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Road Trip 2019 – Discovering Spain and More

Road Trip 2019 – Discovering Spain and More

Road Trip 2019 – Discovering Spain and More

Please note this page is under construction

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………

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 Xativia,  driving time 2 hours 58 mins, 128km situated in the province of Valencia

Our first stop was in the town of Xativia, 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.

XATIVIA

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.

Day 3 – Xativia 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

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 center 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 georgous 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 Loudes, 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).

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ok one more…

Lourdes, France

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.