Escaping the UK

Another month has passed so here is a blog update on my journey from the UK via Luxembourg to collect Sadie in France, our short time there and then our trip onwards via Andorra & Spain towards Portugal.

I didn't mention this in the last blog, but I can't forget to mention the amazing meal I had at a hotel on the way up to Scotland, it was called the White Swan which is just off the A1 between Alnwick and Berwick. 
I had a 3 course meal, 3 ciders and a G&T and it was under £45 and it was top quality food. Totally recommend this place if anyone is travelling up that route, plus they were happy for me to park Daisy out the back too.

Then I had a nice relaxing time at my parents for a few days and I also managed to catch up with a couple of friends who I hadn't seen for around 20 years or so which was great.

And I also managed to purchase a drone which was delivered whilst I was there, and the plan was to use this on our travels around to get some nice overhead footage of locations we visit, land we might view etc.

Then the long drive south started with leaving Scotland and arriving back down in Nottingham for one final camping trip of the year at New House Farm. It was good to see old friends and spend some time with everyone in a field again, sadly without Sadie though this time. 

I left the farm on the Sunday afternoon and drove straight down to Dover, around a 4 hour drive and found a car park near the ferry port for the morning,
After having a pizza and a couple of beers, it was an early night as I had to catch the 06:00 departure to Dunkirk.

The ferry crossing was around 2 hours and with a complimentary breakfast included, it meant I was in France and on the road by around 09:00 local time.
I had given myself 3 nights to travel the 800 miles and with a total journey time of approx 16hrs, it meant around 200 miles and around 4 hours or so driving per day to get there by Thursday afternoon as planned. 

I picked a route that took me through Belguim and then into Luxembourg for my first overnight stop at a small village called Redange, about 25 miles outside of the capital city. It was a decent little free Aire, with all services including EHU which is great and far better than you have to put up with in the UK. 

I also wanted to visit the capital as I heard it was pretty, so in the morning I found a Park & Ride nearby and was surprised to find out that all public transport is free in the country which is amazing!
I spent a couple of hours wandering around the old town, with it's impressive views, ancient ruins and beautiful buildings, before jumping back on the free bus back to Daisy and then onwards bound.


Oh and another reason for going via Luxembourg was to fill up with diesel, and at £0.87 per litre, it's a lot cheaper than the UK too!

Next planned stop was at a little French village called Mirebeau-sur-Bèze, which is just outside of Dijon, which is another city I wanted to visit. This stop was another free Aire, no EHU this time but a much prettier little village. 
I went for a wander round in the evening, and it had a lovely river and typical small French village feel about it. 

After easy 30 minute drive into Dijon the next morning, I parked up and went for a quick walk round the historic town famous of course for it's Mustard! This was the main reason for coming here, although it was a beautiful city even in the dull grey weather I had endured since getting off the ferry.

Sadie loves mustard (am not a fan tbh but will tolerate it in small doses), so I googled the best place to get some and found Moutarde Maille, a famous mustard producer in the region. So I went into the shop and the lovely French sales lady helped me spend a small fortune on 2 lovely porcelain jars full of mustard which were hand pulled from what I can only describe as a mustard bar! 
I got one which is made with White Wine and the other one is made with Rosemary Honey, however I didn't taste them due to Covid and the fact the lady told me they are 2 of their hotest ones!

Then it was time to hit the road again with the next destination set as Grenoble. Situated just near the Alps. I had high hopes for this stage of the journey having better scenery as the previous 2 days was mostly spent on boring A roads, despite setting the sat nav to avoid toll roads. 

And I wasn't dissapointed, the journey was far nicer and despite an obvious slower pace, it was worth it. I did want to go via Geneva, however the extra distance and time involved was just too much for a day, but the nearer to Grenoble I got, the views got more stunning!

I found a little park up just outside the city of Grenoble, next to a village called Sassenage. I went for an evening walk round the park/village and it was pretty enough but nothing really there to see.

In the morning I did plan to go into Grenoble itself, but having read there isn't a lot there, the lack of parking for Daisy and the fact I could get to Sadie a little quicker if I didn't, I cracked on and hit the road. 
It was the shortest distance of the last few days at 192 miles, but the longest driving time of around 5 hours 30 minutes, but I was soon to see why!

I later discovered that a lot of this part of the route is called Route Napoléon, and it was spectacular. I probably took a lot longer than I should have, as I had to keep stopping and taking photos of the stunning scenery. It was by far the most enjoyable part of the journey so far! 

But the end of this leg of the journey was nearly complete, with just over 1100 miles driven since leaving the Midlands, I was approaching my destination of Plascassier for the next few days and re-united with Sadie, which was exciting!

Journey to Sadie Photos

We had planned to stay here for 4 nights, which gave us plenty time to relax, enjoy the area and go out for a couple of meals. This was my 2nd time down here, however this time the weather wasn't so kind to us with Storm Alex hitting us for a couple of the days.
This did allow us to just chill out in the house and I also managed to get some drone practice during the nicer spells of weather. 

Sadie and myself went for a walk round Antibes which is on the coast between Cannes and Nice and has a beautiful old town. Thankfully the weather was kind to us that day as we sat outside and had a couple of refreshing cold beers!

We ate out a couple of times during our stay, the food was really good as expected and in particular the restaurant just round the corner from the house called Lougolin was fantastic and even had a #smugpudingface 😋

On the last night we went round to Sadies sisters house, where Tiff and Ray hosted a Raclette evening. This was my first experience of this, however it involves lots of cheese and meat, with potatoes and veg and we even had the family favourite of Chocolate Mess for dessert.... needless to say I didn't loose any weight during our short stay in France! 

So the next stage of the journey was another 1000 miles or so from Plascassier - Penamacor in Portugal. Originally I had planned to take around 4-5 days for this section, so approx 200-250 miles per day along the south coast of France and then across Spain.

However with a rumour that the Spain/Portugal border might get closed at somepoint soon, along with the execptionally high cases in both France & Spain, we both decided that we would do this stage as quickly as possible.
With us now able to share the driving, we aimed to do it in 3 days/2 nights and set off mid morning from Sadies sisters house, where Daisy had been living during our time there.

On our first day, we aimed to get near to the France/Spain border, approx 320 miles away near a place called Perpignon. I had found a little park up in an Olive Farm that had services, but by the time we got there it had closed for the day, so we just parked up on a country lane nearby. 

The next morning we made the decision to detour slightly via Andorra, it's an independent country that sits between France & Spain in the middle of the Pyrenees. It would only add on an extra hours travelling time, approx 330 miles to cover that day and it would be a far prettier route than the usual dull motorways in Spain, which we would see plenty of over the next couple of days anyway.
It wasn't long before leaving Perpignon that we started to hit the beautiful mountains and we knew we had made the correct decision to go this way

Andorra is a tiny place, with the capital Andorra la Vella the main attraction. After reading up about the place, we found out there isn't a lot of parking places for Daisy, so we just took a trip through and to be honest, there didn't look like there was much worth stopping for and had some weird traffic management system on the main road through which was basically 3 lanes and the middle one is controlled by overhead lights which allows the traffic to flow alternatively along it! 
It also has really cheap fuel as Andorra has duty free status and is not part of the EU, but has some  special agreement with them. 
So we filled up with diesel at £0.79 per litre, a total bargain and even cheaper than Luxembourg! 

On our way out of the country, we arrived at a border control point and suddenly a uniformed gent asked us to pull over. Seems he was from the Spanish customs and was clearly in to look for a hoard of duty free! Obviously we didn't have any, but I did have a load of cider from the UK and an unopened bottle of Baileys which he took particular interest in... though after we explained where we got it and also that UK spirits do not have the duty paid paper label over the top, we were allowed to go!

So our trip then took as along the boring roads of Spain, and to our destination for that evening which was a small town called Calatayud, which sits between Zaragoza and Madrid. It wasn't a pretty place, but it was quiet enough and I hoped for us to go out for dinner here.

We clearly didn't want to stop near Madrid due to the huge number of Covid cases there, however Calatyud had very little reported cases on checking local government websites etc. I felt as long as we took the usual precautions of wearing a mask, washing hands etc then it would be safe enough to eat out that evening, no worse than the UK or the South of France to be honest.
I had actually noticed on my journey so far that they seem to be taking it more serious in Europe with everyone wearing masks indoors, a huge majority wearing them outside walking about too. 

I found a few places to have a look at, and then after a walk round, we picked what one we felt looked the best called Posada San Anton. Also the menu outside was translated into English, which certainly helps when ordering over here.. Despite the ones inside being only in Spanish!
We went for a set menu which was the 3 courses, bread and Sadie even got a bottle of wine to herself. The food was really nice, it felt safe with plenty room between tables and all staff wearing masks too and the bill was about £45 in total.... with another #smugpuddinface 😋

So the next day left us around 360 miles to get to Penamacor our final destination on this leg of our travels. This was another 6 hours or so on boring roads, till we crossed over the border into Portugal near the village of Valverde del Fresno, but not before we filled up again on cheap fuel in a tiny village with a random fuel pump in the middle of nowhere at around £0.84 per litre.

We knew we would be arriving fairly late, so decided to head to a little campsite nearby for the evening so we could sort the water etc out in Daisy, and then also go into the nearby town of Fundao the next morning to get some supplies and LPG before heading into Penamacor. We have used this site a few times, it's got everything we need and is free, sadly though due to Covid the toilet/shower block was closed this time.

However it was good to relax outside in the sun with a nice cold Cerveja, BBQ a steak and be in Portugal at last, after over 2100 miles of travelling from the UK!

Journey to Portugal Photos

Especially as it was just becoming clear that the Midlands and Nottingham in particular is one of the worst affected areas for Covid cases in the UK, so while we are glad we got out in time, we are still worried for our friends who are still there and hopefully they stay safe.

We've been here for over a week now, and to be honest it feels a lot safer already and despite the rising cases overall here in Portugal, the people do seem to be listening to the Governments advise and hopefully the cases and more importantly, the deaths remain low. This municipality has only had 18 cases so far and zero deaths, so long may that continue.

We will of course do a blog update of our time in Portugal next month.

Take care all and stay safe x


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