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Europe 2011 - Through France to Central Spain

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Through France to Central Spain

Leaving Calais mid morning we drove along the free autoroute to Boulogne then headed for Abbeville and towards Rouen before turning off to Forges les Eaux and across country on empty D roads to Vernon for our first night stop. The next morning we drove to Monet's garden at Giverny which was a riot of colour with the spring bulbs and wisteria By the time we completed the walks around the gardens the crowds had arrived so after a tour of his house we set off along the banks of the Seine then south to join the autoroute to Versailles where we had booked four nights at the Huttopia campsite for a family gathering in Paris during Easter. In glorious sunny weather we were able to travel into the centre of Paris using the RER train and also visit the gardens of Versailles. We decided to forgo the three hour queues to visit the palace but the gardens were pleasant especially as some of the fountains were operating.

crowds at Giverny
Crowds at Giverny
tulips at Giverny
Magnificent tulips
and wisterias - but no lilies

Versailles fountains
Fountains at Versailles
Versailles gardens
Versailles Palace
Versailles grotto
Versailles grotto

Now starting our proper holiday we drove  south arriving at the free aire at Lôches just beyond the Loire Valley in time to visit a dairy themed fair in the town centre with the usual French eclectic range of funfair, stalls and entertainment. After a noisy night with a thunderstorm too close for comfort we drove on more empty minor roads to Brantôme where the aire is located in a meadow by the river and old town. The next night stop was by the Canal du Midi at Caumont sur Garonne then across the flat forests of the Landes region, diverting to the pretty village of La Bastide d'Armagnac which we discovered had a pleasant free aire (but it was too early in the day for our night halt). On our final day in France we aimed for St Jean de Luz but as it was market day we couldn't find anywhere to park near the sea front so we headed for a small campsite on the coast just north at Erromardie.
La Bastide d'Armagnac
a shady colonnade
Crossing the Spanish border at Irun we managed to take the wrong turning off the motorway and ended up in the middle of San Sebastian at the lunchtime rush hour as we did last time we drove this way. Eventually we found a new road not on the satnav and headed south turning off at Beasain and climbed over the wooded hills to a park centre for a late lunch and then down to Etxarri and the ACSI listed campsite. We walked into the rather scruffy town with lots of graffiti and people hanging around so didn't feel it was a place to linger. At least the site had wifi so we managed to watch a clip of the Royal Wedding on Youtube in the evening. We planned our provisional route for the next few days and set off to Estella then on free motorway to Logrono and on good roads across the plains and hills to Soria. We avoided the narrow streets of the old town centre and drove through suburbs of blocks of flats to a campsite just south of the town where we were told exactly where to pitch despite there being only four tourist units in an empty field.  There were several storks nesting in cut off trees and pylons around the campsite and some small black and white birds which we decided were northern wheatears.

Northern Wheatear
Northern wheatear?

From there we decided to visit Spain's mini Grand Canyon del Río Lobos with a few viewpoints and then to the interesting old walled town of El Burgo de Osma. As it was a Sunday the locals were walking to the cathedral in their best clothes. We had a pleasant walk around the arcaded town square shops, some selling gifts and the local specialities. Continuing on our route the main road was good but there were no laybys for many miles and most turnoffs not signposted. Eventually we found a back road so parked up for lunch then joined a free motorway and drove to Segovia which was extremely busy with tourists, so we headed for the campsite on the edge of the city where we eventually found a pitch among the tightly placed trees. The next morning we drove into the city and as the main coach and motorhome parking place was full we found a free parking place in a layby on the cobbled street beneath the Alcazar. It's an interesting city with a massive cathedral and Roman aqueduct. The Alcazar was formerly a prison and is still a military establishment dominating the hilltop.
Segovia Aqueduct
Roman Aqueduct
We left  Segovia on the main road to Avila, the highest city in Spain at 1130m but the approach through massive housing estates on the outskirts didn't look too inviting. However as so often in Spanish towns once we found our way to the centre we were able  to park near the old city walls with its 80 towers. We arrived just as a procession was finishing so looked at the giant figures and watched a folk dance display before continuing on to our planned destination of La Alberça, a preserved mountain village, now a Natonal Monument, set high in green clad hills. There is a free aire in the main carpark so we stayed two nights and walked around the narrow cobbled streets which were busy with tourists in the afternoon. There were several shops selling very expensive smoked hams which looked like they had been hanging there for many years. We also discovered a waymarked walk through the nearby woods to an old hermitage with views across the hills and modern sculptures dotted around the trail.

La Alberca hams
Hanging hams at La Alberça

We returned to the large hillside town of Bejar with tall blocks of flats lining the main street, apparently a former centre of the textile industry, and across empty plains of grassland bypassing Plasencia and continued south to the Parque Naçional de Montfragüe, a large nature reserve. The area was mostly scrubland with many birds and wild flowers although we thought the visitor centre was rather poor. After stopping for lunch at a layby by the river, with traditional circular stone and thatch buildings, we discovered that the main attraction of cliffs with lots of eagles (and crowds of birdwatchers) was a couple of kilometres further on.


La Bastide d'Armagnac
La Bastide d'Armagnac

Canyon del Rio Lobos
Canyon Rio Lobos

Burgo de Osma
Burgo de Osma

Segovia cathedral
  Segovia cathedral

   Segovia Alcazar
Segovia Alcazar

Avila walls
Avila walls

Avila Giant figures
   Avila folk dancers
Avila giants                                   and folk dancers

La Alberca main square
La Alberça main square

Hermitage near La Alberca
Ermita San Marco near La Alberça


Ermita San Marco at La AlbercaMontfrague NP hutsValencia de Alcanta
Ermita San Marco sculptureTraditional huts at MontfragüeValencia de Alcántara

As we reached Caceres, another city surrounded by massive modern urbanisations, in the busy late afternoon we decided to avoid the city centre and headed for the large ACSI listed campsite, rather noisy next to an industrial area, but uniquely each pitch had its own modern toilet and shower. The next morning we replenished our stocks at the large Carrefour hypermarket then headed west through cork oak and olive plantations to Valencia de Alcántara with its white buildings with red tiles more familiar in the south of Spain and then across the border to Portugal.