Weeks 23, 24 and 25 - Trucking on homeward

26th March - 1st April 2018

It actually was moving day today, as expected the caravan felt no different despite the anti-snake device being no longer connected, but then if the van is correctly loaded . . .

We have moved around 250 km (150 ml) north east to a municipal site in the centre of Vila Real a town that clings to the steep sides of a valley with a river at the very bottom. The site, Camping Vila Real, is built on the side of the valley and quite steeply terraced with the last half kilometre of the approach winding down a narrow one way street past the university, not easy with a rig as big as ours but no problem either if it’s taken slow.

IMG 5684.jpg

Vila Real

There is a great deal to see and do in this area - if only it stops raining!!


Wow, a dry day. We had a drive out to Monte Farina which from a distance looks like a typical child’s drawing of a mountain - a perfect cone. The road runs right around in a spiral until it reaches Alto de Senhora da Gracia, a chapel set on the peak with fabulous 360° panoramas.

IMG 5614.jpg

Monte Farina

Another reasonable day so making the most, we had another day out visiting first Mirandella where, we were told was a fabulous farmers market selling amongst other delicacies the type of sausage that became known as “alheira”, they were invented by the Jews of Portugal, who were given the choice of either being expelled from the country in 1497 or converting to Christianity. Those who converted but secretly retained their beliefs avoided eating pork, forbidden in Judaism; this put them at risk of being noticed not to hang sausages, traditionally made of pork, in their fumeiros or smokehouses. As a way to avoid attracting the attention of the Portuguese Inquisition or, in rural areas, the Portuguese Christians, they did make sausages, but with other meats, such as poultry and game, mixed with bread for texture. This recipe later spread amongst Christians.

The market was a complete non event but there were many tourist shops selling alheira sausages and other local goodies including delicious “cheap as chips” walnuts.

From Mirandella we continued to Braganca a town we have driven through on several occasions but at which we had never stopped. We were missing out, the old town was very pretty, unfortunately our exploring was interrupted by a rain downpour so we will have to come again another day.

Rain, rain, rain and even more rain.

The GOOD news - it’s not raining - HURRAHHHHHHHHHH 😄.

The BAD news - it’s snowing - BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO 😳.

We have had a drive out and watched local children building snowmen some, almost certainly, for the first time as this area is not particularly high above sea level so not prone to snow, indeed some places don’t see rain from one year to the next let alone snow.

IMG 5666.jpg

A Snowperson

With so much rain we thought that it would be worth visiting some famous local waterfalls. The first Fisgas de Ermelo was something of a disappointment in that although very high and very dramatic, unless you were a keen walker/climber the closest you could get was simply not close enough. The second, Cascata de Galegos da Serra, much lower and less dramatic was more fun as it was difficult but short walk from the road allowing you to get up close and wet.

IMG 5656.jpg

Fisgas de Ermelo - Along way away!

Vila Real is close to the Douro River which as many will know forms the centre line of what is considered by locals not only as the best wine growing area in Portugal but in the entire world and the origin of Port so loved by Brits everywhere. Today we went for a drive along the Douro River to Pinhao partly to see the tiles decorating the railway station and party for a walk along the picturesque riverside.

IMG 5696.jpg

One of many tile sets at the Pinhao railway station

After our riverside walk we were driving along the beautiful Douro Valley when we spied the Sandeman Port Lodge, the car turned in (almost) without help from me. There was no English language tour for some hours but the tasting room was open and we were each given several glasses of port wine. The first was 1999 Vintage Port and what a superb tipple it was. For many years I have insisted that when a bottle of port is opened it should be drunk and never re-stoppered and kept, the guy at Sandemans stated that this was almost correct in that vintage ports should be stored flat but the day before being opened put upright in the fridge (he said that by the time it was uncorked, poured and discussed it would be close to room temperature) and after being opened should be consumed within 24 hours although he said if a vacuum stopper was used it MAY be drinkable for a further 24 hours. Ruby, LBV, white and rose ports if kept in the fridge and closed with vacuum stoppers, although best during the first 24 hours, may be drinkable for up to a week. The only exception is tawny port which is oxidised as part of the production process and once opened kept in the fridge (no vacuum stopper required) it may last for up to nine months - like that will ever happen!!

Having tried a number of the excellent ports on offer we were particularly impressed by two, the first the 1999 Vintage Port and the second a twenty year old tawny. we would have liked to buy a box of each but as the one of each we bought cost around €100.00 . . . . . .

2nd - 8th April 2018.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain  . . . . . .

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain  . . . . . .

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain  . . . . . .

Moving day. When we arrived here the final half mile was down a narrow one way street, the way out was down similar narrow roads but outward bound there are two 90 degree corners. The first is easy but the second (although easy when the University is closed and the students cars are elsewhere) when we arrived was quite impossible with parked cars right up to the turn and on the opposite side of the road we were to turn into. We could do only one thing - unhitch the caravan, drive the car round the corner then use the motor-mover to get the caravan round and reunite it with the car. By the time we had completed the manoeuvre there were some fifteen or so cars queueing behind us but all were so patient one even came to ask if he could help in any way as did a young lady walking past and seeing the situation. What no-one did was to get upset and start leaning on the horn.

Once on the main road the rest of the journey was easy peasy, arriving at Camping El Astral early enough to get a good pitch.

From the site it was a relatively short walk into the town of Tordesillas a small hillside town that was a defensive bastion against Muslim invasion.

IMG 5701.jpg

Tordesillas old town centre

Exploring Tordesillas town this morning we happened upon a bodega or wine shop which was advertising tours of their cellars we went it and were greeted by the company owners, two sisters both in their early twenties who explained that the company had been set up by their great, great, great grandfather and they were the fifth generation of the family to own the business, their father having recently retired. The shop was relatively small but had cave cellars underneath (part of the towns ancient defences) were perfect for storing/maturing the wines they made from the grapes grown in their own vine yards. The sisters were unbelievably knowledgable about all aspects of wine it’s production and maturation. After the tour we were given tastings of their best wines, perhaps we should say all their wines as we tasted around 10 different. Deciding to purchase a few we picked out four of our favourites and bought a total of ten bottles, the price list indicated that the cheapest was €5.80 and the dearest €12.50, the bill came to €52.00 - how does that work??

9th - 15th April 2018

Only two weeks to ferry crossing day so its time we started making tracks, OK I know its less than 1200 km (745 ml) to St Malo where we catch the ferry but we want to stop at four sites on the way there and visit Malcom, a pal who, till last year, wintered in Portugal, in his new home in France.

Today we planned to go to Camping Orio Kampina just outside San Sebastion on the Spanish/French border a distance of 357 km (222 ml). As we made our way north the predicted low cloud started dropping rain on us which eventually turned to sleet and before we had even reached the half way mark it was snowing hard, while the temperature had dropped to 0*C and although not settling on the roads, which could be to do with the trucks rushing round at high speed spraying some sort of de-icer, cos it sure was settling every where else.

IMG 5707.jpg

Ah - Snow!! Just what we wanted - NOT

The driving conditions were quite unpleasant so instead of by-passing Burgos and continuing we turned off the motorway and went to Camping Fuentes Blancas. Not one of our favourite sites but a welcome refuge for people like us who try not to travel on rainy days let alone snowy ones.

It was a long night, because the ground over the entire site was waterlogged we had, in order to get a less flooded pitch been forced to set up under a tree and which at first protected us from the rain which fell most of the night. After a while it organised the rain into large lumps of water which fell on the caravan roof like pebbles. On stepping out we found virtually the entire site under a couple of inches of water and our caravan entirely surrounded by a moat (complete with not one but two swimming ducks) that was getting deeper by the minute.

With four wheel drive on both the car and caravan (four motor mover) we had no trouble getting either off the soggy ground and onto the road, but as we left the site the sleet and snow started again - oh bugger, that’s all we need.

Fortunately it didn’t last long and despite quite thick snow on the fields and roadsides the roads themselves were clear. Mind you with, as we say, five or six snowplough/antifreeze spray trucks in as many miles perhaps thats no surprise.

We had decided that yesterdays original destination was now too close we determined to head for Urrugne in France.

Camping Larrouleta where we are staying was a very fortunate choice because it is close enough to the border to enable us to pop back into Spain to fill our car’s empty 80 litre tank with diesel and do some food shopping.

At the nearest Spanish fuel station to the French/Spanish border every pump had a three or four car queue which apart from us and one Spaniard comprised exclusively French registered cars. One Frenchman in a van was, as well filling the vehicle tank, filling a variety of cans including a couple of 20 litre jerry cans. Well he was paying €1.07 in Spain while the general price in France is around €1.48. There is a similar differential with many foodstuffs.

While chatting to the campsite receptionist she recommended the campsite restaurant saying they had just replaced the “awful staff with really good ones” so we chanced it. The receptionist was right. It was good. Sue started with house salad which was huge and very tasty while I had pate again delicious, for the main Sue had roasted beef flank while I had squid, delicious. Washed down with a local wine the whole lot came to €52.40 (£45.62) more than we have paid for a meal out in years but still, for France, very good value for money.

We have moved to Campsite La Motte just a few miles from where our pal Malcolm has bought a house. Malcolm had a large American RV in which each autumn he travelled to Camping Alentejo in Portugal where he spent the winter returning to UK each spring until ill health forced the sale of the motorhome and the purchase of a house.

We visited Malcolm today. To say the house is in the back of beyond is not an understatement, there is however a closeness between the few residents and Malcolm’s house, although very much a work in progress, is one of those in which you will always feel comfortable and relaxed.

Malcolm came to ours for dinner, a very pleasant evening.

16th - 22nd April 2018

Every day is market day in the sleepy town of Chalais, the nearest town to Malcolm’s home and which has the most magnificent cheese stall we have come across in a very long time. Everything on the stall was sold at one price and the stall holder was very generous with his cheese samples, mind you we did finish up buying a considerable quantity of it.

After the market we went to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne officially listed as “One of the most beautiful villages in France” OK it was pretty but for us the reason for a visit was The Underground Church, also known as "The Monolithic Church” - quite amazing.

IMG 5709.jpg

Lunch at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

We have moved to what will be our last site in France for this trip Campsite Domaine du Logis. A five star site the facilities on the site are second to none, although at this time of year the restaurant and swimming pools are closed. We did visit this site in the spring of 2017 but arrived late afternoon and left early morning the following day.

Todays outing was to Dinan a Brittany town in northwest France. It’s known for its medieval ramparts, cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. Dinan Castle has a 14th-century keep and the Tour du Coëtquen, a 15th-century artillery tower. The grand, Gothic-style Saint-Malo Church has vibrant stained-glass windows.

We set off today to what is probably the most famous tourist site in the area - Mont-Saint-Michel, this holy mount is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is its breathtaking bay. Sadly we were unable to get closer than five kilometres or so before all roads were closed to non-residents and to continue you were forced to park and continue by tourist bus. Unfortunately the signage was the worst we had ever experienced we drove around the outlying roads three times (as did the car in front of us) before we got fed up and drove off deciding, admittedly without a shred of evidence, that the car parking and transport to the mount would be an “arm and leg” job, it seemed that sort of place.

IMG 5739.jpg

Mont-Saint-Michel a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Our last drive out today - along the Dinard coast road, a very pretty trip - cos tomorrow is washing day.

© S W Ghost 2017