Friends, Aire’s & Gases

3- 6 June 2017

At our pace it would be a 2-day drive to meet up with Peter & Alison, so with regret and a firm intention to return, we moved on.   Up the A7 – more attractively called the Autovia del Mediterraneo – we headed in the direction of Almeria, our plan being to stop overnight at an Aire past Torrevieja. The scenery along the coast was dramatic with steep ravines cutting through the mountainside down to the sea and the road carried by tall viaducts into tunnels blasted through the hillside. After Almunecar we just couldn’t stop saying ‘wow’ as the natural scenery was transformed by acre upon acre of industrial sized plastic greenhouses set amongst dry riverbeds. Miles of them. All flat land that isn’t otherwise occupied – including terraces up the hillsides – in fact anything with a gradient of less than 1:10 appeared to be covered with plastic growing fruits and vegetables for the world. This is the hottest part of Spain with summer starting before easter and running into October and temperatures of 38C in the shade are not uncommon in the hottest months. The long growing season and water from the Sierra Nevada seem to make for good growing to keep our supermarkets stocked all year long. This went on for maybe 50 miles, so long we stopped ‘wowing’ and just looked on in awe tinged with some regret for the loss of natural habitat. Obviously it provides jobs and allows an otherwise unproductive landscape to be used for food production – no arguments there.

At Roquetas de Mar the poly-houses stopped abruptly and we climbed the barren mountains above Almeria, looking down on its castle and port. After that we re-entered a world of plastic although now there were gaps. In one gap we saw a small hill with “La Legion” emblazoned on it in stones along with an insignia, and a track right up the middle of the hill. The Spanish Legion (their version of the French Foreign Legion) have a base here, at Viator, and we assume the track up the hill is something horribly tortuous to do with running up-and-down 10,000-or-so times.

We dandered along the Costa de Almería through its sprawling resorts, taking the N332 rather than the toll road so we could actually get a feel for the place. Out of curiosity we took a turn-off at Pilar de la Horadada to see if we could find Gail & Roy’s old place but just got ourselves lost. It seems so  much more developed than when we last visited them 12 or 13 years ago.

Our chosen Aire was right next to a Lidl at San Fulgencio. This actually had a proper shower block – with tropical curtains –  washing machines, and a bar run by a german!

The Aires book says that this is popular with ‘long-termers’ in the winter and it certainly appeared that some of the vans were there for a good period as they had groundsheets down, chairs out  and looked completely settled. We realised it was only about 10 miles from Del & Glyn’s apartment so sent them an email letting them know we were there (impressively speedy response).

Sunday we continued the scenic route through the extensive salt lakes along the coast to Alicante. Further on the Costa del Sol reached its heights at Benidorm, which took us completely by surprise. We knew there would be tall apartment blocks, we simply weren’t prepared for the kilometres of skyscrapers, in sharp contrast by the natural beauty of the dry hills rising behind and the sea in front. A weird, surreal experience. We had considered visiting Benidorm at some point in the winter for the ballroom dancing which is supposed to be good, but will have to think about that.

We did not have the co-ordinates for Peter & Alison’s site, and no internet, so relied on map reading with a 1:400,000 atlas – not always a good idea (sorry Daryl!). We ended up going through a nice little town called Xabia/Javea where Danny said “We’re not going over that are we?” looking at the towering mountain above. A quick check on the map showed the road hugging the coast so that was okay. We took it – and went on and up, and up, and over the mountain on a narrow road that had us both holding our breaths, through the hairpins up and down. We were both glad Danny was driving. Indrawn breath after indrawn breath, then we were down in Las Rotes, following camping signs down a lane barely wide enough for our van. As soon as we announced our arrival we were told that Pete & Alison would look after us – which they did, brilliantly. They had booked for us what they call the Mayor’s pitch which was huge, 4 or 5 times the size of our van and very private.

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We went for welcome beers at their van – a big beast, a Knauss S-Liner – which they have been travelling in for 3 years. Pete’s mum has lived in Denia for 30+ years so both he and Alison know it very well and volunteered to show us around. We made some plans for the next couple of days and retired.

Next morning we all headed off on our bikes the couple of miles into Denia. The Monday market was on and it was huge, endless stalls of shoes, lingerie, clothes, electronics, leather goods, handbags and hats – particularly cheap ‘panama’ hats which like a lot of the other produce was made in China. Lots of english regional accents, Germans, Dutch and the local Spanish. When we had seen everything Alison gave us the option of a drink or the Chinese Bazaar. Strangely, we opted for the Chinese Bazaar another 10 minutes away by bike on the understanding there would be drink straight after. Great place – lived up to our expectations and we ended up leaving poor Pete stood outside guarding the bikes for longer that we should have. One of those shops where you will always find something you absolutely can’t do without whether beach chairs or biro.

Once we had bought the essential bits & pieces we cycled down into the old town which was surprisingly pretty. This place is much bigger than we thought and without the high-rise that makes other places feel so city-ish and closed in. With a population of 41,000 it’s 3 times the population of Parkgate & Neston. The old town has the marina and ferry port (to the Balearics) on one side and the castle on the hill at the back.

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There is an elegant high-street with independent boutique-style shops and a very chilled-out atmosphere despite the fact it was market day. Went for a cold beer at the only micro-brewery, El Convent, then wandered up past the castle and selected a restaurant from the many small places lining one of the old streets based on the fact that the sign was 2 nuns on a bicycle. Had a good Menu del Dia for €15 each – starter, main course, dessert or coffee and half a bottle of wine each. Pete & Alison thought it was a bit pricey but we were delighted.

The ride back was  along the coast past the port, the sandy beach beach then on the cycletrack/footpath with the rocky shoreline on one side and very expensive properties on the other.

Woke hung-over after Danny & Pete had a good night reminiscing about the old days and chased up our new problem – our gas to our cooker, oven and BBQ was playing up. Pete had done some research and thought it was the regulator, We contacted N&B and got a swift reply saying the yellow flame and low pressure we were experiencing when cooking (or trying to) meant our gas was contaminated and therefore dangerous as it would be producing carbon monoxide. Apparently this can happen in Spain although no-one has explained why. The advice was to turn off the gas and get to an approved service centre of which there are only 2 in Spain, one in Elche about 2 hrs away back down towards Alicante, and one in Barcelona about 6-7hrs drive north. Our luck ran true and the english speaking engineer at Elche was off but we managed to book in for the next morning.

Exhausted by all the serious stuff – a dodgy & slow internet connection didn’t help – Pete & Alison suggested we relax with a bike ride through the orange groves followed by a beer in El Pobles a nearby village, then a Nepalese curry in Denia. We all set off on our bikes around 3pm and this time we stopped at Denia Port to admire its luxurious yachts, many registered in the Cayman Islands. There was an incredible looking motor yacht, Trident, recently purchased second hand for the bargain price of €87M. We prefer sailing yachts but this one was impressive. Hate to think how many crew it needed.

We left Denia and headed out through orange and almond groves with great views of the castle above the town on a greenway through to El Pobles about 8 or 9  miles away. Cold beers at Peter & Alison’s regular stop-off rewarded us before we headed back via a different route stopping to admire the extensive sandy beach that reaches almost unbroken from Denia to Valencia.  Denia as a town has many different facets, old and new. A large ex-pat full-time population, a transient holiday/second-home population, and locals engaged with fishing, ferry & agriculture.  An interesting mix.

On the way back we stopped at the Kathmandu restaurant for a decent curry and didn’t leave until it was going dark. Alison took Red Leader position and guided us through the side streets and traffic lights of a now awakening Denia to get us home safely. Back on site we all looked at the stars and moon through our scope (which may have encouraged Peter to consider a purchase) before they welcomed us into their van for a farewell nightcap.