Spain – the Costa Daurada

We spent the past few days exploring the Tarragona area, visiting many of the Medieval castles and churches along the route of the “Castells del Baix Gaia”, a route which links 8 castles along the coastal plains near Tarragona, as well as making a day trip into the Penedes wine region, home to Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine.

Wine was first introduced to the area by the Romans, as the Via Augusta to the Roman capital, Tarragona, went straight through the Penedes region and there are several grape varieties that are unique to the area. We visited famous Freixenet, one of the largest Cava producers, and still a family business and from there we took in some of the smaller producers, some still using ancient methods of pressing the grapes and all still harvesting by hand.  We of course also broke the budget and ended up buying several bottles after the various tastings we did – this didn’t put a dent in the many, many millions of bottles we saw in the cellars!

We’ve also enjoyed exploring the coastal paths on our runs and have discovered a network of mountain bike trails, linking various Medieval villages and came across a ferret on the ride this morning which was very curious about us – it even let Leigh pick it up.

Europe – chasing the sun again

On the ferry from Newhaven over to Dieppe; a relaxing empty crossing where Bambi and Cali shared the truck deck; we checked the forecast and changed our plans.  We arrived to snowy ‘scapes and headed south, bound for the Mediterranean coast rather than the Atlantic.  We figured we’ll see Portugal from the south up as originally planned!

Stopping en route to overnight in roadside aires, for which we are now fully equipped having Bambi, we made good progress and Leigh got a good handle on towing in all weathers.  We finally arrived on the Med and are staying in a wonderful campsite overlooking the sea just outside the Roman settlement now called Tarragona.  From here we have already done a day trip in to Barcelona and plan to spend a week or so, exploring nearby wine country as well as Tarragona and the adjacent beaches.

The people at the campsite here took one look at Bambi and wanted to give us a prime seaview plot – not realising that we were new to towing.  They led us to a gorgeous site and left us to try and manoeuvre her into the spot.  After a lot of humming and hah-ing and a bit of going backwards and forwards, we eventually decided we were better off unhitching her and pushing her by hand, to the great amusement of the Germans in the next door plot (who admittedly did eventually offer to help – but by that stage we had actually got her into a spot where we thought we may be able to tow her out from … another reason to stay a week, so we don’t have to think about that challenge for a while!).

The UK – the Bambi revealed

Most of you already know that while in the UK we acquired an airstream caravan to tow behind Cali – the 2 months on the road so far made us realise we needed more space!  We picked her up on Monday and leave for France this morning. Here she is in all her glory!

Europe – back to winter

Sad to leave Moroccan shores behind we stopped for a typical Moroccan breakfast  of msemmen (a fried dough pancake covered in honey) and harsha (semolina pan fried flat bread) as well as the obligatory pain au chocolat for Leigh and then crossed the border to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta to catch the ferry.

It was once we returned to mainland Europe that the cold front really hit us; pounding rain, some hail and strong wind.  Given the awful weather and the fact that we had some chores and admin to sort out in the UK, we decided not to waste time stopping in the rain and so drove pretty much 3 days solid to get to the UK.  We’ll be here a week or so, spending time between London and Oxford and it has been great catching up with friends and family.

It’s certainly been a reminder of why we went in search of sunshine in the first place – one of the coldest weeks to hit Britain, with snow flurries, freezing Arctic winds and below zero temperatures!!

Morocco – Chefchaouen

We enjoyed the next few days in Marrakech, relaxing at the campsite pool, exploring the wider area on the bikes and braving the madness of the souks and old medina again.  We then set off for the north, travelling up into the Rif mountains.  It was like travelling to a different country – the desert like surrounds we were used to were replaced by rolling lush green hills, cows grazing in plantations of cork trees and fields and fields of wild orange and yellow daisies.  We’re currently staying in Chefchaouen, a town nestled in the folds of the Rif mountains, filled with brightly painted houses, whitewashed in varying shades of blue and surrounded by golden stone walls.  It has a completely different feel to anywhere else we’ve visited in Morocco; partly because the architecture is reminiscent of Andalucia, as it was built by Jewish and Muslim refugees from Granada in the 1400s and also because it remained fiercely independent until the early 1920s and in fact just 3 “Westerners” had managed to visit the town before 1920 (Christians were forbidden entry by the xenophobic Riffian Berber tribes), the earliest two of whom were poisoned by the townsfolk!  Luckily the town is far more welcoming to visitors nowadays and in fact is a laid back and delightful place.

We also realised that one of the reasons that the surrounding countryside is so green and fertile is because it rains in this part of Morocco – sadly the rains arrived and are due to set in for the week, so we’ve decided to move on and set sail for European shores once more tomorrow.