Daisys last big adventure

What shall we do for the 1.5 months between UK work and Saudi work we asked, I know let’s take Daisy on her last European journey, we can follow our old route down through France and Spain, visit some friends in Portugal and then travel the Spanish and French coast back to my parents. 

It was a mile heavy journey and with Daisy not being her fittest, fuel prices being ridiculous and our savings looking lower than they had in ages due to Freddy, maybe we should have been more sensible…. but where’s the fun in that!

So, the Ferry from New Haven to Dieppe as normal. We got the morning ferry so it’s meant to be a straight run through to around Le Mans before we stop but we discovered that our route through Rouen is now subjected to an emission zone and without the correct sticker for your vehicle, you can be fined! Knowing our luck, we didn’t want to risk it so took the back roads through the prettier countryside until Daisys brakes started making a horrid noise. Ahh yes, that would be the brake pads we were meant to sort out back in England!! 

Trying to find a helpful garage to assist an English couple with English Motorhome and that only speak pidgin French is nearly impossible in France. We knew this was a quick, easy and relatively cheap job so to be quoted 450 euros by one money grabbing outfit was plain stupid, we limped on and ending up trying a total of 5 garages all of which told us No in various different ways, ranging from plain rude to disinterested.                                                                                                                                       Almost on our last hope we tried a small mechanic in Elbeuf down some back street, this was a messy but busy proper old school mechanics and the guy running it reminded me of my dad with grimy overalls and a twinkle in his eye, he took one look at Daisy, asked if front or back and then said Yes, come back tomorrow! He didn’t even have to look anything up on a computer or pull faces about it being English, I could have kissed him but that would have been weird.


Anyway, long story short the next day after a few hours and 165 euros lighter we were back on route south, so far we’d managed to waste nearly 3 days and were still only about 2hrs from Dieppe!

Nothing else happened as we hurtled through France, I started to come down with a cold but nothing more than blocked nose and general bunged up feeling and as we were staying in quiet free carparks and not going out it didn’t matter. The weather was mostly grey and wet, but it wasn’t cold and 2 nights later we were in Spain.

Paul had promised me a trip to San Sabastian to feast on their famous Pintxos and as I was feeling much better, we found a park up that was free at the weekends near the Uni and walked into town. It’s a beautiful city with a fab beach and an old quarter with twisty little lanes.   

Pintxos are small bites almost like party food and similar to Tapas, often it’s a small open sandwich with fish, meat or egg toppings, or small filled coquettes, slices of sausage or just Olives…. the variety is endless, and they are all amazing. Each bar has them lined up along the counter and you pick as many as you like, pay for them and your beer and then go scoff, it’s an awesome way to just graze tasty food all afternoon whilst keeping a lid on the alcohol intake.



After a late start the next day we set off at top speed towards Portugal, only for Daisy to start sounding like a tank shortly before we stopped in Torquemada, a quick inspection confirmed our fears that the previous exhaust welding had sprung a hole and so the search for a garage to repair or replace was the next days task.

Fortunately, this wasn’t quite as hard as the previous quest and after seeing a few garages we were directed to a huge Iveco maintenance depot where a nice guy patched her up for 60 euros but warned us this wouldn’t hold forever. By this time we weren’t far from the border so next stop was Portugal and as Paul was now sniffly with cold and the weather wasn’t great we found a small aire with free water, waste and electric in the town of Celorico da Biera to hole up in for a couple of days.


I wish we’d had more time to hang around central portugal as there were people and places I’d like to have seen but we only had a few days before I was set to meet my cousin in the Algarve. We managed to see Lisa and Rich and view the fire damage that had happened this year to their Quinta and hear the scary stories of trapped work aways and desperate firefighting to save winter firewood, their home and animals, plus go out for a fab slap-up meal and catch up. 


We surprise timed a visit to Leif and Noelia well as they had some friends over the 1 night we were there and so we were able to catch up with them and their beautiful boys, they also showed us their Quinta by the river that we had fallen in love with a few years back and shared the big plans they have for this land – Can’t wait to see it in action.


Next stop on our whirlwind tour was seeing my cousin Lynn and her hubby Steve down in the Algarve so after a couple of stops on the way down we were able to park Daisy outside their posh looking hotel complex. They were over here on weeks break to get their resident visa as they want to buy and retire 
out here in the next few months (very sensible) and we had a lovely leisurely lunch in the afternoon in Ferragudo and then out for a few cocktails in the evening in Carvoeiro. 

We knew that Pauls old mate Dave (the ex-Skinny Lister merch man and Glasto Porta Loo escape room fame) was also in this region somewhere but not exactly where, so it was a wonderful surprise when he bounced out of a bar at us as we walked by. It was lovely to see him but as we were all with our respective families, we had a quick chat and then carried on our way.



The weather by now was hot during the day with mostly cloudless skies and all thoughts of jeans and hoodies were pushed, like them, to the back of the cupboards.  

We had about 3 weeks in which to travel the roughly 1400 miles along the coast of Portugal, Spain and France to my Parents place. Obviously, there were some places along the way we both wanted to stop off at but in general we planned to just drift along at a leisurely pace not really driving for more than a few hours each day as the fridge doesn’t like the hot temps and it’s hard to keep the beer and wine cold if the fridge is playing up.

I’ll not bore you with all the stops as they all had something fun, pretty or nice about them but the highlights were visiting some of the bars in Albufeira and having a late one there, although the morning after wasn’t fun, staying a night at the campsite in Odeleite where we’d been locked down in early 2021 and seeing Balthazar again, he was much more smiley this time. I also made a huge chocolate cake which seemed to last forever but was very tasty.

Once in Spain a little gem of a town was Conil de la Frontera just a bit further on than Cadiz, we arrived in town on Sunday the 30th Oct and the town was in full Halloween carnival with a spooky ‘petite train’ taking you round the town where dressed up actors would jump out and scare you or beat you with their broomsticks. It seemed like the whole town was out for a drink and some fun but even without the festivities it was a pretty town.


We’d hoped to catch more Day of the Dead festivities but as the next days were holidays and the meanings of the days were more family / tradition orientated we didn’t see any more parades or festivals. We popped into Gibraltar, which was really strange as it feels and looks just like England, we even went to Morrisons for some shopping.

We stayed outside a grotty little parade of shops near the beach in Chilches, which turned out had a bar with very cheap but tasty tapas, drove the coastal road through the humongous plastic grow fields of Almeria (it’s grow tunnels but on an epic scale, visible from space is the rumour), got eaten alive by mosquitoes at nearly every beach park up until we finally stopped for a couple of days in Benidorm.


 Now I’ve never done this and was a tad sceptical as to whether I’d like it there, but actually the old town is lovely, the beach is pristine (but very busy even in Nov) and the bars and the strip serve a purpose. We also managed to make contact with Bill, a guy we knew from Glastonbury who travels around in his van (The Wombat) all winter and we spent a wonderful few hours drinking and swapping Van Life stories. 

My only regret from Benidorm is that the hangover got the better of us and we left without having a Sunday lunch with Bill. 

Obviously we needed to eat Paella whilst in Spain and I’d looked up where the best places were to get this national dish, turns out Valencia is considered the home of Paella as it’s still where most of the special rice is grown for it, they even have their own basic but special version which only has 10 ingredients (Rice, Water, Oil, Salt, Lima Beans, Green Beans, Tomato, Saffron, Rabbit and Chicken). 

‘Restaurante Levante’ is just outside of Valencia in Benisano and is a well-established family run place that offers a traditional wood cooked Paella set menu in their classy restaurant. It was a treat we didn’t want to miss and whilst it pushed the lunch budget completely out it was the best Paella I have ever tasted. The restaurant also offers masterclasses in Paella which I’m sure would have been an awesome experience but one I’ll save for another day.


Another notable place we visited was Sitges. I don’t think it was on our radar until a drunken conversation with a guy in the old quarter in Benidorm told us about it, so thank you random Steve. It has a lovely old town with small twisting lanes, a 15c church, many bars serving Pintxos as well as very fancy seafood restaurants. 

We had to park a fair distance away but the beach walk along the large seafront villas was lovely and the sun was still glorious although it was starting to lose its power the further north we headed.

Barcelona had to be done but as there is an emission zone there and none of the nearer motorhome park ups are considered particularly safe from break-ins, we were a little worried about leaving Daisy for a long period. We found a very busy park up that about 8 other vans were using right on the edge of an industrial estate but it had good transport links, so we ventured in for a few hours.                      
There is so much to see and do there but we managed to tick off the main tourist spots and had an amazing menu of the day for lunch in a local bar before heading back to Daisy for the night.


      

A special mention for the Pirate Bar in Lloret de Mar as we spent most of one night in there and I came away with a T-shirt but no recollection of the walk home. Opps.

In Llafranc we celebrated our 4-year anniversary of living in a van, this seemed especially poignant as we knew it was also our last milestone in Daisy, so we went for a posh meal and ate exquisite sharing tapas plates at a place called ‘Marmara’, which we were lucky enough to get into. I’m still drooling over these pictures.

         

And that brought our Spanish adventure to a close as the next stop was France. The weather as we were so much further North had turned colder and whilst still bright some days we also had grey wet days and colder nights, this didn’t seem to be stopping the mosquitoes, although I had by now gotten quite good at hunting them by headlight in the middle of the night after they’d woken me up with a bite or 3.

Our final stop before my parents deserves a mention because we need to go back at some point in the future. We didn’t realise it when we stopped at La Celle and had a wonderful quiet night next to the cemetery and vineyards that the closed posh hotel and restaurant (Hostellerie de L’Abbaye de la Celle) was run by none other than renowned Michelin chef Alain Ducasse. They close 2 days a week in the low season, which is when we happened to be there, but we will be back as he’s one of Pauls favourite chefs and it’s only a couple of hours away from Grasse.

And then we were home. Daisy safely navigated onto her spot in the drive for the final time (it’s not easy but Paul made it look that way) and champagne was poured, dogs, cats and parents were cuddled and we could relax for a bit.

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