Chapter 4: Part 1 – A Winter ‘Cruise’ along the Costas and a Christmas Rally
When we got the text ‘Just leaving La Manga. It’s OK if you like white water rafting, bingo and belly dancing’ our hearts sank.
This was our first winter trip in the motorhome and we were travelling down the southern coast of Spain. We were in a bit of trepidation having heard all the stories about the Costas being full of Brits, Dutch and Germans and how ‘it isn’t the real Spain’ but the winter sun was drawing us. We wondered if it could really be that bad and so decided to give it a go.
Worrying a bit about being away at Christmas and New Year on our own, and wanting some fun, we’d booked ourselves in for three weeks on to the Camping and Caravanning Club Christmas and New Year Rally at Caravanning La Manga on the Costa Calida.
As we’d never rallied before we had mixed feelings thinking it might be like an old style Butlins with enforced jollity and fines if you weren’t enjoying it, but had decided that if we didn’t like it we’d just forfeit the money we’d already paid and move on. Unfortunately this text from Ann, whom we’d met on the way down at Roses, just over the French border and into Spain on the Costa Brava, seemed to confirm our worst fears.
We’d started out at the beginning of November crossing from Dover to Calais, by ferry on a millpond sea, and wandered slowly through France mainly in the rain and staying overnight at deserted, drippy campsites.
Luckily though by the time we got to Roses, the sun was out, although there was frost at night. Hence our first morning waking to the sound of running , or rather spurting, water from all the standpipes on the site. The temperature had been down to minus 5 and all the water pipes were frozen with very pretty icicles hanging from them. By the time we were up the sun had been shining for some time and they were starting to melt and leaks and puddles were forming everywhere. Not in our van though as we’d kept the heating on all night and were nice and toasty in our Swift Firebrand 590.
Roses, like many places that were just going to be a stop-off point, turned out to be a more than that. It’s a nice little town, probably very touristy in the height of the season but in December, and in brilliant sun, there were enough people around and places open to make it enjoyable. It has a brilliant situation beneath medieval fortress walls at the head of a sweeping bay, huge promenades and vast beaches.
In the camp bar that night we had an enjoyable and unexpected meeting with the Ann of the text but it was only after talking to each other for ages we discovered that she was the same Ann and I was the same Steph who had been ‘talking’ to each other about our travel plans on the Motorhomefacts forum. It was a great meeting and, although we’ve never managed to meet up again, we’ve kept in touch by text and email occasionally ever since.
After Roses, we travelled on down the coast, enjoying the sun as it got hotter and hotter.
The first stop was on the Costa Dorada at Vilanova Park, high above Vilanova i La Geltru, a very large industrial city famous for its university and fishing port. Vilanova Park is a large, well run, site with a good size swimming pool and a restaurant/bar offering Catalonian specialities as well as the usual pizzas.
On arrival we got talking to Duncan in reception (a permanent resident from England) who advised us to ask for a pitch at the top of the site. This turned out to be good advice, at least for the winter. Lower down pitches were among huge shady pine trees, excellent in the summer but a bit gloomy in winter sunshine.
There is a regular bus service from the site into the town and beaches and on to the station for the train to Barcelona. Vilanova is also near the cosmopolitan and charming Sitges.
After a few days at Vilanova we carried on to Camping Bonterra Park at Benacassim on the Costa Azahar. This was our first real experience of a ‘mass’ of over-wintering Brits, Germans and Dutch. All seemed to be having a great time. Many campers were well past retirement age and had been going to Benacassim for years. They looked very fit and healthy, going on long walks into the hills behind the camp, cycling and joining in all the other activities available. How much better than spending the winter in cold, rainy, grey Britain.
Camping Bonterra Park is smaller than some Spanish sites which makes getting around it easier. It has a good restaurant/bar which also holds entertainment in the evening; including Flamenco and karaoke when we were there.
We really liked Benicassim with it’s lovely palm tree lined promenades, excellent well kept beaches and the old working town. While we were there we discovered Chinese Bazaars where you could get everything you might ever need from kitchen equipment and other household stuff to exotic food.
On leaving here we travelled on to Pensicola (where El Cid was filmed) with its stunning fortified promontory looking out over the sea. You can park below and then walk up through its warren of alleys and lanes to the top for spectacular views before coming back down to the harbour and eating seafood in one of its many restaurants.
Our last stop before La Manga was Camping Kiko Park on the Costa Blanca. It has slightly smaller pitches than some sites (80m) and not much shade in the part we were in, but there are good, clean facilities and a (rather expensive) a la carte restaurant with a beautiful terrace looking out on the 7.5 miles of Blue Flag beach.
It’s about a 1.5 kilometre walk through orange groves to get in to Oliva which is a pleasant but quite ordinary town. We came across an English bar and gave in to a proper Turkey Christmas lunch with all the trimmings that they were doing for the small English community.
After a few days we were on the road again. The sun still hot and now we were on our way to La Manga and Christmas.
Next: La Manga and Beyond
• Read Chapter 1: Making it happen
• Read Chapter 2: Saint-Pol-de-Léon
• Read Chapter 3: Part 1 – Idling our way to the Italian Riviera via France and a litle bit of Switzerland
• Read Chapter 3: Part 2 – Pietra Ligure and beyond
• Read Chapter 4: Part 2 – La Manga and Beyond