life until 8pm, many places not serving food until 9pm, but the place to be is the town square, which had a selection of bars and restaurants all busy, most with local families all enjoying the balmy evenings, with children running about the square closely watched by nearby family members, such a lovely atmosphere, and on a Friday morning this is where you will also find the weekly market with some great bargains to be had. Friday evenings is when the place really comes to life with local bands (informal brass bands marching/well more strolling) that seem to have some sort of play off against each other with all the locals joining in dancing, clapping and singing along.
Accommodation - Gomez Rooms
Price 50€ per night (100€)
What a find this accommodation was and it set a high standard for the rest of our accommodation. This property was situated just on the outskirts of the old town within easy walking distance to the old town churches, squares, bars and restaurants.
The whole place was spotlessly clean, nice size room with large double bed, fantastic bathroom and some nice homely touches.
Parking could be booked in advance at an additional fee of 10€ per day but we were lucky enough to find parking in the street right outside the door.
We will certainly be returning to Xativia again (taking the quick route) and if planning an over night stay will not hesitate to book the above accommodation again.
Dereks Input: Here we go again, Camera caddy and up step runner. Im getting too old for this. . The Accommodation was also playing Christmas music when we arrived. That sounds strange in August heat.... But for a touch of Rock Music look out for "No sé". Dutch owned bar always up for a jam session. You never know what you will come across discovering Spain
Day 3 - Xativa to Cuenca, driving time 4 hours 21 mins, 298km
Community of Castile–La Mancha in central Spain
This is one place that was on my must see list, having been told how beautiful it is time and time again, so off we went, some lovely scenery along the way with field after field of sunflowers, and luckily enough unlike last year these were all in full bloom.
Cuenca is classed as a A World Heritage UNESCO Site. Like a lot of Spanish towns the new town is quite bland and modern, but does have plenty of shops and tapas bars etc. BUT up the hill towards the old town and another world awaits with brightly coloured houses, winding streets and of course the famous hanging houses (casas colgadas).
If you are brave enough cross the San Pablo Bridge into the town, built between 1533 to 1589 over the Huecar River Gorge to connect the town with San Pablo's convent. The original bridge collapsed (thats reassuring), and the current one was built in 1902. It's 40 metres high and made of wood and iron, unfortunately I only managed a few meters onto the bridge, but at least can say I have been there, Derek was slightly braver and made it to half way.
As with all towns there was a wonderful square, surrounded by bars and restaurants and this is also where you can find the historic cathedral.
The views from the old town are just stunning,
Unfortunately we did not really do as much research as we should have done and didn´t realise that a whole town was there as most information seems to just mention the hanging houses and cathedral and of course the bridge as we only had the one night booked here we didn´t really have much time to explore..... There is always next time.
Accommodation - Ch Victoria Alojamientos 2 Star
Price per night 55€, parking if needed an additional 15€
Instructions were to contact the property owners half an hour before arrival, we sent a text message and got no response, so called them on arrival. it turned out that the owners had a few apartments to rent in a large apartment block, instruction on getting into the property were give totally in Spanish over the phone, and it was a bit like the crystal maze... we managed to gain entry into the block itself, find the right door which had a combination lock on the handle, insert the code, enter this room, collect our keys, go to another door, open than and only then did we have access to the door of our room, what a palava.... Thank goodness we did not need instructions to the underground parking as we managed to park in the street.
The apartment was situated just on the outskirts of the new town within walking distance of the old town area, we later found out that you could just drive up there after struggling the tough climb in ridiculous heat.
The apartment was basic but had everything we needed for a one night stay, the shower looked impressive but was just a dribble and the communal hair dryer (out in the foyer did not work).
Would we stay in these apartments again... NO, if we visit again we would actually use one of the many hotels situated in the old town itself.
Slight change of plans for our next stop I had it planned in my head to keep heading North, but Derek saw how close we were to Madrid and suggested that as our next stop, this is one of the joys of this type of holiday, routes can be changed at any time.
Dereks Input: We arrived, checked in, and checked out without ever seeing a member of staff. No ID (passports etc) were ever asked for. Is that even legal?
Days 4 and 5 - Madrid, Travel time 3 hours 16 mins, 175km
Discovering Spain, Spain's Capital City
The drive to Madrid was pretty uneventful really but a few more stunning fields of sunflowers, other than that it was quite a barren area, not even many towns or villages to drive through.
Once we hit Madrid it was another story, there is a whole section of roads all underground.... great stuff if you know where you are going and what turn off you need but a nightmare if you are using a Sat Nav, we could have been underground half the day, but after a few lucky guesses emerged back into day light.
As with most other major cities, Madrid did not have much of a personality, just busy busy busy with people and heavy traffic everywhere, great if you love shopping it even has a 5 story Primark.
After arriving quite late in the afternoon we decided to get a feel for what was around by using the open top tourist bus, cheaper than some major cities at 22€ for the day or 26€ for two days, we opted for the two day pass as there were two routes available and we managed both. The first evening we hopped on, plugged ourselves into the on-board commentary. Half way round Derek commented, is this the only English channel? I had just stopped on the first English voice I heard. It was only when he started the commentary as a cat and asked if we finished our homework that we realised we were listing to the childrens channel, problem rectified after a bit more cruising of the available channels. The tour gave us a good incite as to what was available to see the next day when we would have more time.
The next day after the obligatory tostada and fruit juice for breakfast we hopped back on the bus and made our way to the Royale Palace (Palacio Real). Quite a large queue to get in which in 36ºc we didnt feel like standing in.
Also worth a visit is the Cathedral and crypt which is more or less next door to the palace.
There is also a lovely park next to the Palace where you can find a shady spot to sit and watch the world go by.
The other place that people seem to make a big fuss about is the plaza Mayor (town square) we found this quite different to many other town squares, there were no tables and chairs around the perimeter, just people wandering around, so not much atmosphere. In fact that sort of described Madrid for us, the lack of places to sit outside spoilt it for us, we can only assume that it costs the bars to much in taxes to be allowed tables on the pavements and squares etc as the only places that did have these seemed to be part of a hotel, we did however find a KFC here which we were grateful for as we were getting slightly sick of bread for breakfast, dinner and tea. Whilst sitting people watching in KFC the municipal police turned up, you have never seen the street sellers move quite so fast, all their blankets have a string attached to the corners so they can grab and run with their goods, unfortunately for one he was not quite quick enough and both him and his items were taken away by the police. The street sellers seem to be a big problem all over the city.
The Square also did not feel that safe at night time, I felt that my bag had to be close by my side at all times and Derek walked behind me to make sure no unsavory pickpockets were around.
The Real Madrid football stadium was not quite what we expected either, it was in quite a built up residential area and we just got a quick glimpse as the bus whizzed past.
Accommodation Hotel Avenida Gran Vía 3 star - 120€ for 2 night stay, a good price for a city centre hotel.
Car park near by but at a cost of an additional 65€ for 2 days
The position of the hotel was great, just off of the Gran Via one of Madrid's main streets, but our room certainly was not any we saw advertised, it must have been the smallest room in the hotel, yes it had a double bed and a desk but I had to crawl out the bottom of the bed to get out as there was no room to walk round it, and again the big fancy shower was broken only one section worked and you had to hold that.
All in all I think Madrid itself was a bit of a disappointment, we would not rush to return, but can now say, "been there, done that, just didn´t buy the-shirt".
Dereks Input: Lets just clarify the story about the cat narrator on the bus trip. In spite of my requests to check if there was an alternative channel, Tracy insisted we were listening to the English one. The change away from the kids channel did not actually happen until 2 stops before the end of the tour. I now have a child's perspective of Madrid and know not to go too close to one of the tourist attractions as big dogs might chase me up a tree! Also to get the best view of the celebrations in the main square it is best to climb up onto the roof of the ajuntament building with your friends where you can see everything.
Day 6 Valladolid via Alvia and Segovia, journey time 5 hours 6 mins, distance 317km
The city of Valladolid is located in the province of Castile and León, northwest of the capital of Madrid
During our stay in Madrid we had seen a lot of tours being offered to Avila and Segovia so decided whilst heading further North to check them out ourselves, glad we took the extra time on our journey.
Avila is just gorgeous as you drive through the new town area it looks just like any other town, but turn the corner and you come across this....
Ávila’s UNESCO-listed walls are considered among the finest city defenses in the world, within these walls is a whole town, The 11 gates,97 turrets and 2,500 merlons (the sticky up bits) date back to the 1100s and 1200s, and are part of a sophisticated defence strategy for the city.
Pilgrims also flock to Ávila because of its connection with Saint Teresa, patron saint of all kinds of things, but is more commonly known as the patron saint of headache, shame we only found out about this after our visit.
The town square is surrounded by bars, restaurants and gift shops. This whole area has such a lovely relaxed feel to it even though there were quite a lot of tourists around.
The local police were also very helpful, helping us find a parking spot when we had no idea where we were going.
This is one place we definitely intend to return to for an overnight stay on a future trip.
Next stop was Segovia still in the Castile and León region, and again is classed as a city and another world heritage site. It is most famous for its Aqueduct
Other places worth visiting here are the Jewish quarter and the Cathedral, although lovely and well worth the visit, somehow this city did not quite have the same feel as Avila.
Onto our next Hotel, heading further North to Valladolid
Again another city full of some great architecture but somewhat spoilt as it is mixed in with the newer buildings, even one of the main churches had a Claires shop built into the side of it, which took away from the splendor of the original building. One of the most important areas is once again the town square.
We only had the one night here and didn´t get to see a great deal of the city, finding something to eat other than tapas, tostadas or bocadillos was difficult, but we managed to find something to stop us starving.
Accommodation Hotel La Vega 4 star 61€ per night
This hotel was really just being used as a stop over on our journey further North, but what a find, it was situated about 10 minutes drive from the city of Vallodolid. The Hotel had a good sized car park and more importantly an indoor swimming pool, which was a real treat after a long hot sticky day on the road.
The room was larger than previous places, with everything we needed including a fridge. Breakfast was an additional 10€ each and we decided to splash out, quite a lot of choice for a continental breakfast so well worth it rather than driving for miles trying to find somewhere.
We would recommend this hotel to anyone wishing to visit the area and would certainly use it again as it was a good price for the quality of the hotel.
Our plan was to keep heading North to take in places such as Santander, Bilboa and the scenic North Coast area of Gijon and hopefully some cooler weather, unfortunately when looking at hotel prices they were through the roof most nearly 200€ for a one night stay also it seemed to be raining, so another change of plan and we decided to head to Zaragoza and them into France.
Dereks Input: Avila is well worth a visit, but Segovia is well over rated. Just a big wall with holes in it and a lot of photo shopped pictures on sale to make it look more impressive than it really is. The pool was the treat here for me. We had it to ourselves for most of the time, and the hotel also had a pleasant area to relax and enjoy a smoke. Im really not that hard to please.
Day 7 & 8 Valladolid to Zaragoza 5 hours 20 mins, 380km
An uneventful if not long journey to Zaragoza the only thing to report was the petrol station where we stopped for a bit to eat, yep a tostada, this was a strange place totally built with chipboard and corrugated iron, miles from anywhere but full of locals all enjoying their menu del dias, including the local priest, it did however have lovely view from the car park.
ZARAGOZA What a wonderful city this is one look at where our hotel was situated and we immediately asked if a 2nd night was available, so ended up spending 2 nights here.
View from our hotel balcony
Zaragoza is actually the 5th largest city in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia,Seville) but it was described to us by the receptionist at our hotel as "a city not too big and not too small" a perfect description, it is the capital of the autonomous region of Aragón, which used to be a kingdom in its own right.
The city is home to two great cathedrals: the iconic Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, standing next to the river Ebro, this is a real masterpiece masterpiece and one of the most important Marian sanctuaries for Catholics. It is believed that it was on this spot that the Virgin Mary appeared to Santiago (St James the Apostle) in the year 40 AD. The Basílica that stands today was originally designed in 1681 and then dramatically modified in the 18th century to add a baroque chapel and 10 brightly coloured mini-domes surrounding the main one. This sits in the main square, surrounded by bars and restaurants, and we had a wonderful view from our hotel.
The second is the Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza, this was only about 2 doors up from out hotel, both are worth a visit, shame about the very modern building right in front which was part of the town hall.....
In the old quarter there is a wonderful square or building to see round every corner, strolling round the streets at night felt very safe there were buskers and even a full live band playing one evening. The city itself has such a wonderful atmosphere and was one of the highlights of our holiday.
There are lots of museums to visit and as Goya the famous artist was born nearby, in the small town of Fuendetodos, lots of his work can be seen and of course there is a museum dedicated to his work.
This is another place we will certainly be returning to, fully enjoyed quite a relaxing 2 night stay and even managed to find lots of restaurants, we had Thai one night and a fantastic all you could eat Spanish buffet for 13.99€ on our 2nd night, not forgetting the obligatory tostada for breakfast.
Our Accommodation Hotel Tibur 3 Star - 102.00€ for 2 nights
Additional car park costs normally 20.50 per night but discounted by the hotel to 32.00€ for both nights.
This hotel was another great find and one of my personal favourites, one look at it and as stated above we extended our stay. Perfect location, situated right in the square between the cathedral and the basilica, we had a fantastic view of both from our balcony a great place to watch people enjoying the main square.
Due to the age of the building it was what you would call slightly quirky, with some bright decor in some areas, but our room was a good size, 2 balcony´s which was a real bonus and finally a fancy shower that worked. A fridge and desk were also supplied, the only problem we had is that there was only one single plug socket available in the entire room (without unplugging the fridge).
A cafe with outside seating was also part of the hotel which was convenient for the early morning Tostada and orange juice.
Reception staff were all very friendly and helpful we would certainly recommend this hotel if you wanted to visit Zaragoza and stay in the heart of the old town and we intend to return in the future.
Due to the extortionate prices being asked for the North Coast of Spain we decided to head to France and visit Lourdes.
Dereks Input: Loved this place. But will be eternally confused by the strange souvenir biscuits on sale outside the Basilica. Tetillas de monja (in English "The nuns tits") were little breast shaped biscuits on sale to the tourists. I didn´t buy as it seemed quite perverted to sample them. But if anyone out there knows the story behind this I would love to hear it.
Zaragoza to Lourdes, Journey time 5 hours 30 minutes, distance 325km
Another long journey ahead as we made our way to France but once we hit the Pyrenees mountains the distance did not matter these were just stunning, with lots of rivers, lakes and mountain villages to look at, our only shock was upon crossing the French boarder when we stopped for a drink and an ice cream, 1 coke, 1 fanta and 2 magnums 13€..... we had forgotten just how expensive France can be.
Far too many photos to publish them all on here, but these will give you some idea of the marvellous scenery (most taken from a moving car).
ok one more...
TOP TIP fill up with petrol before hitting France, petrol prices here were a massive 1.55 per litre.
Situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees. in the Occitanie region of south-western France. The view as you drive into the town is quite pretty.
Millions of people make the pilgrimage to Lourdes each year, this all stems from 1858, when a 14-year-old peasant girl Bernadette claimed that she had seen the Virgin Mary at the Grotto of Massabielle, Bernadette saw “a small lady in white” who asked her to return each day, the lady who appeared identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. There are said to have been a total of 18 apparitions which occurred between 11th February and 16th July 1858.
Requests to the local priest to build a chapel at the site of her visions eventually gave rise to a number of chapels and churches at Lourdes. The constant stream of pilgrims and tourists has now transformed what was once a quiet village into the second most important center of tourism in France, second only to Paris, it is also the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Rome and the Holy Land.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes or the Domain (as it is most commonly known) is an area of ground surrounding the Catholic shrine (Grotto) pilgrims are reputed to be miraculously healed by Lourdes water, the water flows from a spring at the same spot where it was originally discovered by Bernadette. The original spring can still be seen within the Grotto, lit from below and protected by a glass screen. The water is accessed from individual taps located between the grotto and the baths.
Prior to the above Lourdes was best known for the Château fort de Lourdes, a fortified castle, which we had a good view off from our hotel room.
There are blue lines all round town that tourists follow to the churches etc, after following one sign posted to the church, we ended up at a most unassuming church with no one around and thought this cant be it..... we continued to follow the blue lines and eventually found the crowds at the main basilica.
We were lucky enough to watch the 9pm mass and procession, unfortunately it began to rain quite heavily (not the best weather for photography) as there had been storm warnings being given on French TV earlier in the day, it was an experience we are pleased to have shared, religious or not you can not fail to be moved by the whole atmosphere and its a beautiful thing to watch.
The town itself is very very touristy (not a real word but you know what I mean) there are just so many tacky shops all selling the same things and they all make a small fortune each night selling candles for the night time mass, it even has a tourist train that rides round the town.
There are lots of bars and restaurants, surprisingly not a lot of is English spoken considering the amount of English speaking visitors here most of the the signage in French especially in the restaurants etc so we had to rely on some of our schooldays French. Food was quite expensive by Benidorm standards, a simple menu del dia cost us just under 40€.
Accommodation - Hôtel Compostelle 2 Star, 39.20€
Free parking, Breakfast 8€ each
This hotel as in a good location with views to the castle from our room, hotel staff were very friendly and polite and obviously owned the more up market hotel across the street.
The room was quite basic and small with a concentinor door to the bathroom, but it was clean and tidy and adequate for one nights stay, again a desk was supplied but NO power points nearby.
An evening coffee for 2 and 2 brandies cost 14€, breakfast was the traditional continental style, breads (again) croissants, cereal, yogurts and fruit juice, tea or coffee, which set us up for the day ahead.
Would we visit again, probably not but it was a wonderful experience.
Derek's Input: Neither of us are religious, but during our travels we have often visited religious places, numerous famous cathedrals, the Vatican when in Rome and now Lourdes. The whole thing intrigues me to say the least. Torn between admiring the beauty of it all and concerned that so much money is spent on a religion that claims to care for those in poverty, yet the money is clearly invested in artifacts for decorative purposes. As my Grandmother used to say, there are no pockets in a shroud, so why keep it. whatever happened to love thy neighbour.
Days 10 & 11 - Andorra
Journey time from Lourdes to Andorra we as you can see by the map it should have been around 4 hours 57 mins, distance of 274kml.
This journey was across, over and round the Pyrenees and is a journey I don´t think I will ever ever forget, nor will Derek but for very different reasons.
All started well we left Lourdes after a decent breakfast at around 9.30 am and the Sat Nav said we should be in Andorra just after 2pm, perfect as check in time at our next hotel was 2 pm...... All was going well and we were enjoying the wonderful scenery until somehow we took a wrong turn, followed the Sat Nav to try and rectify it and thought all was ok, until suddenly the Sat Nav told us we would not be arriving until after 6pm, not a problem for us as we didn´t mind taking a slightly longer drive in such stunning mountains, driving though and above the clouds is quite something.
At one point we crossed back over the Spanish boarder.
After a short drive however we seemed to be back in France, still feeling confident that all would be ok we carried on following our trusty Sat Nav, we were on a good road when it indicated that we should turn right, one look at the road it was sending us up and I have to admit to feeling slightly apprehensive, it was not much of a road but off we went, passing a few very isolated houses and still enjoying the views.
Not quite sure who on earth was ever going to use the above seat, good for quiet contemplation and some meditation.
The road suddenly got much much worse and there were signs suggesting it may be dangerous to continue, at this stage we were already approximately 4km up the mountain, so reversing back was not really an option, there was nowhere to turn and the hairpin bends we had come up were dangerous enough as it was. Derek insisted that all would be ok and was having a whale of a time pretending to be a off road rally driver in our trusty 21 year old car (with less than a quater of a tank of petrol).
The road by this stage was little more than a dirt track which had obviously been use by tractors and local loggers, but not for some time, the sat nav indicated that we had 4 more kms to go before turning off, by this time I was starting to hyperventilate and feel quite sick at the thought of another 4km bumping over a dirt track half way up a deserted mountain, but we persevered, not much choice by this time. I was busy counting down the 4km near to tears with Derek grinning like a loon beside me, patting my knee, saying don´t worry, nearly there. At the end of the 4km mark it then became obvious that this was the top of the mountain with no improvement in the road, if anything it was worse, with the odd tree across the road.
We carried on and after another 8km of driving down through forests finally came back into civilisation, now we knew why the journey was going to take that much longer, a petrol station was found and I could finally breath again, after having thoughts of being stranded forever up a mountain with no phone signal, no petrol and no one around to help, no warm clothes and no food or water. Derek was given strict instructions to not do it again, I can laugh about it now and it was an experience but certainly not one I enjoyed at the time, but it was one of Derek-s highlights of the whole holiday.
Now on a proper road again I could enjoy the stunning surroundings and we even stopped for a coffee to meet some of the locals.
Finally we crossed over the Andorra boarder.
Derek's Input: The above account of this story is a complete exaggeration. We were never in danger. The sign that said we were, was put there to add amusement, you know?, a bit like they do on the Ghost Train at the amusements. What a fabulous drive, to go right up into the Pyrenees in an old banger to a point where we owned the world!! I had been up here before in the dark and snow ten years ago, it never got me then, what makes it think it can get me now. One of the most exhilarating experiences of the holiday. Who need civilisation? I could happily retire up there.
Andorra is actually a country in its own right all be it a very small one as it is only about a 40km drive from one side of the country to the other. The total population of Andorra is about 85,000, which includes citizens and residents.
Better known as a ski resort in the winter months but it is equally as beautiful during the summer, a great place to visit if you enjoy hiking and mountain climbing. The ski runs are used during the summer months by mountain bikers, so the slopes are enjoyed all year round.
Andorra is also well known as a tax haven, and provides some great shopping in the capital Andorra la Vella, this city is the highest capital city in Europe at an elevation of 1,023 meters (3356 feet), In fact, it’s the 10th highest city of any kind in Europe.
Andorra is also a mass producer of tobacco and of course they are much cheaper here (2019, L & M Blue 53.40 for 400 as opposed to 44.50 for 200 in Spain).
Andorra is the only country in the world with Catalan as its official language, French is also widely spoken here.
Andorra is not part of the EU, EFTA, or the Eurozone - it is not a member of most of the major European associations. Even though it uses the Euro, the country is not technically part of the Eurozone. It has a special relationship with the EU in which it follows the trade rules for industry, but not for agriculture. It’s also not a party to the Schengen Treaty, however, you can only access Andorra via Spain and France, which are party to the treaty. And since Andorra doesn’t have an airport, it’s de facto subject to the agreement.
Our visit, After our long journey across the Pyrenees it was blissful to actually reach our accommodation, just a tad later than predicted, we were stating in a town called En Camp which is situated about 5 minutes drive from the city, we were starving and nothing open, apart from a kebab shop so made do with that and had an early night.
Day 2 in Andorra - we decided to visit the city to have a look round and do some duty free shopping, I needed a new bag for my camera and on transferring items from on to the other Derek suddenly went green, "do you have the car keys" emm no... that was the end to our shopping, there were two possibilities where the keys could be, either still in the car (fingers crossed) or left on a seat when Derek changed his shoes, a rushed walk, part jog back to the car park, no keys either in the car or on the seat... luckily they had been handed in to the car park attendant, I could have kissed the poor man.
During the hunt for the car keys we found out that we had no credit on our phone so sat for a coffee to top up with Lebara, this turned into yet another drama as the top up was not accepted, after an hour and a half on chat with Lebara they finally asked where are you? Andorra ahh that is not part of the EU so you are not covered for that on your package..... so no phone until we reach Spain.
We had another drive around the area and found a hotel serving Chinese, this is the best Chinese food we have had for long long time, not cheap but well worth it and the owner provided us with information of other places to visit, one of them being the Mirador Roc Del Quer, which is a must for anyone in the area and an experience never to be forgotten.
The Mirador Roc Del Quer is a 20-metre walkway, of which 8 metres are on solid ground while the other 12 seem to stretch into infinity, It is almost 2,000 meters high (1,913 exactly) and gives you a feeling of being hung in mid air, not for the faint hearted especially as there are glass sections on the walk way.
There is a sculpture at the end of the walkway Sitting on a beam called The Ponderer or Thinker, by artist Miguel Ángel González, whose calm and meditative attitude invites visitors to do the same, yea right 2,000 meters up.......
Accommodation - Hotel Montecarlo 2 star 122.40€ for 2 nights, including breakfast.
Situated just outside Encamp, and a 5 min drive to the city, this was a friendly hotel with welcoming staff. The room was a decent size with bath and shower, clean and tidy, nice and quiet apart from the wind rattling the windows at night. The hotel was surprisingly busy for the time of year.
Breakfast was the typical Continental style, but plentiful.
The only problem with the location was lack of places to eat or have a drink, this may have just been down to the fact that it was summer here where as this was really a winter resort. The town of Encamp was undergoing major road works and was closed to traffic and was quite a walk from the hotel itself, so we didn´t really have the time to explore.
If we visit again we would look for a different location.
Derek's Input: Breath taking Scenery even in Summer and a refreshing break from the heat. And so much to do like, ...like....errr......look at the scenery . Lets go back Discovering Spain
Day 12 - Next stop Barcelona, Travel time 5 hours 26 mins, 279km
We were looking forward to the journey so left early in the morning, unfortunately it was a damp and wet morning and as we were driving over the Andorra mountains a thick mist descended so thick that we could not even see the car in front never mind any scenery. The temperature dropped to 5ºc (yes in August).
After leaving Andorra, we again took the back roads to Barcelona, which took us over a few more mountains, by this time I think we were both sick of the twisting and turning mountain roads and looked forward to some flatter ground.
Our trusty Sat Nav got us into Barcelona and more or less direct to the door step of our hotel, just one problem, we were in a pedestrian only area (still waiting for the traffic fine to arrive on the doorstep). When booking hotels its important for us that there is a car park on the premises or at least nearby, but on this occasion although parking was supposedly near by that was not the case, after driving round and round and round we eventually came across a car park, and had a 15 min walk dragging our suitcases round the town to the hotel.... not a good start.
On the bright side, we both loved Barcelona and were sad it was just a one night stay, the Gothic Quarter where we were staying was lovely, full of old streets and cafes, and something of interest round every corner.
One of the things you just have to see is the basilica de la sagrada familia, it looked quite a distance from where we were staying so we decided to take the underground.... well that was the idea on finding a station on the Rambla which was heaving and the one place we did not really enjoy or feel particularly safe, we could not make head nor tail of the ticket system with tickets being incredibly expensive ie 27€ each for only one line, we eventually gave up and hopped in a taxi which was only 8€
Lunch time and Barcelona is where we discovered Taco Bell, wow what have we been missing all these years, and the best place to enjoy a meal with the basilica as a back drop, just a shame you cant capture just how beautiful it is in a photo.
Accommodation Hotel El Cal, 1 Star, 1 night 90.40, car park an additional 48€
Obviously its more expensive when you stay right in the heart of the city but there was little choice this time of year. After the debarcle with the parking the hotel kindly upgraded us to a superior room.
The hotel is right in the centre of the Gothic quarter, with lots of bars, restaurants and shops right on the door step and we loved the area, perfect for a late night drink in one of the nearby squares
The hotel itself was only small but the room we were in was very bright and spacious with massive comfortable beds and a fantastic bathroom.
If looking to stay in the gothic area, then this is a great hotel, just remember the parking.......
Would we stay here again, yes if coming by train as parking is very expensive.
We both loved Barcelona and hope to return again in the near future to explore the city more.
Derek's Input: What an experience! My first Taco Bell! I never had one before. I love Barcelona and cannot wait to go back. One highlight was spotting Lional Messi on the street. We where sitting in the car. He was on the side of a bus going past.
Day 13 & 14 The final stop Castellón de la Plana, journey time 5 hours 294km
A pleasant journey south as we start to head home, this will be our final stop of our road trip.
Castellón de la Plana is the capital city of the province of Castellón, in the Valencian Community and is the fourth most populated city in the Valencian Community (after Valencia, Alicante and Elche).
Not quite sure what to make of this place, we completely got the hotel wrong and were quite a long way out from anywhere, especially the beach, we did eventually manage to find somewhere to eat and decided to get back to normality slightly by having a Chinese Buffet meal for the first evening.
The 2nd day we decided to have a beach day, something we had not done since the start of our trip, when booking the hotel some of the reviews stated it was near the beach... Yes by car, certainly not walking as the beach itself is a good 10 kms and took us about 20 minutes to drive there. Quite a nice beach, but nothing special and after a couple of dips in the sea and roasting for about an hour we had both had enough, a beach holiday is just not for us.
On our final evening we went for a wander and eventually found Castellons equivalent to Tapas Alley in Benidorm, but not a patch on ours, very few tapas bars and what were there seemed to have a very limited menu.
For our final meal we both fancied a juicy steak and after wandering aimlessly round for an hour or two eventually managed to find a restaurant with one table free with Steak on the menu, on ordering our food the waiter asked the standard "Quieres pan", NO, NO, NO, no bread please, The poor waiter seemed quite upset and even pointed us out to other staff, ie the crazy English do NOT want any bread, we were all breaded out and won´t be eating any white bread for quite a while.
Would we return to Castellon... Not sure, maybe if it just happens to be on the way somewhere, as I am sure there is a lot we missed as these last couple of days were for us to relax so we did not actually explore the area properly.
Accommodation Civis Luz Castellón 4*S 2 nights 150€
As these were to be our final 2 nights we decided to book a slightly better hotel and went for a 4* we should have known better really as star ratings are NOT the same here in Spain and the only reason this was a 4 star was due to the size of the rooms and conference facilites and restaurant provided. The hotel itself is obviously used by business people rather than tourists as it is right opposite the main bus station.
We had booked a delux king room with a terrace and city views, which we did make good use of and the room was massive if a bit bare.
The city views were not that spectacular.
The slightly quirky thing was the desk, which was completely taken up by the TV and completely unusable as a desk itself.
Would return to this hotel. No not our cup of tea at all, no real character and not near anything for a tourist.
Derek's Input: A disappointing final stay. A nice hotel, with a view of its laundry room and nowhere to walk to. Not to mention the most disgusting Chinese buffet since the buffet was invented. It really is get me back to Benidorm by this stage.
The final Journey home Castellon to Benidorm - Journey time 4 hours 22 minutes, distance 218 km
An uneventful journey home and already planning next years adventures.
Distance driven - 2,332km
Average price of a room for the night - 64.00€
Parking - €173
Price of petrol - 280€
Favourite place visited - This is a hard one, we both loved Xativia, Cuenca, Zaragoza and Barcelona
Most disappointing - Madrid
Best surprise along the way - Avilla
If you have enjoyed this page then please comment below, if not also feel free to comment (constructive criticism is welcome) and if you have any suggestions for our next trip again comment below.