Road Trip 2020, Discovering Spain during the "New Normal"
When you live in Benidorm a question you often get asked is where do you go on holiday? Well for us we enjoy discovering Spain and this will be our 3rd road trip.
After a long hard, very strict lockdown due to Covid19 which started on March 13th 2020, the State of Alarm was finally lifted on June 21st, which allowed the Spanish (and us) to finally travel freely around Spain after months of restrictions. With Benidorm being quiet before tourists finally return in any great numbers, we thought this would be a good time to take our road trip (normally done in August the quietest Month in Benidorm for British Tourists). Its also a good opportunity to not only discover areas of Spain yet unexplored by ourselves, but to see how Spain in general is dealing with the "New Normal"
Only our first nights accommodation was 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.
Read about our previous Road Trips here:-
Please note we will try and update this page during our travels, but more information/maps etc on each area will be added upon our return.
Day 1, 30th June
Benidorm to Cartegena, via Lo Pagan - 164 km
It seems that when ever we travel a heat wave starts, and this year is no exception, although earlier than normal the first heatwave of the year hits with temperatures expected in the mid 30s, no worries this year as the car has air con.
As always the Sat nav is set to take the Eco routes, so avoiding any tolls and motorways, travelling in this way means that you get to see so much more of the countryside.
On our way along the N332 just the other side of San Pedro del Pinatar you see signs for Lo Pagan, this is a fantastic place to visit on the Mar Menor and this is where you will find the famous Banos de loda (Las Charcas mud baths).
Here there is a long elevated causeway/promenade. To the left of the promenade is a small shallow and salty lagoon. To the right is the Mar Menor (Small Sea), along the promenade there are lots of platforms with steps into the lagoon, its really well laid out and we cant wait to return to make full use of all the gooey mud with all its healing benefits.
It was very very quiet but sure during normal times its a very very busy place.
Dereks Input; I was eager to try the benefits of the chemicals found in the waters. Not being properly equipped for the experience, I though I would make do with the small stream that ran beside the baths. The mud looked much softer, was a lighter shade of beige rather than the dark black course mud in the main area. Granted the smell was a lot stronger, than the main baths, but then it would be, in a more confined area, The mud was softer and there were little cotton pads along the edge to help smooth the mud all over. Top to toe in Brown mud, is not a good time to discover that the little stream along the edge is the town sewage system!!!
Cartagena is the main seaport of the Murcia region, It is a city full of monuments, with many archaeological sites and outstanding buildings of historical interest and a typical busy port area.
If you only have limited time here one of the must sees is the Roman theatre built in the time of Emperor Augustus and the museum, entry was only 6 euros each and its well worth it, try to do it early in the morning if doing this during the summer months. Due to the lack of tourists in the area, there were only ourselves and 2 other couples here at the same time, its nice not to have to queue up for these attractions and to be able to walk round at your own pace, not jostling for space or feeling rushed.
There is also a lot of naval and military history here and various museums if you have plenty of time to explore, this was just a short visit for us.
Everyone here seems to be following the rules with regards to wearing masks, every single place we visited had hand sanitiser at the entrance and again it was very quiet.
Our hotel was only a 10 - 15 minute walk to the port area and the Roman theatre, but of course we managed to find a much longer route.
Will we be returning to Cartegena - Yes definitely we both loved the city.
Accommodation - Hotel Los Habaneros 3 star 49.50
This hotel was situated near the entrance to the Old Town, there is a drop of point right outside and a few paid parking bays or a car park nearby that can be reserved by the hotel for you, if like us parking is important.
This is a lovely hotel, staff were all very helpful and pleasant, lots of safety rules in place one lift up and one lift down, hand gel everywhere and everyone wearing their masks.
The room was a really nice size, we had a room at the front of the building overlooking the street but it was very quiet with no street noise. The shower was amazing, with fantastic high water pressure one of the best we have ever had in any hotel,
The only strange thing was the kettle, I nearly died of joy seeing a kettle in the room as this is a rare case in a Spanish Hotel, but, there is always a but, there were not cups etc supplied, so unfortunately the kettle remained unused.
There was also a lovely area to sit outside and enjoy our morning toastada con tomate ready for the next part of our journey.
Would we return to this hotel? Yes, very impressed with it, and its in a great position to explore all Cartegena has to offer.
Road Trip 2020, Discovering Spain during the "New Normal" Day 2 - 1st July
Cartegena to Vera 151km
Vera is a municipality of Almería province, in the autonomous community of Andalusia.
The trip to Vera was really just a stop over in our journey south we did see some lovely scenery along the way with views over to Mazarron.
To be honest the town itself was not worth more than a quick drive through, BUT head to Vera Playa and its a different story, unbeknown to us the north of Vera Playa is known for its naturist area and is one of the largest such areas in Europe. There are several apartment complexes, including Natsun, La Manera, Bahia de Vera and Vera Natura, where naturism is officially permitted, there are even naturist urbanisations..... 2 kilometres of the beach is reserved for naturists.
This area even holds a world record when on 21 July 2013 a local group called Vera Playa Friends organised a Guinness World Record for the largest ever skinny dip. 729 naturists entered the sea at El Playazo beach at 12:00 noon beating the previous record of 506 set in New Zealand the previous year.
After our initial shock at finding ourselves in a naturist zone we did find an amazing restaurant The Four Seasons which had some unusual food on the menu one being Curried banana, which of course had to be tried and yes it works. The owner had only been back open for a week and was very pleased to see us, so pleased that she presented us with a special dessert, not generally available on the menu but apparently it was Greta Gabo´s favourite. So if you are ever in the area, visit the Four Seasons for a fantastic meal.
Accommodation - Avent Verahotel 4 Star 78 euros including breakfast
To be honest when booking we did not have a great deal of choice, hotels were either not open as yet or incredibly expensive this hotel has 25 rooms and this time of year is normally fully booked but only 14 rooms were booked for tonight.
We had the pool area to ourselves, but it all looked slightly sad with the outside bar closed and only a few tables and chairs set out.
The large room was more than sufficient, although the aircon was a bit disappointing but the full English Breakfast more than made up for it the following morning.
Would we return? Doubtful.
Dereks Input: A visit to Vera Beach area is a strange experience. One cannot help but feel that the majority of people who relish in letting it all hang out, are those who have survived Flower power and the summer of love, and still cling to their youth. Unfortunately their youth is not still clinging to them. I did realise though that the expression the swinging sixties had nothing to do with the music. It seems to be a popular resort though for the English and there was many a chariot swinging low. Just not so sweet anymore. Go for it Grandad...each to his own!
Day 3 - 2nd July
Vera to Nerja 251km
Dereks Input: "Where are we heading now?" Tracy, "Frigilana" Derek "whats there?" Tracy "White houses with a nice view up the mountains". Derek "I live in a white house with a nice view up a mountain." Sometimes womens logic can be confusing. A three hour drive to look at white paint. I hope the pubs are open when we get there.
Before leaving we (or I mean ME) do make a short list of places to visit and I found this little place listed as one of Spain´s top 25 most beautiful towns and villages to visit, the original idea was to stay here, but once again there was a lack of choice and anything available was incredibly expensive for a one night stay, so plan B was Nerja, which turned out to be the right choice.
Frigiliana is a municipality located in the province of Malaga, Andalusia, Spain. It is located in the region of Axarquía, the easternmost region of the province, it offers one of the most spectacular and beautiful panoramas of the Costa del Sol.
The town and its municipality were strongly shaken by an earthquake, called the Andalusian Earthquake, on December 25th, 1884 large amounts of damage were caused.
Frigiliana sits three hundred meters above sea level and with a subtropical microclimate it was very very hot 36.5ºc, it has been classed as a Historic Center, of Moorish heritage, and is well known for its narrow, winding and steep streets and passageways.
If you are in this area then its well worth a visit, but unfortunately most places still seemed to be closed with only a couple of touristy shops open.
Nerja is on the country's southern Mediterranean coast, about 50 km east of Málaga.
This is a wonderful place and well worth a visit especially the old town area where it has the typical architecture of most Andalusian villages, houses with interior patios and whitewashed facades, with dozens of small narrow cobblestone and cobbled streets lined with shops, bars and restaurants, most of which lead to the Balcón de Europa.
The Balcón de Europa a mirador or viewpoint similar to the viewing point in Benidorm Old town (but not quite as stunning) but you do get some great views across the sea. The Balcón area was originally known as La Batería, a reference to the gun battery which existed there in a fortified tower, this is in the centre of the old town and surrounded by bars and restaurants.
There are also several beaches in the area, which all looked lovely, so this town really does have a bit of everything, beaches, architecture, shopping, good food and drink and friendly locals.
This town has such a wonderful atmosphere, even in these quieter times, there seemed to be more places open here than in other areas and we really enjoyed just wandering the streets. This is definitely a place we would like spend more time in as we both fell in love with the place.
Also worth a quick visit is the Roman style Aqueduct, known as the Eagle Aqueduct, built in the 19th century and is still in use today the local community to irrigate farmland. It´s situated about 3km from Nerja, you can get a good view from the N340 road linking Nerja and Maro
Our accommodation - Hostal Dianes, 2 Star bargain of the week at 27.40€
Set in the heart of the old town, this was the perfect location for us and at such a cheap price a real bargain, don´t be put off by the word hostal, this had everything that the previous hotels had, comfortable bed, tv, desk, air conditioning and adequate bathroom, for the price the room was a good size and we even had a roof terrace.
Would we return? If just for one or two nights then yes we would use the above accommodation, but would try something else for a longer stay.
Dereks Input: A decent steak, and a decent beer, whats not to like.
Day 4 3rd July
Nerja to Estepona 179 km
This again was really just a pit stop on our journey further West and the journey here was so uneventful ie nothing really to see that it was quite boring and we were both glad to at least get off this road, one we have travelled on many times in the past and never seems to change, just a busy road with bars and restaurants dotted along it but nothing to really see, neither of us particularly like the costa del Sol area, yes Marbella and Porta Banus are ok but that´s about it, unless we are missing something. This area certainly does not have a patch on Benidorm and the surrounding area, even though its much more expensive.
Accommodation - TRH Paraíso 4 Star 53.00, Breakfast 6€ pp
The above was basically a hotel positioned on an 18 hole golf course (well we are on the Costa del Golf), this has been the busiest hotel we have stayed in so far on our journey, but it was far from 75% full.
The room was a good size (one of the things that gives it a 4 star rating) and had a balcony with a mountain/golf course view, unfortunately they were really the only good things about this hotel.....
The first problem was the address on the booking companies website, completely wrong in fact 19 miles out, reception staff were not the most pleasant when we mentioned it, and in fact stated "Oh yes the wrong street name is listed", then why not change it if you know this????
We were allowed to smoke on the terrace, and requested an ashtray, which receptions said they would send up for us, we are still waiting.
We decided we were hungry and went down to the restaurant area without our mobile phone, do not do this as all the menus are on QR codes, a massive hotel like this and not a single written menu available and the staff didn´t really want to know, in fact it was an effort to get anyone to even look like they wanted to serve us, so we went elsewhere and found a lovely Indian restaurant.
The bathroom, yet another problem and lack of attention to detail, the hand soap was in the shower and the shower gel over the hand basin, (fixtures, not a simple swap over) quite a distance away, as for the shower itself, there was no water pressure and it was a job to even get wet, even brushing our teeth was a major chore.
All in all we were glad to be leaving here, and certainly will not be returning.
Dereks Input: 4 Star my ass. They should take lessons from a 27.50€ Hostel. There is an outdoor seated area, just outside the dining area, were you can enjoy meals and snacks throughout the day. You can purchase from the restaurant and take the purchase outside. But at breakfast time, you cannot take your coffee out for a smoke. You must wear your facemask to leave your table, but the buffet style breakfast is an open free for all with the same utensils used by everyone. Come on, make up your mind. Are we following the government rules or just the ones we like. They advertise a full English Breakfast. Can anyone tell me where in England they serve Chorozo Sausages' with Scrambled eggs!!
4th July Estepona to Jerez 197km
One of the great joys of this sort of holiday is the driving itself, you never know what you will stumble across, this year it took us slightly longer to find that first surprise along the way but it was well worth the wait.
After leaving the Estepona area we took the route across the mountains and the scenery was spectacular, but the nicest part of the journey was when we stumbled across the village of Grazalema, located in the North Eastern part of the province of Cádiz, in the autonomous community of Andalusia, in the foothills of the Sierra del Pinar mountain range (Sierra de Grazelema Natural Park).
This was such a beautiful place we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around and having a relaxing drink in the busy square, all the locals seemed very friendly although quite hard to tell with everyone hidden behind masks.
If you are ever in this area this place is a village not to be missed, and it deserves its award for one of Spain´s most beautiful towns.
Dereks Input: For me this village has been a highlight of the holiday. It just has everything needed for the chill out factor
The rest of the journey was just as pretty as we continued though the Natural park and passed by the town of Arcos de Frontera (Border Arches) on the Guadalete river, here you can see houses perched on top of towering vertical cliffs. The town gained its name by being the frontier of Spain's 13th century battle with the Moors.
located in the province of Cadiz it is the 26th largest city in Spain and the most populated in the province of Cadiz. The city has been internationally known for centuries for its famous Sherry, The symbol is the Black bulls seen all around Spain. Its also recognized as the birthplace of flamenco and also the beautiful Carthusian horse also called the Jerez horse, and Andalusian horse whose breeding line dates from the 15th century.
Not all that impressed by Jerez to be honest, but that may be slightly unfair as due to the circumstances it was very quiet, in fact it was like a ghost town until quite late at night, there were no Flamenco shows available and the Andalusian horse show by the equestrian school was closed on a Sunday as were the Jerez sherry bodegas.
We did however eventually find the cathedral but even this was a bit of a let down with the whole area smelling slightly of urine..... and surrounded by some sort of gypsy rastro, which made us feel a bit uncomfortable walking in the area, but the police where nearby, so our worry was obviously warranted, but we arrived back at our accommodation safely after a late night tapas.
Would we return, yes if in the area and when things return to normal, just to see what it should really be like with everywhere open and busy
Accommodation Hotel Carlos V Jerez 43.20€
This really was a don´t judge a book by its cover moment, our first impressions on parking the car behind the hotel were OMG what have we done with buildings next door being derelict apart from a few pigeons for neighbours and the back of the hotel not looking much better.
But on entering the hotel we were in for a nice surprise and found it nicely decorated, the room itself although quite basic had comfy beds and working air conditioning, the bathroom was adequate so it was more than good enough for a one nights stay, and we seemed to be the only guests that night so it was lovely and quiet.
Would we stay again? Yes if the price was right.
Dereks Input: To be fair, we did see the front of the Hotel, before parking around the back. If we had simple arrived at the back I am certain we would have driven on somewhere else.
Day 6, 5th July
Next stop Cadiz, as everything we wanted to see in Jerez was closed on a Sunday and Cadiz was only a half hour drive away we thought it was worth a slight detour.
The city of Cadiz sits on the eastern end of a bay, on an area which is half an island, half a peninsula, which is linked to land by a narrow sandy strip and is only 14 km. from Africa. It borders the provinces of Seville and Huelva in the north, the province of Malaga to the east, the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea in the southeast, and the Strait of Gibraltar and the British colony of Gibraltar in the south.
It is considered to be the oldest city in the West, the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs passed through here... and the first democratic Constitution of Spain was drafted here.
Its also famous for its beautiful beaches, such as Caleta and Santa María del Mar.
The Constitution Bridge known as the Bridge of La Pepa is a fantastic cable-stayed bridge that connects the city of Cadiz with the Iberian Peninsula. The bridge, built between 2008 and September 2015, has a width of 34.3 m t and a length of 3,092 m, the largest in vain being 540 m. Its 69 m high. It has the second highest height for maritime traffic in the world (69 metres (226 ft)) after the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York, USA. (excuse the bugs on the windscreen).
Before 10am on a Sunday morning is not really the right time for a visit, even some of the car parks were still closed, and driving round and round small narrow cobbled streets with the sat nav which only occasionally picked up a signal due to tall buildings is not ideal for a relaxing Sunday morning drive. With the air getting slightly heated in the car after driving round in a circle 3 times much to the amusement of the local taxi drivers who sat in their cars shaking their heads due to the fact that unbeknown to us were were in a pedestrian only zone, eventually we found a car park.
With no idea where we were heading the main square and the cathedral de Santa Cruz seemed the logical choice, most places were only just beginning to open for the day, but we did manage to find a bar for our morning tostada con tomate.
Due to the fact everywhere was closed even the old town did not have much atmosphere but that was our fault and Cadiz and the surrounding area may be worth a proper visit another time, this was just a flying visit on our way to Seville.
ALL our original plans for the route have gone for a burton, but that´s all part of the joy and the main words to best describe this sort of holiday are flexibility and spontaneity. We decided as we were so far West to take a trip to Portugal, but our favourite city Sevilla just happens to be on route and we could not pass up the opportunity of a one night stop over.
We visited Seville on our very first road trip in 2018 and instantly fell in love with the city, there is just so much to see and do here. Normally it is a busy, vibrant city, full of bustling bars, restaurants and flamenco shows and street musicians, unfortunately the "New Normal" was very noticeable here more than any other place we have visited so far, the streets that were heaving just 2 years ago were virtually empty, even around the main tourist attractions including the plazas around the cathedral which is normally one of the liveliest areas of the city. There were still plenty of bars and restaurants open so finding somewhere for a meal and a drink was not a problem, but we cant wait to see Seville back to its vibrant self.
Although there were no official flamenco shows open at the moment were were lucky enough to catch a street performance.
Seville is the largest city in Andalusia and the 4th largest city in Spain and has the nickname of the Frying Pan of Europe and if you ever visit during July and August you will understand why, even though we were a few weeks earlier in the year than our previous visit it was just as hot, and wearing a mask in this heat was no fun at all, but everyone was still obeying the rules. If planning a visit do so either earlier or later in the year, when you can actually breath, it really is that hot, which makes walking around taking in the sights hard work.
The old town is our favourite area and covers about 4 square kilometres (2 sq mi) it also contains three UNESCO World heritage sites the Alcazar Palace complex the General Archive of the Indies and of course the Cathedral which is the second largest Cathedral in the world and is the burial site of Christopher Columbus.
We both loved the hotel we stayed in last time as it was in such a perfect location, but like many hotels it had not yet re-opened, so plan B.
Accommodation - Patio de La Alameda 3 Star 47.80€, Private car park 18.50€
This hotel is a restored 19th-century mansion in the centre of Seville and had an internal courtyard typical of the city. it was was once the home of a famous Spanish sculptor, Antonio Susillo.
The hotel was about 20 minutes walk away from the cathedral area, so well placed for seeing the sights and the open top tour bus stops just over the road.
Situated in thePlaza de la Alameda Square, near the columns of Hércules This pedestrianised area is paved with coloured tiles .
The room itself was a good size, very clean and tidy, comfortable beds with good quality bedding and great air conditioning which was certainly needed, but what really makes this hotel is the courtyard areas with all the plants and flowers, its a beautiful place to stay.
The hotel does have a beautiful terrace but unfortunately that was closed due to the fact they had only re-opened a couple of days ago and only two rooms were booked for the night.
Would we return? Yes so far this is our favourite hotel, clean, friendly staff and has lots of character. It was very quiet when we were here, but if full it may be quite a noisy hotel.
Dereks Input: I really need to add something to the Hotel description. The balcony area outside the rooms, that runs around the entire patio below is really striking and I would love to know the history of the building. I dont mean Antonio Susillo Unlike many hotels, I get the feeling this one was not a stately home. In fact my guess is this was once one of the local ghettos. I can just picture loads of families, 17 kids per family, running around the patio, while the mothers in the houses above take it in turns to supervise. The others seizing the opportunity to create kid number 18. The washing strung from one door to the next, displaying an endless supply of hand-me-downs to fit kids of all sizes. It reminds me of the days when all neighbours had parental rights to issue corporal punishment over any kid in the neighbourhood. Running back to Mum with the accusation that Mrs Jones hit me, was not a good idea as the case for the prosecution was based on "you must have done something to deserve it".
6th July - Seville to Lagos Portugal 302km (we must have taken a short cut or two)
We were not quite sure what to expect at the border between Spain and Portugal as these only re-opened on 1st July, but there were no long queues, there were two lanes one for residents and the other for tourists, a few people were being stopped but we drove straight threw, a few meters past the police control you come across machines that you have to put your credit card details into, there was someone at every point to give assistance. This procedure is to allow you to use the toll roads without stopping, any bills for the tolls will automatically be debited from your credit card within 30 days.
Neither of us had been to Portugal for over 30 years, and it seems that the roads have not been tarmacked since then, the roads here are appalling and that includes the paid toll roads, roads in Essex are notorious for being bad but compared to Portuguese roads even they are a dream.
On our way to Lagos we decided to check out Praia Da Rocha (Rock Beach). The beaches are lovely as is the promenade but it is billed as a bustling holiday resort and compared to Benidorm is far from it, there are just a few shops and restaurants along the front and many were still closed, it may be better during normal busy times, but there still did not seem to be a lot there unless you are a beach lover.
We also visited Praia da Luz, again another lovely beach, but even less here than at Praia da Rocha, there is not even a town, unless we missed it somehow. There were just a few beach bars which were tiny, in fact so small that as we sat down to have a drink and a bowl of nachos a queue formed for tables, nothing more off putting really than feeling rushed when all you want to do it sit and enjoy the view.
To be quite honest although Derek liked Praia da Rocha, I felt they were both very overrated as far as holiday resorts go, I was obviously not impressed 34 years ago or would have been back before now, give me any resort on the Costa Brava any day.
Our accommodation for the night was in Lagos and our trusty sat nav let us down a bit here, Logos old town is lovely with twisty, steep cobbled very narrow streets, lovely but not designed for driving round, completely lost, we finally found our hotel which was no where near the centre of the Old Town, but at least we had managed to get a good look round, a quick siesta and out to try and find something to eat, not much choice as most places were still shut, but the old town did have a bit of life with a token busker in the square, a chicken burger, pork baguette fresh lemonade and a early night.
Lagos has four beautiful beaches within walking distance of the town unfortunately they did not seem to be walking distance to where we were, we must be getting old and unfit. Lagos is a historic city and boasts a rich seafaring heritage, but there was non of the "buzzing nightlife" that the holiday brochures state, but this would be a nice place during normal busy times.
Accommodation - Hotel Montemar 3 star 46.75€ including breakfast
A nice hotel, friendly staff and free parking right across the road or paid parking on site if this is busy. Hotel rating are obviously different here in Portugal as there is no way this would be a 3 star here in Spain, but it did have the fastest lifts that we had ever been in.
The room was basic but clean and the balcony was a nice bonus and even had a sea view, for the price it was ok for a night stay as accommodation is normally quite expensive in this area.
The breakfast was very good, plenty of choice, but due to restrictions this was all served to you plated, I would imagine during normal times it would be a lovely help your self buffet.
Would we stay again? probably not.
Portugal, Lagos to Lisbon/Lisboa 296km
A trip to Lisbon was not really planned at all but as we were in Portugal it seemed like a good idea. The roads from Lagos to Lisbon were terrible and even in a decent car it felt like a bone shaker, the only thing good about the journey was the roadside cafe we found who made us a fantastic menu del dia, and the staff who spoke no English or Spanish seemed to think we were quite amusing but made us feel very welcome.
Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal and apparently is stunning, and one of the most charismatic and vibrant cities of Europe. Unfortunately we did not really get to see much of Lisbon itself and the rules here were very very strict, no outside drinking after 8pm, you could only sit outside if you were eating and that was only until 11.00pm,, then everything closed, we did find a lovely Thai restaurant and we had one of the best meals so far on our travels.
Accommodation - Asul B&B Rooms 44.60€ including breakfast, 10€ car park
Not really sure where to start with this accommodation, on booking we received a nice little text message from the owner with directions to the car park and thought that was a nice touch, unfortunately things went down hill from there, the room was basic, no aircon, mis-matched bed linen, tv remote but no tv (not that one was listed, but why leave a remote to taunt you?) and no private bathroom (our fault it did state that on the booking site - Private External Bathroom).
Having a external bathroom is ok when you are in your 20s but not when you are up and down two or three times a night, it was a right faff trying to unlock the bedroom door then a trip down the corridor and then a dodgy lock on the bathroom, to top it all the word PRIVATE seems to be lost here, as there were frosted glass windows in the room leading onto the tiny courtyard used by smokers and for breakfast also glass blocks by the front door so anyone passing could see you standing at the sink, not only that but there were no individual toiletries as stated and as recommended due to Covid but just a manky quarter full bottle of shower gel, used by countless others, luckily we had some with us.
We did have full use of a kitchen, washing machine etc but with covid19 not sure its a good idea sharing facilities with people you have never met and they were fully booked for the first time since re-opening.
Breakfast - I will let Derek tell you about that.....
Dereks Input: The "private bathroom" is a joke. It is private if you don't mind the anyone on the smoking area (which clearly had not been cleaned for several days, judging by the empty beer bottles and brimming full ashtray) watching you undress for the shower. Anyone in the corridor can see into the bathroom. Then there is the breakfast. We sat approximately 15 minutes being ignored. I decided to see if it was self service so went to the kitchen area and poured myself a coffee. So far so good. We were then presented with two bits of dry bread. We waited again about another 15 minutes and having decided it must be totally self service. I returned to the kitchen area to find something to eat and was scolded by the sole member of staff with cries of "I do" I do". I returned to my seat and waited. Unfortunately, she didn't. After about another 15 minutes we gave up and decided to eat elsewhere. So if "Breakfast included" means one bit of dry bread with a coffee, and you enjoy a little voyeurism in the shower then this is your place. Did I mention some of the plugs don't work in the rooms and although there is a Remote control and a TV aerial, there is no TV. I think they might have put us up in the store room.
Day 9 and 10
Lisbon to Fatima 135km
As we visited Lourdes last year we thought it fitting to pay Fatima a visit, not that either of us are religious, but its nice just to experience these places.
The journey was once again over bumpy roads and not particularly pretty scenery.
The basilica here dates back to 1953, up to a million people can gather here and many pilgrimages take place, but as you can see it was very quiet.
Our Lady of Fatima is a Roman Catholic title for the Virgin Mary due to her apparitions to three children who were herding sheep, Lucia Santos, and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. On May 13, 1917 Lúcia described seeing a woman "brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun." Amazed, Lucia and her cousins ran back to their village and told everyone what they saw. Further appearances of the Virgin Mary were reported to be on the thirteenth days in June and July as well.
The village of Fatima itself is full of hotels for pilgrims, most of which were closed, there are also various shops all selling the same religious Souvenirs, not sure how they all make money, but presumably must do during busier times.
Language seemed to be a slight problem, but Spanish seemed to be recognised more readily in some of the more out of the way places than English. Tourist resorts just do not offer the same facilities as most Spanish resorts ie there is not a lot to do even in the main resorts other than sitting on a beach, there was very little open and masks were being worn by almost everyone. Restrictions on bar opening times also seemed to be much stricter here with the NO drinking outside after 8pm rule, unless eating a meal and even then it was only until 11pm, lets hope that rule does not come into Benidorm.
Driving here is a lot more stressful, mainly due to the quality of the roads, but they do have a good system to curb speeding, on entry to each town there is a speed warning and traffic lights will stop you if you are doing over 50km which seemed much better than the constant speed bumps here in Spain, Portuguese drivers tailgate a lot more than Spanish but tend to stick to the speed limits more.
We were hoping to see much more of the coastal area of Algarve but there did not seem to be any coastal roads, you have to travel inland and then back to the individual resorts, which is a shame.
Food and drink prices seemed to be similar to those in Spain.
Would we return? To be quite honest we were very disappointed in Portugal in general, Spain has so much more to offer, so probably not, glad we made the journey as can now say "been there and done that"
Fatima to Caceres - 423km (not quite sure which way we went)
A few more bumpy roads, until we finally crossed the unmanned border back into Spain where the roads instantly become smoother, even without the small sign stating we were back on Spanish soil we would have guessed by the change of road quality, the surrounding scenery was also more interesting although Northern Portugal was more attractive than the south.
We were on a bit of a tight schedule as check in at our hotel closed at 22.00 but just managed to find the hotel in time feeling quite pleased with ourselves, we parked outside to ask for directions to the car park and that´s were it all went wrong. I was told right, no reverse back then left then left, so off we went reversed back and turned left, only to find ourselves on a one way street going the wrong way and heading towards the Plaza Mayor, which was pedestrian only and not other left tune to be seen anywhere, with no choice but to continue we drove across the main square with various people giving us some funny looks, from there it just got worse, there seemed to be no way out of the old town area, the streets are designed for a donkey and cart, not modern day cars and we must have gone up and down every single street including dead ends at least twice with residents shaking their heads at us, the air in the car was getting bluer and bluer as we were by now both tired and stressed, Derek was at the point of just finding another hotel elsewhere but to do that we still had to get out of the old town..... We eventually managed to find our way back to our starting point, another trip into the hotel to check the directions which turned out to be reverse then right, left and left, we eventually found the car park and will now have to wait for about 6 months to see if we get any traffic fines, fingers crossed there were no cameras in the square.
But all the drama was worth it Caceres is a wonderful city with lots to see and do.
The city of Cáceres is located in the province of Caceres in the Extremadura region of western central Spain. Cáceres was declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1986 because of the city's blend of Roman, Moorish, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture.
The Old Town (Parte Antigua) still has its ancient walls; this part of town is also well known for its multitude of stork nests. The incredibly well-preserved old town is surrounded by Moorish castle walls, narrow cobblestone streets (which we now knew quite well), lined with houses and palaces dating back to the Middle Ages and earlier, which is why many television shows including Game of Thrones and films have been shot here.
With the temperature at 37ºc in the shade, it was a not the time to do too much walking, we were up quite early the following morning so made the most of the slightly cooler temperatures to see what we could before it started to heat up too much.
There are quite a few free tours offered, but in this heat we just did not think we would be able to keep up.
The Main Square is the traditional meeting place in Caceres and was very busy at night and did not seem to have any time restrictions. The square has had several uses and names: place of the fair, market square..., often it was used for bullfighting or to hold tournaments; parades military and processions for Holy Week all pass through it. It is surrounded by arcades and the most important building is the City Hall, built in 1869 by Ignacio Maria de Michelena. Here, there are plenty of monuments here like the Grass Tower and the Tower of Peace next to the Chapel of Peace.
There are lots of bars and restaurants surrounding the square and on our first night as it was late we opted for a kebab, on the 2nd we had a lovely mixed meat platter.
There are so many wonderful old buildings here and lots of different museums most of which charge about 2.50€ entrance fee, but the main museum, Casa de Las Veletas is free and that had plenty to see and was like a Tardis with different rooms continually going up and down, including a Fine Arts Section , Archaeological collection, Ethnography Section and the stunning Islamic cistern, dated between the 10th and 12th centuries. Masks had to be worn at all times and there was hand sanitiser on entry to every different room.
Accommodation - Hotel la Boheme 1 star 130€ for two nights including breakfast, parking 28€
WOW is all I can say this was a fabulous hotel, the room was just stunning a stylish room with colourful décor and the most amazing hydro massage shower which you needed a engineering degree to use.
As we were staying here for 2 nights we upgraded to a room with a terrace which was well furnished and a good size and at times offered some shade.
The only down side was the air conditioning which did not really work that well so we had to leave all the windows and doors open to catch what little breeze there was, but the bed was comfortable and everything you needed provided including a mini fridge with drinks at reasonable prices (1.80€ for a coke)
View for our bed.
Breakfast was served in a wonderful little courtyard and included tostada con tomate/jam, a olive oil cake, tea/coffee and orange Juice.All the Staff were very friendly and helpful.
Would we stay again - Yes definitely, this was the perfect hotel for a stay in a medieval town.
Next Stop Toledo 340km
Toledo is a city and municipality in central Spain; it is the capital of the province of Toledo in the autonomous community of Castle-La Mancha Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.
Toledo is known as the "Imperial City" because it was the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy roman Emperor in Spain, and as the "City of the Three Cultures" for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims, and Jews reflected in its history.
The old city is located on a mountaintop with a 150-degree view, surrounded on three sides by a bend in the Tagus River, and contains many historical sites, including the Alcazar the cathedral (the primate church of Spain), and the Zocodover, a central market place.
The metal-working industry has historically been Toledo's economic base, with a great tradition in the manufacturing of swords and knives and a significant production of razor blades, medical devices and electrical products. (The Toledo Blade, the American newspaper is Toledo's Ohio namesake city and is named in honor of the sword-making tradition.) Soap and toothpaste industries, flour milling, glass and ceramics have also been important to economy here.
We are now starting to wind down slightly and decided to enjoy the hotel facilities and had a swim in the pool during the afternoon.
Toledo looks to be a lovely place with plenty of monuments, unfortunately without a map it was hard to find most of them and time was limited. Like other places many of the shops and restaurants were closed even on a Friday night and Saturday morning. We did however find a lovely steakhouse and spent most of the evening there as the owner knew Benidorm well.
We did head back into the town Saturday morning to see if any other places were open, but unfortunately not, so this is a place to visit once again when Spain comes out of the "New Normal" phase, and when it is cooler.
Accommodation - Beatriz Toledo Auditorium and Spa Hotel, 4 Star, 50€ plenty of free parking or 14€ in the garage.
After all the drama of the last few nights driving round various old town streets we decided to book a hotel slightly further out of town and drive in for the evening. This hotel was only 5 minutes from Toledo so worked out well, I think we were very lucky to get this wonderful hotel especially at that price, we actually enquired about a 2nd nights stay but for the first time this hotel was fully booked.
The room was probably the biggest room we have had to date on this years travels, lovely comfortable beds, seating area, good size bathroom and great air con and a small balcony over looking the river.
The pool area was also lovely but with very strict rules on where to sit etc
We would certainly recommend this hotel for anyone wanting to visit Toledo, there are also spa facilities normally available here.
Day 12 and 13
Lagunas de Ruidera 184 km
Some nice scenery along the way as this is a big grape growing area, the La Mancha region is actually the largest continuous vine-growing area in the world with approximately 450,000 hectares of vines.
We just love this area and its actually where our first road trip back in 2018 started and we thought it would be a good spot to unwind before the journey home. Last time we stayed in Ossa de Montiel, this time although accommodation was very limited with just a choice of 2 places we stayed in the village of Ruidera itself.
Due to the fact there was so little accommodation available it was either going to be dead due to everywhere being closed or busy. It turned out to be exceptionally busy, the busiest place we have visited this year. This area is very popular for people from Madrid and the surrounding area and its rare to ever hear an English voice.
The Lagunas de Ruidera is a natural park situated in the La Mancha plain containing 16 interconnecting lakes of various sizes, these lakes cover an area of more than 9,300 acres (38 km2). The lakes are connected by falls, small rivers as well as subterranean flows and are the source of the Guadiana River. This is also Don Quixote country.
The whole area of the lakes is stunning, with several spots for swimming and various water sports available, bars and restaurants.
Even here at the main lakes things were very strict with tape sectioning off different areas for bathing and restrictions on numbers of people.
Our first night was spent in a local village restaurant, most of which do not even open until 20.30, we arrived early and were lucky to get a table with many being turned away.
The second day it was up early to grab a tostada con tomate in the local square and visit the market which is held every Sunday morning, then it was over to one of the swimming pools and a quick dip in the icy cold refreshing water, we then left our towels on the grass to hold our spot whilst we went to the bar for some well deserved refreshments, the sky turned black, thunder and lightening stated followed by a heavy downpour, the Spanish all rushed for cover in the restaurant, we were lucky and were sat at a table with a large umbrella, ten minutes later the sun was out to a massive cheer and all the Spanish men jumped into the pool, a nice experience to witness.
On our trip back to the hostel we found a sign for a mirador (look out point) and what amazing views we had as we sat on the seat watching another storm to roll in.
That evening we decided to make the journey to Ciudad Real, just over an hours drive away, thinking there would be more life there than in Ruidera. We arrived at 19.30 and the city was a like ghost town, not a lot to see here considering its nicknamed "the capital of La Mancha" for having been the capital of the former province of La Mancha, even the plaza mayor (main square) was nothing to write home about, but the locals obviously have a sense of humour and had placed a mask on one of the statues. We were glad we only made this a quick visit and had not booked a hotel here for the night and certainly wont be bothering to visit again.
Back to our Hostel for the last night of our Road Trip.
Accommodation - Hostal Restaurante La Mancha 2 nights for 90€
Never be afraid to try a hostel, many are not what you would expect and have exactly the same facilities as a hotel. This little place was wonderful and had everything we needed and was just one street back from Ruidera high street with plenty of street parking available.
We were slightly worried about travelling during the New Normal especially being British and going to very Spanish areas, but this was the only time we really felt we were treated differently, on hearing our English voices, out came the sanitizer spray for the door mat, everything was fine once the owners realised we were Spanish residents. Non of the hotel staff here spoke any English what so ever and seemed to find it hard understanding our Spanish but we all managed.
If looking for budget accommodation in this area then this little place is highly recommended, during normal times there is also a restaurant on the premises, but unfortunately that was closed at the moment.
The journey home Ruidera to Benidorm
Even the journey home is part of the holiday and we decided to stop off at Albacete for a while.
Albacete is a city and municipality in the Spanish autonomus community of Castilla-La Mancha , and capital of the province of Albacete. The town is home to the High Court of Justice of Castile-La Mancha (TSJCLM), the highest court of the autonomous region. Albacete has become the most important town in the Castilla–La Mancha region, due to its position and excellent trains that link to Madrid and the eastern coast of Spain.
We paid a quick visit to the The church of San Juan which was constructed in 1515. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War its bells were melted down to be replaced in 1947 by its current bells. It was also during this post war period, in 1949 when the principal facade was finished and the Diocese of Albacete was formed, giving the church its cathedral status. In 1960 the lateral facade was finished in a Romanesque Revival style.
We then stopped at Almansa and tried to find our way up to the 12th century castle, but had no luck, there were certainly no roads heading that way but lots of steps, but it seemed to be closed anyway, so that´s a trip for another time.
As we continued our journey back towards Benidorm we spotted the most amazing castle in the distance in a town called Biar in the Valencian Community and decided to go and investigate.
This wonderful 12th century castle sits on top of the hill overlooking the town and has been declared a National Monument. The views from the top were spectacular, unfortunately we were too late to go into the castle itself which only costs 1€ and is open from 10.15 - 13.45.
Finally from Alcoy we took the scenic CV70 back to Benidorm, this is a fantastic route over the mountains with plenty of hairpin bends to keep the driver awake, and that brings us to the end of this years road trip, roll on next year.
Distance driven - 3,115km
Average price of a room for the night - 51.70€
Parking - 66.50€
Price of Diesel - 148€
Best value for money accommodation - Hostal Dianes, 2 Star bargain of the week at 27.40€ in Nerja
Worst accommodation - Asul B&B Rooms, Lisbon
Favourite place visited - I think this year it has to go to Nerja
Most disappointing - Portugal
Best surprise along the way - The Mountain village of Grazalema and Biar castle
So what was Spain like during the "New Normal"? - The Spanish are taking this very very seriously and most people are wearing masks even when they can social distance the required 1.5m even in areas where it is not obligatory, and you certainly can not go inside any premise with out a mask on, basically NO mask, NO entrance. you will be turned away, there is hand sanitiser where ever you go both inside and outside bars and restaurants etc There are sadly a lot of premises that have not yet re-opened and many that look as though they wont be at all.
Seats and tables are being sanitised in most places when people have vacated them which was good to see, most if not all bars and restaurants are using QR codes for menus so make sure you have your mobile phone handy.
Hotels all seem to have slightly different rules, some have one lift for going up and another for coming back down, they all have sanitiser on entry. There is tape everywhere telling you where to stand and to remind you of social distancing, plastic partitioning is being used at nearly all the reception areas. Pools will have a restriction on numbers and shoes and masks must be worn when walking around.
Dining in the hotels, this does vary, most buffets are now plated and food served to your table, items are individually packaged where possible.
There are different closing times in different regions, mostly 23.00 and these are being adhered to.
Everywhere we went there was a strong police presence which was quite reassuring.
With the exception of the Lagunas de Ruidera everywhere was much much quieter than normal, some places were like ghost towns with nothing open and no one around, the most noticeable was Seville which was just sad to see as this is generally a very vibrant and busy city. In some ways it was nice to be able to see these places without the hussel and bussel, but very sad for the economy and there will be so many businesses that will not be able to survive.
During our travels we only came across 2 other British couples. Hopefully tourism will now begin to return here in Spain and those tourists will remember and abide by the rules with regards to masks etc. as Spain certainly can not afford to go into another lock down.
Hopefully on next years travels we will see Spain back to normal once again.
and our 2019 Road trip
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 as we are always looking for new places to visit.